June 21, 2008
Its been a foggy week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The high fogs of summer are rolling in to chill the bandstands and the grasses and the barriers of the graduation ceremonies that took place over the past couple of weeks. All the recently ex-matriculated have now entered the recession-workplace market.
Lately the Editor has taken to standing on the hood of his beat-up Geo, staring out eastward to the Oaktown Hills and Javier has started to get really worried about him. Javier comes out with a cup of coffee and a footstool and uses the foot stool to hand up the cup of coffee to the Editor as he continues to stare at the hills, meditatively sipping his coffee, occasionally stirring himself to bark out an order or two.
When the Editor gets this way, it gets really nervy around the offices and people start snapping at one another for no reason, getting into turf battles over the Xerox machine and the postal cubbyholes and all the aquarium fish get really spooked as if they fear they will all get flushed down the toilet like Nemo in the Disney cartoon.
We know what it is and he knows what it is, but we all continue to go about our business as if it is perfectly normal for your boss to climb on top of an automobile and stand there for hours, conducting business from the hood of a car.
The Editor needs to have his Annual Summer Sabbatical and soon, or he and all of us at Island-Life will go crazy. Even crazier than we already happen to be.
Lisa, a normally sweet individual from Marketing and from San Leandro, finds a hammer on a copywriter's desk and asks if this is the Famous Hammer that fixed the Sound Obliviator during the Infamous Flyover. Lisa, a sort of cashmere and bobby socks kind of gal who wears in all seriousness Hello Kitty underpants, mentions that this would be a really great offensive weapon for crushing somebody's skull. Perhaps that of Brad in the Accounting Department. Not that he would notice. He is so dense.
Its office politics and events like this that give one pause during the course of one's day. Its not like the rude SUV driver who never has learned the function of the turn signal or its application. No. The casual mention of capital murder in the course of the day begins to pall and the office becomes an edgy place where everyone begins looking at each other from the corners of their eyes, secretly worried they will all become the next victims of the Sausage King or something similar.
You remember the Sausage King. He was the guy who ran that food factory down in San Leandro until he went nuts one day and started shooting up the health inspectors inside the warehouse.
Last year the Editor had to cancel the Sabbatical and the effects of that rash decision have multiplied with terrible and mathematical efficiency from the day he lifted a copyboy by the neck and began to strangle him for the misplacement of an accent grave in the middle of a quotation by Samuel Beckett.
That was not a good day around here. No, it was not.
But we are not here to talk about office politics. We are here to talk about how Tipitina, Suan and Sarah all took their fathers out for brunch at Mama's Cafe on Sunday. If ever a brunch was destined to end up in a blues bar, this was it. But when the arrangements first got made, it had seemed like a really good idea.
Suan's father, a distinguished Ivy League professor who entirely disapproves of Suan's every life decision and manner of being -- and never spares moment to remind her of such -- sat with his glasses on the edge of his nose peering at the menu while Sarah's father, who arrived at nine am already drunk, slouched beside him. Tipitina's dad, Adolpho, refused to speak English to anyone at the table, including his daughter, even though he could speak and understand it perfectly well. Instead, he spoke his own version of Louisiana Creole.
Bonkers and Wickiwup banged their tails on the ground outside while tied to a magazine kiosk.
As it happened, Mr. Washington got into a discussion with Mr. Barrows on the merits and foibles of Richard Brautigan, while Sarah, who knew some basic French and Spanish tried to converse with Adolpho.
"You are not a whore like that other one." said Adolpho courteously, indicating the innocent Suan. "Nous sommes Cajun, mais nous avez the pride of the Bayou." He spoke his own version of Cajun French with careful Louisiana inflection.
Glomming on the word "Cajun", Sarah responded, "I don't know much about Cajun music -- we do roots blues. Name of the band is 'In Memory of Sister Rosetta Tharp."
"Ah, Rosetta Tharp is good name for your mother." said Adolpho, who also did not understand more than a word of what she had just said.
"She must be proud of you. If she is still alive that is. Or even if she isn't, still proud."
Tipitina was asking Suan how the tip thing got handled in a practical manner since the nature of Suan's work precluded pockets.
"Well, sometimes there is the French Maid outfit with the apron as the last thing to go," Suan offered, never really having been queried on this line before. She worked as a stripper for the Crazy Horse and so was the major rent-payer over at the house on Otis Street where twelve people shared a two bedroom place. "And there is the feather headdress." she added.
Her father did not know what she did for a living, but disapproved of her lifestyle on general principles, much as stern fathers often do, working largely upon suspicion and general conservative attitudes. She clearly had not married and had not become a stockbroker for Mason Tillman in the City. If she had become a stockbroker in the City, all the questions and suspicions that nagged him between lectures would be put aside. And so his fatherhood was one of boundless regret.
