Pomp, Circumstance, & PPA

June 09, 2013

the traditional vote, which always had been done by placing a billiard ball upon the felt of the club's main table

So anyway, all hell broke loose over at this week's meeting of the Island Hostesses, the premier clandestine sorority of culinary obsessives, conservative political subversives and extremist capitalists. It seems only yesterday that the club reoriented itself with a name change from the Ladies Who Drive. Recently the club had decided to reverse a centuries-old membership qualification tradition by way of admitting women who previously had been denied. That meeting had been tense with vigorous debate continuing right up to the traditional vote, which always had been done by placing a billiard ball upon the felt of the club's main table. A vote had to achieve not only a majority in favor but any color match pair to indicate that at least two majority sisters were of one mind.

"Ladies! We have a pair! Both blue!"

At the end of the night, Pandora held up the winning tokens. "Ladies! We have a pair! Both blue!"

Sounds of cheers, enthusiasm.

That excitement had taken place a while ago. This week, all the brough-haha concerned Sister Florence, always a firebrand, who really stirred up the sisterhood this time.

"Sisters we got a problem! A really big, serious problem, sisters! All the time we spent cajolin' and pleadin' and suggestin' and even, you know, providin' service to our mens and cookin' that steak just the way he likes it and all that effort, all that beautiful dresses and lingerie and nails and perfume and promises and downright weedling! After all that work -- tossed in the heap like yesterday's fashions by that no account tattle tale that no-account, worthless Michael Douglas!"

Sounds of Hear! Hear! Yo! You said it Sister!

"You know what I am talkin' about! I am talking about the Vahjayyay! They ain't be so much talk about our Vajayyay since Judy Chicago!"

Cheers! Hoots! Word, Sister! Word!

"Now I am tellin' y'all you gotta keep it clean! You know what I am sayin' sisters! You don't go sticking your clam up there in some guy's face without some prep time y'all! This looks bad for all of us girls!"

"No stick without a lick!" shouted Pimenta Strife who tended to get carried away whenever sex was involved.

Echoing chants filled the hall.

"They aint no cooties in my 'tang, sisters!" shouted Ms. Lou Cadme. "Any you mens out there can check it out anytime!

Things got chaotic after that.

Well okay. So anyway, again, the weather kicked up with a brisk sirocco that brought temps down and put aside the nascent summer. Mark Twain, had he returned for a visit, would have shook his head, claiming Missouri in wintertime had better weather. This was the weekend for graduations of all kinds here on the Island, for schools and for many adult programs.

Over at the Sala de Calveras a group of 12 Steppers had its inaugural chapter graduation meeting about the same time as the Island Hostesses. Floyd Cratchit sat surrounded by other sitting on cafeteria-style chairs. A black and white Staffordshire terrier wearing a blue and white service dog vest lay placidly beside him. Above his head a lugubrious ceiling fan rotated with irregular rhythm.

"Friends I am here to tell you I am a . . . "

(long difficult pause. Coughs. Sniffs in the background.)

"I am a jerk. I mean I am a total asshole. Ever since I was a kid . . .".

"Now Floyd, we prefer to use the strength-based term 'pushy person.' You don't need to wallow," the organizer, Ms. Light, said.

"I used to bully people around . . ."

"Yeah right. I am a . . . pushy person. But I am here to tell you this is my one year anniversary. I been clean and morally decent and polite for exactly 12 months, two days and four hours. I used to bully people around as an apartment manager where I really abused the authority entrusted to me. I cut in line at the Bayview Market. I browbeat people and stepped on their shoes. I cussed out pedestrians from my truck and scared the day workers. Being a jerk had become a sick addiction; I could never get enough power. But, I can say I have not been mean or acted like a bully jerk since June 6th, 2012."

Cheers of support. Way to go! Good job! You da man!

"And I really owe it all to my Higher Power and my service dog, little Amigo."

"Woof!" Amigo raised and lowered his head after vocalizing.

"Thank you, Floyd, for that courageous and inspiring story," Ms. Light said. "Now everyone I'd like to introduce you to someone many of you probably know. This is Mr. Bud Smugg, owner of Peace Bites on Park Street. Peace Bites trains and supplies the service dogs we use, just like little Amigo here."


an epidemic of jerkiness and porous boundaries had spread like contagion

Bud Smugg had established his business originally out at the Point where he collected animals from the ASPCA and the local animal shelter to train them to provide a very important service. Years ago, after a howling baboon of a man hit Bud in the crosswalk and then cursed him for being there, Bud looked around and noticed an epidemic of jerkiness and porous boundaries had spread like contagion throughout the Bay Area.

Psychiatrists consider someone with vaporous boundaries to be schizo, but all around the Bay Area these people considered themselves to just be superior, with-it, on top of the game.

To such people anything was better than being someone's patsy -- even being a dick. Pushiness, instead of being seen as it is by most normal people, as a nasty character flaw, was seen as a value.

Like any cautious businessman, Bud put out some feelers. He did market research. All over the Island people came to him with stories about their neighbors trying to control their lives, apartment managers who threatened and cursed the tenants, managers who browbeat and belittled subordinates. Pizza restaurants where the customer never was good enough for the food.

Whereas everybody dislikes a wishy-washy pushover, such people really are only annoying at worst and cause harm only to themselves. Most of them abstract themselves from society somehow through Darwinian processes. Jerks, however, always seem to come out, if not on the very top, then on top of somebody by dint of obnoxiousness, which often is misperceived by the Comfortable as "usefulness".

It turned out that in every building there was at least one person who made life miserable for everybody else through controlling behavior. We all have had to deal with people like this. In one building a woman tried to get her neighbors to move their furniture in their own apartments because noise of a certain frequency gave her migraines so they all had to change the channels of their TV sets and radios as well.

