JULY 4, 2007

We have to wonder about Old John. Several neighbors have asked the same question: What kind of person dislikes jasmine, after all? Go figure. Can't penetrate the workings of a neighbor's mind -- or lack thereof -- sometimes. Kill a neighbor with poison so as to have garbage cans free of jasmine flowers. Takes all kinds.

We live during interesting times. That, itself, is a curse. With the worst American President in history, leading the pack not by a nose but by several lengths, we spin inexorably into a time of Interesting Times ahead. Even Time magazine, that bastion of the lawnmower, well-matriculated society, has come out with a lead article entitled: "After Bush: How to repair the damage".

Unsupervised concentration camps, torture not only employed, but actually justified, secretive wiretapping and other surveillance of citizens, bunkered public buildings everywhere, exhaltation of military values, spontaneous invasion of foreign countries, wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians, removal of basic liberties and rights such as habeus corpus: all this lends itself well to a degredation of the Great Experiment to the level of some dictatorial facist republic.

In a true insult to intelligence and to justice, Mr. Bush (not my President and never was or will be) commuted the sentence of arch-traitor Libby so as to shield his administration from yet more damage. The GOP is gradually coming around to realize that the Administration is so bad, so disastrous, that their own interests have been damaged beyond repair for the next one hundred years.

Yet in 1776, all of these word-lip issues seemed so important as to balance the worth of a man's life. Perhaps the Great Experiment will continue. Perhaps not. These days we witness the most severe trials. There remains a remote chance that the principle of one man, one vote shall overcome all the shikanery and evil. America remains an unruley and cosmopolitan people. It is the very fact of difficulty in organizing and reining in such a people that makes this country perhaps a little better than others. The fact that no one can make everybody do the same thing at the same time is a good thing and a strength. It is a strength that some kid can unfurl a banner with the nonsense message, "Bong Hits for Jesus". Yet there are some who would limit this freedom. Perhaps that is the issue, in that those who would limit our freedoms must needs remain free to express their opinion, yet remain free enough to potentially dominate for a time.

Rule what you will in your formal courts with high starched collars. There will be another one hundred thousand students to unfurl one hundred thousand banners announcing any sort of dada statement like "Bong hits for Jesus."

This is all grand Stuff and not the purview of the Island. We are a small island set in the emerald setting of the San Francisco Bay, a California Island that imagines itself a small town in the Midwest.

Down at the Old Same Place, Suzie bends over her book. The Old Same Place was closed on the Fourth. One of only three days per year the watering hole remained shut. This year, owner Claudias Hippocampus, got a parade float perched on a flatbed truck with palms and congas with a vaguely tropical motiv. The band performed various Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley tunes while passing a bottle of anejo tequila back and forth until, by the time the parade reached Webster Street, the bass player had collapsed into the papaya and the drummer had slumped into a hopeless shambles among the ferns, waving his drumsticks in the air while failing to make contact, but still trying to provide backup vocals to songs not on the list. The lead guitarist kept thrashing out a version of "Crossfire" until they had to throw him into the ice bucket reserved for the beer keg. He burst from this treatment screaming and ran all the way down Santa Clara until no one could see him any more and of course, by then, the party was over.

Officer O'Madhauen was in the parade driving a big Harley Davidson, which he does not normally drive, but which he imagined was really cool. He kept dumping the bike every time the parade had a turn and the regular cycle patrol was really put out having to get him upright each time.

Eugene Gallipagus rode in the Poodle Hunter's Boat, in fond and abject admiration of the NRA, and his float was much admired for its foliage and jasmine profusion. A mock-up of a tiny toy poodle up front exploded periodically to the great delight of the kids.

Percy drove his immaculately restored two-tone 1949 Mandeville-Brot Coupe with full running boards and plush leather upholstery with his consort, the nearly nude Berkeley native and Explicit Player, Sonja, resplendent in feather boa and shoes. Parents were enjoined to avert the eyes of their children.

Next, Bear appeared with the Island Riders Group, a collection of well-bellied, hirsute, leather-vest clad gents riding loud, purely American Iron. Naturally. Perched on his pillion, was the neatly dressed Sophia in a man's dress shirt and carrot pants.

Then we had the local Filipino float, and who should be sitting up there among the palm fronds and glitter but our very own Ms. Morales and Mr. Sanchez. And Fey with her friend from the County. O look at Ms. Morales and Mr. Sanchez. Holding hands, we might add. And well they might for they are engaged to be married this summer and this wedding will be featured right here on Island-Life. You betcha. This will be a fandango to remember.

Yes all the Island-Life people were there at the parade and it was a grand affair with all sorts of yelling, big float hand waving jumping up and down kinds of stuff and at the end of the day a fine time was had by all.

Applications are still in the works to make the Island a sister city to Lake Woebegon. We imagine that only a few small bureaucratics details stand between our present state and certain immortality. The carrier pigeons have been returning with a suspicious wooziness, however and juniper berries are suspected.

Down at the Strand, cars all lined up to let knots of people out onto the wave-lapped beach in the dark. All along the Bay you could see fireworks going off in the far distances. Babylon's synchroed works bracketed the Bridge and personal fireworks lighting up the streets terracing San Bruno Mountain. San Leandro's explosions bloomed way down south, but nothing came out of Oaktown this year due to construction at the Waterfront. Suzie was there with Ned while the stiff, cold wind off of the Bay threw windbreakers and hats on everyone.

Ned was trying to explain why he didn't want to go up to the Russian River for the jazz festival. Or even to the jazz festival in Babylon this year.

"Actually, I don't like jazz," said Ned. "And, to tell the truth, I don't really like you that much. You are too serious."

The wind blew and the explosions went off in the distance. It appeared that some sort of grand finale was in progress. Over at Hunter's Point, the ack-ack of AK-47's fired out from the Project towers speckled the coastline. Now and then, a bottle rocket lifted from one of the yachts at the Island Marina with a whoosh.

"Can't we just have meaningless sex?" Asked Ned, apparently trying to soften the blow. Tact was not his forte.

Suzie shook her head. Actually, she did not like Ned that much either, and a great sense of relief and freedom swept over her on the beach. Finally, she would have time to herself and an end to all these stupid arguments. While Ned muttered apologies and all sorts of embarrassing things, she wondered if Herbie Hancock would play this year with a Latin ensemble.

Later they stumbled over the dunes to the car in the dark. They did not hold hands and he drove her silently to her studio flat.

"Keep in touch," he said.


Now, with the scent of gunpowder in the air, and the ragged remains of sparklers and Black Cats rolling in the gutters, it is the day after the Fourth and in the Old Same Place Bar Suzie occupies her time by reading her anthropology book. Miles Davis plays softly over the speakers.

She wondered if Ned would ever learn how not to be obtuse and cruel and she hoped this would happen before he hooked up with someone else.

"The Bonobo are a friendly tribe, who never fail to demonstrate affection for one another during any chance encounter in the African rain forest . . .".

Its a dark night in a City that knows how to keep its secrets. But in the Old Same Place Bar sits one bartender still trying to puzzle out Life's Persistent Questions.

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