Saturday, November 5, 2011

Darkening Days

On the eve of the erased hour, the Flaneur looks back on a week of celebration and transition.

The last delightful days of October fell like dominoes as All Hallow's came and went. It was chemise weather with large butterflies and huge garden spiders, thrumming humming birds and desultory crows. Eager beavers saw their premature jack-o-lanterns melt on sunny front steps. Earthquakes epicentered a few miles away, started October 20th the eve of yet another last day of earth, end of times--forget-it-get-ready-for-work-tomorrow apocalypse.

Occupy Oakland has been in the world news after the bumbling mayor turned loose the ferocity of riot cops on a peacefully-resisting group of demonstrators. A young man a veteran of Iraq debacle had his skull fractured by a canister of tear gas fired at him by one of these degenerate thugs in uniform. When friends came to his aid another cop lobbed a flash grenade into their huddle. The police state whip comes down. But hey they caught the guy planning to fly a model airplane into the pentagon, and the used-car seller who may have plotted with Iran to assassinate the beloved Saudi envoy, didn't they? Homeland security. Time to start another war.
Of course, Oakland's heavy hand came back to slap the mayor in her pie-face. The movement rallied regained the campsite and by November second realized a general strike in Oakland that culminated in the shut-down of the second busiest port on the west coast. Time to rock the boat on a system in which authority figures routinely acquit horrifying widespread police abuse of citizenry. God help the poor immigrant in this vicious climate.

The fall of the holidays at the beginning of the week occasioned a felicitous dissipation of adult mayhem by monday, October 31st. The urge for decoration seemed rather subdued this year. I perceived more of an old-fashioned children's holiday foremost on my rounds. I would see kids coming from school in outlandish costumes in broad daylight, from grammar to high school ages. On Roosevelt I walked past a mad kids party on Saturday. The front of the house was all lit-up and had every inch decorated with masks vampire portraiture skulls witches pumpkins and spooky evocations of every kind. This area was entirely deserted while unseen behind a tall fence the party sounded intensely in gear. Laughing talking trumpets blowing the elf-folk of Samhain were having the crack. I caught the vibe while not seeing a single one.

I flew some ghost effigies under the eaves outside my window and strew a few hoary talismans around the pad. Walking about my neighborhood I was struck by the dedication evidenced by kids who want to add their own drawings and assemblage to already profuse home decoration. They are abetted and thrilled by the commitment of the life-long lovers of Hallowe'en--such as a house on Jefferson with a large articulated marionette of a bat that stirs in slow motion hanging in the front porch.
Early in the evening of all Hallowed as I was returning home, I passed by an industrious fellow designing his own haunted realm. He had installed three seven foot shrouded figures around his gate and was hanging huge green teardrop-shaped skulls on either side of his front door.
I told him it was already too spooky for me.

After dinner I looked out from my own haunted aerie as the street came alive for the trick-or-treating. The young father across the street dressed as a pirate was lining his driveway with illuminariums (bags with candles) and nicely turned-out jack-o-lanterns. His barefoot scooter-riding son joined him and he was also dressed as a clean little pirate. The slightly older daughter came-out after they'd gone inside. She had apparently tired of waiting for the other kids to show up and presented herself in a black fringed flapper outfit and began to shimmy. I was her only audience just then and yet she danced well--I was honored and quite cheered.
Then as groups of fanciful little ones and their guardians began to appear for door-to-door visiting, I decided I would adorn myself with a concomitant spirit of fun.
Black trousers and boots, a white wing collar shirt with a flowing black cravat, my Baudelaire greatcoat from Paris, and beret comprised my ensemble. I burned the cork from a wine-bottle to sketch a wide handled mustache, beetle brow, and a false widow's peak to my blacked-up and slicked-back hair. The general effect was sort of Snidely Whiplash via Edgar Allen Poe.

Off parading a bit I stopped for a wee smoke on the corner. Little kids came whipping around and rather than be frightened they wished me hello. A cheerful exchange of "Happy Hallowe'en" ensued with the passing crew. I added large round black glasses when extra disguise was advantageous--as when I greeted neighbors who failed at first to reconnoiter who it was.
Around to the extravagantly transformed house I had seen going up. Completed now and seen at night, it was like a theme park attraction--the green skulls hung like shrunken heads on the vertiginous porch. I hung back on the sidewalk and watched parents dispatch their kids up the stairs. There a formally attired fellow, face painted black and white, wearing long Egyptian-style bird wings on his arms, would emerge to dispense the bon-bons. A macabre candelabra six-feet tall stood in occultation of the view from the sidewalk as I joined in with parents peering to see what transpired. A young black mother carried her son maybe three-years old up the stairs as he pleaded, "no I don't mommy I don't want to go" the whole way up and back down. Everyone laughed despite his entirely justifiable trepidation.
So I circled around back by Parker street past a house where I knew they specialized in tableaux vivants--characters in costume who remain motionless until someone enters the grounds. Funny how effectively uncanny even something so obvious and stagey can work. Teenaged girls ventured in in order to act more frightened than they should really be and provide a contact frisson for their more cautious companions. They all scream and laugh. I'm a contact buzz junkie now it seems.

