So anyway. This week the first day of summer passed in a dense, chilling fog, which hardly impressed anyone with the idea that all was light and joy. If this was to be the Endless Summer, we all wanted no part of it for it was dank and dripping and full of ague.
Tommy thought the weather gave him chilblains, and Toby said he thought those were a type of Renaissance chairleg design and did that mean Tommy felt he had legs of carved wood or something.
The air is full of misunderstandings when the weather gets this way.
A sort-of reader named David wrote a letter to the Editor complaining that all the stories in the Island-Life were terribly depressing and that he would rather hear some happy stories with happy endings.
The Editor contacted this David and told him the story about little Adam being thrown from a car by his stepfather only to find community, but David found the premise depressing from the getgo. The Editor began the story about Rolf escaping the Eastern Bloc, but David found that story dreadful, with all its death and harsh passages, and nevermind its somewhat happy ending.
The Editor began the story about the Fire Monks, but realized that this story, also, suggested a terrible world existed which contains horrific destructive forces to which one must adapt, meet as challenge, or die.
Fire and suffering? Well that just does not do.
It seemed that what David wanted was a story that began happy, continued happy, and ended happy, with everything encapsulated within this happiness without threat of darkness. This sort of story was not what the Editor knew anything about. So he went to talk to some of his friends, to ask of them if they knew of a happy ending story.
The Editor found his friend Father Danyluk of the Church of Our Lady of Incessant Complaint, fishing at Crab Cove. The Catholic priest said, "You suffer so as to offer this up and so achieve redemption. That is your happy ending after so much suffering. God does not let contented souls just waltz through the Pearly Gates. He considers the wretched of the earth as his best material."
The Father cast out his line.
"No pain no gain. You should be happy you suffer; suffering gets you brownie points." The rod in the hands of the priest bowed down as if in prayer and the bobber out on the cove plopped under the surface. Hey! I just got one! If I can land this fellow, I'll be as happy as a clam . . .".
This seemed hardly satisfying, so The Editor went to his Buddhist monk friend, Roshi, who said, "Life is Mahayama - a vale of tears. All suffering comes from attachment. Let go of your attachment to happiness and you will find happiness."
The Editor said he had been misunderstood. He was not looking for meaning in suffering or any of that. He just wanted a happy story.
"Ah!" said Roshi, who got up from zazen to tap the little iron bell with a small mallet, causing a gentle "ting!"
The monk sat down again and closed his eyes with a half-smile upon his lips. "The bell makes me happy!"
As the Editor walked down the street he ran into Pastor Nyquist of the Immanuel Church, so he tried out his request on the Lutheran minister, who asked the Editor what he had done to answer his questions so far.
The Editor told him, added a few details of his own invention, embellished the ornateness of the bell and the deep green hues of the sedge floating down at the cove, and the minister started chuckling, clapped him on the back and told him to drop on by next Sunday, for he, the Editor had made him laugh in such a way that he had not felt so pleasant in many years. The minister then went on his way.
Finally the Editor came to the Old Same Place Bar, which is a place that houses many stories, and where it can be said that if you can wade through the teardrops, you will be welcome in the Home of the Blues.
There the Editor bellied up to the bar with its fetid jar of pickles on one end and its sparse donation jar for the IRA on the other, and began talking to the bartender, Suzie, the way the men at the bar will do, and Suzie, the bartender, listened with half an ear, the way bartenders will do until a fellow sauntered wearing a plaid vest with bright buttons and on each button was printed the image of the Union Jack. He sported a fedora with a quill stuck in the band and a visage that looked ravined and chiseled like the gully of some stony creekbed although his blue eyes were as merry as two marbles washed in clear water and when he introduced himself by the name of Graham, his voice carried a faint English lilt.
He put a coin into the IRA tip jar and nodded at Padraic hovering in the shadows.
The Editor asked Graham if he was a writer, by way of referencing the quill in his hat.
Graham responded, "Isn't everybody?"
When Graham heard all about the Editor's quest he sat and pondered. He seemed about to speak but then he had a drink and then pondered some more.
"Every story that is worth attending has an arc in shape. Usually this arc means the story begins or passes through misery before resolving into either happiness or unhappiness. Your friend David sounds like a happy fellow. Perhaps one who has achieved nirvana. What he wants to hear is the story that reflects his own life, which is a happy one filled with fortuitous circumstance.
This does not mean the fellow is shallow, undeserving, or ignorant in the slightest -- in fact, I suspect he is quite the contrary. In fact, he has found a way to guide you into searching for happiness when before it sounds like you had given up trying. He is offering you the possibility that the natural state of things is lightness and decency and beauty. And happiness.
