MAY 9, 2010

Its been a cool and sunny week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Most folks are aware that Sunday mothers endured burnt toast with runny eggs in bed and total messy chaos in the kitchen as little ones everywhere tried to impose gratitude on dear old ma.

Just in time for Mother's Day, all the poppies burst simultaneously into bloom all over the Island.

The Almeida family did an endrun around this problem with the help of suddenly sunny weather that pushed away the stormclouds to allow for a yard BBQ. This had the double benefit of allowing Mrs. Almeida to sleep late and for the kids to play with fire in a supervised manner. It was all good.

Stores everywhere tried to beat the Recession heat with special deals on Mother's Day everywhere, a phenomenon that so irked the founder of the holiday, that she attempted to revoke it entirely, however she failed and roses went half-off on Sunday.

As most folks know, Mother's day was invented as a peace protest against the Uncivil War.

Here on the Island, the gals took their respective moms out to brunch at places like Momma's Royal Cafe and El Pescadore at the Waterfront. Jose took his mom to Juanita's on Park where Mrs. Cortiz proceeded to get quite tipsy on the margaritas there.

"Your father was such a philanderer I hardly know where you came from," she said at one point.

"Okay mom,"Jose said. He was used to it. As well as her idiosyncratic understanding of biology.

"He is still such a West Ender," she continued. "Those people."

"Okay Mom."

Mrs. Cortiz grew up in the more affluent East End of the Island, while Mr. Cortiz had been Navy, and so grew up on the West End where the Projects were. There is still an odd disdain between the two halves of an Island that is so small that the spray of a sneeze on one side will fly completely over to land on the beach on the other side. Much could be determined about you if you were West End or East End. Such are people. Such is the Island.

Perhaps the Island is the only place in the world like that. Or maybe not.

"My boy, have you been getting enough to eat?"

"O mom . . .".

She wanted to know why he had not found a girl yet. Or maybe he had and was maybe ashamed to bring her home for her mother to look at her.

"Su abuelta must approve," she said. "That is simply the way it is. I don't want you running off to some tacky place like Las Vegas. Our people don't do that kind of thing."

How to explain that there was a Recession going on, he slept on the floor with twelve other people at Marlene and Andre's because of the gouging landlord, pushing a broom and gathering signatures for petitions does not pay much and as the old saying goes, "No money, no Honey".

Sometimes it was hard as the devil to know just what was going through the old woman's head. As in right now, her looking at him. What could she be possibly thinking, what kind of failure or critique was she reviewing right there in Juanita's. She might have an outburst at any moment, deeply embarrassing everyone.

"My boy," said Mrs. Cortiz. "I am so proud of you."

He didn't tell her he had been fired from his job working for the Census for messing up his timesheet forms. Let her go on thinking he had gotten a Government job.

Some whose moms have passed on also paid dutiful obesiance to the day. Mr. Cribbage folded himself into his truck with a bouquet of flowers so as to ride across the Bridge and down the 101 to the City of the Dead, Colma, and there lay his annual contribution on the headstone there.

1901 - 1989
Flights of Angels sing thee to thy Eternal Rest

Mr. Cribbage stood there in the bright California sunshine on the hillside that looked over the sprawl of what had become Daly City to the Pacific Ocean, trying to remember if he had paid the water bill for the troublesome unit on Otis Street.

A rough caw interrupted his thoughts. A few markers away a crow stood on a memorial to a fallen child and looked at him as if to say, "What are you doing, man? Shouldnt you be strolling under the magnolias with a wife at least ten years younger than yourself?"

Well, he may have imagined that last part, the meaning of that look but he bent down to hunt for a stone to throw. This bird only served to remind him of the terrible bridge club meeting that ended so badly with the madeira and the cheeselog all ruined.

Ah! A piece of gravel! This he hurled with ferocity at the black bird, which only rose up, fluttered a few feet away and settled with a sense of proprietorship that Mr. Cribbage felt was entirely undeserved.

We shall not dwell in this place any longer than necessary. For the good part of the morning Mr. Cribbage chased the bird about the grounds of Colma with increasingly murderous intent, and a good part of the afternoon was spent with Colma officials and groundskeepers in an attempt to secure a more organized approach against his personal enemy.

For the record, Bertha Cribbage's last words were, "Well, I meant to tell you all . . . oh nevermind."

Percy Worthington Boughsplatt took his mother for a ride in his immaculate two-toned 1939 Mandeville-Brot coupe, along with his consort, the lovely Miss Hinckle, who wore a fetching riding cap, her usual feather boa and, in deference to the temperature, thigh-high suede boots and a waistcoat.

And, to the scandal of Mrs. Boughsplatt, not a stitch else.

They took their lovely picnic down the 101 to where the orchards used to roll out endlessly back in the day when Mrs. Boughsplatt would go for a ride in the Rambler into the country with The Daddy. Oh how pastoral was the countryside!

Which is now something other than country.

"How horrid is Foster City and all that it pertains," said Mrs. Boughsplatt. "Lets go to Monterey."

