January 2, 2011

Its been a chilly week on the Island, our hometown set here in California on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. People have been taking advantage of the break in the rains to get out and enjoy the cold, bright sunshine. Mittens and parkas and boots are the order of the day, although our temps hovering in the high 30's, well above freezing in most areas, hardly can hold a candle to places like Montana where a couple Island-Lifers spent the New Years period cuddling under blankets as the outdoor cold dropped to a -29.

When it gets that cold, all the humidity crystallizes and you would hardly know how bitter it happens to be unless you happen to be a Californian grabbing a gas pump at the station north of Helena -- without gloves. Searing, is the operant noun modifier here, we are told.

Most Californians were never warned sternly to not lick the pump handle when it gets like that, so they just do not know. Don't even think about the iron porch railings. But then, most native Californians would find it odd to go around licking ironmongery by habit. Heavens, so besotted must be the place where children go around doing that in any kind of weather. Don't these deprived kids have fudgesickles where they live? Where are the parents for crissakes while this is going on?

The annual meeting of the National Organization for the Traffic Enfeebled and Directionally Confused took place, again with a single meeting spaced out over the course of two weeks, as none of the participants ever managed to all assemble in one location at any one time. As a result, the published syllabus is identical for all days -- sometimes even the instructors get lost and fail to make it -- and the Symposium Notes are actually a compendium of everything that happened over the course of two weeks, but reported as if it actually all happened on a single day in December.

Once again the hot topic this year was "The Stealth Turn: Its Nuances, Elegance, and Singular Assortment of Illegalities." For some reason, the participants really love to practice here on the Island, perhaps because Officer O'Madhauen looks so charming the more irate he becomes. There is nothing like a man in uniform, or so say the ladies. And certain gentlemen.

Long term Island-Lifers know the Stealth Turn as that peculiar traffic maneuver in which a driver either refuses to signal prior to changing direction, or signals to do so only to abruptly do the opposite thing, as in signaling to turn right in the right-hand turn lane before yanking the wheel to the left and cutting across the intersection.

Such actions require deftness, skill, quick reactions and brazen obtuseness to execute without murdering someone. Prizes are awarded for style and sheer bravado. A common leap across three lanes of freeway to take the exit from the fast lane earns only one point per lane, plus a point for traffic density, while a sudden change in mid intersection gets a happy Stealth Turner as much as five points. Especially if there are pedestrians involved.

Simply turning right without signaling gets you one point for sedans, and one half point for trucks. Any maneuver which costs a bodily organ results in automatic deduction of five points.

Competitors who earn 100 points in a year obtain the coveted Golden Steering Wheel Award at the annual meeting, if they are still ambulatory, and can manage to show up on the same day and time as the national president, who also has some issues finding his way around.

This year a special Discussion Topic entitled "Bemoaning the GPS" was held 4.5 times.

Over at Marlene and Andre's household, everyone had crowded in for the night as the cold and wet had driven those wont to sleep at the beach indoors. Even Snuffles Johnson, the bum, moved from his hole in the deck (where Javier's 50th birthday celebration had taken an incendiary turn) into the fireplace. It was all to the good, for as no one could afford to pay PiGGiE to heat the place, the place stayed nice and warm by the heat of fifteen bodies or so in the one bedroom cottage there leased from Mr. Howitzer.

Despite the realities of the Great Recession, Mr. Howitzer and similar landlords on the Island refused to lower the rents, so the poor people had to make shift as best as they could. With times as hard as they are, some of Mr. Howitzer's business associates had seen their comfortable profits dip a bit as folks moved to more reasonable lodgings and others refused to buy the properties at still-bubbled prices. As a consequence, folks like Marie Paine had taken to hiring substandard tradesmen to really trash the places so that she should blame the tenants for damages and so keep all the security deposits as well as the interest earned. Marie was also fond of telling her tenants when an appliance failed, "O, that apartment does not come with a fridge or a stove. You need to buy your own."

This was really a good one, for as everyone knows, it is next to impossible to take a full-sized fridge with you when you move out, so Ms. Paine could then get a free refrigerator or stove while additionally claiming damages for the condition of the appliances. It was a profitable racket. Probably illegal, but as Ms. Paine would say, "F---k 'em."

Meanwhile, at the household, it was bread soup again for dinner, as the season for veggies had passed. Just about anything left in the larder that was canned went into it, and by the time Marlene was done fixing it all up with stale bread and pathetic Pomodoros, the pot contained enough sodium to pickle and preserve several hog's worth of tripe. Nevertheless, it was what they had and what they had was better than nothing. After everything was cleaned up and all the folks had enjoyed as much bread soup as they could slurp down, everyone settled down in their sleeping bags on the floor, the couch, under and on top of the coffee table, in the hallway, and in the fireplace which had long possessed a blocked flue ever since a family of raccoons had moved in there. The raccoons did not bother the household, for there was never anything to eat there and they dislike dealing with Bonkers, Johnny Cash and Wickiwup, the dogs, so they got left alone in their den.

"They say that the Great Recession is over and people are buying crap again," Mancini said.

"But there aint no jobs," Pahrump said. "Its easy street if you got one already. But there was over two hundert families at the Food Bank last week."

A baby raccoon peaked out from beneath the flue until Bonkers woofed at it.

"All that retail money is going to China," Jose said. "Instead of staying close to home, like Mexico."

"Jose, you need a girlfriend. You are always complaining." Tipitina said.

"No money, no Honey." Pahrump said. "Old Indian saying."

"At least its nice to be warm and wearing something," said Suan.

And they all pondered these words from the woman who worked as a stripper for the Crazy Horse Saloon.

Right then the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the frigid waves of the estuary and the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.