The landlord sold the building. It’s in contract. Entities from Colorado and Canada are rummaging through our industrial, previously-overlooked section of Oakland near Fruitvale BART for buildings in which to grow pot. But it's more than that. The San Francisco Bay Area is experiencing displacement and homelessness in alarming numbers due to the skyrocketing cost of housing and the greed that accompanies it.
They took away the green compost bin a few days ago. Coincidental? I draw a parallel. A downward-slanting one. They’re saving money, let’s eliminate that! Who uses it? Passersby and drive-bys looking for a free zone to dump their trash. Yes, but also those who live here.
I collect my compost in a stainless-steel canister lined with a recycled plastic bag, put my juiced lemon, lime, and orange halves in, my banana peels, the nibs cut from the ends of garlic cloves, onion skins, old smelly cut flowers. Sometimes I even remove the plastic labels from the produce, since they aren’t compostable. When full, I tug the sack, along with my recylcables and garbage to the bins, always on my way out, in my car. I’ve mastered the batman escape from my bat cave, a hidden gem amidst gray cinderblock, elevated BART tracks, and now homeless camping in RV’s from the 70s, clothing spread to dry. I can’t help but wonder, where are they defecating?
Pausing to dump my trash in the appropriate bins, using a bag to gingerly lift the floppy lids open, I'm always unnaturally thrilled when I can deposit my veggie and fruit scraps without any plastic bottles, cardboard, or regular garbage messing up the purity of the compost bin. Last time, with a heavy heart and apologies to the planet, I had to throw my compost into the regular garbage. The green bin still hasn’t reappeared, but out of habit, I continue to collect my scraps.
The bat cave has served me well. I list all the ways I’ve changed since I moved in 22 years ago. Artifacts mark time: the file folder containing all notices and invoices from the landlord, their successful attempt to eradicate rent control and our fight against it, the stacks of paper from the hearing, which knit together our eclectic group: the long-haired divorced IT dad who’s got a separate battle with the Alameda police for harassing him on his boat in the estuary, the graphic designer who commutes to Apple on the peninsula and who installed a print-shop on the first floor, Shavo from Cape Cod who always wears plaid, skateboards, golfs, smokes, and has held cribbage nights every Wednesday for 22 years, living in his own Peter Pan world. He and I are like the mayors of the building without a name. We hold the knowledge of who else has lived here, what the beefs were, how Paulie used to blast the prostitutes and John’s in the cul-de-sac with a garden hose. Guy, down on the corner is long gone, but built my dark room, gave me his timer, circa the 60’s with enameled finish and cream face, black tickings, red arrow at top, and the buzz that shuts off the exposure. My dark room trays, the hours I spent in there are gone, but the memories burned forever into my being: those raw, healing, thrilling, curious, terrifying times, learning how to be on my own.
The mind knows what the body resists: if this ends it will be perfect in its way. There is something I’ve already begun imprinting in the ether. At times, I doubt my ability to create. Don’t realize I’ve begun to mock up the next chapter. I know that when the clock strikes and the buzzer jolts me from the rhythms I’ve carved from nothing, now made manifest, real for real, 3-D, I will look to my imprint, adjust it, burn and dodge, make plans, then relinquish this place once and for all. Cry, thank the earth, say goodbye to the Queen Ann Palm I planted and the Shoe String Acacia, the birds I brought, including the one who took the felled nest for a new family, just yesterday. I will count the synchronicities that helped me get here, and know – though I’m not feeling it now, that the next situation will be better.