And so they did and had Orange Blossom Specials looking out over the twisted beach pines. Mrs. Boughsplatt got quite giddy and almost took off all her clothes before the lovely Miss Hinckle, who sometimes did maintain a surprising level of common sense and decency, enjoined her to visit the Monterey Aquarium.

"Percy," said Mrs. Boughsplatt. "Look at those dolphin fish. Whenever are you two going to get married?"

Over at the Squat on Otis, folks celebrated moms and motherhood each to each in their respective manners and customs.

Marlene and Andre took Marlene's mom over to Momma's cafe in Berkeley and Marlene's mom only punched one guy in the face during the entire affair and that was after they all had eaten and stepped outside, quite unlike the year before when they had all been bounced from Kincaids after a riot over the piano player, who had ignored the elder Marlene's repeated request to play "Saturday's Alright for Fighting."

Marlene's mom had been a steelworker at the Port and many were the Teamsters who had learned to reckon with the woman's formidible right cross.

The altercation in front of Mommas happened because some yuppie walking by with a cell phone tumor glowing on his ear happened to mutter something about the "damn unions." Probably to incite the crowd gathered at Mommas as he headed toward a more chic eatery.

Wherever the boy had been headed, he never got there. At least not that day.

"Hell, boy, I remember the cable car strike of 1916 like it was yesterday when we fought with blood for our rights! You pansy-assed stool-warmers are all a bunch of milk-sap pussies! I'll teach you!"

Then came the punch. Shortly after that, then came the cops. That Mom of Marlene's sure had a short fuse.

Bear rode out with his mom on the back of his 1958 Ironhead Harley to Martinez for the Momday BBQ. Sophia followed along behind in the Geo in case either one of them got into trouble and they had to leave the bike in storage.

Even though the beer flowed freely and the band really cooked with all the usual biker favorites from Lynrd Skynrd and Van Halen, the two remained fairly sedate and so Sophia sat their watching them.

Mrs. Bear got a little teary and started working on some of that "reverse guilt trip" thing.

She really regretted the lack of stability during Bear's growing up. And the night his favorite plushtoy, Tinky-Winky-Ralph got thrown into a bonfire down at the beach.

Yeah, Bear had never forgot that one.

Mrs. Bear sat back and started to cry. There was so much she wanted to give him, but somehow things didn't work out. Husbands. Guys. Jobs. All the drugs and jail . . . Always a screwup somewhere. The time the kids beat him up at the high school because of his friend Elroy. "Wiggers, they called us. 'Wiggers!"

She never wanted . . . she never wanted THIS.


Oh this kind of life. She wanted him to be really something and show them all. But the ugliness of everything around threatened to overwhelm like an immense tidal wave. Hatred. Racism. Contempt. Superiority. All that drags down.

Sophia saw the moment to step in.

"Bear is just fine by me. I love him. And you oughta be proud at what you accomplished, because Bear is honest and true and there is no better man. He might have some rough edges, but I can live with that and more for all the good that is in him. He aint hooked on smack. He aint a thief. And he aint a wussy. And he aint doing the round trip to the slammer. There is so many who grew up the same way who cant claim that. So something you did worked out all right. Mom you did your best and you did good and that is that."

This brought out another burst of tears from Mrs. Bear. And the speech stunned the little crowd there in the park in Martinez, the hardest of the one percenters, the toughest of the tough, for nothing is more sentimental than an honest Biker in his cups.

The others out paying for their ride with credit cards are just buying imaginary "freedom". These guys were the real deal.

Pretty soon the band resumed with REM covers and the three of them returned to the Island, with Mrs. Bear feeling a little better about herself.

Which is really all the best one can ask of Mother's Day, isn't it? After all, she gave so much. Or at least all that she could, given the circumstances.

As per Tradition here in the Offices, Denby was delegated to pull a name from the Editor's hat and call a Famous Somebody's mother to conduct an interview. Two years ago it was Mrs. Hilton, mother of Paris. Before that it was Mrs. Zappa, mother to the head of the Mother's of Invention. Then there was the call to Mrs. Van Halen.

Denby went to visit Mrs. Brugmann, the mother of Bruce who edits the Bay Guardian, but when asked for a comment about her son she just took her cigar out of her mouth to shout "He's my son, dammit!" before slamming the door.

Next up Denby went to visit with Mrs. Cynthia Germanotta, who is the mother of the personality known as Lady Gaga. That woman lives in New York but was here in the Bay Area for a Gaga concert as part of her persistent quest to try to get Lady Gaga to put on more clothes when in public. For this reason, the woman always carries an extra raincoat and a spare housedress when she travels.

"We raised Stefani to be a good Catholic girl, Mrs. Germanotta said. "She got good grades all through Sacred Heart Convent. She is a smart literary girl."

"Lady Gaga is literary?"

"If she hadn't become so famous she would be attending Tisch (School for the Arts) right now. She got early acceptance! Me and Joe were so proud! I think he still holds out hope for Tisch." She put her hand on Denby's arm. "She's got a line from Rilke tattooed on her arm. That oughta show you."

"How did she get her stage name?"

