FEBRUARY 17, 2013

BLUE VALENTINES

 

So anyway the dreaded V-day rolled down the calendar like a panzer advancing on all the gentlemen and rogues living on the island even as special bundles of rose arrangements rocketed to $70 per bucket all over town. This year V-day came hard on the three-day President's Day weekend, which gave amorous couples the opportunity to request time off and go canoodling like teenagers. All over the Island residents responded to the holiday each as was their wont.

At the Household Suan got her Venus in Furs outfit all ready for work, well supplied with pink boas and such, for V-Day at the Crazy Horse saloon was a big moneymaker. Nothing like the promise of ersatz love to bring in the dollars.

Suzie, behind the bar at the Old Same Place, wore a cute outfit with pink boots and a short flouncy skirt and a deep red blouse, then settled back with her anthropology text on a stool.

Bear . . . trended to trouble fueled by whiskey

Mindful of previous episodes, Denby turned off his cell phone and avoided any sort of place where his friend Bear might hang out so as to avoid a repetition of that sad episode a few years ago that ended up in the County jail. Bear, wearing a grease-stained T-shirt, tattered jeans, one red and white striped sock opposed to a green one inserted into converse hi-tops, also of mismatched colors, with various lifeforms flying about and nesting in his thick beard, generally trended to trouble fueled by whiskey and an Allman Brothers soundtrack. Women, for some reason, found him irresistible.

Denby imagined that it was only appropriate that Bear rode by habit a Harley Davidson with a motor identified as "a knucklehead". But this, he was careful never to mention to Bear. There might be repercussions.

Taking a cue from the Editor, and also inhibited by his recovering injuries sustained during the ill-fated expedition to the mountain pass of Los Abuelita di Diablo, Denby stocked up on Michelina's frozen dinners and Netflix, avoiding potential trouble from chocolate-eating females on the hunt during this time.

In fact he spent considerable time at the Island Free Library up in the stacks among jazz theory and musicology, blissfully remote from the meat markets.

It was there he met Trent, the lonely assistant librarian, who carried with him "The Consolation of Philosophy." Trent's boss, Ruth Harrison, could be a bit of a tartar, so Trent sought every excuse to ascend to the upper levels and there delve into his favorite text.

Trent introduced Denby to his friend Althea

It was on February 14th, while Ruth Harrison was down below orchestrating the "Literary Love" exhibit, complete with copies of D.H. Lawrence, Ovid, Sappho, Anais Nin and the usual suspects along with cool aid and cookies that Trent introduced Denby to his friend Althea, another Assistant Librarian, who proved to be thirty-something, wearing brown leather boots, a short skirt, sensible blouse and librarian's glasses. It was pretty clear that Trent had a thing for Althea, who looked somewhat pretty, depending on the light and the angle.

Althea, as it turned out, stemmed from the honorable Voorhees family, which had settled in San Francisco during the early days of 1840, not long after the Mexican-American war. Her great granduncle, Albert Stevense Voorhees got into a family spat in Nieuw Amersfoort on account of getting a serving maid with child out of wedlock. He was forced to flee across the new continent and after many adventures arrived in San Francisco, which then was in the process of rebuilding itself after one of its many fires.

He tried his hand at various trades, including tanning hides, until the momentous discovery of gold in the hills rocked the world in 1848.

Like many newcomers to the Golden State, Albert soon had the choice of either heading to the hills to seek gold, which everyone assured him grew in water, or taking advantage of this influx in '49 to sell implements to wannabee gold miners. He wisely chose the latter, set up a hardware store on the edge of Portsmouth Square and and wound up richer for the choice. While waiting for customers during the day he played the banjo behind the counter and was often called to provide musical entertainment to the swelling population of San Francisco.

He then applied his talents and resources to establishing a bank which specialized in maritime finances. This proved fortuitious in the moment for the hardware store burned down during one of San Francisco's 9 fires in the 1850's. One of the women he hired as a teller, a tall good-looking gal with blond curls from Missouri, captured his eye. This was not difficult, as women in San Francisco in those days were in short supply and the girl had no lack of suitors.

there the happy couple lived until the financial meltdown of 1871

One day he came in with his banjo and played a Steven C. Foster song which had her name in it and the girl, whose name was Susannah, was hooked. Within a week they were engaged and within two months married. They set up household in a cottage on Mason near Vallejo at the base of a hill and planted there clambering roses that did what clambering roses do up a trellis fixed to the side of the house and there the happy couple lived until the financial meltdown of 1871 and the massive floods that destroyed the California hyde leather industry ruined his finances. One day Albert took up his hat and his pistol and walked out of the front door, never to be seen again.

Lily who escaped to Oakland via rescue boat with her grandfather's banjo

But this was not before Susannah had given birth to a pair of sons and a pair of daughters who carried on the family line. One of those sons, Albert Jr., had previously died in the Battle of the Wilderness after travelling east to help the Union win the war against the Confederacy, but that left Roger, Rose and Petunia. The cottage burned down during the famous earthquake and fire of 1906 and it was Petunia's daughter, Lily who escaped to Oakland via rescue boat with her grandfather's banjo. She met a shipping captain named Joshua Barron and after their marriage moved to his trim house on Walnut Street on the former Bolsa de Alameda, once a peninsula but made into an island in 1902 when dredges carved out the estuary that now exists.

The rest of the family, having lost their homes, also moved to Oakland which had fared better than the City. It was there in Oakland that Lily raised a family, watching the little factory town absorb the hamlet of Brooklyn and try to recover from the earthquake as well as its notoriously corrupt and callous first mayor, Carpenteria. The shallow bay had its mouth filled in, turning into a lake, and the once proud oak forest which gave its name to the city cut further and further back to feed the mania for building in the City across the water. The groves of citrus trees also got hewn down to make the new district called Fruitvale, inhabited by Germans and Irish who worked the Del Monte coffee warehouses on Fruitvale Avenue.

