NOVEMBER 29, 2015

 

LOVE'S OLD SWEET SONG


 

So anyway, the dockwalloper that blew in earlier in the week left behind a cold front, which is not nearly so cold as other parts of the country, but because we like to avoid paying any more than we have to pay to Piggie, our public utility company, we all keep our houses colder than Methusalah's tomb, causing folks who hail from Nebraska and North Dakota to shiver in their boots when they come to visit. When the temperature outside is minus forty, you might as well crank up the thermostat to 75 or more, because what does a few more piddling degrees make when the difference is so high.

When the temperature here hovers around 45 or so under the oak trees most folks pin the temperature at a brisk 62 degrees in the parlor and tell the relations to just put on another sweater. You want to increase the central heat? That costs money! Put on another sweater and suck it up; who do you all think I am, Nelson Rockefeller or something . . . !

This is a time of great anticipation. Anticipation and pumpkin pie and lamentation among the Native Americans here, who regret not having built a high enough fence to keep out the emigrants, strengthen border patrols, establish a universal State language and create stringent legislation that would have prevented the Pilgrims from giving birth here to dilute the population.

You can just imagine how different life would be in America had the First People established a language requirement that everyone must learn Lenapi so as to earn the right to live here.

That is right. You want to live in America, well then sir, you must take on the customs and traditions of America. Things like utilizing all parts of the animal you slay for food. Honor and respect the Earth, our mother. Speak our native language of Lenapi. Things like that. And put aside those silly buckle shoes and stovepipe hats.

How different things would have turned out had the early administration possessed strength of character on the matter of immigration. Learn Lenapi or else. No multilingual ballots. Speak Lenapi.

Yes, we have our traditions, and the Island is preparing for the august and much anticipated Poodleshoot and BBQ. The Special Guest invitations have been sent six months in advance and the secret responses have arrived. Juleene, from Santa Rosa, has been engaged to prepare the pumpkin pies for the dignitary table, but more information about that and who will attend we simply do not have. We do know that Juleene is gathering all the freshest ingredients and has even gone so far as to have Lemuel haul a flatbed truck loaded with pumpkins from the farm outside Princeton-on-the-Sea down the peninsula.

A few curmudgeons might claim that all this fuss is for nothing as the dignitaries will be far too busy pressing the flesh during an election year to sit down and properly enjoy a fresh homemade pie, not excluding the fact that the current contingent of hustings stumpers consists largely of people who have no idea what an American pie really signifies.

And the truth is the best pumpkin pie you ever had in your life was not that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you had. There is not much of any magic art that can transform a mash made of brown sugar, carmel, and squash puree into something somehow rare and beautiful. Homely is as homely does.

The present day being what it is, with all the kids now collecting pre-ordered thanksgiving meals from the Safeway and the Raley's, all tidy in a box without the day long baking and slicing and stewing filling the house with heavenly smells, there are fewer and fewer of those among us who used to handle these traditional rituals. You go into the City and there are all these joints where you order a crudo that consists of a smear of pickled tuna about four inches long on a plate, or a snicker snack with sole and two halved fingerling potatoes and a fine white sauce served in something like a teaspoon and this is supposed to nourish the soul and it all costs the good host an arm and a leg and one should appreciate this fine quality and taste and it really is fine but somehow lacking in the soul department in a city that produced Jack London and Ferlingetti and Howl and Brautigan trout fishing in america and the 1916 streetcar strike and Diego Riviera's paintings in Coit Tower and where are the aunts who used to spend hours in the kitchens backing those savory pumpkin pies that were never better than the worst pumpkin pies all gone to dust layering the tincan landscape that produced the tattered sunflower that is no locomotive but a sunflower that never forgot that is you and all celebrations everywhere are about the people sitting there beside you, your family and friends who traveled far across the tincan shattered landscapes in many directions to meet there and nevermind the crudo because that is what makes a really fine wine; not the name on the bottle or the buzz or the price, but the people with whom you share the glass. Beautiful sunflower.

As it approaches midnight, Eugene packs the last of his black powder ammo for the Poodleshoot, lining up the cartridges, and Marlene sets the pies on the sill of the newly silvered winter to cool.

The moon, waxing in majesty, sailed among the throng of stars above the nighttime Island and deep shadows swelled in the doorways.The saxophone threnody of the Harlem Nocturne wafted from an open window somewhere. Denby, sitting in the Old Same Place snug, finished up his set and stepped outside for a smoke when a figure appeared on the edge of the shadows. A figure he recognized. The figure, tall, lanky, remained aloof.

He felt compelled to approach this figure, whom he recognized.

"Long time no see," he said.

"Yeah sure." She said.

He asked how she had been.

"I'm doing okay. Got everything in line. Got my dog to keep me company. Don't need nothing. Just a few small problems, but I got a handle on it."

"Yeah sure," he said.

"So how ya been," she said.

"Up and down," he said. "Some rough times, but okay now. Got a handle on it."

"Yeah sure," she said, and expelled a long, languorous jet of cigarette smoke.

"So you here by yourself," he asked.

"Don't need nobody," she said. "Got my dog. I am doing all right. And you?"

"I am doing all right. Got time to take a walk?" he asked.

"There is no more time," she said. "Not any more, not for me. But I can take a walk. What do you have in mind?"

"No plans," he said. "Plans are just a tiny prayer to Father Time."

"Yeah sure," she said. "It is what it is. Like it always was."

"It is what we make it," he said. "Otherwise it will always be nothing."

"So you say. I am doing all right," she said.

"Yeah, sure. Heard you were sick," he said.

"That is true," she said. "It sucks."

"I am sure," he said. "That does not change anything."

"Yeah sure," she said and took his hand. "Why walk when you can dance."

"Yeah sure," he said. "After all, there is no time."

And the two of them walked hand in hand under the arch into the warm shadows of the Island night.

The train ululated from far across the water as the locomotive trundled from beneath the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their 1000 watt lamps, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock and its weedy railbed and interstices of its chainlink fence, dropping slowly over the basketball hoops of Littlejohn Park 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 parts unknown.

 

 


 

 

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