Town business

Today, after reading a few people talking about this early-morning fire on Twitter and Facebook, and after watching a couple of videos from The Specials, I wrote these lyrics:

It's the morning after the fire on 73rd and MacArthur on the deep East Side
Everyone is bewildered and nobody saw it coming until the place got fried
Not every block blaze is suspicious
But not every flame can be innocent
When criminals parade waving contracts
And it's harder every day just to make rent One block over
there's a robbery going down
don't try to protect
The terms of the exchange
are exactly what you would expect
in this town Now flash forward years after tears run dry on the deep East Side
Abracadabra hey presto there's galleries and bistros it's been gentrified
Not every new neighbor is nameless
But not every old one gets to linger
When you're shoved by an invisible hand
And insult to injury is it gives you the finger One block over
there's a robbery going down
don't try to protect
The terms of the exchange
are exactly what you would expect
in this town Not what we mean
when we used to say
town business
It's a sad tired scene
When you get to see
town business

Goodbye Shamsher

Chairmen of the board


I thought something might come together. I did some of the things might help. I waited to hear back. Today I learned it didn’t move forward. It wasn’t me, it was them. It’s their rules, their board, their game. I thought about these two gentlemen sitting outside the shuttered neighborhood fast-food spot. They have their own time to spend, contemplate moves, talk in between and even during if they feel like it. They could be in one park up the road, the other park up the road or the other one two blocks along the avenue, or beside the lake. But they play where they are because they like it, until they feel like doing something else. That was what made them caught my eye while I waited for the light to change at the intersection, and what gave me the time to capture them.

Public vigilance


I go to these things because I’m happy that they can happen. I also go because I have time to drop in after getting off work nearby. Goodness knows that’s not a given. So many events slip though invites and e-mails and social-network queues. I forget: Is “it’s complicated” a possible response yet?

It’s not just the venue, where I can have a drink and look out one large window onto a main drag, or out another onto the jewel of the city skyline, ever more beautiful and obsolete. It’s not even the guests, though they’re pretty and pleasantly dialed in.

I go because I know sometime sooner than I’d like that I won’t be able to, and I’d like the comfort of having been. Was that a little dark? Well, okay then.

Not facing up


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.

In time you’re gonna pay


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.

Up in the air

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.

My neck, my back, my thighs, my bike rack


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.

Car me maybe


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.