It has been cool with late coastal pogonip cloaking the sun to the extent many around here wondered if there would ever be any summer at all. Then, suddenly like a white heron spreading his wings, the day burst with unfolding heat on Saturday blistering anyone who dared step outside to cross the parkinglot, leaving these streaks of suntan and sere grasses everywhere, fallen feathers of the Sun God.
The last of the eager and the liberated have walked down the aisle for this this year -- graduations all done, Spring flings all flung, folks all gone to the mountains or Tuscany, each depending on each relative degree of daring, this time before Deep Summer is a pause before the Season begins at the theatres and the outdoor festivals take hold. This is a time when most lives go on Pause while Nature continues to bloom. You know you should get up there and cut back that ivy strangling the tree, but the polesaw is in the garage and you are not sure where the gloves have laid themselves and there is the matter of climbing up to get in the fork of the tree there and right now it is just too darned hot to move.
Sharon says that after fifty any sort of fall is sure to break something and by the looks of that tree there you are sure to slip and fall and there she would be, standing over you looking down while wearing that straw hat and saying, did I not tell you about this what were you thinking do you imagine you are some teenager to go climbing trees you are just impossible call that mature action do you.
Once upon a time you had climbed the madrones of Marin, their warm smooth brown boughs holding you and your sister up like the missing mother of your childhood. You had looked down and noticed that your sister, by way of her facial physiognomy looked extraordinarily beautiful from this angle and you made a point to annotate this factoid so that, when in the far distant future, your sister met her husband to be, he would be sure to apprehend her from just such an angle.
The exhileration of climbing trees, with or without a companion, is seldom entered into the literature. Often such an event is illicit, as when your friend Reuben climbed a mango tree to steal fruit on the island of St. Johns only to have the owner come out and fall asleep against the trunk, sticking him in the crown for hours. Sometimes it is quiet and observant. sometimes it is a triumphant prelude to ascending Everest or becoming a doctor of medicine. Never is it to be disregarded as a formative activity.
Scientists say that we are all descended from apes. And that apes became human when they descended from trees. So in a sense we are going back to our roots, so to speak, in tree climbing and it was the primodorial precambrian individual you saw in your sister among the madrones.
Had you mentioned that observation at the time, she would have thrown pine-cones at you, so it is just as well. Not saying anything meant you had full opportunity later in lift to smack her really good and unsuspecting with a soft late summer tomato in another incident not so enobling.
This is to say, all couples planning matrimony or any sort of long-term affair, really should climb trees together, so as to experience life at its fullest. There will always be plenty of time as the years pass to find perfect opportunities to lob tomatoes. Trust us. We know.
Time passes and you find yourself in your garden, wondering if you have climbed all the trees you should have climbed, learned Spanish, and told all the people close to you, including your sister, how you really felt.
Not everyone can afford to climb Everest. Even assuming that you have $40,000 to blow on an expedition, there is the matter of physical preparation -- which some forego -- and the matter of mental preparation -- which many forego -- and the time spent learning about mountains -- which regrettably far too many forego if not most.
The slopes of Everest are littered with the bodies of the wannabe casual explorer - Asian accountants, urban planners, bankers, real estate developers, archetects, computer engineers -- all people whose first calling was anything but climbing mountains and who found that the Mountain is a place of vast indifference that cares not a whit what you do, if you live or die. But trees are everywhere and always a challenge. That is why you do not cut down trees indescriminantly. You destroy opportunities to recapture the past.
The Editor trundled his stodgy form home from the Old Same Place Bar as the evening fogs returned to sooth the fevered Bay Area. In his cubicle, he worked on the various problems caused by the office move and by the intransigience of nasty people who would make war upon all that is sincere and heartfelt. The Angry Elf gang was out there and they had a new accomplice in their nefarious deeds, one called the Toad, a squat woman who was all force and ugly machinations.
The hours had ticked over past the change of the day. Machines hummed all around him while the empty desks of the newsroom which had seen so much change in recent months stretched silent and vacant. The Nazis rampaged across Europe but we still have newspapers and some form of news media. They cannot kill us all. He went around and switched off lights here and there until he was back to the beginning: a solitary man sitting at a desk with a single lamp making a pool of light while all around there was the darkness. He was still here and still, there remained this hope that out there beyond the pool of light remained someone of like mind.
He went down the long dark aisle to peer out the back window and see the ravaged sour-apple tree and beyond, the tortured vine-strangled tree that had been there for well over 150 years.
