March 2008

Its been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown, set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The moody weather has yielded to distinctly cold sunshine and bright red tulips firing up out of the sandy soil here like so many impetuous and difficult to restrain children. Other parts of the country remain drownded and snowbound under Winter's slowly releasing grip. All along the low farmhouses of Western Massachusetts, the snow slumps against the windowsills and postholes around the parkinglot dumpsters where Fanny has let her pooch do ya-ya during the long icy winter. Spring shall reveal small brown surprises that shall irk the Property Management Man. Meanwhile, the northern lakes of Minnesotta are showing blue patches and suspiciously dark shoreline edges and nobody dares drive out to spin donuts for all the fish houses have disappeared overnight.

Forget all that for now. The time has come to talk about Mr. Howitzer. In the late evening, Mr. Howitzer sets out to walk his dog, Paddleboat, from his manse on Grand Street, through the iron gate, past the Chinese lions and out to the street, to turn left down to the Strand. Too often we speak of our Islander with fondness and affection, accusing them of minor peccadillos, but otherwise upholding their essentially Californian qualities of ernestness, forthrightness, directness, generosity, and honesty.

A native Californian can be many things, positive and negative, but he is seldom an uptight snerd of the sort so often found east of the Mississippi river.

Let us now discuss Mr. Howitzer, he of the Boston Howitzers who sailed around the Horn in 1852 to ensconce themselves here by making all of the right choices and thoroughly exploiting anyone remotely weaker than themselves, beginning with the Miwok, the Ohlone, the Mandan and the Yurok, to whom they sold inferior blankets and knives in exchange for good foodstuffs and valuable information.

Lemuel Howitzer obtained foothold on the Island by leasing land from Mr. Augenbaugh, which the enterprising Lemuel subdivided and sold to unsuspecting newcomers at great profit until the scheme was discovered subsequent to a fourth-hand sale somewhere down the line. Lemuel offered, just to help smooth things over, to buy property he had already sold at a bit less than the value. At the end of all the brough-haha, Lemuel ended up with much of the land back in his possession and a tidy sum in the bank. Thus have the Howitzers proceded ever since. From selling water rights to rivers never seen and never purchased, to building dams where no dams were wanted or needed, the Howitzers were there first among the best.

Sam Howitzer took advantage of this family heritage to invest in real estate and many were the parks and green spaces converted to useful townships under his command. The Fosters, who created the abomination known as Foster City could not have build a stick on stone without his help and so his retirement was assured at an early age.

On Sunday evenings he was wont to walk his dog down to Mr. Cribbage's place where Cribbage kept a group of low slung Eastern-style bungalows that he let for rent to what seemed to be an unceasing series of low-lifes and improbables due to his atrocious lack of judgement in character. If a meth addict or pusher or wife beater happened to glom onto Mr. Cribbage, he was sure to chose them for all their manly qualities and their gruff manner, as opposed to ability to pay and keep the peace.

As a result, Mr. Cribbage was a singular failure as a landlord, although he, like Howitzer had inherited his millions, and he was made of such a sour constitution that of all his pounds of wealth not a sou gave him the slightlest enjoyment. Each day, he patrolled his property with an industrial weed eradicator and a brush shaped similar to his own blonde moustache so as to dispel the slightest sully of natural nature upon his nature, even as transvestites battled drug pushers in and just outside his tawdry apartments with high pitched shrill voices, cursing as he sprayed the moss and the weeds, full of high opinions and the ruinous Democratic Party.

A few people thought he might be of Dutch or German extraction, going way back for there was a Cribbage who had run a bratwurst stand for years down by the 'Stick baseball stadium.

There, in Cribbage's dingy rooms, under the immense figure of a mounted ram's head, Mr. Howitzer sat with Mrs. Blather, of the San Francisco Blathers, another of the Old Families with attachments to Stanford and Lowell High School and all the best Establishments, including (at least one) marriage to the Aliotos and even more besides. This knot formed the nexus of a group that gathered each Sunday so as to decry the Decay of the West, lament the rise of Gay Culture in connection with rampant bi-lingualism, and deplore the state of Public Education as well as the shirking of Personal Responsibility and over attachment to New Deal things like Entitlements during a game of bridge.

Mrs. Angela Pescatore filled out the club roster, accompanied by her poodle, Saxon

This is all to say that sometimes California is quite a mixture of things.

Saxon greated Paddleboat, Mr. Howitzer's new rottweiler, in the usual manner. Howd'yado. Butt sniff. Fine. Sniff. Fine butt! Yes! Sniff! Turn about. Sniff again. Tasty butt. Sniff. And then to their respective places went the hounds, each at the feet of their respective owners, all social niceties having been observed with all due respect.

North opened, South bid, and soon the game was on like old times.

