OCTOBER 08, 2008
Its been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Friday night a real dockwalloper blew in and soaked all the surviving tomatoes real good and knocked down the tallest marigolds. With the garden in all disarray the squirrels are going nuts laying up stores and digging in anything that might have some dirt in it. Pesky rodents.
Hear that a storm dropped a couple feet of snow in the high Sierra, meaning backpacking is over for the duration.
Tommy and Toby have gone out to put the Lavender Surprise to bed for the winter. Pedro Almeida simply stocked up on slickers and wellies for a professional fisherman knows no downtime around here. Each morning he trundles out the door before dawn regardless of skies and, with his labrador, Tugboat, tailwagging beside him he goes down to the marina to set out once again on his ketch, El Borracho Perdido.
Down at the Old Same Place Bar, Marsha sits talking in the largely empty place this Sunday with Suzi. They are helping one another commiserate over the sad state of personal romance in their lives today while Occasional Quentin is trying to explain to Jose and Pahrump at one of the tables just why he is the way he is.
Seems Quentin, after recovering from his burns and growing back his eyebrows after the unfortunate Incident of the Flammable Roach at the House in which very nearly he and everyone else almost passed en masse to the Hereafter, managed to get his hand stuck in a glass cookie jar, which situation had required at least four housemates plus Bonkers the house sheepdog plus Suan's greasy "Joy Creme" (as she called it) to get him unstuck after some two hours of effort.
The jar contained, after all that ruction, not a real chocolate chip cookie but an imitation display item, which had been pretty much along the lines of Quentin's basic fortune for the past thirty-five years.
It is said that a schlemiel is one who, given a bowl of soup, invariably trips and spills the contents while walking across the room. Why does the schlemiel, knowing he is a bungler, always choose to walk across the room with a bowl of soup? Not a question that can be answered.
There is a counterpart to this character: a schlimazel is the one on whom the soup always lands.
There is another way of putting this relationship: A schlimazel's toast always falls butter-side down. A schlemiel always butters his toast on both sides.
In Occasional Quentin, we have the rare case of both instances contained within the regrettable body of a single person. Given a bowl of soup, he will invariably spill it on himself. Given a slice of toast, he will first cut himself with the butter knife, then bleed all over the toast and the butter.
It was all due to Quentin's upbringing, or lack thereof, in Fremont. This tale is a long one and we will save the beginning of that for next week.
As for Pahrump his candidacy for the President of the Yacht Club had bogged down after Babar's startling revelation of Sara-Louise Nailgun as his running mate. Pahrump's running mate was Eugene Gallipagus who didn't care and so refused to campaign. Besides, Eugene didn't look nearly as good as Ms. Nailgun in a bathing suit.
And so it was, the room of unfortunate souls, losers real and imagining, all gathered there in the Old Same Place Bar when the long wail of the throughpassing train came ululating across the water from Jack London Waterfront. Bonkers set up a companion howl, perfunctory and as usual as was his duty and his wont. He then lay down heavily and went to sleep under the table.
GROWING UP: QUENTIN'S STORY PART II
The previous week we presented the start of Quentin's description of local childhood play in the form of stone throwing.
One would think that the shelter of family and relatives provided some succor while growing up among a herd of savage animals. But the closest relations lived out in Moraga and Dublin, which were rural farming communities at the time. People from the City turned their noses up at folks from Moraga, even though City dwellers and East Bay denizens all pretty much lived under the tattered influence of what had once been the Eisenhower umbrella.
On a visit to his uncle time came around to think about supper when Mr. Martin reached into the case under the grandfather clock which had been brought around the Horn a century previously and extracted from there a pretty modern and well-oiled 32-20 rifle. He then walked through the house, loading as he did so until he walked out the back door and paused at the edge of a field, a perfectly rustic and normal field for California circa 1962.
It had been planted with beans, chard and other vegetables that seemed to indicate by quality that growing well in this soil took some gumption and was by no means easy.
After a moment there came a loud Kaboom! and Mr. Martin came back, dragging with the help of his daughter, Malphasia, a four-point buck, whose tongue lolled out of a foamy bloody mouth and whose eyes gazed back at Quentin with a glassy stare.
"Don't just stand there," said Mr. Martin. "Get yourself a knife. Here's dinner."