In its trunk a boat anchor with chain remained embedded along with belay pins, a spade, a wind chime, and a headless buddha statue, relics of well over a half-century of indifference. Thick ropes of ivy wound up from the base all the way to the very top. From its branches high above a trumpet flower vine dropped petals from twenty feet above the ground. Every time the wind blew, bright red and orange flowers fell to the leaf-strewn path below.
To either side of the sunken flags old maritime detritus lay half covered with weeds. A ship's smokestack stood there filled with overgrown compost next to a glass harbor buoy and rusting farming implements and a wooden bench sat there littered with sourapple leaves. Above all this the yellowing leaves of the tree drooped with ivy as if auditioning the entire yard for a movie setting. The only thing missing was a slim black-haired woman with pale face and blood-red lips strolling down the path in a black sheath gown.
"Dahlink, so glad you haff come here to retire. My name is Elvira. . . ".
Somewhere far off someone blew one of those sports-arena booster horns. Da tah dahhhhhh! And a souped-up car roared down the street with all the noisy exhuberance of youth.
So much for atmospheric decay.
That's right, get out while you can and shake the windows when you pass. Do not go gently into that good night. All the graduates loose on the town in celebration as another endless summer begins. Every summer is like the game of baseball -- there is no Time. They both are over when they are over; there is no stopwatch, no finish line. Or say rather that every moment in the summer is an eternal recycling of all the summers that have ever been and all the summers that ever will be and so we walk among the ghosts of every boy who ever threaded a worm on a hook before casting it out over the lake, and the translucent revenant of every girl who sat barefoot on the hood of a car waiting for the world to catch up with her.
The Editor turned away from the view of the gothic yard and returned to his desk, the pool of light, the theme tablet, the pens. Each of us has our place to climb, and climb we must into the place of sunlight and glory. Anything else just becomes sitting on the bench with Elvira while the sourapple leaves fell down. For him, the path wound past Terrapin Station to climb upward with steps he had to create himself, each stone step containing an entire story in itself and all of them making the mountain become real underfoot as you ascended.
Somewhere a door creaked open. The Editor looked up.
"You know," the Editor said as he relit his cigar. "Somebody once said nothing clarifies a man's thinking quite like looking down the barrel of a gun."
"Don't make no sudden moves fatboy. Unless you wanna be the next schmier on a whole wheat at Boogie Woogie Bagels."
It was the Angry Elf with his sidekick, The Toad.
"Bagel rye is about as extreme as I go, pal. I never will get this modern taste in anything goes for a bagel," The Editor said.
Right then the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, over the noire waves of the estuary and the action-packed Buena Vista flats tense with anticipation beneath the crossed intriguing stars as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.
So anyway the weather along the coast has been surly and brooding in the morning with high fog giving way to brilliant blue skies by afternoon. Those who felt on waking up that life had lost its zest and nothing more was to be done had reason to scamper about like squirrels by two P.M.
In fact the squirrels so love this weather they go on a rampage across the Island to the extent one wonders if there is any governance at all over them as they madly tear up gardens and flowerpots and perniciously lop walnuts at the heads of passersby. There are people who swear to have seen gangs of them dressed in little leather jackets and carrying chains as they go about their mayhem.
Mrs. Almeida got so fed up with the depredations of these desperadoes she got a 150 pound crossbow from Big 5 Sporting Goods to settle these guys once and for all. The thing was so powerful it could split trees with one steel-tipped dart, and surely would have destroyed any squirrel she managed to nail as well as Dirty Harry's 45 caliber pistol.
She may have been inspired by the Japanese archerwomen at the Olympics now showing on TV from London, but those women have been practicing their sport for decades before getting on the world stage. Mrs. Almeida got out there in her apron and managed to destroy a couple flowerpots, the hybrid fruit tree, and several fence posts while putting a hole in the Weber outdoor grill and cursing all the while in Portuguese, startling the chickens, all of whom began to fear for their lives. She probably would have killed somebody or at least Francine's shi tzu which, living next door, and which narrowly escaped obliteration as a dart skipped sparking over the flagstones to land in the coi pond and spear a fellow whose registered pattern probably went back a good 800 years.
It is said that one should not overemphasize the value of temporal things on this earth. But this was of little consolation to Harry, Francine's husband, who chucked a fit over the dead fish.
Mr. Almeida came out and took away the crossbow to send his wife in to heat up some bacalhau, a traditional Portuguese dish that was itself saved from extinction when the fishing industry exhausted the supply by the Norwegian cod fishing industry, which had lost its buyers demand as the younger Vikings gave up the habit of eating dishes made from salt cod.
That is why the only place on earth where you still find people eating lutefisk is Portugal and a few unique midwestern states in America.
