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The Matter of the Peanut Rain

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was cursing carbohydrates in all their forms – and those were the forms he loved: pasta, bread, milk, beans, potatoes, cookies and beans – while he dined on his fiber-rich, low-carb, lunch of celery stalks and tuna fish from a retort pack. It was not a pleasant repast. As he was regretting years of not being particularly concerned about what he ate, the office administrator and common sense dictator, sidled up to him and asked, “What’s the difference between an old bus station and a lobster with breast implants?”

Noonan stalled. “It will take me a year to figure that one out,” snapped the ravenous detective. “Tell me before I die of contemplation.”

“Line three,” was all she said.

* * *

“Noonan.”

“I was told the best way to open an oddity with you was with a good joke. So here goes, ‘What’s the difference between an old bus station and a lobster with breast implants?’”

“I’ll bite.”

“One is a rusty bus station and the other is a busty crustacean.”

Noonan did more than chortle. It was an outright laugh. “Very good. Very good. You have made my day. Now, down to business. Who are you and why are you calling?”

“Well, I’m not in law enforcement and I’m not calling about a crime that I know of. Just an odd circumstance. Will you still listen to me?”

“I haven’t hung up yet.”

“OK, my name is Gerald Ford – really, and no, not that one – and I run an ecofriendly lobster SCUBA adventure enterprise from a small island in the vicinity of Santa Catalina Island in Southern California.”

“27 miles across the sea,” Noonan half-sung.

“Same one. Our island is substantially smaller. I say ‘our island’ because we operate off the coastline. We don’t own the island. The Nebraska Bottling Company out of LA does. LA being Los Angeles.”

“Nebraska?”

“Yeah, I know. That’s what I said when I started dealing with them. The family left Nebraska during the Depression and re-opened their business in LA. Been here ever since. One of their acquisitions was the island.”

“They bought an island?”

“Why, I have no idea. Best bet, it was a tax write-off back in the bad old days. Anyway, they still have the island and were pleased when we leased a small area for our dock and facility. We don’t have a problem with them, and they don’t have a problem with us, so everything is peachy keen.”

“Nice expression from the old days.”

“I’m as old as you are, I checked. I was out of college and selling farm equipment when the other Gerald Ford was President of the United States.”

“OK, Gerald. Now that we’ve established who you are not, why are you calling me?”

“Like I said, I run a small ecofriendly SCUBA lobster enterprise off Nebraska Island. Recently it rained peanuts.”

* * *

For the second time that day, Noonan stalled. This time it was as he was reaching for one of his notebooks. “I think I heard you say it rained peanuts.”

“Got it. That’s why I’m calling. It rained peanuts.”

Noonan wrote ‘rained peanuts’ in his notebook and then asked, “Raining as they fall from the sky?”

“No other way to rain. Nebraska Island is not that large. The peanuts didn’t cover us like a blanket but you could not walk anywhere on the island without each foot stepping on a peanut.”

“Did you check with the Nebraska Bottling Company to see if they were responsible?”

“I called and they told me to take a chill pill and call back when the effects of the drugs wore off. So I sent them some iPhone pictures. They didn’t know anything about the arrival of the peanuts.”

“And no one claimed credit?”

“Not a one.”

“When did this happen?”

“Ten days ago.”

“Did you call the local police?”

“Well, there is no ‘local police,’ so we called the county sheriff’s office. They laughed a lot. Said it was not illegal to airdrop peanuts. That was the end of the conversation. Same thing with the local environmentalists. They thought it was a ‘great theater,’ their term, but they had nothing to do with it.”

“I don’t know what I can do for you because scattering peanuts is not illegal. But I like the challenge. Let me give you some questions. I’ll call back in a few days and you can give me the answers.”

“It’s a plan.”

“I love you Californians. Here goes, were the peanuts the only things dropped, were they salted, is the lobster SCUBA ecofriendly business affected by the peanuts, are there any plans for the island, are there any changes planned for the area, has shipping changed in the area, is there any offshore drilling planned, has there been any change to the soil conditions on the island, what kind of animals live on the island and that’s all I can think of right now.”

* * *

Whenever Noonan received one of his loo-loo calls, he went directly – Do Not Pass Go Do Not Collect $200 – to his two-tried-and-true crime fighting tools: history and the local newspapers. The primary problem was any matter involving California was the number of competing facts, fictions, fantasies, lunacies, delusions, illusions, nightmares and hallucination were so intermixed with other facts, fictions, fantasies, lunacies, delusions, illusions, nightmares and hallucination that reality was suspect. Anything was possible in California – which was quite possibly true – and every newspaper, tabloid, weekly, daily and television spun the myth that California was different and proved it with articles which may or may have been true. History was tainted as well. The ‘truth’ depended more on the race, religion, ethnic persuasion of the historian than the footnotes.

