JANUARY 25, 2014



So anyway, most of the world is embedded deep within the reveries of snow and ice-time, and even here in California we have had some pretty nippy mornings. Yet the season advances and still no rain and no word of snow at elevation in the Sierra, so people have started collecting bricks for the toilet, checking out drought-proof ground cover, repairing leaky faucets and getting ready for another hard time with water.

Still, the fog has returned, a bit early, but the early harbinger of things about to change. The squirrels are running like mad on the fences and the woodrats have come out in droves.

After the Hollardays had crept safely away and little Adam went back to school, the House Wrecking crew dragged the decrepit tree from its washtub out the door and down to the beach, there to make a merry bonfire in the sand. As Pahrump and Jose and Occasional Quentin scrounged around for tinder, the careful marsupial who had been living inside the trunk crept from his hole, peered about, and not liking the incendiary future fast approaching, scampered down and out across the sands into the underbrush area between the beach and the low wall that bordered the bicycle path.

Eugene Gallipagus, walking with his date, found in the Craigslist Personals (Soulful gal with youthful spirit loves cuddling, candlelight, nature, long walks on the beach. Seeking Life Partner who does not ask too much . . .".) came across the bonfire just as the Fire Department arrived to extinguish the blaze. As the men came down with their axes and their hose, the leaping shadows thrown by the firelight mingled with the dark fleeing bodies of the Household seeking an escape.

Eugene had perhaps put too much weight on the "loves nature" part, for his stories of hunting Fifi with his Widowmaker 30 aught six seemed to put a damper on the evening which started off well enough at the Sushi House with the big picture windows facing the Bay and the distant glitter of Babylon across the water.

"So you like to carve up once living things with a knife," Sandra said flatly.

"Yep," Eugene said. "Genuine Gil Hibben bowie. Nine inches a' cold steel."

He probably should not have gone into the business of gutting and cleaning the kill at dinner.

By the time arrived for the long walk on the beach it seemed pretty clear even to Eugene, who it must be admitted was not the sharpest tool in the woodshed, that this one was going to go nowhere fast and he was cheerfully resigned to make the best of it. There is a world of men like Eugene, decent enough, hard working, not especially talented or bright, and gifted with sufficient obtuseness to shield them from lifetimes of otherwise miserable loneliness. These brothers of a kind meet on occasion to sling back beers, crowd inside a hunter's shack for poker and stories, greet distantly across the frozen lake from fishhouses. As long as the AFL and the NFL persist, these fellows will never lack for conversation.

Sandra, constructed of more delicate material, was feeling the bony finger of Time's second hand poking her between the ribs at forty-five and after tonight, she felt sure another dreadful V-Day would growl with tumultuous stormclouds seeded with scads of "putee" cherubs as it passed over her with her head kept down, ears plugged into her iPod Nano playing that Eleanor Rigby song over and over and over again.

As the two stood to watch the firemen do their thing, he to admire the equipment and professionalism, she to watch the sparks and mourn the embers, one of the firemen there noticed her and called out her name.

"O hello Sandy. What are you doing here?"

"O walking. How is Susan?"

"O we are not together. She was too much a Taurus, if you know what I mean."

"You two were really an item at Encinal High," Sandra said. "Sue and Brad."

"Yeah, well some people grow up." Pause. "And some do not. You down here by yourself?"

"Well, uh . . ".

"Yes," Eugene said suddenly. "We just met on the beach and saw the fire. Bye now! Gotta go dust the taxidermy." With that Eugene turned and walked off into the night, for even among dull tools, there are those who sometimes can still cut to the heart of the matter with some understanding.

"You still living at St. Charles?" Brad asked.

"No I outgrew that place. I am over on Park Avenue now," Sandra replied.

"Hey give you a ride back!"

"On the truck! Isn't that like, against the rules?"

"Ah never mind about that, The guys will love it. You can ring the bell!"

As the woman climbed up into the firetruck, the escaped opossum observed all from his new sanctuary of driftwood and high above, floating amid Michelangelo clouds, a grinning putto renotched his bow with an arrow and sailed off on tiny wings to locate another victim.