It was in Oakland that Lily met Conor O'Donnell, a strapping fellow with blue eyes from Inneskerry who wooed her by singing "Love's Old Sweet Song" beside Lake Merritt.

As for Alameda, briefly the terminus of the Transamerican Railroad when Oakland failed to complete its own terminus station on time it developed and grew from oak-dotted pastureland once used by the Peralta family to be a bedroom community and resort town. The Strehlow family cobbled together an water park on the western side of the island facing the Bay. Neptune Beach featured two olympic sized swimming pools, a roller coaster, rented cottages, and a confectioner's which invented and then sold innovative frozen treats. There, on a hot day in 1928 Conor pinged all five targets in the shooting booth to win the prize, a little smiling doll with a knot of red hair -- a kewpie -- which he handed to his little daughter, Jasmine.

the Epsicle ice pop!

They then went to the confectioners with Lily where she observed the man scoop into a box of ice and then place a cold round deposit into a paper cone before splashing a good dollop of syrup while calling out in a loud voice "Ladies and gentlemen gettem right here on the West coast the one the only the original never before seen tasty treat available only right here at Neptune Beach . . . the original snow cone! It's a penny sundae on a cone! Snow cones right here! And the brand new tasty cool treat to slake your thirst, the Epsicle ice pop! Get your snow cones and popsicles right here at Eppersons! Right now while its hot and they are cold! Yes indeedee cold as Alaska!"

The snow cone was not invented precisely at Neptune Beach but it sure was popular at the park.

Then the wars came, first the war to end all wars followed by the war that pretty much put the kibosh on that idea. The Voorhees and the Kitson clans sent their sons to the Pacific theatre and to Europe and some did not return. The character of Oakland changed a bit as large numbers of Black workers from the deep south arrived to build the planes and ships in shipyards all along the delta from Port Chicago to the Carquinez Straits and in the massive Pacific Steel foundry which still operates in the Berkeley flats not far from the edge of the Bay.

The Great Depression killed the entertainment habits of American families

The Great Depression killed the entertainment habits of American families, and with that the great Neptune Beach which had feted Johnny Weismuller and Jack LaLanne as well as Olympic gold medalists fell into decline to be eventually auctioned off in parts as the rails stopped carrying riders from all over the East Bay past the enticing rides and pools to the ferry landing-- the new Oakland Bay Bridge now brought families from staid Alameda to the more exciting City by the Bay and further afield by means of the modern automobile.

Jasmine grew into a tall flowering beauty who held off suitors at arm's length for quite a while, preferring to stroll alone along the new landfill Beach area called Southshore, and work as a typewriter in Oakland for an investment firm and read books and magazines from Delauer's. Her social activity consisted of horseback riding and playing the cello and providing vocals in an all women's jazz group that called itself B Sharp. They played coffee shops and nice establishments like Crolls, one of the buildings left over from the Neptune Beach days. Her life was complete and she wanted no changes.

It was at Croll's on St. Valentine's Day during her rendition of "Careless Love" that she caught the eye of a roguish-looking fellow sitting there. He had sandy hair and a twinkle in his eye and a full beard and during the set break he got up to sing "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", so she returned and sang Fan Go Socair A Roguire, which loosely translated means Go Easy You Rogue. He followed up with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. Exhorted by her band and the patrons of Crolls, all of whom were delighted by this little competition, she followed up with Be Careful It's My Heart.

As it turned out the man's name was James Kitson and he worked as an engineer on water projects.

To cut to the chase, they were married in a month. A little while later after a couple of sons came into the world, Althea was born.

Well that is quite a story, Denby said. It was clear that Trent was smitten with the girl. She had sparkling eyes and vivacious wit and seemed to return the affection, however the bookish Trent was all over himself quite tongue-tied and too shy to get anything jumpstarted.

So Denby helpfully suggested, "Why don't you guys drop in to hear my set at the Old Same Place Bar. Usually I do blues, but I think I can come up with something a little different tonight."

the police, accompanied ... a phalanx of FBI agents ... charged across the street with guns drawn

Outside the library after closing Denby stood next to Althea while she fumbled for her car keys. She asked Denby to hold her bag, a rather tattered-looking and heavy canvas thing, so that is why Denby stood holding a bag filled with $50,000 in tens and twenties when the Island police, accompanied by SWAT team in full riot gear and a phalanx of agents wearing dark blue windbreakers labeled FBI barged across the street with guns drawn and two squad cars blocked off Oak Street. Sharpshooters on the roofs took aim at Denby's noggin.

"Hold it!" barked Officer Popinjay.

"But I am," Denby said, not knowing yet what was in the bag.

"O crap!" Althea said. "How on earth did you guys find me?"

"Careful detective work," said Officer O'Madhauen. "You parked nine inches into the red zone and we ran the tags."

As it turned out Althea had pursued the traditional family interest in banking with a twist, becoming the main getaway driver for a gang that had been robbing banks from Oakland all the way down to San Leandro. So that night Denby did not make it to the gig and Trent remained a shy bachelor for the duration.

That night as Denby sat in his cell a thought popped into his head near midnight, bubbling up through his general misery over once again spending another Valentine's day behind bars.

Whatever happened to the banjo?

As if in answer the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the caressing waves of the estuary kissing the rip-rap and across the affectionate grasses of the Buena Vista flats where a fat cherub of a boy practiced his fearful archery as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its romantic journey to parts unknown.

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

 

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