It's Monday and raining -- really truly raining. The streets are running if not rivers then streams to gutters, and the trees are looking surprised. It rarely rains in Oakland in June, and if it does, it doesn't rain like this: steadily, greyly, completely.
By now, after hours of rain, these discarded couches, markers of the ongoing displacement of households upset and overturned, must be soggy, dripping wet, looking even more tired, more discouraged as their dust turns to mud, damp puddles in cracks and crevices.
Couches, fat and overstuffed, are the proud peacocks of living rooms, and even when battered and worn, they still represent the luxury of leisure, a breathing space, a place to sit and read, to do nothing, to nap, to dream, but when shoved out the door, dumped unceremoniously on the street, minus their pillows, minus their legs and seats, they are something else -- the epitome of defeat . . . what it is to be too heavy to move, too bulky to stay, left behind. Back to basics.
I find it interesting that these couches are abandoned to sidewalks within three blocks of each other and that two of the three have become frames for graffiti tags.
No room for luxury in our lives.
No salvaging this.
When can we call something a trend? Surely not if it happens twice in two days, but what if what happens is strange, unusual, disturbing . . . what then.
Yesterday, I had business in the city and left just a new rain storm arrived. Everyone on the BART platform looked quite tucked in. When I got off the train at Powell, I noticed more homeless than usual were sitting with their backs pressed to the sides of the long white tunnel leading to 4th St. Most were single men, happy to be out of the rain, but one group that looked as if they had been scraped from a pen and ink illustration in a Dickens novel stopped me cold. A mother and her three children, all wearing threadbare coats and fingerless gloves, huddled in a heap. Their eyes were flat, their mouths tightly closed, and their bodies seemed genuinely limp with hunger. The mother clutched a cardboard sign reading simply Anything helps. Nearby a hat had been upended and passers-by had thrown dollars and change into its deep pit. I emptied my pockets into that hat. I wondered if this mother understood that such panhandling could cause her to lose her children to foster care or if that is what she was hoping. When I turned away, my cheeks were wet with tears.
I tried to remember when I had last seen a mother begging with her children. Not too many years ago, I had seen men with young boys, mothers clasping babies in the marketplace in Nigeria, the adults and the older children pushing brightly colored plastic bowls into the hands of shoppers, hoping for a few spare Naira. And much longer ago, decades ago, I had been accosted by mothers wearing flowery headscarves on the train platform in Sarajevo, their red-cheeked babies swaddled and wrapped tightly to their breasts. Those mothers jostled against one another and held their hands out, hoping again for small change, spitting violently on the train platform if refused. After spending time living in Belgrade with those who had convinced me that Tito’s regime provided adequately for all, these maternal beggars served as the first sign that all was not as copasetic as I had been led to believe. And even longer ago, I recall a shy young mother standing at the edge of a field, coaxing her young children to dash through the waist high flowers towards us, a group of well-fed teenage girls picnicking at the roadside on our way to Huaras in the high mountains of the Andes. I handed them my fruit and broke my sandwich in two, gave them both halves.
But here, in the US, do I recall mothers begging with children? Once back in the early 1980s in NY in winter. I was living in the wilds of South Brooklyn then, long before it was yuppified, years before Mayor Giuliani kicked the homeless to the moon. The economy had slipped. Unemployment was as high then as now, and it was harder than ever for those who were out of work to find any assistance to make it through hard times. Reagan’s “trickle down” theory of economics obviously didn’t work, and those who held the wealth obviously didn’t care. Sound familiar? Too familiar. What trickled down, what trickles down, was/is dust.
The only reasonably priced supermarket serving the area was a Pathmark near the Gowanus Canal, and because so many lived under highway overpasses and behind empty warehouses with their possessions piled in hopping carts, the store was ‘caged.' Six-foot metal posts had been planted in front of the store with gaps between them wide enough to allow most adults to pass through but not wide enough to permit the passage of a shopping cart. Carts that locked if taken past an invisible barrier at the edge of the sidewalk had not ye been invented. After passing through these steel bars, shoppers had to walk down a long wide hall that had numerous small shops – a newspaper stand, a barber shop, a florist, etc – on either side before reaching the brightly lit supermarket, always an interesting place to shop. Just as many people went there to eat as to buy. Empty juice bottles, crumpled potato chip bags and even wrappers of bologna packs were stuffed on shelves beside the spaghetti sauce and canned corn. The security guards were a friendly lot; they looked the other way, picked up the trash, and disposed of it. People needed to eat, and as long as no one pointed a finger at an individual 'diner' and as long as the food was swallowed completely, it was hard to press shoplifting charges. I saw entire families eating what might have been their one meal of the day.
