DECEMBER 14, 2009

Its been a blustery week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. A real dockwalloper set in here to sluice the entire Golden State from stem to stern, make all the Tahoe ski haunts happy, and then move on to make much of the West and Midwest really miserable with loads of snow.

During the early part of the week, nighttime temps dropped below freezing, resulting in a fair number of comedies come morning as Californians unaccustomed to chill tried to get their cars going. On one report an Islander tried to free the windshield of ice in the sub-freezing pre-dawn hours by splashing water on the glass.

Not a good idea.

Javier forgot to take in the basil he had been hoping to carry through the winter by taking the pot for walks in the garden sunshine. He left the pot out overnight during the freeze and in the morning his plant had become more useful as a source for chopsticks than pesto as the rain pounded the remaining green tatters.

The chives have all surrendered to the enemy, and the summer savory has circled its wagons in the pots in various defensive maneuvers. Mr. Peepers, the squirrel, has kept out of sight, perhaps to do what his kind is supposed to do during winter.

Old Fats, the grandaddy raccoon, was seen recently, humping along St. Charles on three legs and hauling a useless fourth behind during the rain. Life is rough, but life continues. So it goes.

Seems during this time we are all hunkering down under whatever happens to be pelting down. Channukah began Friday evening, and all over the Bay Area the first candle was settled into its place with a little prayer: "You abound in Blessings, Adonai Our Lord. You have kept us alive. You have sustained us. You have brought us to this moment."

Some say that we light the menorah largely in a symbolic attempt to get somebody Upstairs to take notice and turn on the lights even as the earth spins to its darkest and coldest time. Its a sort of whistling in the dark, making this Channukah. If this keeps up, we are all gonna freeze to death in the dark. So hey! Lighten up a bit!

Over at Marlene and Andre's household, the place has been warm and crowded. Warm, because all fifteen house inhabitants have taken to sleeping indoors, and crowded because of what makes it warm.

Because of the generosity of the Food Bank, the normal rations of Anything Goes Spaghetti and Bread Soup have yielded to actual meals, consisting largely of whatever was brought to the kitchen in quantity. Last week, it was forty pounds of zucchini and onions. This week, Marlene is puzzling over just what to do with several four-pound loaves of processed turkey, canned vegetables, packets of noodles in every size and shape, and a brick of Ronald Reagan-era cheese that has never been refrigerated. Along with several loaves of french bread that have reached a condition best described in Italian.

Ah! Tetrazzini!

Soon enough the girl is hard at work, and can allow a couple helpers in there. In a stroke of luck she locates Occasional Quentin's stash of ninty-nine cent gallon tokay under the floorboards of the porch -- as good a cooking sherry as there ever was. It surely will be a feast.

Over at the Old Same Place, Suzie is helping put up the seasonal decorations with Padraic and Dawn between servings of piping hot "Gaelic Coffees" and hot rum toddies. After they are done, the windows of the bar are as festive and gay as any Mexican restaurant happens to be all year long, but with a special emphasis upon these green LED lights Padraic found somewhere.

During the down time, they sat around one of the tables, talking about the usual subjects.

"They say that on account of the Recession there aint gonna be any more travel of people from place to place. Everybody will have to stay put where they were born," said Dawn.

"I can see through to that right away," said Padraic. The Republic has thirty-five million citizens but only eight live on the Island. The rest are dispersed through the world. Its a metaphor, cute as a hoor it is. No way any amount can return there. Not the way things are. The ones who are there wherever they are, must needs stay and suffer all the more. That is the luck o' the Irish for all history and all time."

Suzie, who had Aisling upon her mind, said, "Surely some may stay where they are. Like seeds takin' root. Sure some may thrive."

"I don't know, I don't know," said Padraic. "There is a powerful wind coming down from the North and a great change is comin'. I don't know about anything anymore. The Silversword is going under because of the times now, you hear?"

Dawn reached out to each of their hands on the table. "Now hear me. We have each other and for now we have this little snug and we shall not let go for all the world for this is all we have; we have each other."

There in that pool of light, a mirror of another pool of light that shone down on Marlene fixing up tomorrow's dinner in the shabby household of fifteen souls and yet another pale fire islanding the Editor as he sat at his desk with all the newsroom now emptied out and the activity of the day stilled into dark shadows all about the offices. Himself, with his aureola of thinning white hair, the desklamp, the desk and all around the world of darkness. Except in the distance, far across on the other side of the newsroom, the flickering trident of the office menorah.

Marlene looks up at the charred remnants of her erstwhile wedding dress which had been nailed to the wall a couple years ago and sighs. So became the dream of becoming middle class. Instead of a white picket fence and her own children she had fifteen immature supposed-adults to feed from her open scars. O the injustice of it!

Yet. there is no other moment than this. There is no other life.

In time enough, Marlene will walk alone along that muddy path along the low wall to that shouting gate through which Denby passes each year on El Dia del los Muertos, but at that time her trip will be one-way and she will not return. Until then she had mouths to feed and things to do. Life was yet to be lived before the end. She inhaled a deep breath.

And so she bent to it with a will, stirring the pot. Tomorrow is a long time. In the window of the Household, the menorah glimmered with its three candles, for this was the third night of Channukah.

Right then the long wail of the throughpassing train wafted over the island like a kiss, as it ululated across the rain-pocked estuary, as the locomotive wended its way through the dark and shuttered Jack London Waterfront headed from the garishly lit gantries of the Port to parts unknown, on this third night of the Festival of Lights.

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