The end of January brought about the first day of the next lunar cycle, and we are not talking monthlies here. Well, a bit, as January 30th was the dark New Moon. All across Asia, billions of Asians go on the march in a vast "chunyun" of waves of humanity washing back and forth across the continent in all kinds of vehicles, from planes, to trains, autos, motorcycles, rickshaws, ferries, paddleboats, ox carts, perambulators, bicycles, floating river barrels, busses, flivvers, animatronic mice, uranium-stoked flip-flops, jet skis, travois, horses of course, mules, donkeys even, all scampering hither and thither to celebrate the new year and the vast majority wearing red knickers to ward off the lion-monster named "Nian".

Nian has sensitive ears, so it is wise to blast obnoxious noise like firecrackers and the Abba songlist through loudspeakers. The red knickers help to escape Nian and maybe help with other things as well, especially if they are lacy.

Jennifer Bao came busting into the Old Same Place Bar with a coterie of women from the Island Asian Promulgation Enterprise (I-APE). Babylon had its famous festival with immense parade and the enormous Gum Lung, Oaktown has its own festival. All the hamlets and towns in the 5 County Bay Area held official celebrations. Now, seeing as City Hall finally had broken the yellow barrier tape in getting a true-blue son of FOB parents into a Council seat Jennifer and her group were lobbying hard for the Lunar New Year to be celebrated here on the Island with its own festival.

So Beijing was a little bit Communist ...

So what if there had been a minor flap over raising the PRC flag at City Hall on National Day. The Tibetans had raised such a stink over it the entire ceremony had been ruined. So Beijing was a little bit Communist and somewhat anti-capitalist to a moderate degree. Hey, we are all Asians here and time to celebrate our cultures. With a couple billion people swilling around over there you can't expect everybody to be the same as you. If its Yellow its mellow and that should be good enough. Those darned Tibetans. Just because they got invaded and stuff. They gotta dig the Buddha-man and just chill without messing up the party. Padraic wussup with all the green here? We got the Year of the Horse coming on!

Padraic shrugged. It's an Irish bar and St. Paddy's is coming up . . . .

That's not for another month, said Jennifer. C'mon Padraic, loosen up and do the Gagnam Style! Hey, we got lucky red envelopes and flags and pictures of horses -- this week everybody can be Asian a little bit. Just don't put no stereotypes on me -- I sure aint no Lotus Blossom, that's for sure! She shouted across the Bar at someone taping up a horse's head in the window - HEY! STRAIGHTEN THAT HORSE'S ASS! HE LOOKS LIKE HE IS POOPING IN THE DOS EQUIS! Jennifer buttonholed Suzie. Hey you sweetie, we get you in a silk dress with a slit up to IT and you no need to rent a boyfriend this year . . . .

I think NOT, Dawn stated emphatically.

Over at the Household of Marlene and Andre, the swing shift sleepers snoozed in their blankets and sleeping bags, wrapped deep in the Stygian warmth of dreams, dreams of better times to come, of full bellies and gentle gestures replacing the hard flint of human intercourse today. Jose dreamed of flying with the gorgeous multicolored feathers of Quetzalcoatl, sailing effortless over valleys and rivers, away from all these hard people and the stones of their minds and their wooden hearts.

Javier dreamed, of course, of being caressed by fabulous nearly naked women, none of whom ever wanted to kill him or set him on fire.

In the bedroom, little Adam slept after doing his dutiful homework and cleaning the dishes, sleeping the sleep of the almost, but not quite innocent. His lips open, slack, without a hint of his roguery.

In the bed, Marlene sat up going through her papers at the end of the long day, the thick black reading glasses slipping down to the point of her upturned nose as she kept accounts. The girl with the ruined womb, quietly keeping body and soul together in that quiet house of sleepers. Andre sat on the edge of the bed, quietly finishing up the details of an outlaw love song on his Washburn dreadnought with a bit of soft Travis-picking. The boy beaten and abused by a long short life of unfair and callous, initiated by another stepfather who probably could just as well have enjoyed a beer in the same tavern as the one who destroyed Marlene.

there is a City of Hope where the women walk from house to house, singing

In the heart of Africa, in the depths of the Congo jungle, there is a City of Hope where the women walk from house to house, singing. There they heal the lacunae, the perforations that would obliterate love. The Household of Marlene and Andre is just such a place. As the silver sliver above eased slowly to its next incarnation as the First Quarter Moon, the girlchild woman touched the boychild man's neck and he put away the guitar to fold her in his thin arms, two bruised and battered hearts beating together.

