Saturday, February 13, 2010

chapter 2

I first met Maureen on July 13, 2009, a date which, at least in our insular little world, will live in infamy. Did you know that FDR's speechwriter actually wrote "December 7, 1941, a date which will live in history"? The speechwriter was a little too shaken to give his best work, so FDR had to personally take charge of making the text more punchy: on the date that will live in "infamy" the Japanese didn't just "attack" our naval base, they "ruthlessly attacked", and so on. Maureen was conceived on Pearl Harbor Day. Her parents knew that for an absolute certainty, for her father was home on leave from the British Army, and only got to spend one night in his own bed, when the news came in from Hawaii, which of course meant that all leaves were cancelled at once. Since Maureen did not start coming to Lupin until the end of the Seventies, I suppose she counts as the very last of the European refugees, if Britain counts as Europe, an issue about which the British have divided opinions. And while she might seem too young to count as a refugee from World War II, events like bombs falling right by your house are an exception to the general rule that humans do not remember things from the first three or four years of life, and she swears she recalls the Blitz, particularly the smelly little cramped shelter room. And her mother lost a whole extended family, for while Maureen's father was High Church Anglican, her mother was Jewish. That family had lived, relatively prosperous and unthreatened, in a village in Switzerland for generations, but went to Warsaw, for what reason nobody has ever discovered, at precisely the wrong time to go to Warsaw, and were never heard from again. Her mother seldom spoke of it, but would often play the Warsaw Concerto on the piano, and I have learned that when Maureen puts on her earphones to listen to the Warsaw Concerto, it is not a good time to try to talk to her. When she listens to Madame Butterfly, of course she is not to be interrupted, but afterwards she will be talkative.

I had seen Maureen around the grounds before the portentious 13th, feeding the cats every evening. The cats were fixed, years ago, so all our cats are elderly now, except Faye's feisty young Kiki, who is not accepted by his elders. And I'm pretty sure I already knew that "The Cat Lady", whom some others called "The Hobbit" (you would have to see her to appreciate that), lived in what I call Butterfly yurt, because of all the butterfly objets d'art on the porch, much as I call Gina's place Unicorn yurt, although officially, it is only the cluster of three yurts atop the bluff across Little Village road, the Calla Lily, Tiger Lily, and Jasmine yurts, which have funny names. The main row of yurts is simply numbered One to Ten, Unicorn yurt being Number Three, much as Flying Pig yurt is Number Four, and of course Butterfly yurt, with the raised board outside holding cat food where only the cats can get at it, except for the blue jays and the crows and the more acrobatic of the squirrels, and with all the skunks hanging around, eating the cat food that drops on the ground, which the cats consider beneath their dignity, is Number One, a fact which Maureen and I can never mention without going off into: "I am Number Two!" -- "Who is Number One?" -- "You are Number Six!" -- "I am not a number, I am a free man!" -- "Why did you resign?" The seaside village where The Prisoner was filmed is right by the Welsh town where Maureen's sister Rosie was mayor for a long time, highly unusual since the Welsh are suspicious of outsiders, particularly outsiders who come from England, yet Rosie had learned to speak Welsh fluently and in fact could no longer speak English without a thickly Welsh accent. And Maureen's other sister Liz went off to New Zealand, where she was hired to map an area but got tired of the surveying and just filled it in the way she wanted it to be, and there was yet another sister Vivian and a brother John, but let us not speak of them.

I had nodded and waved at her before, as she was puttering around what would become the Oaktree Circle, to pick up the miscellaneous trash that had accumulated there over the years, clearing it out to become the new smoking area, while I would be standing just below, naked of course, with my inevitable cigarette, in the old smoking area on the side of the Restaurant lawn by Hidden Oak cabin, which was a particularly stupid area for a designated smoking area, since Hidden Oak was a prime rental, there in the middle of the action, and the breeze was generally in the direction to take the smoke right in there. Since smokers are a persecuted minority in California, of course she would greet me and tell me to be sure to come up to her Circle when she was done creating it. I seem to remember there was an old wagon wheel up there among the odds and ends, but months later when I asked her where that particular piece had gone, she had no recollection of there ever having been such a thing, so perhaps I dreamt it. There was opposition to the idea of claiming that area for the smokers, since there was a stage under the great oak, which had been used every summer weekend for quiet concerts of classical or folk music, or the naked black tenor who sang so beautifully, in happier years back when I only came to Lupin at long intervals on my sporadic visits to see Turtle, and is still used occasionally, generally by rock musicians. Perhaps that opposition had something to do with the explosion that followed, but the area did need a good cleaning, as no-one could deny, and Maureen was the only one willing, so she was doing it. Have I mentioned that there is a great oak tree there? A double oak tree, actually, two trunks fused at the base, which I call Grandmother and Grandfather, since this oak appears likely to be the ancestor of most or all of the other oaks in the vicinity. Maureen said she thought a botanist had once told her the oak was over 700 years old, which, as with so much else that I hear at Lupin, sounded dubious to me, but surely it has been standing since before the white man came, for if it is not so large as some multi-century oaks I have seen, that is only because it stands in poor soil, and the gnarling of the limbs, and the many scars where it has shed great branches in the past from lightning strikes or whatever other cause, and the wisdom that flows out when a receptive person lays a hand on it, all testify to deep age.

