GRADUATIONS, TRADITION AND JAVIER'S BIRTHDAY
June 19, 2011
Gradually the roiling clouds plodded stolidly to the eastern horizon, leaving angelic sweepers behind to clean up after the trumpeting elephants in the sky had marched over the mountains. The weekend bloomed like a golden poppy and everybody took to their gardens to see what could happen with the rest of the season.
Over in the Island Offices things got stormy when Denby revealed that he had finally learned how to play "Walking Blues" properly. The Editor was incensed.
"Why the HELL did you not do that for the Walkabout episodes instead of that horrible noise!" The Editor then began furiously eating galley sheets from the AP newswire -- always a bad sign in an newsroom -- and Denby scampered out of there for the Editor was wroth.
Denby had been under the impression things were getting better. Paul had gotten a loop machine for the Monkey Spankers -- he always had possessed more cash flow due to his job in the City as a Derivatives Explainer for Mclaffing, Pivot, and Scammem. His job had been to write up long epistles describing esoteric financial instruments as if they were perfectly simple things guaranteed to make money by magic so as to help persuade people with money to hand pots of it into the care of men and women with all the emotional maturity of teenagers. Capitalism at its purest form. With this loop machine they no longer needed to hire a drummer, who generally fell asleep in the cheese dip at each gig anyway.
Everything was going to be so much better now they had this machine and Denby was going like mad on the Gibson along with the track, or so he thought, until Paul commented, "Denby, that is not a parrot-head calypso but a 12 bar blues. Stop that now."
All over California the post-graduation parties flung themselves into motion. Almost all of the public schools had done with their ceremonies here in May, with a few stragglers, along with the private parochial schools ensuring misery for the students into June. The so-called "good schools" like to draw out this entirely unnecessary agony of high school for a few more hours out of some kind of sadistic impulse or medieval urge, perhaps. No body knows why exactly, unless it relates to some bureaucratic arrangement of numbers regarding hours per school year. Nobody is fooled. It really is all about trying to impress the suffering kids with the idea they are "different" and "special" and "gifted."
Everybody knows teens loath those terms worse than Nathaniel Hawthorne's scarlet letter. Being "special" is a curse. Special is Vinnie who drools all during class and has to be taken by hand to go to the bathroom. Nobody wants to be like that. Which just goes to show you, the people who organize things are fools and the people who have to carry out this organization are bound to regretful servitude.
This is what the kids to look forward to have as models. No wonder so many wind up the way they do -- horror of horrors! -- just like their parents.
The East End kids have parties organized by their parents, which feature Uncle Bob flying in from New York, dropping in actually as part of a business trip to SF, and really boring adults talking about themselves -- who had died, who was dying, gall bladders, ankle supports and so on. The recent grad is simply an addon provided as an excuse to kvetch over ambrosia and coffee. He was always an addon throughout his entire career. He was born because that was the right thing to do at the time. At family gatherings he was lost among the category of "The Children." At weddings and funerals he filled the pew as Obligatory Urchin; that side of the family. Music is supplied via party tapes, and in the more adventurous households, a karaoke machine.
At the first opportunity the grad escapes to the garage to sniff glue with Maryjane and friends, which may explain why we have the society of stockbrokers that we have now, for to that routinized pattern the boy is destined.
In the West End, the kids arrange their own parties with kegs and live music performed by friends on makeshift stages made of loading pallets. Sometimes the parents are invited, but most often not, for parents are realized at that point to be largely extraneous. These kids worked their way through the tedium of high school by putting in hours at the poodle salon, the animal shelter, the pizza parlor, the coffeehouse, and the drugstore, so they have the means to make it happen.
Instead of glue, Maryellen snorts coke with Brad on the picnic table.
We do have our traditions on the Island. And no amount of gentrification will change that. You can sell all your fine houses for all kinds of ridiculous sums, and most certainly you will find a few fools foolish enough to buy them enough to lose their shirts in the end, but nothing will change our traditions.
At Encinal, as the newly freed grads milled about and leapt into one another's arms with glee at the imagined prospective freedom Mrs. Sanchez (nee Ms. Morales) came across Karen, who still had one more year to go. She had shown up to say sad farewell to graduating Arne. Arne already had a job lined up at Norman Racing Motors up in Berkeley. Soon, the relentless round of hours and days would claim his time.
