I began writing this on March 31st, 2022. For some reason I never finished it, and so I never published it. In truth, I don’t know what more I could have added to it. It is mostly about walking around Oakland and missing what Oakland used to be, and being approached by friendly strangers, which for some reason is something of a daily phenomenon for me. I wonder why. Anyway: I will do my best to remember what I would have said back then, and then end it.
There are a lot of unfinished or even completely finished drafts stored in here. Sometimes I go back and finish them, and sometimes they languish forever. I have drafts from 2013. I am posting this one because I’m far away from California, and for all the many reasons California makes me sad, I always miss it when I’m away from it. Such is my tale!
The days I talk about here weren’t particularly happy or eventful days . . . they were just days. I had a lot of those when I lived on the lake all last year. It comforted me to walk around and to think about things. In need of comfort, I went out and did just that.
• • •
I had the day off from work because today was a sort of state-wide celebration of a famous labor and civil rights hero. Unfortunately I totally squandered it by sleeping till almost noon on account of my sedating myself with a metric ton of natural sleep aids, including skullcap and passion flower and weed gummies. I had ingested all this the night before in order to stop my brain from overheating, which I was on the verge of doing for no particular reason at all. Maybe the Dark Season has set in again. In order to achieve some semblance of sanity, I sometimes have to torpedo my body into dark and dreamless sleep. The downside is what I have said: that I miss out on the world for a little while. That is not such a bad thing altogether except when you have a free day like I did, and in which you accomplish nothing. For god’s sake, I took three naps over the course of six hours upon waking.
Tomorrow I will work for a few hours and then try to do something with Emma and Daphne after the sun goes down. Emma turned 27 on the 30th, don’t you know. I was on a long walk on the 29th, about two hours before midnight, and because her and Daphne’s house is on Telegraph and on the way back to the lake, I stopped by and said hello and happy birthday:
After I left, I called my friend Bethany in Savannah, who also had a birthday. Because she is on the East Coast, I was just in time. I miss her. I took this back in May when we hung out next to a field bordering an airport. We smoked cigarettes and watched the planes land all night:
I have told her I will see her in Savannah soon, and I really ought to do that. I will! And because I am completely insane, I think I’m about to buy a plane ticket to Tallinn, which is the capital of Estonia. I have endeavored to be the only person I know to have ever travelled to Estonia. Emel-Elizabeth just has to give me the word. It is eleven in the morning over in Tallinn and she is apparently not yet awake, so I’ll find out tomorrow morning when I wake up here in California. Or maybe we’ll just meet up in Berlin. Tickets to Tallinn and Berlin are like $450 right now, and because I have accrued a ton of airline miles from my credit card over the course of the pandemic, I’d basically go to either for free. How bout that. And if I shack up with Jess in Berlin or Emel-Elizabeth in Tallinn, then I’d need, what, €150 for food and Taking The Train? Man! I’d be nuts not to do that.
If I don’t end up going to Estonia in April / May, I’ll see ol E-E in Italy. As she wakes up on the other side of the world to a barrage of my inane messages, so too do I here:
In truth, I wish I had not left Berlin. Had I stayed, I would have been there for over two years now. Maybe I would even know ten or eleven more words in German. Thing is, I really had no choice but to leave. I interviewed for several jobs, including a German romance novel publisher, which would have ruled . . . but everyone was taking so long to get back to me that it seemed impossible for me to obtain a visa in time. I had something like three weeks left before they were going to kick my ass out of the country. This was before I knew I would soon obtain Austrian citizenship, and thus EU citizenship, which entitles me to all the rights of a native citizen. That right there takes care of the visa thing. I could go over there right now and get a job and an apartment and so on with no resistance. But of course I didn’t know that at the time . . . and of course a global pandemic set in just about as soon as I got back to California. Maybe I never mentioned this, but when I had a layover in Amsterdam, a tall blonde airport employee came over to me and asked me in perfect English if I had flown in from China. I said I had not, and she asked for me passport and then put a little green sticker on the front cover, which I have never removed:
She thanked me and walked away. She approached a family nearby and asked the same question. They said they had come from Shanghai. They got little red stickers.
The first place I lived in Berlin had cable, and so I would sometimes watch it to try to listen to as much German as I could. Even back in December they were talking about the “Wuhan virus” on TV, and I wondered at it. By the time February came, I had a bad feeling something big was about to happen. The fact that they were affixing passports with green and red stickers in mid-February is wild to think about in retrospect. Had I stayed in Berlin I would have been fucked into the ground. I would have gotten stranded there on a dead tourist visa while slowly running out of money. There was no way that what happened to me could have happened any differently other than total ruination . . . I just didn’t know it yet.
What has come from me returning? Just about the only thing I can think of is that I met some good people in the interim. This is also how I am able to justify the catastrophic year I spent in Portland: that having stayed in Oakland, I never would have met Monty and Molly, who are two of my closest friends.
I think I care about my life to the extent that I know people and cannot imagine my life without them. Otherwise I don’t really know what I’m doing or why anymore. I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.
