DECEMBER 17, 2018
So anyway. This is the time when the earth spins slow, turning its face from the sun. From somewhere an open window someone is playing his instrument. Notes falling slow swirl and settle to collect in drifts. This ain't no depression, just notes falling slow. Up in the high Sierra an early snow and notes falling slow.
The Editor sits alone in his cube with the solitary desklamp for company. All the staff have taken off early to do Xmas shopping and be with their loved ones during the Holiday Time, leaving the Editor alone with his thoughts.
In a few days, the Island-Life offices will commemorate their twentieth year of supplying news and satire on the Island and the weight of history felt heavy on the shoulders of the old Marine. For of course, those of you who know, once a Marine always a Marine.
Quite a lot has happened in the past twenty years to mark the Nation's history books with comments for the next 100 or so and Island-Life has been along for the ride the entire distance with its weekly commentary reflecting events on the national and international stage every step of the way.
There comes a time in every artisan's life to say good-bye to a particular motiv, a storyline, a style, an entire cycle of opuses. Sometimes this means ending a life's work and an entire microcosm. What happened to that unpronounceable county in the south conjured up by William Faulkner? And as for Bloom County we know that Berk Breathed concocted a number of bizarre endings for his fabulous land of penguins, the Bloom County Herald and the Anti-SUV brigade with a nod to a particular typewriting cockroach of a far earlier era. Remember Archie and Mehitabel?
Picasso's Blue Period came to an end when he obtained enough money for more pigment. Any number of reasons will do for an artist's change of pace. Sometimes an artist simply tires of doing the same old thing. A famous jazz horn player gave up his appearances because he did not want to become a museum of music he had done years before.
There always comes a time for an artist who truly values integrity, to shift gears, to change keys, to revise the program. Sometimes the artist has no choice and death or other circumstances intervene. Who now is left to sweep the streets of that town north of Bear Lake Minnesota? Who is going to dust the snow off of the statue of the Unknown Norwegian? Who is left to unlock the doors of Tom's Pretty Good Grocery? Who is going to pay Darlene her wages for pouring coffee at the Cafe? This is dreadful! But death is dreadful and certainly expected after a time.
There is always the Other Side to which we travel, and unless you happen to be Denby each unfortunate year, you do not get to come back.
And so the Editor stood there staring at the gift of an oar, part of his Boat Assembly Plan, occasioned by his birthday. The oar hung there on the wall, sturdy and promising, but without the necessary boat to propel. A reminder of this maritime world of an Island dreamed and dreaming amid the San Francisco Bay.
On the Editor's desk and in the corners, small reminders and keepsakes. Over there was the silly elephant from Vietnam, which once had inundated the markets greater than the porcelain puma.
On his desk, AK-47 casings. AR-15 shells. A brick of cheese from the Reagan era, still solid and still supposedly edible. A paperweight from the IEEE congress that established the 802.1 protocol. An old 8088 CPU chip. A pet rock, still nestled in its homey lair. A tamogochi that had died. A bullet with teeth marks on it. A photo of a light at the end of a tunnel. All these remnants of history.
The kids today were all texting and sexting. They had apps and virtual realities to beat the band. They did not need hours of arduous practice to learn an instrument -- they punched in the codes and pulled out the samples electronically and created symphonies in minutes. They did not look at dial watches and clocks -- all the clocks were digital now. Life had move on past the Editor and his kind.
He went over to the stereo and put on a CD by Fred Neil.
Now, the Editor felt, it was time to move on. The rent increase lay heavy and mournful on the desk, like a kind of death sentence. Outside, the Angry Elf gang howled and ramped in their red pickup truck and their Miata as they drove past, threatening disaster. As was clear from the Angry Elf gang threats, it was move on or get killed in some kind of nasty "accident". His people were of the gypsies, the wandering folk always made to move on by the citizens who refused to let them in for some atavistic fear of taint.
There are a thousand ways to say good-bye. What would be be best way for the Editor of Island-Life? For change was coming, and Mr. Death was near and would not be denied. What can any of us say if we had the chance?
Old King Lear said it best. "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods. They kill us for their sport."
And yet he loved these Islanders, their simplicity and foolish ingenuity and their crazy ways adapting to the new realities, just trying to keep body and soul together amid trying times.
The clock continued to tick and Time, that spherical prison, advanced with no exit and the Editor stood there wondering what could he save should the massive firestorm he anticipated advance upon him now. What in this personal space could he grab and throw into the truck and drive out of that hell of fire when it came? For come it would. The incipient evil of the Angry Elf would have it so.
The Editor felt a pain in his chest. How would this all end? In violence, blood and fire? Would the Rental crisis and insatiable greed destroy everything sweet? Please not so. This precious land, this jewel set within the clasp of the aquamarine Bay, this seat of California kings, this o so dear Island home to a brawling, lovely and irascible people is now leased out.
The stereo continued to play the CD.
If I had wings like Noah's dove
If I had wings like Noah's dove
He continued to stand there, pondering, as the full moon arose through the skies made murky by the new fires down south that even now as of this moment ravaged and devoured thousands of memories, hundreds of homes. In times of hardship, it is the little people who suffer and he felt powerless to help them. He turned to look at the wall and saw there the oar that the Staff had given him for his birthday. He took it down and imagined that when the time came, he would use this to carry his bindlestiff to the West so far that no one would know what it was for.
The night train far across the water keened across the estuary, crying over the basketball hoops of Littlejohn Park, to die between the Edwardian house-rows as the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shadow-shuttered Jack London Waterfront, trundling on the edge of town past the former Ohlone burial mounds to an unknown destination.