JANUARY 19, 2014



So anyway, now the Hollar Days are over, that vigorous time of bustling and everybody shouting at one another, shouting whether in the store or seeing an old acquaintance across the street you have not seen for years, shouting for the sheer exuberance of it whether its necessary or not.

"Hey Steve! Long time no see!

"How are the kids? You get over that bronchitis?"


"Bronchitis! Cough! Pneumonia!"

"O bronchitis! That's what I thought you said. O that was a while back! Better now!"

Of course any two people with sense would cross the street to catch up, but the Californios are all in a hurry nowadays and the street is no place for reunions.

"You gotta drop by some time!"


"Come visit! Bring Martha!"

"Martha? She's fine! Fine . . "!

As for the families, they are all rebuilding themselves into islands of stability after the havoc of temporary proximity in which cousins learned to hate each other all over again in new ways derived by everyone being another year older. Helen is still in a snit about Uncle Jack getting so drunk at dinner and plunging both hands into the steaming mashed potatoes.

Those of us who managed to get through the Season living that Waitresses song with the world's smallest turkey in the oven and no happy ending now are girding up for the Battle of V-Day in February. Kind friends set up parties and blind dates with just a touch of sadism so that Karen/Denby will have some hopeful to cover them up with roses by the dreaded 14th.

"But I don't wanna go out tonight! Whyyyyyyyy?" Karen wails.

"Because," say Chad and Tammy, "We want you to have what we have."

Karen folds her arms and glares from under sharp black bangs. "Wuzzat?"

"We just want you to be happy," Tammy says. "Don't you want to be happy?"

"Overrated," Karen says. "I'll settle for cheerfulness. It's good enough."

A similar conversation happened concerning Denby, with the difference that Bree, Susan and Kara simply did not include him in any decision making for they know that men do not understand the complex mathematics of l'amor.

"Men can have only one thought in their head at any one time," Susan said. "They are incapable of comprehending binomials."

So they set up something at the Old Same Place Bar, knowing that L. and S. were cute as the dickens and pour on a little music, a little booze, why not something happen?

On that night Denby was watching the lead guitarist to figure out the hybrid picking style on his solid body Fender, three humbuckers, to an 80 watt Marshall Stax and pedals on the floor (that is an Fmaj shape he is doing there up to the 12th) while L. and S., cute as the dickens, were bopping along merrily getting drunk. Somehow someway they all wound up taking pictures of each other with their iPhones and L. wound up sitting in Denby's lap and when she got up to go to the Ladies he noted, purely objectively, what a nice bumper there. One of the group returned from the bar with an armload of tequila shots.

Then he got up to go unload his share of beer and he saw out the window Frankie Krick, one of the toughs from The Angry Elf Gang. Frankie had held him down a while ago and had rearranged a couple ribs out of pure venomous spite.

All the members of the Angry Elf Gang were like that. They wanted to put the fear into you so that you lived with it for the rest of your life, so they could use it again.

Denby ducked into the mensroom as the set break arrived and in the stall took out his phone to see himself there with the two beautiful women and him looking like he was, a 56 year old Nevermuch, looking a bit paunchy and unsure of where to put his hands, and his heart sank.

He was old enough to be their father. He turned of the phone, thinking that this all would not end well. It never ended well. As he came out of there he saw to his right the figure of S. crouched hugging her knees on the flagstones in front of the faux fireplace. He had suffered a crush on S. a while back in the most childish way, but had done nothing about it until she went away. He shouldered his way to the front and out the front door and the streetfront where he chatted with one of the musicians briefly, spouting inanities and realizing he was all wrong that night, all off kilter, making crazy connections. Abruptly he said good night and crossed the street to turn left, and as he passed a lighted storefront window he heard a woman cursing softly under her breath while looking at the pink and red marketing display for the next unofficial "holiday."

"I HATE V-day!" she said.

"Me too," Denby said.

The woman turned to stare at him from under sharp black bangs.

"Its BS," Denby said. "Try the Michelinas Schema."

An eyebrow rose underneath the bangs. "Michelinas?"

"Stock up on Michelinas frozen. A buck per entree. And Netflix. No going out, even to the grocery, until the 15th. And practice cheerfulness. Easier to explain."

"Sounds like a plan," the girl said thoughtfully. "That way nobody gets hurt."


"Yep. How could you tell?"

Denby motioned at the storefront window with its candy hearts and cupids. "Me too."

"I gotta go. But thanks, bro."

"No prob. Shake?" he held out his hand.

"Shake," she said and did. "See ya."

And the two people parted and went their separate ways. As Denby walked he whistled a bluegrass tune, The Dotted Line, by Sara Watkins.

I've got a story
The dotted line
We both got sins
That's nothing special
Aint that fine, aint that fine

You've got a story
The dotted line
We both got sins
That's nothing special
Aint that fine, aint that fine

We both lived long enough
to know a friend's worth taking care of
We both been pushed down in the mud
And know that it feels better standing up

Meanwhile, from behind the bar Suzie the bartender observed all that happened and the puzzled group with the tequila shots wondering where the galoot with the hat had gotten off to. He had just vanished like a ghost. O well. He was kinda stodgy anyway.

Suzie handled the rush and the band returned to play. Towards the end she found time to return to her anthropology book to read about the Bonobo. "The Bonobo are a cheery group and remain unfailingly upbeat in the midst of adversity, recovering quickly from disappointment to habitual cheerfulness, even when entirely alone in the big forest. . . ".

Its a dark night on the Island that knows how to keep its secrets, but behind the bar of the Old Same Place sits one bartender still pondering Life's Persistent Questions. Suzie Maldonado.

The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stood glowing with their sentry lights; it quavered across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, moaned through the cracked brick of the old abandoned Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed, keened between the interstices of the chainlink fences as the locomotive glided past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off to parts unknown in the upcoming year ahead.