JULY 18, 2010


Its been a coolish week on the Island our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, with days struggling out of bed in a fog that burns off sometime around noon to gift us with blue sky afternoons.

After the Affair of the Spicy Hot Dish, Juanita has not given up on producing a perfect combination of Midwestern and Latin cuisine. This notwithstanding folks are still finding boxes of her gifts to the Norwegian Bachelor Farmers in strange places all over town. Mr. Howitzer's dog, Eisenhower, found one secreted under the commemorative alarm bell in front of the Park Street firehouse.

Her latest effort involved a sort of spaghetti bake/tamale pie combo for whom she employed Lionel of the Pampered Pup (because he came from Elgin, Illinois) and Jacqueline of the Salon (because she hailed from Bear Lake, MN). Lionel took a tray of the stuff to the Pampered Pup where he and Jose picked at it dubiously.

"Wuz dis here sauce?" said Lionel.

"Worchestershire?" offered Jose.

"That's what I said,"Lionel commented.

Meanwhile Maeve took some of the bake over to her Taiko drumming class. After an hour of pounding drums, working up a sweat and getting screamed at by Sensei Ito in the gymnasium of the Community College, all the women and girls who had joined for the express purpose of toning those abs and developing that killer butt always worked up a ferociously difficult to govern appetite for anything heavy and loaded with carb.

Taiko is a Japanese artform that, typically for Japanese, has developed into a rarified and rigorously physical regimen. It involves flailing away furiously with heavy sticks on immense drums until the muscles scream silently in agony. But melodically and with delicacy. It is supposed to be full of Zen and stuff like that, according to Maeve. And be a damn fine workout in addition. Accomplished female taiko drummers are supposed to look like ballerinas but be able to tear phonebooks in half.

"Pound on the drum like you kill your most detested enemy!" Ito yelled at Maeve.

"What about my husband?" Maeve said, meaning in her mind that such a job is reserved for her mate, but Ito, hailing from a different culture understood her differently and was thoroughly shocked.

"Do not ever kill your husband! Kill someone else!" Ito shouted.

"What if I don't feel like that today?" Maeve said, ever the reasonable woman and fully in touch with her innermost feelings after the Feminine Mythology Class of the day previously. She was a great one for taking advantage of the Adult Ed program at the Community College.

"Then kill your husband another day!" shouted Ito. "Think of that!"

Maeve rattled a bit with her sticks while Ito practically jumped up and down beside her. His job was to guide and inspire the students to do their best beyond their physical limits and Maeve was a problem. He soon found himself abandoning the core principle of muga mushin, which is that of serenity amid chaos while he shouted any amount of nonsense at Maeve to get her to dig deep. Somehow he glommed onto the right formula, or at least a formula that worked for today.

"Babies! Children! Pregnancy! More babies!" Ito shouted.

Maeve, whose youngest was less than a year old, suddenly began furiously pounding the immense drum. Gradually she moved into the Flow of the Drum and the class was saved.

Ito, a standard Japanese man with all the length and breadth in his soul of an average salaryman would never learn how he had just made what would later become the East Bay's most distinguished Taiko drummer. Such is the nature of genius. Such is the nature of true accomplishment. Best to disavow all attachments. That is the true way of Zen.

As for the tray of spagetti bake, that largely went home with Ito who used it with variable success as crab bait, for it did not resemble anything like food for human beings. The crabs went for the hamburger content and were stunned by the other ingredients, so the effort was not all lost.

A tray of the stuff wound up in the Old Same Place Bar where various customers picked at it with plastic picnic forks. Late in the evening a stranger came in wearing a greenish coat and he sat down and ordered a pint of plain. It was clear that although he spoke the language he was not from any place around here. He heard all about the Norwegian Bachelor Farmers and all about the famous Hot Dish and all about the Spaghetti Bake and all about the economic troubles going on and the trouble about the school tax and the trouble about the Point development and then, after thinking a good long think he had this to say:

"I've been around the world and seen many sights and I have noticed this:

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night -
A pint of plain is your only man

When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -
A pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare -
A pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife,
You have still got a darlint plan
You still can turn to a brighter life -
A pint of plain is your only man.

The man sipped his brew and added, "You will notice you are not the Midwest and never shall be for they have no ocean nor mountains to speak of. And you will note that you are not of New York for New York is a small-minded provincial place suitable enough for itself. And you will note that you are not of the Western frontier entirely also, for cowboys have never been entirely welcome in these parts and the cattledrives have long since moved on. You are yourselves and god be with you for I shall go now."

With that, the man wiped his lips, left sufficient tender on the bar for his bill and soon walked out the door leaving all amazed.

When Padraic ran out to see where he had gone or notice the manner of his car, the endless street extended empty in both directions under the buzzing streetlamps as far as one could see. The fog had returned with nightfall to shroud the city streets.

Just then the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the storied estuary as the locomotive wended its way from the gantries of the Port past the dark and shuttered windows and doors of the Jack London Waterfront headed off to parts unknown.

Thats the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.