Ms. Morales knew Karen and that her time had been especially harsh with the implosion of her family and her struggles in the past few years. If Woody Allen had divided the world into the the Horrible and the Miserable, with most of us living among the miserable, Karen's life definitely had been thrown into the cauldron of the other. Reflexively, Ms. Morales looked for new scars on the girl's arms.
"Only one more year for you and then you are out," Ms. Morales said. Karen still thought of her as Ms. Morales, her gradeschool teacher, instead of her new name.
Karen remembered her old schoolteacher as one who had been kind to her. "I can't wait to get out of here. When I get out of here I am going away and never ever coming back to this awful little town." She said.
"Well," said Ms. Morales. "I guess I can understand that. Where do you plan to go?"
"Long Beach." Said the girl. "Down to LA where nobody knows me."
"LA. That is a very big place." Ms. Morales said.
"Yes. I want out of here. Away from all this . . . this small town smallness . . . this wretched limitation of everything and . . . and all the stupid concerns about the Point and the Base and you can't even hold a rave out there because they are afraid of things getting out of hand. All the . . . the monkeys running wild! Ha ha ha! They are so afraid and its so stupid. I hate it here and I will never come back!"
"Welll, I do think it is important for young people to see the world. Go out and see it for what it is and put their hands on it. So I wish you well, Karen," said Ms. Morales.
"I just want to be allowed to be myself," Karen said unhappily. "I need to get away forever."
That is when Ms. Morales stepped up on tippy toes and kissed Karen on the forehead. "You know I come from Mindanao in the Philippines. At my age I thought life was all over and I would never have any lover or husband and I had become resigned to my fate to die as an old maid. But then came Mr. Sanchez and he saved me from myself and a long lonely life. Sometimes things happen that are good. Wherever you go, even if you never return, please remember that there are those here who love you still."
That night in the Old Same Place Bar the Editor sat down heavily in his seat. Padraic came over. "Well look at the devil himself, cute as something dragged in by the cat. What'll ya have tonight?"
"An Old Fashioned, of course," snapped the Editor before returning the cigar to his mouth.
"Right-o! Right-o! Give the man an Old Fashioned," Padraic said to Suzie.
"Muddled, if you please," said the Editor.
Old Schmidt was there waving around his stein and buying drinks. He bought a drink even for the Editor.
"Wussup?" asked the Editor.
"Hannover ist Viertel im Europaeische Pokal!" said Old Schmidt, as if that explained everything.
"I have not a god damned idea what you just said," the Editor commented.
"Hannover is deep in Euro Cup with football," explained Old Schmidt
Hanover is in German soccer pretty much what the Chicago Cubs is in relation to the World Series except the Cubs have always had more chances and better talent. Rooting for Hanover has traditionally been akin to cheering for the Edison Otters against Notre Dame. Noble but rather foolish.
This year, due largely to purges of criminal elements from world
soccer, Hanover had inexplicably battled its way to the top of the fiercest
bundesliga competitions in Europe where they do take soccer very very seriously.
Hanover had been so bad for so long they had crept up entirely without warning.
"Where's your main main Jose?" Suzie said, just making conversation.
"He's had a birthday party with Javier," the Editor said. "Things always go ill during those things."
"O really," Suzie said.
"Yes. This time he exploded."
Right then there was no more time to explain for, from far across the way, the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the celebratory waves of the estuary and the Spring wildflowers blooming over 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.
The weekend dawned cloud-free with infinite promise of perfection and the scent of BBq wafted across the Island under skies painted an intense bright blue.
Besides Father's Day, the weekend also featured Juneteenth celebrations in a lot of places. Juneteenth commemorates the days when news of the Emancipation Proclaimation finally reached the furthest corners of America, then undergoing the national agony known as the Civil War.
It was a delightful weekend to be out and about, especially for the recent high school graduates, however both Javier and Jose remained together in hospital recovering from their wounds sustained during Javier's birthday celebration.
The two were out at the Strand, getting thoroughly drunk on box wine with Quentin and Pahrump when Javier got in mind to haul out his replica blackpowder cannon from the online store Bud-K. They were down on the flat packed sand part of the beach with the tide gone out, far enough from the house so that there would be no mishap as had happened a couple years ago when the house had nearly burned down on Javier's fiftieth.
