Today was about reassuring my mother that I wasn’t at immediate risk for a 30-foot wall of water to come rushing into Oakland. It was also about explaining how far away I live from the Oroville Spillway and the Feather River floodplain, and how many people had to evacuate, and what might happen in the next week with rainy weather forecast, water draining from a lake as fast as safely possible, and the stressed Delta levee system’s effects on the state’s drinking water prospects. This stuff is not the same as the Edgar Cayce stuff I grew up hearing about from her and going off to the public library’s shelves to bone up on out of curiosity. Today, as it turned out, was also about trickling leaks, treacherous currents and the swiftness with which a man may find himself lost in a flood.
Building on yesterday’s question where someone I’d never met before wanted something from me I wasn’t willing to give, even more asks came in this morning over the transom, hands outstretched and bayonets clenched and glinting between teeth.
First came one from a government agency, and that required a decision from above my pay grade. Then came another from another media outlet about something I’d filmed a while back, and that meant declining on one of several possible grounds. Then the third came from a different outlet about participation in an encounter, and that one could take a day or more to process, given how its language construes me.
I need to think about whether I’m the person they seem to think I am, and what the half-life is on the person I used to be, the person who they think they might have answered.
I wrote about something today. Hours later, I got a call from someone two time zones away asking me if I’d give them details about a particular thing I’d written but not fully disclosed. When I told them no, they accused me of being a bad journalist. After all, why write about something if I wasn’t willing to back it up? I was polite, and eventually the person thanked me for calling back and hung up. I thought about it for a good while after. I realized I’d told them no for several reasons, but only told them about one: that I hadn’t wanted to be the bearer of bad news, at the expense of advancing things faster than other parties were willing. Another, larger reason that swum up from muddier water later on: good as librarians are and excellent as it can be to emulate their virtues, I’m not one. Granted, I’m not paid to be one. I justify what I write to my editors, but I’m not required to open my notebook to anyone who asks. This is something I need to revisit or figure out how to sit with.
Later on, I drove by the old Merritt Bakery and confirmed what I’d seen a few days earlier about the upcoming auction. Town business, man. Town business.
I’ve been making more timelapses lately in order to look at the world without time, in the words of that line from “The Matrix Reloaded” I’ve never quite gotten over.
I want to see what the clouds look like in the reflected surfaces of the buildings outside the one where I work, and how the light changes as the clouds shift and the hours lengthen into evening, and when the weather predicted by forecasters and expected by pedestrians suddenly starts landing on everything outside.
Then I want to see it differently, so I’ll use one app to speed it up or another to filter it in black and white and gray, because I’m greedy about options and lazy about sharing and keen on using certain platforms in certain ways.
I didn’t wind up getting to say the still, small thing I hoped to say because somehow it wasn’t time.
I didn’t say anything reckless or foolish to someone else when I thought about it because it would probably never be time.
I didn’t go to the bar where a few good people are singing songs in memory of a vivid but faint acquaintance who passed away last week.
But I did get to do one or two good things for other people, and I did get a couple of nice direct messages. That, and getting rid of the mustache and soul patch, will just have to do for today.
I started the day still thinking about a couple of difficult losses.
Then I drove up to a popular scenic route in the East Bay hills where a guy got fatally shot three years ago after breaking up a fight. His mother and sister were there as police announced a reward for information leading to a suspect.
Then I drove to the office and walked past one of the more reliably happy places and moments I know: the Paramount Theatre on Broadway on one of the monthly Wednesdays that it hosts citizenship ceremonies.
Then I got to learn about a particularly difficult request, presented with the illusion of choice, strictly as a stopgap measure and under color of opportunity.
Then I went home and ate the healthy dinner my wife made and paid some bills and petted my poor sick barely-eating cat.
Then I went to an open-mic night at an Alameda bar, where I didn’t get drink because the bartender couldn’t see me despite ten minutes at the bar, with an older guy perched on a seat insisting on shaking my hand, saying “no offense” and launching into a conversation about race, his father’s war service and bigotry toward the Japanese, and his father’s Japanese-American friend.
Then I got to listen to my bandmate’s lovely set, followed by an acoustic duo, followed by two guys on electric guitars, singing to a girl, who ended their set early when one guy whipped out a ring and proposed (to the girl).
Then, after a few more acts, I got up and sang, missing the fight that broke out next to where I’d been standing.
Then I took myself home, following and then losing the detour signs meant to guide folks safely to the highway.
Some day, all in all. I could be laid off, dead, starting all over in a new country, told what to do at work (like last year) instead of asked nicely, unable to pay bills, divorced, caught up in a conflict, unable to sing or drive or write. But I’m not any of those thing, not yet and not today.
We deserve better than we’re getting. Better arrivals, better departures, better in-flight meals, better snack and drink menus, better this-is-your-captain-speaking banter. Better seat reservation, better check-in processes, better security-theater stage direction. Better pre-flight safety videos, better exit-row volunteering, better seat-pocket magazines. Better flight plans.
And if you still think I’m talking about the airline industry, well, you must be in airplane mode.
Ow ow ow ow ow.
I asked one of my editors: so long as I’m starting at 11 a.m., why don’t I bike over to the press conference outside the sheriff’s office and see how it goes? Sure, she said.
I hauled my road bike inside, inflated its tires, and headed down my avenue, around Lake Merritt and over to Lakeside Boulevard. A little over an hour later, I was feeling good about things. Some of the marchers were heading west on 14th Street to City Hall, followed by an Oakland police SUV, and I figured I could trail them slowly along 14th and make it to the office before the top of the hour.
Then my editor called and said there were boats on fire on the waterfront, off Fifth Avenue and Embarcadero. I turned around on 14th, barreling back around Lake Merritt Boulevard and onto East 12th Street. Turning right at Fifth Avenue, I went down to Embarcadero. A couple of officers were waving cars around, but I was able to go through and into the marina. Somehow the bike drew less attention than the couple of television station reporters and cameramen who barreled in around the same time. For some reason, a kindly boat owner decided to walk me out onto the dock where he could see the burned boat yards away from his own. Then I was able to pedal back from the marina and over to the newsroom, file and then slowly make it home.
I’ll be sore tomorrow, and that’ll go away. Some things will stay: the feeling of freedom, the sight of the road under my tires, the effort of balancing my satchel and a bag while dashing around.
Today I decided to call trunk. When a planned meet-up fell through, I figured I would go open up my car and see what there was to organize and get rid of.
As it turns out, I found something I’d ordered online, placed in a box for safekeeping, and then forgotten about. Not as good as giving myself a gift from the past, but close! I also managed to separate several dozen books and maybe around 150 CDs, trash-bag a bunch of debris and broken glass, and figure out what’s still good out of the other stuff (water, a cigarette-lighter-powered pump, some tea and add-water “iron rations”).
While I took some cleaning solution to my dash and cupholders, I looked around for newspaper for my windshield, thought about room for a few other slightly worse-for-wear pieces of equipment, and listened to They Might Be Giants’ “Flood.” As long as months begin, opportunity to help them begin well should be met with sincere effort.
I still feel like I’m testing things out, but vaguely optimistically and less with the panic and desire to burn things down. Some of it comes from acceptance of certain things, like how long some things take to fully fall apart, how long other people take to come to their own perspectives on reality and options, and how rewarding it is to act on even small things like a tiny, timely joke before a receptive audience and to see returns in the way of positive feedback.