For a brief terrible moment, Quentin imagined that he was to fetch his plate, a napkin and a fork right away, but no, he was to help with gutting and preparation of about 80 pounds of venison.
This description is better left to tougher minds.
In one other memorable instance, Quentin was out running with the cousins when his foot went into a hole while the substantial portion of the rest of his body continued forward helter skelter until there was a sharp snap and a moment of reddened blankness.
When he came too, the other had run off and he could not stand for more than a moment and that on one leg. He called out, he prayed, he cursed, but the cousins had run off for it was come to dinner time and among that horde, he who tarried ate but little.
So he hauled himself by degrees on knee, on elbows, on his belly, inch by red-wavy nausea-welling inch until he got to the long cement drive where he was looked upon by the relations.
"Yer late," accused Delilah. "We didn't save nothing for you."
"He knows he's late. That's why he's putting on an act," Uncle Adolphus said.
I think my leg is broken, Quentin said.
He was called a malingerer and a crybaby and just trying to put one over. Kids today are so damn spoiled. Its the Socialism.
So he wore out his jeans and the elbows of his shirt getting up the drive until one uncle, incensed, promised to take him right to the doctor for a dose of castor oil and proof of the boy's mischief, after which, there would be additional punishments.
Difficulties of getting into the car only served to stoke the uncle's rage.
"Yep," said the doc. "Ankle busted clean through. That foot is swoll up so bad it won't wear a shoe for the next three months. But how did his elbows and knees get like that . . ."?
Nobody ever did apologize and that same uncle later tried to sign up Quentin for the Marines during the Vietnam War without telling anybody.
So much for family values.
Then there were the summer and winter holiday visits to the farm near Petaluma. Mr. Abrams ran a livestock, horsebreeding, chicken farming, do whatever with animals kind of business there. He never made much money, it seemed, until he got into raising llamas. No one ever could figure out how this form of livestock made more money than any of the others, but running a farm at any and all times requires a lot of physical labor, labor which called Quentin to abandon childhood games -- which was no great loss as any local playmates seemed to manifest murderous tendencies. Other than slopping through a lot of cowpies and similar mess, the stints were not so bad except for the absolute necessity to be bolt upright and out of bed promptly at four am every day. Oversleeping was not allowed and Quentin made that mistake only once.
Mr. Abrams resolution to oversleeping was characteristically terse and to the point. He got a bucket of ice water -- it happened to be winter that time -- and dumped it on the boy there as he lay.
That got him up all right.
Such were the experiences of growing up in Fremont.
PART III - THE FAMILY
Down at the Old Same Place Bar, Quentin was winding up his long autobiography in front of Jose and the girls there. After starting classes at Poly High in the City, one balmy day the family was set to go out on a grand excursion to Alcatraz on the Red and White Ferry. This was all Uncle Adolph's idea, for the Native Americans had just been evicted there after their brief Occupation of land that, according to one law still belonged to them, and according to another law, belonged to the Park District.
Uncle Adolphe had always been a virulent supporter of Herbert Hoover and a firm denier of any Liberal Guilt or New Deal Socialism, so his idea was to uphold law and order by retaking Alcatraz, as it were, for the sake of Puritan Rectitude. There was, in addition, fresh in his memory the somewhat recent prison uprising at San Quentin -- which actually had occured well before Quentin's time -- in which three men successfully took over an entire wing, killed several guards and held off the entire US Navy which shelled the outside of the prison from battleships in the Bay before dying in a fullisade of bullets.
Later it came out that the three had retreated to deep inside the prison and shelling the exterior walls did nothing except kill and injure hundreds of inmates who had been guilty of nothing beyond staying obediently inside their cells without taking part in the slightest way with the uprising.
Nevertheless, it was Uncle Adolphe's position shelling the prison had been a strong signal of deterrence to any possible future shenanigans and was admirable in its ruthlessness. And there would be a clear view of the pockmarked walls from the jaunt across the Bay so as to instruct the younger family members in what was right and proper.
So the day came and the ferry was chartered. It was the MV Gillespie and the entire family was booked aboard, including Quentin.
Except Daphne had played a trick on Quentin. She told him his ticket had been sent to the old address in the East Bay, but when he got there in a huff, he found it had been sent to the new address in the Avenues. So he hustled on back only to arrive there as the boat departed with all the family aboard except him and so he went over to push quarters into Laughing Sal at Playland by the Beach. Ha, ha ha. She must have thought it was really funny at the time.
