TALK OF THE TOWN - BOAT TROUBLE

March 25, 2007

Its been a chilly week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Silly Hall, having done just about as much damage as it could do for now, has settled back while the jackhammers and construction equipment make a mess of Oak Street while building the Cineplex Monstrosity. All the folks from Socal are walking around wearing parkas and muttering to themselves about the cold -- its all of 64 degrees right now.

March is certainly an unsettled month all over. People have been cracking through ice along lakes all over the place. Latest report is of a fellow who took a dip in the St. Lawrence and very nearly went over Niagra Falls. A kid up north in the Sierra was standing on a block of ice which broke loose, taking him out into the stream where he stood, entirely petrified with fear until rescuers got him back to shore again. Up in Lake Woebegon, we hear that the town drunk fell through the ice and was rescued without obvious damage to his system, although the shock seems to have turned him against alcohol, which is a very serious thing to happen to a man's self-assessment.

Yes, we don't trust this crazy weather. You start out with the usual morning fogs hanging high over the Bay bridges, until that stuff burns off, leaving this suggestion of hope as sunshine spears down, but then the wind kicks up and starts tossing the boat and in the next minute its spitting down and there you are, coming about with your jib all rattling and your mainsail luffing and the tiller is cold as ice in your hands. My goodness the shore seems far away now and whose idea was it to sail to the lighthouse anyway? Somebody had a copy of Virginia Woolf was it? And then you had a few nips of brandy in your coffee and wouldn't it be grand to watch the sun rise over the headlands. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But when the boom comes around it knocks Eugene even more senseless than he usually is, and there's Mike howling for you to slow down while he is trying to keep the flaccid boy from sliding off the deck into the seafood salad of sharks now gathering expectanty about you. The rain becomes hail and everything is coated now with ice and the little boat tosses this way and that and its all you can do to keep her lined up with the prow pointed into the waves like you were taught and along comes one of those immense freighters from the port, lumbering with majesty some two football fields in length and towering some six stories above you in a picturesqe fashion as it comes bearing down.

The thing is so huge that there is no way for it to turn aside for the sake of a sailboat. Turn aside? Heck, the draught of this thing is so deep, the pilot cannot deviate from the channel in the slightest. The San Francisco Bay, immensely broad as it is, does not exceed eighteen feet in continuous depth for most of it, and even the deep portions are scattered with shoals.

By luck and good fortune the freighter goes by with an hair's breadth to spare, sailors on the deck high above, gawking down at the sight. What on earth are those fellows doing down there? Everyone sighs. Until the wake of the freighter smacks the little boat and there you are, surfing on towards Angel Island with its own sattelite of navagation hazards. One of these you hit and the three of you are pitched into the water. That down jacket becomes a sodden weight, which you discard, as well as your shoes and your pants, which enables you to dogpaddle ignominiously to land. Where Mike starts to cry in the sand.

As you and your shivering companions -- equally pantless -- watch your prized sailboat settle a bit offshore from the sandy beach there, the boat's one gay pinnace flag limply swaying from the mast, you remember you were supposed to pickup little Shelly from the dentist office in downtown Oaktown, and bring her to school that morning. And so she is standing out there, a little lost girl on the corner of 14th and Broadway waiting -- in the rain -- for her ride which will never appear. And that's when she starts to cry, attracting the notice of Officer O'Madhauen. And you remember Martha's temperament and her sincere threat to end the marriage should you forget one more time anything so much trivial as to take out the garbage.

So there you are, no shoes, socks or pants, shivering within sight of your broken sailboat, a blubbering Mike sobbing to himself and a swoozy Eugene staggering about trying to focus a brain that never really was ever fully in gear when a group of girls -- all wearing yellow raincoats -- on a middle-school field trip come down the rocks. When they see you they start screaming, and none of your explainations seem to make things any better. The girls are soon followed by rangers who arrest all of you for public lunacy and indecent exposure.

Gee, wouldn't this be a good time for a slice of rhubarb pie? Yes, nothing takes away the pain of shame and humiliation in times like these like a slice of Grandma's Original Beebop Rubarb Pie. . . .

Mama's little baby loves rhubarb rhubarb
Mama's little baby loves rhubarb pie . . .

That's the way it is on the Island, where we swear to keep our Ideas Original and Fresh, just like Grandma's pie. We always tell the truth and we have never stolen an idea from anybody.

Have a great week.