500 MONKS AND TROUT

JULY 11, 2010

 

Its been a chilly but sometime sunny week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Pedro Almeida made extra sure to tune in that radio show hosted by the Man in the Red Shoes this weekend and he was sitting there in his armchair Saturday night next to the radio with a bag of chips and a six of Fat Tire ale as if he were attending to the FIFA World Cup (which he did the following morning. Viva Espana!).

For those of you who fail somehow to follow these momentous things, NPR's Prairie Home Companion featured a nautical-themed show, with skits and songs all about boats and the sea and fishing. As a professional fisherman, Pedro felt it incumbent upon him to support this effort and he even sent out the missus to locate, bring home and bake a batch of Powdermilk Biscuits (Heavens, they are tasty and expeditious!) but Mrs. Almeida had to return from Trader Joes to report that this was California, not Minesotta, and there were no bisquits of that brand to be had around here. They would have to drive to Minneapolis to get something like that and Mrs. Almeida was damned if she would leave the chickens in their coop in the summer with the racoons about so long just for something she could make perfectly well herself.

So Pedro sat there with his Fat Tire in hand, jumping up every once in a when someone sang a sea chanty. "Yeah!" And all the younger ones sat around staring at him with wide open eyes.

Padraic piped the show over the loudspeakers in the Old Same Place Bar and Eugene sat there, entranced as the lovely woman on the radio sang about the "launische Forelle," which had him all agog, for as Eugene had surrendered any reasonable possibility of relations with females long ago in favor of a passion for trout, figuring trout were far easier to understand and get along with once you got to know them well and about as comfortable in terms of long-term companionship as any woman who had ever mistaken him for a likely mate. A fairly prototypical American, he knew not a lick of German, nor much of any other language, however he did know the song was all about trout fishing.

"What means 'launische", Eugene asked of Old Schmidt who sat there with his schnapps and Fat Tire and pipe.

Padraic, as an Old School pubkeeper, had never enforced what he saw as a criminal edict against smoking in the bar. So Old Schmidt pulled the pipe from between his whiskers and said, "Moody. The trout are moody."

"Ohhhh," said Eugene. "That they are."

Fishing is one of the few sports which has saved many a marriage. In many respects, trout fishing is much like the US Navy. The husband goes away for a long time, the wife has the place to herself for any number of hen parties, there are no mud tracks on the carpet and no tromping in the azaleas. The woman can finish her novel, organize the Board effectively, govern the local assembly, invent a brand new brain scanning technique that revolutionizes medical science, raise money for Nigerian peanut farmers, build several houses, improve the lightbulb and get the kids to school. In short, she is free to be herself without interference. Meanwhile the man goes out on the high seas in a boat with rough companions, curses freely, drinks too much, throws up on himself, eats a tremendous amount of fish, sinks the boat perhaps, and engages in salacious repartee with unorthodox companions, which is pretty much Navy life and fishing all wrapped up into one. Both members of this happy marriage get exactly what they want and there is little trouble until the man comes home and hangs about very much a third wheel on the relationship until the Goddess of Discord tosses in that damn golden apple.

Pretty soon there are squabbles about the most inconsequential things. Why on earth did you rip out the hydrangea? Well I'd been meaning to do that for a long time; it was getting too big. For a long time? Since when? Ever since Midway. Or the Easter Islands. Or the walleye at Bear Lake. Oh for Pete's sake, you know nothing of garden feng shui. Ah . . . Feng Shui . . . know nothing, nothing about it. No idea what you are talking about . . . .

Here he is half afraid she has learned something about something about a certain bordello in Shanghi or St. Cloud. Where something may or may not have happened. So that is when he looks for the next opportunity to go to sea or go fishing again. Same difference. It really is all the same to the country at large, in fact, for we send the mightiest Navy out in ships these days only to invade and destroy landlocked desert countries packed to the gills with sand and no trout to speak of. That is their loss and no wonder for all the trouble they have with keeping women in burqas. All for lack of trout and streams in which to put them.

Meanwhile she is calling all of her friends asking them what can she do to save her marriage. Whatever am I to do about the Admiral? she said, wringing her hands. He is all underfoot these days.

Perhaps you can start a war with somebody. Australia or Madagascar. Someplace with lots of water.

Well the United States has never fought a war against Australia and never had a reason to do so, but then it never had a reason to fight a war against anybody since WWII for any rational reason, so that is no impediment. Fortunately the orders come up and the Admiral must leave for a six month tour of duty shadowing the coast of some strange Arabic country on the peninsula of Onan with a fleet of gondolas and needleboats. And the other husband is called up to distribute the ashes of an old friend in the high Sierra near his favorite fishing hole. So off they go and all the marriages saved. Life is grand once again.

Yes, fishing is part of core values in America. And although the great steelhead runs of the past are no more in the Golden State, we still have our passion for trout.

This fishing business that happens every year (we have an allowed Season that begins each year sometime in May as determined by Fish and Game and which ends in the Fall) goes not unnoticed by Pastor Inkquist and Father Duran of the Lutheran Immanuel and Our Lady of Incessant Complaint respectively. For let it be recorded that many of the Apostles were fishermen and Jesus Christ was pretty handy with a rod and line as well. Then, of course, there are those loaves and fishes multiplying all over the place and pioneering the original Great Society Free School Lunch program as well as Unemployment Benefits.

Father Duran was composing his 15th sermon on the Loaves and Fishes when he got a notice from Corporate HQ that the Dominicans and the Jesuits and the Thracian Order were holding a combined Consortium Synod in the neighborhood, Petaluma to be precise and they might be dropping by for a visit. How many? O about five hundred monks or so.

