THE WEE MAN RETURNS
March 20, 2011
The rain came and the rain went and so went St. Patrick's day this year, much like the Chinese Year of the Hare celebrations. The famous parade in Babylon across the water there took place in a torrential downpour, but other celebrations have happened, great and small all around the Bay, including an Hawaiian hula dance performance in honor of the Hare that happened here on the Island. We have, besides "dragon boats" a hula dance studio located on Lincoln street a few doors down from Pagano's Hardware. They do an informal music jam with ukes and slack key guitar during the week.
With all the rain, people have been changing their usual routines to remain under cover. When the lunch whistle blew, instead of going out to hang with the Nammie vets under the dripping eaves, after getting his burrito from the truck, Martini wended his way to the dark side of the factory where perhaps out of a kind of nostalgia for the old technology, perhaps out of a wistful value for craftsmanship, or perhaps because of Union stipulations, the Veriflo Corp maintained a fleet of hand lathes manned by a squad of machinists whose numbers dwindled year by year.
The factory made high-pressure valves cut from blocks of a special alloy. Nowadays, the blocks of metal were drilled by immense robotic drills driven by CAD programs and maintained by computer educated machinists. In this part of the factory, however, lean silver-haired men raised and lowered the drill bits by hand, able to drill within a micron of tolerance, just like the big ball-end mills. However, the big mills could do 18 blocks in the time it took guys like Old Al to finish just one. Men like Al were used now to fabricate the prototypes, not the production pieces.
Old Al sat there with his box lunch beside his machine, pretty much like the old days.
"How goes it sawboy?" said Al.
Martini's job was to cut the thirty foot rods of alloy into manageable ingots with a metal saw. He motioned to one of the lathes which now was draped with canvas. "Rodney?"
"Rodney's gone." Al said.
The two men ate their lunches in silence for a while.
Al said he didn't think he would be around much longer either. Production had been cut back and Management was looking for more things to cut. The valves made by the factory were used to power the robotics that made cars and computer chips. Each alloy valve cost well over a thousand dollars, with some of the titanium ones costing upwards of a million. They each had to withstand pressures over 900 PSI. Other factories around the world were cannibalizing their existing machines as they also cut production.
Everything was uncertain for everybody.
They had some time left so the two of them went to the big delivery doorway to look at the rain falling on the industrial vigor of Richmond. In the distance, the Chevron refinery towers loomed like Tolkein castles in the mist.
Al asked him if he, Martini, still lived "on that Island." Martini said he did.
The old machinist remembered how he had seen Johnny Weissmuller dive from a platform way back when the Island had hosted the largest seaside attraction strip on the West coast. Bigger than Babylon's Ocean Beach with its Laughing Sal robot. That was Neptune Beach.
Martini wasn't unhappy about them retiring Laughing Sal. "That old lady scared the bejeezus out of me. I was convinced she was Evil." He was convinced that it was her, that robot in a case dealing out cards -- or something like her -- which had burned the Cliff House two or three times.
This made Al laugh. He had a better understanding of machines than Martini.
The whistle blew and they each went back to work.
At the end of the shift, Pahrump arrived on his scooter to drive Martini back to the Island in the rain.
Both of them were soaked when they got back, and because Pahrump used the bathroom, Martini stripped, dried himself and dressed in warm, dry duds in front of Tipitina and Jose in the Main Room, where they sat listening to KQED. Lack of money meant little privacy and few luxuries for the fifteen men and women who shared space in the one bedroom cottage owned by Mr. Howitzer.
Jose commented that the show wasn't nearly as pretty as Suan, referring to their housemate who worked at the Crazy Horse.
"Suan gets paid for it," Martini said.
Tipitina snorted as she looked up from her Crossword. She worked as a part-time AA for a law firm in the City. It was a position pretty much a half step below what Suan did on her brass pole. At least at her other job as a cashier at Long's she occasionally got some respect.
The child named Adam, who had come to join them a few weeks ago after being thrown from a car one dark night came out. Most of his bruises and cuts had faded away. Kids are resilient like that.
Martini asked him if there was anything to eat.
"Beans in the pot." Adam said. "And day-old. Marlene is out."
Stale bread and beans were good enough with the right condiments. Martini went into the kitchen. The sound of the radio drifted through the doorway.
These are the good times
Rain patters on the leaves
We always practice kindness, kindly if you please
Life is flowing,
Flowing like catsup on your beans!
Catsup! Catsup! Catsup!
Martini remembered to fix up a plate and carry it out to Snuffles Johnson, who slept in the hole in the porch whenever it rained. The hole had been caused when Jose and Pahrump had nearly burned the place down by accident on Jose's fiftieth birthday. One of them had let a smoldering roach fall between the floorboards while polishing off a gallon jug of wine. That birthday had been an unfortunate one. So now whenever Mr. Howitzer dropped by, which was not often, they dragged an old sofa to cover the hole.
