OCTOER 22, 2017



So anyway, the time had come for the annual, the awful, the terrible, the terrifying, the wildly overwrought, operatic to the point of tears Drawing of Straws in the Island-Life offices. For those of you just now entering this World, each year the Editor has the Drawing of Straws so as to determine who shall be compelled to cross over to the Other Side, that side from which no man returns, no man save for maybe Orpheus and Achilles and Nicholas Cage and a handful of other exceptions found within the pages of the august Bulwer Lytton.

No one wants to be Selected

Like most meetings, nobody wants to be there, and like most important meetings, attendance is compulsory. Else risk automatic Selection. It is sort of like how the Draft descended to in the early 1970's. Everyone is miserable and anxious. The process is extended and tortuous. No one wants to be Selected. To be Selected is Doom.

So on the given night Rachel walks around with a hat held high -- she is the tallest person in the office and is well suited for that task -- and each sad sack Islandlife staffer draws a straw with the shortest straw becoming the loser.

People always try to get out of it. Even Festus is included.

"Boss! I am an hamster! What do I know about dead people and the future?"

"Shut up and draw," says The Editor.

you do not mess with Tradition

Indeed the annual visitation is all about learning about what comes next, for it is assumed the Dead will somehow have an insider bit of information. No one knows why this is, but that is just the way Tradition goes. And Tradition. Well you do not mess with Tradition. Tradition is what we have that keeps us together over the millennia of troubles that otherwise would disperse our very existence into Nothingness. Tradition keeps families composed of people who hate each other together as families.

Each draws his or her straw

So. The dreadful evening comes and Rachel walks around the desks of the Offices where the staffers are sitting with their coffee or their Styrofoam cups of bourbon mixed with coca cola to steel the nerves. Each draws his or her straw and then heaves a massive sigh of relief. Their straws are compared to the long one Rachel has drawn as the first of chance.

Finally, inevitably, always according to Tradition, the hat comes round to Denby, who sits, dejected with his broken leg up on an upturned trashcan.

"Draw," says the Editor.

Denby sighs. Draws, as per Tradition 19 times now, once per year, the shortest straw.

"Why always me?" Denby says.

"Because," says the Editor. "We love you."

The others all gather around him, clap him on the back with congratulations for such a fine honor, and walk away, each to each, muttering, "Poor sap! Glad it was not me!"

"What about this broken leg," Denby said. "You expect me to hobble into the Infernal over a sand hill on a cane or with a walker?'

"Well, we could use a wheelchair and another drawing for someone to shove you along . . . ", the Editor said.

"O no, no, no!" Jose said. "I did that once before. This guy can gallop on a cane -- I seen him!" And with that Jose bolted from the offices out the front door.

"Well that is that," the Editor said. "I guess you will just have to bear up and keep the martial spirit. Keep America Great by sacrificing for the More Important, just like Donald Trump wishes us to do."

Denby emitted an expletive best omitted here.

The offices emptied of people, leaving Styrofoam cups and flickering monitors behind.

The Editor rested his hand on Denby's shoulder. "Bear up man. I will be here when you return." And the Editor retired to his glass cube.

Denby took his cane arose heavily and stumped to the back where the porch looked out into the darkness where the massive boxelder draped its branches over the yard. Stars now appeared which had been hidden for days because of the fire smoke from up north.

"Penny," he said. "What am I to do now? Most of my friends are gone and my best friend is approaching your door even now. I nearly entered the Portal myself a few weeks ago and the times are troubled."

But Penny, who remained on the Other Side, stayed silent as she awaited the 19th coming of Denby in a few days, days that meant nothing to someone now facing eternity.

On the street on the other side of the House, the raucous noise of an Angry Elf convertible drove past, disturbing the neighborhood. Then all was still and calm. And a peace descended upon that Island for one night and no sirens rent the night air and no one got shot and no one got stabbed.

From from far across the water, the night train wailed from beneath the light-studded gantries of the Port of Oaktown, keening across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the flat expanse of the former airfield that was now sanctuary for the Least Tern, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats that was now the Jean Sweeny Open Space Preserve, the construction zone of the old Cannery and its detritus-strewn loading dock, crying over the basketball hoops of Littlejohn Park, and dying between the Edwardian house-rows as the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone burial mounds to a mysterious future.