Tonight I walked the perimeter of Lake Merritt, which I do a few times a week. Nothing was wrong with me but I wanted to be alone, or rather be by myself (there is a distinction), and so I turned my phone off and got to walking. It is mid-February but the wind was warm and it felt good to be out there. Sometimes on the lake it can be cold because there is no wind barrier, but tonight it was especially nice, and a full moon also, so I reckoned it would be a sort of sin not to take advantage of it.
As I approached 14th where Ruby Room is, and near the Alameda County Courthouse where the Black Panthers once stood on the stairs holding shotguns and wearing black leather, I thought I would scope it out and go inside for a while. There was no one at the door so I went in and saw that there were maybe a dozen or so people there, and I decided to stay. I had not been in there in some time on account of Ruby Room being mostly terrible ever since it reopened. It just felt so hostile the last few times I was in there. I remembered how some guy at the bar had said I looked like a teenage vampire, and then everyone there laughed at me rather than with me, and so I had avoided the place. But tonight it was the old Ruby Room and so I felt glad to be there. I got a shot of tequila and a tallboy and sat down in the large booth near the front door. I wondered at it and realized I had probably sat there about a hundred times, about half the time with a nice stranger and half the time by myself, and I felt a sort of bittersweet thing when I realized it would almost certainly be more of the latter from here on out. Just when I felt I would get out of there and finish my walk and go home to make coffee, a bearded guy in a black beanie walked in and stood across the bar near the mirrors there. I recognized him because he had been a bartender there for many years. I got up and set my empty glass and can on the bar and approached him. He turned to me and I said: “Did you used to work here?” He said he had. I said: “You were always very nice to me when I was here alone. I wanted to thank you for that.” He said he always tried to be nice to people, but I thanked him again just the same. “You said you remembered me when I came in because I have a gold tooth.” I flashed my gold tooth and he said he did remember me. I decided I believed him, even though it didn’t matter if it were true or not. He held out his hand and told me his name was Michael, and I told him my name was Ryan and shook his hand and said goodbye. I walked to the front door and kicked it open and crossed the street there to get back to the sidewalk by the lake.
I was feeling all right on account of my eating half an edible earlier and having my blood warmed by the shot and beer. Despite my stature I have a high tolerance for alcohol and substances and so I knew I was about as sideways as I was going to get. It was a good clean feeling and I glided around the lake in a sort of painless and dreamlike way. And still I could not escape the delayed and inevitable sadness I ought to have felt while at Ruby Room, which is the sadness I always experience when I remember the Golden Age of Oakland, back in 2013 and 2014, when all my friends were still here and we were broke and tired and hungover and the only thing that mattered was seeing one another, even if it was one night at week at Ruby Room, which was always on a Wednesday. Well, what the hell . . . it’s gone now, and there’s no sense getting buried in those feelings still, almost nine year later. The feeling being useless to me, I let it fall through my fingers like sand, and I kept walking.
It would be foolish, I thought, to think that my life is not better now than it has been in maybe three or four years. I live alone and can pay my bills, and nothing is particularly wrong with my body, and I have a whole lake as my front yard. I was not anymore living in the world I had once inhabited—the ELECTRIC HEART, NEON NIGHTMARE world, all gone now, but then so what. My life now is some other thing, and soon enough it will be something else, as it is always the case for everyone who endures all this crushing sadness but keeps going anyway. I am not inert, thank god! Well, it was then I brought to the surface a thing which I always think about these days, consciously or not, which is this girl who appeared some time ago now, and who has been goodly enough to stick around ever since. I got to thinking about her.
I wonder at this every day, her being in my life. I’ll think:
I have considered, quite insanely, that I have dreamt the last six years of my life, all the way back to when I was living in abject misery in Portland. I’ve written about this many times here which is maybe embarrassing, and have told people this in person, which is even more embarrassing, though here it is once more: My fear is that I will wake up and it will be December 2016, and all of this will have been an illusion created by Satan to destroy my mind once and for all. Oops! And so I have vaguely considered that this girl isn’t real. I’m not totally serious. It’s just that I had not thought it a possibility that something like this could happen to me, and that I would be so receptive to it. Not just tolerant of it but rather glad to put my soul at hazard to see it through. Even a year or so ago I could still be a big jerk, and would push back against someone wanting to be with me. But something has changed. There is I guess a sort of shameful thing I have thought about for years, which is that I have envisioned person I would want to be close to in that way, if such a person could ever exist. I know that is childish. To have the insane luck of meeting someone even better than the dream person splits my mind in half like a stone. It was a failure of my imagination, is what I’m saying, to not consider the possibility of this person’s existence. I mean it. I’m serious as a heart attack about that.
There is no point reverse engineering the thing, or breaking it down into pieces to better understand it, because ultimately it does not matter to put it into words. It is so unassailably good that to let it glide over and through me is the way to go about it. You know? All holistically good things exist in this way. To gaze at it is to stare into an eclipse. It is best experienced in a wordless way. Somehow it feels more honest.
So the black car with the spray-painted doors is gone. McCune left 45th, Ghost Town is gentrified and soulless anymore, all the ancient Oaklanders I once knew have split or have gone straight, and many of the bars and restaurants and houses I liked a long time ago now are occupied by yuppies and normies and rubes. None of this is new. I reckon anyone who lives long enough watches the world grow older and different in that way, maybe for the worse. What can you do?
Some nights I walk the lake, and I see the woman by the pavilion between Grand and Lakeshore on her knees atop her sleeping bag and many blankets, and she has her hands clasped and is praying. There are always ducks standing behind her waiting to be fed. Even when she sleeps, the ducks surround her and wait for her to wake up. I bought a bag of shelled sunflower seeds to give her to feed them, but I’ve never given it to her because I don’t want to bother her. She lives in her own private world. When I walked by her tonight, having taken a right out of my house and arriving from the opposite direction than I normally take about an hour and a half later, she was lying down and curled up with her eyes open. It was nice that it was warm tonight so she didn’t have to feel cold. I thought that maybe that sort of thing would be more conducive to nice dreams.
I know that in some way this is a dream. I don’t actually think I’m sleeping on my floor on my Japanese futon in Portland still. I know that I won’t wake up and find myself there realizing sadly that this has all been an illusion. This is a different kind of dream, and one in which we are all sharing. I cannot comprehend the dream now because I’m a total moron, though it’s like the fella said:
. . . after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.”
Thank you for reading this pretentious trash. I wrote it in my head tonight when I was walking around, and I knew that when I got home all I had to do was type it out, which I have done. I used to do that all the time. I guess I stopped for a while because I was afraid of coming off as too sentimental. I don’t give a shit anymore. Who cares? I’m a deliberate fool, the worst kind, and a lot of the things I liked about my life are gone now, and I hardly want anything now other than to be left alone and to not have to wake up before ten in the morning. But also I have health insurance and can walk around my apartment naked and there is a beautiful girl who essentially lives here part-time and who watches movies with me and sleeps in my bed wearing one of my big T-shirts. Don’t you know that that’s the good stuff? She is the best thing that has happened to me for as long as I can remember, and probably one of the best things period. OK?? Lord, I’ll tell you what, sometimes you can experience a long stretch of meaninglessness, and then like a phantom a whole other thing appears, and you feel a gladness in your heart. It is such a strange feeling that a person can have that all-encompassing effect on you.
If it is a dream:
I done pulled the lever and got all cherries. Hey baby . . . I love it.