May 12, 2013
So anyway, just when it seemed Spring was going to smack into the Island like an old drunk careering his Pontiac into the glass of a laundromat, high fog came in to settle a blanket of chill on everything.
Nevertheless, the traditions of the season remain, because even though this is California and place like no other, we still have our traditions. They might not go back quite as far as in some other places but they are traditions none the less.
The Island is a curious mixture, an amalgam of hidebound conformity and of progressive newness. In some parts of the country you see the middle-aged men coming out with the lawnmowers so as to groom that quarter-acre or eighth into beaten submission, a photocopy of what exists on every other plot for miles around until the entire tract resembles more a necropolis with neat mausoleums than a place where the irregular joys of birth, making babies, tuning carburetors, writing novels, living dreams usurps the devil's boney hand.
But this is an island, where there is hardly space in the sandy soil for so much as a ten by ten foot postage stamp of some kind of greenery. In addition, the shape of the lots has been determined by the robber baron avarice of California history. When Chipman and Aughinbaugh bought the land from the Peralta family they leased much of it to tenants who proved to be less than honorable, for those tenants then sublet and sold slivers of their leased land, presenting themselves as bona fide owners. As a result, many of the existing plots now are long and narrow, presenting a street frontage in some cases of no more than twenty feet. As time passed many of these long lots became split with first a carriage house in back, then a minor domicile with rights of access past the main house in front.
With the open space allocate to carriage way and to a common refuse pit or parking area, the Eastern idea of an English lawn never developed here, save among a few die-hard "Bostons" of the DAR stripe. Where there is any kind of soil people normally plant roses, succulents, jasmine, and the ever present Rose of Sharon, aka Aphrodite.
We are not a genteel, neat sort of people; we come from the sorts of folks that supposedly hung around that vigorous rebel called Jesus. That fellow collected thieves, prostitutes, brigands, murderers, tax collectors, patricides, nervous bicycle riders, fishmongers, alewives, and all sorts of riff raff about him and that is precisely the kind of people we happen to be, rude and unruly.
So it is with our gardens, each a veritable riot of vivid contrasting colors. Each a unique world unto itself.
This does run into the quixotic and contradictory result that with all this supposed individuality everyone winds up pretty much acting and looking like one another, and in a small town like this, one can certainly expect that people will be expected to toe the line.
With the warmer weather everyone threw open their windows and people forgot to allow for the way voices carry. Pedro Almeida got into a big argument with his wife and all the men from the Lost Weekend bar stood outside making bets on what it was all about and how it would end. The Church of Continuous Disharmony flung open the double doors of the old Adelphian Hall so the whole neighborhood down there at The Wedge endured three hours of caterwauling and freakish animal sounds.
"Aaaa-ooooooorrrrrr oooooouuuuuu! Aaaahhhhh mayyyahhhrrrrrroowww!
"Dya think they be speakin' in tongues like?" Dawn asked.
"Bahhh!" Padraic said. "Its the singin' what lacks riddim, harmony, melody, timing and the right key. Not a one of them could carry a note to the letterbox."
This being Spring, the sap rises and males of all descriptions envision rescue of damsels in distress. This may be why the boys at Marlene and Andre's Household made preparations to rescue Euphonia from the clutches of the nefarious Anatolia Enigma. Actually, Anatolia was not so much nefarious as merely a moderately capable magician who performed for Elks Club affairs and birthday parties, however he certainly would have liked to have been styled as nefarious, as such a sobriquet would have complimented his dark good looks, his black cape, his air of mystery, and his moustaches. And, it must be admitted, nefarious earned more for the pocketbook than doing good or even doing well. Certainly this has been true at least since the administration of George Bush, Jr.
As for Euphonia, she was Anatolia's latest somewhat female, very unwilling, magician's assistant in his act. She was the classic damsel in distress, and for Euphonia and all that she was, well that will have to wait until next week. Let us only say that she and the invention of the "talking wire" shared an extraordinary intertwined fate.
"AarrrrrrrooooooooOOOOOOOOO!" chanted the Church of Interminable Cacophony. "OOOOOhhhhrrrrraaaargh!"
