OCTOBER 07, 2007


Some have wondered just why David and Javier were so intent on trapping raccoons around the Hall of the Native Sons of the Golden West. David's antipathy to the racoon stems from an incident that took place last October. Here is the story.

It had been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Summer ended abruptly with blasts of day-long rains this week, knocking all the oak trees along Santa Clara into the next season and overwhelming our gutter system, which operates more on wishful thinking and fond hopes than any realistic draining capacity. All the four-wheel drive high suspension SUVS went creeping through the six-inch deep ponds with tentative steps, like girls afraid of getting their frillies damp.

Saturday bloomed gorgeous with sunshine and clear skies, but reports have come down from the hills that all the passes were shut due to snow except for major Route 50 and more wet stuff is coming in this coming week. Good time to settle in with lots of Earl Grey tea and honey. Sit and watch the patter on the windowpanes. Times like these, glad to be indoors with a comfy chair. Think about friends not so fortunate. Man Mountain, the homeless man who pretty much lived in the doorway of the Jack London Parking Garage, a massive bulk looking furtively out from unknown layers of wool, for something on ten years and more, finally found his way to Sausal Creek Outpatient Facility, so that fixture is on the move.

Tommy and Toby have parked their sailboat, the Lavender Surprise, at the East End Marina and have been making ready for the winter lay to. All the serious commercial fishermen are talking about tuna moving further out, but the serious amateurs are stoked about the start of salmon season, which sort of launches irregularly in the streams, but has already taken off in the salt water.

With the heavy weather coming with high swells, the Old Same Place has been packed with captains of the sport boats who know its better to lose a day or two of paying customers than have half a dozen executives upchucking foi gras on your nice clean decks because of motion sickness, so Suzie and Padraic have been pretty busy slinging shooters and drafts. The Native Sons of the Golden West came in to hold their planning meeting for the Winter Art Sale/ Pancake Breakfast because they discovered that no one had patched the roof of the Clubhouse at the Marina.

Everyone had known, or should have known, that the hole made by Wally's revolver during the last July Fourth BBQ would cause a problem once the rain started, but there was no rain all through July, August and September, so whoever was supposed to arrange to fix the roof must have forgot about it and there was a whole lot of shouting and finger pointing when they all showed up on Tuesday to find the place a sopping mess.

Wally's revolver had been altered during a trip to Alaska to take .50 caliber shells with the fond idea of stopping grizzly bears perhaps, but with poor attention to aim and control in something like a hand-held revolver. The short of it was, the gun went off during a discussion about the author of the National Anthem and when it went off -- the gun, that is -- it put a neat entry hole in the underside of the roof while taking out several feet worth of shingles and plywood as it erupted topside in a geyser of building materials, and left behind a fairly respectable hole.

Every once in a while throughout the summer someone in a contemplative moment would look up and think to himself, somebody had better do something about that hole. But the way things go with the Native Sons and their meetings, things like roofing tend to be forgotten before the end of the evening in a tequila haze. Arlene took away Wally's gun and locked it into the rolltop secretary under the aquarium and so even that reminder passed out of sight and out of mind. With that rain coming down so hard recently, it opened up that hole a little more and so Javier came in to find a dead pigeon in a fairly large pool on the floor and a racoon raiding the fridge. The raccoon got all the ambrosia made by Wally's wife and most of the fish from the aquarium.

Well, Javier tried shoving the raccoon out of the place with a broom, but the raccoon had found the crisper bin by that point, and -- as everyone knows -- the raccoon is a form of small bear and also -- as everyone knows -- no wise man ever gets between a bear and food. The racoon sort of snarled at Javier and David Phipps, who had shown up by this point with Patricia, and batted away the broom after biting off a piece of the handle in irritation. It was Javier who thought of the revolver and so he and David both tried to hold the gun steady and aimed at the raccoon while Patricia continued to unload the Volvo, wondering what was going on.

When the gun went off, it missed the raccoon of course, but blew out the back of the refridgerator and shorted out the lights as it punched a fair section of the wall out into the lawn. In their excitement one of them pressed the trigger again -- later on they would argue about just which one of them had done it -- and this bullet decapitated the hotwater tap valve before continuing on its journey of mayhem, and a jet of water shot up to the ceiling.