Martini sat on the sofa while Snuffles mumbled his beans with toothless lips in the hole and the rain fell from the ragged skies and the world went by stages into the darkness of night.
Father Danyluk stared out at the night at the same moment. "How was the corned beef, Father?" Sister Beatrice stood beside him. It was good, the priest said. The two of them looked out at the rain, which was tapering off.
"A bad night for those without a roof," the nun said. "And we grateful for what we have."
"Actually," said the priest. "I am thinking about fish."
"You mean, like the parable of the loaves and the fishes?" asked Beatrice.
"No," Father Danyluk said. "Just about the fish in the Cove. Herring and mackerel and sea bass."
Beatrice often thought the good Father swam in waters too deep for the likes of her. Then again, she often wondered if the man was just simple.
Over at the Old Same Place Bar the gang was mopping up after another St. Patrick's weekend. Things had gotten raucous, as usual. "That boy Gallipagus wants a lick or two of my stick, he does." Padraic said, referring to Eugene who had gotten so drunk he had fallen over into the potted ferns brought in by Dawn.
The string band which called itself Ard Feis and which Padraic had brought in also had all gotten very drunk and had started to behave badly. The bassist kept trying to reach up under Suzie's green miniskirt until she had to sock him in the eye so that now the boy was at home nursing a big shiner. Then Aisling and the fiddler had gotten into a fight over similar issues, which traveled out into the street. Aisling could not fight to save himself. Nor can most fiddlers, who generally hang tight with drummers for the purpose. They can always say, "Sean, deal with that man," but that night there was no drummer. The two of them wound up rolling around in the muck, tearing and scratching at one another before getting up to go at one another, flailing wildly until they each fell down again to repeat the sequence. They were all pretty much the worse for wear.
"Lord save me, but I am glad St. Patrick's comes but once a year," Dawn said.
"It's the wannabe's what does it," Padraic said. "You'll notice the folks from Wicklow sat there nice as you please. I think those musicians were all Germans and they'll not get a cent out of me for all that trouble."
"At least," Suzie said. "The wee man did not show up." She looked up to where the gold knickers and the hats he had caused to appear hung behind the bar.
They all remembered the night the wee man had shown up. What a night that had been!
"Him with his infernal trickery and all the embarrassment of it." Padraic said.
"I found him amusing," Dawn said.
"Glad to hear it," a voice said.
"Will you look at that. Cute as a pint-sized pot of peas, but its him!" Padraic exclaimed.
Indeed, the door had opened and there stood the Wee Man. He held a large fish, almost as big as himself in his arms. It looked like a steelhead.
And as he placed the fish on a barstool and then clambered up on another beside it , from far across the other side of the Island, the long wail of the the throughpassing train ululated across the greenish-tinged waves of the estuary and the shamrocks thronging the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its mysterious journey to parts unknown.
The dockwalloper that set in here through the week failed to knock down the freesias, but definitely polished off the fledgling tulips who never had a chance. It really brought out the jasmine, but it also brought out all the spineless vermin and Jose was out there cursing during the rare breaks in the rain as he dropped countless slugs and snails into salt water buckets only to see another horde come marching across from the vacant lot next door. Jose swears he could hear the sound of tiny bugles as they advanced.
The other day, Father Danyluk was called to the bedside of Old Peter who lay dying at the Water's Edge Retirement Home. Old Peter was understandably concerned. Nobody from the Firm to which he had devoted some 45 years of his life had come to visit him or even send a card. Old Peter was fearful that now, after a life of some 88 years, he had never amounted to much, had never built up a fortune to hand to his grandchildren, and never done any great things, never mastered Spanish or finished learning how to play the piano. That old piano sat there in the parlor for years until it got time to move out after Martha had passed on and the movers came and with incredible balletic grace these two men had pirouetted this massive grand Steinway up into the truck and it was gone. Just like that. Just Like him, never having played an entire song from start to finish for anybody.
Except for that one song he did for Martha so many years ago when they were courting.
What was that song?
O, he couldn't remember that. But it must have worked for she had married him. Over the next 48 years they had raised four kids, two boys and two girls and they had turned out all right. As for the score to that song, Martha had kept it in the piano seat but he had never looked at it again and then the movers had come and now it was gone. Gone like a lot of the memories.
What happened to that piano? O, he gave that to Edison High School. For the music program.
Father Danyluk spoke to him then, this man who knew he was about to die, and this is what he said.
Dust you are. To dust you shall return. By the sweat of honest work you earned your bread until this day, this time. Now that is all over.