So here is your story: a perfectly dashing, handsome, intelligent man met a lovely, extraordinary woman of spirit. They fell in love because they were meant for each other. They lived together during a tumultuous time of happenings and hope and, in time, their love bore fruit in the form of an ideal, golden boy named David. David's parents collected about them extraordinary people of talent and spirit and all who came into their circle were enchanted with the happiness that radiated among them. So there is your story, my dear Editor. Or at least most of it.
The Editor found this story incomplete and unsatisfactory. What good was this story, given that so few experienced this kind of thing? Why tell this story?
Well let us suppose that time passes and in the course of time the mother of this David passes away, and the day steadily marches forward to that day when the body's father also must pass away, for as we know all of life is a cycle of turn and return and all must pass. Suddenly one sees the black chasm ahead. Behind, there is only the pressure of memory driving you forward. Pity the man who has not prepared his bridge in advance. Like any bridge, you must create the underpinnings before arriving in the middle of the chasm. The bridge builder has to complete his task without the chief engineer on hand. That engineer was David and now he is gone. You must now finish the job. You must complete the bridge.
So you see it is up to you now to make this story have an happy ending. Or a happy continuation, as you prefer.
The Editor considered this, chewed his cigar, shifted from one side to the other, then spoke.
That is fine, but I can only tell my own story, not that of someone else. You have to talk about the things you know. People want a story with some excitement in it, some danger because those kinds of stories interest people. They want to live in that adventure for a while. And they want a happy ending because they want see some hope of a happy ending for themselves, not for someone else. People are selfish that way.
"Well, I am not so sure about all that, but then let me tell you a story about how me and my pal Jim were captured by pirates in the Caribbean."
Now this managed to catch the ears of everyone in the bar. All the old barflies and the hookers and even the dogs craned their necks so as to hear better as Graham told his story.
"Jim and me had set out from Chiuatuanajeho with bags of dope stuffed onto the backs of donkeys and we had many adventures on that road before reaching the coast, let me tell you. We had this idea of buying a boat and sailing to Cuba where I knew a friend who could put us up while we did some exchanges and unloaded the dope on somebody who could transport it to the States in the baggage of human mules who were pretending to escape Castro's hard rum communism for the wonderful democracy of Florida with all of its iced blender drinks featuring little paper parasols, but nevermind the details.
We get to the coast and get ourselves a boat from this scurvy-looking fellow with one eye who howled every ten minutes at his pet monkey he kept there chained to a post in his grass shack. We should have known something was up by the way he sniffed around our bags.
Upholstery we told him. Meant for hospital bedding in San Juan, but he didn't believe a word we told him. He just kept yelling at his monkey which kept trying to shag his pet goat there. There was a bit of haggling over this perfectly wretched looking sloop that looked fairly disreputable, with tattered sails, worm-eaten gunnels, and foul bilges sloshing with scorpions and dead rats. The fellow claimed the boat had been around the Horn four times and was as seaworthy as an Atlantic erne, but this thing looked like the horns of angry narwhals had taken a target practice fancy to its decks. Nevertheless, it was a boat and the man was willing to let it go with the papers are falsified quite nicely and there is not often such a deal to be had or so we thought and a ship's boy named Pepe Augustus came along with it.
Pepe looked like a fellow who had been used as the boat's drogue while doing those turns around the Horn. He had one eye, several nasy scars across his chest and sang like a dull sawblade cutting through an iron bar when he was drunk. On the other hand, he sang better than the two of us and he knew how to sautee a swordfish in a pan on a pitching deck along with a side of brussel sprouts seasoned to a perfect turn.
Besides, the man refused to part with his monkey, so Pepe would have to do.
We get out at sea and sure enough in the middle of a nasty squall that tossed us all around like loose marbles, we got boarded by pirates who did not treat us -- at first -- with a great deal of courtesy. Things looked pretty bleak and I said, Jim this time I think we are done for. He said, O nonsense, Graham, I bet this time next week you will be sipping Puerto Rican rum in some tropical harbor, and I said I bet not and he said I'll bet you five dollars. See if it isn't so.
In fact they chopped off Pepe's right arm with a machete, which caused our Ship's Boy a great deal of grief and made Jim more than concerned about his five dollars among other things. So the pirates kept us blindfolded down there in the bilge hold for a good while with Pepe lamenting the lost of his good arm until the sea calmed down somewhat and they put in somewhere -- we could hear the anchor go down -- and it came time for us to walk the plank. The entire time we were stuck in the hold we had to listen to these phrases and peculiar noise repeated over and over. Turned out it was the pirate captain's pet parrot, which had a limited repertoire of sounds: The phrases, "Who's zat?", "You're gonna die!", and the sound of an old-fashioned ringing telephone.
