January 9, 2011


Its been sunny this past week in the East Bay. Things are drying out slowly, with the morning fogs hanging around to past ten or so along the coast. All the oaks along Santa Clara seem pretty convinced about the season, and the squirrels have not been scampering along the Old Fence as usual. They might even be doing something so radical as hibernating. And there has been not a peep out of those pesky racoons for a while ever since the Animal Control people showed up. We're sure they are all holed up under somebody's house playing poker and drinking hard liquor while waiting for the heat to go down.

Heard that a couple of wild turkeys had taken up down around Taylor and they have been chasing the dogs. What on earth; do those turkeys think they live in Minnesota where such behavior is condoned just about everywhere except St. Paul?

Speaking of which, some of us listened to this week's PHC show on KQED, our local NPR affiliate. Have to say it was not bad. Also, could tell -- even over the radio -- that Sarah Watkins is a lot better looking than that guy in the red shoes.

Padraic turned the dial to 88.5 in the Old Same Place Bar and they all gave the guest host a good listening there in that bar while folks drank their Fat Tires and noshed on his Celtic Buffalo Wings.

"What makes these wings Celtic?" asked Eugene.

"You see that parsley there beside?" said Padraic. "That's the bit o' green remindin' of the old sod."

"But these wings are orange. . .", began Eugene.

At that blasphemy, Padraic brought out his blackthorn stick and smote the bartop with a great crash which caused the earthquake monitors in Berkeley to throb. "Enough of that talk!" shouted Padraic. "Put a dollar in the jar or I'll break yer legs again!"

Bashfully, Eugene dropped a dollar in the collection jar for Sinn Fein and the IRA, the contents of which Padraic dutifully collected each month, deposited into an account and then sent of a check for the amount -- no matter how paltry -- so that Sinn Fein and the IRA could continue to plague the English and the UDF with polemics and the occasional firebomb and random acts of torture and maiming.

It was done in all good humor, though. And up until recently, quite unlike what is done here.

After the show was over, Padraic put the station back on to music. A discussion started up between the Man from Minot and Eugene. The man from Minot was called that because few around here had ever met anyone from North Dakota, and fewer still had met anyone from Minot, which many, including Padraic, thought to be a queer and strange place. Indeed the Man from Minot played into this by telling the most outlandish stories about the coldest place in America which was just about as flat as it was cold. The nearest town to Minot was Winnepeg, Canada -- according to the man -- and that town made the Island look like Sin City by way of the residents resolutely resisting any eventful occurances.

The most exciting thing which had ever happened in Winnipeg was when an herd of horses broke loose from the burning Whittier Park stables one winter to run into the river and freeze to death. For several months their heads poked up above the ice like sculptures and people came from miles around to walk out there on the solid river in mukluks or ice skates to just to see them and have their pictures taken standing there beside the rock hard animal busts. People talked about it in Minot for years afterward and even as far as Bismarck the story got told again and again, becoming more embellished with each telling.

All the Californians wondered at a place that cold and shook their heads.

Eugene had one up on the Man from Minot for he could remember when the Island City Council had briefly outlawed dancing of any kind, for fear it would encourage floozies to incite the sailors in any sort of speakeasies.

The Man from Minot had to agree that this was novel language to his thinking, and probably un-Californian.

Eugene could not remember if anyone from New York City or Chicago had been on the City Council at the time, and so the talk turned to events of note which had happened on the Island, including a spectacular jet fighter crash which had wiped out a city block -- including Mrs. Tontini with her dog -- and the time Joe DiMaggio knocked a ball out of the lot where the Senior Center is now. This brought the Man from Minot to recall the time he lost his partner when a house fell on him. This is not something which happens everyday, not even to witches in OZ.

Everyone leaned in close to hear about this one.

Unfortunately, the prelude to this story sidetracked everybody in a most aggravating manner.

"Me and my partner -- his name was Spencer and he was as bald as a cueball from radiation treatments they had given him as a kid for his thyroid . . ." .

"They don't do that any more." Lionel said. "Can you imagine they used to zap kids for their thyroid?"

"Now I am trying to get on with this story," began the Minot man. "Its not important."

"Well why on earth did you mention it then? The business about his hair and his thyroid. Aint the thyroid in the throat? Reason they call it 'thyroid'.

"Its just local color about the man. I could tell you about his ex-wife Xiu Xong who once ran at me with a hedgetrimmer, but nevermind . . . ".

"That's assault and battery with a deadly weapon," Eugene said. "Them hedgetrimmers are nasty business."

"No," someone else said. "That's Battery pure and simple. Assault is if she threatens you with it like verbally and so on. Law is clear on that. Did she say anything meaningful to you as she came at you?"

"You don't know feck all about the law," Padraic said. "Shut your gob."

"As I was saying," the Minot man began once again. "We had to lift this house on Central because of a law about . . .".

"I will not shut up," the outraged man said to Padraic. "Its a free country!"

"The damn County made us lift this house," the Minot Man pursued. "On account of this regulation for shearwall. . ."

"You don't have to lift the whole damn house to install shearwall," Eugene said in protest, for he knew something about construction.

"I am trying to tell a story," the Minot Man continued. "It was because of the termites we found . . . ".

"And that's another thing about the Government," Eugene went on. "You used to be able to just throw down some of that copper green stuff and be done with it. Now you got to go and lift the whole damn house clear of . . .".

"What's this down here?" The Man from Minot had found a carton under the table with his foot. He reached down and brought up a small cardboard box like the kind used by Chinese takeout. A faint aroma of old cheese wafted out when he opened it. "Looks like somebody's leftover hotdish!"

"You are probably one of them folks wants to do away with all the government that is," Padraic said to Eugene. "And undoubtably you are against the Measure A parcel tax."

"Yep!" Eugene confirmed. "Starve them bureaucrats until there aint nothing left but police and fire. Any other ideas are Socialist or lack common sense or both."

"And I suppose letting all that copper green stuff flow into the groundwater was a bright idea in your opinion," Lionel said.

The discussion degenerated right about then into a verbal free-for-all with Eugene calling anyone who disagreed with him a Socialist, and Padraic trying to tell Eugene that a society without a government is pretty much the stock definition for Anarchy, but without the punk haircuts.

The Man from Minot eventually found himself outside the bar with Tipitina holding the box of leftovers from the Norwegian banquet that had been held months ago. They could hear crashing, thuds, loud voices and the breaking of glass. Things were getting ugly.

"So what happened to your partner," Tipitina asked.

"I had an aunt who used to make a hotdish like this," the man said thoughtfully. "Oh Spencer? He died."

"Because the house fell on him?"

"He had no health coverage. Couldn't afford it. End of story."


Right then the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the contentious waves of the estuary and the argumenative weeds of 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.