Any hint of what happened to Snuggles, Mr. Cribbage asked with reference to Mr. Howitzers first rottweiler, which had disappeared sometime around last Thanksgiving.

No sign, no sign.

Stolen most likely. By one of them people from Oakland, if you know what I mean. Such a shame, said Mrs. Blather. They breed them to fight one another you know. And call it a sport. Those people.

Put out to stud, most likely, said Howitzer.

Why you mean you never had him snipped said Mrs. Pescatore. In all that time?

A dog is a dog, said Howitzer, crossing his legs. And he was certainly a brute. Paddleboat here sleeps in the old bed just fine.

I'll never forget the day he ate those chillies that belonged to the lesbian couple, said Mrs. Blather.

I remember that too. Took right off, knocking bicycles and joggers aside on his way to cool his tuckus in the Estuary. Lucky I didn't get sued.

All the animals are trouble, said Cribbage. It's not like back in the day when an animal had to work for a living and none of this New Age dog therapy and whatnot. Back then, a cat got sick he died without any fuss. Too many puppies? Drown 'em in a bucket. I have a tenant who actually keeps a bird in the place and lets him run about after him. Just make darn sure that thing don't make a mess in the carport, I told him. Or out he goes and you shortly after. Pets. Put them all away, I say.

Now now, Saxon, he don't mean you. You are family, said the lady to her creature, which thumped its tail once and then was still.

At that moment an insistent rapping pulled Cribbage over to the window, which he opened, only to see nothing.

What was that about? asked Howitzer, smearing a bit of the cheese log on a cracker before taking a serious bite.

Tree branch maybe, said Cribbage and as he sat down, the rapping came again. He went again to the window and the company heard him say, "shoo! shoo!" several times before he returned to the table will a look of irritation. Blackbird, he said. Some sort of crow.

Come around begging, no doubt, said Mrs. Blather. People feed them and they come around looking for more handouts, the filthy creatures.

When the rapping came a third time, Cribbage went to the window with a broom. After a bit of muttered cursing from the direction of the window there was a little crack of broken glass and the sound of the broom falling as a rather middle-sized raven fluttered into the room to land on the stuffed ram above the fireplace.

Well, 'll be damned, said Howitzer. Look at that!

Adding a new level of curses to his conversation, Cribbage poked at the bird with the handle of the broom, which had the effect of causing it to hop from one horn to the other and back again.

After a few jabs, Cribbage stood there red-faced and panting while the bird looked at him with its head cocked to one side.

"Nevermore," Said the bird, quite distinctly.

"What?!" All of the humans present exclaimed.

"Nevermore," Repeated the bird.

Oh for pete's sake, its a pet someone trained to talk, Howitzer exclaimed.

In response, Cribbage flailed up at the horns with his broom stick and was soon joined by Howitzer, who tried to wack the bird down with the end of his walking stick.

This resulted in breaking one of the horns and the two of them stood there, panting and sweaty, while the bird looked down at them with its head cocked to one side. The broken horn lay on the tiles in front of the fireplace.

Quite suddenly the two went at it again, flailing and screaming as the bird hopped from the good horn to the base of the old one to the mantel and back again, with not much disturbance to the raven until they wound up knocking the big head off of the wall into the fireplace grate, from where a cloud of dust and ash roiled outward. The Raven found a new position in the chandalier high above them.

Cribbage determined to evict this unwelcome tenant at all costs pulled open a drawer to retrieve a vintage 1916 Cavalryman's service revolver. Two shots and the chandalier came down onto the bridge table with a snap of sparks and a spectacular crash, plunging the place into darkness until Cribbage got a floor lamp to illuminate quite a mess, rendered a bit stickier by the contents of a former cut glass decanter of South African port, which Saxon and Paddleboat began lapping up with great gusto.

O, the cheese has been demolished totally, said Mrs. Pescatore.

The raven, however, was gone.

That was rather violent, said Mrs. Blather.

Sometimes violence is necessary, said Cribbage as he put away his revolver.

Meanwhile, the raven found sanctuary on the sign above The Old Same Place where he emitted laughing sounds as couples left the bar until Suzie came out to see him up there. She offered him a couple pretzles, which he accepted, in all likelihood reinforcing the learned begging behavior, but he never went back to Mr. Cribbage's place. He did fly out over the estuary to join the macaw that had once lived inside a cage in Mr. Howitzer's foyer, and which had been let loose by accident during the Affair of the Chickens and Mrs. Almeida.

You can't go home again, indicated the raven to the macaw, who then appeared satisfied with freedom and his current fate.

Its a dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets. But deep inside the snug of the Old Same Place Bar sits one bartender still puzzling over Life's Persistent Questions. Suzie Maldonado.

"Pretty bird!" said a yellow cockatiel. "Pretty bird!"

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