APRIL 4, 2010

It's been an overcast week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay.

Because of the questionable skies, the annual Easter Egg hunt at Our Lady of Incessant Complaint was moved mostly indoors, which meant that urchins of various sizes scampered like mad through the rectory, the schoolyard, the gymnasium and several outbuildings in perfect chaos with Sister Flagil and Sister Incontinence flapping about with their robes in the breeze and their habits astray, pausing periodically to complain to Father Pandybat about the unruliness of it all.

This chaos, of course, is the perfection of idyllic childhood and many were the shrieks of joy upon tiny discoveries. This being a Catholic enterprise, the colored plastic eggs were filled with coins. Over at the Lutheran Emmanuel church, their eggs contained healthy doses of jujubees or chocolate and occasionally very very good advice written on slips of paper.

Opinions were divided as to which scheme presented the healthier lesson. On the one hand, certain contents rot the teeth. On the other hand, certain contents rot the soul. Go figure. The kids on both sides of the pastoral question had a good time with lots of healthy screaming and jumping up and down and that's a good thing. Anarchy is the paradise of childhood, and all attempts to organize life into neat little lines present yet more visions of that hell which removes itself further and further from the original Paradise.

Still, these affairs can be heartbreakers for some. There is the inevitable little tyke, named by particularly demonic or obtuse parents Edmund or Palin, who needs to be carefully guided to a particular prize, weeping at lack of success, by hand and guesture and innuendo. "I think I see something red under that bush over there. Don't think anybody has looked there yet . . .".

Then there is the kid who, approaching the teens now since his last birthday, arrives for his very last E-Hunt about 20 minutes late because the hotdish had not set in time.

In anguish and then sullen anger the fellow sits out on the iron railing in his plaid shirt and droopy jeans with the other kids, now factoring into the "too old for the Hunt" group a year early. No point looking now; he is screwed and its all unfair.

He never got a chance. Ever. And his little brother always got the best toys and never got into trouble to earn a decent licking with the belt. Its always unfair! Hey, that Suzie is really hot. D'ya think she goes, like "all the way"?

Wit you? Naaaaah!

Well, all the Horatio Alger stories ended with a magical deus ex machina or some such wildly improbably burst of luck, so learning Life is unfair probably should happen as early as possible. Its not a bad thing -- Life really is not fair at all. Learning about Suzie, well there will be time enough for that and finding eggs of a different sort will be in order. And by then, Suzie will be long gone, replaced by a Valerie or a Joanna or whatever Farah Fawcett of her time.

Over at the Household run by Marlene and Andre the exceptional bounty provided by Suan -- who had managed to snag an entire lamb shank due to the munificence of an anonymous benefactor at the Crazy Horse who appreciated, um, tasty flesh -- helped provide the basis for a genuine Seder.

For this celebration, all the members of the house had gathered from near and far. Javier provided bags of walnuts and apples for the haroset from the Food Bank. Jose and Martini garnered eggs from the recent .59 cent sale at Rucky's. Celery came from the dollar store. Parsley came from the garden out back and folks assembled other ingredients from the far corners of the Recession universe. Freezer-kept soup bones helped fill out the feast. Pahrump and Occasional Quentin supplied the wine.

Pahrump helped get the house out of technical difficulties when a couple loaves of bread from the Mastic breadline were found in the larder. As this was hametz, the lot was sold temporarily to Pahrump as the token "gentile" for the price of one dollar.

Sundown arrived and everybody arrived on time, largely because the news that actual meat would be featured for dinner at the House was real big News.

Andre, as the token Jew orchestrated things while reading from a battered and dogeared Haggidah. Some of it he had to make up, as his Hebrew had lapsed much over the years.

"Hey, whats this stuff?" said Xavier. "It be green."

"That's horseradish. Um, in the form of wasabi. Don't stick your fingers in it or you surely will regret it later when you touch yourself." said Andre. Thus began the age-old classroom lessons of the Pesach.

Marlene came in to announce, "Lamb's done!"

"Okay now," said Andre. "Let all who are hungry come and eat. Now we gotta have a wine toast sort of thing. Um, lemme say this thing now. As the evening became the sixth day after creation. And the heavens and the earth and all that filled them were complete. More or less.

And on the seventh day God completed the labor He had performed, and He refrained on the seventh day from all the labor which He had performed. (If any of you ever worked with wallboard you gotta know this). And God blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it, for He then refrained from all his labor - from the act of creation which he had just did.