The red-letter December day I remember so clearly was bitterly cold; snow was threatening. The wide hall leading to the supermarket was lined with people, including mothers with children, all standing elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, with their backs to the windows of the small shops, all with arms stretched out, hands holding cups, hats, boxes, buckets, anything that might serve as a receptacle for spare (or not so spare) change. For once, I broke my ‘dollar a day’ rule for handouts to panhandlers. I reached into the pocket of my own threadbare Goodwill woolen overcoat and found about three dollars in change, money for subway tokens. I handed those coins to the mothers with children, gesturing to my own children and explaining I had to feed them, that's all I had to give. The mothers nodded. They understood; they were my neighbors.
Then South Brooklyn was a zone well away from the well-heeled and comfortable. The poor were begging from the poor, but yesterday, the mother panhandling with her children had taken her pleas to those who lived in the glittering world of shimmer and shake. Exiting the Powell Street station, Market Street unfolds. Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, boutiques, coffee shops, streetcars, and oodles of tourists, all with money to spend, and underneath that street one mother huddled with her children, risking all, hoping for enough money to buy dinner.
That reality was enough to break my heart, but then today, driving to the store, I saw yet another family standing bundled up on a street corner, each adult with a with cardboard sign, reading Drug Free and Thank you for Anything you can Give. The mother stood with one hand on the stroller, the other on the sign. A small baby nestled comfortably in the belly of the stroller; a toddler stood beside.
Twice in two days. Is this a trend? I hope not.
Driving to the shore today, I passed a man pushing a shopping cart piled high with his belongings, not an uncommon sight in this part of Oakland, but his overloaded cart bumped its wheels over the broken pavement, I could see his effort was far from ordinary. This man walked with a looping gait so pronounced that every step swung his body in a wide circle to the right and down. One shoulder would swoop down until his hand very nearly grazed the sidewalk and then his other shoulder would jerk spasmodically, hauling his body upward and forward a few inches no more. At first, I thought him lucky to have the cart as balance until I noticed he wasn’t depending at all on the cart to steady him; indeed, the opposite was true. As he lurched forward, he tugged and jerked the cart, trying to keep it from overturning. This was a man of uncommon determination. I couldn’t help but wonder where he was coming from, how far he had traveled and where he was going. If I had a pick-up truck, I would have stopped and offered him a lift, even though I think he would have refused my offer. He was moving under his own steam.
When I turned, driving under the freeway and into the tunnel, I saw yet another unusual sight but this one was far bleaker. Beneath the overpass, at least a dozen burly men dressed in white disposable coveralls and armed with trash bags and shovels were breaking down a long established homeless encampment. For months now, a group of quiet folk have made their homes there, and no one seemed to mind. Just yesterday, I counted more than a dozen tents and makeshift shacks. The camp was out of the way, invisible to most, and generally the ground around each campsite was kept clean and swept, belongings piled neatly and precisely. Signs at the edge of the camp read Thank you for Random Acts of Kindness. The folks who lived there would take turns standing on the corner with signs asking for small bits of money; I would see the same sign, each day held by a different pair of hands. I had begun to think of the encampment as a homeless collective, a viable alternative to overcrowded ‘shelters.’ Those who lived there seemed to be cheerfully supportive of one another.
Now, the tents were gone, the shacks razed to the ground, and men with rubber gloves and paper masks were raking the pavement, filling bags with boxes of Cheerios and granola bars, tossing abandoned sleeping bags to a waiting dump truck. No one stood on the corner; no one who had lived there watched from the sidelines. Everyone was gone. I wondered if the man I had seen struggling with the shopping cart had left before the raid, and I wondered if the paper white men felt any sadness as they tromped about in their great rubber boots, shoveling socks and cooking pots into black plastic bags destined for the landfill.
