He appears behind me alongside the train tracks. Says, “Yeah you gotta be on your guard out here!” Catches up beside me keeping pace. About six feet. Scruffy. Short haired and a bit weathered. Looks at me hard and adds, “Every day in this town.”

“You live here?” I ask with a manly quiver.

“”Unfortunately. Today’s my birthday. Almost made it my last. I’m a veteran. Trump pisses all over us and still they support him. Course I got no love for liberals.”

I nod knowingly. “That’s my mom’s train,” I say (again with the manly).

“God bless,” he says, moving quickly into sliding doors and vanishing.

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Add The Juice of Two Remaining Lemon Wedges

This life. This parenting life. This teaching life. This digital life.

It’s so hard to find a clean moment, to feel the real cool breeze. Those thick drops suddenly fall from heated skies and I’m out at the top of the stairs, arms outstretched, watching my work shirt turn dark with wet, feeling cool wet realness in my hair. Glorious, beautiful rain.

She walks into the home. Hello? And two laptops are flipped open and I’m staring at a desktop. There are screens charging here and there. Later we walk the warm night, wet breeze, conversation healing us, and I watch lightning strike in a snappy circle over the San Francisco Bay.

All the dots connect.

The black cat is curled in a little ball on the green couch. He has no use for screens. He tells me he is hungry by rubbing against my leg. If times are desperate, he wraps his paws around my calf muscle and my achilles leaps in fright. He meows. He doesn’t tweet. He wouldn’t mind eating a tweet.

The other day the black cat caught a hummingbird. Somehow Milo knew and we rushed to the back door. We brought the cat in and I lifted the tiny bird on some newspaper. Shocked, it shot off in a straight line right into a wall above some steps, dropping again to the ground. It seemed to have lost its ability to control altitude or perhaps its reason. How terrifying to taste the slow motion world with such a heart. I ran over and lifted it up again. This time it turned and shot straight into the open kitchen door, literally landing on the stove. (The cat, suddenly wearing an apron, added salt and pepper to taste.) I brought it outside once more and it shot towards the side of the house. We have found not a feather since.

This digital life can feel rudderless, liftless too. We fly at great speeds in a straight line.

Out of the open air.

Into the frying pan.

Welcome to the Doll House

Today I waited in line for about an hour until I got to a counter where the nice woman took my phone. Then I waited in another line which led to another line to an elevator to a line in a long hallway. A stranger said, “Great, now we’re stuck in a hallway for who knows how long without our communication devices.” We were in the nation’s capital in the nation’s capitol, waiting to enter the Senate gallery.

Up and down the hallway you could see fingers twitching and a look of concern on the faces of my fellow Senate visitors. No phones and time to kill. Eyes widened and people scratched their heads, made calculations, and began to reflect on their life’s purpose with a newfound analog clarity. Soon the line moved again and we were led in silent groups into the Senate gallery.

I was given a seat in the front row, up behind the front of the chamber, where the Vice President and others would sit, so I could not quite see down there directly, but I was near the sound and video man (for C-Span?) and could watch his monitor to see if there was anyone up there under me. Otherwise, the entire Senate chamber was empty except for an older man in the back, behind the last desk on the Democrats side (to my right). He wore a dark suit, with his light skin, and chewed gum without much motion. There was a younger guy off to the left in the back, Republican side, sitting in a chair. No senators were present.

There were several sections of us up there in the gallery: four rows deep, about 6-9 in a row, depending. I’d guess around 150 visitors. We sat in silence, looking down on the empty wooden desks. It was like someone had said, here’s how you get tickets to the Senate gallery, so we had marched into our senators’ offices not far from the Capitol, and gone through the metal detector and tracked down their office and walked in and said something like Amy did: “We’re constituents of Senator Harris. We’re also big fans.” Then the interns gave us passes to the gallery. We took those to the Capitol, dumped our water bottle in the plants, went through that metal detector, climbed the steps and got in line for the gallery. One line led to another and so on until we found ourselves sitting here with 149 others, looking down on an empty Senate, thinking, now what?

Just around when all hope was fading, a door opened and in walked Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer. He walked in and sat down at his desk. I felt a momentary lift of hope. Are you kidding me? That’s Chuck Schumer, the man charged with leading the Democratic resistance. If nothing else, you’ve got to give him credit for some pretty solid Democratic legislative unity and resistance of late.

