May 24, 2015


Nothing Bad Happened to Vickers



So anyway a sort of dull effusion of miasma suffused the Bay Area even as thunderstorms headed east. We have had a time of low fog that usual precedes the rites of Spring here, a bit late and a bit chillier that usual, but still, the harbingers of Spring have arrived.

Jeanmarie came into the Old Same Place Bar and started talking with Denby during the set break. Jeanmarie, a woman into her seventies, had once been a stunningly beautiful woman in her day and even now, with her hair gone silver, she remained a strikingly lovely woman the way some women who age well sometimes do, looking a little like Emmylou Harris, with the firm toned body of an outdoorswoman who loved to ride horses on her ranch up in Mendo County. She showed Denby pictures of one of her horses, a beautiful chestnut mare named Victoria.

She had lost her husband of 35 years to cancer not long ago and whenever the anniversary of his death came around she got out of town and away from reminders, so she had travelled south down the 101 until she came, as some spirit wanderers do, to the Island.

Denby could see that here was a person who could use the distraction of a story and so he told her this picture of her horse reminded him of when he had first learned to ride horses back in the day. The family had come down to California from Helena to visit Uncle Bob who had retired from the Navy on the Island. At that time, the Base was still in operation on the West End. Well visiting Uncle Bob was a fine thing for adults to do but there remained little for the young Denby in sitting around the livingroom and he was not allowed to go over unattended to the City for sightseening, but the County Fair had come to Oaktown across the estuary, and there could be no harm in that, so with a whole five dollars in his pocket he had gone over there to occupy himself.

When he saw the pony's there in the pony paddock he had a mind to ride one -- he had been watching reruns of Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. But the man said he was too big to weigh down one of those minature Shetlands, so Denby pointed at one of the bigger horses that were used for stunt riding and the man said go ahead if the owner didn't mind.

So Denby went up to one of the hands brushing down a full sized stallion standing 11 hands high and asked if he could ride, which the man took with a lot of amusement.

"So you think you can handle this horse, young feller?"

Denby said he was down with his family from Helena where everybody knew how to ride.

Another roadie chimed in "Harry, you aint gonna put that boy on Vickers are you?"

Denby didn't wait for an answer but bounced twice on his toes before jumping up to hook one foot into the stirrup to hoist himself up into the saddle of Vickers. His legs were not long enough though to hook both stirrups so there he sat.

"Well looks like that boy does know something." said the roustabout, whose name was Spats.

Harry asked Denby how much money he had on him and Denby answered, "Five whole dollars!"

Harry led Vickers into the tent which was empty, the show having finished 20 minutes previously.

"Betcha ten he gets tossed before two circuits," Harry said to Spats.

"Yer on."

Harry adjusted the stirrups for Denby and then shouted, "Hiii-yup!" and slapped Vickers on the flank.

Vickers took off on a fast canter around the ring with Denby holding on for dear life and the two roustabouts laughing and laughing, until Spats commented there would be hell to pay if the boy fell and broke his neck. Harry got real serious when he thought about that so he stepped to grab the bridle, missed and tripped and fell under the horse who stepped over him. Seeing there was some kind of problem, Denby pulled back on the reins, and Vickers responded the way he had been trained to do in performance. He reared up on his hind legs.

"Heigh ho Silver?" Denby said, wondering what to do next.

Vickers came heavily down to earth with Harry right behind him. That is when Spats stopped laughing and ran into the ring. Unfortunately, Harry got up -- always a bad thing to do when behind a horse and Vickers, sensing unwanted activity behind him neatly and sharply rapped Harry in the head with his back hooves, knocking the man for a loop and a siesta of stars as he tumbled over Spats.

"Vickers, you behave!" Denby said.

In response, the horse bolted around the circuit again at a gallop, once again running through the routine that usually featured Marlene, the Queen of the Indies standing on the seat. After completing the circuit, seeing the path obstructed by two circus clowns, Vickers once again did as trained and trotted right out the exit where normally a roustabout would take hold of the bridle as Marlene dropped to a normal riding position. There being no roustabout at the exit, Vickers kept on going out the channel to the broadway where he turned left. Taking the jouncing boy's body as encouragement Vickers broke again into a fast canter.

"You really didn't know how to ride a horse, did you?" Jeanmarie said.

"I love horses, but I still don't know how to ride worth beans," Denby said.