They brought us out on deck and it was time to walk out on this board they had nailed to the gunwales and step into oblivion so to speak. So the captain of that bunch, a nasty, snarly fellow with hairs coming out of his face where hair should not normally erupt amid a crusty distribution of boils, asks our last requests. Pepe asked for a cigarette and stands there, smoking, taking his time with the blindfold on, but then the time comes for him to walk, and so, a bit unsteadily he does with a bit of shouted help and some prodding because the man had been blindfolded and it is difficult to walk a plank in a decent line when such is the case and a man does not precisely want to get to the end of the plank right away.
Meanwhile all this time the captain's pet parrot kept repeating the only noises he knew.
In the end Pepe sort of paused there not moving forward or back until the captain pulls out a revolver and shoots him until Pepe falls off the edge into the sea and that was the end of our Ship's Boy, who we really missed at that point for Pepe had been a fine cook -- always an asset onboard a ship.
Then it came to the inevititable turn on the plank for Jim and me.
So I asks for a cigarette and for them to take off the blindfold.
Take off the blindfold you mean? Walk out there into certain horrible death with no blindfold now?
Yes and my partner Jimmy with me, because we have been so close all these years we might as well die together. Right Jimmy?
Well the pirates were mighty impressed with this so they took off our blindfolds and they tied us together and even gave us a bit of good whiskey and then and picked us up and put us on the plank and there on that plank I looked all around me at the amazing sea birds staying aloft with barely a tremor of wings.At the infinite blue of the horizon fringed with distant green fronds of exotic palms. At the churning water below, the water the ancient Greeks had called 'the wine-dark sea'. The salt-air that filled my chest was fresh, without any of the industrial poisons we dredge through our lungs. The sun shone bright with not a cloud in the sky. Today was a good day to die."
Everyone in the bar was all agog. And then what happened? What on earth ever did happen?
The way this plank walking works, the victim goes to the end of the plank, refuses to jump and the pirates shoot him off until he falls into the water and drowns or bleeds to death. One or the other. You have to walk; there is not choice. We had already heard what had happened to Pepe.
With no blindfold I can see how close the shore is, and bare half way across Jimmy boots the First Mate in the nuts and I kick my cigarette in the Captain's eye and we both jump off together in a fusillade of bullets, most of which missed us totally. We swim to shore and it took damn near a day working those ropes with clamshells, pissing and cussing at each other and Jimmy bleeding like a stuck pig from his gunshot wounds until we got ourselves untied on the beach under the tropical sun. O shutup, Jimmy, I said. At least you have a distraction from this miserable weather. At least you have a god damned hide like a porcupine and there I was all chafed from the ropes.
I remember the time we got up into the mountains to go fishing with a fifth of whiskey and you went ahead and blasted that bottle with your fourty-four. Never forgave you for that.
Saw, saw, saw. Damned hemp!
There we were, lifelong pals bitching and cursing all the while laying there under the hot sun on those pristine sands beside such a lovely stream. I don't think I ever will forget the taste of that fresh water when I finally got loose from me old pal. I just plunged my head in that stream and I assure you I nearly went to heaven right there and then and would'nt have minded if I had.
I got a ride out of there in a dingy owned by a one-armed Puerto Rican baseball pitcher named Leroy. Greatest pitcher ever lived but couldn't bat worth beans. Hitched a ride on an oxcart through San Juan and got totally smashed with dancehall strippers in a cabana on Guantanamo Point. Wound up hitching rides in single-prop island-hoppers until I finally made it back to New York where I could recover my Travellers Cheques. End of story."
Perhaps the story, told as it was, fraught with interruptions as folks ordered from the bar, had to take a break to piss (hang on a minute, put 'er on pause til Iget back) and Graham circumlocuted about parrots and the quality of rum in Puerto Rico, contained a few ambiguities requiring a plethora of questions, most of which went ignored and unanswered. Nevertheless, one pertinant question remained. Well what about your friend Jimmy? What happened to him?
"Jimmy? O he died on the beach long before I could cut him loose. Had to leave him. That part was not so happy and I am bummed about it for that rascal owes me five dollars. Still, it does make a great story."
The Editor had to admit this was a fine story indeed.
"Well now you have two with which to work," Graham said. "Take your pick. And remember this: walk the plank with eyes wide open. "
From far across the water, the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the piratical waves of the estuary and the buccaneer grasses of the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive corsaired its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its roving journey to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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