JUNE 1, 2014
NOT THE WAY IT USED TO BE
So anyway, Jose stepped out onto the porch of the Household and greeted the dun gray skies of morning. The fog banks have begun rolling in to keep a high profile, which happens at the turn of every season. Fog in late May meant searing scorchers later in summer. But for now, all was cool and quiet.
Change in seasons meant graduations and changes in the lives of many people Graduations meant the season had also arrived for lucrative dumpster diving. Each year the outgoing class at UCB made their goodbyes to the Bay Area and tearfully departed for to return to those far distant lands from which they had come years ago, to Trinidad, Tobago, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, China, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Illinois, Arizona, and the Land of 10,000 Lakes, exotic Wisconsin. Before returning to their far off hometowns, the graduates unloaded all the college detritus that would be too arduous or expensive to tote back to brownstones in New York, over the covered bridges of Pennsylvania, and around the Horn to Oman.
Hence it was that post-graduation UCB dumpsters held the best booty: down comforters, scads of futons, pillows, stereo systems, TV sets, microwaves, small refrigerators, jeans, jackets, sweaters, blouses, boots and shoes, boot trees, Monopoly boards, umbrellas, bell jars, fantods, stone frogs, cups, dishes, silverware, dishwashers, loofahs, Frisbees, Tesla coils, baskets of every description, original art and kitsch, bicycle parts, bicycles, gym sets including free weights and benches, and much more besides, all worthless to the relatively soon-to-be post-student loan investment banker biologist CPA types but of immense value to those people will little or nothing to start inhabiting the Gray Markets of the world.
That is why when Pahrump came around with his scooter, Jose climbed aboard with the House Flexible Flyer wagon strapped to his back like a tortoise shell and off to regions beyond the Sather Gate, home of Free Speech and, in a way, the Free Market. Martini followed after them on a bicycle he had assembled from found parts. It had a pink girl's frame, tasseled handlebar grips, a seat that had once been a barstool, brakes of indifferent utility, and a larger front wheel than the rear supporting ape-hanger handlebars.
All of the local universities with residences for students go through this reflexive period just before and following the nervous last rites of bureaucracy involving robes and tassels, ex-matriculation forms, and final meetings with friends, who became suddenly overnight colleagues in a profession. Those of the higher order need go through the paper, processing and payment for copies of those perfect bound tomes, one for the library and one for parents, and another for someone Special, and five to keep on the shelf as if those months of researching the persistent generational genomic markers seen through erotic behaviors of the Drosophila , the watery manifestations of Anna Livia Plurabelle as seen through archetypal imagos of ancient feminine power, and the significance of the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, in helping to codify post Magna Carta English law could now be put aside, done with forever and never to be troubled at two in the morning by a possible trick question in the third hour of one's pitiful oral defense in front of stern Dr. Zimmerman, he the one they call "The Hammer of God".
What is left after all the drama and tedium and the long march up the aisle to the beat of execrable music is a sort of aimless shuffling in suddenly bare rooms, once packed with life and adventures and now looking so . . . blandly institutional. A dust bunny sits forlorn by the baseboard. You look out the window and see the view you have seen through the changes and wait for some Big Moment to arrive, like a golden stream from the heavens accompanied by a chorus of angels, all looking like Emma Thompson and singing in A minor. But nothing like this happens. You see two tramps loading a Flexible Flyer Wagon with stuff pulled from the dumpster. Someone calls, it is time to go, and as you leave, you close the door behind you.
Up in the hills, across from the Greek Orthodox church, Mr. Terse observed a monarch butterfly flippy-floppy loop and dip to land on a convenient twig a few yards from the window of his car and he idly speculates about popping the fellow with his holstered 9mm Luger pistol, but decides to preserve relative anonymity in this neighborhood while continuing his watch on the doors of the chapel where Wally's son, Joshua has taken the refuge of the hunted whistleblower, chased by the ATF, the TSA, the FBI, the NSA and the California FTB for outing the Mayor's clandestine eavesdropping programs which had been gathering information from various agencies by way of bugged toilet stalls.
