THE STRIFE FAMILY AND GHOSTS
OCTOBER 31, 2010
It's been a rainy week on the Island, our hometown in California set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. A couple weeks ago those Canadian geese chevroned overhead en route to Rio from Minesotta. With the rains, the last sunflowers are drooping and the dahlias all going to mildew. Many of the houses wrapped up their installations in black plastic until the thunderheads gave way to unruly yet dry skies Sunday.
Papoon and Babar have each retired to their respective campaign headquarters to brainstorm last minute strategies, which features robocalls, radio spots, sending out minions to knock down one another's signs. A bipartisan committee has raised funds for a ball-gag and a straitjacket and now a group of volunteers are out hunting for Adam Gillitt, armed with a 5150 order.
That tactic is not likely to fly very far, as Adam has stopped yelling at everybody in public places and all the Independents are threatening to murder him first.
Officer O'Madhauen regards all of this calmly, promising to be very strict on anyone jaywalking, shuffling through yellow lights or failing to park between the indistinct lines painted on the street ($30 ticket, people!)
Meanwhile, the Dark Lord SunCal lurks in its Tower of Evil in Mordor-Irvine, sending out the baleful glare of its All-Seeing Eye while any number of Sarumans scamper around City Hall (which is missing its own Fallen Tower) plotting evil ways to ravage the Shire and its innocent Hobbits.
Yes, once again the Island threatens to produce material suitable for Comedy Central.
As every year, this time is far too full of fun and fantasy to leave strictly to children. Parties happen all over the place and
Next week, the Island-Life offices will once again hold the traditional drawing of straws to see who shall be designated to cross over to "The Other Side from which bourne no traveller returns." Except, according to Tradition, poor Denby.
This is the time when all the folks who can do so decorate their lawns or their porches with such memento mori as suits the venue. Last Halloween Tommy and Toby held a party at their flat down by Otis with Marlene and Andre helping out. Marlene and Andre are the town punk rockers and they had come up from the West End to visit. Their skateboards were leaning against the wall. Susan and Lynnette had driven over from Park Avenue on their bicycles and Suzie came as well along with a number of others.
Lynette, who is Jewish, had managed to bring over a casserole in her saddlebags without spilling a drop. This casserole was stuffed with oysters, shrimp, crab and pork. Surprisingly, it really was quite good.
Besides the usual feral female cats, a couple pirates and assorted space aliens, the apartment overflowed with a Mr. Hanky (that was Chris Lindberg, who held a devotion to the South Park television show), the Almeida family dressed as a bag of marshmellows, the Island-life Editor come as a dead and rotting Ronald Reagan, several members of Congress dripping with blood and looking a bit vampirish, three Bin Ladens, and at least one premature Xmas present. Tommy, dressed as a hamster and Toby, dressed as an elderberry bush got into an argument that started over the midterm elections. Toby had been pro-SunCal and Tommy had been virulently for keeping the entire Point an open space conservation district. Toby, a converted Log Cabin Republican since he had met Tommy, slammed down a pan of flan, which did not help the settling of that delicacy in the slightest.
"How can you possibly hold such a silly opinion! You are as silly as a ninny!" Toby said, which was quite hurtful. This sequed into a heated discussion about Toby's relatives, who did not approve of Tommy, nor their "lifestyle."
"That's where you get your finicky finicky finicky sort of attitude about toothpaste! You are just like Uncle Albert!"
"Oh you think you are so . . . so neat! Well you!"
Lynette, dressed as a chimney sweep sat there nursing an unaccustomed Manhattan on the comfy chair while a hamster in the kitchen shouted at a weeping berry bush. She had gotten into a snit with Susan over Proposition 19 (Marijuana legalization: Lynette for, Susan against because her brother had died of an heroin overdose).
In an evening which had begun acrimoniously, and which showed signs of descending into atavistic savagery, Claude, visiting from New Mexico, managed to intake quite a bit of punch which somehow got him into the mood to breakdance, but all he could do was spin around on his back on the floor. He had gotten into a tiff with Mr. Hanky, the Xmas Poo a little earlier over a fight bet made well over forty years ago at The Embers in the City, and certain unpleasant memories had stirred up. Inside the large tootsie roll costume was Steve.
The two had been married to the same woman, although at different times, and now the woman was with neither man. When an otherwise distinguished professor of physics in his seventies dressed as a cockroach begins spinning around on his back in the livingroom, weeping all the while it makes for an ugly sight and Shanti, wearing an appropriate Arkin Pest Control outfit which looked rather fetching, began shouting at him while the Xmas Poo began knocking back these potent Brazilian cocktails made by Clebia, who actually came from Brazil. Clebia did not need to wear a costume -- she wore what came naturally to any artistically-inclined woman from Brazil in a scheme of long flowing orange so that she resembled a tasty pumpkin. She, owning a B&B in the City, had opinions about the business tax that no one agreed with, but because she was well-bred and of fine character, she held aloof from the arguments.