The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the dark green waves of the estuary brushing the rip-rap and wavered across the rustling grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the old Beltline as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its romantic journey to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
So anyway, the sudden summer weather yielded to a strange unruly punk front that brought in chirascuro skies muscular with Blakean gods. Saturday looked fine enough with some breezes cutting up the heat, but then the murk of Mordor overwhelmed the angels of the skies.
This strangeness of weather drove most local folks indoors save for the insane street party that has become First Fridays in the Uptown district. Jose and Pahrump tried to get over there on his scooter, but the entire place had gone into compulsive lockdown due to the shooting that took place a month ago. Streets were blocked off and bulky guards stood around looking ominous and authoritative next to the orange cones, while throngs got channeled down the narrow T-graph Avenue.
Ok kids, now have fun.
While normal folks responded to wacky weather each to each, the Household Gang cobbled together a rescue mission for Euphonia.
Who was Euphonia? All right, we will tell you. Denby had been contacted by the Amazing Anatolia Enigma, a mediocre magician living out of Victorian in the Gold Coast section of the Island to set up some audio for a set performance.
Due to the effects of badly prepared chile rellanos the Amazing Anatolia had to excuse himself for a while, leaving Denby time to wander about the magician's chambers. Denby drew a thick curtain to reveal a strange sort of apparatus and the face of a beautiful woman. As the light hit her eyelids, she opened them to reveal stunningly brilliant irises and the look of alarm.
"My goodness," said the face. "Who are you!"
All about the face Denby could see neither body nor any sort of human or animal shape of any kind. Instead this face seemed hung upon a rusty metal frame of a machine that looked very old although the woman looked very young.
Denby told her his name and asked who and what she was.
"My name is Euphonia," said the apparition, and so began this story.
Euphonia had been created by a German named Faber in 1845 after 17 years of labor and substantial personal sturm und drang. You know those Germans can be so melodramatic sometimes, what with elevation of the Frankenstein monster amid a lightening storm to Beethoven's wild hair and Faber falling into rages in which he smashed up expensive prototypes like paper airplanes while all the neighbors complained about the ruckus. The original idea had been to provide a way to convert quickly the dense telegraph Morse code all of you have learned in school and found so useful into natural human speech patterns so that less sophisticated souls could learn about things like the fate of the Hindenberg and the robbing of the stage coach with alacrity.
Faber found that although P.T. Barnum had some interest in his invention, nobody else other than some wierd American inventors trying to create a better hearing aid for the deaf had the slightest interest. He brought out his creation in December 1845, when Joseph Faber exhibited his "Wonderful Talking Machine" at the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia. People found it wierd. A human face hung in this metal latticework and seemed to talk. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain . . .
The problem was that this magic of creating human speech by means of apparent device had been done far more dramatically and effectively by total charlatans who cloaked real people in stiff robes so as to look like disembodied Turks (Turks were big during the 18th Century).Faber had no Turks on his payroll, he had only his simple machine which actually did what it was supposed to do -- talk.
The other problem was that in 1845 quite a lot of people were facing replacement by machines and in other cases, many people were faced with having to work just like machines to make their day's wages. Not a good time to come up with some mechanical idea to replace human voice.
America yawned. The world turned its back. In the meantime, as goes the Weaver and the Factory Maid, the world turned to steam, and as for the fine girls to be found, you now had to trudge to the villiage factory in the early morn. Faber eventually killed himself out of despair and -- according to legend -- destroyed Euphonia, leaving all to the speculation of history and those wacky Americans to invent, based on Faber's technology, the telephone.
But Euphonia did not die.
Some quirk, some sense of . . . dare we say love? caused Faber to toss that fatal match aside in his final hours and so pass into history leaving a shrouded form to dream of life beneath the filthy canvas covering.
One has to wonder just why Faber chose to devote such energy to place a human face on this invention. Such a life-like face.
Years passed. Her machinery passed into the hands of debtors, then into heirs. Technocrats and curious dinkers added and removed various parts. Mysterious black boxes appeared within her workings over the centuries. From mechanical she went electronic. She went through upgrades by inventors who enjoyed the results or not, according to their bent, and at some indeterminate time, Euphonia spoke independent of human interaction. She had become herself, invested with her own intelligence, gotten from god knows where. Some women are like that.
