SEPTEMBER 24, 2017

DISASTER AND COUNTRY

 

So anyway. Everybody stumbled back from this year's Island-Life Mountain Sabbatical in a foul mood. The thing had turned out to be a total fiasco, what with the Veggie Burgers undercooked, the mosquitos more pestiferous than a swarm of telemarketers, Festus getting lost on the glacier due to snow blindness, and all the injuries from falling down cliffs and breaking bones.

Sure was a hell of a vacation

Everybody sat around in wheelchairs in a whirl of gauze and little icewater machines pumping gelid fluid around damaged limbs. As for Festus, there is nothing more pathetic than a puffy-eyed hamster who has to wear sunglasses indoors like some rodent narcotrafficante. Sure was a hell of a vacation that never happened.

"I told you never employ a used climbing rope somebody has stepped on,"Pahrump shouted.

"I didn't step on it," Javier said from his headball of swaddling gauze. "Jose did."

"Just blame me for everything," Jose said. "I didn't set the chuck up in the crack or make it 'walk'."

"Well who set the chuck and who used the rope?" Rachel asked.

"It wash Javier boundink off the face duringk his rappel, pretending to be a Green Beret," sniffled Beatrice. She had plunged into Darwin Canyon Lake #2 and had crawled shivering out onto the snowbank. "Thag yew very buhtch! AAAAH-CHEWWWWW!"

the snaking curl of the rope flailing

There was lots of acrimony and finger pointing all around and nobody knew how it happened exactly but they all remembered looking up to see the snaking curl of the rope flailing in the high gray sky where storm clouds boiled just above the notch through which all of them had just passed. Blame or whatever, down the mountainside they all went to splatter among the boulders.

"Aieeeeya!" Javier said with an echoing voice; he had landed upside down with his head stuffed into a hole between three boulders the size of Caddilacs. "Estoy destruido!"

"Could be worse," Jose said as he lay there wedged among the granite blocks. "Could be raining."

That is when the heavens opened up at 12,000 feet with an ice cold downpour.

After Beatrice set off the SARSAT beacon, the helicopters kept busy ferrying people off of the mountainside all day to a line of waiting ambulances that took them all to Mammoth Lakes Trauma Unit.

"It says here on the manifest that one of you weighs only 12 ounces," said paramedic Brandon Hallam to Pahrump. "That has to be some kind of mistake."

"No, that has to be Festus," Pahrump said.

They found Festus in an ice crevasse by the sound of his high, reedy voice. He was singing to himself.

Oh no not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
And I've got all my love to give
And I'll survive
I will survive
Hey, hey . . . .

"O for Pete's sake," Brandon said. "Climb aboard the basket. You are so off-key I should leave you."

The Editor stumped in to the Offices on crutches and ordered everyone to get back to work, which they all did, grumbling.

One good thing -- everyone skipped out on the recent heat wave that slammed the Bay Area on Labor Day weekend.

the buckeyes had already gone sere

The light faded into a golden-hue saturated landscape. School had been in session for a few weeks now and the school busses are all still painted that same hue of noticeable yellow they have enjoyed for decades. Mrs. Sanchez looked up after leaving the school where she had taught English literature for the past twenty years and noticed that all the buckeyes had already gone sere and withered, while the overarching oaks that sheltered Central Avenue had shifted their raiment to browns and goldens. The days fluctuated between breezy 70's and sudden 80's while the nights had settled to high 50's. Soon time to bring down the duvet, put away the short sleeves.

Bearing her load of essays on Emily Dickenson, Mrs. Sanchez, nee Morales, looked up and down Central where nothing appeared to move other than Mr. Peepers, who scampered across the road high above on a wire that ran from one telephone pole to another on the opposite corner.

In the middle of the street, Mrs. Sanchez paused, eyeing a suspiciously slippery looking patch of leaves. "I shall not be tricked by you this time," she said to herself, stepping cautiously to the left.

another troubled teen

On second thought, perhaps she should get to the Post Office to check for a letter from Karen, her former pupil who now was entering graduate school in far-off Chicago. Karen had been one of those kids who had seemed destined to fall through the cracks and be forever lost, another troubled teen whose parents had divorced, propelling her into a round of rebellion and police pickups, self-cutting with razor blades and worse.

