Some of you might recognize the above from West Oakland. I took that photo a long time ago. But for some reason this morning, as we spit out of the tunnel as I do every working day, I remembered how pretty Oakland is and can be, despite its delapidated, grimy, rubble-strewn character. Plus today was a perfect Oakland day: a sparkling lake, a beautiful skyline, all sort of people walking around the water.
Oakland is a muse for me, believe it or not. For lots and lots of reasons which I will talk about endlessly here and there and in my stories.
Other good photos of my old stompin ground: West Oakland.
Meanwhile, in the spirit of sharing actual fiction on this site, I wrote this morning the BEGINNING of a potential very short story about life in Oakland. I think I want to, at least for right now, share BEGINNINGS of stories, to see if they work and if they encourage further readership. The following is more poetic, less plotted, and more rough than most things I write.
Encouragment and critique accepted graciously.
Scenes From A Story About Oakland:
Morning was like a mock birth in a freshly-ruined cathedral. Sawdust and chipped plaster stuck to my skin as I stretched away my aches.
Right around seven, the vaulted ceilings of my home began fluttering pale blue as gilded dust danced in every corner. Doves or pigeons fattened their chests against the crusty glass. You anticipated some visitor from on high, maybe a paratrooper or a crash landing.
The air was as alive as any slum, invaded by the spirits of long-dead industry, the oily dreams of cylinder merchants and steamboat conductors and peg-legged prostitutes. I’ve watched old home movies of this neighborhood and my house still stands in them. I'm connected to things that should have been utterly obliterated.
The cracked windows flooded with dirty, sepia light as Henry appeared at the top of the stairs in his polka-dot suspenders, his shredded jeans, and little else. Half-naked was the way to go around here. Or else you’d be itching and turning red more than usual. Not from illness, but from weather that has been trapped and taunted like a rare, ruby-backed moth.
I knuckled my eyes open and coughed up a part of last night. Instantly, I smelled eggs going hard in oil and my stomach remembered the boilermakers from the night before.
My sweat had almost eaten through the winter flannel on the bed.
I have to do something about the fractured headboard. I need to sweep and buy tools.
I made a note of all this on the back of a crumpled receipt as I slithered into my underwear.
A ruined cathedral?
Or a shipwreck?
I awoke to a different interpretation each day.
Day by day, I was retreating further from the things that raised me. If only those things could see me now, I thought, they wouldn’t even know me.
If the other eight stowaways weren’t already grumbling awake, they were after Henry made his boisterous, Gene Kelly on angel dust entrance down the rickety, blue staircase. We started with coffee out of a French press and sticky buns that the bakery wanted to throw away. We finished out the evenings with curry, red ales and horror films, the combination conducive to nightmares that always clarified some hysterical part of my adolescence that I had forgotten.
By day, when we were running around, there were taco trucks and stealing from the orange orchards of the filthy rich. Sometimes we’d splurge on Korean barbecue which always left us in a state of catatonia.
The summer would get so stifling I took to sleeping outside on the concrete loading dock on a piece of factory-grade silk. Above me, a pink moon hung like a pumice stone on the mottled washboard of the Milky Way.
Black cats would undulate out from the foliage as I slept, and keep me company, or else act threatening, when they were only having full-moon fevers.
Distant big-rigs, night-time helicoptors, the bleating of wild dogs, my own conjurations of future success lulled me into a twisting and turning half-sleep.
I found a newspaper and a quiet park in the late mornings. I read the names of the survivors on the plaque. The black kids would throw bottles at the lily-white joggers; the metal artists in their oil-stained Dickies scored methadone behind the boarded-up church. I looked at the facts. They looked askance. This wasn’t how it was designed. But nobody could think of anything that fit together better.
I didn’t have to imagine, but I was convinced that my caravan was forever turning in for the night at some crucial, yet hazardous crossroads. A spice I couldn’t name kept dogging me onward. A woman I couldn’t remember kept calling out my name.
The whole of the Western part of the city was an asphalt desert; all the buildings were eroding back to their original scaffolding, the color of mildewed copper, tide pools, and rotting fruit.
One word sufficed: ambergris.
Wednesdays, the parade of cement trucks broke the pre-dawn hush with the racket of churning and braking, backing-up and dumping. The lot lizards came out from their chicken-wire corners, hobbling like the elderly and suffering sun-stroke in their vinyl skirts. It was hard to feel bad for them, without feeling bad for everyone else too.
Evenings, we did our more daring runs. Rust was in. Old boat parts were in. Anything from a fire truck or an ambulance, a school bus or a golf cart. We didn’t touch chemicals except a cheap cocktail of hash and opium, called Red Rock. I learned the wiles of broken-down machinery. How to negotiate a busy street corner without attracting attention. A crowbar or a composition book rarely left my satchel. Coffee could you take deep into the day, I discovered, turn you into a camel that could cross these industrial latitudes without cramping up or going hungry.
To be continued. . .