FEBRUARY 25, 2007


It's been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown. The Snob Hill Foods opened up at the blighted Bridgeside Shopping Center, which is finally showing signs of life within sight of the Kaiser talus piles across the estuary after local politics and silly in-fighting let a grocery move back into the abandoned grocery location there. There is a movement afoot to turn the Island into a Preserve for the Affluent and Latte-conscious class, hence the push for Snob Hill, Trader Joes and other venues where people not only know how to pronouce the word "arugula", but also know when to pair such a leaf with Belgian endive. Heard they had a jazz quartet playing there in the middle of the fruit and vegetable section. That means they are helping to feed musicians, so okay, you guys can stay.

Where there is music, there is vitality and vitamins and all the FDA requirements for healthy living. The presence of music means life goes on with some reason or other and generally the economy benefits as well as beneficial aspects to the social contract. Besides, music is good for you, so support local music wherever you can.

Down at the Old Same Place things have been pretty quiet. Susie has had to fill the hours behind the bar reading up on her old anthropology textbooks between the sporadic order for a martini on the rocks or the Old Fashioned straight up, muddled. There she leans up behind the soda dispenser with the pale bar lights shining on her text describing the habits and culture of the Bonobo of Madagascar, their curious customs, their uninhibited behaviour.

Bear has been absent since the 14th, as usual, and so his hibernation period remains unbroken. Percy does not bring his immaculate coupe ever out under so much as a wisp of cloud for fear of damaging the leather upholstery by means of excess humidity, so he is also scarce this evening. Babar has been preparing for the raucous tumult of the hustings, for he has once again announced his candidacy for the highest office of the land. The Incumbant, President Eugene Shrubb, has long been known as a teetotaler, although recent signs of private slippage in that area have manifested themselves, often with embarrassing results.

The recent contatemps in which he grabbed the visiting Prime Minister of Moravia, Angela Ferkel, caused much international alarm. One simply does not grab a foreign head of state by the ears from behind. Such diplomats possess armed bodyguards who may misinterprete the action, although just how one is supposed to interprete an ear massage is open to question at the outset.

Fog horns hoot out on the Bay while Suzie absently polishes a glass before returning to her book. The Bonobos appear to have no problems pursuing diplomatic relations with neighboring tribes . . . .

The door opens and a guy walks in, his long London Fog knockoff sparkeled with raindrops and he takes a seat at the bar, orders a beer. The only other customers in the bar are a girl in her twenties nursing her second "he-stood-me up-I-left-him-good-riddance" Manhattan and a sour Eugene Gallipagus well into his fourth sour of the evening at the far end of the bar in the shadows.

"I hate poodles." Eugene says to nobody in particular, then, perhaps to explain, says, "I hate all small yappy dogs."

The girl gets up and moves further away from him at the bar.

Suzie goes over to the sound system and turns it on. One of Jimmy's compilation CD's is in the changer, and when Jimmy, a frustrated radio disk jockey, makes a compilation CD he does so by a theme that seems comprehensible only to the labyrinthine workings of Jimmy's brain. This one is all about rain songs. The first one is by Johnny Cash, and it never mentions rain, not even once.

Just around the corner there's heartache
Down the street that losers use
If you can wade in through the teardrops
You'll find me at the Home of the Blues

The girl looks at the guy who is staring into the glass in front of him like he can see the future in the suds like that Elf Queen in the movie Lord of the Rings and that future does not look particularly too bright.

So if you've just lost your sweetheart
And it seems there's no good way to choose
Come along with me, misery loves company
You're welcome at the Home of the Blues

"I have a dog. He's a good dog." The girl says straight in front of her.

"Umph," rousing out of his funk, "What kind?"

"Setter. He's intelligent and can do tricks and stuff."

"I used to have a dog. Long time ago. . . ".

There the conversation trailed off. So Suzie, doing whatever a bartender can do under such circumstances comes over, puts her hands on the bar and looks from one to the other.

"Can I get you two anything?"

"Water," says the girl. "Just a glass of plain tap water please."

Suzie shrugs, puts down a glass of water and takes away the empty manhattan glass.

"Just don't buy me a drink." says the girl. "That's so trite and stupid. I am so sick of being stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"All right." says the guy.

The conversation languishes again. The song ends and Stevie Ray Vaugh starts in with a real cheery number.

The sky is crying!
Look at all the teardrops rolling down the street . . .

After a while, the guy starts talking. "I knew a gal once. Secretary for a law firm in the City. There are plenty of smart girls in the City but she was not one of them. Had not any more brains than a bat. One day she filled up the xerox machine with rubbing alcohol instead of toner and just stood there giggling at what she had done. And she did a lot of things like that Anyway, she owns this red Miata sportscar and every Friday night she would go out with the same friends she has had for years, as carefree and happy for all the world. That mistake with the toner didn't bother her and nothing people said ever made a lick of difference in her attitude and I am in there getting torn up by my boss for a wrong punctuation mark on a deposition. A deposition! Those things are all verbal! But that guy was making my life miserable in that place.

Then I'd see this perfect idiot go flouncing in and out and I thought to myself, you know, how come she's happy and I am not? I have a right to be happy, I decided, just as much right as her."

There was a pause after that speech, then the girl said, "What did you do?"

The guy stood up and laid down a two dollar tip before speaking as he buttoned up his overcoat. "I walked out. Never went back and my life has been better ever since. And when there's bad luck, I forget that day, but I thank you for reminding me. Thank you, whoever you are. And I don't think you are stupid at all." And with that, the guy went out.

The girl finished her glass of water and turned the glass in her hands, apparently catching the barlight in its facets. She then gathered up her things and there, right there at the door, Suzie could see how the girl pulled back her shoulders, straightened up and held her chin high like a woman warrior setting out into the storm as Jorma Kaukonen came on right then with "Big River Blues."

Oh Let it rain, let it pour
Let it rain just a whole lot more
I've got those Big River Blues!

Suzie called a cab for Eugene, well onto his fifth sour and a private rumination against yappy dogs before returning to her textbook. "The culture of the Bonobo is repleate with inexplicable and random acts of generosity and kindness . . . ."

Right then the long wail of the train passing through the dark and shuttered Jack London Waterfront from the tall gantries of the Port ululated across the gently laving waters of the estuary as the freight headed out to parts unknown.

Its a dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but deep in the Old Same Place Bar sits one woman still trying to resolve life's persistent questions. Suzie Maldonado.

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