Monday, September 16, 2019


It’s the last week of summer, my last week in the Bay Area before I return to everyone’s dream city: Florence, Italy. I stop this afternoon by Lake Merritt and today, Oakland—my semi-imaginary hometown—feels even more idyllic.
            The afternoon light is lonely, long-shadowed, the already behind-the-high-rises sun slapping golden highlights on the treetops and falling in desolate splotches on the sparkly sidewalks. The temperature is optimal, still warm from the late-August day but cooled by an ocean breeze. The traffic around the lake is steady but quiet—perhaps compared to the impulsive, always dangerous, and noisy Italian traffic with which I’m more familiar these days. The park where I stop is shadowy and cool, the grass I sit on lush, the pine, redwood, and oak trees old and knowing. Each one of them is so familiar to me and my upbringing that I could name them and no one would contradict me.
            The Kaiser high-rise looms above the lake and park where I sit; both my aunt and sister worked there when I was a child and they loved me—thus I feel a friendly affinity with the high-rise’s early sixties corporate cleanliness.
            There’s a building site nearby, abandoned for the day, and decay: ever present and incremental. A staid mansion turned into an old folks’ home. Syringes in the gutter. Victorian opulence. Sixties apartment-complex glitz and much glass with many-balconied lake views. Past, present, and future stand side-by-side on these streets, always in conversation.
            Oakland is my imaginary hometown because I usually say that I come from here—and do, originally—despite the fact that I don’t really remember ever having lived here. I came home from the hospital to my family’s tiny California bungalow on Midvale Avenue, but we moved out into the suburbs before my brain was developed enough to construct any very valid retrievable memories of the city. Only images of that house and its tiny front yard remain—reinforced and intertwined with old family snapshots.
Still, even growing up in the ‘burbs, Oakland was central to my family, the town where my father also worked, the city we came to on shopping expeditions, the central figure of my East-Bay identity, and home to the baseball team to which I remain ever faithful. All I know of Oakland therefore comes from family stories around the dinner table, later visits, movies, and reading about it in books.
Images of this troubled city so often at war with itself and its gentle climate has left an indelible mark on my psyche although I do not and will probably never know its streets, buildings, back alleys, homes and apartments as I know those of Walnut Creek, New York City, Rome, Florence, or even Naples—that other city of my heart. Still, my pretend familiarity with Oakland is precious to me. It’s like loving a film star, a ball player, or a particularly self-destructive indi-rocker—you can love them from afar, without having to put up with their everyday real-world bullshit. You just love them because they let you love them—and they are so cool.

(With apologies and sympathy—and a little bit of jealousy—to those of you who have and still do live with Oakland’s everyday real-world bullshit.)

Aug. 4th, 2019

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