Anyway they cantered right past the rubarb baked goods tent with everyone staring and past the parasailing booth when he shouted at the man to throw him a parachute.

"A what?!"

"A parachute! God's teeth throw me a parachute!"

Denby had it in mind to slow this animal down physically since nothing he said or did made a difference. He tried yanking the reins left and that only led to Vickers doing a mad dance in a circle and then doing another one of those forefeet in the air high rears.

The parasail guy threw him what looked like a dufflebag with a metal bar attached, which apparatus Denby put on his back as Vickers kept on cantering down between the tents, scattering men, women, clowns and children in his path.

"Heigh Ho Silver!" Denby said. "To the Estuary we go!"

Vickers broke into a gallop as the rodeo clowns appeared with ropes.

Down by the water, with the breeze coming in across the Bay, Denby pulled the rip cord to release the parachute.

It was not a parachute -- it was a full sized parasail. Which caught the wind and lifted Denby clear of Vickers as police, rodeo clowns, roustabouts and curious spectators gathered about Vickers who began calmly grazing at the edge of the shore.

Denby rose up over the Estuary, gripping the metal bar for dear life, going higher and higher on that prevailing wind until he went over the Island where the warmer air took him higher still. He was so scared he nearly peed his pants, but the view was pretty cool.

Down to the right the immense container cranes that inspired Steven Spielberg for the Star Wars robots looked like toys. Ahead he could see the Navy Base and the airfield with its AA guns and the lagoon and the Old Same Place Bar and all the churches along Church Row and the gilt statues of the Tibetan Temple and the City Hall with its odd gap that used to be filled with the bell tower and Washington Park with its Dog Section and the hundred foot palms that hosted the nesting cranes and Wood Middle School and Encinal with its jet on the lawn and all these things he knew nothing about yet because he did not live there, but he thought, what a charming place and what kind of odd people must live there.

There was Grand Street and to the left the old section, the East End of fancy houses and the Disputed Bicycle Bridge that connected to Harbor Bay and the broad grassy knoll of Mount Trashmore that had been once upon a time landfill. At the time of this event one of the last drive-in theatres still had its screen and lot hard by the entrance to the Tube and the Mastic Senior Center was a baseball diamond.

There was the freshly minted lagoon below and the new shoreline and the Strand and then the broad expanse of the Bay which chopped and sloshed all the way to the distant outline of the City with its strings of pearls.

As he passed over the water of the Bay, the cooler air brought him down and curious parasailers approached him.

"How do I get down?" he shouted. They did not hear him. As he headed outward, still going higher, the City looked mysterous and ethereal in the distance and he wondered if this was the vision of the New Jerusalem Uncle Bob always talked about. Uncle Bob was a Born Again and he talked a lot about the New Dispensation and the Rapture and lots of other crazy stuff. Denby wondered if he was going to die when he crashed down in the City somewhere and if it was okay to get into Heaven that way.

He kept on going out over the Bay and experimented a bit with changing direction, losing some altitude in the process. At one point he found himself turned around and headed back to the Island where sail boarders looked up at this kid who seem to always be coming from some strange direction.

"How do I make this thing stop!" Denby shouted.

"Just drop in the water!" One of them shouted. "I'll come get you."

"Just drop?" Denby pulled on this rope and that rope. In the end he just tilted the metal bar in front of him until the air slipped out and he went down fast and hard into the Bay 100 yards from shore where he thrashed around scared to death of drowning.

"Calm down," said the sailboarder who approached him. "Just stand up."

"Just stand up?"

"It's only three feet deep."

Denby stood up. The guy was right.

Later, his dad insisted they go back over there to check up on Vickers and Harry. Vickers was fine and Denby gave the horse an apple. Harry had a long-lasting headache.

When his family returned to Helena, Denby realized he had undergone a Life Changing Event, and forever after that he remained a quiet, introspective sort of person, someone regarded as a little odd. And he resolved that he would eventually find a way to get back to that magical Island where he had been given a vision of the New Jerusalem.

"I am glad about one thing in this story," Jeanmarie said.

"What's that?" Denby said.

"Nothing bad happened to Vickers."

Then came the ululation of the throughpassing train from far across the water as it trundled from the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their moonlit towers, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock, its weedy railbed, its chainlink fence interstices until the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown.

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