They packed the thing up with black powder and Quentin tossed in a few rocks for good measure so that when the cannon went off with the help of Pahrump's bic lighter igniting a lighterfluid-filled tiki torch they kept stuck in the sand a jet of flame shot out a good three feet from the muzzle and several seagulls dropped out of the sky as Bonkers and Wickiwup scampered like hell back to the house in terror.
"Arrrrg," said Quentin.
"Are you trying to be a pirate?" Jose said as he stoked the cannon for another jolly volley.
"No," Quentin responded. "Here comes Valerie. And she looks pissed."
In truth Javier's goth girlfriend came storming down the beach howling imprecations at Javier. Nothing is more fearsome than an angry raven-haired woman sporting nasty tattoos and enough metal hardware pierced in her face to rebuild the Terminator.
When she got there, howling imprecations which could cause an old sailor to turn pale, she began punching Javier who tried to fend her off while the guys stood around and Jose tried to protect the precious cannon. After kicking the man a few times Valerie pulled out a small pistol and began firing at Javier. This made most of the men start running for their lives.
The first few shots popped the lighterfluid can which sent a spray all over the cowering Jose by the cannon. Javier got winged in the meat of his left calf, the one leg which had not until this point been broken or pierced by an angry amore.
The thing jammed but Valerie kept squeezing the trigger while Javier lay there groaning on the ground until the jammed bullet did what those things do in such cases -- it exploded in her hand, sending sparks and tiny shrapnel everywhere. The sparks ignited Jose who in turn ignited the bag of black powder beside the cannon and witnesses reported they saw a small fireball erupt on the beach, followed by a loud "KABOOM!"
Valerie angrily threw down the now useless pistol and stalked off as the column of fire became a small mushroom cloud that shaded the sands below for a while before dissipating in the shorebreeze..
Later, in the Highland Trauma Unit, Jose asked Javier what had made this one so angry this time.
"She didn't like the way I cooked her eggs this morning," Javier said. "Which led to un poco conflicto. Una pequeña pelea de amantes."
"O! A little lovers' quarrel. Afortunadamente no serio." Then he added as an afterthought, "Feliz cumpleanos. Please do not invite me next time."
Sunday was Father's Day, and as per tradition the girls in the Marlene-Andre Household all hooked up with their various dads. Because of the Great Recession there was no joint breakfast at Mama's Royal Cafe this year, so each found her own way to honor dear old Da and in the Old Same Place Bar Padraic cleaned and polished the glass over the photograph of Firmanaugh O'Reilly, The old Fir, as Padraic called him.
The Old Fir had saved all his Punts in a sack under the bed, working as an odd jobs man in County Wicklow, driving his battered bicycle up and down the hills from one painting job to landscaping job to wall-repair to tending horses for the gentry all the way from Dun Laoghair to Baile ath Cliath and Belfield. Finally enough had been saved up to send Padraic to America, to far off San Francisco. Then, in the third year of Padraic's leaving, the Old Fir had died when there had not been enough money for peat to stoke the stove in the cottage there where he had lived since his ma had passed on earlier, his only legacy being in the form of a tick at the Golden Ball on the road to Eniskerry.
Padraic paid off the tick from America and so had never returned, as there was no need to do so now, joining the vast diaspora of some 30 million Irish wandering the globe. So they all had a toast to the Old Fir, for he had been a mighty man in his day and the world shall not see his like again.
"D'ya miss him?" Suzie asked.
"His manner of waking me up after the alarm was to toss a kettle of cold water on me head. He never learned to cook worth beans, not even stirabout, for he either burned or undercooked it every time whatever it was." Padraic said. "His cooking was as bad as the English for all of that. Let's have a toast to the Old Fir."
And so with misty eyes they all had a glass in memory of the Old Man himself, for he was as gnarly as a blackthorn stick, as crusty as shepard's pie, as tough as a wall of stones, hard as a roofslate, mossy as a foggy glen, mean as a fox, shrewd as vole and blessed with an heart of gold withal for he paid for his boy to escape that horrid place and come to America.
Right then from far across the Port of Oaktown, the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the reminiscing waves of the estuary and the paternal wildflowers blooming over 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 great week.
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