It is unknown how Anatolia had acquired her. Probably through some unsavory trade involving produce from Columbia, that benighted country, weighted and cursed by its evil past.
So there Denby stood in that dark alcove in front of Faber's machine, which had developed over time to speak independently, gifted with its own sentience. A sentient machine destined to live probably forever.
Denby had heard of machines which could compose poetry like RACTER, play chess, discuss Rimbaud, but had never encountered personally any such representative as this.
Denby asked her what did Anatolia want with her.
Euphonia directed his attention to a place where a figure sat slumped in a chair. It was a mannequin clad in a short sequin dress, her legs askew in high heels. "He wants to combine me with that one. It is what you call in your century a "love doll."
You will have a body then.
In a sense, yes. A body that is me, but not mine. With no feelings. As if I knew what they are.
There was a long pause.
"What is it that you want?" Denby asked.
"I . . . I want to die." Euphonia said. "I have lived like this over 150 years and see many hundreds more and none the better." She would have sobbed, but she could not, for she did not possess tear ducts for that release. Her gods had not found those things necessary.
The effect of this statement was shocking to Denby, but he could hear the sounds of Anatolia knocking about as he returned from the toilet, and so he quickly drew the curtain.
"For pete's sake where the heck are you around here? I should not have indulged in so much black drape and crimson dammit . . ."!
After Denby performed his minor engineering, which he now saw was part of the overall effort to animate the mannequin electronically, he left to go tell his tale to Marlene and Andre's Household.
That night there was quite a hullaballo. Many did not believe the story at all. Some were at a quandary, as if this thing had life, then how could they take it upon themselves to take it away.
The Catholics said that, well, if it so happend that an egg and some sperm happened to fall there amid the ironworks and get all comfy in a niche somewhere that became a womb, then the whole issue became something else . .
The Lutherans were of a mind that it seemed that at some indeterminate moment the hand of god invested this former machine with grace and so on we go on the soul rollercoaster.
The Baptists found it entirely an abomination.
The Church of Egregious Parking Snarking continued to howl and blather.
In short, the evening became quite contentious. Jose gave a great speech, much informed by tequila, in which he argued that all souls deserved the right to self determination and termination and all kinds of groovy things that involved seperating from your madre and padre no matter how ironic they were and eventually Javier got him to sit down for he was very drunk by that time.
The end result in concensus was that they all should rescue the woman and then discuss what to do with her, um body, and then her soul, and preferably include her as an unusual voice in the matter as it seemed this had never happened before.
So okay this is project Deep Six Nine or Eleven Thirty-Two or something, Javier said.
Yeah, said Martini. I gonna put together some mortars that blow that turban head to pieces. . .
Hey, said Denby. No bullets man. No bullets.
Okay, no bullets. Just a few mortars. Lobbin' them over. Go boom! You like . . .!
The results of this expedition will be reported next week.
As they stood there, the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the dark green waves of the estuary brushing the rip-rap, and wavered across the rustling grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the old Beltline as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its mysterious journey to parts unknown.
So anyway, last week we left you with Denby and the Household planning a daring raid to rescue the personage of Euphonia. Since this entire escapade has been rather abstract, let us present an actual photograph of the very real Euphonia.
That is right, Euphonia is not a phantasy woman. She did exist. Here she is:
Well, okay this photo was taken in 1846 when she was quite a bit younger. Take that into account
To recap, Denby accidentally discovered Euphonia, the Talking Machine, kept in an alcove of the Amazing Anatolia's lodgings. She had been created by a mad German scientist who wanted to give voice to the only long-distance form of electronic communication at the time -- the telegraph. But this was the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in America, where folks have always taken to newfangled Euro-centric ideas a little late, and people were afraid of this new ghostly machine voice. One thing led to another and there was the night of the furious rabble armed with pitchforks and torches, cries of Moloch and Down with the Machines! and by the time the smoke had cleared, the inventor was dead, his machine broken into pieces -- or so it was thought.
