VALENTINE'S DAY

FEBRUARY 14, 2010

After the most recent cloudburst here the skies remained heavy and dark, like the roiling clouds above Mordor. The fogs have come creeping in to indicate the change of seasons. We expect another bust of bad weather further to the East, but not as bad as what has gone before.

A dockwalloper is slated to pound in here about the weekend.

The recent days have featured the signatory tipoff that the seasons are about to change in that the tule fogs have hung about the Bay cutting visibility to about the length of a car wreck.

The dreaded V-day arrived on Sunday, and its observance was marked by each according to their wonts. Mr. and Mrs. Almeida went off to Kincaids for the steak and lobster dinner there after shipping off the kids to the Abodanza family for popcorn, pajama parties and Willy Wonka's peculiar cruelties. The lights in the house went dark rather quickly and it did not appear that Pedro Almeida would be setting sail on President's Day this year to go fishing. Some other kind of fishing was going on at the Almeida household.

The Editor holed up in his glassed cubicle with the blinds drawn and three days worth of Weight Watcher meals in the fridge along with a stack of DVD's from Blockbuster, including Jessica Lynch's "Surveillance", and "Repo Man". The Editor is a classicist.

Javier got intensely drunk and remained that way for a solid three day bender.

Denby secured himself with his Tacoma D-9 in his apartment to run through the Tom Waits canon, especially his "Blue Valentines" which began to drive his cat to howl and his upstairs neighbor thoroughly mad until he shifted into Richard Shindell's Halloween song about the breakup from hell. A fifth of Jack Daniels helped this process along immensely. His upstairs neighbor, a person who actually knows something about music, put on a record of salsa music to cover up the noise before taking herself out dancing.

Suan pulled a double shift at the Crazy Horse, for V-Day is primetime for a gentlemen's establishment, for all the expectations engendered and seldom fulfilled. Except precisely at such an venue as the Crazy Horse, where all needs are fulfilled, regardless. So long as you got the money. Suan did the Pole and even the private room lapdance thing, for it was expected that Mr. Howitzer would be boosting the rent once again, right on clockwork, in complete disregard of the current Great Recession. Her return to the house that night was one of one tuckered worker straight from the front lines of gainful employment, feeling tired, sore, filthy and worn out. Suan, the girl who served up all the fantasies and services of Eros at the Crazy Horse got no Valentine that night except for a card from Tipitina, who appreciated her contribution to the house rent. It was a gray cardboard card cut from a shirt stiffener with a crayon heart and the words, "We love U" and the signatures of all the house folks in the household maintained by Marlene and Andre. She propped up that card at the head of her sofa and fell immediately asleep. For sweet sleep is the great gift to those who labor.

After Andre's band, No Future in Real Estate, finished their practice that ended with a rousing and exhilerating version of "Lets Lynch the Landlord!" Andre and Marlene went to bed and made violent love that forced the pigeons in the attic and the raccoons hibernating under the ruined porch to flee in all directions. Sometime around midnight, a little bit afterwards, Marlene looked up at the ceiling and said, "I think something happened."

Martini, Pahrump, Jose, and Occasional Quentin all went down to the Strand with a box of wine got with the proceeds of Martini's temp job blowing leaves. Martini, Pahrump and Jose had fortified themselves with pint bottles of Old Crow previously, as 5 liters of wine clearly will not go far enough to sate the appetites of four hearty Californians. A car of valleygirls disgorged its contents who giggled and cooed on the beach before scampering back to the safety of lights and rum bars.

Jose commented, "They aint gonna have nothing to do with the likes of us."

"Old Indian saying. No money, no honey." Pahrump said. This was something he had said before. Its universal truth was undeniable.

Martini, who had a girl in the War, remained silent. His situation was a little different from the others. An offensive was on and his girl, Amanda, had signed up with the Marines when such a thing seemed a sensible act to do. Now an offensive was on and all communications shut down from that sector. In classic military pattern, Martini's position was that of hurry up and wait. For whatever news may come until the offensive was over with whatever results this action may bring. And so that was Martini's V-Day.

Further down along the Strand, near Crab Cove and the little lagoon there Rolph, who had no personal association with V-day because of his upbringing in East Germany before the Wall came down, was walking Bonkers and Wickiwup for their constitutionals after dinner when he came across a man sitting in a wheelchair looking out across the water. Rolph, as bouncer and gofer at the Centerfolds Club in Babylon was beat after a long shift working the same kind of clientel Suan had serviced in various forms.

It surprised him that anyone would be there at that hour and so of course he broke into the man's reverie with an inquiry.

"Are you alright?"

The man sat there with a knapsack in his lap, heavy with contents by the looks of it.

