MARCH 20, 2007
The sweetpeas are swirling all around in a vortex made by an old wire tomato frame by the weather-beaten fence. Each day begins with heavy high fog, which breaks up into uncertain skies. The freesias are all out and the tulips, and it does appear an insurrection of gladiolas is raising any number of spears out of the earth like ancient Greeks sown by dragon's teeth. Hummingbirds have been conducting surveilance sorties into the flowering jasmine.
The changing weather does make people start to act a bit more distracted than usual. The first thing to go are safe driving habits. You can track the course of certain individuals from a distance as they cross the Island, by the sound of screeching tires on one block, howled curses from another intersection, screams from another -- they must be passing Sherman Street now -- and the occasional whump! of a fenderbender. Ah, they made it as far as Buena Vista.
Some newcomers here can't get over this way we have among us for starting up any old conversation with just about anybody standing near. We feel this phenomenon requires an apologia for those from colder, more reserved places. You can see the way New Yorkers recoil in horror when this happens and all the fellow wanted was to shatter a bit of that urban anomie into dust for a while.
We don't talk about personal things -- that is reserved for early morning poetry. Take, for example, Ms. Morales, walking out near Washington Park where the one-hundred foot palm trees stand along the row there, being quietly magnificent and harboring nests of white egrets of some rare species or other. This was the same Ms. Morales of the many lost student essays about Emily Dickenson. It's approaching the end of the Semester at Longfellow MIddle School and she is having to tread carefully all around Walt Whitman whom you simply cannot ignore any more than you can just tuck Blake into your coat pocket. While passing the Park and pondering these things, Will, the slightly hapless handyman, drove by in his powder-blue pickup truck with its many years of partially effective engine repairs and faulty exhaust arrangements that no decent mechanic in his right mind would dignify with the august title of "a system".
This truck caused the egrets all to launch upward from the palm crowns with a clatter, a great convoy of white angels, and it was at that moment the sun shafted down between selected clouds such that Ms. Morales found herself standing in a golden hall of light, great pillars rising far above her head into Michelangelo vaults of cloud. And it was a vision granted to Ms. Morales, and her alone right then, to be standing beneath flights of angels inside a great cathedral so that she stood there in shock and awe.
This is not the sort of vision that we talk about to each other at the bus stop. No. There are some who will scurry back to their journals and write it all down into a never-to-be-read notebook before forgetting about it, but California is a broad land of many peoples of all kinds and Ms. Morales did not do that.
Ms. Morales went home and thought deeply about it and the next time she ran into Mr. Rodriquez, whom she had been coming to know quite slowly, say, a bit more intimately, or about as intimately as a devout Filipina lady of certain age and experience can do with a gentleman of great reserve and honor, she mentioned some of this and they began talking about just what kind of species of egret she had seen and it was Mr. Rodriguez, it seems, who suggested they spend the afternoon at the library looking it up and you could see them there, two heads bent over books on Natural History.
These conversations at bus stops, in bars, standing in line, at the checkout, and in public urinals are meant, language specialists tell us, to be much like the old handshake. People shook each others hand in California quite vigorously, and it was supposed to shake loose any old dirk or a derringer which might be up there. For California, as mentioned, is a broad land of many peoples of all kinds and one does want to confirm that the person standing there at least speaks your language and has perhaps the same mindset as you. And with all the craziness going on, sometimes a fellow just needs to check the state of Reality at the moment.
Looks like that old odor cake is almost dissolved down there.
Me too. I hate it when they just put them in.
Don't say. Makes it splash all over so a fellow's got to be careful about his trousers.
Me, I try to find a good urinal and if I can't, just aim at the wall there. And keep it moving.
Good thing to know. Seeya . . .
See, this is how important information gets transmitted in our society.
Every once in a while a person goes off their rocker, as happened under the impulse of Spring to Ms. Wheatabix of the honorable property management firm of Hansome and Frood, 80 years in the City. Seems the lady went off her nut when a business tenant on the 16th floor of the Diablo Towers in Walnut Creek asked about the possibility of a client coming in with a "Care Dog" -- you know one of those pooches who barks up a storm every time the owner is just about to suffer a stroke.
Well, Ms. Wheatabix flew at the man and began to strangle him in the foyer among numbers of startled witnesses while screaming, "You so much as bring a dog or any mammal into this building you will be evicted immediately! You are cash buckets only and you are all mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!"
