APRIL 12, 2009


It's been an unruly week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Now that the rainy season is past, we see only a single offshore storm heading our way, meaning that the long anticipated drought has set in and all of us are now doing their bit to help out the State water shortage. The East Bay Tuolome reservoir stands at 65% capacity and so all of us are holding the toilet flush, taking sparse showers, putting off washing the car, rolling back the garden and lawn watering and generally buckling down for a long one yet again.

But meanwhile things are happening down there by the Old Fence. Tulips are shooting up, the glads have erupted with spikes of red and green and the beans are going great guns. Another Spring has begun.

Old John looks like he is staking up his firey red peppers for a long hot summer already.

The effects of the Recession, which began here well before other parts of the country as the Executive Office at the time sought to punish the Golden State for its voting habits, are reaching now deep into the lives of everyday Islanders.

Every day a truck drops off a load of day-old bread at the Mastic Senior Center on St. Charles, down the street from the Island-Life offices. By eleven o'clock, the boxes are empty.

There are folks who want to see an Island of Fine Living with well-heeled and affluent folks roaming about looking for a better golf putter as the worst of their concerns.

For these people the folks in Power renovate and rename the shopping center, fix up Park Street, encourage scads of development, and import fancy restaurants that sincerely serve up a tiny dish of meatballs (rice or noodles extra charge) as gourmet entree. They of the smooth world of glitter and Gala.

Then there are the rest of us, living in landscapes portrayed by Gorky and Grosz, landscapes possessing vastly different assumptions. We are the fixed-income, blue collar, been-heres all along folks.

Over at Marlene and Andre's place on Otis Drive, everyone is in deranged despair over the latest rent increase for the modest one bedroom cottage there. Mancini went out in touseled wake-up mode, carrying his cup of coffee with a bleary attitude through the small throng of people who use the livingroom as sleeping barracks. He tacked around the sofa with Suan perched on the still snoring bulk of Pahrump, stepped over Occasional Quentin's legs sticking out from under the coffee table and skirted the sleepingbags of Jose, Rolph, Tipitina, Sarah and the gently thumping tails of Wickiwup and Johnny Cash as he finally made it to the door.

The others were sleeping in the hall closet (Marsha and Xavier) and in the stacked bunks made of "discovered lumber" (Piedro, Jesus, Tipitina, Marsha, and Markus the dog) while Februs, Crackers and Alexis remained at their respective graveyard shifts, swabbing hospital floors and sorting recyclables at the Plant.

Marlene and Andre, who remained the sole visible tenants on the lease, inhabited the six by eight bedroom with eight of the cats.

It is a tidy household, a bit crowded, but economical in these trying times of deprivation and savage greed.

There was a small cry from Mancini when he deciphered the brief note from Mr. Howitzer's real estate office announcing the rent increase and he very nearly fell through the hole burned in the porch in his reeling anguish. A woman walking her dog across the way gave him a curious look that smacked of disapproval.

The hole was a memento of Javier's fiftieth birthday last year, which had been less a celebration than an hysterical catastrophe of flailing limbs, drugs, wine, fire, and frustrated debauchery, a sordid mess that had very nearly killed everyone.

Mancini returned to the livingroom with the bad news and all were very much put out about it. A rent increase during a time like this. Everyone's hours had been cut back -- even Suan's poledancing gig at the Crazy Horse Saloon and money was tighter than usual.

Sarah peeked her head out from under the covers and, in a seeming non sequitur, asked Mancini in a drousy voice if he was Jewish.


"Mancini," Suan explained. "You know you are not wearing any pants."

O in such an household there can be no secrets. Or shame.

Meanwhile, Mr. Howitzer, living in a vastly different sort of world came out of his house on Grand Street to fetch the paper between the two stone lions that braced his gate. More news about the G20 meeting in Strassburg and trying times. Consumer confidence down. House prices falling. His own business just maintaining an even keel instead of growing by leaps and bounds as is proper for a conservative real estate office. Missy just might have to skip a week of summer camp in Switzerland this year. Trying times indeed.

Down the street the place that had burned down and rebuilt five years ago still displayed a For Sale sign on its lawn. Terrible tragedy. Lost original Picassos in that one.

Mr. Howitzer sniffed the air, listened to the racket of the birds in the trees, observed the gelid light and the sleek form of Eisenhower, his rotweiler, trying desperately to murder a squirrel, which chattered at the dog just above reach of his leap.

Well, he still had his rental properties. No point in trying to sell them now. Wait a bit and then kick the lot of the rascals out on the street. To find units with increased rental income and lovely deposits to be made. The American system. Wonderful thing.

He did not think he was likely to ever return a dime of the security deposits he had taken in, and the thought gave him great satisfaction and spiked his hunger for a big breakfast. Fried kidney this morning. Ah, the sweetly scented tang of urine! The woman across the street came out, looked at him, picked up her paper and went back inside without waving. A known Liberal. But possessing property, so she was all right. Indeed, it was morning in America all over the place.

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