October 29, 2012
The DRAWING OF STRAWS
So anyway the rains gave up around here and a second Indian Summer has set in but with strangely slanted light through the trees along with abbreviated days.
Still, nobody is fooled by this deceptive weather. The leaves have fallen from the trees to remind us that all is ephemera.
Everyone is having parties up the wazoo, what with the Giants going up against the Tigers in the fourth game of the World Serious and even people who wouldn't know a bunt from bunting are out there yelling "Go Panda!", as if all this sports stuff brings out some kind of bestial atavistic simplicity.
In a place where people sometimes bring knives and guns with serious intent to the tailgate parties, it sometimes descends to that and, unlike Byzantium, the more savagely meaningless battles occur among the spectators than in the arena.
There is still an old rivalry that plays out sometimes from parkinglot to the coroner's office between Washington Grads (UCB bound) and Lowell High alums (Stanford prep).
At the Sanchez's, the former Ms. Morales and Mr. Sanchez were gathering up everything after a night of door-knocks and trick-or-treats, for their house was known as a "safe house" as Ms. Morales was still a schoolteacher at Longfellow. The procession of goblins, ghosts, witches, pirates, hoboes and Cindarellas had dwindled down to the occasional teen who would show up with a bag and hardly any costume, gone too old to seriously take costume seriously and not gotten old enough to appreciate it for the fantasy. Mr. Sanchez handled those cases with a stern talking-to and the teens left chastened to go forward with the necessary rituals of teenage activity in America.
Mr. Sanchez had bought the house from the executors of the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Strife, the same parents who had produced Pimenta Strife, who even now was recovering from the effects of too much nitrous inhaled at the Exotic Erotic Ball in the City.
It should be hardly no surprise how Pimenta turned out, for her parents spent much of their waking hours justifying their family name. Sarah Strife had been a Blue Dog Democrat and her husband, Sam Strife had been a rock-rib Republican who made Eisenhower look liberal. Where she was fiercely jealous, he was fiercely possessive. There's was not a marriage made in Heaven or Hell so much as the Plain of Discord.
If he was hot, wanting the windows open, she wanted them closed on account of her thyroid. If she wanted ornate French furniture, he wanted Amish simplicity. If she was Lutheran, he was Catholic. She was analog; he was digital. Both rebelled against their upbringing to arrive in opposite directions and cross-purposes. No one could ever figure out how the two had ever gotten together in the first place. Truth was, he came back from Korea with a fire in his loins and a mindset about that for which people and women were intended and he definitely made a distinction between the two.
After returning from Korea, the man took a job managing a couple apartment buildings, which seems to attract a certain abrasive type on the Island for some reason. Some think it may be that the position allows a certain type of character leeway to boss people around and some people think that it is the owners who are attracted to a certain brusque and brutish personality. More likely the result is a combination of the two.
For her part, she stemmed from Quality which had fallen due to bad speculation on the fish canning industry. She never felt that the society in which she found herself was quite as good as the one to which she was supposed to have become accustomed and so was often seen spiking her punch at parties for the Native Sons of the Golden West and cotillions hosted by the Native Plants Association with a private flask she employed frequently at home for tea as well. All of her family's problems stemmed from the influx of uncouth foreigners and those horrible "beaners."
For his part, his solution to life's difficulties was to blame incompetence, of which much evidence abounded to his satisfaction, and to incompetence he took a metaphorical blackthorn stick with a will and a vengeance to do good to anyone who suffered from it.
She, for her part, had delved into the Beats, had absorbed the latest thought by the Feminists and had come to the conclusion that the way to resolve the Male Problem was to seize the bull by its horns, so to speak. Extremely metaphorically.
So, some three months pregnant, she had married him -- as there were few practical options in the 1950's on the Island, which always remained a decade or more behind the rest of the country -- and so they found themselves with the one factor in common of guilt, for Guilt is the one thing that Catholics and Lutherans and Jews all share. Possibly Moslems as well, which would be indicative of how we all are, really, in relation to one another.