A moment later, a different door opened and in walked Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. As he walked down the aisle, Schumer rose and headed towards him. Are you kidding me, the leaders of the two parties headed for each other on the Senate floor?! Would they exchange choice words? Take a swipe at each other and have to be dragged apart? Instead, they stood face to face and McConnell put his arm on Schumer’s shoulder and they laughed. Nothing breaks up the good old boys club, not even health care.

They chatted for a while, down there in the dollhouse, while 150 of us peered in through the open roof. What could they be talking about and why had they waited until they were on the Senate floor? Eventually they sat down and McConnell went to work, quickly boring everyone in the room with some technical statements about appointing a few people including a federal circuit judge. There would be a call for Ayes, which was just him and Nays, which was silence (Schumer just looked up and smiled like they’d already worked this all out). Then McConnell high-tailed it out of there.

Next, Schumer got up and began to grandstand a bit to the even emptier room. He told the wooden desks and empty seats about the danger of a president interfering with an independent counsel’s investigation. He talked about this threat of Trump’s to withhold subsidies and let health care “implode.” He pointed out in specifics how this would affect the American public and gave the example of  a 20% spike in premiums for the good people of North Carolina. He called it a “Trump tax.” He called for a bipartisan solution. He was well spoken and articulate. (Side note: a quick search on Wikipedia reveals Schumer received a perfect 1600 on his SATs and served 18 years in the House before his 19 years in the Senate).

Then he beat it too.

I stuck around long enough to see the senator from Florida, Nelson, get up and speak about the recent election in Venezuela and what a sham it was. I listened a bit, then beat it out of there myself.

Pretty amazing though to see the Senate in action, even (especially?!) if it was just three senators with 97 missing. Was I a bit moved?

Aye.

 

 

Across the Stage

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And there I was, in black cap and gown, sitting on stage at the beautiful Paramount Theater, downtown Oakland, surrounded by my new colleagues of Merritt College, looking out on twenty rows of blue-clad graduates and a theater full of families and supporters. A few rows up, my dean, Siri Brown, had just given a rousing keynote speech about overcoming all challenges to earn this moment. She worked the large crowd and, it being Oakland, they gave back, shouting down from the balcony, “Get it, Girl!” and up from the packed orchestra, “Tell it!” Near the end, she instructed them to “Love the haters!” and not let anyone’s low expectations stand in your way. They roared their approval.

Students, dressed in blue, were having their culminating moment under the spotlight, approaching the stage, handing a card to the two readers, waiting for their name to be read. From the back row, I watched their faces as the audio waves carrying their name soared out over the crowd. Some of them danced across the stage, some strutted, some quietly shuffled, but all of them, from 20 to 80 years old, of every background, held something in their eyes, their cheekbones, their straightened backs and lifted chins, that suggested a wonderful mix of relief and joy. Some held fists high. Some pointed at their families deep in the balcony. Some turned and waved to a faculty member who was calling out their name and cheering for them.

I knew almost no one in the entire theater, not the students (most of mine won’t graduate for another year or ten), not their families, not even most of my colleagues, but it didn’t matter. This was my new job, helping students reach this moment, as part of this community. The shouts and excitement of the students and their families was enough to put my feet firmly on the stage, my back against the seat. Afterwards, the faculty and staff all lined both sides of the gilded hallway of the Paramount, and the students and their families paraded down the middle. We clapped and cheered for them as they opened the many doors at the end of the hall and headed out into the world.

Slideshow: Boats on Canals

 

In Amsterdam there are boats in canals. Sometimes they slide beneath ornate bridges, emerge from narrow tunnels, create lines in the water. Mostly they sit tethered to the side of the canal, beneath skinny tall painted faces and trees and sky and the smell of waffles. Little old ladies emerge to water lovely flowers, except they are not little or old, in the sense we might think. They are old like Maude, happy in their skin, chuckling softly, gripping a mug of something warm, chatting with a friend, and, let’s face it, they can hop on a bike and whip your ass in a mad dash across town down alleys, pumping hard over bridges, accelerating into the distances. Despite unfounded rumors of sneaky e-bike use, I found no elderly on the bike paths of Holland. Young and old zoomed past me like fish to my snorkel, smooth, easy, no longer thinking of pedalling. Mount, dismount, lock, unlock, ring if you have to.

