NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS
AUGUST 16, 2009
Its been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The moderately cool temps here translated to sub-freezing temperatures in the High Sierra, and a few of the staff came back from the Annual Mountain Sabbatical coughing and wheezing from bronchitis.
That's what you get for taking time off.
Its been a bad year for tomatoes around here. Many of the ones that gave fruit are dying off and many more have yet to yield in this globally warmed century. All the glads have glad-handed and stand now brown and withered like stark monuments to a forgotten war. Folks are still getting pole beans and the zucchini is threatening, as usual, to take over the world.
Little Jimmy got caught shoplifting candybars at the 7/11 and Johnny failed to make the turn while drag racing on Otis Friday night, smashing through the fence into the backyard of the Almeida family, really stirring up Pedro's labrador dog who hasn't been this excited since a jackrabbit got flushed from the Strand by the weedwackers, who were only trying to eradicate the Non-Native Species of grass there.
Johnny was basically unhurt until Mrs. Almeida hit him on the head with a rolling pin after he pulled himself from the remains of the rose bushes.
In all, its a normal summer on the Island. Everything happening same as usual, like clockwork.
No sooner did the staff return from their freak snowstorm in the mountains then the weather turned bright and sunny, allowing Occasional Quentin and the usual assortment of folks at Marlene and Andre's place to start sleeping on the beach again.
A bunch of folks went out the other night after dinner to count shooting stars. Its a time of the waning moon, right in the heart of the Perseids and the night sky looked like a blanket with holes punched in it. Far across the water, Babylon strung itself out along the peninsula like ropes of jewels in Shreve's. Those with honeys cuddled up while others, like Quentin, lay out there alone yet together with the group.
What are you doing? Suan asked Mancini.
He was flicking his bic lighter. I am signalling to the UFOs, said Mancini.
Well stop it, said Suan. It reminds of Vegas.
Andre, sitting with Marlene on an old railroad tie, quietly strummed his guitar and softly sang Dylan's "Not Dark Yet".
Xavier, who had just gotten a letter from girl he knew in the Reserves from Iraq, asked Pedro if things would ever get any better again. He had a girl in the war, so he was not feeling so hot right then.
Things have been pretty bad for quite a while, said Pedro.
Is and was is all we'll ever be, offered Jesus de Silva.
Look! Look! There's a big one! exclaimed Tipitina.
Everyone went "Wow!" Then Andre put aside his guitar and the night was silent for a time and silently, the stars fell, one after another, but still leaving an entire heaven of pinpricks and flickers, arranged pretty much the same with minor variations as it has been for the past five thousand years. It was a quiet summer night on the Island, with no sirens in the distance.
From far across the other side of the Island came the sound of the train passing through Jack London Waterfront as it ululated across the estuary from the Oaktown Port.
PART II - AUGUST 23
SUMMERTIME, WHEN THE LIVIN' IS EASY
The morning high fog yielding to sunny afternoons has continued each day, and so we are all bracing for the annual end of season heat wave that always postpones the Fall.
Its that time of year in Northern California when everybody seems like they have just exhaled and are pausing before taking the next breath. By that we mean to say that summer, with all that it entails, its summer scents of cut grass, lemon verbena, pine, and diesel exhaust from the parkinglot next door, its kids out of school with its attendant minor vandalism, its sudden absences as folks vanish on something called "vacation", and its generally genial dry weather causes a sort of relaxation in normal folks who find the time to sit outside wherever there is a place to sit with other folks like themselves.
Time has stopped, and this moment sitting in the chair is the same moment that was ten, twenty, thirty years ago, with the same sorts of folks and the same sort of drink tinkling in the glass under the umbrella which has not changed for over one hundred years or more.
On the East Coast they are watching fireflies glint off and on. In Minnesotta, they are beating off the mosquitos and the chiggers with chemicals, electric zappers, and baseball bats with routine fury. Its all tradition.
The kids are all returning from the places their parents have sent them to get a little peace around the house. Places with names like Angels Camp and China Camp in the Sierra. Or the uncle's homestead in Grass Valley. Places where they learned to take dumps in the outdoor latrine and short sheet somebody's bed.
Over at Marlene and Andre's place, the group all sat out there drinking jug wine on the ruins of the porch that nearly got totally destroyed on Javier's fiftieth birthday, and among the ironmongery and discarded sofas of the yard where morning glories had invested the premises with an earnest desire to beautify what had been heretofore regarded as a toxic dump by most of the floral kingdom. Four O'Clocks glowed crimson in the corners until the light had faded.
All of the inhabitants of the one bedroom cottage were out there: Marlene, Andre, Occasional Quentin, Piedro, Jesus, Tipitina, Marsha, Xavier, Rolph, Suan, Mancini, Sarah, Pahrump and the dogs Bonkers, Johnny Cash, and Wickiwup. Together they were joined by Februs, an employee of Island-life, and by Snuffles Johnson, a bum employed by no one.
As Marlene had prepared one of her special Recession Bread Soup dinners substantiated by summer vegetables from the garden, and various folks had scored more than a score jugs of Gallo, the inhabitants were in a generally genial and reflective mood.
The conversation was all about summertime memories. Snuffles remembered the first time he had been thrown into Juvie for swimming in the Mall's reflecting pool in the Nation's Capitol. He was an East Coaster.
Suan and Sarah both remembered skinny dipping in the stream that ran through Sunol at out at the quarry at Shadowcliffs, although they had done so seperately and at different times. Xavier remembered the family picnics from Babylon down through the citrus groves of Sunnyvale and Mountain View in the old Rambler with the windowframe straps, long before there was a Silicon Valley. Columbus french bread and Columbo salami in a wicker hamper and the old Rambler.
Remember those windowframe straps they had instead of seatbelts?
Mancini remembered running the length of Alma Street to get to Trestle Glen and so come around the high school back to Eliot and back to Park Boulevard to get away from bullies.
Wait a minute said Xavier. You can't do that. It's not possible.
You could once, said Pahrump. Before 580. It was called one time Indian Gulch before Trestle Glen. And an Ohlone villiage before that. Been a whole lot of changes.
My father fought for a long time against them. Them taking the house away, said Mancini. He was one of the last holdouts when the state come and knocked down all the houses to make the freeway through Oaktown. I never sawed them knock it down. Was away at school. Just saw the graders and the fencing and the dirt. We used to run off of the roofs of some of the houses and jump into the dirt and get into trouble. But my dad wasn't the same afterwards. I don't know all of it, just my grandpa had something to say about building it. Then they built the freeway and all the men who had houses along the way lost 'em. That's progress for you.
They were all silent for a time.
Look, there is a falling star! someone said.
Marsha touched Mancini's hand. Falling stars are forever, she said. There will be no end to falling stars.
Right then the long whistle of the throughpassing train ululated across the water of the estuary from Jack London Waterfront, a sound of something headed from somewhere to someplace else strange and unknown.
It was a quiet summer night on the Island, and nobody got robbed or shot.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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