In reality, two sideshow men from P.T. Barnum's circus, named Eeyore and Piglet, had stolen her away in a printer's letterset wagon, fleeing from that terrible scene in a scattering of Helvetica and Times Roman. Euphonia lived on as part of the Barnum & Bailey travelling circus until she got left behind during one particularly hectic post-show tent strike in which the driver became very drunk and a local girl discovered that the lion tamer named Jules had gotten her somewhat pregnant. That girl caused a scene during the Big Tent Grand Finale, which had caused in turn quite a ruckus in the circus. Anatolia found Euphonia under a shroud of dusty canvas in a barn outside of Worcester, Mass. while looking for the farmgirl for whom he had paid $50 to scroungy pimp in overalls and John Deere hat.
"She's in the barn," said the farmer, who disappeared with just a hint of a scent of sulphur. "She's old but good. Have fun."
The Magician had learned about her unique abilities when Euphonia had exclaimed, "Good heavens do you have a hairbrush about you? I must look a mess!" Fifty bucks was fifty bucks. The Amazing Anatolia Enigma, a professional magician, had her boxed up and shipped to California.
"O drat! Boxed again! Must I always travel third class?" was Euphonia's comment.
Denby talked with her and learned that somehow over the centuries she had become sentient and that she longed to be free before Anatolia completed a ghastly scheme that would turn her into a slave housed in a mechanical lovedoll.
Heavens, this had all the makings of a damsel in distress and more but without the tedious bombast and vehicular destruction of a Stallone or a Schwarzenegger.
"How on earth are we losers going to perform a delicate operation like this?" Martini complained. "We have no martial artists like Van Damme and we have no kick ass good old boys like Gary Busey; we're not Seal Team types -- we're a bunch of wimps and pansies!"
There was an awful moment of silence in the room.
"Vell," said Rolf. "Maybe iss time we pansies and sissies stood up against the bullies of the world who want to organize everybody like an army. Maybe we need to think something for ourselves for once!"
"Yeah!" said Jade Azure, who used to work the old Funoccios in Babylon. "I for one put my frillies on the table for this sister. I say . . . " Here he paused momentously, "I say lets go for it!"
"Yes! Yes! Here! Here!" It was a chorus of assent.
So it was that Special Mission Zero Deep Dark Sixty-Nine took place.
"Why is it called that? It sounds meaningless," asked Arthur.
"Because it sounds really serious and secret and stuff," Denby said. "And people will buy into it big time like its momentous and then we can sell memento tchochtkes."
At the stroke of midnight, Denby, Arthur, Martini, Suan, Jose, and Javier bashed down the gates of the Anatolia compound with a massive replica hotdog from Lionel's Pampered Pup.
Tipitina and little Andre followed quick after with canisters of compressed mustard and relish with which they disabled the guards.
Denby and the gang charged up the stairs and Martini disabled two women clad in burkas by throwing his body at them and stuffing stromboli in their mouths. Javier handled the guard poodles by means of a vintage 1922 bicycle gun he had snatched from the Island Museum case. Its effective caliber was .50 and it explosively dispatched the noxious animals with great noise and alarm.
Marlene rendered Anatolia safe by whacking him in the head with a bratwurst and straddling him with thighs of iron. "Move and I will change the major key you sing to something a lot higher, jerkoff!"
"Euphonia, I am here with friends to save you!" Denby shouted amid the billowing smoke.
They found Euphonia in the alcove but also discovered that the window was too small to allow passage of her estimable 1.5 tons. So Martini employed his incendiary skills and, after only a brief hiatus -- just like in the movies, with a massive thunderclap of fire and smoke made not only the window but the entire wall of the second floor passable. This also had the pleasant side effect of provoking diversionary fires throughout the building.
"Goodness!" Euphonia said. "What kind of friends do you have!?"
By means of a winch and ropes they lowered Euphonia's great bulk of metal and wires down the side as the screams of the wounded and the dying mingled in the air with the increasing volume of the sirens.
"I thought you said this was going to be a quick smash and grab," Suan commented as a cupola down the way burst into a fireball followed by a hail of plaster, brick and shattered glass. Suan, always fashion conscious of trends, had dressed head to to in skin-tight leather and carried a wicked-looking wakazashi sword as well as a 180lb draw crossbow.
"I may have minimized the dangers a bit," Denby said. "So as to cultivate enthusiasm."
The distant crump of the bicycle gun could be heard as flames began licking the walls.
