TALES OF AN ORANGEPEELER
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11.22.04, monday night
We were cross with each other.
Scowling, even as we prowled the park, past the hulking unfinished museum, where someone had scrawled "Battleship de Young" on a construction trailer (to which Jimmy wryly responded, "Life imitates art; art imitates war"), past the cracked marble stools of a little pagoda overlooking a pond, past the wigs of old lady bushes turned away from their fallen cleaved cone moles, and we were mute, tense even as the tall eucalypti trembled in the high wind, a river of bending bough, light, medicinal scent, falling leaves. There, with no machine and no other human in sight, every sound was amplified, so that each breath was a sonic boom.
Then we came upon a path lined with yellow flags, collegiate runners trotting toward an uncertain future. Each one breathed a little differently than his predecessor; some panted, some gulped intermittently, others kept their mouths shut, and all were sweaty and inwardly drawn. Later a frosted blond man in a car stopped us, asking where the best view is, you know, of the Bridge.
After emerging from the park, we walked through a neighborhood so monotously laid out that even the street names were predictable.
But it was pretty sometimes; every place is, sometimes, even a prison (certainly San Quentin has a gorgeous view of the bay): garage doors blazed white, lonely little laundromats, classical music drifting out a third story window with no one in sight, the last of the bouganvillea: purpling snow on pavement.
. . .
My memory worsens. How could I forget that I once tutored at an elementary school, an after-school program, and San Quentin?!?!
Worse: more slippage, to stay unrecorded. More abysses, to stay unmapped. Black alluvial waters where prehistoric fish lurk. The memory as ocean. Oh, but the mountains! and the whales!
. . .
From Prison Life is Different by James A. Johnston (1937):
....[A] group of men came over in a motor boat. It was a wonderful day on the bay and they had an exhilerating ride. Everything they saw at the prison was new to them, and they were complimentary concerning the order, system, and cleanliness. In the hearing of the prisoners, they talked about their trip and about the beauty of the location. The prisoner who kept accounts for the steward of the general mess used to make out a menu every day and bring it to my office in the afternoon so that I could see what was planned for the following day. He got quite a kick out of hearing the visitors enthuse about the location. That evening the usual menu for the following day was on my desk, but it was dressed up and illustrated like a hotel prospectus and this was the copy:
Never since the opening in 1852 has the San Quentin Tavern enjoyed greater popularity or deserved better reputation than under the present management. Scenically San Quentin is unsurpassed. The location is superb. The climate is ideal. Nestled at the foot of the mountains of Marin, basking in the glorious sunshine of California, fanned by the breezes of the beautiful bays of San Francisco and San Pablo, the adventure-weary are allured and captivated and find rest and solitude so satisfying that many stay for years during all the seasons, and some for life. Many who only stayed a short while on the first trip, after trying other resorts, have returned again and again, and on each succeeding visit for a longer time.
At present we have several thousand regular boarders, and the transients bring the average of meals served to over nine thousand daily. Guests are always talking about our table. The cooking is plain but good and wholesome, and meals are always served on time. Regular boarders preferred. As a special inducement all who sign up for one year are given twelve months' board for ten months' pay. The place is very valuable as a mineral property, being especially rich in "copper." In case of fire do not leave your room before the door is unlocked. Guests departing before expiration of the time named in the contract will eventually be required to pay in full. Before going away leave your permanent address at the photograph gallery, as we want to have your name on our mailing list and keep in touch with your whereabouts.