Yesterday, Occupy: Oakland was cleared away. Today, high above the street camped in a tree, one person Zachary Running Wolf, remains . . .
But what else remains floating around the plaza, the city, the nation? All the difficulties, all the unfairness, the inequities, the misery.
Do something, Washington D.C.
Start by revising the tax code so that richest 1% and the corporations pay their fair share, forgive student loans, fund public education, ensure health care for all. Stop pandering to corporations and the insurance industry. Regulate the insurance industry. Cap corporate salaries. Start thinking sanely and compassionately about the health, education, and welfare of all Americans.
Zachary Running Wolf, once a candidate for the mayor of Berkeley, up a tree
Two Ends of One Day
In pre-dawn hours, in creased blue light, lodgers
at the Occupy: Oakland site are swept away,
the tents removed. Police wearing gloves
collect supplies, now classed as trash, toss
it all in garbage trucks. Midday, my dog
eyes red squirrels chittering in cork trees.
I keep my eyes focused on the farthest shore,
my heart on sea birds atop the air, wanting
to erase the pain lodged inside of knowing.
When home again, I try for hours to tape
together a book that opens with a raid
of a homeless encampment beneath a bridge,
the shooting death of a giant iguana chained
to a cinderblock under a tree, unable to run away.
My dog chewed the book while I was out.
I hadn’t finished reading. I can rescue most of it
but twenty pages – no doubt the hinge that swings
the story out and in – are gone, digested
I’m sure. If I continue reading, I will be guessing,
walking around that gaping hole. I put aside
the tape and go outside to the slant sun, work
an hour or so in the back garden, quiet now
in dim November days, cooler, damper. I trim
the thick-stemmed top-heavy stick collards, fill
the dog-dug hole in the strawberry bed, drag
the trimmings to the compost heap, and then
drive again to the shore to walk as the sun
veils the mountains in glow shell pink, skins
the sea to raw electric blue tipped with gold.
I return, driving past the muddied plaza, the erased
camp, the gathering crowds, and sit with others
in a room high above the street, speaking of war
and books and dream. Gunshots below interrupt,
then brittle lights and sirens. I step outside
and find myself standing on a frail place, knowing
if I take one more step, the earth will break
and I will fall not to the ground but upward
into the dark outside the stars.
Something's gone awry at Oakland: Occupy. I feel it the minute I approach the perimeter. I see it in the faces of those who stand at that perimeter looking on, reaching out or standing glumly, hands in pockets. If this encampment is erased -- and it seems it will be; two notices of eviction have been served -- Frank Ogawa Plaza will not be as easily tidied as when the first camp was removed.
a tent city settling into the mud
Some tents have already been dismantled and removed, and some of those that remain have been sprayed with black spray paint: 'MOB TENT.' Getting kinda crazy like something’ bout to jump off, man we bout ready to mob out. .
. Maybe. Maybe not.
The ending will not be easy, I'm afraid. Those to whom I spoke did not suggest that they would not go easily or peaceably. Let 'em try
, one said, you'll see, you'll see. Ain't goin' easy, not me
. No amount of coaxing, no generous smiles, could convince him to elaborate beyond a tight-lipped hard-eyed stare.
The once green grass is sludged with mud, ground with trash. The library is open for business; the cook tent compressed, but still serving. The Kid Zone has been reoccupied by a teenager, sound asleep in the only chair. No matter. I glimpse only two children with parents who carry a film camera.
. . . and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
Seeing this flyer taped firmly to a pillar, I complete the sentence aloud . . . and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, turn to a young man standing near by and ask him what grievances he would list if petitioning for redress. He wrinkles his brow and shrugs.
Whatever, who cares, don't matter . . .
But you're here. You must care, I say. We do have the right to petition for a redress of grievances, so why can't we put our heads together and come up with a list of potential actions that would make an immediate and real positive difference in the lives of the many, the 99%? We can avoid the trap of exhaustively listing everything, find one or two really really important issues and focus on those. Why not start with asking for the forgiveness of student loans and a health care system that serves all?