Well, this large an assembly of any clergy was novel to the Island, and indeed to the Bay Area, which was regarded by Corporate in Rome as a sort of wayard stepchild with an embarrassing wandering eye that ought to be kept in the attic until the "problem" resolved itself. They were holding the Consortium here only because Boston had latterly earned bad marks for nasty behavior recently. Father Duran was at a loss how to handle a sudden influx, an inundation of monks from all over the world all at once, for the Island is not a place built to handle that sort of thing for any cause, any group. Like anyone in the Bay Area who has been confronted with similar problems, he consulted a travel agency and obtained an excursion program from a travel agency that carried quite excellent credentials, for Sister Mona had used them for her trip to Palestine.

The agency turned out to be the Filipino sole proprietor of a market on Lincoln Street and the excursion boat turned out to be two barges normally used for hauling garbage out to sea.

The 500 monks did arrive -- on a fleet of sixty buses that drew up, one after another in the traffic cutout to the Basilica of St. Joe's and to the annex at the Church. The monks, all dressed in brown robes and waist ropes and sandals, with a few modernists wearing Nike athletic shoes, were hustled onto the barges, two of them moored at the ferry landing, and soon they were off.

The one barge circumnavigated Alcatraz island successfully, but the other, needing to hold off while 250 monks strolled through the old prison cells where Robert Stroud and Al Capone had been held, got somehow disengaged from its tug during the tide change and 250 monks soon found themselves gliding under the Golden Gate out to sea with the tugs and the Coast Guard clipper chasing after them. The barge, after causing several hours of anxiety, ran up against the Farallones and there many of the passengers disembarked for the tossing of the barge made them quite seasick, even though that place is barren, windswept and desolate. But for Catholic monks, it was all right.

Catholics are similar to Lutherans in that they are comforted by really bad events like earthquakes and bad weather; it means that whatever god there is must have something special in mind just for you.

"O praise god," they say. "A tornado just hit the house."

So there on a rocky outpost a gathering of some two hundred fifty monks of various persuasions sat down between the piles of guano there and debated various issues of the world while waiting for the Coast Guard to come rescue them, which the Coast Guard was trying to do while making the most of this excellent media opportunity. 250 individuals was a fair chunk of change to rescue all at once so they had to call back a clipper ship that had started to head up to Alaska to check on the effects of the last oil spill up there and interdict a cutter sent out to head off drug smugglers all the while the TV stations had a field day and KCBS and KQED teamed up to send out a camera team to take pictures and all the monks gathered together to do "the wave" for the newsteam while FOX sourly blamed the socialist liberals for causing everything.

So the monks spent the night there, wrapped in their robes and cowls, but they were monks and, unlike priests, were used to privation. Father Duran had dropped down among them from helicopter and spent a cold night with some assistance there on the rocks and they all had a time there talking about making jam. flagellation, books by Dan Brown, and all kinds of cool and groovy monkey things, and they all had a Latin chant sing-along around cans of sterno dropped by the Coast Guard helicopter.

At the end of the night all the monks were lifted out onto the cutters and shipped back safely to Babylon where they were distributed by order and denomination to various parishes for "rehabilitation" after the Native Sons of the Golden West held a great big fish fry for them on the Strand, although all the monks thought it all great amusement, especially the part about being stranded on the deserted islands. "It wasn't that bad", they said. "We had all the oysters we could eat."

Out at the Farallones, the Consortium had resolved the Thracian Beard issue and the Marolingian heresy, as well as the number of knots in a monk's belt, so it was not all for nothing this meeting. They didn't have any paper or ink out there, so Friar Jovel from Germany wrote notes on the bald head of Friar Sucious from Mexico with a bird quill and octopus ink.

The immense fish fry was a great success with David and Paul running about like made making sure there was enough slaw and relish, but then it came time to dispose of about 500 trout heads with bones and they were hard put to find someone to cart them away, so they sort of piled everything out there on the end of the riprap wall in a great big heap. For about a week before the dump came to haul it away to the Valley for fertilizer all the stray cats on the Island had a time of it and there was all sorts of caterwauling and carring on and dancing with the raccoons which began to drive Mrs. Almeida nuts with the racket such that she made Pedro go out there with a shotgun and fire off a few rounds, which didn't do a damn thing for quiet, but made her feel satisfied anyhow.

Over at Marlene and Andre's Household, where the sharp tooth of hunger has bitten deep in the depths of the Great Recession since the Food Bank got robbed all the gang that was out of work got up a soccer game down on the Strand with the Abodanza family, there being more than enough from both households to field full eleven man teams. Even the lovely Suan got into the game on Sunday after Spain beat the Netherlands 0-1 earlier that day to win the FIFA World Cup in a heartbreaker for the Dutch. Tips had been down lately at the strip club where she worked, for during the Great Recession, even sex was selling poorly. But they all had a fine time running back and forth and kicking that volleyball around like it was the real thing and all the windsurfers out there taking advantage of the high tide and the breezes.

Around the bend of the Crown Memorial Beach, the "pock-pock" of rackets hitting the ball echoed from the tennis courts while gangs of urchins swung bats and ran vigorously around the baseball diamond as parents hovered over the BBQ grates among the trees. Summer was in full swing here in the Bay Area and the sun dropped down through striated cloud, a streaming dahlia of fire, until the wall of fog advanced through the Golden Gate and crawled over the distant hills south of Babylon.

Sounds of Night on the Island in summertime. And the Editor, sitting at his desk, his remaining white hair flying about his head in an aureole, the single desklamp pooling in the darkness. The hum of machines doing machine things. Computer fans whirring. Long bray of a foghorn coming from out near the now deserted Farallones. And then, close to midnight, the long wail of the throughpassing train ululated across the calm water of the estuary as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered windows and doors of the Jack London Waterfront as it left the Port heading off to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.

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