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I love Berkeley, but my crush is New York City.
The Scar in the Road
Some of us still see the oak tree with dying branches, hollowed out but standing solid in memory. The city sent a crew to remove it, which they did, dutifully, while the neighbors wrung their hands and watched. Prior pleas proved impotent. A tree in the road is always a hazard. Out it went.
At the curb waits a spindly replacement bought by a neighbor, an oak sapling tied to a hydrant. “Won’t someone hit it?” ask two women who have stumbled onto the scene. A neighbor shakes his head. “If you put circles of white rocks around it they will shine in your headlights and alert you.” The two women gaze at the temporary tree a moment, look at the man, and then they move on.
Why We Worry
The doe jumped the wall. The fawn knew to duck and cover. She squeezed into the narrowest space she could find and waited. “Your baby is here,” I said. The doe didn’t move. I looked behind the garbage can at the fawn. “It’s okay, your mama is here.” The fawn had made herself as small as possible and wouldn’t look at me. I thought about asking a neighbor for help. But as I stood worrying, I realized that the fawn might have hidden behind that garbage can many times before, that her mother knew where she was, and they were just waiting for me to go away.
We humans mean well, we really do. But sometimes we really don’t know what’s going on.
I returned to check on them four hours later. They were gone.
Tour of an Certain Age
No, she said, I am NOT pushing 50. I am pulling it. And it is heavy.
We would have a small window of time. She told me she would be late. I was waiting for her at home, until I dashed out for flowers, briefly. Trader Joe’s always has alstromerias, cheap, which I like. Except today they did not have the usual big bouquet, so I had to get two smaller ones with roses included, which caused me to become ambivalent and fall into a perplexed mood. When I got home there was a message that she would arrive in five minutes. The time stamp said 8:20. The clock said 8:40. I missed her. When I called she said she was just loading her groceries in the parking lot at Trader Joe’s. I missed her again. I am so used to walking by strangers and not seeing them. But friends?
Poet Dog Takes a Detour
The German shepherd I see at the park is clean and well-groomed. He has happy ears and barks in iambic pentameter. Meanwhile, I find out from a talking lawyer what a “frolic” and a “detour” are. If a guy is driving around delivering office supplies and stops for a sandwich and hits a fire hydrant, he’s still on the clock and the company pays for the damage: that’s a detour. But if the guy finishes early, takes the truck to the beach and hits a post there, he’s responsible: a frolic. The lawyer’s listener likes the words “Frolic and a Detour” together and thinks they would make a good title for a poem. And “Oh hey, Sheila,” she calls to her dog (the German Shepherd I thought male). The dog is dancing through some ivy. The woman shouts, “Sheila! Sheila! Get out of there! That’s prose!” We know, of course, what the dog will do next.
She took one bite and spat out the bitter fruit. Someone thought it a good idea to put cranberries in the fruit cup in honor of the holiday, but clearly, the mixture had remained unsampled.
She’s waiting tables at a home, assisted living, some prefer. Got the white blouse and black pants, you bet, and a good smile, better at actions, not words. She’s at the tail end of high school: it’s her first job. At her table they are seated, saw the specials, but forgot (pan-seared halibut, vegi pasta, acorn squash, vanilla pie). But that’s okay, it’s her job to read the foods aloud. Faces upward, faces wait, menus closed, hands look for bread. She takes a breath, checks her notes, and then recites, “Pan-scared halibut. Is that right? Ha-li-but? It has no bones.”
Her Small Town
She was surprised he had heard of her small town, suspicious, until he said, “There was a diner there called ‘Hi! Let’s Eat.’” And she told him that the bottom had fallen off the E so it now read, “Hi! Let’s Fat.” And long ago it was bought and turned into a hardware store, and now, instead of burgers, it sold flyswatters and other personalized gifts.
Did you hear what Carmen did? You know those family stickers? With the line drawings? The ones you can put on your car window? She and her husband had one? Not on their sedan? But on their van? With a picture of Jeremy and a bowling ball? Carmen with a pencil behind her ear? And the two kids? The girl in a tutu and the older boy with a snake? And Jeremy had a work wife? And he left? But he took the sedan? And she went out with a razor blade? And scraped off his head? Off the family sticker?
The Price of Desire
Montana Avenue is decorated with chic boutiques now, no longer the home of gas stations and nurseries and vacant lots. If you have money and want beautiful boots, shop here. If you want custom made skirts or smoothies, shop here. Whole Foods replaced Fireside Market & Liquor decades ago. Still proud, the old Aero Theater shows vintage films and brings in live actors to introduce them. And at the edge of the avenue, the Montana Branch Library still stands with its Flintstone-esque façade.
On one corner, in a caged area adjacent to a skin-care salon, we spot a menagerie of metal animals, painted, and I make my spouse stop so I can take pictures. The bars are far enough apart that I can hold my camera inside to shoot the pigs, roosters, cow, goat, and more pigs. A man with a grizzled beard and wearing a t-shirt and jeans comes out of the sleek salon and locks the door behind him.
“Are these yours?” M asks.
“Yes, they are. I have more but they’re in a show.”
“A real barnyard.”
“I like animals. I have dogs—nine black Labs. I also have a bunch of these at home, put them in the yard, and at first the dogs were terrified. But after awhile they got used to them and the dogs wander around and pee on them. Someone told me pigs were good luck, so I got more pigs.”
“Who makes them?” I ask.
“I don’t know. They’re made out of scrap metal: old fenders, signs, recycled.”
I tell him they are really neat.
“A woman asked me how much they were. They’re $95-$300 for the larger ones. She said that was expensive. I looked at her and said, ‘but you paid $500 for that tattoo.’ She was shocked and said, ‘how did you know?’ and I said ‘I used to be a tattoo artist.’ I have tattoos all over.” He rolls back his short sleeve to reveal heavily patterned, intricate ink, clearly up over his shoulder and beyond. He says tattoos are easier to make than these animals, that with a tattoo if you get a line wrong you can just stretch the skin and connect it up. Skin is pliable. Metal isn’t.
We tell him we think the prices are good for art. I want one. I’d pay. If it was any other day, any other time, I would buy one. A little rooster, most likely.
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