So they had this child, a squalling brat who did not improve from that position, who became a Troubled Teen, then Juvie Hall Bad Company, then a perfect nymphomaniac punk living in the City until the City got too limiting by way of its high rents and narrowing attitudes and she returned, an ugly duckling with tattoos to the Island. For the Island provides a kind of refuge for lost birds. Canadian geese that never made it to Rio because they didn't have that much strength. Ducks from Audabon refuge at Lake Merritt gotten a little confused. Hummingbirds, which never need explanation. Seagulls escaping offshore storms.
Then there was the affair Mr. Strife had with Sarah, the dance teacher from the Metronome. When that came out, there was no end to the argument and accusation.
Mr. Strife died one day while out in his garage tinkering with a Morris Minor -- he really had been quite a retentive personality and trying to maintain a Morris Minor was quite within his character. He came out to bark at someone parking across the markings on the asphalt there (taking two parking spaces, he called it) and fell down, quite dead from an heart attack.
Mrs. Strife died about a week later, just after all the flowers and the greetings and the well-wishes had been cleared from the piano in the foyer. The piano had never been employed for music, but had been purchased because Mrs. Strife had felt some kind of musical instrument should be in the house and that a piano was the most sedentary, conservative and established of musical furniture. And besides, it really pissed off Mr. Strife, who would have preferred something practical like a coping saw.
Now, every time there is a full moon, or a high tide, or unusual weather at this time of year, Mr. Sanchez and the former Ms. Morales can hear these footsteps up above, angry murmurs in the hallway, doors slamming, and this eternal bickering, this sniping and carping and accusation which likely will pursue the former couple down through eternity for that appears to be their fate.
While outside, unplugging the inflatable spider, Ms. Morales looks up and can see the shadow figures of two people shouting at one another and these figures are standing in her own bedroom with the lamplight on, their shadows gesticulating on the curtains.
"Strife people, go away. In the name of god, please go to sleep. This is no longer your place now. Please let us be and go to where you need to go. Leave us in peace."
Suddenly, just like that, the lights went out and all was quiet. But she knew this simple exorcism would not be enough and they would be back again. Because they would, you know. They are that kind of people, even after death.
The season being what it is, the Editor called all the staff who had survived the mountain trip for the traditional Drawing of Straws.
Denby, sitting in a wheelchair on account of his broken leg demurred, but the Editor insisted on the tradition. And the tradition goes as follows. Every year the Editor has Rachel walk around with a cup full of straws. Whoever draws the shortest straw loses in the sense that he or she must go visit a certian special place from which no mortal man normally returns, or some semblence thereof as in the waitingroom to that Singular Place from which no mortal man ever et cetera et cetera, and that reporter must return with a full report as well as a prognostication of what is to come for the following year.
Each year the Editor holds the drawing according to tradition and according to tradition, each year Denby is the one who gets the shortest straw to his dismay, for going to that Special Place and back is no picnic.
There is more to it than that, but we don't have time to go into all of it now. It is all terribly complicated as such Traditions tend to be.
But this year Denby was bound to a wheelchair on account of his leg and in past years the road to That Special Place, so to speak, had not been paved. Perhaps with good intentions, but most certainly with no decent paving stones. Quite the contrary -- it had all been sand of the deep and slogging kind.
Nevertheless the Tradition must go on as it has for each of the past thirteen years.
So Rachel went around with a smirk, as New Yorker transplants tend to do around here, especially when they are exempt from the drawing by the Rules, and each drew their straw and each sighed, or palmed for a time the result, all of the staff present there, including Februs the messenger, even though everyone knew sending such a rodent weighing less than half a pound to such a place was sheer folly.
So they all drew their straws and they all looked at one another and Denby exclaimed, "O for Pete's sake how do you expect me to get down there?"
So that is when the Editor held the Second Drawing and the second drawing was for he or she who should propel Denby via the wheelchair to the very gates of the Pit.
After the drawing was done, the result was made clear and apparent to all and for the first time in history, two and not one would go to that place from which no mortal man ever returns et cetera et cetera.
And who was that 2nd person so honored?
See next issue . . .
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