June 13, 2015
JAVIER'S BIRTHDAY THIS TIME
So anyway, first week of June rolled around and that meant it was time for high school graduations and Javier's birthday once again. This being Javier's 57th celebration, it was thought -- and hoped -- that this year things will have calmed down. About the graduations, it was expected that there would be some mayhem and as for life after high school, there existed similar wan hopes as for Javier's birthday. All the parents knew there would be trouble; they just hoped nobody died or went to prison for it.
The Island is a sort of place that takes Time on its own terms, trending to do things as things have always been done with scant good regard for changes just to keep up with the neighbors. That is why weeks after other local districts have packed up the cafeteria chairs and rolled up the boundary flags and stored the lecterns Island schools hold their ceremonies not one minute before May's darling buds have been tossed away in the rough winds.
After the series of dock sizzlers that ended May, June warmed up considerably with temps going into the 80's along the coast. The high fog of morning has given way each day to bright cloudless days that sailed overhead with effortless breezes.
Graduation day all the joyous grads filed down the way and across the track, wearing their rented gowns and caps, swishing to their metal seats out on the athletic field where some of them had seen glory, some of them embarrassment, many of them tedium and hard work and soon all that had been their lives for four years would change.
The invited speaker for the day was Charlie Stutz, an alum who was most noted for having played ball with the more famous Willie Stargell, and who had flown fighter planes in Korea and Vietnam and who had been a City Councilmember and then a County Supervisor for a couple decades during the turbulent Sixties. Somebody said he had been shot down and captured by the Viet Cong in addition to all this, but he really was most famous for having known Willie Stargell.
Even though Stargell had been born in Oklahoma and never played for a California team, he attended high school on the Island, and Islanders tend to grasp at what sliver of fame may offer itself like a brass ring, so they named a street after him.
Principal Juanita Juarez introduced the speaker and sat down as the white-haired Stutz made his way to the podium as Mr. Stivers, the School Superintendent in charge of event setup looked on anxiously for any signs of the usual annual pranks practiced by the outgoing senior class, who knew that no matter what they did, retribution would be distant and avoidable. Next to him sat the prim School Secretary Madeline Felcher. This year the Board had decided to issue a stern prohibition against tossing hats in the air, as last year far too many of these things either vanished or became damaged to great expense against the General Fund.
In any case there had been little sign of any serious trouble ever since someone had broken into the Principal's storage locker on campus a few weeks ago. In fact, the school had been uneasily quiet, which made Mr. Stivers very nervous.
"Class of 2015, I greet you from the other side," began Mr. Stutz. "I am on my way out, pretty soon to be out of all this stuff you are just getting messed up in and I know that there are some of you who are glad of that. Some of you say when the Baby Boomers are all gone, and I am one of the first, everything can start to improve and there will be no more Grateful Dead hippy retrospectives to plague us all. No more endless repetition of Hotel California."
This comment drew forth a few snickers.
"That is appropriate. We, too, believed the world would be better once all the darned Rat Pack Frank Sinatra with the black and white memories of Jackie Gleason had faded away and were buried finally under six feet of earth. Then we could enjoy our own music, our own memories, and not have to relive Gallipoli, Prohibition stories, barbershop quartets and those damn boater straw hats all over again in endless reruns. And finally, on that magic day, we could sit in that plush reclining easy chair in front of the modern TV set and change the channels ourselves without having to ask permission."
Nervous coughs. Scuffle of feet.
"Class of 2015, those things don't really matter. They never did matter. Your journey is your own and the first one that ever occurred, because this journey is happening to you, not to those who went before. Some of you may go out there and do really great things. You may climb mountains, found companies, become very rich, go bankrupt, get married, travel to distant countries where they do not speak English and do not care to learn how to do so, and it does not matter anyone did this before you, because you are yourself doing it now. No one can live your life for you . . . "
At that moment a tremendous explosion shook the earth and Mr. Stivers and Ms. Felcher turned pale as a black cloud arose from down by the Strand a mile away. Another cloud indicating a rather large fire arose also from that direction but nothing else happened beyond that and the distant sound of sirens.
Mr. Sturtz picked himself up off the floor of the Dias to re-approach the podium. He looked with attention at the seating area for administrators.
"I can see which of you are Officer material," he said. "You did not duck or take cover. Anyway, to continue, you never know when the unexpected will happen. That is why they call it 'the unexpected. . .'."