Start somewhere and start simply.
Public schools are closing, and public universities are rapidly becoming unaffordable for most working class families. The University of California – Berkeley estimates that a student should expect to budget quite a bit more than $30,000 to cover tuition and living expenses for 9 months of study. Who can afford that? Students are then cajoled into accepting damaging loan agreements. Cheerful financial aid counselors convince would-be borrowers that a college degree will guarantee generous salaries that will allow them to pay off these loans, but if this scenario of higher wages for college grads was once true, it is no longer. Just ask one of the hundreds of unemployed college grads who sit writing in coffee shops or those who are currently underemployed waiting tables or ringing up purchases at supermarkets everywhere. You’ll get an earful. I spoke to a public servant today who borrowed $15,000 to go to school, has been paying what he can afford, and now years later owes $28,000. Such loan practices are immoral and just plain wrong. In some cases, if all the interest paid month by month is added up, the original money borrowed has been repaid.
Forgive these usurious student loans now.
Students graduating with tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt cannot actively participate in society. Burdened by high monthly payments on absurd debt, they cannot get loans to start businesses, mortgages to buy houses. Forgive those loans and thousands of people would instantly have more disposable income. A simple stimulus that might kick-start the economy. Then, make education a priority. Establish real and reasonable federal subsidies for public education. Make sure all public schools are adequately funded, and then perhaps the absurd loans will no longer be necessary.
Kid Zone reoccupied by a sleeping teenager
Who knows? Perhaps if freed from paying ridiculous monthly payments on student loans, young people just might be able to afford medical insurance, but I doubt it. That system is still in need of major
reform and focusing on private health insurance providers is a mistake. We need federally funded healthcare.
Despite the passing of the recent health care bill, medical care remains elusive. For many, health care is simply unavailable or grossly inadequate (despite the valiant efforts of doctors and nurses working in clinics and public hospitals). Too many still cannot afford insurance, including me, and it's not a matter of waiting until the healthcare bill kicks in. That insurance will be no more affordable in two years than it is now.
Three years ago, I could pay $283/mo for moderately useful health insurance from Kaiser-Permanente. Today, if I could even buy a similar policy -- 20+% of applicants are denied -- the cost of that same policy, including a hefty deductible ($5000- 7000/yr), would be more than twice that.
Both medical insurance
and care are excessively expensive in part because healthcare in the US is an under-regulated and unashamedly for-profit business that has lost sight of any real
responsibility for fostering and creating community. Unfortunately, there are now more who want that profit to expand ad infinitum
than there are those who are content to accept modest profits that might allow for modest lifestyles. Drug manufacturers and insurance companies are making money hand over fist, and health care, when available, is suffering.
Sunday morning and the church tent is zippered shut.
The answer? Establish now a federally subsidized one-payer healthcare system that will guarantee the health and the welfare of all by making medical care available once again to everyone, not just those who can afford to buy expensive health insurance.
The United States is rich and powerful nation, and the United States is us -- we the people. We do have both the funds and the expertise to do this. It’s a matter of recognizing and organizing our priorities. A peaceful strong nation needs to invest in its future by educating its citizens and ensuring their health. We have a responsibility to demand that our tax dollars be used to support the education, health, and welfare of the American people. If we stop spending billions on weaponry and war, we can start spending billions on education, health, and life.
Occupy the mind and nourish the body politic.
Abandoned but not dismantled. the worker solidarity booth
Thank you, Jon Stewart, for your wonderful Wednesday night commentary about the police raid of Occupy: Oakland.
(Video temporarily available at: http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_19206202)
Your humor has made the brutality of this action evident to all Americans. For those who still have questions about the intensity of this action, where police out-numbered protesters maybe 3:1, watch this raw video of the raid prior to the explosive scene featured on the Jon Stewart show. That happened later in the evening after the hordes of police had trampled through the plaza, leveling everything in their path, leaving in their wake a mass of sleeping bags, destroyed tents, and emptied food bins.
