PEDRO AND THE NEAR MISS

November 5, 2007

All the leaves are falling along Santa Clara Avenue and we have drifted down the year finally to October in whirling burnt siennas, copper-golds and the brilliant splash of the vine maples. It's been a quiet week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The morning glories are withering and even the leaves of unkillable four o'clocks are turning pale as the incarnadine flowers open sooner in the afternoon, and stay open longer late into the mornings, however the sweetpeas now seem to have found their purpose in life as they clamber higher over by the old fence.

Officer O'Madhauen paid a visit to the Jackson's around the block. He took Ofelia Jackson out to his car and set her down their, asking what was the problem. Someone had called about a lot of screaming and so Ofelia said she had been just shouting at herself.

Well now. Ofelia.

Yes, she had been quite upset and had been shouting at herself, mad about burning the toast and everything being so impossible and so on.

I see Ofelia. Could it be your new boyfriend has something to do with it.

Oh no, oh no. Never you mind its all right.

Could it be this boyfriend is not supposed to be living with you in that apartment?

He's just visiting . . . .

He's been visiting two months now, Ofelia. Pause. Does he have a driver's license?

No, he don't drive. Or work. That man will be the death of me some day. But its all right. I'll keep it down, sure I will.

The trials of one's neighbors should be kept, like fresh bread, shut in the cupboards, but sometimes things do spill out. After last week's annual blessing of the fishing fleet by Father Guimon, Pedro Almeida went over to the annual end of summer BBQ held by the Native Sons of the Golden West at the yacht club and there he went on a bender, so to speak. As a man descended from the original Portugese fishermen who had established Sausalito, he was the object of many a toast, and even though Sausalito has more to do these days with docking the lavish luxury boats of the extraordinarily wealthy, and the fishermen with their families are long gone from there, he was much the subject of admiration for being both of Portugese extraction and of the fishing industry, the remains of which now flog their half-sized tunas and mackerel to the restaurants on the tourist trap Fisherman's Wharf. He was doubly admired in that most of the members of the Island chapter of the Native Sons hailed from New Jersey and Rhode Island, so real Native Sons were hard to come by, and was seen in his happy marriage to Angelica to be a sturdy example of red-blooded, manly California.

As the discussion turned to eradication of the non-native eelgrass plant along the shores, Pedro ambled out of the club, down the dock and set about in a desultory way to sail on back to the other side of the Island, when, while up on the roof of the wheelhouse, he sat down to lean against the antenna pole, feeling a bit woozy, and just sort of fell asleep. Unfortunately, he forgot to tie up again so that he drifted out into the Estuary and was heading out past Angel Island into the shipping lanes when Toby and Tommy saw him slumped over the wheelhouse and his boat wallowing.

Their boat was named The Lavender Surprise, and sported a great big flag bearing a bright gold lambda symbol upon it and you never saw such a trim, jolly craft for each of the two had sailed upon the Bay since the ages of three and four, respectively. Thinking there had been some foul play or an heart attack, Toby got out his Mossberg maritime riotgun while Tommy steered their 30 footer along side of Pedro's ketch to find Pedro snoring loudly and a pelican gazing askance.

He looks kinda cute, said Toby. What do you think we should do?

I think we should see if he wakes up, said Tommy.

You do? said Toby.

Yes, I do.

Since the ketch was wallowing so, and their own boat was too slight to come along side without fear of sinking themselves, they shouted quite a bit there to no effect, as Pedro kept right on snoring and the pelican kept right on gazing. A tanker was coming on from afar and they lay drifting in its path. The sound of its warning horn came wavering across the expanse between them. In addition they started drifting rather close to the smelly fishing vessel and that's when Toby got it into his head to fire a couple rounds into the air to see if that would make anything happen. Well that did wake up Pedro's labrador, who, having a similar taste for grain alcohol to Pedro, went to the gunnale to throw up before ambling over to Pedro to lick his face and then wake him, as was his wont when licking failed, by biting him on the meat of his calf.

That got him up, sure enough. And he howled, for the hair of the dog had bitten him in a most literal fashion and gay pirates were at hand and fully armed.

Perceiving danger, the pelican departed.

Are you all right? Tommy asked. D'you want help? Shall we come aboard?

Come aboard and you may lose a leg, Pedro said, for he liked not the jaunty sailor's cap perched on Toby's curls. It was too clean.

Seeing their good deed accomplished and no further need of assistance here, Toby and Tommy tacked around to the other side of Angel Island where they frolicked at anchor in the lee of the wind.

Pedro got himself and his dog in more or less seaworthy shape to come about and narrowly get out of the path of the tanker and so head on back to the Island. It was not until he had entered the inlet there that he noticed Bonkers, the dog, nosing a brightly colored swatch of feathers laying in the bilge. It was his wife's macaw, which had escaped under circumstances described a few weeks ago to live on Coast Guard Island. It was not dead, but stunned by the shotgun blast. When the bird woke up, it hopped around and fluttered with the dog chasing after it and Pedro cursing at them both until the bird bit Bonkers on the nose before fluttering up to the sonar disk on top of the wheelhouse.

When they got close enough, the macaw took off with great indignation back to the relative safety of CGI, while Bonkers continued to howl with pain and Pedro continued to groan with misery for he was cold and wet and had a hangover. When he got home he told his wife he had seen her escaped pet and had tried to catch it without success. This made her love him all the more. She was happy to hear that the bird still lived and had not fallen victim to a neighbor's cat or some such thing.

Sunday, being a day of rest for fishermen, he lay in bed a long while. And any escape from near death always makes a man pensive for a while until he forgets. He lay there watching his wife moving about in her yellow robe, combing her hair and getting ready for the day as the golden light streamed in through the window over the red and blue coverlet.

Her hair had turned an iron gray, and she was not so vain as to hide it with artificial color. He rather liked that simple honesty. She was a good woman and they had lived together some twenty-nine years now. Her hair was gray, and it had come to October and they lived in the autumn of their lives. Soon it would be time to sell the old boat or give it to his son, although the boy fished only for pleasure and not to put things on the table or furnish the house.

You know, you are still beautiful, he said, quite out of nowhere. And she turned to look back over her shoulder with surprise.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.

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