JULY 4, 2014
INDEPENDENCE DAY FOLLIES
So anyway, July opened up here with days of high fog blotting the blue sky until midafternoon, when the sun's battalions fought through with spears of sunshine for a brief reprieve until the late afternoon's prevailing winds shifted allowing the dense formations of fog to march inland once again.
Babylon remained cool on the 4th, but the Island warmed up during the 9k race, which, because the course was limited by our boundaries, involved two circuits, looping around the South Shore Center, cutting down Shoreline to Crab Cove, wending in squiggles through Washington Park, knocking out past the former low rent apartments vacated during the time an out-of-town developer from Texas tried to convert them surreptitiously into luxury condos without telling the Council.
Something about the high walls, the security system and especially the Olympic swimming pools (two of them) tipped off even our usually somnolent leaders, who reacted to public outrage by collectively putting their foot down. Since our Council seldom engages in ostentation they voted to have Councilperson Frank to do it for them. Put his foot down, that is. In a big meeting with the developers around the old Oak Meeting Table in room 109. Or was it 209? In any case Frank sat there and said, "I am afraid I am going to have to put my foot down."
"You are going to put your foot down are y'all?" said the Texas developers. "Our lovely Caterpillar trucks remain waiting."
"Yes indeed, I am putting my foot down firmly and decisively and . . . and collectively. We shall not be shilly-shallied."
"O you shall not be shilly-shallied shall y'all? Are you sure? The svelte engines of our lovely Caterpillar trucks stand at idle."
"Indeed surer than . . . well since ever I was sure about things. This was supposed to be a rehab job for the people we want to stay living in the West End. This was supposed to be a facelift job for low income so we can satisfy the State we are pleasant and nice about things. Your lovely trucks may be employed to transport lovely waste to the dump."
"Well I say."
"Well you say, "you say", I see."
"Yes indeedee, I say and you know it."
"I see you say, "you say", I see and I see you say, "you know it", but nevertheless I must simply put my foot down."
"Indeedee this will cost you dear, and you know it, I say. Our lovely Caterpillar trucks stand anxiously waiting."
"O come off your Texas high horse! This is not a Villanelle. Get back to the plans and play right and we'll get you slots, prime slots at the Golf Course. But I still must put my foot down."
"Well that is not good enough. Not unless you let us plow down the greens and let us build 10 story high-rises with condos fit for kings all tiled in Carrera and gilt bathrooms with titanium bidets for each. We also would like to build a cell tower on the corner where that girl Jesse now operates nothing more than a lemonade stand for part of the year on a valuable patch of grass. Our Catepillar trucks idle with amorous pneumatics at the ready."
"We do not do bidets here. That is a French word they use over across the water in Babylon. They may aspire to Minneapolis, but we remain solidly St. Paul over here. No bidets. And the lemonade stand stays. I have put my foot down."
Our lovely Caterpillar trucks stand with tremulous exhaust . . .
"For pete's sake we have evicted the former tenants most successfully without any more trouble than a briefcase of empty promises to give first choice on coming back (hahahahahaha!) and no lawsuits! Our lovely Caterpillar trucks stand with tremulous exhaust and demure anticipation."
"No more adjectives. And no more condos."
"In that case, frankly my dear, we do not give a damn and be damned to you and your urchins. Good bye and good day!"
So the upshot of that meeting was the developer group abruptly abandoned the entire project after evicting 1002 individuals and so left town with the place still a wreck and uninhabitable. Drug dealers, finding no more business there, moved on over to the Washington Apartment complex where they committed murder and larceny and sins of the flesh there in the new location as they had done in the old neighborhood.
Frank, for all his pains, lost his bid for reelection the following year.
In any case, the 9k runners scooted up past the weedy former airfield to do a circuit there a couple times so that Eugene could count them and keep them honest, before they ran over to the Estuary Main street past the Ferry Landing and down the newer parkway named after the ballplayer Willie Stargell, zigzagging among the old Navy housing and over the hump of dirt and broken concrete next to the new Target and then through the chainlink gate and over the Posey Tube entrance, pausing to pay the troll standing there with a cardboad sign, to course behind Mariner Square and the inexplicably surviving Pasta Pelican, which has been serving atrocious noodle dishes since 1965. Harrington, the infamous critic for the Contra Costa Times, once said, "I found the chipped beef an excellent dish, perfectly serviceable to solidly mortar any fireplace or retaining wall with odors evocative of skunk cabbage and quik-dry concrete . . .".
From there the runners coursed across the Buena Vista flats and the Jean Sweeny Open Space Preserve where the old Beltline used to run. They blitzed past the Old Cannery. From there they took a jaunt around the Wind River parking lot, largely to find a way to add meters to a course running out of space to add up to 9k, and thence along the old rail tracks all the way from Paru to Park and the base of the 23rd street bridge in view of the tiki bar that had been torched by the Angry Elf gang.