Warning. On this video you will hear much swearing, see reporters being shoved aside and public servants trampling over those whom they are sworn to protect:
Today, October 25, before dawn, just before 4 a.m., Oakland Police, helmeted and dressed in riot gear, surrounded the peaceful Occupy Oakland encampment. After alerting the protesters of their presence and their intent to dismantle the tent city, the police did indeed begin the destruction of the camp while also arresting those protesters who chose to remain as non-violent resisters.
10:30 a.m., at rest
During the ferocious and swift police action, the city center was cordoned off. BART fumed past its 12th St stop without stopping. Buses detoured and all traffic was redirected to streets north or south of the Plaza. Then under the cover of darkness, in less than 1/2 hour, tents were down, the community kitchen kicked down, the first-aid tent leveled. Unlike those who had carefully organized this tent city, the raiding police had little concern for the environmental concerns of Frank Ogawa Plaza or in preserving food, medical, or housing supplies that might have been donated to various community organizations working in support of the unemployed and homeless. In their ferocious invasion of the encampment, garbage cans were over-turned, food booths crashed, and tear gas released on the peaceable campers who were attempting to gather their belongings.
keeping the peace
By 5:15 a.m., this raging herd of police (200+ police were involved in the raid) were stomping about ripping up signs and tossing useful equipment into the street. By 5:30 a.m., the tent city was gone and what remained on the Plaza was a tangle of personal belongings, tents and supplies. By 6, they were blaming the protesters for the release of the tear gas and defending their own rampaging attitudes by insisting that someone had thrown a plate at them as if it were a Frisbee and they were dogs. Is such a thing possible? Do plates fly like Frisbees? Don't know.
Police are public servants. No where in their job description is a sentence reading: Prepare to be mean. Cruelty is not a desired character trait for policemen or soldiers.
Ideally, a policeman should be a compassionate individual who cares both about the community and the laws enacted by that community. Why tear up signs? Why break personal belongings? Such actions are not required or even desirable.
By late morning, the media was reporting that the city intends to hold all personal property for those protesters who wish to come and collect it, but if that is the case why, then, are four city garbage trucks parked behind this morning's barricades and why are there four other large trucks outside the barrier, ready to move in when called upon?
guarding the remains of the encampment, now designated as a crime scene
Years ago when I was living in Honolulu, I woke one morning and went as I did every morning to sit by the window and drink my morning tea. My window looked out at the harbor and down at steps coming up the hill from city streets below, threading past an empty lot where often flocks of the tiniest finches imaginable perched on the tall meadow grasses that had overtaken the raw land of the lot.
On that day, so long ago, the finches were rising like butterflies because a middle-aged woman with matted hair was sprawling on the steps, legs splayed out, moaning loudly. Within minutes, a patrol car arrived; apparently someone had called 911. The young policeman who approached the woman did not grab her fiercely by her arm. He did not yank her from the sidewalk and hustle her off to the squad car. Instead, he crouched down beside her and spoke in low tones. Soon, her keening slowed to gentle sobbing, and the policeman offered her water. As she drank, he quietly radioed for back-up.
When a second squad car arrived, two female officers approached the woman, not with handcuffs, but with a bucket of clean water, a washcloth, and a hairbrush. One gently sponged the woman's face, removing both dirt and the tracks of her tears, and the other brushed her hair. Then, they helped the woman from the street, settled her into the back seat of their squad car, and were off.
Although I describe this process as if it took hours, I do so only to emphasize the gentleness and the grace of these public servants. In reality, this drama in front of my window was swifter than the erasure of Occupy Oakland, just as real but far more graceful and humane.
UPDATE: In the evening, violence erupted in downtown Oakland with police firing 'non-lethal' beanbags into the crowd while releasing great clouds of teargas. The New York Times has posted videos of peaceful protesters being met by gun-toting police dressed in riot gear. Claims that protesters threw bottles at the the police do not seem to have much merit. Claims that the police fired something (beanbag?) at a protester who was down on the ground can be validated.
As the local news has been issuing dire warnings about the imminent demise of OCCUPY: OAKLAND, giving reasons of increased violence and a mounting garbage problem, Saturday morning, Day 13 of the 'occupation', I decided I would walk around the neatly organized and growing tent city and see how folks were getting along.