The bullet sort of ricocheted off of something in the wall they found later to be the main gas line to the kitchen and smacked neatly through the aquarium that sat on top of the rolltop desk that contained the treasured historical documents granting the Island its official charter for the Statewide organization and David howled as he went to save the precious papers. He did not howl because of the possible loss of the documents. He howled because, like many Northern Californians, his natural attire in wintertime -- no matter what the real temperature -- was Bermuda shorts with sandals, and the sandals did little to protect his feet from the broken aquarium glass on the floor, which nearly severed his big toe.

Patricia, a native of Columbia, had crept up to the doorway -- with understandable caution on hearing the gunshots. Seeing her husband bleeding and in pain, she thought at first Javier had attacked him in a fit of madness, so that is when she leapt into the room like a fierce tigress and hit Javier in the face rather hard with her handbag, breaking his nose and causing him to drop the gun.

The gun went off one last time as it dropped to the floor and the shot put a fair-sized crater into the floor. They found out later from the smell that it had killed a fat old possum who had been living underneath the building for years.

The wail of Officer O'Madhauen's siren became louder over the ringing in their ears. Other than the raccoon choosing this moment to run out the door with a carrot in its mouth, things did not progress well from there. When the Officer showed up at Wally's house later that day with several questions, he arrested Wally for having an outstanding parking ticket and an altered, unregistered firearm as well as a lack of common sense.

So it was the planning meeting of the Island chapter of the Native Sons of the Golden West took place in the Old Same Place Bar, and although the mood began somewhat cantankerous, things soon sorted themself out in favor of business. In public like that, some of the usual items of order had to be revised. They couldn't perform their sacred opening ceremony, for that one is secret, nor could they recite the Oath of Featality, for they would have felt silly. The Oath is written in Spanish and Latin and few of them possessed a command of either language. Patricia had to correct their spelling some time ago on the written documents, and they had made her an Honorary Son because of it out of gratitude.

With everybody coming in all at once to the Old Same Place bar, drink deliveries were not as prompt as usual but fishermen are a patient lot. Fishing is an occupation that teaches at least one solid core value of importance and one can learn much from a commercial fisherman.

There had been some discussion about starting up an alliance with the local chapter of E Clampus Vitus however the rumored severe initiation ceremonies of the secretive order, which involve a block and tackle, blindfolds, and a supine ladder caused some members grave misgivings. The arguments against any sort of relationship with a secret society which may or may not have had close association to the Emperor of China were great, but then, on the other side, there was the argument in favor of drinking.

At the end of the day, it was thought best to table the idea, as recent events probably had not cast the reputation of their own organization in a favorable light.

Some of the fishermen, knowing of the recent contratemps with Pedro Almeida and another firearm kept mum on overhearing this resolution.

It's getting on now to the witching hour in the Offices of Island-Life. The last reporters have gone home and the House of Blues has a Jimmy Reed tune shuffling quietly from a radio somewhere out there. The long ululation of the freight train passing through Jack London Waterfront from the Port of Oakland comes wavering across the water. Almost like a dog responding in kind, a police siren goes chasing down the long corridors of the night and fades away. The radio goes off and a staffer leaves. Now, there is only the sound of humming machines in the newsroom, and the through-passing train. Strange de Jim has often commented on how one hears the sound of that train especially clear on foggy, moody nights like this.

Some say, the Wild West was ruled by the six-gun, but that is not true, generally speaking. In truth, the West was settled and made solid by solid men who built things, and bullets are haphazard things that build nothing. In truth, at the famous OK Corral gunfight, those who survived did so by simply standing still. Anyone who ran about and jumped nervously up and down like they do in the movies got shot and that should be a lesson for all of us.

The patient fisherman bides his time, waiting for the gale to blow over, then puts out to sea, knowing there is still the matter of luck to attend to. Yes, even for the careful who make the best choices, it all comes down to a matter of luck. Fishing teaches core values far better than the most doctrinaire Minister of the Faith.

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