The big ferry lumbered about halfway out to Alcatraz before its engines quit and it drifted with the tide toward the Golden Gate. Not to worry, as the boat was big enough to weather any sort of conditions and it was a matter of time before the Coast Guard arrived to pluck everyone off.
Unfortunately two items caused a revision in that plan. The Coast Guard Cutter was out practicing with the Blue Angels for annual Fleet Week and the ferry ran into Halfway Rock. This Rock had been seen as a danger to navigation in the 1800's and so had been substantially destroyed with dynamite, which had removed all visible trace of the big thing jutting up out of the water at the entrance to the Golden Gate. But everywhere there it was over 70 feet deep in the channel, at Halfway Rock, it was barely six on flood tide.
The Ferry ground against this object, took on water and, well within sight of shore near the place that Jimmy Stewart fetched a becoming starlet from the ice cold waters in Vertigo, abruptly sank, taking with it just about the entire Quentin Clan, Uncle Adolph and Daphne inclusive.
Within a matter of hours, Quentin was orphaned and bereft of all family ties, although not so bereft he mourned the passing of the majority of his relatives, who had proven during his lifetime up to that point to be largely hindrances and obnoxious assholes getting in the way of peace, love and happiness.
They brought him up to Fort Mason where everybody they could recover from the sand sharks was laid out under sheets inside one of the halls. Since he was the only surviving family member of the clan that had descended from Herman and Wilhelmina Bocksbeutel, who had travelled by way of covered wagon and mule to the Golden State in 1885, it was his duty to identify everybody. And as he did so, he smartly kicked each corpse, which rendered the coroner aghast such that he kept him away from the other mourners in the hall. The Reverend present left the hall entirely and went across the street to have several Irish Coffees.
When Quentin got to Daphne, after his peculiar form of ID, he leaned down and said, "You aint nothing but meat." So much for reconciliation.
When asked by news media persons what he planned to do next, he answered much to their discomfort, "Celebrate!"
As a writer called Kurt Vonnegut would exclaim aserbically much later, "So it goes."
The story of Quentin continues next week. His travails at Poly High and how he wound up on the Island.
In the Old Same Place Bar, Suzie wiped the bar and set up the glasses to dry. She settled down to her anthropology book for that interminable class at City College. "The Bonobo extended family includes all members of the local tribe, whom they greet without exception with devotion and warmth. Because the habits of the Bonobo are so diffuse, it is entirely possible that any other tribal member is quite possibly a close relative, so they make no distinction in Otherness. All are equally treasured and adored, both as kin and as lovers . . .".
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 puzzling over Life's Persistent Questions.
QUENTIN'S STORY PART IV - HIGH SCHOOL
Over at the Old Same Place Bar Suzi pours another beer for Quentin, holding forth on his autobiography and apologia as to why, just why, Quentin is Quentin.
We last left Quentin in the makeshift morgue at Fort Mason, berating his dead relatives. Here he is now, a boy without a relation in the world, cut loose in California, which nevertheless requires a boy of a certain age to attend school until he is thoroughly done. Which in his case meant Poly High, out there in the Ave's, hard against the Panhandle.
Poly was not a bad school and was counted among the Big Three in Babylon in those days in terms of excellence. First and foremost was Lowell of course, but who is counting now? There Quentin's greatest delight was in caring for the saltwater aquarium owned by the Biology teacher, Mr. James. He liked the fish and their colors and the simple lives they led, without serious worries or complaint or hassle. At least he did until one day one of the kids caused, by rapping on the glass and dropping in paperclips, to make the sea slug in there do pretty much what excited sea slugs do on provocation. That is to say, the sea slug everted himself, causing an unholy mess, which caused some of the guys there much merriment, and some of the girls to run screaming from the room.
After his Tremendous Loss, Quentin thought it politic to at least appear sorrowful, for his exclamations of delight always terrified the social workers such that they threatened to send him to Sonoma -- and some of you know what THAT means. By Sonoma, they meant the medieval fortress of an institution with glittering bars, thick walls and the sounds of screaming dissipating over the bucolic fields where underpaid migrant workers from Mexico and Stockton gathered up the grapes under the blistering sun.
