Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Wednesdays in Oakland

I took a walk around part of Lake Merritt to head to my father's office to pick up my taxes. I make my feeble attempt at filing them, then he, the CPA, checks for my errors. It's not like the IRS is going to complain if you've paid them too much tax. Also a new thing on California's tax forms is a line asking if you want to voluntarily pay for any California sales tax for purchases you made on the internet.

so here for you is my walk around the lake:

I pick up lunch at a speedy sandwiches shop as other business suit workers file out onto the streets. Nearly everyone has the same lunch hour. This is so much different from being on campus where the standard issue suit of the day is sweats and t-shirts.

I walk down 20th til it hits the Lake. The Lake now really looks like a Jewel of Oakland. Unlike before growing up when it was sludgy with algae and its odor moved like a fog that lingered through Oakland streets. They've since figured out how to manage it with a few extra fountains to keep the water moving.

Lake Merritt is manmade and connects with the bay waters. It is a mix of salt and fresh water. A small island on the other side is a refuge for migrating fowl. The trees on the island mimic the condo high rises that encircle the lake. There's a paved path around the lake, with various paths carved into the grass beside it for the fast lane runners who'd like to pass the baby buggies and the casual strollers.

I pass a clump of rotted pier stumps, green and barnacled that serve as a resting place for seagulls. A sign next to the gulls claims there is $50K of a goal amount of $100K. I think this is for a replacement pier. But then where will the seagulls perch? Early on, the Lake allowed for sport fishing, but banned it once the bird sanctuary was in place.

The lake is not deep near the shore. You can see clear to the muddy bottom. Water is only a few feet. I'm sure the mud is much deeper. Here the seagulls break for lunch. One gray speckled one dives its head to emerge with a mussel in its beak. The shore of the Lake is strewn with the remnant shells of former seagull meals. The pearl lined shells tread upon by hundreds of sneakers.

I follow the bell of a ice cream pushcart as it walks around the Lake, luring the hungry walkers and joggers, most of whom have set aside eating lunch during their hour. Perhaps they will hit Starbucks or pick up an energy drink at Longs before returning to their beige cubicles. Jackhammers tearing the streets, the urban "birdcall" of the crossing lights that beckon the seeing impaired to cross safely, with the squawks of seagulls and the honks of geese.

I near my father's office, an old boat house by the Cameron Stanford House on 14th. A row of trees that look ancient line the shore near his building. They are all in bloom with small white flowers that remind me of jasmine without the fragrance. Their trunks are striated and twisted like newly pulled taffy. If it weren't for the flowers, they'd look more like large driftwood.

I enter the office and ask the front desk for my father. She calls him up to announce my arrival and tells me I can go in. "That's Narciso's daughter. Isn't she cute?" she tells her coworkers as "That's Narciso's daughter?" echos behind me on the way to his office.

Growing up, visiting my parent's offices was like adventure in big people's world. I would see their office, look at the pictures they have lined on their desks along with the stacks of folders, papers, and reports full of numbers and ratios, debits and credits. We would then be brought to be shown to their coworkers who were happy to see a 3 dimensional version of our parent's desktop pictures, usually already a year or two behind our actual age. They would enjoy guessing our names based on what they knew. For me, they were complete strangers that knew oddly intimate details of my life.

My father's desk is large with a view of the mussel dining seagulls on the lake. As usual, it is stacked high with folders and reports. He retains one 8"x11" space for him to work next to the calculator. Unlike my desk, it's a very orderly chaos.

He shows me my corrections on the federal forms. Reminds me to make a copy for myself before sending it off. Then let's me know we'll be having Easter lunch on Sunday and to invite the SO. I walk back to my office, he prepares for a meeting. I'm not sure when he takes lunch.

I walk back the same path and sit on a bench to eat lunch near the pierless pier stumps where the seagulls still perch. They like to people watch I think. Some walk the Lake in pairs maybe in threes sharing today's gossip, "oh, he told me that..." "sabi niya..." "oh hell no..." spill like runoff from the streets into the lake. While some change completely out of their "business" attire into formal workout clothes, others slip on the pair of walking shoes over thin socked feet and pantyhose. Women in dark bottom light top outfits. Men in a fairly standard issue brown khakis with light blue shirt. The neutral non-offensive wear of the modern working world. There are others who instead sit in shaded areas to have lunch, perhaps take a power nap using a copy of east bay express for their blanket.

I check my watch and head back. The noon hour almost up. The muddy bottom near the shore looks dead, but I spot a tiny fish jetting through along with a water glider only evidenced by the small ripple it makes pushing itself across the surface. A pair of geese flies across the water as if they are skipping rocks, so close the lake shadows their image underneath.

I pass by a small park, Snow Park. A small wooden sign marks this corner as Georgia's corner. I presume she must have liked the flowers planted there. A few fellows have brought out their putters to the small green there, imagine themselves to be Tiger on the 18th needing this birdie to win the green jacket at Masters.

The line to Starbucks is never ending. One last espresso shot before staring at computer screens and mining data. The streets and lunch spots empty as quickly as they filled.

I push four on the elevator button panel. The sound of geese, the sight of taffy stretched tree trunks still in my mind.

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