The lovely Susanne, dressed like a figure from a Leonard Cohen song, observed the contention and found Occasional Quentin to engage in deep conversation, largely because he seemed like an harmless idiot -- which, in fact, he is -- and so they actually had a meaningful discussion about animal nature which touched upon ptarmigans, deer and hummingbirds. It was a kind of an oasis of sanity in that place rife with politics.
The Re-districting Propostions drew in Doyle, dressed as a talus mountainside, Leonard, dressed as a dead distinguished author, Suan dressed in her stripper's outfit from the Crazy Horse, and Molly, who had come as a jungle cat. Although four people discussed the issues, they somehow came up with five different opinions, and this resulted in a fair amount of shouting and arm waving.
Marlene appeared among them, dressed as a zombie and pleaded, "Please, for goodness sake and goodness sake and goodness sake, stop your infernal bickering and enjoy yourselves! Maureen has gone to all this trouble to make this food for us and Clebia and her friend Laurie. This is our friend Paul's retirement party."
Andre, her bedmate, also costumed as a zombie, tugged on his lip piercings.
This was true about the celebration, for Paul was retiring as chief janitor to the rest-rooms for the St. Paul Basilica in the City, a position he had held for more than thirty-five years. Paul was present, dressed in a large furry suit which is called a "lounge suit" by adults and a "onesie" by knowing parents. The clergy had tried to prevent him from retiring, as such anomalous ideas as personal self-direction and voluntary retirement are frowned upon by the Church in general. Besides, the synchronicity of his name and the name of the basilica had caused over the years a sort of superstitious fear to develop among the Administration who had come to rely seriously upon the Keeper of the Keys. Caramela, who had left the Church some time ago to live in Sin with a truckdriver from Sacto, had appeared at the party dressed in a nun's habit. Sin is a small town near Paradise, California.
There was a brief pause before someone asked Marlene about the change to the vote requirement to pass the annual budget and she unwisely deferred a response. This resulted in a fresh round of arguing and bickering and breaking of glass.
This of course got our pair of punks in a dither, and so two zombies started shouting "eff you!" at each other with ratcheting enthusiasm, but since they always said that to each other, few paid any attention in the general disarray.
Things really began to decay with long-term hatreds and grudges coming up. "I should have left you in the ditch," Graham, dressed as a 17th Century British Aristocrat with a walking cane, shouted down at Claude, who paused in his spinning.
"What? You mean in 1969? And left little David in the back!" Claude said, quite hurt.
Little David, now forty-something man with a family of his own, stood there in his sailor suit and began singing the lyrics to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and adding little gracenote lyrics of his own. Oom-papa oom-papa. . .
Graham's wife, dressed as Marie Antoinette, reminded him that it was he, Graham, who had supplied the Purple Windowpane to Claude that day.
Quentin, trying to be nice, managed to resurrect an half dozen painful memories and insult Graham six times until the poor man started to weep until he joined the Poo in tossing down several stiff ones in succession. Laurie, dressed as a body-builder, offered to break Quentin's arms. "He's an idiot," blubbered Graham. This made Quentin start to cry and Susanne threw her arms up in exasperation.
"Oom-papa, Oom-papa", went David, trying to get his dad to collect himself.
O the air was heavy with History and Politics and family dynamics.
The door was open and a girl, about eight or nine walked in. She was barefoot and wearing what looked like an old-fashioned nightgown with a Peter Pan collar and her dark eyes were very large. The time had just passed midnight.
The girl walked up to Lynette through the crowd and stood in front of the woman. This is what she said.
"Please tell them to stop. I can't rest. Please. It hurts."
Well, of course. Late hour. Neighbors and all. It was a wonder no one had called the cops. Poor child, trying to sleep. Seeing this situation, Susan walked over to stand there and block any more cockroach gyrations and Claude came abruptly to a halt with his eyes staring wildly up at the ceiling. Susan told Shanti to be quiet while Lynette went into the kitchen to intervene between the hamster and the elderberry bush. An odd chill filled the room as a sense of shame filled all of them. Keeping this girl awake with their arguing about nothing, about silliness.
The little girl looked somehow familiar, with her dark hair tumbling down in sleepy curls, as if she evoked something seen on a poster or the side of milk carton. She stood there, holding the most serious expression on her face, then turned and walked out of the door, down the steps and over the breakwater down to the beach with the full moon lighting everything up quite clearly. There, she kept on going out over the mudflats exposed by the low tide and vanished out on the Bay as Lynette and Marlene and Andre stood there in the doorway, watching.
