December 15, 2007

Its been a quiet week on the Island, our Hometown, set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. After a spate of rain with its warming trend, the seagulls have all moved out and positively chilly temps have seized the nights with a glace of ice and sub-freezing weather. Stray Jack, the stray cat, has been huddling beneath the dryer vent for warmth and one of the older raccoons wandered by looking for a handout before scrunching under the old shed across the yard.

The chilly weather has not impeded folks from putting out the lights for the season. Chanukah started this past week and the House Chanukah Bush is glowing out back while latke parties are being held all over the place.

Over at Marlene and Andre's household, at the two-bedroom shambles they all called The Squat, Piedro, Jesus, Tipitina, Marsha, Xavier and Markus the dog all fetched back a nice full evergreen. It took that many of them because nobody in the household owns a working automobile, so they had to trundle it back from the lot on Grand Street with the help of the old Flexible Flyer wagon that serves part time as grocery cart and ambulance. This year the crew actually tried to buy a tree, as Xavier got into bad trouble the time he cut down Mr. Howitzer's pine, so much so that he pulled kitchen duty plus garbage duty for a whole month at the Squat -- once he got out of jail.

It had taken some time to save money for this project, scouring dimes from the gutter, working overtime at the Slut Hut Coffeeshop on Park Street, and hawking scalped tickets. Finally Crackers and Rolf actually had to get regular jobs for a while, working as UPS Holiday Temps when Suan shouted at all of them she was tired of footing all the bills around here every month and if they wanted a tree they could jolly well pay for one themselves and shove it up You Know Where. Suan stomped off to her job at the Crazy Horse in the City and didn't come back for a few nights, sleeping as it turned out, in the Employee's Lounge and Restroom and dining on vending machine sandwiches.

It still wound up not being enough cash, and they all stood there in the lot of the Church of Our Lady of Incessant Complaint with their futile quarters in their hands. So, with tears in their eyes, they headed off to fetch one from the windbreak that borders Harbor Bay Parkway, which was done near midnight so that nobody sober would notice a motley crew tugging and pushing a tree in a Flexible Flyer across the bicycle bridge until they had gotten safely onto the side streets.

So there they were, all singing Social Distortion songs as they rolled on down Grand Street in the bicycle lane with a Douglas fir in a red kid's wagon for a carreta. Then the most amazing thing happened.

They all got back without breaking anything or anybody and everybody sat down for a spaghetti dinner that couldn't be beat because that was the rule according to Marlene. First you work, then we eat.

Marlene's spaghetti was a special treat and everybody tried to be around when the day came up, for her sauce was worthy of Chez Panisse or any of those fine eateries and establishments where they don't put catsup on the table. Some catsup went into Marlene's sauce, in fact, and that was her special secret. Left over tomatoes too mushy for salads, the parts of the squash which had not gone soft, sprouted onions from the mulch pile out back, basil from the same place, citrus rind such as lemon peel, and about two or three handfuls of garlic with olive oil and any thing that had been on sale at the 99 Cent Store.

After the Great Distribution, Andre got the old washtub and Crackers got a cinderblock from out back and this provided the tree's foundation in the front room. Marlene and Alexis had already festooned the windows and the dogs, Bonkers, Wickiwup and Johnny Cash with tinsel made of Mancini's old fire-suit from from when he had worked at Pacific Steel Foundry.

Soon the crew was all tuckered out from their various responsibilities of tree gathering, roughhousing and scarfing up spaghetti so the tree stood there, solitary and green and looking well enough as it was when nature made it and man cut it down.

It was the tradition that the tree would stand as such for a night and a day, reminding everyone of where it had come from and so that its natural spirit would emanate forth in beauty and harmony. It could be successfully argued that The Squat could have used a healthy dollop of both.

The Wiccans in the household would hold rituals and cast all sorts of spells and ride their skateboards chanting mystical incantations, so this was a very great moment when the tree stood there and they all looked at it. On the floor in a cardboard box next to the washtub sat Marlene's ornaments, the ones from her Russian Grandmother.

The world may be at war and the President an imbecile who cannot see the fingers in front of his face, but a tree remains a tree, and that's a fact.

Far off the long ululation of the train passing through Jack London Square echoed across the water, which slapped its oily slap against the pilings of the fishing wharf which has been closed ever since the Cosco Busan tore open and dumped 50,000 barrels of oil into the Bay. But all along the Shoreline Road, the apartments glittered and twinkled like little galaxies, each apartment hosting its own little constellation of lives, laughing, suffering, hurting, making love, talking on the telephone, watching television, making music . . . Whatever.

And that is the way it is on the Island this chilly night of a thousand stars. Have a great week.