As I walked about, I found myself within a peaceful and productive community that had become better organized and visibly increased in size and scope since my last visit. A well-marked tent for first-aid sits at the north end of the camp; two cook tents at the south. Around the perimeter of the camp are tents stocked with all kinds of supplies for campers in need-- including a first-aid tent and one that offers free clothes -- 'fresh shirts socks pants shoes, different colors of fabric.' Neat wooden pathways, wide enough to accommodate walkers strolling side by side, are swept clean and arranged as friendly paths that wend their way through the tents, which are far more numerous now than earlier in the week. Some pathways even have names. Solution Avenue. Walk here and find the way.
While I was walking about, a young man -- not a city employee -- was sweeping the surrounding terraces and another was picking up the few bits of paper that had escaped the numerous garbage cans. I must say, the encampment was cleaner than many of the surrounding city streets.
Someone (the campers?) had erected a flexible fence around the beautiful spreading tree in the plaza and someone else had placed hand-written signs against the fence, asking all to respect the life of the tree: Protect this tree, Fragile Roots, read two signs placed side-by-side. Another propped near the first tworead:
Roots are Strong, Fragile Branches.
That second sign might be appropriated as a motto of the movement. These 'Occupy' campers do have strong roots, fixed to American soil, and the peace branches that they extend -- let's fix this -- are indeed fragile (and graceful). It's fabulous that these peace campers do believe in the truth and possibility of a hopeful joyful productive future, embracing the many not just the few. Take a walk down Solution Avenue, and see what you find sprouting there.
like mushrooms, the tents keep popping up
Since my last visit, even more cheerful gardens have sprouted -- in planters and in containers. All the baby plants seem to be thriving, and the growth is a welcome sight on the city street, reminding passers-by that vast acreage is not necessary to grow vegetables for the table. The mini-garden pictured below is positioned conveniently close to the cook-tent. Yes, there is a cook-tent where campers can get simple or not so simple smiles and meals from volunteer cooks. This experiment in open community enriches us all.
grow food, grow your mind
Fog was rolling in from the sea this morning, flowing over Berkeley down to the lake, but West Oakland was bathed in warm morning sun. Nonetheless, when Earnest and I took off for our morning walk, we headed east anyway . . . towards the lake and the fog. I wanted to stop again at the zone of OCCUPY: Oakland, now in its ninth day. See what's shaking.
Not much was shaking. Pretty peaceful and quiet.
Frank H. Ogawa, 1917-1994
Many colorful tents, complete with rain flies, but all zipped and closed. Very few people up and about; a bit of trash here and there, but not much.
This tent city appeared to be unoccupied or at least temporarily deserted. Perhaps everybody had gone to work (We all have to survive . . . somehow.)
The most notable presence, smiling gently and holding court in the plaza, was a bust of Frank H. Ogawa, the man for whom the plaza was named. Ogawa was a lover of cities and gardens, a long-time city council member, active in the community and instrumental in the planning of Oakland's city center. He was also a man who had spent time in the West Coast detention camps during World War II. As a man of peace, a man who cherished the growing earth, it is entirely fitting that he welcome the protesters and listen, I suppose, as the mutterings of the surrounding community back into the quieter murmurs of the protesters.
This morning, community muttering has risen above the level of grumble. The word on the street is that soon this tent city will be dismantled. Too many rats, too many drugs, too much drink.
Sleep comes after a long night
It was only 9:30 a.m. when I stopped by. No sign of rats, but I did see several men emptying the last of a whiskey bottle down their throats and another sleeping sitting up, head down, arms folded, on a park bench. (No room in the tents for him, I guess.)
The rats, they say, are not really the fault of the encampment; they're always around, but ordinarily it's just a tad easier to keep them under control. I suppose the same might be said for those sitting around the periphery, busily drinking anything alcoholic that comes their way. They, too, are always there and perhaps also more easily controlled on other days, in other ways. So why remove the tents?
Okay, they say, so it's not the rats, not the drinking, but the fist fights. But who's fighting? Don't know. It's always peaceful when I stop by. Someone fell from a tree, they say, and there was a problem with a dog and spilled paint. Someone was carousing late at night. Don't these things happen . . . anyway?