Permit me, distinguished ones, uh, tzazikis, no, um tadiks, oh shit, I mean tzadiks and colleagues:

Blessed are You, the Lord our God, Creator of the fruit of the vine. . .".

"Yo, Amen!' said Occasional Quentin, hoping to get to the wine drinking part sooner.

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, Who sanctified us with them commandments, and hoped for us, even though we are kinda hapless and stupid, and with love and intent invested us with His sacred Sabbath, as a memorial to the deed of Creation -- which wound up pretty much effed up by your handiworks of humanity -- a day preceding even those sacred occasions commemoratin' the Exodus from Egypt. For You chose us -- for what reason I have no idea -- and blessed us, we of all Peoples, and with love and intent You invested us with Your Holy Sabbath. It aint easy being Chosen all the time, lemmee tell ya.

Blessed are You, Sanctifier of the Sabbath."

"Can we drink now," asked Quentin.

"Down the hatch,"said Andre.

After this intro, Marlene brought out the food, which featured the lamb on a bed of taters and carrots from the Food Bank. After a while, Occasional Quentin began to ask questions.

"So Andre, why is this night so special?"

"You are asking why this night is unlike other nights, and as you are the most child-like imbecile of all of us, it is good you do so."

"Oh for Eff's sake," said Marlene. "Is the lamb any good?"

"I wanna tell ya all about the parable about the four stooges, Larry, Moe, Curly and Shem." said Andre. "Larry did not have shit for brains and so did not know enough to ask any damn questions any of the time. For this reason, he stood on the train tracks where the shunt happens to be and the OX express turned him into raspberry schmear. Moe was a stubborn jackass. Never could be shunted aside. He didn't know nothing and never copped to his ignorance and so he remained in Egypt where they made him stack the pyramids after cutting his balls off. That was Moe, a real stubborn jerk. Then there was Curly. He was a simple sort of guy. He asked questions all the time, but never the right ones and never remembered the answers anyhow. He is still there in Egypt standing on the pyramid of Cheops trying to find a left-handed smoke-shifter even though he is right handed by nature.

Now Shem was a wise ass. He asked the right questions and got the right answers and on account of him the Hoover dam was built right the first time they tried. And the Aswan dam. And a buncha other damn things besides. Where's my damn hillel sandwich anyway? Nevermind. This night we celebrate bein' slaves for a while. Some of us still are that way."

"Oh," said Quentin. "What's with this goddamn sandwich and sticking the celery and leaves in that bowl and why the dry tortillas?"

"Duh tortillas be matza, and we eat that 'cause it was on sale and the real matzo outta the budget for the House and we had no time to bake decent tortillas when fleeing the Pharoah's army. It's a kinda commemoration. Sticking the herbs in salt water reminds us of, um, something similar but I forget what. Tears or something. Anyway, I remember us doing it when I was little."

"How come we be lying around like this on cushions?" insisted Quentin.

"Cause we can't afford no decent furniture," interjected Marlene.

"We are bein' happy about being more or less free from being slaves," said Andre. "God damn it Quentin, did you wash your hands or not before coming out here? You know you gotta wash your hands!"

Quentin hung his head and shuffled off to the bathroom.

"Hey," said Pahrump. "Anybody belong to that cup of wine at the end over there? And what about closing the door!"

"It is getting cold in here, Andre." Marlene commented. "I am going to close that door and keep in the heat."

"The wine is for Elijah when he comes strolling in." said Andre. "But maybe this household be too low down for the Prophet. So okay, close the door."

They eventually all got through dinner, as Andre's family memories of a proper seder were sparse and marred by overwhelming memories of violence in which his father had alternatively beat either his mother or himself and his dead brother. His had not been an happy childhood.

At the end of it, they all lay around and Andre said, culling his fractured memories, "L'shana haba-ab'Yerushalayim."

"Wuz dat mean," said Pahrump.

"Uh, means next year we do this in Frisco."


"Hey," said Martini. "I found this tortilla under my cushion!"

"That's the afikomen," said Andre. "I hid it there for somebody to find but I forgot all about it. Pass it around. And gimmee another swig of that wine."

The afikomen was passed around and everyone took a bite.

"Sure is dry", someone commented. "Problem with slavery is that it never goes out of fashion. So there is no end to Passovers."

Passover had passed on or over as the case may be. From far across the Island the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the enslaved waters of the estuary as the engine wound its way from the Pharoah's gantries of the Port of Oaktown past the shuttered storefronts of Jack London Waterfront as the locomotive headed off across the desert lands to parts unknown, its single headlight parting the dark ahead leaving the walls of the night rising up to either side like an immense sea.