February 6, 2011


The sun opened up the heavens this week here on the Island, our hometown set in California on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. All the moisture left by the dockwalloper of two weeks ago dried up and all the folks headed right out to take care of business all at once, running into each other on the roads in minor fenderbenders and vehicle contretemps.

With the change in weather and the approaching wretchedness of V-Day, Island-Lifers all scrambled to handle upcoming upheavals as best as each could. Since Winter is the time for it, this past week brought a great deal of soul-searching and . . . very special last good-byes.

Pedro Almeida went looking and found Father Richard Danyluk fishing out by Crab Cove on the jetty there.

"Father, Pedro began, its been, uh ... six or seven weeks since my last confession and, uh, please forgive me for . . .".

"O nuts with that, Pedro", said Danyluk. "I'm fishing here. Just tell me what's on your mind". Father Danyluk was not one to stand on ritual.

Pedro told the good Father that he had become concerned about things Pastor Rotschue had been saying -- that was one thing -- and then there was this other thing bothering him . . .

"Well if you are asking me to comment on what a Lutheran Pastor says during his weekly sermons, I am afraid you have come to the wrong place, and I would mention that perhaps you should be spending your time with either me or Archbishop Mitty on Sundays. What's this other thing?"

Pedro said that he had perhaps been using unfortunate language.

"O? As in taking the Lord's name in vain?" he said as he reeled in his red and white bobber.

"O no, no, no not that, well . . . maybe a little bit once in a while, but I mean I have been talking with people I am not sure I know much about people I don't know very well . . . ".

"Ah yes. The tongue is perhaps the most pernicious of the Devil's weapons. Downfall of many women and the damnation of many a man". The Father threw out his line. "About whom have you been, um, gabbing?"

"Wellll, you see I been talking back to the people on the radio. . . ".

The priest's eyebrow went up. "To other boats out there?"

"Not the ship-to-shore radio. My old Sony transistor. I been communicatin' to the people in Minnesota. . . ".

"Let me get this right. You are hearing voices coming out of the one-way transistor radio and they are talking to you and you talk back to them and . . . they listen to you?"

"That's about right. Except I am not sure the Pastor Rotschue hears me too good."

Father Danyluk moved so that the tacklebox was between him and Pedro. "Um do you do what this radio tells you to do all the time?"

"Oh no, its nothing like that. Me and the Pastor Rotschue are just friends. I think he has a lot of friends."

A little relieved, the priest moved back to take up his rod and reel again. He sighed. "Pedro, you know Pastor Nyquist is a friend of mine. And I rather like Pastor Bauer."

"Yes Father".

"You know when we get together each New Years, you know what we talk about? Fishing. That's what we talk about. And . . . he coughed. Good wine. And Tuscany. And Nigeria. You know we both spent some time there, although different parishes of course. I am not sure if they have parishes but anyway, Pedro, I believe that Pastor Bauer and Pastor Nyquist and probably your Pastor Rotschue on the radio can take care well enough of their own. This is California. Time for you to come home and gossip about your own. And perhaps Unitarians. For them I would make an exception".

"Yes Father. I am so sorry. I only wanted to help . . .".

"Yes yes. Leave to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to god the things that are god's and the Lutherans to Lutherans. The radio isn't talking to you personally; there has to be several million people who listen to that show. Go now in peace." The priest reeled in his line again without success. "Are there no fish in this cove?

"You may want to let it sit longer. What shall be my penance, Father?"

"O skip that Hail Mary crap. Next time you have a brace of perch or sea bass bring them to Sister Beatrice. Would you do that?"

Pedro agreed and went on his way.

Denby was having a time of it back at the House and Marlene was trying to console him. He had just gotten his rejection letter from the Bluegrass New Grass Talent Contest. They had sent back his demo CD with a note and five dollars. This is what the note read:

Dear Mr. Montana. It is difficult to know where to begin about your performance. Ordinarily we try to offer constructive criticism to aspiring musicians so that they can return to the woodshed, so to speak, and emerge better, but in your case we could find very little on which to build. Your vocals compare unfavorably to a frog farting on a foggy day, according to our Ms. Shackelton, and your guitar-playing lacks the qualities of tempo, harmony, rhythm, melody -- and the right notes -- which most find important for music. This according to Mr. Strenghaus, who is the foremost authority on the subject. Your entire demo caused the sensitive Ms. Watkins to turn pale, while Mr. Donohue solemnly promised to kill you on sight as a service to the Muse. You should be embarrassed of assaulting the sensibilities of such a delicate young girl. Shame!