"She is so smart, but if you must know she is a really lousy typist. She mispelled the word 'radio'. That's what happened."

"Um . . . okay."

The rest of the interview went fairly well except when the very devout Mrs. Gaga tried to get Denby to pray for the souls of David Bowie and all the members of Motley Crue. He told the woman that he was a Bhuddist and needed to go get his prayer mat for that sort of thing.

Denby left shaking his head while her mother tried to get Lady Gaga to switch her roadkill hat for a nice sunbonnet with flowers.

"Oh that looks so dreadful, dear! What will all the boys out here think?"

"Oh mom!"

First Madonna. Then Pink. And Brittany Spears. Now Lady Gaga. They must be putting something in the water in all those East Coast convents, Denby mumbled to the Editor during his report at the Island-Life offices on Union Street.

Madonna is from Michigan, said the Editor. And Pink is from Pennsylvania. Brittany is from a Mississippi Baptist family.

Same diff. They're all east of Chicago, said Denby.

Denby, go to your desk. Talk to Chad about doing the Headline.

The Editor put his head in his hands and sighed. What a staff he had. Half of them living on SDI with little intellectual capacity among them. Lady Gaga was an effing genius by comparison. He got up to put on a CD by Wynton Marsalis and to the sounds of jazz he continued to work through the evening.

His two girls, Shelly and Melinda, had been into Brittany during that whole period, but Melinda had thankfully shifted to the likes of Ani DiFranco. Shelly probably was into Lady Gaga, knowing her and her mother.

He scanned over the AP wire sheets. The past week had been notable for chaos and situation FUBAR around the world. Arizona had goose-stepped over the line of government intrusion over immigrant and non-white paranoia. A big oil derrick in the Gulf had exploded into flames, causing an immense environmental catastrophe -- which even so was not as big as disasters which had occured in China and in Russia. A radical group of nutcases calling themselves by the unwittingly hyper-sexual term "Teabaggers" was upsetting the electoral process just at the moment when things had started to settle down and some in the GOP had learned a modicum of self-respect.

The Mideast remained in a perpetual state of wacky animosity with Isreal building more settlements just as a State Department official arrived to discuss halting them entirely. Iraq continued to be a mess, just more of a mess on its own terms while Afganistan danced with itself in violent circles fueled by tons of opium poppies. Nobody seemed to possess a shred of sanity, especially the vast majority of the pea-brained shriekers of distortion over at FOX news/entertainment, and then there was Sarah Palin making tons of bucks by spouting the most unreasonable nonsense that made the Cookie Monster sound like an French intellectual by comparison.

Then there was Wall Street where the normally cool heads that used to govern High Finance all seemed to have gone on a peyote holiday.

In short, it was morning in America all over. Not really much had changed since the Bay of Pigs and the Berlin Airlift. Not to worry -- Mutually Assured Destruction and Shiny Pebbles will solve all the problems.

By god, the Editor felt good; there was likely to be News for a good long while with plenty of reporting to do! He had been half afraid for a while Obama would really resolve everything into a bland yogurt of resolved crisis that would fix dependence on foreign oil, the Middle East with all its own problems, radical fundamentalism, the health care debacle, the stock market collapse, the housing bubble bust, the credit default swap issue, the bank failures, the Great Recession, the massive unemployment and the badly broken GOP.

He poured himself a double scotch from the cooler and put on a Pharoah Sanders CD. Skwonk!

Yes, it would take a Democrat to fix the GOP as well. The Democrats had always been the charladies of America going back to early times, coming in to clean up the mess and fix all the broken stuff. Not always effectively, but somebody has to do it.

Somewhere a door slammed and the Editor looked up from finishing his Editorial to see that most of the staff had left for the evening. And right on cue, Mrs. Dumont Dupont came around with her big bin on wheels emptying the trash from each desk.

"Mrs. Dupont, do you have any kids?"

"Yassuh. Six and Nine."

He looked at her work-hardened hands. Hers was a life that had never been an easy one.

"It's Mother's Day, Mrs. Dupont. Why aren't you with the kids now?"

"I gotta finish up with the trash. Done all the other floors in this here buildin'. Then I be off from both ma jobs."

"Mrs. Dupont, leave this off; I will finish up for you and leave the bin out back. Go home and be with your family."

She looked at him with tired surprise. "Thank you Mr. Editor." Then she left.

The Editor hummed to the saxophone playing over the speakers as he systematically emptied all the trashcans. He wheeled the big bin out to the back and stowed it safely behind the dumpster and then returned to his desk. As he did so the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the compassionate waters of the estuary as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered storefronts of Jack London Waterfront, headed from the Port of Oakland to parts unknown.

The Editor's remaining white hairs flew about his head in a white corona as he bent to work over his desk where a single pool of light from the desklamp illuminated his desk, the little glass of Scotch and the ashtray for his cigar. It was good to show some amount of kindness, no matter how small, for kindness is a strange brooch in this all hating world.

Its a dark night in a City that knows how to keep its secrets, but in the Offices of the Island-Life Newsroom sits one man still puzzling over Life's Persistent Questions.

And that's just the way it is on the Island.