Benign neglect

 

That’s one thing that Oakland has suffered from/been blessed by I do believe – benign neglect. For years nobody wanted to build a grocery store here. Now, it’s the hippest City on the Left Coast.

Sure, a few smart residential and commercial investors were smart enough to leap in and scoop up much of West Oakland and Downtown after San Francisco’s recent population boom (one of many I’ve seen growing up in the Bay Area). Whole Foods saw the potential early on, and despite high prices they thrive because of their location and their offerings.totalbastardairlinesbuhbye

Big chain grocery stores like Food Maxx (owned by Save Mart Corporation) in the Laurel also went under. I mean, why go to Food Maxx when there is Farmer Joe’s independent market? I love them. Farmer Joe’s is on par with Whole Foods, but is much smaller, locally owned and less expensive. Their store in the Dimond has arguably one of the finest produce sections in Oakland or Berkeley, IMHO.

Yes, we still have Safeway and Walgreens and they serve a purpose.

We don’t have a need for things like department stores (Sears) or discount home goods and “art” from the Big Box Chains (Pier 1 Imports). Why go there when you’ve got the Chinatown Farmers Market and so many amazing gift, home, service and other shops downtown?

Even our tourist area is dominated by independently owned operations. Sure, we still have a Scott’s Seafood and a Ben & Jerry’s (or are they closed now, too?). But, when you think Jack London Square today – and you’re a bit of a foodie too – you surely think Plank. Lungomare and Forge before any chain offerings. At least I do.

Meanwhile out here in the East – not the deep East but the 50’s is pretty far south/east from downtown Oakland – we get by without too many big box grocery chains. You can get plenty of pantry items like coffee, sugar and canned soups at the drug stores, and at all the friendly little places like Island Super Market and Shop Rite here in the Melrose/Maxwell Park area.

So, in the words of those classic stewardesses on Saturday Night Live, Buh BYE Big Boxes.

We really do seem to “shop local”. One more way we can be trendsetters here in Brooklyn By The Bay. After all, isn’t it time we went beyond interesting facial hair, record shops, bocce ball and locally brewed beer? Note: We should continue to offer up good beer and records though. Because, let’s admit it, those things never go out of style.

 

 

Sometimes it is too late

I’m fortunate to have friends and family who step up when I’m down on my luck, or in need. Once you hit bottom it can be very hard to get back up, even impossible alone. Many will look at you with scorn, as if you did something “wrong” to deserve it. They see you as a drain or a burden. This is one reason it’s so hard to ask for help. We’re taught to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.But, what about when your bootstraps have been torn off by something like cancer?

That’s what happened to a friend of a friend, far far away. Has to be one of the saddest tales I’ve heard in a while. Not, for the person who has cancer, but those who will survive her. Too proud to ask for help, it wasn’t until stage 4 that her family finally stepped up and got her the help she needed.

It is probably too late. They will have to go on with the knowledge that they did nothing, when they could have. They waited for her to pick herself back up again.

So, if you see someone who’s down on their luck. Or, you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, go check on them. Don’t expect them to reply on messenger. Use the doorbell, and if you can’t offer any real assistance, there’s always things like housekeeping, running errands, cooking a meal. You’d be surprised how much those little things can do to keep one going. I know all to well.

 

 

 

The two faces of a boy we’ll call “Blue”

Blue was one of those shy, quiet types in high school. The strong, silent type he even rode a motorcycle. He was such an ideal mix of beauty and masculinity. He was rather like this young man pictured here, James Dean, actor (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955)

james dean from etsystatic.com.319796428

You couldn’t help but notice his nice smile, head full of gorgeous curls, and big beautiful blue eyes. Lastly, he was quite muscular and he wore a black leather motorcycle jacket when he was on his bike. He rode that thing everywhere, to the mountains and to the beach, from town to town as we headed to the predictable weekend house party. That’s what teenagers did then. Got together, bought a keg and listened to each others bands. Golden years to be sure.

Blue’s name came up recently when two of his old girlfriends together with a few other women friends including me. It was one of those rare occasions when women take time to get together and enjoy feminine energy exclusively. It wasn’t a weekend getaway to find men or partners of any sort. It was simply a time for reminiscing and asking the age old question, “What ever happened to …”.

All of us really perplexed, even shocked, when two of our gang revealed they had each dated Blue in high school and recounted two entirely different experiences. One found him abusive and they fought constantly. It got physical, to be sure, and it set up a pattern in this woman’s adult life. She later wound up in a home for battered women.

The other woman found him to be easy going, peaceful and basically a sweet boy. She was obviously the most shocked from the revelation. Listening to the conversation, her eyes darted around, her mind was racing. How would she ever be able to reconcile these two completely different sides of Blue? How would any of us?!

We still don’t talk about any of it. That in itself is a tad disturbing to me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we even seem to be avoiding one another. None would admit it, but we would we be left with the “elephant in the room” before anyone could move forward.

At any rate, Blue died during our Junior year on his motorcycle, with a friend on the back. I hope their spirits are in a peaceful place now. One where transportation is fun and safe.

We will never know what kind of man Blue might have become. Would he have been gentle or brutal? Kind or harsh? I do like to imagine he would have found someone to co-exist with peacefully, if not happily. Because after all, isn’t that all we can really ask for? Peaceful co-existence. Yeah, that’s it. Peaceful coexistence. A concept whose time has truly come.

The first person I lost to AIDS

world aids day 2015 tree“Frank” was tall, virile and had a body covered in sinew and muscle. Years of working on the docks, then later in the woods, and for a third act swinging a carpenter’s hammer in Amador and Calaveras Counties.

