January 14, 2014


The Moon and the Last of the Benders



So anyway, its been chilly but not cold, not cold in the way some of you may have experienced.

We had a storm, a really big one that knocked the oranges from the tree, but we don't have schooldays when all the schools are closed. Relatives up in Winnipeg say the school never closes, not even when temps drop to 40 below and stay there. When it snows the kids just use the tunnels. We don't have Bad Weather School Days. Save we did have one about two weeks ago due to the rain. People couldn't drive around in their cars for all the flooding, especially here on the Island. All these people in SUV's nosed around carefully through the puddles, a little like newborn hippos or something just trying to figure out the world and not knowing this sort of weather is made for them.

What on earth is the reason people buy these monstrous things? SUV's we mean, not hippos. The things are designed to plow up steep hills carrying loads of concrete and railroad ties, but you see people creeping around in them afraid to get a scratch or dent in their truck.

Speaking of driving it appears a meeting of Floyd's Non Compos Mentis Chapter of the National Association of the Directionally Confused and Traffic Enfeebled is once again taking place. This one day seminar is typically scheduled for eight or nine days -- sometimes a month -- both for its great popularity, but because the members are so hapless that it takes about a month for all of them to have arrived at the same place at the same time for anything.

Again, the main topic is the Stealth Turn, the secretive maneuver practiced by those seeking to attain the height of style in Deceptive Driving. This maneuver involves abruptly changing direction without providing the slightest clue as to the driver's intentions. There is the four lane power shift on the freeway from the fast lane to the right hand exit. Then there is the mid-intersection revision of decision, which is followed by the highly sophisticated left turn at a stoplight from the right turn arrow lane and signal going like mad first one way then, after completion, on the other side.

Some say the drivers of Milan, Italy first originated this technique. Others say this esprit is particularly French or Spanish. All can agree Northern California has perfected the Stealth Turn to such an high degree, Washington is known to send CIA and Secret Service operatives to study the methods honed by Floyd Bender and his group of radical Rotarians.

In an interview by the Examiner, Floyd was asked why and how he came to perfect this technique.

"I realized that if I don't use my turn signal, they'll NEVER know where I am going. Ha ha!"

Floyd comes from stock that traces its lineage to the earliest days of Alta California. It was a Bender, actually Ignacio Behar, who rode with the problematic explorer Vizcaino as the man sailed up the coast, attempting to find a perfect bay for the galleons crossing the Pacific to moor and retro fit before heading south to lower California.

Vizcaino, not an especially talented or capable man, was also charged with finding gold in California...

Vizcaino, not an especially talented or capable man, was also charged with finding gold in California for the Archduke of Monterrey. He had failed on behalf of the Duke in a number of other enterprises, and he really wanted a royal merchant ship so as to conduct trading, so he was hell bent on setting things right this time, taking on Behar, who presented himself as an expert navigator. He was not, but he needed a job, and so the ship sailed up the coast for weeks without finding any decent port north of Long Beach.

In desperation, Vizcaino sent back packets on a ship, claiming he had found a perfect, well sheltered bay ideally suited for the massive galleons to make port. This deep water port he named Monterrey Bay with some fictional license before heading north, sure he could find something better than that shallow crescent of water. Along the way, he renamed all the previously christened spots on such maps as he did have with the eye of covering himself once he did find this perfect port with the claim that the Monterrey Bay lay actually far north of where it really is and what map are you looking at anyway?

So it was the Behar, expert navigator that he was, spied the rocks of the Farralones, assumed they were shoals off a dangerous area and so directed the ship to pass far to the west of them, in so doing completely missing the mouth of the Golden Gate as well as what would come to be known as Drake's estero.

Naturally Vizcaino never did find that perfect port for he ran out of provisions before attaining the longitude of Oregon, and so he turned back with his spurious maps and not the slightest indication that gold resided anywhere in California.

When the Duke of Monterrey heard there was no gold in Alta California to be had, his eyes fell.

"O but there's buckets of priceless pearls to be had. Would have brought some back but they fell overboard in a storm", Vizcaino said. "Near that perfect bay I named after your highness. Might I not have a merchant ship as a reward to go shopping in Japan now?"

Vizcaino was sent on his way to thoroughly irk the Japanese to such a degree they closed the entire East until Admiral Perry arrived three hundred years later.

Meanwhile the Behar clan continued to affect the history of California by acting as guides to territory of which they had no knowledge, leading the early explorers with those maps Vizcaino had concocted out of wishes and angel dust.

When the United States pretty much seized Alta California after the Mexican-American War, the Behars anglicized their name, seeing how things were playing out for the old Hispanic Californios, who were getting robbed left and right.

But not before a Behar attempted to guide an emigrant expedition one year over what became known as the Donner Pass with unfortunate consequences. That Behar wound up in a soup pot at the pass during the winter, but other Behars survived elsewhere, continuing to guide would-be explorers and setting up guide agencies that were the prime agents for getting the Oakies out of the Dustbowl and into California.

From the Lusitania to the Titanic to the Andrea Dorea, there was not a famous ship in which the Benders did not have a hand in guiding them to their fates.