In the Island-Life offices life did not present a pretty picture. The Editor sat at his desk confronted by The Angry Elf and his cohort in criminal activity, The Toad. On the desk reposed the still warm corpus of an Everything bagel packed with schmier and lox from Boogie Woogie Bagel Boy down the street.
"What do you want?" The Editor said to the Elf, to the Toad, and to the nasty-looking pistol in the tiny fist of the Elf. "You are interrupting my lunch." Apparently somebody had left the double door latches to the outside open. Vermin had entered.
"You don't fool me a bit, fatso; nobody does lunch at this time of night. We wants dis place," the Elf said in his high pitched voice. "You gotta move outta here or we send you out inna box. Capeche?"
"What on earth for? I just moved here," said the Editor.
As it turned out the Angry Elf and the Toad had plans to build a glass factory in place of the old Julia Morgan house that now held the Island-Life offices. The factory was just a front to house the Elf gang during their scheme to take over the neighborhoods with their syndicate. The Toad had lined up associates with mafias in Isreal and Russia to help provide muscle.
A few judges had been lined up as willing to go with the flow. The police always were to be had for a price, save for a few goody-two shoes. The gang was working on a couple councilmembers in the City who looked loose and promising in any issue that involved money and real estate transactions. They would be needed as a slight zoning variance was required to make it all happen. However it was all in the works and looked very promising. In short, there was corruption, intrigue, diabolical plans, money to be made and all the usual detritus characteristic of Bay Area shenanigans in the old style.
In their way stood the Editor and a group of Ashkenazim based in the Temple out on Harbor Bay Island who felt that the Chosen had already gotten enough bad Press lately without all this going on.
Why this particular building? It was directly across from City Hall, providing easy access to local power and was owned by Vietnamese landlords who were in financial trouble.
"Besides," said the Angry Elf. "You got a flea named Denby on your payroll and to me he is a big problem in the rear. I want him on a plate."
So there it was. Gun pointed at his chest and his best writer defamed by a thug and a criminal syndicate out to get him. Time for a cigar and a shot of good whiskey. Today was a good day to die.
As the Editor reached for a cigar from his box of Havanas, expecting this cigar to be his last, an object shattered the window and smacked into the wood filing cabinet where it stood out vibrating from released energy. A handmade vase tipped, wobbled and finally fell to the ground with a great smashing of glass shards as the thing still quivered, right above S-T. It was a crossbow bolt.
"How come short people have slow reactions?" said the Editor.
As expected the Elf balled up his fists and raised them in fury with his eyes squinched closed. "Oooo! You make me so angry I beat your brain out!"
The Editor took this opportunity to launch himself -- well, heave his bulk -- across his desk to flatten the Angry Elf, mashing the bagel into the archcriminal's gob. While down there he flung his legs to topple the Toad who fell shrieking, "I need you to do what I saaaaay!", before leaping up to shut off the lights. In a breath he was out the door and down the street.
To calm his nerves he dropped into American Oak where a couple shots of Maker's Mark did the trick. While there he remembered how on the East coast he used to escape bullies by pulling aside a street manhole cover to go down there into the safe darkness, pulling the heavy metal lid back over him until hours had passed and it was safe to emerge and go home.
When he finally returned, the place had been trashed -- an experience that was starting to feel familiar -- and all the computers had been mangled.
But the gang had missed the laptop he had from The Doctor and with that instrument he managed to get everything put back together for the Issue.
Naturally, an excellent online backup strategy and IDR policy helped tremendously.
He would have to talk about The Doctor, one of his close allies in some future editorial, but there was no time to waste. The night began to draw its curtains. The Editor made sure to throw the latches to the double doors. The issue began to take shape the way it always did, despite all the hindrances and the obstacles and the last minute changes.
Terrible things happen. You buy a house in good faith and learn to your dismay you are part of a vast conspiracy to rob Americans with bogus mortage deals. In a flurry of financial meltdown you lose your house and your confidence in a lot of things you had held dear. You watch as the people who savaged this country economically walk free without spending a single minute in jail. You see your retirement income vanish before your eyes. Friends abandon you in your need. Your spouse divorces you. You get held up on the street by a punk with a gun. People like the Angry Elf and the Toad cause beaucoups damage and never seem to get caught.
It took a while to get things cleaned up and it was nearly midnight by the next day before the Editor got the issue put to bed. Still, it was a shame about that bagel.
But then, like an old friend the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, over the tough waves of the estuary and the hard-bitten Buena Vista flats tense with anticipation beneath the star-crossed night sky as the locomotive glided 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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