Worse, the Channel Islands, which stretched from Point Conception north of Goleta and Santa Barabara to San Diego, 225 miles, numbered eight. According to Wikipedia. Then, on Wikipedia, 13 were named, one being a rock: Begg Rock, 15 feet high. Then, in the same area but close shore there were six islands in Newport Bay and seven in the “Greater Los Angeles Area,” again, according to Wikipedia, including Naples Islands, which were actually three islands, and Terminal Island which was listed as an “extension of natural Rattlesnake Island” which was not listed. Nebraska Island was not listed either. This could have meant it was not “natural” like Rattlesnake Island, was an “artificial island/oil platform” like Freeman Island, (named for an astronaut who crashed), or Linda Isle which was actually a horseshoe of expensive homes all with docks for luxury yachts. A quick call to the Los Angeles Sherriff’s office confirmed there was a Nebraska Island and there had been an “appearance” of peanuts.

Historically there wasn’t a single clue Noonan could use. The Channel Islands had originally been populated by Natives. One of them, known as the Arlington Springs Man, had been dated back 13,000 years. A more recent inhabitant, Tuqan Man, was discovered on a beach. He was dead and had been that way for 10,000 years. Over the eons, the northern Islands had been populated by the Chumash Natives and the southern islands by the Tongva. Typical of the advance of civilization, once a natural resource of value is discovered, the locals suffer the brunt of the encounter. About 1800, Aleut sea otter hunters from what is now Alaska massacred the Uto-Aztecan Nicoleño who had apparently replaced the Chumash and Tongva. Those who were not killed succumbed to disease and privation. The last of the race, Juana Maria, lived on the island by herself until 1853. Dubbed the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island,” she was transported to the mainland. The good living on the mainland was her undoing. She gorged on the good food of California – specifically green corn, vegetables and fresh fruit – which gave her dysentery. Weak, she tumbled off the porch where she was living and injured her spine. Then she died, about seven weeks after being transported ashore. She was 43 at the time.

Juana Maria was not the only Native to be relocated. So were the other Natives left on the island. They to Spanish missions. Thereafter the islands became fishing and ranching enclaves which devastated the ecosystem. There were ongoing disputes between the United States and Mexico as to who owned the islands. The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican American War did not include the islands which left the ownership of the islands in doubt. Until 1978 when they were formerly ceded to the United States. This, however, did not stop the United States military from using the islands for training and, during the Second World War, as an early warning outpost just in case the Japanese invaded Southern California. The Japanese never did and the islands continued to house DEW, Distant Early Warning, bases.

Noonan did not see a single clue as to the peanut rain in the history of the area. Local papers did not offer any solid clues either. When it came to crime fighting, the one word Noonan rarely used was “plethora.” A plethora is an overabundance of something. In the matter of the raining peanuts, there was a plethora of local newspaper, tabloids, weeklies, and grocery store publications with a range of ‘points of view’ including alien arrivals, Satanist invasion, secret military bases for nefarious purposes, marijuana ranching, ecosystem reclamation efforts, as well as the continuing efforts of the Brown Berets, a Chicano movement from the 1960s that rose from the ranks of Caesar Chavez and the unionization of the farmworkers. In 1972, a band of 26 Brown Berets established a campsite on Santa Catalina Island, raised the Mexican flag and claimed the island for Chicanos. Why the Mexican flag, Noonan did not know. Described as “a bit of political theater,” the occupation lasted 24 days. The few remaining original members of Los Boinas Cafés were still active but focused on immigration and police brutality issues. Noonan could find no links between the Brown Berets, peanuts or Nebraska Island.

The mainstream articles on the Channel Islands were informative but did not have any reports on peanuts. Ecotourism had established a foothold on the islands with photographic safaris, catch-and-release expeditions and whale watching being the most popular. There were a handful of SCUBA operations and some survival camping enterprises. Some of the islands had repopulation programs – with various rates of success – and there had been efforts at offshore oil drilling, offshore windmill farms, offshore platforms for deep sea biological research and offshore pollution monitoring of the effect of currents on “civilization’s garbage which is devastating the maritime ecosystems of the world.”

Concentrating on the Pacific lobster, the season ran from October to March, and the bulk of the industry was with laths. Laths were usually made of wood, a flat bottom with a half-circle of metal mesh on top. The lobsters are lured into the laths with salted herring but other fish were just as effective. Peanuts were not mentioned in the literature. Laths were limited to 10 per person for recreational purposes. If you caught them by hand, you were limited to two a day.

At the end of the day, literally speaking, Noonan had zip.

So he called Gerald Ford.

“Before you give me your answers, I have a question.”

“Shoot, Luke.”

“Clever response. First, do lobsters eat peanuts?”

“Good question. The answer is I don’t know. The peanuts which were dropped floated for a while and then got waterlogged and sank. My guess is the lobster will salvage calories from anything they can scavenge. One peanut downfall will not harm the ecosystem. A lot of them probably will.”

“OK,” Noonan said.  “Now for my answers.”