We like to remember here on this Island in the land where you cannot count on the earth to remain firm under your feet that what is important, what really lasts beyond monuments and concrete structures, and banks is compassion. That is what will last long after each one of us has walked down to that beach to take that last one-way ferry trip to the Other Side. None of your bank accounts and none of your big deals memorialized in lucite matter in the slightest. What matters is the love we leave behind when we are gone. There is faith and there is hope and there is charity and finally there is love, and the greatest of these, I am given to tell you, is love.
I can say no more than that and so I commend you and your soul. Yes, I commend you! To go to that place which is best for you have earned it. All your transgressions, real and imagined, are forgiven.
With that the priest opened the door and had all the grandkids come in along with all the surviving friends from old times and those he had come to know since arriving at the Water's Edge.
Here, my good man, said Danyluk, Is the future. Stop worrying about it. Father Danyluk was famous for being unorthodox.
Old Joe had brought a DVD viewer with him. "Hey old friend, I got some great copies of "Behind the Green Door" and "Bodacious Tatas" guaranteed to perk you right up!"
"Now is not a good time," Father Danyluk gently chided him as all the little nephews thronged around.
The Man from Minot has been walking around the Sons of the Golden West meeting hall, which the SGW calls a "parlor" by tradition, but which used to be a biker gang hangout down there by the marina. He and David have been checking for any leaks from repairs made to the roof and walls after the disastrous Affair of the Easter Peeps. In most areas of the country Easter is generally regarded as a peaceful time, for it generally coincides nicely with Passover in a way Xmas and Channukah do not. In our neck of the woods, the presence of raccoons and firearms along with Western Machismo sometimes results in violent events of which the alleged Savior probably would not approve.
WWJ Say? "Don't do that!" And probably with irritation.
In any case the two of them eyed the beaded persperation under the rooftree with suspicion. What the devil put that hole up there?" asked the Man from Minot.
"Wally's 50 cal pistol," David answered.
"And the floor over there?"
"And I imagine the wall in the kitchen as well and the former aquarium stand too," the man from Minot said.
"Must have been hell of a shootout with drink and nudie girls there and all."
"Actually it was all over Easter peeps," David said.
"What is that?" asked the Man from Minot, who was a Unitarian willing to accept any sort of idea as long as it was reasonable.
"You probably do not want to know," David said. "Its religious and potentially explosive. There were no nudie girls."
In the Old Same Place Bar Padraic knew a thing or two about religious extremism and violence, but his attention was fixed upon a man who stood about three feet high in his socks sitting now at his own bar with a large fish beside him on the stool there.
"I'll have a Jamison's for me and an Arthur Power for my friend here, the Wee Man said. "Both on the rocks."
"Right," said Padraic. "One for you and one for your friend. Um, might he want a twist or something?" He bent down and spoke solicitously to the fish on the tray. "Might'nt ya want a nice twice or a slice perhaps?"
"Nonsense," the Wee Man said. "He is dead. Dead as a dead fish can be. Don't be a ninny. I'll drink them both."
"O! Right!" Padraic said.
The Wee Man finished first the one and then the other and then he smacked his lips and all who sat and stood there waited for what would happen next, for the Wee Man commanded attention like no one else of which anyone had ever heard or seen.
"Um," began Suzie a bit anxiously. "If you are going to do anything, like, down below, could you make them lined with cotton? Them metal threads really . . . Oh!"
The Wee Man clapped his hands and as he did so, several of the bar patrons and bar help yelped.
"O!" said Dawn.
"Hey!" Padraic said.
The Wee Man placed a solid gold Punt on the bartop and set out to go without his fish laying there on the barstool. He clambered on down to the floor, put on his cap and took up his walking stick and headed on out.
"What about your fish friend here?" Padraic asked.
"O him! Go ahead and eat him. He's good for ya! Best salmon in the world!" With a twinkle he was gone. At least for another year.
At the end of the day, they found the fish there laid out in a silver salver on a bed of crisp lettuce with a fine lemon sauce withal and all who tasted that fish found it famous for its smoked flavor. Padraic found that his sensible boxers had been transformed into a gold lame g-string, which he hung up there with the others from the previous episode.
The lovely Suzie kept smoothing down her green mini-skirt as if afraid a stiff wind might blow up; she had taken hers off and bunched them in her pocket. When Aisling appeared her face went bright red.
"Had no idea, them elvish types were such perverts," said Padraic.
"O, but they are, they are!" said Dawn. "Give me a kiss now for I am all hot and bothered. Come see what he did to me own knickers you naughty Commando you . . . !"
Things got a little steamy there in the Old Same Place Bar and the place closed early with hardly a clean-up as couples bolted for the door, hardly waiting to get one another's clothes off and go at it like crazed weasels in apartments and upstairs bedrooms all over the island. There must have been something in that salmon besides.
O, but the famous Spring of 2011 was fast anon.
Right then the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the laughing waves of the estuary and the erotic wildflowers wildly pollinating the 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 rollicking week.
BACK TO STORY INDEX