"Effing A!" said Andre. Everyone else was as quiet as the grave.
At the Sanchez's, the former Ms. Morales and Mr. Sanchez were gathering up everything after a night of door-knocks and trick-or-treats, for their house was known as a "safe house" as Ms. Morales was still a schoolteacher at Longfellow. The procession of goblins, ghosts, witches, pirates, hoboes and Cindarellas had dwindled down to the occasional teen who would show up with a bag and hardly any costume, gone too old to seriously take costume seriously and not gotten old enough to appreciate it for the fantasy. Mr. Ramirez handled those cases with a stern talking-to and the teens left chastened to go forward with the necessary rituals of teenage activity in America.
Mr. Sanchez had bought the house from the executors of the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Strife, the same parents who had produced Pimenta Strife, who even now was recovering from the effects of too much nitrous inhaled at the Exotic Erotic Ball in the City.
It should be hardly no surprise how Pimenta turned out, for her parents spent much of their waking hours justifying their family name. Sarah Strife had been a Blue Dog Democrat and her husband, Sam Strife had been a rock-rib Republican who made Eisenhower look liberal. Where she was fiercely jealous, he was fiercely possessive. There's was not a marriage made in Heaven or Hell so much as the Plain of Discord.
If he was hot, wanting the windows open, she wanted them closed on account of her thyroid. If she wanted ornate French furniture, he wanted Amish simplicity. If she was Lutheran, he was Catholic. She was analog; he was digital. Both rebelled against their upbringing to arrive in opposite directions and cross-purposes. No one could ever figure out how the two had ever gotten together in the first place. Truth was, he came back from Korea with a fire in his loins and a mindset about that for which people and women were intended and he definitely made a distinction between the two.
She, for her part, had delved into the Beats, had absorbed the latest thought by the Feminists and had come to the conclusion that the way to resolve the Male Problem was to seize the bull by its horns, so to speak. Extremely metaphorically.
So, some three months pregnant, she had married him -- as there were few practical options in the 1950's on the Island, which always remained a decade or more behind the rest of the country -- and so they found themselves with the one factor in common of guilt, for Guilt is the one thing that Catholics and Lutherans and Jews all share. Possibly Moslems as well, which would be indicative of how we all are, really, in relation to one another.
So they had this child, a squalling brat who did not improve from that position, who became a Troubled Teen, then Juvie Hall Bad Company, then a perfect nymphomaniac punk living in the City until the City got too limiting by way of its high rents and narrowing attitudes and she returned, an ugly duckling with tattoos to the Island. For the Island provides a kind of refuge for lost birds. Canadian geese that never made it to Rio because they didn't have that much strength. Ducks from Audabon refuge at Lake Merritt gotten a little confused. Hummingbirds, which never need explanation. Seagulls escaping offshore storms.
Then there was the affair Mr. Strife had with Rachel, the dance teacher from the Metronome. When that came out, there was no end to the argument and accusation.
Mr. Strife died one day while out in his garage tinkering with a Morris Minor -- he really had been quite a retentive personality and trying to maintain a Morris Minor was quite within his character. He came out to bark at someone parking across the markings on the asphalt there (taking two parking spaces, he called it) and fell down, quite dead from an heart attack.
Mrs. Strife died about a week later, just after all the flowers and the greetings and the well-wishes had been cleared from the piano in the foyer. The piano had never been employed for music, but had been purchased because Mrs. Strife had felt some kind of musical instrument should be in the house and that a piano was the most sedentary, conservative and established of musical furniture. And besides, it really pissed off Mr. Strife, who would have preferred something practical like a coping saw.
Now, every time there is a full moon, or a high tide, or unusual weather, Mr. Sanchez and the former Ms. Morales can hear these footsteps up above, angry murmurs in the hallway, doors slamming, and this eternal bickering, this sniping and carping and accusation which likely will pursue the former couple down through eternity for that appears to be their fate.
While outside, unplugging the inflatable spider, Ms. Morales looks up and can see the shadow figures of two people shouting at one another and these figures are standing in her own bedroom with the lamplight on, their shadows gesticulating on the curtains.
"Strife people, go away. In the name of god, please go to sleep. This is no longer your place now. Please let us be and go to where you need to go. Leave us in peace."
Suddenly, just like that, the lights went out and all was quiet. But she knew this simple exorcism would not be enough and they would be back again.
The long wail the throughpassing train ululated across the haunted waves of the estuary and the weedy, barren, spectral Buena Vista flats and the decrepit brick cannery as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its ghost journey to parts unknown.
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