The Last One

On a drizzly Saturday morning before Christmas I sit at my computer to type out my last column of the year. Next March, “Inside view,” at least as crafted by me, marks its seventh anniversary. The column was actually launched a few months before I started working here in 1995 and was originally authored by the lovely and talented Jim Mikles. Once, in his absence, the equally lovely and talented Tim Bousquet filled this space with his words, and he called some St. Patrick’s Day revelers “yahoos.” The column averages about 650 words and takes about 45 minutes to write and is enjoyed by people all over the world. (OK, that’s a stretch.) I’m struggling here because I don’t want to be in my office on a rainy Saturday morning writing this. I’d rather be playing basketball with my son or something along those lines. (Instead, my boy is crammed under my desk watching a James Bond flick.) And what follows is proof that I have absolutely nothing to say this week. I was thinking of maybe running my favorite “Inside view” of the year or maybe just some of my favorite sentences. But I couldn’t decide on any.

I can see the Saturday Farmers’ Market from my office window. People are bundled up against the elements, checking out the melons and honey and leeks. I see a fellow I recognize walking through the market. His name is Dan, and he used to work at LaSalles back in the 1980s. Later he worked at the Sierra Nevada Taproom. He may work there still. I recall that he is a big Minnesota Vikings fan. Bousquet, who sometimes mans a booth at the market, where he hawks coffee and his paper, the Chico Examiner, is not there today. I decide he is a fair-weather Farmers’ Market vendor. A Chico Fire Department fire truck, with its siren blaring, races by and splashes through the intersection at Second and Flume streets. It is a dangerous and exciting intersection, especially since the city rebuilt and straightened the Camellia Way Bridge, allowing westbound vehicles to work up a really good head of steam before rounding the corner and plowing through. Every workday we hear tires squeal and horns blow, announcements that a near-accident has just occurred. There is a festive gold-ribbon bow attached to the front of the fire truck. It heads over the bridge toward Mangrove, and its siren fades in the distance. A second fire truck follows. It is has a Christmas wreath attached to its front.

I wonder what kind of pre-holiday tragedy has struck just before Christmas. I imagine this: A Christmas tree, dried out from weeks without water, has combusted. All the gifts turned to ashes. The presents under the tree didn’t add up to much because Dad is on disability. Still, it’s the thought that counts. Adding to the pathos, Mom, tired of the bedridden no-account, ran off five months ago with her manager over at the mini-mart. They drove his 1992 black Pontiac Trans Am and didn’t stop till they hit the little town in Missouri where he dropped out of high school in 1987. She sent a postcard from Kansas City saying she was happy for the first time in years. But back here in Chico, three days before Christmas, the tree has gone up in flames. No insurance. The firemen arrive, but it’s too late. They drag the smoldering tree out into the driveway, leaving a black, sooty trail, right in front of six sad kids. The firemen hose it down, climb in their trucks and leave. We’ll read about it tomorrow in the daily newspaper, and we’ll feel a little sad and wonder how people can get themselves in such a pickle. The story with photo, running front page above the fold, will show the sad little family watching the firemen in yellow slickers spraying water on a burnt Christmas tree.

Now that I’ve predicted this scenario, I’ve prevented it from happening. By making this story up, I’ve steered it away from ever becoming a reality and, in doing so, saved a family’s Christmas. Have a happy new year.