In Amsterdam there is a boat filled with cats. You may stop in for a visit when you son misses his little black Wednesday. Some cats on the kitty boat have wanted posters posted on beams with warnings not to pet. Others sit waiting in a basket, gazing out at the canal while you stroke their soft little heads and backs. Outside it is a madness of bikes and cars and pedestrians. Here, only blinking eyes and soft tails, padding feet and curled sleep.

In Amsterdam there are boats in canals, red, blue, white, gray, yellow.

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Drive a Kilometer in My Shoes

All week I’ve been driving kilometers per hour. Some button-pushing child maniac switched it and I only notice it when I’m speeding along on the freeway and can’t take a moment to scour the dashboard for the button, one of those buttons I can never remember between scourings.

I first noticed it had been switched about five days ago. Amy and I were zipping off to a rare movie. As usual, we had left too late and were destined to sit in the front row or, tragically, apart. I was just getting on the freeway, rolling along in the slow lane behind another car, when I suddenly noticed I was going 90. Holy crap! How could this be 90?! We were all going 90. And faster too. That guy must be doing 100!

At first I blamed it on Trump. Stress. The new apocalypse. I thought, this is what we do now, drive around at 90 just to end up in the front or row or tragically apart. Eventually my brain caught up, cleared its throat, and said, “Those are kilometers, Nimrod.” (Why Nimrod? Isn’t it supposed to be Dimwit or Nincompoop?)

Since that glorious moment, there have been several times this week that I’ve found myself back in the car, zipping along, and suddenly I’m going 80, 90, and I think, need to find that dang button. But then I arrive (as I just did, moments ago, at my office here on campus), and the thought vanishes. It’s not unlike the missing soap problem in the shower. When I’m in the shower and discover the missing soap, I’m not going to get out, sopping wet, and rifle through the baskets and shelves to find a bar of soap. When I’m out of the shower, I forget. This goes back to ancient times: when it’s not raining, the roof is as good as any other.

I have to say there’s a certain badassness to driving around at kilometers per hour. Going 70 through a school zone? Love it. Out of the way you little bastards! On the freeway hitting 100? What the F&%$ do I care? I’m the fastest slow car in the slow lane you ever saw. Don’t make me go 105, Motherf$#%$#!

There’s also a certain escapism to it, disappearing down global backroads. Hey, I’m not American! I’m doing kilometers here! I play football, you know, with my feet! I speak multiple languages! I live in a small house and I’m fine with that! Fill her up, lads!

Wait, why did that last tank of gas cost so much?

 

The Logic Goes

The logic goes

if you want to change politics

elect someone who doesn’t know politics

if you want to change the environment

hire an oil man

if you want to house the people

hire a surgeon

and if you want to educate the masses

nominate an idiot.

Well, Republicans, you’ve really buckled your seatbelts

on that meteorite you’re riding down

It would be fun to watch

if it weren’t going to burn up so many innocents

underneath the crash

I have to keep reminding myself

We knew this was coming

from that moment of incomprehensible result

We knew the era of pillage

and destruction

would be upon us

in all its hellfire

and we would have to fight and fight and fight and fight

and fight and fight and fight

and get knocked on our asses

and fight and fight and fight

But what I didn’t know…

Was how much beauty would be in the streets

from the pussy hat millions

pouring onto the streets of the world

too many to march!

to the airport lawyer army,

holding handmade signs,

to the indivisible heroes

popping up wildflowers in the weeds

shouting,

shouting,

Shame on you!

You spineless chickenshit bastards

Lighting up phones

Showing up in offices

and calling out in public squares,

Shame on you!

You cackling idiot ghouls

Shame on you!

I have to remember

We are everywhere

all ages

all people

sitting on shoulders

rolling in chairs

climbing lampposts

wanging on guitars

pouring out of public trains

congregating, gathering,

making late-night desperate calls and emails

We are everywhere

face scrunched with determination

fist in the air

and there ain’t no power like the power of the people

’cause the power of the people don’t stop

(say what?!!)

Fight on, my brothers and sisters!

Welcome to The Apocalpyse!

Good morning, Resistance! Put on Bad Moon Rising. Get pumped. It is time to fight!

Dear Rest of the World

I don’t know what to write, but I want to say,

Dear Rest of the World,

I’m so sorry.

When you wrote me eight years ago to ecstatically congratulate me and us

and US,

I congratulated us too!

I knew it was only the beginning, not arrival,

but still, what a surprise and joy it was

to begin, to be reborn a country with a heart

 

For America to elect a Black president

I will always see as something great

 

but now what have we done?!

where have we arrived?

