No Nostalgia Sundays (Time Travel Edition): Oakland Fucking Proper

Standard
No Nostalgia Sundays (Time Travel Edition): Oakland Fucking Proper

My second year at Berkeley, I lived in Oakland. And not Lake Merrit or Rockridge or any of the nicer parts where other college kids or members of Green Day lived– no, I lived in Oakland fucking proper. With the exception of some of the kids in the punk house a few doors down*, my roommates and I were the only white people on the entire street. We totally stood out and I totally dug it. My roommates did too, until they started getting mugged regularly.

I had hated the experience of living in student apartments so much that I made a conscious decision to arrange living conditions for myself that would be as far removed from that paradigm as possible. In Channing Bowditch, there had been rules, there had been order, and there had been write-ups. On Apgar Street, there would be chaos, there would be disorder, and there would be drive-bys.

Three guesses which one I dug more, man.

I hadn’t even seen the spot before I moved in. In fact, I wasn’t even in the Bay Area when the lease was signed, as I was back in Orange County for summer break. I had left my comrade in arms and artistic brother Dakota Slim in charge of the entire affair, and, in typical fashion, he did not disappoint.

The one bedroom sleephole, which would affectionately come to be known as Ap-Gnar Island, was a real slumlord’s pearl of a place: the refrigerator ran, the doors were coming off the hinges, and the bath tub (there was no shower) looked like it had been employed in more than a few capital crimes.

It was perfect.

I remember showing up to the place blindly my first day back in the bay. Dakota was there to welcome me home, beaming from a half-drunk as per usual.

“How do you like it? There’s a bar on that corner, and a liquor store on that corner, and I’m pretty sure you can buy drugs on that corner.”

Well, we had all of the bases cornered, then.

“It’s the sorriest excuse for a living space I’ve ever seen. It looks like an understudy for The Projects, for Christ’s sake. It goes without saying that I fucking love it.”

Dakota did well. He always did, the son of a bitch.

While I had chosen to reside in such a place as a manifestation of some kind of seedy underbelly existentialist fantasy, in hindsight, I don’t really think I understood the full ramifications of that choice. I’ll never forget the first time I heard gunshots** right outside my window. It would be the first of three such incidents in that month, and a sound that I would grow so accustomed to that not only would they not bother me, but I wouldn’t even register them after awhile.

I remember opening the paper one morning and seeing the annual report on the safest and most dangerous American cities to live in. Mission Viejo, which is directly adjacent to the hometown that I had lived in most of my life, was the safest in the country. Oakland, on the other hand, was the number two most dangerous city to live in, after Youregonnafuckingdie, New Jersey or some shit.

In fact, my neighborhood was right smack dab in the middle of what Bay Area media outlets had affectionately dubbed “The Murder Triangle” for the dubious accomplishment of achieving an exponentially higher homicide rate than the rest of the East Bay (which was already pretty fucking high, man). My girlfriend at the time also lived at Ap-Gnar Island, and she wasn’t too stoked on this. As punk rock as she tried to be***, she was still a pampered, privileged girl from Laguna Beach at heart. Her mother came to visit once and when she saw where her daughter lived, she wept. Big fucking oh-my-god-my-daughter-is-too-white-and-too-rich-for-this-shit tears. At the time, I thought it was insulting: if she had such a problem with it, she should have flowed us more money, even if I would have spent it all on booze and drugs. In retrospect, she should have yanked her daughter home and spared me the last year run of our relationship, which was, as you may discover in later writings, a total fucking nightmare.

Bottom line: You fucking blew it, Mom.

An Enlightening Experiment: So you take a bookish skinny white kid from the suburbs, subject him to too many rock ‘n’ roll records and Spaghetti Westerns, pump him full of hooch and psychedelics and all kinds of uppers, and you drop him smack dab in the middle of Oakland.

