What I Remember...
By Jack Chang
It's been about three months since I left the Bay Area, where I lived a decade off and on, and moved to Rio de Janeiro, a place I have since settled into yet still find myself amazed by and not always good amazed. When I was packing up my house back in May, I tried to imagine my life in my present home and what I would miss about Oakland/San Francisco. The ample offerings of artsy movie theaters? The Ethiopian restaurants near my house? The corner bar with its regular cluster of grad students and working-class drunks?
Well, what I remember when I think about the Bay Area are pretty much what I thought I would, except I remember them on cool, sunny weekend days. Night time is OK, overcast days turn me on sometimes, but those Saturday mornings when I woke and looked out the window and took my dog Mike out for a walk and it was just clear blue skies, a little breeze, the slightest chill, that's the Bay Area baby, or at least that was Oakland since temperatures could waver some 20 degrees just a few miles away. How about those lazy weekend mornings when I'd bring Mike with me to meet Noah for breakfast at Jimmy Bean's, the best breakfast joint in the world, hidden in an industrial part of north Berkeley, and we'd sit out on the sidewalk and shoot the shit about the night before and watch Mike sit wise and sphinx-like as the traffic went by, and then the scrumptious food arrived, and I'd dissolve into a set of pleased taste buds. Then there were all the neighborhood yard sales that more than a few dozen times extended my 10-minute dog walks into 30-minute affairs, as I rummaged through boxes of shit and maybe picked up a paperback for 50 cents from the stoop of a house lovingly tended by a middle-aged lesbian couple with requisite hippie garden. In addition to the kd lang tapes and Camille Paglia books, there were lots of classic novels, which I bought many of and never read but still. Nostromo, Sons and Lovers, Light in August, oh what could have been.
Cruising down Telegraph Avenue toward downtown Oakland with KBLX's Classic Soul Weekend bumping some Spinners, maybe "Be Thankful for What You Got," then Leslie Stoval, the sexiest voice in radio, lilted "Rolling your favorite soul on KBLX" and, yes, black Oakland was present, at the tire store with the waiting customers still in church attire talking into their cell phones; around Lake Merritt, where the buff dudes in jumpsuits strutted with utmost seriousness; at Jack London Square, half-empty as always but dotted with lingering couples admiring the view of the port and San Francisco's buildings peeking through the cranes, and that blue, that wind, that cool swirling over everything.
Strangely, some things I once viewed with a bit of distaste and boredom I now find charming and, for a lack of a better word, simple in that Tom Wolfe "Homeward Angel" kind of way. My life has taken a turn, become something challenging, possibly more stressful, but quite interesting and exciting, which is cool, but it makes me look back star struck at those who have felt no need to start a personal revolution and have stayed nestled in the world as they found it, be it Berkeley/Oakland or the San Fernando Valley or the New York boroughs. For example, that whole world of white (with a smattering of Asian and one token black) kids in their 20s and early-30s with their bands and vinyl and early-70s hair cuts and how everything, really every fucking thing in their lives revolved around music, most commonly obscure late-60s, early-70s rock and some soul (just to ease some of that segregationist guilt), you know that is sort of beautiful. Almost monk-like, in the intense, obsessive focus these folk dedicated to just one thing, that elixir that made their souls sing and got their spirit going like nothing else could. Hey, I love music, I listen to lots of it, and I guess I once had a band and left my house many times to watch people strum a few chords and sing off-tune and liked it and really still do, but to those of you who are still working the retail job in your tight black jeans, who are playing in your bands, who are debating the merits of the Beach Boys' early-70s albums into the wee hours with your shitty beers, to all of you in your charming, though run-down but cheap-rent apartments, I salute you! I really do. No irony here, although I feel a little creepy when I'm actually there and witnessing it happening in all of its Michael Jackson-like splendor, but I'm happy you're doing it, and writing on this sunny morning in Rio, I say, Keep on! Just burn me a few mix CDs while you're at it and send them down here. Obscure rock and soul is pretty hard to find in South America, although I've been downloading some stuff from itunes.
What I really miss, beyond the people, of course, is the food. How I would kill to have a burrito from the Mission before me that I could strip naked, make love to and devour like an animal. Or Ethiopian food, oh how I would love to just feel that moist, spongy injera in my fingers as it wrapped around a steaming morsel of sega tibs, which it escorted into my gullet. Those of you reading this from a U.S. metropolitan area or maybe somewhere in Western Europe, stop now and get out of the house or office or wherever you are and just go have a burrito or a pad thai or some hummus for me and think of me confined to weird greasy pizzas and dubious meats. OK?
Then go out and buy a book for 50 cents and crack an Oly and argue with every moral fiber in your body that the Left Banke kicks Fairport Convention's ass. I'll be watching from above like some omniscient being, bearded and wise, nodding and laughing along while a tiny tear glimmers in my eye.