Clearly the Island suffered from an epidemic of assholism. And in this epidemic, money was to be made.

All the service dogs were trained to bite their owner . . .

Bud went to all the animal shelters on the Island and throughout the East Bay, picking up every stray, unwonted, pathetic scruffy mongel with an iota of intelligence and trained them to be service dogs. Naturally, he wound up with a fair number of mixed breeds of terrier and virtually no poddles. All the service dogs were trained to bite their owner upon initiation phrases like, "I really need you to . . .", and "Well if you don't do this, I guess I just will have to . . .". They could detect heartbeat and testosterone levels better than pacemakers.

The dogs were snapped up like hotcakes once Bud got in business. Tenants of apartment buildings got together and raised kitties to provide a dog for particularly troublesome neighbors. Middle managers everywhere turned into effective negotiation machines and their departments began to thrive. Many boyfriends turned into model lovers after girlfriends introduced their new pets. "Look at the puppy with those big brown eyes . . ."!

That's when Ms. Light, founder of Pushy People Anonymous approached Bud with the comment, "I think we have potential for a symbiotic relationship here. Let's form a merger."

"Cool," said Bud. "Your place or mine?"

In less than nine weeks the happy couple gave birth to beautiful, bouncing, baby Corporation. They named it LoveBites, Inc.

The old High School's Administration granite facade and original classroom buildings are surrounded by a ten-foot high fence and the seismically unsound buildings are slated for "reassignment", read demo and conversion to condos. However the playing fields behind the school still provide space for events like graduations for the other schools in the area and what remains of Washington High that continues in newer buildings. Due to population shifts and the legacy of the economic downturn coupled with the new realities of fiscal austerity, for many schools this will be the last graduation to take place on the tattered Encinal playing fields.

A lot of faculty who have been guiding kids for decades since the days the Navy was here are picking this year to be their swan song. So for the class of '13, this is a very bittersweet graduation time. These kids that used to bash birthday piñatas from the branches of thick front-yard maple trees, who used to scamper on bicycles through Jackson and Washington Parks and propel plastic Big Wheels down Benton, St. Charles, Taylor, now are looking at a very uncertain future.

They are about to go out into the society of an Island washed by change and deliberate amnesia. California is a place where people come in great numbers who will have no more connection with their classmates, and who, in many cases wish that past called by some growing up to be incinerated with all the names and addresses and reminders of all the pain that caused them to come here. There are over a dozen projects underway that will result in a 10 to 12% increase in Island population within the next two years, and none of those newcomers will have any memory of Mayor Ralph or when the Navy was here or the year the Jets won the big game between East and West End.

This does include not only people from Newark, New Jersey and Athens, GA but also places with horrific histories deserving of some erasure, like Bosnia and the Sudan, Cambodia and Tibet.

In front of the old school entrance there are class commemoration bricks set into the pavement, starting with the year somebody thought to begin this tradition. Rank upon rank the years march down from 1924 to the year seismologists sealed shut the massive doors between the Greco-Roman pillars.

Dolly Parton, the coalminer's daughter, saw nothing precious in the place that had vilified her and turned her at times into a carnival sideshow. Those who regard the past as a halcyon time are contradicted by those who have no good memories at all. So, with her fame and her wealth Dolly turned her hometown into a carnival themepark.

Many are those here who, given half a chance, do everything in their power to pave over, demolish, rehab, reconstruct and reformulate the scenes of their worst humiliations. For every preservationist, there is another Mulholland pushing forward yet another stupendously foolish version of the Peripheral Canal. For every misty-eyed romantic, an angry Dollywood. It has always been that way.

On Saturday the kids of '13, soon to become all too quickly men and women, filed to the rows of cafeteria chairs between bright yellow ropes hung with fluttering pennants of hope. Beyond the chainlink fence which had stymied many homerun hopes stood the Editor watching the assembly. From this distance he could not hear the speaker's remarks and so walked on.

Love unwisely and make many mistakes

What would you say to the Class of '13 if given the chance? It's fine to preserve those affectionate connections, a few remembrances -- you are going to need them. But like the number of your graduation year, its nothing to which to pin yourself, else your entire life becomes unlucky. Go out there and climb mountains, break your legs on them. Skydive and marry unwisely. Love unwisely and make many mistakes while traveling so your homeboys will not remember you for them. Do all those things and more. Get into trouble. I say do these things because you will do them anyway. Who listens to any old man who has all behind him when things for you are just getting jump-started into the wide blue of freedom?

And when you next, many years down the way, see a group of kids waiting to get on the school bus with their anxious parents standing there, know that by the time the kid steps up onto the school bus everything has already been decided -- its all done. You have already done everything you could do and all the rest is just filling out forms and paying larger bills. At least as far as parental sayso goes.

So that all comes down to avoiding too much reflection save for that which teaches you to learn from your mistakes, of which you should strive to make many. You will never know for sure what is important until you strive hard and fail. So I say to you, Class of '13, go forth and fail. But fail mightily. Then again, if you try hard enough, you just might succeed because nothing, not even failure, is a sure thing. Know for certain that nothing is certain. There is no one Truth. God just might be an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster as well as anything else. Like any uncertain particle, a quark, a meson, even your humble electron, as soon as you direct your attention there, it jumps away and then its gone. Just like that.

As the witching hour approached, the Editor stood out on the deck to see Orion appearing right on time above the huge boxwood elder. Above all, Class of '13, strive and succeed at not being an asshole. Otherwise, Butt's PPA Service dogs will surely bite you in the end.

The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off to parts unknown.

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