The explosion turned out to be entirely independent of the annual Senior prank. In the end, the Seniors waited until Lisa Sanchez delivered her speech.
"Class of 2015, I, Lisa Sanchez, am your Valedictorian. To me is given by tradition at this school the final speech of this assembly. This means that according to the Latin definition of the words "vale dictum", I am to say our general farewell. And so I say farewell to the faculty and staff of this noble institution that has tried to educate us for four years. I say good-bye to our mascot, the Least Tern, who although least among terns is greatest in our hearts . . .".
At that moment a motorized mini-aircraft flew across the area towing a sign, behind which fluttered a line of lacy lingerie of various colors. The sign read, "Principal Juarez's dirty knickers!" The drone did a pass and then circled about to return again overhead.
"Heyyyy!" Lisa said, before a line of roman rockets and fizzlers went off in a spectacular line in front of the stage from underneath the bleachers. All of the graduates, without exception chose that moment to toss their caps into the air with a great, collective "Huzzah!".
Mr. Stivers, ready with a fire extinguisher, ran about under the bleachers to put out the fireworks with the help of Ms. Felcher as grads and family dispersed while the drone continued to circle overhead until its batteries ran out and it crashed into the empty seats. Nevertheless, this was the fifteenth year in a row the reading of the roll had to be abandoned.
On the Strand Javier's birthday party proceeded with little incident. Denby was there with his guitar and Jose had come, not without some trepidation and precautions to be sure, and all the Household of Marlene and Andre had showed up and Martini had scored bags of iced premixed Cosmos and Margaritas and Long Island Iced Teas from the CVS where they were selling this stuff at 75% off. Suan had a Costco card from the Crazy Horse as a perk and she had gone out with Pahrump to fetch two bags of hotlinks and buns in industrial quantity along with something similar to potato salad, so there was food and drink and general merriment and nobody got stabbed and nobody got shot until Piedro showed up in a truck driven by some Guatemalan friends.
The pickup towed a chassis that carried what looked like a very large field cannon. This was Piedro's auctioned purchase of a 188 howitzer from the old Navy base when all the material had been sold off. The GSA is stern about selling off Federal property and is well known to be inflexible when it comes time to dispose, whether it be land or armaments. As we have seen with the McKay Avenue Opera. His friends parked this in the dead-end circle under the trees on McKay Avenue.
Usually the arms are rendered inoperable. Piedro, who had narco friends in Mexico City, had the inoperable part reversed. He could do that and he did. He also obtained live rounds from the same source who only asked that when finished with playing, they also got to play with this thing against a rival cartel. Piedro was normally a good boy who had not a criminal bone in his well-intentioned body, and usually acted in a way that made his abuelta proud of his honesty and industriousness. But of course good boys sometimes have bad company and really, who can choose their friends all the time.
"Mi amigo, I bring you birthday gift!" Piedro said. "Feliz Cumpleanos! I cannot wait until you are sixty when I really wanted to give this to you because so many of your old girlfriends want to kill you. I am not sure you will live so long. Maybe this will help."
"This is fun," said Javier, now interested and clambering over the chassis. "How does it work?"
"I think you push this in here and that there and there is a charge already loaded so I think you just press here. . . ".
The world erupted in an deafening thunder of fire and smoke and both men were thrown to the ground as everyone for about 100 yards covered their ears and babies started crying and dogs howled and sensitive people bled from the ears. Both of them lay there, stunned and insensible for several minutes.
The smoke arising to the heavens was seen as far away as the high school graduation ceremony at Island High.
"What is going on over there," Denby asked, pointing toward the Marina.
"I think that is Mr. Howitzer's yacht," Jose said. "I think they have hit it and set it on fire and destroyed it. We should get out of here now."
As sirens began to wail, Piedro tried to get his Guatemalan friends to hitch up and get gone out of there. But he had to pay for delivery first.
"I don't have money for that. They are coming and we are all going to be arrested if you do not act now.
They acted now. They promptly disappeared with their truck.
IPD Crown Vics blocked the exit to McKay and men in SWAT uniforms began approaching with guns drawn.
"Once again another birthday with Javier and I get arrested," said Jose complaining. "Why is this?"
"Tradition," Denby said, as the first polizei threw him down to the ground face first.
Then came the ululation of the throughpassing train from far across the water as it trundled from the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their moonlit towers, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock, its weedy railbed, and its chainlink fence interstices until the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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