Then it was a sortee into the tony East End past the decrepit GOP headquarters with its broken windows and paint peeled door and so swinging through the neighborhoods to round about the Disputed Bicycle Bridge, seen of many an historic confrontation, back to Shoreline and so to repeat the entire thing one more time before the runners collapsed on Park outside Juanita's restaurant and Jacqueline's hair salon.
The winner this year was Hieronymous "Toto" Tanganyika, from Uganda in 195 minutes, 34 seconds.
Now, people may wonder why it takes a world class runner capable of completing the Boston marathon in less than 2 hours won a 9k race with such a time as 195 minutes and nevermind the change on a course that varies no more than three inches in elevation along its entire length, and which, in fact, broke all course records. The previous record had been 4 hours, 32 minutes, 16 seconds.
The hardest part of the course involved playing charades with a chosen jury for two questions (movies: Maltese Falcon and Medical:shingles), and then performing the comedy routine "Slowly I turn, step by step" for the Shoreline Resthome for Alzheimer's Patients well enough to make at least 75% of the audience laugh.
The audience, being what it was, could be employed repeatedly without compromising the race, but it did help getting ahead early on this one.
Mr. Tanganyika did so well on this one, that ACT offered the man a job for the upcoming season to become part of its troupe performing Ibsen, Shaw and bits of Classical French drama, but Toto wisely refused, saying, "There is a difference between imaginatively capturing dollars as opposed to economically capturing the imagination."
At the end of the day, the winner strode across the finish line, breaking that reddish yarn "tape" with a great smile.
Afterward the parade began on Park Street with the Elder Sons of Many Foreign Wars, marching proudly in their battle fatigues, followed by the long array of politicians, each ensconced in a vintage open car and waving at the hoi polloi who had scant choice among them to choose for the office, the way it plays out in reality. After these obligatory things, including the horse-drawn carriage bearing the Mayor piloted by Fred with his white beard looking for all the world like a figure from some other holiday.
"Look daddy! There's Santa Claus driving Mayor Marie in his sleigh!"
There follows rank after rank of church groups, Scouts on bicycles, Eagles and BPOE, Falun Gong with their great big Lotus float and reverent hands, marching bands from all the schools, especially Encinal with its proud high stepping baton twirlers, testifying for the West End (GO JETS!)
Along come the various businesses, including Mark's Life and Casualty (wrecked car with slogan "You never expect the Unexpected", the Lost Weekend Lounge (Richard Burton look-alike swilling a martini with an Elizabeth Taylor,
Reverend Bauer's group comes by with an armada of girls dressed in short leather miniskirts and high leather boots and the slogan, "In California, it feels GOOD to be Lutheran!"
They have some competition from the Universalist Second Baptist Church which features Sister Rosetta belting out a sincere "Statesboro Blues" that makes the windchimes in the Encinal Hardware start to ring.
Then come the vaqueros with their high-stepping ponies and the vintage World War stuff on trailers and finally, as per tradition, the Little Tramp motoring along on a minibike with his knees akimbo.
Later people retreat to the Wind River lot and the estuary behind Target as night sinks down on the Nation's birthday. She has been abused and battered by foreign powers and by powerful politicians and scandal and all sorts of mean nasty sorts of things, this Columbia, but people still want to come here, risking life and everything across the Sonora desert and the treacherous pirate infested seas of the Malay ocean amid the idea that, dammit, the government has no right to tell me what I can do.
Which in itself is a kind of original idea, not popular in a lot of other places and still under experiment.
Then the rocket's red glare and the boom and the Ahhhh! and the whizzing bam bam and the Ohhhhh! while all the old Nammies take to the Old Same Place Bar to get away from these awful reminders of things too real: tracers arcing over the Delta and the phosphorus and the 188's all going off at once, deafening the ears.
In the dark alleys and doorways and sheltered places the teenagers met with one another to carry out their own secret, erotic rebellions. Fists and . . . other appendages raised against the tyranny of Ms. Dudgeon with her sour rules.
And after all was done, all the sparklers done sparking, and all the whizbangs exploded, a peppery scent of gunpowder and cordite drifted on the air as the certain fog descended to blanket all. Leaving Park Street with its teenagers courting, the street in the keeping of the one who was sweeping up the dreams of July the Fourth, 2014.
Then, from far off across the water came the ululation of the throughpassing train as it trundled from where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stand glowing with their sentry lights, letting its blues cry keen across the shining sea of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the fields of waving grain at the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the old Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock, quavering among its ghosts and its weedy railbed until the locomotive click-clacked past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off out of shadows on the edge of town toward the purple mountain's majesty.
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