"I am fine." The man said. But the look of him said otherwise. The light of life had gone from his eyes.

Rolph, no stranger to extremes, sat down on the far corner of the bench there. "My name is Rolf," he said. "I come from far away."

"I am Adam," said the figure in the wheelchair. "I went to school at Polytech in the City. I have lived here my entire life."

"I see. That must be a grand thing. I do not have a hometown myself exactly."

"I used to run and jump. Just like you. Then I went to the Wars and so now you see me as I am. I wasn't always like this."

"As for running and jumping I think I am getting too old for that," Rolf said. "Heya!" And he threw a stick far out so that Wickiwup and Bonkers both ran after it, running and jumping. Bonkers returned, offering his offering first to the man there, who grasped the stick to throw it out again so that Wickiwup could bring it back for yet more repetition.

Repetitions are characteristic of the postmodern condition, let us dutifully note. Everything is postmodernism now, you know. Bonkers woofed. Bonkers had not a goddamn care for any sort of ism. A cereal box contained all the truth Bonkers needed. But Bonkers was Bonkers.

Rolf and the stranger in the wheelchair threw the stick alternatively out to the Strand where either Bonkers or Wickiwup would gamefully fetch it back. Eventually the heavy knapsack travelled from the stranger's lap to the side of his wheelchair. But there is nothing like good healthy dogs to restore the heart in a man's chest.

"How is it you have no hometown? Where is your family? Where did you grow up?" Asked the man.

"My family is all gone," said Rolph. "As for growing up, if there ever was such a thing, I passed that time in the cities of man. And one city is pretty much like another. We escaped the Iron Curtain, only to find that there was no difference. Then everyone died along the way."

"If I could simply go away, I would do so. This place is become hell." The man said. "And everyplace is just the same." He paused. "Sorry to hear about your people. It must be terrible."

The two spent a few moments throwing the stick.

"Es ist einfach so." said Rolf. "Nothing to do about it. Bad things happen and you must go on. No choice in the matter. Ja?"

"Ja, Ja, Ja." said the man. "And all the Jews march off to the gas chambers and nothing changes. Everything just gets worse."

"About the Jews, that was before I was born and I would have done something against all that. Certainly not much changes but we have no more Auschwitz. And I myself am barely holding on here." Rolf's exhaustion flooded through his body.

"What can you do? You are nothing. Nothing at all. And me. Nothing at all. We are meaningless and stupid."

"That is true." Rolf said sadly. "We are nothing. And we have no choice. Except to live. Not for ourselves, you see, because that is clearly stupid. For other people."

"What do you mean?" said the man.

Choosing his words carefully, Rolf said, "Is there anyone, anyone at all who might say, 'I did not see him today. Wonder where he has gone.'"

The man thought for a long time. "Oh I expect . . . people will just get along."

"Bonkers! Komm doch!" Rolf said and the old tail-wagger ran up for a pat and a scratch and snuffled the man there next to him, who responded eventually with caresses. "I like the dogs. They have no anxieties. Actually that's not quite right. They handle the anxieties better than we do. And the sadness. Especially that. Look at him and his eyes! Despite all the terrible things he can still jump about. You know, it is a terrible thing to take the joy away from people. I am sure everyone who lives on remembers the one's who pass away. And it does hurt. Believe me it does, because I know it. Ja? "

"People get used to anything."

"They do not. Have you? And the people left behind will hurt very much. Trust me."

The man looked at him. "You know don't you. You know, you bastard."

"Give me the sack," said Rolf.

"You fucker." said Adam. But the light had returned to the man's eyes.

"I have been here before," said Rolf. "Please give me the sack. For my mother's sake. She killed herself on the Spee Bridge. In front of me. Give me the sack."

"I see," said Adam. And he eventually handed the sack to Rolf after a long time thinking, and Rolf marched stiff-legged to the pond. The sack weighed about three and one half pounds but he did not open it before he hurled it far out into the middle of the water and returned to the bench.

"I used to be a whole man," sobbed Adam. "I could run and jump and do anything. Before the Wars."

"I know," said Rolf. "Me too. Me too. Then everything changed. Because of a little explosion. No reason to add even more complexity." Bonkers and Wickiwup returned to nestle at their feet. "It will be good to see the sun rise tomorrow," said Rolf. "Good dog!" And he patted their heads.

"Yes," said Adam. "The sun most certainly will rise again. Whether we want it to or not."

From far across the way, the long ululation of the throughpassing train wavered across the Island to that solitary spot as the locomotive wound its way from the Port of Oaktown through the dark and shuttered Jack London Waterfront to parts unknown.

BACK TO STORY INDEX