He hailed from that generation which maintained that in a world run by stupid People, the best way to handle oneself was with firm rectitude and stiff belief in one's own solid character, back ramrod straight, for if you get lucky, you have luck and yourself to thank, and if the mob comes and beats you and knocks you down, at least you have yourself and your honor, and this set of values had born him well through a lifetime witnessing too much adversity and suffering in others. Anyone could rise above it all, just as he had done, for he had done well, working his way through college, acquiring Professorship, buying a house in a good neighborhood, getting married and having at least this one surviving child.
As for Claude Barrows, his regrets directed themselves largely at himself. An odd-job man, he had turned his hand to music to make a few dollars, using that trade pretty much as he had done cabinet-finishing, house painting, ditch digging and carpentry, with a desultory and half-finished attitude of "why bother", since it will probably all wind up a wrecked mess turned out wrong and nobody appreciates good work anyway. The world had set itself against Claude from the very beginning, or so he felt. Against himself and against all the people like him. There was no use in trying, as the System had it all rigged up for the Fortunate Ones. Might as well just sit there on the stoop with a Colt 45 in that old paper bag. Get by making this or that sort of thing in a half-assed way. Every once in a while he gets up the gumption and really sets to it with a will, but then something always happens in the end. Wife runs off with the bass player or the earnings lost in the first roll of dice on the corner. The one thing he had made, well, helped make, was Sarah whom he taught the guitar when she was just six years old. How she looked then with her little brown arms barely getting around the body of that old Martin dreadnaught.
Suddenly, in the middle of conversation about poetry, Claude burst into tears and all conversation stopped as people looked at him.
Claude looked at his daughter and said, "You are the only beautiful thing I ever made."
"Dad, you are drunk again." Sarah said.
Mr. Washington commented that it appeared brunch was over and he called for the check. How on earth had Suan collected such a group of friends or ever heard of this place. He strongly suspected Mama's of being a hotbed of Lesbianism, a lifestyle about which he had yet to form a firm opinion.
If he had known with certainty that Suan's current lover was the fetching and intelligent Jamaica Jones, it is quite possible he would throw a fit. Never mind her employment status.
But as she stood up he noted the grace in her body and check noted to himself the way she resembled her mother.
Out on the sidewalk they all shook hands, hugged, did what each person's character called forth and each pair went its separate ways. Suan and her dad took the Mercedes out to MLK Park along the water and there she got the Old Man to take off his shoes and so got him to remember how they had gone fishing in those waters long before folks got worried about eating anything out of the Bay.
They ended up walking hand in hand, him thinking, well, she is what she is and no matter about lifestyle for she is of flesh and blood of her mother. Can't deny that. After all she did not turn out so badly.
Meanwhile Sarah had a few drinks together with her dad at the Top Hat Lounge, a place with lots of red vinyl upholster and lighting set considerately dim so as to help smooth out the features of whomever one had encountered there for mating purposes. He talked about missing her mom, as bad as she was, and about early days when jazz was bopping all over the place in Oaktown. After the bar, she put her father to bed and sang softly to him "Where is my good man?" by Memphis Minnie.
As he drifted off on the sound of his daughter's voice, he thought to himself, now what dad is so lucky as to be able to sit down and have a few drinks with his daughter. What a voice she has . . . .
As for Tipitina and Adolpho, they returned to the Island and after a brief visit to the playground at Washington Park, where she submitted to being pushed in the play set swing, they did their own beachside walk there along the Strand not far from the house on Otis. He wanted to know if Tipitina had found a nice Creole boy yet.
Dad, you know me and Roger been together five years now.
He come from good family?
Skipping to the chase, she said he was from Minnesota.
He's Lutheran, dad. From San Leandro.
He sighed. At least he is not from Wisconsin.
She did not know how this could be an improvement, but she let it go.
Adolpho had come with his father and mother years ago from the bayous during World War II, along with so many others out of the Southlands, who came to help build the immense warships that helped defeat the original Axis of Evil. Most of them stayed, at least the ones who did not experience the terrible Port Chicago disaster, but Adolpho had returned to kin in Metairie to knock about there and New Orleans, working odd jobs and trying to build up a Cajun sense of himself, even though those few years by the Bay had changed him and put a mark upon him so that everybody there knew him for something different.
So it was he eventually returned to the Bay to take care of his ailing mother after his own father died of some kind of toxic consequence from the alphabet soup of chemicals involved with building things like ships. His mother died not six months later and he just stayed and married Marybelle Jennifer and pretty soon with a house full of kids, the years passed and there was no returning to Metairie.
All of the kids turned out fine, including this one. But still, the Bayou water was in his veins, undeniably so. As he sat there on the strand he started singing a little French blues to himself and his daughter put her arm around his shoulders.
Fathers and daughters. There is no summary long enough to encompass a life and all that is in it, she thought to herself. I know this man and yet I will never understand him.
And so the sun set with flaming rooster tails of crimson and gold as the fog billowed in through the Golden Gate far across the water. And far across the water came the eerie ululation of the night train passing through Jack London Waterfront, heading off to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Thank your dad one time and gave a great week.
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