DECEMBER 5, 2010

Its been a blustery and rainy week on the Island, our hometown set here in California on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. All the sunflowers are beaten with their seed-heads down, orange petals all gone and rain drops falling like tears. But in the windows of certain houses, the march of the candlelight across the menorah's arete.

"When is Chanukah this year," the young man asked the older man wearing tephalim. "On the 25th day of Kislev. Same as always." Said the old man, nodding and smiling.

Its the Festival of Lights, once again. And just like that other thing that ends December, its both more wonderful and less important than the ballyhoo which features so much which has nothing to do with either.

"What is a miracle after all, but something extraordinary but nevertheless still ordinary gets special attention." The Reverend Lisa Freethought spoke on the subject of miracles this Sunday from the pulpit of the Unitarian Church on Santa Clara in the middle of Church Row. She spoke passionately in that nave nestled between the stolid Presbyterian church, the clapboard Baptist chapel, the austere Methodist belfry, and across the street from the ordinary-looking Zen Buddhist monastery, the Lutheran parsonage of Rev. Bauer and within earshot of the Catholic Our Lady of Incessant Complaint.

"So a lamp burns through a battle. So a child is born. What of that? These things and more wondrous happen every impossible day. Brothers and Sisters look around you. Do you not see the miracles happening? The world is bright and sparkling with miracles every day. The trees growing along Santa Clara still after all these years of savage utilitarianism anger at roots. The baby in a pram smiling. The smile is a miracle. The baby is a miracle! The mother pushing the pram is a miracle! This morning I observed a policeman speak with courtesy and respect to a citizen and I was all amazed at Power relaxing its fist! The air glimmers with all Creation, each part of which, from the darting paramecium to the elephant a miracle. Where are all the hummingbirds that come to my feeder in the Spring? Where have they gone this Winter or any other? Yet every Spring they return, each an hovering astonishment.

It is for this that the lamp burns through the battle. It is all of Creation for which the Child was born. This Season, celebrate your Traditions, of course. They are important, for they remind us to celebrate Life and all that is and all that will be. And the grand hope that what is to come will be better for all of us. . .".

Thus spoke Reverend Freethought this Sunday on the subject of miracles as she continued at length for another three-quarters of an hour.

December is the time of arrivals and departures. Travel agents and carriers love this month. Seems everyone is hell-bent on getting to somewhere else before hurrying back just as quickly to the place from which they had come. Officer O'Madhauen tears his hairs in frustration at the wildly creative traffic heading to and from the airport and the malls.

This is the time when East Coasters make preparations to return in a great migration to the reasons they left so as to reinforce their conviction to stay in a place with really great weather and really awful company and poor living conditions that make squats in Newark look well kept. Something about Hackensack and Weehawken and the pine barrens ejects people like human cannonballs to the West. And something about everything in-between compels these people to come to California. Nebraska, after all, has worse weather than New Jersey and none of the delis. Its embarrassing, or should be, to say that some place has less or worse culture than Jersey, but it's true. It's really true. We've been there. Just believe it. Spend a few minutes in central Virginia and you will know true desolation.

And so each year folks who have not taken root here yet get on that plane, get their junk molested by grinning TSA folks and endure endless lines so as to endure a few hours of Uncle Miltie complaining about his prostate and the damn "queers and socialists and pinkos" and drunk Cousin Bob from Athens, Georgias plunging his hands into the mash potatoes at the dinner table and a few more hours of handling snow and ice among drivers who handle road rage by practicing it daily and mom's complaints about her artificial knee/elbow/hip/heart implant before fleeing in a whirlwind of torn wrapping and Lord 'n Taylor boxes, leaving the fruitcake/pudding/ugly socks/Bavarian cuckoo in the airport trash, which causes a total emergency shutdown with terminal evacuation the following day until the bomb squad can come out and do their thing to the unexplained package left unattended. See ya next year.

Folks who have always lived here just drive out to the Valley to Gran'ma's or up the 101 to the same or in circles to visit friends, so as to contribute helpfully to the godawful traffic situation. Some people are known to get in their trucks, hop on the freeway at the most congested and get off when the way clears only to head back and repeat the procedure at the same onramp as before just for vicarious thrill while blasting old Jefferson Airplane tunes from the stereo. Knew a guy who did this ten times until the truck ran out of gas and the fellow left his vehicle blocking the lane rather than coasting to the shoulder out of sheer joyous spite against "the tourists" -- which means anyone who has lived here less than twenty-five years. He just sat there in his cab smoking a doobie until the CHP came along, grinning like a fool with the CD player going full blast to drown out the honking.