It was a dirty program, one that stank to high heaven after Joshua got the papers published by Wiki-Leaks. Naturally, the Pee Tardy Party folks were incensed and called for blood. So Joshua had to take a quick boat in the dead of night, traversing secret covered waterways traveling upstream along the path of the long unseen Sausal Creek until he got to the Chapel and there claimed sanctuary. The authorities found him there easily enough for he gave a press conference in the apse, declaring, "Shall we not live free and crap in privacy? Shall we not pinkle without fear of prying? Is nothing sacred in this land any more? Ladies and gentlemen! Four score and hella more years ago our forefathers and foremothers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principle that all men shall poop in peace!"
The speech stirred many to call Joshua an hero. Mr. Terse had the opinion Joshua was a traitor and he would have liked nothing better than to put a 9mm bullet square between the boy's eyes. After due process of course. In fact, Mr. Terse had retired from the Services ten years ago -- he took on the current assignment of helping keep watch over the church entirely out of a sense of patriotic duty and a sense of camaraderie with his sometime friend Mr. Spline, who indeed still was employed some nebulous shadowy Agency so secret no one knew its acronym. "It's a division of DIS. I can't tell you any more than that," snapped Mr. Spline.
He heard a noise upslope and slunk down in his seat to take a look over his shoulder without being obvious. A man with a large nose and wild black hair flowing underneath a bicycle helmet came down the hill on a scooter towing a red Flexible Flyer Wagon piled high with what looked like industrial trash. On top of the pile sat an Hispanic male about twenty-two years of age and wearing what looked like a colander for a hat. Behind them a pudgy Italianate man drove a pink girl's bicycle with a TV set and a statue of the Venus de Milo perched between the high handlebars.
Mr. Terse's cell phone rang with its usual tone -- The Battle Hymn of the Republic. "This is Terse. Hello?"
It was Mr. Spline calling to ask about the status.
"I think I just saw Don Quixote and Sancho Panza drive by on a scooter," Mr. Terse said.
There was the sound of rustling papers over the line. "I don't find those names in the code sheet," said Mr. Spline . . . .
The Man from Minot was standing morosely outside the Old Same Place Bar talking to Eugene about how the Bay Area had lost a lot of its charm recently. Everything had gotten so expensive it was getting harder to live. Everywhere you looked, people in a bad mood all the time, running their little games.
A new crescent moon hung over everything with the dim outline of its dark face promising more to come later.
It aint like it used to be, Eugene said. That's for sure. He was born and raised in Antioch.
The rents have gotten obscene, said the Man from Minot.
And then there's the property taxes, one after another, Padraic chimed in. Whatever happened to Prop 13?
And the homeless -- gosh darned everywhere nowadays. Eugene said. Ever since that Reagan emptied the mental hospitals onto the street. It's not like it used to be.
I don't know how it used to be, said the Man from Minot, but it sure has gotten worse. It's like all the whimsy has fled the place for cheaper rent. I dunno, I just dunno.
There was a little beep beep and they heard someone calling out "Howdy Padre!"
Then they saw Father Danyluk walking down the street and something after him which soon passed. "Howdy boys!"
The group of men stared as Pahrump drove by slowly on his scooter, towing the red wagon with Jose sitting on top holding down the load.
Behind them pedaled the puffing Martini with his porcelain replica of the Venus de Milo.
You was sayin' somethin' about the whimsy, Padraic said.
The men returned to the bar after Denby started playing again and the old men talked of old times and the way it used to be.
There's an evenin' haze settlin' over town
Starlight by the edge of the creek
The buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down
Money's gettin' shallow and weak
Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory
It's a new path that we trod
They say low wages are a reality
If we want to compete abroad
When Martini and the others got back to the Household with their haul, some expressed disappointment at the things brought in.
"What the hay! How you going to unload that Venus statue?" Tipitina asked Martini.
"I am not going to sell her. I am going to keep here right here. This house needs a little love brought in here."
Marlene laughed and had to agree.
It was a quiet night after that with gentle fog rolling in to
the sounds of breeze and nightbirds calling and a peace pervaded the Island.
No sirens ripped the night, no one got stabbed and no one got shot.
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