Maybe the best that can be said is that this tent city is a microcosm of that great big wonderful city out there that we know and love. Maybe this tiny little City of Hope, temporarily set up in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, has just as much love and perhaps just as many problems. Maybe there are as many folks wandering helplessly and alone inside this plaza as wander outside. Maybe there are as many hungry, as many who have no home as there are those know they will eat and safely sleep. As many who sit in the shadow, struggle on the borders, as those who don't. And as many who care to dream and hope.
The garden of innocence?
What if we give up the idea of 'reclamation,' or of claiming anything for that matter, and instead push seeds into the soil beneath our feet, plant new gardens where gardens have never grown, in our hearts and in our dreams, harvest what grows and celebrate that harvest? What then?
We don't need the Garden of Eden. We have Earth.
Winter is coming. The sun is late, and morning fog has returned. Once again little Earnest startles when the BART train snakes across the street. Somehow its thunder is held closer to earth on foggy days than on days with sun. I don't notice the difference but he does. When the train approaches, he keeps all four feet still and listens as that steel serpent chatters across the overpass. He does not want to get too close to this noise he cannot trust.
He never starts at other noises, like the whirr of weedwackers or power saws. Perhaps for him, that smaller clatter is containable, more accessible, easier to avoid. He ignores the high -pitched whine of the crew wielding weedwackers, cleaning the jungle from the yard of the empty house across the street, but that it is the noise that interests me. Earnest may think the train may leave the tracks, descend suddenly on the street, but to me it is just background noise, dull and utterly predictable. The whirr of weedwackers slicing through months of overgrown grass is edgy, something new, unexpected, almost hopeful. I hear it and wonder if the house, so long ignored, is again sold or will soon be inhabited again.
Certainly, this is no time for houses to stay empty. Folks need places to live.
Too many are moving onto the street. Sleeping bags are stashed under bushes in the park. Backpacks lean against park benches. Shopping carts appear daily on street corners.
I am mystified as to how this Trader Joe's shopping cart, hastily packed with bare necessities, made it out of the parking lot. Every time, I push one of these carts near the edge of the sidewalk ringing the parking lot, the wheels lock, but here it is -- stacked and parked. No one near to claim it or guard it, but no matter. Its contents, knotted plastic bags, are ironically safer than had they been stacked on the backseat of a locked car. No one will touch the bags stacked in a shopping cart left on a sidewalk, but leave those same plump bags in a parked car and someone might just break the window to get at those bags.
The assumption is that the owner of a car might have 'real' goods but someone who has borrowed a shopping cart can't possibly have anything of value. Yesterday, when walking near Lake Merritt, I passed by this Cadillac of shopping carts, neatly parked in its own parking space and piled high with all necessary for camping in the park -- foam mat, sleeping bag, clothes, pots and pans in the belly of the basket. As with the other more modest cart, whoever had arranged this moveable house was no where to be seen. Clearly, he or she was not worried about break-ins or theft. No one sat nearby, ready to leap at any passers-by who came too close. No one leaned on trees, sprawled on grass, watching, guarding, waiting. Park the cart and go on. Return at night, unload the bedroom, and cart it down to the lake's edge. Listen to crickets, wait for frogs. No need for locks or alarm systems.
Forty years ago, I wandered about Europe with my first husband. We carried on our backs a tent, mats, sleeping bags, pot and pans, a tiny Primus stove, several changes of clothes, drawing paper and several books. I don't remember what I read -- it was long ago -- but I remember reading as the light grew dim. Whenever we set up our camp -- usually in the middle of cities -- we zipped up the tent flap and went on our way, exploring the city, visiting museums and galleries, cathedrals and pubs. We camped at Crystal Palace in London, zipped the tent in the morning, took the tube to the Tate, came back late in the afternoon and cooked dinner before the sun set. We pitched our tent in Firenze, toured the Duomo, wandered the city. No one ever bothered our camp.
Then, I thought such freedoms were the code of the road, the unwritten rules of the life of the wanderer, but now I wander if it might be simpler than that. No place to plug in under a tree. No flat-screen TVs, no computers, no stereos stashed in those piled plastic bags.