Hopping dividers and medians, erratic U-turns and inexplicable halts in the middle of flow are not the only forms of arrival and departure, for we have the metaphorical aspect as well. A sort of arrival is happening right here in the offices.The HTML coder for Island-Life, Chad, seems to be bounding about with a curious gleam in his eyes, a spring in his step, a sort of j'ne sais quois atmosphere, for our dear colleague appears to have fallen madly, wildly, lustfully . . . well, you know. These things happen. Not all of our jaundice could have protected him.

Meanwhile those of us who gotta work while others go out dancing, like Marlene and Andre and Denby, are busy in search of or preparing for gigs for the Season. Andre's band No Future in Real Estate still does not have a NYE gig, and this is very bad news, for this is already December. Of course few are the venues who want a cynical punk/rockabilly band on joyous NYE, unless it is Social Distortion, and Mike Ness can spread himself only so thin.

Andre's band is not Social D by a long shot, so he is scrambling, making frantic phonecalls while Marlene strides back and forth in the kitchen, making angry bread soup in her Goth Aspect.

The Great Recession is still ravaging the land, even though those who got it are spending lavishly. Perhaps in realization that since it all will go, might as well spend and enjoy for now. Meanwhile those who have not, like the household of Marlene and Andre, face a lean and tough Holiday Season. Andre may have to swallow his pride and do the NYE ball at the Native Sons of the Golden West Parlor 47&1/2 again. That gig is sure to end in drunken shouting and recriminations and atavistic savagery as band members stuff backed potatoes, cheese, and stuffed cod from the buffet into their coat pockets so as to at least get something from the surely badly paid or unpaid situation.

Meanwhile Denby, also without a gig, has been practicing crappy songs by Gordon Lightfoot and Fleetwood Mac and the like so as to have something to play on the BART platform. O his is a sorry state and pity the performer who is without a gig on NYE. As he polishes a tasteful version of "American Tune" he can hear Officer O'Madhaun screaming outside at some hapless motorist trying to arrive somewhere.

Even as a departure is making ready. The Editor has been pacing back and forth. Suddenly he stops and the light fills the remaining white hairs that float about his sparse crown like an aureole. Behind the door, the Doctor Friederich, an Island-Life staffer for fifteen years lies on his last bed. Behind the walls, the beetles tick, tick their watches. The breath goes shallow, ebbs away . . .

It is a matter of hours now before the spirit of the good Doctor leaves for "that bourne from which no traveler returns." Fifteen years shall fold up like an envelope and farewell spirit.

Yet somewhere a child is born, thrust along a narrow channel and a corridor and in passing, Dr. Friederich will slap hands in passing with that new life. One goes to the Other Side, the other to this one we all know. "Yo kid. Keep it real." And Friederich is gone. To that beach to meet Denby next year when he draws the short straw once again. According to Tradition. Yet in another crib a squalling miracle.

In the Old Same Place Bar, Suzie contemplates the elf outfit that Padraic has chosen for her to wear as uniform for the next couple of weeks. It looks really tarty with its short miniskirt. At least she does not have to wear something that evokes reindeer with antlers.

In this time, everything tends toward the commercial, while the miracles tend to get shoved aside. The lamp oil gets forgotten amid the general concern for the price of Arabian gasoline, or disconcern as idiots pilot their antisocial SUV's with full intention of destroying anything they hit. Maybe, amid this time of hardship people will start to look harder at what matters most. Probably not, though. Given history.

In the window of the bar she screws in another bulb to represent another night of Hanukah."Since Wednesday, and I wonder why I bother."

Soon the room fills with thirsty men and the balm of Gilead flows from the taps.

During a cigarette break out back she is sitting among the kegs and the racks when a solitary hummingbird appears to alight on a stack of milk crates. The bird is iridescent in the half light of the security flood, with a green breast and red tinges on the wings. It looks curiously at Suzie before blasting upwards and to the south, heading for Rio where it will join its brothers in annual migration.

And the woman left that place and entered and spoke not of what she had seen but kept counsel to herself of these things she had seen for it had been said before, "go forth and speak not of these miracles". But she was beautiful and counted among the blessed among the angels and they kept watch over her so that no evil should pass.

The long wail of the throughpassing train ululated across the miraculous, rain-pattered waves of the estuary and the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey along the wet, glistening rails to parts unknown.