We attempted to gather up a kitty so that you can perhaps get some lessons on just about any subject, for in all of them you want improvement, but five dollars was about all we could muster. Please do not spend it all on booze.

Cordially, Ole Norsemann

Denby was brought quite low by this right at the time he needed to be stocking up on 88 cent Michelina's frozen meals and similar provisions so as to make it through V-Day. He had been hoping to win the contest or at least win the runner's up prize, a fishing trip to fabulous Bemiji where he had hoped to meet the fabulous Sara Watkins, but that certainly looked to be out the porthole and flushed down the head now.

Denby, said Marlene. You are not a bluegrass player, you are an effed up punk like the rest of us here. And Ms. Watkins is half your age. Give it up. Come on home to Social D, Offspring, Iggy and the Monkey Spankers. That's all you are ever going to be. Get real.

Denby grabbed his guitar and angrily began playing a Nine Inch Nails song.

Eff! You are pretty bad, said Marlene. Maybe you should stick to Black Sabbath . . . .

Meanwhile the Editor was going through his own farewells to certain obsessions he had held for some time. Festus, the messenger hamster, had returned from the Frozen Great White North after great travail to issue his report.

"No go, Chief. The main man upstairs says you gotta drop this thing or he is gonna sick a pack of rabid huskies on us. Ain't no way you ever gonna get Sister City Status with this one. They are just too Big and we are just too small."

The Editor was disconsolate. Fifteen years of trials and effort had come to this -- a rodent's naysay report. There would be no great dreams, no merging of minds, no melding of ideas, no creative fusion such as of which he had dreamed.

He had imagined that common membership in the Professional Organization of English Majors had counted for something, but apparently not.

"Dude", Festus said. "He is wildly successful doing what he does; he does not need or want you. He is rich and lives in a house on a hill. Time to just give it up, boss!"

The Editor sighed.

"Boss, California is a different place entirely from Up There. We all used to be an Island -- remember your history. The prairie aint no California. We got the mountains and we got the ocean, boss! We are the place people go to get away from there! Right now its minus twenty degrees (believe me I felt it!); here all the flowers are blooming. The wisteria is going hysterical. The hardenbergia is holding forth. Daffydillies are dallying! Are you not GLAD you do not live in Minnesota!?"

The Editor sighed again. "You are right Festus. Time to give up this mad scheme. I had thought we would enjoy a dialogue, but obviously I was very wrong. The Golden State is beset all around by its enemies and the Great Recession and we must rely upon ourselves. What tho' the battle be lost. All is not lost. Shall we get down on bended knee before that proud tyrant before whose throne something something lately shook . . .".

"O for pete's sake", said Festus. "I had to get an English Major for a boss".

"Get out of here Festus".

"I'm gonna get me a pizza and a beer. You want anything?"

"Go, Festus".

The Editor put on a Joni Mitchell CD and bent down to work on the big Farewell to LWB issue, his remaining white hairs flying about his head in an aureole.

Long ago, a writer friend -- one of those kinds of writers who wins awards and stuff like that -- had told him, "You must do more than simply like your characters. You must love them." Pause. "Sometimes that is more terrible."

It was true. Once they were born they went out into the world and lived lives of their own and like any parent, you got fond of them beyond reason. They interacted with other people and you got jealous. It was always like that. Probably best to leave other people's children alone, given what he would do if anybody dared touch one of his.

"And now I am returning these things to myself / which you and I suppressed . . .".

At this time, a sorrowful Pedro sat in the wheelhouse of his boat, El Borracho Perdido, a few hours before he was due to set out on his daily run, and turned the dial of the radio from 88.5 slowly through the range to 104.5. Goodbye Pastor Rotschue. Be well with your flock or whatever you call your radio listeners. I am free now to go my own way. Maybe I will check in on you once in a while, but things are changed. The herring have returned to the Bay after being absent for so long, and tomorrow will be a brisk new day.

Right then the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the quietly departing waves of the estuary and the waving grasses 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 its own personal destiny, to a future, mysterious and yet unknown.

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