SEPTEMBER 20, 2009


Its been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. A late hot spell has persisted late into the month after a rather cool summer putting the finish on the devastated tomatos but encouraging the basil and dahlias to keep right on moving. It all balances out in the end.

After some Official somewhere Important announced the end of the Recession was in sight, and any number of folks out there started bickering about verbiage and definitions of "Recession" and so on an argument started up over at Marlene and Andre's household which has seen nothing of any end to anything with a good god damn to all the bean counters and lets us just call this Hard Times with unemployment and poor cash flow. Some of those folks thought it was great the Golden State had stabilized unemployment at 11.9%. Now the latest report has us at 12.2%.

See, folks like us got no say in the things that matter, said Martini. We just got to roll with it and find the best place to weather the storm when it comes.

Sure enough, said Javier. But where you gonna go to get away in times like this?

Heck, don't tell me get on down to New Orleans. Don't tell me there you can be poor and happy. Look what happened to Raif and Simpson, said Alexis. They got told 'in New Orleans you can be happy being poor'.

What kind of idiot said that, said Tipitina, who should know. New Orleans in summer is like getting kicked in the balls with iron-tipped shoes. It never was no fun being poor in New Orleans.

Buncha Lowell kids from the City is all I heard, said Alexis. Now after Katrina we don't even know if them went down there is dead or alive. Fucked up misdirection I say. Fucked up con-job. Fuck em all next time, I say.

They were all silent for a time, remembering that destroyed city, once accounted among the great cities of the World and the jewel of America, now wrecked and forgotten along with its five million former inhabitants. Which included for a brief time Raif and Simpson. Among others. They remembered their lost friends. Friends who had drowned or been crushed during the terrible hurricane and its aftermath of government destruction and ignorance.

On a more positive note, Darlene and Joachim went to the newest production by the ACLO. This production happened to be of the broadway musical called "Hair". Also of note,their daughter Aphasia, happened to have a starring role therein.

The last time the couple had gone to the theatre was for Cal Shake's production of Midsummer Nights Dream, which Joachim had pronounced "extreme" at the time on account of Puck being played by a woman wearing fleshcolored tights, as well as the Bard's notorious ribaldry. That was 1989.

So there the old couple sat watching their girl prance around with a bunch of kids who were not even gleams in their parent's eyes when the show first opened in 1969. They sang nevertheless with a great deal of zest about Sodomy and masturbation and then, there she was, with all the others, right out there in front on stage for the entire town to see -- stark staring naked wearing not much more than a great big smile while Darlene sat in her seat with her back straight and her two hands on the handle of the purse in her lap while her husband sort of sank in opposition, slowly like a beachball with a small puncture in it in his seat.

People tend to think about California as some wild and crazy place where the people spend their time in hot tubs or galloping through the marijuana groves, however it should be noted that the American Conservative Baptist movement began here and it was not so long ago that no lady of means went out of the house without her hat and her pristine white gloves. Beyond the unruly coastline stretches 800 miles of heartland that pretty much resembles Oaklahoma in most of its ways and means. Joachim and Darlene were from that part of California.

When the show was over Joachim and Darlene looked at one another.

"I am going to talk to her." Darlene announced.

"Good." Joachim said shortly.

She stood up sharp and began moving toward the Green Room, still holding her purse with both hands in front of her like she was carrying a defensive weapon. Joachim had sunk back into his seat.

There was a crowd backstage however, which paused her for a moment. All the twenty-somethings running back and forth with that sixties hippy hair and the multi-colored shirts. She could see the sharp angles of the greasepaint on their faces now that they were up close without the hot lighting gels shining on them. Everybody was tremendously excited -- the cast had gotten, save for Joachim and Darlene, two standing ovations.

What could these kids know about that time? It wasn't all lovey peace and happiness. The terrible things that went on. Johnny coming back from the war in a flag-draped caisson. Which his mother broke open one night in a terrible fury and then dragged over to the church in her stationwagon, shouting up front there in front of all the people, "See! See all of you! This is what your war has done!"

Death is always ugly, but violent death in the tropical jungle is hideous.

And all the lives ruined. Ruined by bad decisions based on drugs or politics or some outrageous thing. Kids quitting school to run off to communes and the like. And she herself, the little girl from modest Modesto, had wanted to be a dancer. But she had done the sensible thing and gotten married instead. If not for that she, too, could have been like this kids here . . .

A towseled towhead girl sprinted past her to leap up and wrap her legs around a boy, who fortunately was stocky enough to take the blow and hold her up. They laughed and laughed.

Youth. As they are, so she was.

But then marriage and the first child lost. And the long time of grief and watching the hot dry fields baking under the California sun. Then the move to the Island so Joachim could be closer to work and the one child that lived while all around them the world went through its own changes. Except for the Island, which kept at least the face of Old Times in its art deco tiled buildings, its neon signs, its Rotarian Club of antique automobiles.

Those forbidden thoughts, beginning with the tacet "What if" began to crowd in upon her. She had been the best in Mrs. Bailar's class. How she had loved the feeling of sweeping across the stage as the strings swelled in perfect timing! And the night of Swan Lake, her debut . . . !

Just then her daughter, wearing a blouse and floor-length paisley skirt saw her.

"Mom! Mom! Whats wrong? Why are you crying?"

"I . . .we . . . we are so PROUD of you." she said with tears pouring down her cheeks.

"O mom." she threw her arms around her in a young embrace.

Later she found Joachim standing in front of a bronze plaque out front and he had the most curious expression on his face. The plaque was the commemoration of the boys who died fighting in Korea and Vietnam.

"Well?" he said, turning to face her, still with that odd expression.

"I told her that we were . . . are proud of her." she said.

He nodded curtly. "Good."

And they went out together into the night. As they walked quietly, not saying anything to each other, each wrapped in individual and personal memory, the long wail of the throughpassing train ululated across the estuary from the Port of Oakland as the train clicker-clacked through the dark and shuttered Jack London Waterfront, headed toward parts unknown.

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