First weekday off time away from the newsroom? I’ll take it, even if that means driving past and parking outside the office around the usual starting hour for the second time in as many days. Because there are good things like time with A., a visit to the bookstore, a home-cooked meal and a small furry-faced animal that seems to have grown tired of hiding out under beds or chairs for 23 hours in a day.
There is also the strange feeling of going to the grocery store again and listening to my youth in a way I never could have. A dozen Top 40 songs that were almost never on the same air or under the same format as the same time. I think I would have had to tune to three or four different radio stations to hear each one over the course of the seven- or eight-year span they saw airplay. Now they’re all amalgamated algorithmic allies, sonic kinfolk if not skin-folk, uncanny uncle and aunts wafting and wheeling around overhead while I shop, asking me (between store announcements and sale reminders) to remember when.
I’d never been to Thai Temple before, but a friend visiting from Louisiana said we could meet there. I got it together to find parking a block away and found her and a couple of others sitting and talking, having already eaten. There, worship might’ve been about the catching up and small talk or the small bills slipped to the woman who initially asked me for salt to season her food and eventually admitted she was homeless, or even the restraint practiced when a small white Opie-looking preteen behind a fence saw me walk past him and called out “Hey homie!”
They raise some bold little Biebers in Berkeley. At his age, I wouldn’t have dared sing out some salutation to strangers on a street. At my age, I know enough to bite my tongue and not respond with “You don’t know me like that.” With my luck, the police officer who’d rolled past a minute or two later and told a couple exiting their car to fix how they were using parking space would have seen me talk to the kid and taken umbrage.
I got in my car and drove north along MLK and east along Cedar and north along Euclid, parking by Eunice and turning off the engine. The hills were full of cyclists and Sunday-paper readers and stroller-pushing athleisure wearers, some stopping by the nearby Rose Garden or descending into glorious Codornices Park.I walked down the main path and stood around for a while, but the couple visiting from back East were about fifteen minutes late. Still, they showed up and we talked for about half an hour after surveying the picnic tables and themed parties around us about things had been for us both and what had changed. Then I wished them well and went to Oakland.
I walked down the main path and stood around for a while, but the couple visiting from back East were about fifteen minutes late. Still, they showed up and we talked for about half an hour after surveying the picnic tables and themed parties around us about things had been for us both and what had changed. Then I wished them well and went to Oakland.
By the waters of Lake Merritt, I stood outside a building for a while until I got invited in. There, a friend in town from the other end of the state was throwing a gathering. I didn’t know I needed to be there until I got there. I said hello to the other person there, and we all just sang and talked and tried to be creative and alive and thoughtful and present. When that ended with a pick-up in uptown and a drop-off in Alameda, I realized what meeting all those traveling friends and others had been like.
Second opinions save time, trouble and lives.
When I noticed my bicycle was wobbling, I went back to the downtown bike shop I stopped by a week ago. I needed a screw to fasten a bracket on my rear platform. Bless them, they didn’t charge me anything to do it, so I left a few bucks in the tip jar and hopped back on.
But something was still wrong with my ride. Fortunately, the other bike shop a few blocks away noticed my flat rear tire and the pinch puncture it had sustained sometime after I’d gotten the tires replaced at the first shop a week ago. After charging me $15 to replace it, I left the second shop much relieved and better prepared to pedal my best foot forward.
I almost got good at it this evening, grabbing the remote and cutting off the newsroom television’s sound as each local television station in turn broadcast that clip of last year’s fatal traffic stop. I’d seen the images and clips all over Twitter, but I certainly don’t enable auto-play because, well, you both know and never know.
What I never got good at this evening was the other stuff that kept making me think of the traffic stop. Oddly, the biggest issue for me were the car commercials that pay for most of those stations’ newscasts. I didn’t understand why trailers teasing images of care-free dime-stop braking maneuvers and even easier leasing and financing terms kept making me look away.
Then I remembered Philando Castile was shot July 6, 2016, the day we bought our new Honda, one day after Alton Sterling’s fatal shooting, one day before all those police officers were fatally shot.
The other start to my shift was the news about Prodigy, and the accompanying reminder of all those rappers from hip-hop’s Golden Age who don’t get to make it to their own.
They’re just words on a bench.
When you see them, breathe. Remember to turn the bicycle around slowly, angling up off the protected lane and onto the empty sidewalk.
Position yourself just so, with your phone held out to compose the picture you’re taking, so the woman walking past you can see what you’re doing clearly enough to risk a smile.
Ponder the effort it takes to perform this self-love, the forms it can take, from fruitlessly flogging yourself around the lake on the first day heralding a series of harbinger-of-climate-change hot-weather stretches, to purchasing the tires, chain and hand grips that will improve the ease and quality of your flogging.
The other advice written in the same wide purple scrawl on the bench is no easier to follow, but what can you expect from words on a bench like: “Spread love and follow ur dreams.”
I used to say that sometimes working at a newspaper feels a little like living your life in a house that’s just a little bit on fire. Sometimes that meant it felt a bit like one of the scenes from “Synecdoche, New York” and sometimes that meant feeling like the “this-is-fine” dog, but I pretty much cut it out after last December, because for real though.
Going to a grocery store that’s part of a chain swallowed whole by an online book seller? That was me today, always distracted by the music that plays while I make my purchase, grease the wheels of capitalism, pay a little bit of money and a little bit of attention where they’re not yet but soon might be one and the same.
I can only imagine just how much tighter and brighter and on-the-nose the algorithms governing everything from the spot-cleaning of the aisles to the bands and artists on the store playlists are going to get.
I didn’t have to work until the afternoon. I managed to put off having to go anywhere downtown until after the parade. This meant noticing the swelling of the city’s population and the celebration on city streets nearby at the margins. I looked out my bedroom window and saw a plane skywriting hashtags into the fathomless blue overhead, and thought to myself, there’s a job minting money on a day like today with hundreds of thousands of people out. There’s a war on for people’s attentions, and what’s easier than little white puffs of smoke out a plane’s rear-end?
The other folks fighting the day’s battle were the men tasked with gathering up all the crowd-control barriers lining the downtown streets, navigating confetti and sandbags and suspect curbs to lift them onto flatbed trucks.
And then there was the addict leaning against one of the newsroom’s false doors, lighting up a pipe in between racuous tuneless belts of song, cheerily taking the hot dog I offered when I asked if he was hungry, and asking me in turn if I could help him get off drugs. Now there’s a war you don’t get asked to fight every day. I said I couldn’t help him, but I’d handed him food he might remember to consume. Maybe that might get him to tomorrow, but this late in the day, how hard could that be?