“In the order you gave them,” Ford responded. “The peanuts were not salted.  I ate a few that were still on the ground to check them for you. The peanuts have not affected our business or any other business I spoke with, there are no long term plans for Nebraska Island, there is no shipping corridor near the island so nothing has changed, no offshore drilling planned, no soil conditions have changed on the island other than the peanuts and the island has lots of small mammals and lots of birds, probably more now because of the peanuts.”

“OK,” Noonan went on.  “There have been quite a few articles in the local papers about offshore activity. Any near you?”

“If you mean oil, no. There is talk of an offshore windmill farm in the vicinity and we like that idea. It’s renewable so it doesn’t pollute the air and you won’t run the risk of a Deepwater Horizon spill. Even better, the power will get to the mainland on underwater cables and we will be able to siphon off some of that environmentally-safe power a lot cheaper than what we are paying.”

“Have there been oil spills in the area in the past?”

“Not in a generation. We see a slick from time to time on the surface of the ocean but it’s from pleasure boats, not drilling. We see a lot of plastic which we pull out of the ocean. Environmental groups are active in getting the plastic out as well.”

A faint clang echoed in Noonan’s brain.

“Are the environmental groups active on Nebraska Island?”

“On the ocean around us, yes. But, no, not on land. We’re very small. They do some revitalization of the ecosystems on larger islands.”

“Has it worked?”

“Yes and no. Depends on the island. Depends on the wildlife left. But it is the wave of the future. Oil is on its way out, renewables are coming in. As the dependence on oil goes, the wildlife will come back.”

“What do you mean? Can you give me an example?”

“Sure. Right now we get a tanker a month pulling into our business. That’s our power source. The tanker is loud, smelly and pollutes the air because, well, it runs on fossil fuel. That’s why we only let it come out here on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. We don’t have divers then. The divers come over long weekends, Friday to Monday. We’re really looking forward to the offshore wind farms.”

And the clang in Noonan’s brain was deafening.

* * *

“I know,” Harriet said the next Monday when she sat down in the empty chair in Noonan’s office. “I know about the busty crustacean. Now I have one for you. What do you call a lobster who’s afraid of small spaces?”

“I thought lobsters lived in small spaces.”

“They do. This is a joke.”

“OK, I’ll bite. What do you call a lobster who’s afraid of small spaces?”

“Claws-traphobic.”

“Ha.” It was a flat laugh.

“Now,” Harriet said as she leaned forward. “Tell me about Gerald Ford.”

“President of the United States from 1974 to 1977. Unelected. Was Vice President for about year.”

“F-u-n-n-y,” she snapped. “Tell me about the other Gerald Ford. The one who called last week.”

“Oh, THAT Gerald Ford. Lobster man on Nebraska Island.”

“Yeah, where it rained peanuts. Remember, I took the call.”

Noonan fumbled through a notebook until he found the page he was looking for. “Did you know,” he said as he ran his finger down the page, “the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service figures between 140,000 and 500,000 birds are killed each year by windmills?”

“That’s quite a few.” Harriet was surprised.

“Sure is. That’s the number the oil companies have been using to fight against windmill production.”

“OoooKkkk. Why are we talking about bird deaths and windmills instead of peanuts falling from the sky?”

Well, it was my guess, and just a guess mind you, the peanuts were dropped by some group that supported oil development. Probably not an oil company but a pro-oil activist group.”

“Why?”

“There is talk of a string of offshore windmills near Nebraska island. The windmills would be far enough away from the California mainland so they could not be seen. The power generated would be transported by cable to the mainland – right past Nebraska Island.”

“So the island will get cheap power. So?”

“The oil industry is not in favor of wind power. Stopping the wind turbines cuts back on the competition for energy. The problem is renewable energy is popular, so the oil industry has to be subtle.”

“With peanuts?” Harriet was incredulous.

“Yup. The peanuts were not designed to damage the lobster population but to increase the bird population. By dropping peanuts on the island, birds will show up. When the birds show up, the oil industry will start advertising millions of birds are killed by windmills every year so America should stay with oil.”

“A lot of birds get killed by windmills. It’s a sound argument.”  Harriet shook her head sadly.

“Sure do. 500,000 birds a year is a huge number.” Noonan agreed.

“No kidding.”

“Do you know how many bird are killed by cats each year?”  Noonan asked.

“Not a clue.”

“Between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds. So the 700,000 is less than a percent.”

“True. But 700,000 is still an impressive number.”

“You are correct. It’s all about publicity. That’s what the peanuts were all about. Attract more birds to the island and use the increase as way to kill the offshore windmills.”

“Will it work?”

“Don’t know. My bet is someone has been dropping peanuts and other nuts on other islands as well. One airdrop, so to speak, will not be enough. Only time will tell.”

“I guess you could stay time flies (pause) like a bird,” Harriet chortled.

“I knew you were going to have a lobster joke,” Noonan said. “Here’s one for you. A man walks into a seafood restaurant and the waitress says they have lobster tails for a dollar. ‘A dollar!’ the man says. ‘I’ll take a lobster tail for a dollar.’ So the waitress sits down next to him, leans forward and says, ‘Once upon a time there was this big red lobster. . .

Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle. 

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