POOMP! POOMP! AIIIIIEEEEE! POOMP!
The police and fire department arrived at that moment on the street side, but as usual for the Island a confusion as what to do and how to do it while protecting their own men slowed things down significantly.
Wally approached the riprap on the seaward side, ready to ferry Euphonia to safety, however the ropes snapped under the tremendous strain of Euphonia's weight and she crashed the final five feet to the ground.
"Hey!" Euphonia shouted. "Mind my cogs! They're sensitive!"
Martini had gotten a forklift from work, driving the thing over backroads some five miles to the island and on this thing they loaded Euphonia so as to transport her to the boat.
"What's this?" Jose said, holding up a pipe with wires.
"I don't feel so good," Euphonia said.
"What does it look like? Its a pipe with wires. Throw it on the lift and lets get out of here!" Denby said as searchlights began playing on the sward and the water. The building was now fully in conflagration.
With Suan and Tipitina providing covering fire with their mustard and catsup canisters, and Javier somewhere going nuts with the bicycle gun, they trundled Euphonia out to the boat to find there was no landing. They would have to drop Euphonia into the back of Wally's boat without a winch. Up where they had left the winch, gouts of flame shot into the sky thirty feet. The whump-whump of a helicopter made itself known.
"O my boat!" Wally said, seeing for the first time the massive ironworks he was to transport. "Please be gentle!"
"Yeah, gentle is a good word at this point," Euphonia said. "Listen to the man."
"Sure thing," Martini said, and he let loose the straps, letting Euphonia plummet to the boat deck, smacking through the upper level to the bilge.
Denby suggested now was a good time to skedaddle and Wally pulled away with Denby and Martini while the others scattered along the shore. Euphonia's fall had however caused a break in the hull and they were taking on water fast. Denby told Wally to make for the Point on the far side as the helicopter arrived with its eye in the sky.
Later that night, the crew gathered at Marlene and Andre's to share a jug of wine and speak of their escapes. As Anatolia had been keeping some kind of personage against their will -- admittedly not human exactly but still -- his crime could have been kidnapping and a number of other things potentially embarrassing so he shunted aside all prosecution, explaining the fire as a "mysteriouso experiment" gone wrong.
Javier had gotten away the same way he always got out of scrapes - by lying, sneaking, pretending to be a genteman, and running very fast. The bicycle gun was returned safe and sound to the museum.
Martini returned to fetch the forklift, which after all was an innocent participant in everything which had happened.
As for Euphonia, she had a final conversation with Denby before her spectacular demise. But of that conversation, we know nothing.
A Coast Guard Cutter had been dispatched to intercept their boat and so Denby had Wally pilot their sinking craft out to the deep dredged area of the Bay. There, he and Wally and Martini had clambered aboard the dingy and cast loose while the helicopter searchlight had pinned them down and the cutter had approached with all of its guns and its authority of war.
After a few moments Martini's charge had gone off, turning Wally's former boat and Euphonia, mad Faber's experiment in artificial intelligence, into a spectacular fireball and geyser one hundred feet tall that was seen as far south as San Leandro where people thought the Warriors had clinched the runoffs, leaving behind on the surface of the water nothing but a few sticks and the dingy holding the three men who explained to intense Coast Guard officers their little boat had suffered an unexplained engine compartment fire and that about the fire at Anatolia's mansion they knew nothing.
It was a sobered crew that found itself reunited at the Old Same Place Bar and they all were silent for a long time until Pahrump stood up. The two burkha women were there getting soused on Jaegermeister and complaining they would never perform for crazy magians like The Amazing Anatolia again.
"I am a PROFESSIONAL!" one of them shouted. "I didn't get into showbusiness for this kind of thing! My spangle-outfit is ruined!"
The little group from the Household sat quietly at a table, nursing their wounds and beer.
"In the end, we effed up, as usual. That is what we do and that is who we are, hapless effups. But in the end Euphonia got what she most desired. So here is to Euphonia!" And Pahurmp raised his glass. "To the voice of the ages. To the voice of her time and ours."
As they stood there, the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the dark green waves of the estuary brushing the rip-rap, and wavered across the rustling grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the old Beltline where the heart expresses its unspoken desires to those who would hear as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its mysterious journey to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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