SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

DEFERRED MAINTENANCE

So anyway, things had started cooling properly when suddenly we all got body-slammed by an end-of-summer heatwave that steadily rose through the weekend, which had folks scurrying to the Strand to cool off. Now that school is back in session and we have no holidays for a long stretch into the formal Horror Days of Winter, life routinizes. Larry Larch gets up each morning at 5 to do his morning jog, read the NYT and have his Noah' s Bagel before trotting off to the office. Tipitina rouses herself in the Household to trundle out of her rented cot to pedal over to the ferry and ride across to Babylon for another day at the office. Martini heads out in the early hours on the back of Pahrump's scooter for his commute to the Veriflo factory in Richmond where he worked as a sawboy, cutting the immense 30 foot alloy ingots into workable four pound chunks.

As is customary with him, The Editor arises from his narrow cot and cranks out 25 good ones with his chin touching the floor on each rep, followed by 100 crunches. Then the 5 mile run out along the Strand, around the base of the disputed Bicycle Bridge, out to Mount Trashmore and back along the Estuary before the sun comes up. 15 more good ones, remembering the days when he could crack out easily 100, and then a shower and the day begins, but with a new ache around his sternum.

he was kept on an Island by the goddess Calypso

Before going to the Offices, the Editor looks out from The Point at the shrouded Golden Gate and the misty headlands to the north. Musing, he asks for help to tell the story of an ingenious man of many devices, one who was never at a loss. He wandered far after the fall of Saigon. He visited many cities in his travels and learned there the ways of different men. He suffered many woes in his heart upon the sea, seeking to save his own life and the return of his comrades. Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished — fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion; but he took from them the day of their returning. Although he longed for peace he was kept on an Island by the goddess Calypso for many years.

These things The Editor thought while gazing across the water at the distant, misty Headlands. He breathed the air of Autumn, the Season of Changes. And as the seasons revolved, the year came in which the gods had ordained that he should return home, and all the gods pitied him save Poseidon who continued to rage unceasingly.

He entered his office and touched the long object that leaned against the wall: crossword puzzle answer, canoe propeller, boat propulsion, sturdy flat-blade thing. Soon it would be time to shoulder this thing and walk with it until he came to the place where no one knew its name or its use.

It was coming to the time that he must leave Calypso's Island.

As the day's temperature rose higher to break all records for the hottest September day ever recorded, people fled the burning streets, although some herded their little ones to pools and other water sources. Even the bandit lemonade stands stood empty as the land baked and kids looked for things to occupy themselves when running around proved too treacherous.

"It's hotter 'n a witch's titties" said Jimmy. They were sitting up in the Parkinson's tree that overhung the yard. It was okay to climb in that tree because this part overhung their part of the property so it wasn't trespassing.

"How you know about that?" said Jonas.

"It's what people say," said Jimmy.

"I bet you know all about witches and their titties," said Jonas.

"I do not," said Jonas. "It's what people say."

"You like to feel 'em up, dontcha?" said Jonas. "All wrinkly and baggy and stuff. That's disgusting."

"It's hot enough to boil an egg," Jimmy said.

"Hot enough to fry an egg you dumbass!"

"I aint no dumbass. Let's go get an egg and put it out on the curb and watch it."

In a little while Mrs. Moreno came out the back, shouting. "Hey! Somebody left the refridgerator door wide open! And the eggs are all gone!"

"O for pete's sake!" Jimmy said. "We better go hide. . .".

Time on the Island that forgot Time nevertheless advanced to bring long shadows and sun spearing the eyes of people still driving in the late afternoon. Moms stepped out on their porches all over the Gold Coast area to call their kids in for supper. It might be fajitas and frijoles. There might be rice and beans. But there would be no huevos, that evening or in the morning.

Mr. Cribbage paused in his driveway, noticing something over on the curb as he unloaded his golf clubs and so walked over in his plus-fours to stare down, puzzled, at a fried egg sitting there quite nonchalantly, with no sign of egg shells around it. He looked up at the trees. Darned blue jays, probably. They are known to be nest robbers. He then went in for the first of several gin rickeys.

he did admire somewhat her viciousness

Mr. Howitzer sat at his desk in his study attending to property matters until he came to the reciepts for the house on Otis, the one occupied by that punk and his squalid family. Looked like the rent had not been raised in a while and he really would be a fool in this market not to get every penny he could out of that place. Thank heaven it was all income for he refused to put a single dirty sou into maintenance. So much the better. He would pop them another thousand for the cottage and they could pay it or move out. Simple as that and best to do before that darned rent control got passed. That it would pass, he had no doubt, for he knew Kane realty as the prime mover against it and he knew Kane to be a miserable incompetant boob who had botched things right and left, although he did admire somewhat her viciousness. He set the papers aside to deal with on the morrow. About a thousand more felt about right and he could always jack it up again in six months or so. Maybe three.

After all, there was no rent control as of yet.

when the house had nearly burned down

At Marlene and Andre's the Household members, living in the house owned by Mr. Howitzer, all were sprawled outside in various states of limpid undress until the evening winds shifted around to bring cooling air to the land. Andre came out to strum his guitar on the deck beside the hole created some years ago on Javier's fiftieth birthday when the house had nearly burned down. Mr. Howitzer had never put in smoke alarms or sprinkler systems so everyone would have died that night had not the four impromptue firemen not fought until dawn to get the thing under control.

"In times like these we learn to live again," sang Andre softly. "In times like these we learn to love again."

the inevitable three gallon jug of wine

Marlene came out wearing her black tee and cutoffs and leaned against the post, her long black hair flowing like midnight. Rolph lay in a lounge chair down below facing the Bay. Martini came around the side after dinking in the ironmongery garden until it was too dark to see. Pahrump finished fiddling with his scooter and Javier brought out the inevitable three gallon jug of wine. Snuffles the bum soon joined him. Piedro had his book, lit by a cap light fastened to the bill of his Oakland A's souvenir cap. Tipitina, born in the deep south, wore a simple long dress after work and talked quietly with Sarah and Marsha. Suan had gone to work at the Crazy Horse, where she figured she had only a couple more years left doing the pole thing there.

Looking out Andre noticed that almost everyone was there on a late September evening. He knew their stories, how each one had been damaged and descended sometimes in fire sometimes in rain to dwell there in that Household. And then, there was Marlene, her figure now a silhouette created by the crescent moon. Her hair dark as midnight.

Andre downtuned the bass and strummed a 3/4 time.

Xavier brought out the switchbroom and swept out a place on the deck so he could sit down there.

Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleepin'
We could dream this night away.

As the fragile human beings continued their lives up above the rats scurried through the understory of the old house, flitting through the frayed wiring and the fallen insulation and the rusting central heating unit, which although it had not been used in a long time, still had live connections to the mains, connections which had been installed without relays or switches in the days before codes and inspections. And of course Mr. Howitzer was a fond patron of that thing called euphemistically "deferred maintenance."

One rat paused to sniff the corpse of a fellow who had made the bad mistake of chewing at the insulation leading to the still live igniter. Something had happened here. Something was about to happen again. The rat reached out tentatively to touch the bright copper made shiny by a ray of moonlight.

"What was that?" Marsha said.

"What was what?" Tipitina said.

"I thought I heard some animal cry out." Marsha said.

Just then the howl of the throughpassing train ululated from across the water where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stood glowing with their multi-kilowatt sentry lights, quavered across the starlit waves of the estuary, over the riprap embankments, over the moon-silvered grasses of the Buena Vista flats and over the open spaces of the former Beltline railway; it moaned through the cracked brick of the defunct Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed and chainlink fences as the locomotive click-clacked past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.

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