DECEMBER, 24, 2018

SOLSTICE BELLS

So anyway. The longest day had arrived and it was Solstice time, the time of running about in cold weather to visit old friends and family and live the passing of dark days in these dark days of national foolishness and inanity.

All across the Island lights were strung to hold back the darkness. To bring joy during the longest nights of the year as the earth begins its inexorable tilt back toward the light.

Jose, and the gang returned from their Xmas tree foray with some success. They found a discarded tree which was being taken to the chipper and somehat unobstrusively, while Tipitina hitched up the hem of her dress to inspect some kind of problem with her garter, snagged the tree off of the truck behind the back of the driver and trundled it back to the Household on Otis, a triumphant trophy aboard the Household's Flexible Flyer wagon.

After they brought it in they set the base into a cinderblock nestled in the official metal washtub that had once been employed variously as a washbasin and a cement mixer. They faced the worse looking side to the wall and removed enough of the dead branches so that it did not look so horrible and then they had a party with 99 cent jug wine to festoon the tree with all manner of geegaws found on the beach and in the trash: bottle caps, broken glass, condoms still in their shiny wrappers, shredded speaker wire for tinsel, aluminum foil, etc.

For lights, Martini wired together pieces of old circuit boards so that the board LED indicators would glow and it all looked real pretty - with the house lights down and if you squinted sideways. It may not have been perfect, but it was a tree of Sincerity.

On the opposite side of Sincerity, Mr. Howitzer had Dodd set up the tree he had delivered by the Depuglia Brothers ("Nutting is uglia than a Depuglia"). The brothers dropped the fifteen-foot Douglas fir off in the driveway and drove off as they had been pre-paid, so it was up to Dodd to set up boards on the marble steps, load most of the tree on the wheelbarrow and lever the monster over plastic tarp and up the steps and into the Grand Ballroom where he used a rope and pully to haul the tree upright into its stand with Eunice, the maid and Filbert, the cook.

"Just look at me uniform now!" Eunice said. "It's gotten all tawdry!" Eunice always tried to talk as if she were English when around Dodd, and like most Americans, never really got it quite right.

After the three of them had done most of the decorations, all culled from the Howitzer collection of Russian and English glassware dating from the 1800's, along with quite an assortment of ceramic miniatures and the best of patriotic lights from Tiffany's, the tree wanted only its topmost angel which had to be placed, according to the Family Howitzer Tradition, by a pure, innocent virgin.

There were no more of that sort associated with the Howitzers, so Mrs. Cribbage would have to do the honors perched on a step ladder, aided by Mrs. Blather. Mrs. Cribbage claimed lineage from Old California and direct descent from Mr. Savage who had killed a great number of people during the conquest of Alta California and Mrs. Blather claimed DAR membership, so it was quite all right in the eyes of Mr. Howitzer.

So the night of the Xmas eve party arrived and in the kitchen, Filbert was kept incredibly busy with temporary sou-chefs, Jose and Javier, who every holiday season sought out and obtained seasonal work like this in addition to the elf gig they always got at Macy's Union Square. They did not know much about cooking or about elves, but they were industrious at just about anything that did not involve a shovel.

"Fetch me the greater whisk, pronto!" shouted Filbert, staring down into a steaming cauldron and Jose brought him a spatula.

"O for Pete's sake you ninny!" Filbert shouted. "And you over there, do something to warm that platter!"

As Filbert hustled for the whisk, ordering Jose to do an half dozen things at once, Javier found the cord to a microwave and so plugged that fellow into a wall socket near a big appliance that latter turned out to be an electric rotisserie. He pressed a button and the rotisserie made a noise. He pressed another button and the microwave kicked on. Jose turned something on that clattered and Javier pressed another button when Filbert shouted something at him and right then all the lights in the main room blew out in sparks.

"Now you have done it," Javier said to Jose.

Because Dodd was kept busy fetching canapes and drinks for the guests and taking coats and hats at the door he was not there when they picked the stepladder with the broken rung brace and the short Mrs. Cribbage climbed on up with her hands laden by the five pound, gilt Nike with outstretched wings, which had once adorned a German memorial and which had been brought to the US from that field of headstones as a sort of war trophy by a previous Howitzer. Mrs. Blather, being made with more substantial foundation, steadied the ladder below.

So up went Mrs. Cribbage as the lights went out in a most spectacular way and there was a sort of cracking sound and Mrs. Cribbage reached out blindly with one free hand, the other clutching the Nike figure and she went down into the tree, pulling strands of patriotic lights with her even as Mrs. Blather wrapped her arms around the base of the ladder and Mr. Cribbage grabbed the struggling Mrs. Blather in a bear hug which did not help as both of them went down to the floor in a heap with fragments of the wooden ladder. The tree leaned to the side briefly then went down on top of the Grimsbys, the Alcotts and the French Envoy, Mssr. Montagne, with Mrs. Cribbage lost somewhere in the branches amid a smashing of centuries-old glassware and porcelein.

"Alors!" said a voice. "Ma pince nez est total desole!"

"Dodd!" said Mr. Howitzer. "Get the lights on and clean this up. Everyone! The party shall retire now to the patio!"

In Washington Park, Toni and the Island coven gathered for their annual Solstice ritual, which was not as wild as one might think, for witches tend to be more pacific than the popular image. There was some singing and some dancing however and much lighting of candles and prayers for more peaceful times.

Things were a little calmer over at the Old Same Place bar where Padraic and Dawn wore a Santa hats and Suzie wore a cute elf outfit -- chosen by Padraic. So Suzie tried to stay mostly behind the bar, tugging down the hem of her miniskirt.

It was warm and the place was filled with regulars. Eugene sat at the rail and the Man from Minot sat at a table with Marvin of Marvin's Merkins ("Put a merkin in your firkin!") Latreena Brown was there as well as Ms. Malice Green and even Wootie Kanootie had left his moose herd to come and enjoy a Gaelic Coffee, so called because as Padraic would say, no daycent lad of the old sod would sully the Water of Life with base ingredients. Mr. Sanchez dropped in with Ms. Morales after attending a show in Oaktown for a glass of wine. Their babysitter could not stay past midnight so their time was limited.

Mr. and Mrs. Almeida showed up for a bump and a nod on a rare night out, as even hardworking fishermen took a little time off around now for the Solstice.

Even the Editor showed up for a quick bump and a jar of Fat Tire.

They were all talking about the terrible times and the things that had happened this past year and Denby sat in the snug with his guitar and played the Foo Fighters "Times Like These."

Padraic looked around at all the people he had come to know over the past tweny years and a tear came to his eye. When Denby took a break, Padraic proposed a toast on the House, a rare deed for one so parsimonious.

"To all of you and those we know who cannot be here; good friends all these past two decades for that is how long this pub has stood here. For auld acquaintance be forgot!"

Cries of "Here, here!" and "Auld acquaintance!"

Outside, in the dark, the shadow of the Angry Elf gnawed upon itself, filled with hatred and bitterness. The gang was not like any of this with no bonhommie, as the only joy they possessed was that in having power over others and inflicting pain.

He slunk away to the red truck he used sometimes when posing as a workman. Other times he used a red Miata. Often he used a white SUV owned by a gang member.

But within the Old Same Place Bar there was cheerful clatter and and chatter and warm light spilled from the window panes on the longest night of the year.

The sound of the train horn far across the water keened across the estuary from the Port of Oaktown and died between the Edwardian house-rows as the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shadow-shuttered Jack London Waterfront, trundling on the edge of town past the former Ohlone burial mounds to an unknown destination.

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

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