Oh, if we haven't said this already. Welcome to Northern California.
Quentin's methodology was to take up French Symbolist poetry and be seen walking around the fountain of Poly High carrying Illuminations or similar stuff.
He also puckishly took up French language instead of the more popular Spanish, which proved to be a political mistake later on.
So one day, Reuben Blades and some cholos confronted Quentin beside the fountain. They took away his book and they dragged him away to the restroom.
It turned out that Quentin's family had remained stout Protestants in the Land of Catholicism and this kind of thing simply would not do.
Why the restroom? Because the fountain was too good for him. Instead of the fountain, they baptized him several times in the toilet.
Which had been thoughtfully employed previously.
Sic Semper Poetis.
So Quentin returned to his house in the avenues to find a moving truck excavating the contents. Being of curious mind, and naturally concerned about these proceedings, he inquired just what the hell was going on as the movers handled Sophie's aquarium by pitching the contents into the garden, where gobies and guppies flopped amid the marigolds. More aquaria casualties in what had become a leitmotiv for Quentin's life in general.
No rent, no mortgage, no stay. The Landlord here is God. And this is California, God's Country.
Perhaps he should not have laughed at those social workers, for they are employees of the Government. In any case, with a small bundle of things including a knapsack and a sleeping bag, Quentin went off to sleep in the park and join the Spirit of '69. Thus began the long history of Quentin, born and raised in California, but never welcomed Home.
Quentin ambled over with Jose and Javier to the Offices of Island-Life where the lights burned into the darkness, for there were few places to go and at least at Island-Life, he had a place to stay for a while. We at Island-Life are from Everywhere and Nowhere but we all are become Americans and here, all are welcome.
As the Editor reviewed the election figures one more time and as the tape from Germany chattered gutterspeech in the background the long wail of the throughpassing train in Jack London Square ululated across the bright moonlit waters of the estuary.
QUENTIN'S STORY - PART V
Down at the Old Same Place Bar Occasional Quentin is winding up his autobiography. After his entire family had been exterminated in a freak ferry accident, he went to live in the Golden Gate Park after the house was seized by creditors from Texas.
For a while he continued going to school until the Famous Dunking in 1969. School provided a pleasant and monotonous routine, which seemed to also provide a sense of normalcy to a guy living under the third pine tree on the left inside the Panhandle. Besides, the gym offered the opportunity for the occasional shower. And he never really gave up the idea of going on a real high school date with a real high school girl until the very end.
In 1969 America was going through a kind of event that has been compared at times favorably and at times unfavorably with the eversion of the sea slug.
The sea slug will, if properly challenged, evert its innards upon the floor of the seabed (as previously described), which should so discourage predators from continuing, that they do not continue.
The problem is that the sea slug is left hollow and empty and the predator is left in the same condition.
So everyone is left unsatisfied in the end.
Thus was America as it commenced bombing the shit out of a bunch of southeast Asian tribesmen.
Parallel to this was a fountain that stood in the courtyard of Poly High.
It came upon a day that a group of stalwarts seized upon Quentin for all his studiousness and his AP English attendance and in that fountain they gave him a forcible dunking, while destroying his irreplaceable books.
Perhaps they did not like him reading Ulysses, or his reading of Rimbaud.
In any case, the dripping Quentin wandered from the grounds of the school, never to return.
Instead, he encountered a couple of freaks with long hair, colorful serapes, striped bell-bottoms and sandals near the tree in Golden Gate Park where he had been sleeping for the past six months. The freaks noted that Quentin was on a real bummer trip so they decided to share in the spirit of the first lesson learned in Kindergarten.
One of them brought out a baggie with strips of paper printed with cartoon figures. In Quentin's wet fingers dissolved, almost, but not quite, the images of Mickey Mouse in his Sorcerer's Apprentice getup. Told not to waste it, he shoved these and a few more pieces of paper in his mouth.
The unequal pupils of the one guy suddenly got very large when he saw that and the two hippies looked at each other, shrugged and walked away.
So there Quentin was when he started to feel really strange, at first exhilarated with boundless energy. This energy became lightning bolts shooting from his fingers. The tree next to him started moving, writhing, until the bark bulged out, reflecting rays of multicolored light.
