MAY 28, 2012
So anyway the promised sunshine failed to arrive for the weekend, leaving most of the town shivering under a high blanket of fog and unruly clouds that threatened ice and hail for this Memorial Day.
Downtown appeared eerie and empty with the early morning streets resembling a zombie movie by way of the muttering trolls staggering around the busstops in their unkempt beards and the library, where a mysterious figure has huddled for several days on the bench, hoodie pulled up over his head in a serious brood.
Demure Spring has been skipping through the back yards and rose gardens, causing quiet ruckus among the geraniums. The usual line formed outside Ole's Pancake shop as the hours approached the After Sermon Period on Sunday. Late afternoon the sun finally shoved those clouds aside and normal folks wandered around downtown pretty much as normal people do.
Almost as if there was no war going on.
The threatened thunderstorms and hail never happened, however word has it a fine load of snow got dumped at the higher elevations in the Sierra, which is very good news indeed.
All of this unsettled weather induces equally as unsettled moods, premonitions, hesitant intuitions, unruly dreams. When the wind whips around the chimney Dawn O'Reilly crosses herself and mutters spells against the coming of the Si.
In Irish folklore, the Aos Si are the faery spirits who either dwell in beauty, or come from the World of the Dead. They are either lovely and chivalrous or hideous and spiteful. One cannot be too careful when the daoine sídhe are about. They could be of the Tuatha De Dannan, the folk of the Old Goddess. Or they could be something else more terrible. It is best to be circumspect.
Rolf returned from over the Bridge after a long night and fell into bed to have most disturbing dreams. He dreamed that the soldiers came for him with a letter from the President in the form of an invitation to dinner. Except this was no invitation he was allowed to decline.
The soldiers all said this was a great honor and that he must go with them right away. He was allowed to pack a small bag and they took him away in a Black Maria, a nightmare he often suffered since as a child escaping through the barbed wire with his family from the DDR.
"Do not be afraid," the soldiers said. "This is the Democratic Republic."
When he got there, the dinner was held in a big mess hall with hundreds of others who had been taken from their homes, all with their little bags. Some still wearing the nightshirts and pajamas they had worn when taken away.
The President appeared in the form of a projection upon a big screen at the end of the hall. He made a big speech about everyone being so generous to be volunteers and giving up all they owned for the good of the State and the protection of all that was noble and good and democratic against the terrorists.
It was important everyone volunteer now, because it had gotten difficult getting more men to join the Army because of the hazards of war.
After dinner everyone was marched to barracks where many of his companions wept over the lives they had given up. All of them were over fifty years of age -- clearly too old to be real soldiers -- but in this New Order, finally the old men would do all the fighting while the young men and women were reserved for producing more offspring and running the economy. This way, there would be no more drain upon the state's finances to pay for useless retirees. All would become productive citizens and there would be no more retirement at all. The old retirement money would be turned over to the factories to make tanks and drone attack planes and bombs. Making all this stuff would get the stagnant economy moving again.
As for their former possessions, all their savings and their bank accounts, all that had been seized to pay for the wars. They could not escape for all of them had been rendered penurious.
The basic training was hard for all of them. Many did not make it, but because there would be no more retirement, that was okay. Some committed suicide when forced to carry packs and march long distances and wrestle large, heavily muscled Marines.
An old man with white hair and a white beard cried out when the big Marine threw him down and pulled his hair, calling him a sissy.
"Der reist mein Bart! Der reist mein Bart!" the old man cried out.
"You Volunteer! You work now for all the freedom you enjoyed when young, you worthless pig! You learn to be hard and kill the Arab Terrorist!" The man they all called the Vopo Sergeant said.
If anyone protested, the Vopo Sergeant had the person put on a board above a fetid cesspool with a pugilstick. He then sent malingerers, injured, cripples against him on this board and forced him to fight.
"You must become hard! We must preserve the martial spirit!" cried the Vopo Sergeant. "The turban-heads want to destroy us all!"
The food, of course, was execrable, all soggy knoedel and rotkohl, dumplings and cabbage.
Rolf longed to play music, to tend the little vegetable garden he and the others had developed back on the Island. But it was as if he had never escaped, and was back in the DDR with its gray demeanor, its compelled desires and lack thereof.
At night, they would strap him in a chair and apply the electrodes for "the conditioning." This involved showing pictures of innocent little girls. "Look at the little Missy," a voice said. "Don't you want her to have her little toy poodle bank? But bad men want to take away her freedom to invest! Bad men like this one!"
Image of terrorist, then . . . ZZZZAP!
It was all very hard and brutal, and all the Vopos were relentless
bullies all the time, but the day finally came for Rolf and the survivors to
graduate. They all stood upon the dusty parade-ground, all dressed in the clothes
of petty bureaucrats.
The Vopo Sergeant made a big speech. So did the President by way of a big screen. They were to think of themselves as hard as wood now, each lending strength by being bound to the handle of a great ax, an ax that would chop up all the enemies of the State.
At the end of the speeches, many of those heavily conditioned were weeping. They all rose to sing the national anthem.
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight'
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air . . . .
Rolf started away in a dreadful sweat, his eyes staring wildly. He stumbled through the crowded room of the Household of Marlene and Andre to the door and stepped outside where Pahrump sat on the steps looking at the immense ocean beyond.
"Couldn't sleep either?" Pahrump said.
"Nightmares." Rolf answered. "From the old times."
"Me too," Pahrump said.
The two were silent for a while as the stars wheeled in transit overhead.
"When I got back from Vietnam," Pahrump said, "I used to scream a lot. Guess the old lady couldn't take it, so she left."
"What you do there?"
"Was a sapper, Canada. With the Engineers. We went in and defused the unexploded ordinance. Napalm. Bunkerbusters. Other stuff. So they could move in and secure the area. Came away with all my fingers." Pause. "Some not so lucky."
"Is bad when you have no choice."
"O, I guess I coulda skipped out on all that. Hid up in the hills on the Rez'."
"Why did you go then?"
Pause. Andre came out on the porch with his guitar. "Seems a whole lot of sleeplessness going on these days." Andre said. Tipitina came out as well with a blanket wrapped around her.
"O, I could say it was just to see the world, not knowing what I was getting into," Pahrump said. "But really, if you want to know the truth, it was all to make sure this fellow here could set up a household just like this in California. And then go tell a cop to eff off without losing his life as a matter of course."
"I see. I guess."
"I know you came from other side of the Iron Curtain. You able to tell a cop to eff off where you came from?"
"I don't think so." Rolf laughed. So did Tipitina.
"It's important to tell the cops to eff off once in a while. Keeps a democracy limber. And the cops too. Keeps 'em limber."
"I think," Rolf said. "If a corporation is a person, then they should be drafted into the army as well."
"That's a thought," Pahrump said.
From far across the water, the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the independent waves of the estuary and the free grasses of the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive hunted its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront beneath the purple mountain's majesty, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
BACK TO STORY INDEX