DECEMBER 6, 2009


It's been a chilly week on the Island, our Hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. It's been another week of struggle deep in the dark heart of the Great Recession.

Its looking like we will have to call back all our messengers now trying to locate the Mayor of Lake Wobegon due to weather that is not conducive for Californians to operate. Everyone had been issued the books "Leaving Home" and "Pontoon" as guidebooks, however those particular tomes don't mention much about winter and what happens up there. A few enterprising souls offered to go fish for the bowling ball lost during Kyle's aerial mishap with the parasail from the Lake, but we think the time window for lake access in Northern Minnesota has closed to all save for the hardy Norwegian fishermen in their heated ice huts.

Its about 49 degrees here on the Island (that's ABOVE zero), and everybody is moaning all about the bitterness of it and the record breaking of the weatherman. Friends report they are shoveling snow in Michigan now. Yes, perhaps Minnesota can wait a few months. Ja, sure.

In fact, its warmed up a bit to allow the rain storm to come waltzing in at dusk with a breezy flounce and a fringe of dark tassels on the horizon like some spirited gal from Oaxaca swirling a dark mantilla.

Over at Marlene and Andre's household, all the denizens there are chipping in what they can during this time of the Great Recession. Andre's band, No Future in Real Estate is seeing the Holiday gig pool drying up, as many businesses forgo the annual Company Party. Mancini lost his job when the NUMMI auto plant closed up, and Jose got let off from Pacific Steel. As a result a band of inmates heads on over to the Strict Episcopal Church for the handout there on Tuesdays, and those with transport hop on over to the Point for the Food Bank Weekly there.

Over at the Church the system goes as follows: Everybody herds into a room where a Church Lady hands out a red piece of paper as part of the Official Count. After the Count, the same lady hands out the lotto numbers to make the food pickup. If you come late, you do not get a red piece of paper and with no paper, you get no number and so you get no food. If the numbers run out, same story.

So Jose and Mancini were in there last Tuesday seeing all the arms reaching out toward the lady who looked like the hub of a great human wheel, which like the kids bicycles of old times had colored papers attached to the spokes. She turned this way and that, handing out the little paper rectangles, and for every hand that pulled back another took its place so it looked like the great wheel was turning around and around.

Welcome to the 21st Century, dudes.

Mancini got the lower number, 47, while Jose got 120. When Mancini got in there to the basketball gym, the tables were all arranged in a U shape. You checked in as an Official Indigent at the top of the U on the left and then followed the line collecting items from the stations along the way. There were some wrinkled zucchini, some onions, a few packages of produce with expired dates, and some apples which had seen better days -- all of it donated. But there was loads of bread of different kinds and pastries, also all past expiration dates, because that is how it all works.

By the time Jose would get inside there would not be much left, so Mancini tried to stuff his bag with everything he could get for the House. Each one of them had listed themselves as single person households so that the cumulative total would come out ahead of just one of them claiming 12 members.

Because that is how it all works.

Once he got outside, he talked briefly with Jose and then headed for the bus station. There, the sun shone on the yellowing leaves of the Oak trees and cars drove by much as usual. But there were hundreds of people at the Church.

There was a guy there from Solano County who told him he had come to the Island so as to be closer to the City and maybe find work after he had lost his house and his car. In Solano County the unemployment was topping 40% and there was simply no work to be found at all. He was lucky for his pension from being in the Marines. There was another guy there, a tall man in the old olive drab coat of the Army who started talking to the guy from Solano. The tall guy had been in the Army in Iraq but there seemed something odd about him and the way his eyes drifted. He had patrolled Anbar and survived three IED attacks before they discharged him. But it was hard to tell how much of what he said was true.

The guy from Solano called the tall guy a "walkie-talkie", meaning the guy could walk around and hold some sort of conversation but that was about it. There was a woman there who seemed to be taking care of him.

This is the year 2009, Mancini thought to himself. And finally America had become just like what it was during Ronald Reagan's early years as a boy -- with bread lines and widespread misery. The bus came and so he climbed aboard with his provisions for the household.

