FISH, COTTONWOODS, AND THE ELECTRON
April 1, 2012
So anyway, the Editor knew it was Spring when he saw Roger walking aimlessly around the parking lot of the Jack Sparrow Children's Hospital where he had secured part-time employment.
The cottonwood trees had burst forth around the corner from the old laundry, filling the area with these ephemeral angelic apparitions, and whenever a breeze kicked up, legions of ghostly beings poured from the branches, and when they passed by someone, their touch was like a dry, quick embrace.
Roger was the gruff, tough head of Facilities who kept the doors locked, the HVAC wheezing, the bathrooms running and stocked, the larders well larded, the windows fixed, the shipping room running on schedule and all the complicated apparatus characteristic of an institution established well over 150 years ago up and operational on a shoestring budget with the efforts of a well-underpaid staff who possessed abilities that could jump-start a busted truck in the middle of a Somalian desert while warlords took potshots. He was arguably more important than the CEO in his capacity to work miracles on a daily basis.
Some men would have been beaten down by the immensity of a task supporting a charitable psychiatric facility which didn't have enough money to even pave or patch the incoming road, but Roger was a special case, a tightly built man with squarish ex-boxer shoulders above which a bullet head looked this way and that with sharp perceptive brown eyes as he walked with that unique, well-balanced gait of a former prizefighter.
Most of the staff wandered around in ragged gabardine pants, overalls, and paint-stained workboots, but Roger showed up each long day wearing an immaculate brown suit and tie so as to show that he was no mere handyman, but someone commanding respect. It worked, for no tradesman ever was fool enough to mess with him.
But Spring and the time of Easter has a way with all souls, gentile and ungentle alike, and there the tough man stood in the battered parkinglot of the Facility surrounded by the kisses of Angels, causing the Editor to wonder what the man might be thinking, what he might be feeling amid that heavenly swirl. Or perhaps he was just thinking about the next UPS delivery, or nothing at all. So often we impose our demons and our angels upon any sort of convenient figure.
The Editor walked down the path and paused to look up from the Quad at the silent Mormon Temple swaddled in tattered of mists from the recent storms up there on the ridge not 200 yards away.
In 1848 the Mormons had arrived in the San Francisco Bay, seeking to meet up with Brigham Young so as to form a New Zion well away from the detested United States. But the whims of the Founder and the chance of fate which had yanked Alta California from Mexico into the Monroe Doctrine arms of the US had conspired against them. Like others who had come to California with the interest of only pausing a brief while, they had stayed, building a massive temple with a spire clad in gold up on Grizzly Peak.
It's true, the early days of the Golden State were fraught with avarice and savage cruelty. But also there were these elements of the Spirit as well.
Roger could well have earned five times the salary earned at the Jack Sparrow working for some big company, but there he stood, year after year, every Spring surrounded by drifting phantasms to whom, perhaps he was listening. Mortals like us see only the detritus of shedding trees. Roger was a special case. Perhaps he stood in that parking lot, listening to things we can only imagine.
In the Rectory of Our Lady of Incessant Complaint Father Danyluk was putting away all of the regalia of the Holy Week and polishing up his sermons, which he meant to send off as articles to The Valley Probity, which had invited him to submit for their series called "Questions of Faith".
Pastor Nyquist next door had told him about how a fellow pastor had lost her sermons due to a computer glitch. While the good Father commiserated with his colleague's loss, he made sure to provide for good backups and, Praise the Lord, a really good technogeek to come and clean things up periodically. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and nothing was quite so mysterious as the electron.
"Let us consider the humble electron," Father Danyluk wrote, and then stopped. What can one say about the irascible electron and now it related to matters of Faith? First it was there and when you looked again the puckish fellow had moved on to another level. You just had to trust it would be somewhere in the vicinity or something like that. The priest had a science textbook from St. Boswell's on his desk, but it was little help.
Father Danyluk stepped outside to clear his head. Outside the air was clean, fresh, reborn after the recent storms. The waning moon hung hidden in the high fog but the streetlights kept their halos.
Down the street, a line of wisps from a cottonwood drifted in procession. The priest forgot all about electrons as he watched the apparitions glide beneath the streetlights. They could be lost souls or the recently departed on the way to whatever heaven there is.
Far out at sea, quite a ways distant from anything like cottonwoods, Pedro watched the sonar for a different kind of apparition. Modern day commercial fishermen do not rely entirely on luck anymore -- the fished-out grounds and newly barren stretches of water no longer allowed for that. When the blips indicated schooling, that was where the men dropped their nets, relying these days on a different kind of luck.
Pedro tried not to think about a dear friend of his who now lay in hospital, dying of emphysema.
Pedro saw what he wanted and got busy with the nets. After a while, there was the waiting, and in the waiting, there was the faith, or hope, that all would come out well.
There is only so long a man can live expecting disaster and more disaster. The past few years had been rough, but a man can get used to anything. The hauls were good and the hauls were bad. The price went up and the price went down. Nothing mattered, really, except how it comes out in the end. He still had Mrs. Almeida. He still had his dog. He still had his boat. Without all of those, he would still know how to fish.
He picked up the copy of the only book he took with him out there, a combo publication of Hemingway's The Pearl and The Old Man and the Sea. It had been published by Signet in 1974 and had cost then 79 cents. Said so right there on the cover. Pedro knew that the Old Man had lost everything he had written one time in a taxi when he had left behind his briefcase. That had been long before the age of computer glitches. But a real writer always has another story in him. A real writer always will know how to write. There are some things they just cannot take away. Like riding a bicycle or knowing how to fish.
"Which is why," the inspired Father Danyluk wrote at the end of his sermon close to midnight, "Jesus hung out with fishermen and one tax collector. Because only two things are certain, as we meditate upon this upcoming April 16th: Fish and Taxes. And of course we know what the Fish symbolizes here. . .".
O I am going to have to share with Pastor Nyquist! Father Danyluk clapped his hands with glee. Lets see if he can top this! This is a good one!
Sister Grunion peeked in. "Anything wanting, Father?"
Meanwhile, Pedro sat in front of the sonar, biding his time, confident and knowing all that he needed to know, the phosphor dots in the screen display excited by the mysterious barrage of electrons that had made the round trip to reveal the blips passing in schools below. Pedro knew Jesus hung out with fishermen and a tax collector, not because of certainty, but because men of both occupations are endowed with the virtue of patience. They know the payoff is always another day away.
Two seagulls got into a tussle in the rigging, resulting in one fellow flying off with great complaint, leaving behind a cloud of fine tufted down to drift in the St. Elmo's fire about the heads of Pedro and his dog Tugboat.
In the distant hospital, the dear friend breathed his last. The telemetry screen flatlined, there was an alert tone, a nurse came and silenced the sound. Some people came and there was a brief flurry followed by the restless, rustling silence that is a hospital passing through the late hours through its eternal dreams stuffed with the soft shuffle of cloth and rubber soles, bip of telemetry in dark corners, hiss of gasses and fluids behind the walls, distant brief communications. That was all.
It is never about Faith or Religion or any of that Big Word claptrap. It has always been about abiding, through famine and drought, and suffering. It has always been about the simplicity of the fisherman, his patience and his abiding even as Father Danyluk turned over in his rectory bed and his friend Pastor Nyquist put out the parsonage light to enter the composing dreamworld of his own, there to review all that the day had buried. 'There is Faith and there is Charity and there is Love, and I say unto you the greatest of these things is . . .".
From far across the water, the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the reborn waves of the estuary and the calla lilies of the Buena Vista flats as the ghosts from the cottonwoods glided among them and the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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