today at lunch i went for a walk in the rain. as i wandered down a pier and the sounds of the cars rushing and hissing down embarcadero finally faded into silence, i found myself entering a painting.
to my right, towering above me, the imposing dark metallic westward span of the bay bridge...and to my left, the muted hues of the gray clouds contrasted with the greenish gray of the rippling water. the only color visible was orange; the top of a tugboat departing, matching a single orange balloon to its left that had somehow strayed from amongst the maze of the skyline where i had seen it earlier.
the orange balloon drifted suddenly down to the water, where finally it came to rest. it was a profoundly beautiful yet melancholy moment...as such solitude and beauty so often go unseen; two points of sharp color punctuating an otherwise monochromatic vision.
i turned around to face the hum of the city again, and the colors of cement and brick and glass of architecture in the rain were a pastel rainbow in the distance.The Streets of Downtown Berkeley: Untreated Intellect and Dementia, 2009
there are things you have to see and hear in downtown berkeley sometimes. like the experimental yodeling. or the tenor saxophone guy who thinks that hours of frantic major arpeggios are the path to godliness. or the insane screaming and posing by rowdy packs of chain-smoking berkeley high schoolers, and the angry, tourette's-style vocals of untreated minds, violent threats and profanity startling your caffeinated eardrums from thirty feet away. one time i saw a guy calmly walk across the street and then proceed to lean over and vomit loudly into a bush next to a parking lot, at 3 in the afternoon. there was also the time a woman decided the cough syrup aisle in walgreens was as good a place as any to ‘utilize the facilities ’. there were so many magical, mysterious moments. the wet jeans, inexplicably abandoned in the stairwell of the parking garage. the shit stains smeared on walls like confusing disgusting art projects, the visual texture of feces assaulting your senses too early for breakfast, the piles of food and trash i stepped over every morning on the way to the office. i’ll never forget the scented clouds of bacon and piss, wafting in the morning air.
somewhere in that din and stench, as the droney rush of bart trains underground rumble and punctuate each hour, some commerce happens, textbooks are studied, and decent burritos are consumed. some of the most brilliant people on earth earn their phds, unleashing the future for the rest of us, as the homeless peddle junk, babble scattered thoughts and waste away, a testament to our collective apathy and the city of berkeley's startling exhibition of hope and success, and utter failure.
though i’ll never complain about the street kids nimbly playing folk songs on the accordion. or the teenage oboe duet i once heard one evening, two double reeds, perfectly in tune, defying a brisk dusk, and the girl who sang arias with her eyes closed as the world rushed by, down an escalator that smelled like machines, grease and noise.Thoughts on the End of a Decade, 2009
2009 was not the capstone to any sweeping piece of well-designed architecture. it was more of a stick of dynamite, a wrecking ball aimed at dismantling the failing structures of the american dream. for decades, americans took easy growth and progress for granted, left decisions to the thoughtless and to the greediest, without paying heed to need or future stability. 2009 was the denouement, the final curtain call after a sick, selfish stage play spanning a couple decades. for those of us lucky enough to have been raised in stable households in comfortable suburbs, it was an awakening, a call to reality, a realization that things will not always go better in the future, that we may not necessarily be better off than our parents, even if we work hard. things may not go as planned as they did for past generations; raises and new jobs and positive returns on investments are not guaranteed by some beneficent force; the stock market is not designed to improve the quality of our lives or to pad our pockets with gradual accruals of unearned wealth. dreams can pass without coming to fruition, and complete and utter failure is possible, despite the best of intentions, genuine efforts and well laid plans. this comfortable, stable life we dreamed up, assumed was given, is not the truth, and upward is not the only way things go. gravity has returned to our atmosphere. some of us may be crushed under the weight of its unexpected but inevitable return, but others will return to their exercises, reminded to build their muscle in a threatening and challenging world.
entitlement has emerged as the illusion it is, despite twenty or thirty years worth of appearing to be the logical end of a simple progression toward collective betterment. prosperity is a state that must be earned and carefully maintained, and is not a self-sustaining state of being, an equilibrium designed to best provide for most, as some have deceived us into believing. the blinding pace we’ve set toward the future is no longer just an exciting ride, but also a frightening one. the great american machine has shown its age, foolishness and disrepair, but continues to lurch forward. we have not cleared the hurdles we set for ourselves, and have stumbled and fallen, together. there is wisdom in this loss of confidence, and 2009 was a call to earnest, honest reflection on our collective trajectory. we must be concerned.
the decades preceding 2009 were a testament to the power of collective, willful blindness. from now on, we will no longer be seduced by our own successes, or those of others. the slick and efficient, selective forgetfulness of two generations worth of americans has been thrust before our eyes. the future is no longer one of certainty, comfort or even stability. but perhaps for all the brutality of failure and struggle, this is more real. now, in 2010 and onward into this new century, we will see if we have really lost our abilities, our skills and our visions, as some of us suspect we may have, during decades of ease and decadence. our mettle will be tested again and again by new, larger challenges, and the center of our universe will shift, possibly outside the borders of this country.
now we will see if our seemingly endless potential for denial and our appetite for ease will be our downfall. we will see if repair is possible.