Whoa. Did I never write about this?
Some time ago I was walking down San Pablo Avenue at 3 a.m. feeling like a total sack of horseshit. I had gone walking to meditate on why I felt like a total sack of horseshit. I had done this thousands of times before and never found a definitive answer. Because I didn’t know what else to do with myself, I decided to embark on yet another fruitless death march, thinking that at the very least I might see something weird, or come across a stray cat who would let me hold it.
I was headed north on the left side of the street, between 59th and 61st in North Oakland, having just walked past my old house, which I had done so on purpose. That night I deeply missed my friends, and wanted to recall some old memory of being with them in that house and on that street . . . closing my eyes in the dark quiet outside the place where we had spent so much time together, and hoping to gaze into a portal in my mind where I had been holding on to the dead photographs of whatever it was my life used to be. But there was nothing there anymore, not really, and maybe in recalling it so many times I had warped the image so badly it had completely diverged from reality and become a sort of dream. I opened my eyes and stared at the green front door, which was partially hidden in the shadow of the street that stood before it. I was sadder as hell just then, and I supposed my life was over. I kept walking.
Back on San Pablo, I saw that it was completely empty. I was the only one wandering around, which is usually the case. And it was there between 59th and 61st that I passed Donut Farm, where I had worked years ago when I first got to Oakland. The kitchen light was on and I saw old Seng in the back making hundreds of donuts. I watched him for a few minutes. I heard his AM radio blasting nonsense. I stood in the exact same place I had stood during the last few minutes of my final shift back in October 2015. A stranger was outside that day and had my picture for some reason:
AS IS MY WONT: I got sentimental as heck. I thought, oh god, it’s all gone . . . and it really was gone, and it was my fault it was gone. All the friends I’d made there had moved away or vanished entirely, and I knew I would never see any of them again. I had spent thousands of hours in this building and now the building was useless to me, and I was useless to it. I felt like freakin Ebenezer Scrooge looking through the frosted windowpane into the ghostly vapors of my own past!
For some time I had felt like I’d exhausted the city, had seen the full spectrum of everything I had already done and could possibly do in the future, which would just be more of the same only lesser. I did not know what to do about that feeling other than to get away from it, and this place, and all the haunted things there that reminded of me of everything that was gone now.
Right there on the street at 3 a.m. I knew I had to go somewhere else soon enough. I kept thinking of places to go. It was either going to be Los Angeles or Berlin. But once I took off for Berlin, I knew I would never live in this godawful country again. That was heavy to think about. I was weighing the whole thing out in my head just then.
Well: Sometimes the little angels smile on us all, and so it was that I saw a hardcover novel lying on the sidewalk. I could read the cover from far away. I walked over to it and picked it up. It was BERLIN GAME by Len Deighton, who wrote the Harry Palmer series:
I don’t know, man . . . I ain’t fatalistic or nothing, but then here was something that suddenly meant something to me, for whatever that’s worth. And listen: it sure as shit ain’t called LOS ANGELES GAME, so. . . .
McCune had actually leant me this book a long-ass time ago. I remember it was in the glove compartment of my old cop car for probably a year. I remember reading it with the engine idling one night in the Jack in the Box parking lot in Temescal at 4 a.m. when this girl I was dating asked me to come rescue her from whoever was after her . . . she came barreling out of the bushes in a huge black fur coat, and I tossed the book in the back and slammed on the accelerator headed for West Oakland where I lived. I never ended up finishing it. I was too infatuated with this insane girl!
ANYWAY: That night I scooped up the copy I found on the sidewalk, right there beside a building which for some stupid reason still had some great significance to me. The book had a secret message for me, and so it was important I keep it. I kept it. I walked home.
I can’t remember how long ago that was. It may have been a year ago, now that I think about it. Thing is, I found it again a few days ago. It was in my closet. Yes, there it was, and I held the weight of it in my hands again. I thought, my god, yes, this right here is the thing. In my head I saw it shining plain! It said something to me that only I would understand. I have been thinking about it ever since.
Infer all you want! I’m going to bed. This book rules, by the way. It’s probably one of the best Cold War spy novels ever written . . . but don’t take my word for it! Find your own copy on the street! I gotta keep this one. OK??