Across town, in another part of the world, Lionel's business at the Pampered Pup was going great guns, for during hard times, hot dogs and fast food always do very well. He looked down the street to Jacqueline's Salon where his Heart's Desire held court around the hairdryers and then up at the gloomy sky before going in and laying down a mat at the door for his customers. Mrs. Almeida hurried by, however, for the skies were clouding over and she needed to get home to secure the chickens in the coop behind the house. The chickens were illegals, although not a bird among them knew of the fact. It is against the law to keep livestock or poultry within city limits, but Mrs. Almeida hailed from Portugal and she could give a solid fig for any such silly ordinance. To appease her conscience she freely distributed eggs to the neighbors, gave alms to the Church of Our Lady of Incessant Complaint, kept the place clean and neat, and made sure no roosters hung around to alarm the authorities.

She had just finished making everything shipshape and locked up when the first drops began to fall, and so scurried indoors.

A young raccoon investigated the fortifications there as light began to fail, and finding all disappointingly secure sat back to survey the Unattainables until the patter of rain drops, and the barking of Tugboat, annoyed him enough that he went away.

All across the Island the lights flicked on behind the drawn shades of nighttime as the rain developed from a gentle patter into something persistent. A good thing and a great gift from Somebody in the third year of the California drought.

Down by the old fenced-in Cannery with its weed-decorated railway tracks and dripping brick, Officer O'Madhauen sat in his Crown Vic, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup as he watched for speeders coming out of the industrial park, headlights off, but console LED's glowing blue and red. Down Santa Clara, the lights of the newlywed Ramirez couple glowed brightly and a gay laughter floated out into the rain from within. The former Ms. Morales and Mr. Ramirez had survived an entire year of matrimony after their rather tumultuous wedding last Thanksgiving. Lately the couple has been seen collecting items from garage sales along the order of bassinets, perambulators and glass bottles. And loads of pink and blue towels. Yes, things seem to be moving along nicely there in the Ramirez household.

The lamp burned from the high room of Mr. Howitzer's mansion on Grand Street where the wealthy man was examining the computer printout of his relatives beside a stack of holiday cards purchased in bulk from the Bohemian Grove Publishing House. The cards were printed with petroleum-based dyes on certified paper that came acid-treated from rare Amazonian forest pulpwood. He was checking to make sure that nobody on the list would get a five dollar bill who was not supposed to. Especially valued nephews got a Krugerrand and a subscription to the National Review with their card. Return receipt requested.

Inside the Old Same Place, Eugene is regaling anyone who will listen with more tales of bravado against the Teabaggers and with Mr. Howitzer's escaped swine, while Suzie and Padraic served up hot toddies and what Padraic calls "Gaelic Coffee".

"I shall not sully the name of the Auld Sod with such a beverage," says Padraic. "No daycent Irishman would think of soilin' the Water O'Life with anything so base as coffee and whipped cream. Cute as a drowned hoor is that idea . . .".

All of this was observed from a periscope that protruded above the surface of the rain-dimpled waters of the estuary. It was the Iranian spy submarine, the AIS Chadoor. Its captain noted in the ship's log, "All happy families are more or less dissimilar on this Island; all unhappy ones are more or less alike." He paused with the pencil pressed to his lip. "Are we not all spokes of a great wheel?" He realized this was not proper for the log and so erased the last part, but did so imperfectly intending to write over the palimpsest later with something like record of latitude and longitude. He lowered the periscope and the submarine glided out of the estuary and across the Bay, and thence through the Golden Gate to the ocean, running silent, running deep.

In the Island-Life Offices, the Editor sat at his desk in the cube lit by a single desklamp, surrounded by the endless darkness. All of the copyboys, writers, reporters and runners had gone home for the night, as it was Sunday. Machines hummed in the darkness. The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the rainswept estuary as it passed through the dark and shuttered Jack London Waterfront from the high dripping gantries of the Port to parts unknown.

After it had passed, the Editor remained, one man at work at his writing table with a single desklamp surrounded by the endless darkness, the teletype occasionally burping a one-line communiqué from somewhere else in the world out there. Some indication that somewhere out there, something exists. Long past one A.M., the Editor went to the window in the restroom, the only one that opened to the air and stood looking out at the courtyards lit by streetlamps and poll-mounted halogens as the rain fell softly to the concrete. The simple smells of wet leaves and rain wafted through the window. The sound of rain falling. There is no other life; This is the one we all have.

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