About ten years ago, when I was working for a legal messenger service, I met Sierra, a truly gorgeous gal, with long brown chestnut hair, an unforgettable face, and the most beautiful tattoos I’ve ever seen. We had a lot in common, similar interests and teenage years, a mutual love of tattoos and Lenore and random stuff that made us happy. I soon was introduced to her beautiful brown and white constant companion, a pitty named Daisy Maez.
A couple of months ago, I was riding the BART when four dirty kids walked on. They were dressed in layers of worn, patched clothing, had backpacks with sleeping bags rolled onto them, and were mid to early twenties. A tiny pink bear with an anarchy sign dangled from one backpack. The girl among them had a raspy voice like Janis Joplin, and a sleek, oily blue-nosed pit bull at her side.
Oakland. Seemingly synonymous with pitbulls. Invoke either word and all of a sudden you have a media feeding frenzy. People use Oakland in casual conversation as a derogatory term much too often. “It’s not like we’re in Oakland,” they say.
Here we are, with Oakland in the news again.
Oakland. My parents got married in the Oakland Temple in the late ’70s, when they were both practicing LDS.
When I was a teen, my dad wrote a song for the Oakland Symphony. The song was commissioned by the city of Oakland, in January 1994, as part of a public awareness project called 21 Days of Light. It sought to convey a theme of “unity through diversity.”
It was performed in over 200 places by performers and to audiences representing diverse creeds, races and cultures in Oakland. A video was broadcast on KTOP cable television in Oakland and served as a backdrop for a live performance at the start of the Martin Luther King Day Walk, featuring words by Mayor Elihu Harris, radio personality Emmitt Powell and a performance by two children’s choirs and soloist Verlin Sandles.
What I remember is walking through an unnamed mall in East Oakland, maybe it was the Eastmont Mall, I can’t be sure, in my memory it was much larger and of nicer architecture than that decrepit mall, while my mom met up with some of the people she was involved with for the project. It had a couple of stores in it, but was mostly empty. The stores were of the cheap fashion clothing variety, most were gated up. There was a poster for the movie Ace Venture, Pet Detective in the middle of a walkway on the upper floor.
(photo credit Rubaliciousness)
I remember walking through this nameless mall, I don’t even know if it exists anymore, or if it’s just another empty building, and thinking to myself, at age 13, “Oakland needs some love.”
The people I met in the mall, and through my parent’s project, were exceedingly kind. They had more character than anyone I had met in the suburbs of Walnut Creek growing up.
I decided I really liked Oakland, and that I wanted to be a part of it somehow.
When I lived on the border of West Oakland, near the Temescal District in 2007, my neighbor got mugged by a group of little kids. Outside my window, little children spent their days throwing giant rocks at Tonka Toys. Another neighbor got hit with a brick upside the head while he was putting stuff into his trunk. He ended up in the hospital. I lived near the best bakery ever, Arizmendi. I shopped grudgingly at Pak n’ Save. We moved away because someone offered us a place in Berkeley at a $450 rent decrease. When I wanted to move back, I couldn’t afford my old neighborhood anymore. The closest I could find was in a not-so-safe part of West Oakland, near a grow house, a major hub for drug dealing, BART and the freeway. We’re still looking for a spot.
In spite of the danger I felt lurking around every corner in my old neighborhood, compared to where I had moved from, the Inner Richmond of San Francisco, I liked it. I met so many interesting people. Artists, therapists, Phd students, aspiring filmographers, photographers, drug dealers, prostitutes, you name it, they all lived in the apartment building I lived in. They were all a part of the slice of life called Oakland.
I still spend a lot of my time in that neighborhood, at the Temescal Alley Barbershop, at Tattoo 13, at any number of the new eateries that have popped up since then — from Koryo to Aunt Mary’s Cafe. If I could afford to buy a painted Victorian flat in that neighborhood, or even rent one, now, I would be there in a heartbeat.
Oakland. I’m not sure how to separate the hype from the reality with all that’s going on here, with the tiny anarchist factions breaking bank windows, and with large groups of people, from union workers to children, joining a larger, growing protest for a general malaise we’ve all felt creeping since 2008, but I think a sign a friend told me she saw on the bus stop there today says it best: “Do something positive for Oakland, or get out.”
(photo credit to Altus photo design for bottom photo and Neitherfanboy for topmost photo)
Why do people feel the need to approach a very shy dog with their teeth bared in a grin (a very aggressive look for dogs in nature) and their eyes staring straight into the dog’s eyes, expecting a naturally beta animal to look into the eyes of an obviously alpha beast, when in nature, this would mean a fight, or a challenge of authority? And why then must these people ask, “oh dear, was she abused?”, looking at me with blank stares, teeth slightly showing, as I explain to them, “no, but your habit of lunging towards her suddenly with your hand spread open, teeth bared, staring straight into her eyes, challenges her natural inclination to be a beta dog in the pack.”
More blank stares. And then the (usually male) ego kicks in. “What’s WRONG with her,” they ask. Looking at me askance. They lunge again, she backs up, cowering, trying to be as small as possible in order to not challenge the obviously aggressive beast, who, getting more and more bruised at her lack of liking him, is approaching her more and more assertively.
I really think owning a shy dog has tipped me off to the superstitions of people towards dogs. They seem to feel that a dog can sense their energy, and I see this more with men than with women, which is odd. The men come up to my dog, and if she doesn’t say hi to them, or runs away, which she usually does, tail tucked between her legs, they try more and more to get her to come near them, making her more threatened, more leery, most likely never to approach them again. Then they get mad at me and her. “What’s WRONG with her?,” they ask. Why won’t she let me pet her? they think to themselves, projecting all of their insecurities onto this poor red beast, now imbibed with the power to judge a man’s very nature. If she won’t let them pet her, there’s something wrong with them, they superstitiously think that she can sense their “badness” or whatever else they’re hiding. So they try harder, trying to disprove the dog supposed power of sensing whether they are a good person or a bad person.
In reality, if they were to kneel with their hand out, staying completely still, my dog would most likely come around and sniff them tentatively, and then gradually move towards the palm, sniffing it too, as long as it doesn’t move towards her, and the person keeps eye contact nonexistent. The problem being that nobody can seem to keep still for this long. They start to move towards her as soon as she comes a little close, shattering the little trust they were able to gain in the first place.
My neighbor takes it personally, and has tried so many methods to get our dog to like him – one time we told him to back up towards her and sit next to her without making eye contact. It usually works. In this case, she flew from the armchair before his back could even reach her, landing on my head, as I was sitting on the couch.