So weary from a rather enormous day I headed back, my brief Hallowe'en parade already ending. But I stand in the window with my ghosts and my own candle-lit illuminarium. Several times kids notice me and do double-takes or, like little Rowan from next door, just gaze with wonder at me. Some say wow. I have become an impromtu tableau vivant. Family groups trick-or-treating are in a hysteria of delight, like stoned teen-agers. One lady points me out to her brood repeating incredulously, "It's a real person... it's a real person." Well yeah, lady, I try.

All Saints and all Soul's the last of a run of seasonally warm days. This year the litany of my deceased relatives and friends, what I conceive of as the communion of the saints, includes my friend a poet named Mary. Her death was not unexpected she was in her nineties. We had corresponded within the last year but hadn't seen each other for a number of years, but I thought of her often. I just noticed in a recently-published bay area literary history (one that highlights the author and his equally obscure cronies), the literary milestone of her final book "Pious Poems," a book I edited and published ten years ago. He were good friends and occasional companions at her place or after Mass.
She died this past September. It was a difficult time for me but I made it to her requiem Mass if not to her vigil or wake at the church the night before. That day had begun at the early hour of five and had spent its first half at a hospital where my tooth was extracted. I was still wiped-out the day of her funeral but I abstained from the tylenol with codeine to try to be in a more prayerful state--a mistake perhaps.
I made the scene with an alert from my friend Bruce. He offered to pick me up whereupon we proceed to Alameda to get two ladies he knows before returning to St Albert's in Rockridge by noon. He showed up with barely enough time to accomplish this generous and fairly outlandish task under the best traffic circumstances. We have our best time on the way out-- the time-warp tunnel from Oakland to Alameda. It's a Navy town with a 20th-century throw-back twilight-zone quality.
So it's a bit hectic on the home-stretch. We roll up at the prick of noon who apparently works for a funeral home and is put upon that we've stopped right in front of the main gate to the chapel as if to park. This is where the hearse will resorb the casket in like an hour, so he's a little nervous.
We get inside at the last minute and I try to reach the restroom after landing myself a spot. On the way I pause at Mary's coffin which is occupying the center aisle. I subtly hold a small leather pouch holding rosary beads that my Mother gave me to Mary's casket. Let it absorb all the holiness and the prayer between us and maintain that bond. But have to turn back from the water closet as bells rings and through that same passage comes a very formal procession of priest and servers.
Arriving late we found the programs all taken and at this point I am to realize that this is to be a Mass in Latin. Two Dominicans stand at the rear of the chapel and chant the entire mass while the priest faces the tabernacle the entire time. I remember some of the responses from my childhood latin masses but mainly it's their show anyway with a great deal of ancient singing and chant. The priest gets to speak mainly during the homily and it's of course in the vernacular of the English language. He met Mary in the 1960s and had various charming anecdotes from the period made all the remarkable by the observation that on most days at that time Mary would attend Mass at St Domenic's in San Francisco in the morning and at St Albert's in the evening. All it takes to be a saint is the desire to be a saint.
Then reaching back again to the 1960s we have an old-fashioned sacrament of Communion that involved the mortification of kneeling on the cold marble of the altar step and withheld the ordinary swig of wine for the host alone. Funny how you miss even so wee a bit of alcohol.
The pall bearers paced outside as the quite lengthy service wound down. After the casket was wheeled out in a procession sanctified by incense and holy water, we all made ready for the long ride to Benicia for the interment.
Mary once described me as a martyr and so I felt in the hot afternoon cemetery, much more arid and hot than the coast. The site was within a section reserved for members of the Dominican lay order. After more formal prayer led by the priests we each took a small shovel full of dirt to fill in her grave.
I spoke to the Dominican in charge of the cemetery and he led me over to see the grave of the celebrated poet William Everson. He and Mary had been married and it was she who converted him to Catholicism. After their marriage he had taken vows and his first literary acclaim was as Brother Antoninus.
Afterward we drove to a little Inn where we had been after the death of another saintly friend from St Albert's last year. The wine helped me maintain in the face of my post-operative exhaustion. Driving out there under the big skies over hurtling highways is a challenge in and of itself to me these days when I aspire to be as simple and elemental as an old Indian. Or to be as patient intelligent and aware in a simple humble life as my departed friend Mary.
These were my thoughts this year on All Soul's Day of someone I recently lost.

On November 3rd rain came followed by cooler weather. A large tendentious parliament of crows floated between elevated islands formed by the tallest trees. Wooly clouds sailed beneath the illuminating moon.