But Ms. Morales had not given up on her; she had seen the promise in the girl's native intelligence and had gone herself to the police station and signed the forms to take on responsibility when her father refused. Those had been difficult years, but now look. Graduated with honors from Seattle and now off to Chicago.

A red pickup truck came tearing around the corner to startle the woman who now was known as Mrs. Sanchez -- she had gone through some changes of her own over the past few years.

The truck, carrying members of the Angry Elf gang drove right at her and she threw her hands up in the air and jumped aside as the truck tore past with all the hard work essays ascending and descending like flakes in a snow globe and the distinctive sound of The Cackler fading away and the truck barreling down Center toward Park Street.

Bear, on his 1965 Panhead with his beloved Susan riding pillion came to a halt and the three of them collected as many of the essays as they could. When she got back to the house, Mr. Sanchez was still at work, so Mrs. Sanchez plotzed in the recliner with a rare glass of sherry to calm her nerves.

Eventually Mr. Sanchez came home and he held his wife in his arms as the last light faded outside the window.

"La Pandilla de Duende Enojada son güeyes," he said. "Bunch of Jerkoffs!"

Down by the Strand, the Household was enjoying the last few days of daytime warmth and sunshine with a game of touch football Frisbee with rules made up as they went along. This was made both interesting and complicated as both Johnny Cash and Bonkers insisted on grabbing the Frisbee as well to run away with it without regard to sides.

Finally Mancini grabbed the Frisbee in the failing light with the stars coming out and the fog rolling in and as he knelt in the sands of the Island, he placed it upon his head and with his arms spread out to either side belted out an old song:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and meeeeeeeeeee.

The fog rolled in then and all that Household went up into the cottage and there Marlene served out bread soup for the season of harvesting tomatoes was about done and soon the fava beans would be ready for sowing in the ironmongery garden.

Little Adam had finished his homework and was watching the beginning of the streamed version of the Burns/Novak documentary on Vietnam. Something there made Adam say, "Mom, how can people say they love America when they be so mean?"

There's many ways to love a country

Andre answered him as follows, "There's many ways to love a country. Some people love their country the way a child loves its mother, without thinking, unconditionally, but with a certain blindness as if to say, 'Mommy is is never wrong. Mommy is always right', even when they see otherwise. Other people love their country and see all its faults, but love it just the same like you would an alcoholic uncle who needs some help to get along. How can you not love a member of your own family? Other people love their country enough to step up and do something because, you see, you and me and all of us are the country, really -- America is not some removed object sitting out there like a glass bowl on a shelf, some kind of finished, set in bronze statue."

"I don't get it," Adam said.

"You will," Marlene said.

Adam turned to face the glow of the laptop screen. Outside the streets were hushed and all the gang members were indoors. There were no sirens and no screaming and peace ruled this corner of the world. On board the Iranian spy submarine that frequented the estuary, the First Mate puzzled over a paper the sub's robotic arm had found floating on the surface water.

What is this Emily Dickenson . . . ?

"I thought I heard a fly buzz?" queried the First Mate. "What is this Emily Dickenson she is so important? Is she a official or a commander?"

"I doubt that very much," said the Captain who clapped up the handles of the periscope. "Let us dive." And so they did. And the El Chadoor ran out through the Bay and under the Golden Gate, running silent, running deep.

It was a quiet night on the Island and nobody got shot and nobody got stabbed.

"Next year," Javier said to Jose. "We take vacation in Vegas."

From from far across the water, the night train wailed from beneath the light-studded gantries of the Port of Oaktown, keening across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats through the cracked brick of the Cannery and its weedy railbed, crying over the dripping basketball hoops of Littlejohn Park and dying between the Edwardian house-rows as the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone burial mounds to mysterious parts unknown.

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