He paused by a flowerbed marked by a park sign where white flower cones fractured the sun like prisms beneath the bright red and orange bells of a plant clinging to a trellis. He moved through light and the world except the world moved through his body as well and everything all around him became part of himself or he of the entire universe unfolding. If he took the Universe inside him, would the Universe evert itself like the sea slugs in the school aquarium? What would that be like. He reached up and shoved a flower bloom into his mouth as a couple tourists from another planet walked by.
"Look Harry! That hippie is eating the trumpet flowers! Isn't that poisonous?"
"They sure wouldn't allow that in Minneapolis, no sirree," said Harry. "Lets go find the famous merry-go-round. It's around here someplace."
"Hold on a sec while I get a picture. Marge will be all agog we saw an actual San Francisco hippie. . .".
"He won't be for long if that is what I think it is. Come along now."
The park sign said, "Two species of thorn-apple".
That's when Quentin thought he should get out of there and so he started moving through the Park with trees writhing all around him and the sky becoming the latticework of Father Duran's confessional screen and that's when people started melting all around him into puddles of water which became knee-high grass and all the buildings turned into paintings by Mondrian, making it really difficult to cross the street.
Clearly this was not real. Clearly he and everybody had become a character in a book written by a science fiction Author. All of Reality was illusion, just made up by some guy in a wooden chair sitting in front of a desk in Heaven or Sunol, a place he liked very much. Quentin's stomach started to feel uneasy because of the flowers. He thought he should get over to Bernal Heights, to the bar where he knew some people.
That bar was a curious place owned by a crusty guy named Doyle, who had been sent up to Pelican Bay for half-ounce possession. Well, in those days, fairness and compassion and justice were not things to be considered by people who longed to preserve "the spirit of '49". In spite of his experiences, Doyle was a genuinely warm-hearted guy who got hold of this tavern and sent off to Japan for the finest woodworker there to inscribe on a redwood plank the Argentinean National Motto, "Libertad y Orden."
Why Japan and why Argentina are things best left to speculation, for the plank returned with the bold logo, "Ribeltad Vorden". The name stuck and so all the menus got reprinted and Doyle developed a fine community there of drinkers and the occasional live music supplied by bands with weird names like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and the Warlocks, all playing really trippy music but all having a great time to which all were welcome, including Quentin with leaves in his hair and a sort of scraggly beard.
He never made it to the bar for he was arrested for public intoxication and vagrancy while trying to swim across the street, which had become a river infested with hippopotami, for the citizenry was much up in arms about the Hippy invasion and consequences to the Californian way of life, as they saw it and this drug thing was entirely out of hand. So they took him first to SF General, where a squad of octopi held him down and pumped his stomach before sending him on to the Drunk Tank.
So it was, while held in a cold cell on Seventh Street, in a tank among the hookers, the DUI, the pimps, the petty thieves and the pushers, in the now fashionable SOMA district, amid a sea-change of changes for the City, Quentin stared at the moon and the moon stared back at him, with Jupiter on the one side and Venus upon the other. The drugs wore off and he felt all the misery that is the river of the world.
At that time, unto Quentin was given a great Gift. He whose entire family had been violently extinguished and who had lost his home and who had been dunked in the fountain of Poly High for the crime of reading French Poetry was visited by The Author.
The Author reached out upon a moonbeam and with boundless pity touched Quentin upon the temple and so, drove Quentin entirely mad and so has Quentin been since that night in the Seventh Street Jail. From that night forward he was entirely insane and cared not about fame nor wealth nor standing. He sought not opinion nor dollar. Grasses and leaves twined themselves in his hair, for cared not how he looked. Verily he became as one with the lilies of the field, a child of God who suffered no more.
Eventually he found himself on the Island, which at that time was dominated by a Navy Base and so was not a desirable place for Citizens to live, and there he was embraced by the small household of Marlene and Andre gave him sanctuary, seeing there the simplicity and honesty of the prophets.
While the Island may host fine ambitions and all the like, it also has hosted prophets in its time and the time of the prophets may be at hand. Thus sayeth Quentin.
As he finished his report there in the Old Same Place Bar, Suzie called Last Call. And from far across the broken fields of Buena Vista flats and the estuary came the long ululation of the throughpassing train as it wailed through the dark and shuttered Jack London Waterfront headed from the Port to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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