January 30, 2011


Its been a sunshiny, but cool, week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The weekend concluded with a real morning dockwalloper that sluiced out things pretty good before moving on across the Valley. Parts of the Bay and the Valley saw some thick tule fog, indicating that the change in seasons is about to happen around here.

It may take a little longer for places like Bear Lake, MN and Minot to warm up, but great changes are on the way even for the icebound areas of the country.

Fog or rain makes no difference to the fishermen out beyond the Golden Gate still trying to snag the last of the season's crab and shrimp and cold water fish. Mr. Almeida has been out every day this past week plus Saturday, same as usual hours before the dawn on his boat, El Borracho Perdido, with his faithful Labrador, Tugboat. While he is out there working he has been listening, again as usual, to his favorite radio programs. Saturdays he always comes back late, idling in slow while the voice from the radio sermon consoles him or not as the case may be. Last week Pastor Rotschue had a guest host his show, and while the guest, a woman Lutheran pastor from Nickel Creek, WY, sounded chipper and talented in her own way, Pedro missed the rich tonalities of the more experienced man's voice.

In truth, there was no replacing the man. He had his niche there, telling stories, singing hymns, introducing guest musicians and there was no one who could quite do what the man did and that was a fact. Latterly, the Pastor had been talking about getting old and moving on to other things, but Pedro didn't want that to happen. There in that old boathouse the warm, comforting voice had been with him for many a long hour, many a long year, through all kinds of troubles. And lately with the financial difficulties, it seemed that the sun would never shine again through his backdoor.

After setting the lines, Pedro sat down in the wheelhouse with a pen and paper and commenced to write a letter to the Pastor. He himself had been feeling his age coming on -- just the other day he had felt some difficulty cranking the forward windlass. The Doc had put him on these pills for his heart, which made him have to pee all the time. Dear friends were passing away, and it seemed every few months another note arrived which began, "Dear Pedro, you better sit down when you read this, for I must now tell you some really bad news about . . .".

The time was coming for when he, too, must face the Adversary and leave everything behind; everything he loved so much: his boat, his dog, his tidy bungalow, his wife Maria. And this life. With all the nervous politicians jumping up and down and the country doing to hell in a handbasket. Beyond the blank glass of the wheelhouse, the hours before the dawn swelled with the sound of a lone foghorn out there beyond the billowing prairie of waves.

He thought perhaps he should begin his letter with a joke or two. Lighten things up a bit. He was not so good at telling jokes, but he thought he might try.

Why do bagpipers walk in a circle? To try to get away from the noise.

What do you call a pile of bagpipes at the bottom of the ocean? A very good start.

What do you call a pile of burning oboes? Kindling for the bagpipes . . . .

Pedro re-read what he had written. He was concerned that maybe capping on bagpipes was not a good idea. Perhaps the man actually liked the sound of bagpipes. As for oboes, Pedro was not sure what they sounded like, but he felt sure it was something mournful. What kind of music were Lutherans supposed to like? He was not sure about that one either. He did know the man seemed to know a lot about music, so Pedro thought he might try to sound erudite.

How do you put the sparkle in a soprano's eye? Shine a light in her ear.

O for Pete's sake, he couldn't tell a decent joke for the life of him! He was just a fisherman and that was that.

He put the pen and paper aside and went out to check the nets. And take another pee. Damn pills! Pretty soon he got busy and forgot all about the letter and he stopped thinking about the dismal future ahead, or the possibility that there just might be no future at all.

Very much later, as he motored back to the marina, he passed by a party boat out from Jack London Square loaded with families and their kids. One of the kids, a boy about seven or eight and wearing a bright orange life jacket waved at him in the middle of his own special adventure on the seas.

"Ahoy!" called out the kid.

Pedro smiled and waved.

"Ahoy!" the kid called out again. "Ahoy! Ahoy!" Pretty soon about six youngsters were all calling out to him, jumping up and down and waving their arms.

Pedro reached over and tooted his caution horn a couple times, which sent the kids into paroxysms of absolute glee. A girl with braids did cartwheels on the deck until her mother made her stop.

It was then he remembered something the Pastor used to say on his radio program. "Nothing you do for children is ever wasted." Right then, Pedro felt better about things. There might be one with him or without him, but there would always be a future, no matter how bad things got. As long as there were kids like that, there would be a future.

As he tied up at the dock and hopped off with Tugboat, he noticed a cardboard carton someone had left on top of one of the pilings there. He opened it up with a small suspicion and found that he was correct. It was a carton of leftovers from the banquet for the Norwegian bachelor farmers that had been held at the Native Sons of the Golden West meeting hall several months ago. Juanita had packed the hotdish recipe with jalapeno peppers, which had not sat well with the guests. There had been quite a lot of leftovers.

He closed up the carton and left it for someone else to find and whistled the Mandalay Pirate song as he strolled down the dock. "Heave ya ho boys! Let 'er go boys! We're in for nasty wea ..... therrrr . . . ".

His wife knew that Pedro had been feeling out of sorts so later that night for dinner Mrs. Almeida made Bacalhau, which is a kind of native comfort food for the Portuguese. It is a simple dish consisting of simple, unpretentious ingredients. Potatoes. Onions. Olives. Salted Codfish. It is a reminder to people of their origins, of poverty, and of humility's necessity. No one orders bacalhau from a restaurant with fine linens. It must be eaten at home and be prepared by roughened hands that use love to convert these simple things into Life.

The main ingredient is salt cod and the dish is such a mainstay that a national crisis occurred when the cod fishing industry totally collapsed. There was rioting in the streets and flaming barricades. People became afraid that the days of the dictator Salazar would return with a vengeance as total anarchy ensued. When the little country went looking for a salt cod source everyone was delighted to find that one Scandanavian country had tons of it -- enough to last for centuries, as those people seldom ate the stuff any more. This is how everyday throughout the Iberian peninsula and to Portuguese restaurants around the world, trucks pull up and drop off these wooden crates from the country of Norway, each bearing the printed name of the contents: Lutefisk. Proud Norway had saved Portugal from disaster.

Right then the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the quietly laughing waves of the estuary and the grinning 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 to parts unknown.

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