JUNE 19, 2016
THE HOMEBOY RETURNS
So anyway, the blustery winds of late gave up to spottled skies of erratic cloud and hot sun. Sunday dawned clear and bright with high skeins of high wind clouds heading east. Deer cluttered past in the early morning on the road below the Island Life offices. The potted gardenia next to Elizabeth's house finally opened up to spread a sweet aroma around the yard and ruby throated hummingbirds darted around the jacaranda. Roses, on a meager water allotment due to the five-year drought, nodded their large heads in the swelling heat. It's Father's Day.
Juanita swept the floor of the taqueria and stood in the doorway on Park Street as families walked past, most going to Ole's Waffle Shop for breakfast, or Joe's Diner which already sported a long line out the door and down the sidewalk, but a few came in to have coffee and huevos rancheros from the kitchen and mimosas from the bar. The Almeida family was there in the center with two tables shoved together to accommodate the crowd. Juanita stood in the doorway waiting for the group to order, an hummingbird zipped down to pause and examine her a moment before darting around the corner of the Lucky 13, where Samantha was just then taking the stools off of the table tops to open the place for the bloody mary crowd.
The Fencers came walking down the street with their kid, Brian. Mr. Fencer, who ran a print shop in Oaktown as a front for his real business -- processing stolen credit card numbers -- was teaching little Brian how to steal wallets from open purses. Mrs. Narita Fencer wore her best broad brimmed hat and carried a large Hello Kitty bag for shoplifting. Today was a family day.
A loud Ah-Oogah! announced Percy Worthington Boughsplatt driving down
the street in his immaculate two-toned beige and brown 1929 Mandevill-Brot
coupe with his consort Madeline beside him, dressed as usual in a fetching
pillbox hat, feather boa, and black heels. As a longtime member of the
Berkeley Explicit Players, Madeline wore, as usual, nothing else, and
all the mothers covered the eyes of their sons as Percy drove past and
Madeline cheerily waved from the open top convertible.
Nick had returned for a visit to the town where he had grown up
Nick Traveller was in town with his daughter. Nick had returned for a visit to the town where he had grown up, but this place which for a while had been forgotten by Time had changed. He drove down Santa Clara after nearly getting lost in the West End because there was all that new development with the new Target out there on former Navy land.
He drove past the house where his best friend Jim had lived until his death by gunshot in the park a few years ago and did not pause there although he knew his widow still inhabited the old house wreathed in wisteria.
As he passed the place where he had once played baseball beside the school, he saw the field was now a parking lot for the Mastic Senior Center. He paused for a moment trying to get his bearings and found out from a guy who lived on the corner that the old Victorian had burned down in the seventies, leaving only the shed outbuilding still standing behind yet another parkinglot.
He drove past the chain link fence that guarded the lot for the Senior Center and the new tall cell towers there and parked in front of where Pagano's used to be. A big "For Rent" sign hung in the window and the old green awning was gone. Across the street, weeds grew on the empty lot which had once hosted Vines cafe and the plant nursery. He cut over to Encinal where the newer high school buildings hid the older structure that had been abandoned because of earthquake damage. The bookstore was closed and the mural paintings on the outside walls that had been done by the artist owner had been whitewashed, leaving a big blank space which graffiti artists had taken advantage off. The cat which had sat in the window for years was gone as well, of course. The first cat, named Buckingham, had died after fifteen years while he had still lived a few blocks away, but the owner had replaced the animal with the spitting image of the first one, so it always gave the impression that Buckingham had never left, had been immortal.
Down close to Park, the old flower shop with the art deco neon signs and tile storefront had closed. The signs were still there and the front was still tiled, but the place had been turned into a chic art boutique, a place that sold new furniture carefully distressed to look aged and more valuable than it was. The Silversmith was gone, a tchotchkes shop had replaced the Boudin bakery that had stood there for fifty years, and gone also was the Pillow Park furniture store where his parents had bought his first bed.
Kids on skateboards zoomed up to the edge of the two block downtown and dutifully obeying the signs painted on the corners, got off and carried them into the Java Hut coffeeshop. It was still a coffeeshop, but it had another name, a name he could not recall.
He had wanted to show his daughter this place which had been such a marvelous place, or so it seemed in memory, although as he sat down in Juanita's back patio area he did recall the powerful urge that had lodged in him to escape this small place to seek excitement in the City and even further off, as far as possible to get away. He had to remember that it was here that he had suffered the consequences of that run in with the Angry Elf drug dealer, which had been largely the main reason for moving away. As far as he knew the Angry Elf still lived on St. Charles Street across from that man the kids called Angry Andre.
When he bought his first car, a 1977 Volvo with an immense cavity on the passenger side where the sellers had told him a Monte Carlo had ploughed into it, the sellers -- themselves a charming pair of women living in the East End -- asked him if "that angry man who shouts a lot" still lived there.
"Dad," his daughter asked. "What's a merkin?"
The little town that had forgotten Time had not been forgotten by Time itself. Signs of change were everywhere with new storefronts and changed names everywhere. He wondered if that house owned by the Howitzers on Otis still sheltered a large number of ne'er do wells and he supposed it still did as the rental situation had only gotten worse.
"Dad," his daughter asked. "What's a merkin?"
"What? Where did you see that?"
"On coming in, I saw a shop on Webster called "Marvin's Merkins - Put a Merkin in Your Firkin."
Just then Juanita came by to take their order.
"It's a kind of toupee, isn't it?"
"Sort of. I'll tell you later."
A ruby-throated hummingbird came down into the open patio and paused to stare at them before darting off.
Out on the street, Mrs. Blather was complaining to Mr. Blather outside of Christine's. "I cannot recall where I last laid my wallet. I thought I had it with me in my purse . . ."!
A small woman bearing an Hello Kitty bag turned the corner to enter the arched brick arcade and disappeared.
Down at Crab Cove Father Danyluk flicked his line out over the water and said hello to the members of Tony Savage's Wiccan group as they made there way down to the glade so as to prepare for the upcoming Solstice, as the morrow would be the longest day of the year. Ruby throated hummingbirds danced among the tall tules of the inlet and shadows grew long and Nick Traveller left the island with his daughter in the rented car he had from the airport, taking with him only a t-shirt from the Walgreens and a bag full of memories.
All the celebrants from Javier's 58th birthday party had been let out of jail and they were celebrating with another jug of 99 cent wine down on the strand as the sun slid behind the distant hills of Babylon across the Bay. Inside the house, Marlene moved about the kitchen, cleaning up while little Andre studied his algebra on the linoleum topped table. Beneath the floorboards, the rats stirred quietly around the rusty mechanism of the furnace. The opossum nosed an old corncob and moved on with its children sneezing after in search of an open garbage can somewhere in the Gold Coast area of the Island.
Night fell and Juanita pushed the mop across the floor of the empty restaurant on Park Street a few miles away. It was a peaceful night and no one got stabbed and no one got shot.
As the clock ticked over to the new day of Summer, the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stood glowing with their multi-kilowatt sentry lights; it quavered across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the moonlit grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline; it moaned through the cracked brick of the old abandoned Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed, and it keened between the interstices of the chainlink fences as the locomotive glided past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.