So she was under the tree, with Lori Kay and Cindy, that day when we first met. I call it our first meeting because in our previous nods and greetings we had never gotten as far as exchanging names, and I knew her only as The Cat Lady, for I was a total newbie then, had only once met Cindy, a week before, and while I had met Lori a few times, it is odd for me to recall that it was not until that day that I got the first inkling that she was the most powerful personage in Lupin. Now, Cindy is a woman of strong personality whom some are repelled by, although personally I have never had a problem with her. She has New Agey tastes, and dyes her short spiky hair sometimes pink, sometimes maroon, or whatever other shade of red, and sometimes wears garish clothes, like the Spandex, teal green above and magenta below, that I see her in today, although in summer she prefers to be naked, despite a heavy build and wrinkly cellulite. John Horne, who is sometimes, to distinguish him from all the other Johns on the grounds, called Horny John, although that joke is so obvious and so lame that most people forego it, once joked to me that when Cindy goes camping, the bears put their food in Cindy-proof lockers. I met her when she was leading some women in water aerobics in the pool, on a lazy Sunday morning, the 5th of July, the day after my birthday, when exercise sounded like a good idea to me, and so I joined in, and enjoyed it, and came back for it the next Sunday, but it didn't happen, and then the Sunday afterwards I saw it on the events board, but only after it was done and over, and that was the last time. When she is DJ at weekend dances, she affects the title of "Goddess Rising", which Veny habitually mangles, when he type-sets the monthly calendars, into "Goodess Rising", so we sometimes call her "the Goodess".

Lori had been among the water-aerobics set, and chatted with me a bit, asking me about my interests. I said that I liked to play board games and card games, which had been true, although now that I think of it, I have not played a single game of any kind since I moved into Tiger Lily, not even the chess match that John Horne challenged me to and both of us seemed eager for but somehow never got around to. So Lori asked if I played bridge, and when I said I had been good at it back in college days but had not found a foursome in years, she asked me to call her sometime and try to set up a game, which is odd in retrospect, since Maureen told me there had been regular bridge games at Lupin for a long while, but Lori had never ever played, and the only card games lately are the poker nights, with Veny and Richard M always, Will and Modern Nick sometimes, and guys I don't know. I had spoken with Lori a couple times in June, when I was trying to arrange a rental agreement, but it was Harry who showed me Tiger Lily, and negotiated the lease, eventually, getting it done the day after I'd moved in, and promising to put a copy of the lease in my mailbox as soon as a mailbox was assigned to me, although this did not occur, so, while Harry has the laidback demeanor of an aging stoner, plays cool-jazz piano, and drives a perpetually sickly wheezing car, I took him to be the general manager. Faye explained that everything gets done here on "Lupin time", which appeared to be the sort of time-sense one encounters in Mexico or Turkey, but I was gentle with Faye, for she said that Tiger Lily had been booked for a busy weekend in August, but she would move those guests into the Massage yurt, which I knew was a sacrifice for her, as she was the masseuse. Lori's role was less clear: Sergeant Dita, so called because she is Army retired, and retains a military posture, called me from the office twice in June to set up an appointment with Lori, but once she was not around at all, and the other time she was said to be upstairs and too busy to come down, so I only got to talk to her when I stopped by Lupin and she was in the office by coincidence. She did handle the "Membership Application", since Lupin is run more like a club than like an apartment complex, and interviewed me to see if I was a likable enough sort, and at that time, God have mercy on her, she decided that I was, but she had to run a background check to see if I was a registered sex offender anywhere. The application form asked what "contribution to the community" I planned to make, and I put down the fateful words, "I am the sort of person that people like to talk to." I had not yet realized how much people at Lupin love to talk, but I have ever since faithfully executed my designated role as The Ears of Lupin.

So, while I had the vague impression that Lori must be senior to Dita, Faye, and Gina in the office, she didn't seem to be the person who got things done. It hadn't even been revealed to me that her last name was "Stout": since everyone called her "Lori" but she introduced herself as "Lori Kay", I would have written her first name as "Laurie" and her last name as "Kaye" if I had been pressed. I knew, or thought I knew, that Glyn Stout owned the place, but I had been put into some doubt about that when I first met Simone and Samara, a pair of "enantiomorphic" twins, which is a poorly understood phenomenon in which genetically identical twins turn out directly opposite in some ways, one left-handed and the other right-handed, one with hair-whorl clockwise and the other counter-clockwise; I have even heard of a case where one was gay and the other straight, and while it would be way too early to know anything about that particular aspect in this case, their personalities are strikingly different. I put it to Maureen, who knows them better than anyone, that Simone is a natural Republican, while Samara is a natural Buddhist, and she thought that quite apt. After my first brief encounter, John Horne said, "Those are the owners of Lupin: they're the ones we really work for," which I did not know what to make of. I think he too was under a misapprehension, that I was a new staff member, perhaps an impression he got from the habit I had acquired in my days at Turtle Lake, my nudie place in Michigan, of bending down to pick up little bits of trash everywhere I walk, for which I receive payment in the form of occasional lucky pennies, or even larger coins once in a great while, a habit that gave me the nickname "Moonshine".

I had, at least, seen that Lori bossed around all the staff, and I had gotten some intimation that she would want to boss around me as well, when Sergeant Dita was dispatched to tell me that Lori said never to smoke in my yurt, which I assured her I did not do, and that my experiments with driving my car down the side-path to Tiger Lily yurt and parking right in front were disapproved of, and I assured her I had already decided myself that it was not workable, and would henceforth continue to park only where I was right then, in the designated, log-chip-sprinkled driveway. Dita was apologetic about relaying such messages to me, and asked if she was being rude, so I assured her I was not taking any offense. Indeed I was rather puzzled as to what the issue was, and wondered whether Lori was overstepping some tacit boundary. So you see, when the bombs started falling, metaphorically speaking, on July 13, it would have been clarifying for me to understand that Lori was Glyn's wife, and the mother of Simone and Samara.

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