Overhead, silent and invisible, a putto torn from some medieval painting let his bow go slack, let the arrow droop, and the cherub hovered in wonder for a moment. No need to strike here. And so off the little thing flew on tiny wings, bobbing above the rooftops, seeking some hapless mortal to thrust into love's piercing torment with his cruel arrows of chance.

As the mischievous fellow bobbed along who should he see walking a little unsteady from all the beer, but Eugene Gallipagus. The arrow notched let fly and hit its mark. ZING! POCK! Down went the sturdy man, hard to the pavement.

Now who should the hapless poodlehunter Eugene see upon opening his eyes? Maybe next week we will tell you all about it.

For that is when 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, 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 romantic parts unknown.


So anyway a mini "Pineapple Express" roared through the Bay Area this past week. Such weather systems consist of rapid narrow trofs that barrel through with a series of rainstorms. The condition develops from a ripple of highs and low pressure spots that congregate near Hawaii.

This is the misery of Winter, such as it is for California. Of course other places -- even places in California -- suffer somewhat more severe weather and concomitant attitudes inflexible as ice.

Of course when people come here for the weather, just one wildfire, just one earthquake and back they go, scurrying to Idaho and Virginia and their beloved tornadoes.

Cold and ice are bad enough, but losing everything you own, your sense of gravity, and your sanity along with it, well that is more than a lot of people want to endure on a regular basis.

With this weather there is one good thing -- all the snow bunnies are heading up to Tahoe and the Sierra to get in some downhill and spend a few dollars at overpriced chalets and faux mountain eateries, cavorting there with the sprung step of youth.

Now is the time of dank, wet advancement, the steady slog when the ease of Summer feels like an unreal impossibility. The Oakland hills remain shrouded in mist and every room feels like a box sapping the heat from your body. Because the assumption is that it never gets cold here, none of the houses possess wall insulation or double-pane windows.

People look to use the oven as often as possible, looking for ways to employ that out-of-date cream of mushroom soup and the weird can of cheddar cheese soup, which nobody seems to have ever heated up within memory save folded safely within some kind of baked tuna casserole.

Unless you hailed from Wisconsin who on earth would ever eat such a thing straight up? Even Juanita is trying to see if she can finally get the Minnesota Hot Dish down right, save with her special infusion of jalapenos in a spicy nacho can mixed with french cut green beans and Louisiana hot sauce.

People still find boxes of the first attempt she made as an offering to the visiting Norwegian Bachelor farmers in search of their wayward minister. Those fellows, used to food that got no spicier than Matjes Herring left little boxes of her gifts stowed all over town, and even today, years later, folks would come across a magically preserved box of that hot dish in the most unlikely places.

So anyway, the weekend brought on a set of dockwallopers and wharf sizzlers to gently nudge thoughts away from drought. Drought is a function of snowfall in the Sierra and has no relation upon the local rainstorms, which barely wet the arid trough of the reservoirs with their meager additions. A few inches here and there, even one or two torrential monsoons, cannot possibly compensate for entire acre-feet of water level loss.

Word has it Mount Tam got 20 inches of rain in that last deluge, which ought to ease that part of the world some.

A terrible thing had happened to Eugene Gallipagus...

A terrible thing had happened to Eugene Gallipagus, one of the worse fates imaginable to a man like him. But before we get into that, we have to tell about what happened the night the big storm began.

Because of the impending drought, Eugene got it into his head to set up rain barrels all around the property. Since a rain barrel cannot catch more than its mouth, Eugene made himself a dinner of a peanut butter sandwich washed down with berry-flavored Sports-Ade and so scurried about setting up plastic-covered plywood sheeting held down with cotton rope and two by fours to funnel all the water from the roof of the building and the garage. Since the setup would likely overflow any one container he had, he setup quite an ingenious system of pulleys and ball-bearing hinges dependent upon sandbag counterweights hanging from ropes. As one barrel filled, its weight would push down a board that lifted up a counterweight which caused an old sailboard pole to shove a notch that activated a spring and a wheel, thus getting the entire open funnel to shift its "spout" over the mouth of an empty barrel. He built this setup hurriedly as there was scant warning of the oncoming Pineapple Express, so the first drops were already falling when he finished off his work in the yard in the dark although he worked like mad in a great effort to get something troubling off of his mind.