It was with difficultly that Wheatabix was seperated and as they brought her handcuffed to Villa Fairmont, she insisted on apologies all around, especially from the tenant, whom she claimed had attacked her.
In the ensuing lawsuit, for the tenant was an attorney whose office resided on the top floor of Diablo Towers, it was divulged that Wheatabix had behaved similarly to other clients of HF, who had begun to note the departure of business associates with contracts going back some seventy years.
Ms. Wheatabix was let go by an appalled President Falvey, who has significantly more honor that the majority of the parties involved, especially the arrogant henchmen hired by Wheatabix to threaten and harrass tenants at all levels.
So with things like this going on, by all means we try to set up some kind of rapport with one another at every opportunity. For we are Californians, descended of races that sought freedom from strictures, and sometimes simply freedom. We came from all walks of life and from all lands and we do want to have some reassurance that the fellow standing next to you working on the Union Pacific Railroad, be he Chinese or Irish, shares some of the basic ideas and perhaps a bit of personal history.
Eugene Radovic was sitting in the new bus shelter outside the Mastic Center when Will Bunsen came out and sat down beside him. When's the next one? Just missed it. Be a while.
So they sat there, not thinking about much with the buckeyes all beginning to bud out and the cherry blossoms going like mad because it was Spring until Eugene said, Seems winter is suddenly over now.
Will agreed with that observation. D'you believe in any of that global warming?
Hard to say, comes and goes, the weather. Pause. The snowpack is down in the Sierra, I hear. My friend Ernie runs a lodge up in Tahoe and he says the season this year began late and ended early.
He owns a lodge up there, he does?
No no, he's a Manager.
And so the two fellows get to talking about the weather, and one of them mentions he has seen the other around someplace but just can't remember and so the two of them go over significant events in the past trying to figure out where they might have seen one another. Big peace protest in the City. Which one? Oh the one about Nicaragua and the Contras -- that was a few years ago. Maybe at the Sky Honda way back? Everybody was there and reading "Fear and Loathing" as it came out in the Rolling Stone by installments. Could be.
Remember when this place (Mastic) was a ball field beside a school? Oh yeah, and Dimaggio knocked one right over the roofs in that direction on a visit. No that wasn't Dimaggio but the other guy. Oh yeah, I know who you mean.
And they go silent for a while, remembering family picnics in the old Dodge Rambler -- the one with the strap up by the passenger window to hold onto for security -- down the 101 where acres of orange groves and avocados spread far and wide where Silicon Valley steams and steams with people. When Coyote Point hosted real coyotes and not that big black Darth Vader building of impenetrable glass.
Some of us remember family picnics in the old Dodge Rambler -- the one with the strap up by the passenger window to hold onto for security -- down where acres of orange groves and avocados spread far and wide all around Sunnyvale where Silicon Valley steams and steams with people. When Coyote Point hosted real coyotes and not that big black Darth Vader building of impenetrable glass.
As long as each one of us lives on, these memories live on as well, and we seek out one another this way, with small talk and conversation standing in the checkout line.
Finally, despite all the horrors some of us have experienced, there is our incurable optimism. Some have seen their families murdered with machetes before their eyes. Some seen their companions all die crossing the Sonora Desert. Having lost everything in the Great Dustbowl, they drove across the barren plains in jalopies piled high with whatever they could save, looking to make a new start and finding instead disappointment and trouble. For all the reality of punk squat wretchedness and cynicism of reality, people keep on coming. Nevertheless they come here and here is the Golden State, Gum Lung, the land of hope and opportunity. Perhaps vainglorious, there remains the hope all will be well. Things will get better somehow.
Barbara bounds down the stairs, her blond pony-tail flying as she rushes out to another "swim". By swim, she means jumping into the choppy waters of the Bay, stroking out to Alcatraz for a circuit of several miles and then returning under her own steam with folks in rowboats firing shotguns at sharkfins coming to investigate. Just your basic California swimmer's workout. She's got muscles that could crush a bear and with her sunny disposition and wide-open eyes could be a model for the "Fresh Look" of whatever product you could mention. When she says, "Hi there!" in passing, the entire corridor lights up with golden streams. "Seeya!" and she is gone, leaving something a little brighter behind. Which is probably more than any of us can reasonably expect to contribute to society.
Right then the bus pulls up, the conversation ends and they all board, heading for destinations unknown.
That, sir, is the reason we talk the way we do to one another. And that is just the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
BACK TO STORY INDEX