For America to elect an Orange president…

My horror is too great for the joke

 

Dear Rest of the World,

Believe me.

There are more of us here than you realize,

living in deep shock

We forget for a moment

Then are back, sitting on the floor

leaning against the couch

running fingers through our hair

We sat at long holiday tables

and fumed at spineless moderates

who knew better

We stand in morning kitchens

and watch tiny Tvs

and rurmors of recounts

and try to percolate a sip of hope

but every day our tiny little orange boy stomps his tweet

louder and LOUDER

and scares the living crap out of us

and I don’t know what I want to write

but I think I want to say

Come,

Meet me friend outside the twitterverse

Let’s walk up into the hills,

curving away from the sunset

feet on soft redwood ground

feet on soft redwood ground.

The World is Broken

He looks at us from the end of the long table and says, “When they start rounding us up, what are you going to do?” He’s talking to me, one of the only white people in the room. He’s talking to you maybe. He’s talking to all of us who aren’t living in fear of deportation right now in the fast-approaching Trump’s America. When they round up your neighbor, your friend, your nanny, your gardener, your nurse, your clients, your students, what are you going to do?!

This is the talk before the talk here at Berkeley City College by this journalist who is likely to be deported. You know the one. He won the Pulitzer and then came out as undocumented. It’s Jose Antonio Vargas.

Before the talk before the talk, I arrive with my English student, M-, and we grab a slice of pizza and sit at the long table in a conference room up a few floors here in downtown Berkeley. I got invited to this gig not as the token white guy but because I am the co-advisor for the Puente Program at my college and we were invited to bring a couple students. I am sitting next to one of them, an older student from Michoacán who has come to me during office hours to tell me, voice trembling, that she is doing her best with the assignments but that her grandmother is dying back in México and she is trying to get her green card so she can go visit her before Abuela passes on. That was before the election.

We are sitting across from two young students who are talking about how hard it is to focus on anything right now. “All I know is the world is broken,” says the young African American. “That’s all. The world is broken.”

“Just keeping says that,” says her Latina friend.

Jose Antonio Vargas speaks to us and his staff (he points out the irony that as an undocumented person himself, he cannot be hired, but he can start a business and hire others) film him and and the students who choose to speak. A young Latino male takes the mic and says bitterly, “We played their game and half the country said we don’t want you.”

Another student, also young, Latino, male, says, “This election, if anything, has taken away any uncertainty.” He says it’s a good thing we see America for what it is.

Another student speaks of trying to work hard, succeed and transfer to a four-year university but admits her biggest struggle is believing in herself, that she is good enough. She asks him what he tells himself in the morning to keep going.

Vargas speaks of his mom putting him on the plane alone at age 12 and sending him off for a better life. He admits that has taken its toll, that he is still that 12 year old with fear of abandonment, that it has deeply shaped his adult relationships. He implores all of us, “At a time like this, loving yourself is a radical act.”

I listen to these brave students talk and observe this warrior for the undocumented and I scribble on the yellow pad they have provided us, “Who am I? What is my role?

  • Connect the undocumented with resources and information
  • Provide safe spaces for learning, sharing, organizing
  • Serve the moment: translate, edit, drive the truck, house (the verb).”

Later, we ride the elevator down to the auditorium for the big talk. Jose Antonio Vargas, who was all over the map at the long table, is articulate, funny, and wise in the big talk in the big room. (He is reading what he has written, now, rather than speaking off the cuff. He is a writer.) He recites a poem by Baldwin, including the line:

The falling mortal is our brother

He urges us to find “radical empathy,” to try to figure out how people got to where they are in their thinking. He tell us, “A changing country requires a changing language” and urges us to use the language of the other side but turn it around, turn it upside down.

He asks this question of those of us who are already citizens:

“What are you doing to do to earn your citizenship?”

I get in the car and drive through Berkeley back to Oakland. I turn on the radio and Patty Griffin is singing “Rain,” one of my favorites. With pensive guitar strings, she sings, “It’s hard to listen to a hard hard heart…” I roll past good people standing at the corner or driving in the lane next to me, trying to get home too. It’s late but my kids will still be up. In fact, when I walk through the door Amy will be playing guitar in the corner, something she’s been meaning to do for weeks, maybe months.

Rolling towards the goodness that is my safe home, Patty sings,

“Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
When I’m still alive underneath this shroud
Rain Rain Rain”