We were having so much fun infiltrating the hills, us “415’ers”. They loved and hated the fact we’d cashed in our chips and joined them in the land of wood stoves, wells and septic tanks. We partied like it was 1999.

My female friends from the Bay Area, aka the “Gay Area”, visited on weekends whenever they could. We’d hit the saloon and show the women how to dress on a Saturday night, and teach the men how how to play pool and act around sophisticated and bold and brazen city grrls.

Frank caught Annette’s eye as soon as he strolled into the bar, his head bent down to avoid the wood beams in the low ceiling over a terribly slanted floor. His loud and raucous laughter were the only thing that could compete with his presence.

My husband introduced the two, and that was it. I didn’t see her for weeks. She was very close to moving in and staying as his partner, too. But, alas, the love haze cleared and they both got bored and began to annoy one another. Annette went back to the City, and we never thought about it much.

That is until we heard Frank had Lyme Disease, then AIDS, then died. Nobody talked about it, but we all worried about her.

The good news is, she never contracted either disease and is aging with a healthy vigor all her own. And, it’s a good thing as she cares for an ailing patient with little help from anyone besides her current partner, “Joe”.

My money is now on Annette and Joe to make the distance. I can see them at age 100 even, passing away quietly in their sleep within days of one another. I just wish I could be there to see it and read this at the wake. She’d like that, I’m sure.

That’s my AIDS story. Well, one. What’s yours?

I hear my Mother’s voice

I often hear my Mother’s gentle voice as I cook scrambled eggs. “Make sure the heat is not too high; you only need to stir every so often; never let them go brown”. Hers were always soooo good and all they needed was a little salt. And, if they were fried eggs cooked in bacon grease, they stood on their own without any fancy salsas or cheesy nonsense. Eggs in bacon grease – that was a special treat indeed, that only occurred on Saturdays and Sundays. Cartoons and eggs. Maybe bacon. It was an excellent combo, to say the least.

Not my actual Mother, though it well could have been. This looks startling similar to my childhood kitchen in the Sacramento suburbs (36th & T Street)
Not my actual Mother, though it well could have been. This looks startling similar to my childhood kitchen in the Sacramento suburbs (36th & T Street)

 

Love our Lake Day and Climate Ralley WITH Bicycle Music Festival

Growing up in Sacramento I had rivers all around. That was great on a hot summer day. Here we have beaches and Lake Merrit. Lake is a misnomer though, since it is actually fed from the San Francisco Bay. Once a cesspool, it is watched over and carefully tended to by volunteers and others. It’s been amazing to see Manta Rays, Otters and other wildlife (besides birds and fish) start to populate it. It seems to increase each year, since I moved here in 2003.

The Lake is often much cooler than my home in the Maxwell Park area of Oakland, and it’s been such a welcome respite.

Are we encountering the end effects of Global Warming? Hard to know for sure. We humans have spent thousands of years worrying about “the end”. But, we talk and listen and we dance and play music. There are several legacies I’d like to see our generation leave behind for my grandchildren, and their grandchildren. One is that art, music and literature are the most important things you can leave behind outside of progeny, and two is that taking care of our planet is something that needs to continue improving.

Don’t drive in El Segundo if you’re black, or Fuck the White Waterfountain!

Did you know you are not allowed to drive in El Segundo if you’re black? This is what my then-fiancé, an Italian from Buffalo New York told me. He was making light of a situation that was all too real, something I can be guilty of from time to time as well. Nervous laughter and joking are two of my coping mechanisms. But, it’s still no laughing matter as we’ve seen across the country, thanks to the internet and video footage everywhere.

I’ve had several friends who were in law enforcement, and most are great people. They have what I like to call the “hero gene”. They love coming to the rescue of others. But, as we have found out, there are plenty of bad cops out there too.

As I watched “Straight Outta Compton”, I remembered my time in Los Angeles in the mid-1980’s. I lived in Torrance, but it was in the Hispanic part of town so I was not exposed to any racial violence. I also worked in Rancho Dominguez, a Compton area neighborhood. I remember being shocked to see that our cars had to go behind high, razor wire fences.

I also remember Hip Hop being introduced to us in the suburban discos like The Red Onion and Annabelle’s. Think Vanilla. By the time Rap was really hitting it mainstream, I was already a single mother concerned with putting food on the table and not the latest music trends. So, I may have missed the Straight Outta scene, but I’ve been on the edges all my life.

One day I was at Coloma Elementary School in Sacramento. It was a beautiful old brick building with a cafeteria, a theater with full stage and giant red curtain, a big playground and two water fountains. One day, standing in line like all the other kids, I asked why no one was using the other one. “That’s the black water fountain”. Even the black kids avoided it! I was only about 6 or 7 and didn’t understand what the fuck they were talking about, so I went home and asked.

My Dad explained racial prejudice and pointed out that no one is different or better than another. I told him some of the kids at school told me blacks were crooks. He said poverty drives people to commit crime, not the color of their skin.

I got it, not just because I believed what he told me, but I felt it deep down inside. So, I started drinking from the black water fountain the very next day. I started a little trend even.

Fuck standing in line thinking your on the white/right side, and fuck the police who still hold hatred in their heart for their fellow man. Because, like it or not, we are all connected. Their hate is just a symbol of their fear, and those in that state should not be carrying around guns. Period.

No longer an elementary school, but still beautiful.
No longer an elementary school, but still beautiful.