The system seemed to work pretty well, at least as far as he could see by flashlight so he went to bed, waking up to the sound of terrific crashing out back. He came out in the sleeting rain to see that his entire forty-foot funnel had upended itself, flinging matchstick two by fours over the fence into Mrs. Almeida's chicken coop where a noisy sort of disarray prevailed among the hens who shrieked a hullabaloo at the raccoons which had gathered to pilfer the eggs. Mrs. Almeida came out and added quite a bit of choice Portuguese as well.

What had happened. Roof rats, stirred out of their dens by the rains flooding formerly dry holes, had found the scent of peanut butter on the ropes holding the counterweights and so had chewed the lines down until they snapped under the weight of sodden wood and rainwater, flinging the half-full rain barrels, one after another up into the air, propelled by the leaf springs from a 1942 Ford pickup truck and sending Eugene's hasty construction cartwheeling across the yard to Poultry Armageddon.

Of course one could talk about what happened next, however the sad truth was that Eugene had fallen in love. Now for many this is not such problem but for Eugene, the captain of doofiness if there ever was one, the event seriously violated his character. Yet again, anything is possible in this great wide world and the actor who portrayed Gomer Pyle, a character with whom Eugene shared many traits, also possessed a great operatic voice.

It's just that nobody remembers Gomer Pyle for opera.

And who should have Eugene's amorous eyes lighted upon immediately after having been skewered by that puckish puto? A nun from the Tibetan monastery Garam Masala, named Sabine. The first thing Eugene said to her was, "What the heck happened to your hair?"

Sabine told him she was with the Buddhist monastery and Eugene blurted out that he wanted to live with her forever. Subtlety never had infected Eugene's discourse.

Sabine rocked back on her heels. "Well, you would have to renounce the world's illusions and practice Zen mindfulness every day."

Of course Eugene was all agog to know what that entailed.

"Well the path to enlightenment is through wisdom and we acquire wisdom through the abnegation of desire."

That path felt contrary to purpose and so this left Eugene much distressed. Nevertheless, he started hanging out around the Tibetan temple with guys in purple robes and he collected some literature and got a book called "The Five Fold Way". He began taking cold showers and he poured out all the last of his Fat Tire ale, which drove a stake through his heart as he did so.

Different churches handle the modern version of the old Roman holiday of Lupercalia in ways that suited their temperaments.

Buddhists drape their statue of His Paunchy Holiness with roses. The Baptists either engage in hella joyful shouting or even more severe diatribes against sin and hellfire and damnation, depending on what sort of Baptist minister held sway. The Lutherans held a Mac 'n Cheese banquet with pink lemonade and happy couples walked the labyrinth in the dark with giggles, holding hands, while Pastor Nyquist sermonized on the differences between Eros, Caritas and that other one no one can remember the name of. They also did a fair amount of singing.

The Catholics of course had their priests dressed up in fancy gay robes with pink pumps -- rather stylish, actually -- and members of Opus Dei tried to hold a condom burning which did not end well, as Father Danyluk had to come out into the parking lot with a fire extinguisher to put out the smoking blaze and berate all of them for acting like fools in spreading the stink of burnt rubber all over the neighborhood.

The Presbyterians behaved with rectitude and held history panels on the famous 1950's gangland massacre in Chicago.

Members of the Church of Truffle Delight put on white robes and drank red wine and ate powdered chocolates.

Jason Arrabiata, CFSM, held a spaghetti dinner. This one seemed to attract a fair number of Methodists as well.

Reverend Freethought hosted a party for all the Unitarians and everyone who came had great fun. Four of them, Reverend Lisa Freethought, Denby Montana, Miles Ni Gopaleen, and Marsha from the Household ended up playing scrabble until late. The Reverend won the final game with a word coined by Mencken, "ecdysiast".

They were all amazed and wondered how the Reverend knew of such a word, but she would not say anything about it. They caught Miles smiling to himself with secret knowledge and he had to say that the word reminded him of great lady, someone whom he had never met, but of whose admirable qualities there was some renown.

In the Old Same Place Bar, Suzie and Dawn and Padraic got busy cleaning up the place, for the weekend at the old watering hole would be profitable. And everyone wondered just how this new thing between Eugene and Sabine, the Buddhist nun, would work out. Padraic was not optimistic for the couple's future.

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, 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 romantic parts unknown.