Sometimes I’ll take BART into San Francisco and just walk around and look at stuff. Two weeks ago I did this on a gloomy day, just walking up Van Ness, and so on. And at a crosswalk a middle-aged woman in a black wig approached me and asked for a light. She had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. It was windy and so we huddled together and I took my lighter out of my jacket and lit it for her. She pulled out a pack of Camels and offered me one, so I took it. I don’t smoke, but I don’t know that I’ve ever refused a cigarette either. When the crosswalk turned white, I started walking, and to my surprise she kept walking beside me. She asked me where I was from and what I was doing. I said I was from Oakland and that I needed to get out of my house so as to avoid going insane, and she said that’s why she was out too. It was a sincere conversation and it felt nice to have one. We walked three blocks together, and at an intersection she pointed to a row of rundown apartment buildings and told me she lived in one of them. She invited me inside for a beer and I declined. Then she tried to give me her phone number and I said I had to go and kept walking. I realized then that she was hitting on me.
A few blocks down, another woman walked up to me on that sad and overcast day in San Francisco and said, “Mister, is today Thursday?” I said, “Beats me.” I really had forgotten. Then I remembered it was Saturday and told her so. It made me a little sad that we were both clueless as to what day of the week it was. We were both lost in time just then.
On Tuesday I left my building minutes after I stopped working, and walked up Grand to be around strangers. On my way there, a pretty girl beckoned me from the shadow of a store awning. The girl asked me what my name was and I told her. She said her name was Sienna. She said, “What are you up to?” and I told her I just needed to be anywhere else than my apartment. I asked her what she was doing and she handed me this card:
Mystified, and thinking I had just been sold a vacuum cleaner, so to speak, I put it in my jacket and kept walking. I took BART up to Downtown Berkeley station. I figured I’d get a cup of coffee and walk around for a while, and then make my way back to my fortified compound on the lake. From the station I turned left on University to get an Americano from Au Coquelet Cafe, but when I got there I saw that it was now a vacant building. This place had been open since the 70s and I’d been going there for about a decade. Of course I knew immediately what had happened: another one of the places I loved in the East Bay was now gone forever. This is a sadness that I experience once a week . . . that everything I know and love about this place is vanishing. Thing is, hardly anything ever comes to take its place. There are so many vacant storefronts in Temescal that have sat empty for five or six years now, just black holes of buildings that have no use to anyone other than to remind us that Oakland is dying. If a business does suddenly appear in these empty places, you can be sure that it will be an upscale men’s clothing store that sells $2,000 jackets, or else a beer garden or fusion restaurant called NEST or THE HANGOUT or some other insufferably dumb name.
Just the other night I saw this sign in the window of an art gallery in North Oakland I had been to many times:
Years ago, when I used to actually have fun in Oakland, I knew a girl named Zoe who would show sculptures there. Now it was just a memory of a place, and so was Zoe. I wondered where Zoe was just then. She was very sweet and I’d had a big crush on her.
I stepped out of the ghostly vapor of my own memory and walked two blocks up and left to keep off San Pablo. I walked beneath the tree-lined streets of the cozy neighborhoods there to pet cats and smell flowers. After two miles of this, I predictably ended up cutting through the UC Berkeley campus for literally the thousandth time to get to Strada, which is a little coffeeshop there off College Avenue. I got an Americano and started walking in the direction of home. I felt fucked out and timeworn, and on and on, and I just wanted to get back to my apartment and lock the door and be done with it all for the night. I walked down the many dark streets I have been walking down for years now, seeing no one, until I got to San Pablo Park in my old neighborhood in South Berkeley. The fields were lit up and people were playing baseball there. I had not seen it in some time. I used to live a couple blocks away, so I always ended up there at night, even just to pass through. It was a good place to have a long phone call by yourself. And many times I would go there with someone else, sometimes with a stranger, and we would lie on the tennis courts and look up at the stars, or else sit on the empty bleachers and make out and share a bottle of terrible wine. As I walked across the wet grass, I realized that the park had now become destination that required a long trek to get there. It wasn’t my backyard anymore, since I had left my home there to move to Berlin two and half years ago with no intention of ever returning. I am weak to such thoughts, and so of course I felt a little sadness just then . . . sad because I had come back when I knew I was through with the Bay, and the Bay through with me. And sad because I had given up a thing and had gotten practically nothing in return. I destroyed my life for a lesser life in some ways. Well, what the hell can you do . . .
I kept walking. With the many detours I took, my nighttime walk added up to about nine miles:
As it happens, I was born in 1988, and my favorite number is 8 . . . so I regarded this as a auspicious coincidence, when so many things feel wrong anymore.
• • •
That’s where I stopped writing. I went inside my apartment building and hung out with Dante and stayed awake until four in the morning feeling lonely.
And nine months after this day, I can tell you what really ended up happening, which is that I had a pretty bad summer, and I got priced out of my apartment and thus priced out of Oakland. I never ended up visiting Emel-Elizabeth in Italy or Bethany in Savannah. Rereading this tonight for the first time since I originally sat down to write it, the only things I miss are my friends, the old paths I would walk down, and the strange people and animals I would meet there. And just like the Ryan from nine months ago, I still miss the old Oakland too.