And what happens, you ask? Well, said kid becomes a real nowhere-man-with-no-name in his head, a veritable desperado under the heaves living out a delusional Wild West fantasy, replete with cowboys and Indians and high noons and Special-K Corrals. My posse consisted of myself (Pistolwhip McGee), Dakota Slim, and The Acid Kid. I’m not sure they were hip to my delusion, but it didn’t matter. Because that’s the beauty of delusions: you’re the only one in on it, except for everybody else that you assume to be in on it too.

See how that works?

</3

*R.I.P. Apgar House.
**I don’t think anybody really does.
***God bless her.

P.S. I would like to make clear that The Cowboys And Indians Delusion had absolutely nothing to do with race, at least on my end. I did get called “Honky” rather frequently, although, to be fair, I do kind of resemble a Honky. But as for the Muslim Bakery brigade, those guys were just plain fucked.

P.P.S. Also for the record, here is the Mugging Scorecard:

Dakota Slim: 2
The Acid Kid: 2 ½ (1 ½ in one night)
Pistolwhip McGee: 0

I walked around on the reg at all hours of the night, drunk and twisted and stumbling and alone, just fucking begging for a mugging. But alas, it never came. I still think it had something to do with the fact that I looked homeless, and therefore wouln’t be worth the effort.

P.P.S. One final note: I never even got that stiletto and I’m totally a liar and I totally regret it. (Not getting the stiletto, that is.)

Switchblade Intellectualism

Switchblade intellectualism:
that’s the order of the day
in my fucking neighborhood.
Sometimes not even the most reasonable argument
or appealing remonstrance
will save your wallet
at 4 AM on Apgar Street.

I always fancied living in the Wild West,
playing Cowboys & Indians,
watching my back while I saunter down to the saloon
for some sweet whiskey and sour gash.
But I can’t buy a gun for another four years
(on account of trying to play Ezra Pound
circa ’45 or somewhere thereabouts).
And the streetwalkers out in front of the liquor store
ain’t exactly madams.
Besides, I wouldn’t get into a shootout over a 40 oz.–
that would be silly.

W. MacArthur: the 100th Meridian of Oakland.
It never rains in my neighborhood,
but the rain’s always a-comin’.

Dakota and I almost walked into Your Black Muslim Bakery
to inquire if they served bagels with lox,
and perhaps maybe just to show off a little.
How come there weren’t any Jewish gunslingers?
What the fuck do you mean, “honky?”
I’m Jewish.
I fucked up.
At least the West had gentlemen.
The dudes in my neighborhood ain’t gentle in the least.

I ordered a stiletto from Italy.
I promised myself I’d only use it if I had to.
Like if some savage doesn’t understand
that he can have my wallet,
but I’ll be damned if he takes my notebooks.

Why didn’t Ginsberg ever carry a knife?

photo-65

Advertisements

9 responses »

    • Those poor, poor youngsters. I’m twenty-eight and I do in fact write in my profession, however the poetry and prose and all that good stuff isn’t the writing that pays the bills as of yet. I’m working on that though. Thanks for reading!

  1. I love your writing–the style is “in your face” without being overly aggressive. You have a marvelous way of taking personal experiences while, not exactly “the norm”, are true and making them even more interesting than they already were.

  2. You have been through the WARS, darling. Oakland is pretty fucking scary. WORST public washroom I’ve ever been in was in Oakland (and I’ve been to 3rd world countries). I stopped at a McDonald’s once in Oakland, and went to use the washroom — the ladies was locked, so I poked my head in the men’s, and while it was empty, there was no WAY I was using it. The toilet was backed up, and someone (or perhaps — or probably someones) had shit in the sink, the garbage can, and the urinal.
    I couldn’t make this up (well, I could, but what would be the point?). What boggled my mind as I fled the restaurant to find somewhere else to pee was the series of events that had to lead to that state of filth. Not one, not two, but at least three people must have gone in, found the toilet backed up, and decided that there were other defecatory outlets available to them. Scary.

      • My souvenir from Oakland is Greyhounds — Grey Goose and Grapefruit juice. A friend introduced me to them in some bar there (actually, to be fair, it may have been Berkeley, my memory’s a bit fuzzy — it smelled of Curry and Nag Champa, so it must have been Berzerkely)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s