Benders served on both sides during WWII. A Polish Benderinski misdirected the Wehrmacht as to the shortest path to Moscow being through Stalingrad when the Field Marshall stopped to get directions, with of course the results we have seen. It was a Von Bender that guided the Germans around in circles during the Battle of the Bulge, which is the main reason the Nazi's lost that one.

So it was that Floyd hung on as one of the last of the Benders -- and barely arrived at that distinction -- for the obstetrician who had delivered him was also a Bender, a man with a serious kinesthesia problem in which he sometimes confused his left hand with his right, and so little Floyd got dropped on his head right at birth when the doctor tried to spank him with the same hand that held him up.

Floyd ran a small travel agency of Kearny Street in San Francisco called Barefoot and Begone Travel. From there he sent people off on vacations to Kazakhstan and Albania and guided tours of the decommissioned Pripyat nuclear reactor in Byelorussia.

Some people have noted that we just experienced a full moon. Hemmed in by the light pollution of the Metropolis, and further limited by the uneven construction that closes in everything here to a claustrophobic binder view, it is difficult to experience the moon and other celestial events the way more open places, like the prairie people do. For wide open vistas one has to go out to the edge of the continent and look out over the lampless vast Pacific. It is there you can actually see the broad band of cloudy stuff that is the Milky Way. Only then do the old sky-myths make sense.

Otherwise we make do with Orion doing his cartwheels past the pale lunar light while the urban skyline glows like Troy on fire.

The moderate weather along the coast sometimes creates the illusion that our resignation in the face of Life's disappoints means that we as a people are mellow, laid back,

One who does have a modest open view and who takes advantage is Senior Don Luis de Guadeloupe Erizo, who has the habit of observing the moon outside his burrow under the hedges of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Preserve, nee Beltline Railroad tracks. Out towards the West End, beyond the assembly of densely packed clapboard and stucco houses where the savage arm of the Developer has yet to reach, the Island opens out to the Buena vista flats through which ghosts of the old donkey trains still chug the Beltline when the moon swells above the nostalgic mists out to the old airfield that is now the nesting ground for the least tern.

Proof enough that open space is worth preserving.

Which is just like the Island to get instead of an imposing Great Auk, or eagles or condors, we got instead the modest Tern, and of the terns, the Least of all of them. It is said that it is as hard as to pass a camel through the eye of a needle, and for all of that, up there if it turns out there is a Heaven, at the gates you certainly will find the Least Tern -- should that be your final destination -- for it is also said that the Least shall be first.

Reverend Freethought of the Unity Church put down her pen after composing these lines for next Sunday's sermon. She then went out to the deck, which was a bit wobbly after the recent violent storm, and removed her clothes before getting into the hot tub so as to look up through the branches of the box elder at the stars and the full moon and consider how to work in the parable of the lilies of the field, they that sow not nor reap.

She was so silent and engrossed that she did not notice the raccoon that came along the fence from the back, nor the self-absorbed opossum that came along the fence from the front. The opossum apprehended the raccoon about the same time as the other noticed it and the two of them shrieked, each in their respective languages, causing Toby and Stella, two terriers that lived on the other side of the far fence, to launch a tremendous confab of barking. Rev. Freethought leapt up out of the water in alarm as the raccoon bounded up onto the outstretched arm of the box elder so as to get the advantage while the opossum leapt upon the fence.

The box elder branch, made heavy by the heavy rains and weakened by the powerful winds, abruptly cracked and came down with the raccoon onto the fence, which tottered, swayed, and all of which gave way with a crash into the street. A stray sliver flew through the air to puncture the hot tub wall, where it waggled for a moment, an impotent spear, before the water pressure forcefully expelled the wood and most of the hot tub contents. The raccoon ran off to such refuge as raccoons find at such times and the opossum vanished amid a hullabaloo of terrier barking that was answered by dogs for several blocks in all directions.

Lionel, who had just closed up the Pampered Pup Hotdog Shoppe came around the corner at this moment to see Reverend Freethought standing there naked and knee deep in the hot tub, a new Venus silvered by the light of the bright moon.

"Are you all right," he asked.

"I wonder if you could hand me my robe," said Reverend Freethought, somewhat hoarsely.

Lionel obliged, then stepping back, reached into his shirt pocket, thinking of something to say that would be most appropriate for the situation. He half pulled out his reading glasses to display them, glinting in the moonlight, then said, "Good evening, Sir." And with that he left.

A little distance from that place, Dame Herrisson poked her head out of the burrow and said to the Don, "Les gens disent que les gens agissent fou pendant une pleine lune."

Which, of course, is quite true as it ever was. People say that people act crazy during a full moon.

"Es cierto, pero siempre estoy loco". Responded the Don, confirming both that he was always crazy and that males and females often seem to speak different languages at one another.

Then came the ululation of the throughpassing train from far across the water as it trundled from the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their moonlit towers, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock, its weedy railbed, its chainlink fence interstices until the locomotive click-clacked past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the old Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown under the light of the laughing man in the moon.

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