Ends Up in the Hospital
after midnight on a Tuesday night in October, a five-story building development
under construction on 27th Street, slated to be a mix of residential
condos and retail, went up in flames.
neighborhood was shaken out of its sleep by the wailing sirens of fire engines
and police cars. By daybreak, it was clear that the building was a total wreck.
Nearly a year under construction, it had been reduced to rubble in hours.
was the fifth local construction project to be destroyed by fire. The first four
had been determined by the authorities to have been arsons. This one probably
was as well. Over the next few days, Oaklanders seemed torn down the middle in
sentiment. Some were glad that another project they viewed as wicked
gentrification had been stopped in its tracks. Others were appalled. Oakland
needed more housing, they argued; burning it down only made the situation
worse. Yes, their opponents said, we do need more housing, but not
million-dollar condos. We need below-market rate apartments for our artists,
teachers, cops, waiters, retail clerks, office workers, street cleaners.
Nick and Flambé typified the various attitudes. Nick, assuming that the project
had been deliberately torched, praised the perpetrators. “They’re civic heroes,
dudes,” he told Flambé and Danny a few days after the fire. They were sitting
around the kitchen table, strewn with empty pizza boxes and beer bottles. Flambé
took the joint Danny passed her and asked, “How can you call them heroes? Somebody
could have died. If you ask me, the real heroes are the first responders.”
just like cops and firemen ‘cuz they wear uniforms,” Nick grinned.
not true!” Flambé said. “Well, maybe a little. But they save lives and
property, instead of destroying them.”
listened. In his own mind, he wasn’t sure what to think. Housing had never been
an issue for him. He could afford what he could afford. But after being back in
Oakland for less than three months, Danny had been shocked to discover how
divisive the housing problem had become.
of his old friends, and even some of his co-workers at Creava, were having
trouble paying their rent. Practically none of them could afford the down
payment on a house. Most had given up on the American Dream of home ownership,
at least during this part of their lives. They were sharing flats, and
considered themselves lucky to have a room of their own. Two people Danny knew
were actually living in rented closets. Creava had ongoing problems of employee
retention, as talented engineers and coders—many of them making more than
$100,000 a year–were forced out of Oakland, to lower-rent areas like Chico,
Vallejo and Fairfield.
used to be a working class town,” Nick was saying. “Folks could afford to live
here. It wasn’t like San Francisco, or Marin, or the Peninsula. That’s the
Oakland I want, not all these chi-chi condos with a bunch of Millennial bozos
who don’t know shit about our town.”
wasn’t buying it. “You can’t stop progress. You want to make time stand still,
but it never does. Change is inevitable—and while it can be disruptive, it’s
usually for the good.”
the good’? I can’t believe you’re saying that, Flambé.” Nick had something of
the unreconstructed Leftie in him. His parents had been hippie socialists. He’d
been born in a commune, where the wealth was shared equally, and in his time had
been a huge supporter of leftwing causes, like gay marriage. A devoted Bernie
Sanders follower in the 2016 presidential election, he still believed in the
Vermont Independent. “These damned developers,” he told Flambé, “want to turn
Oakland into Mar-a-Lago by the Bay.”
a bit of an exaggeration,” Flambé responded. “You’re always saying Oakland
should build its own low-cost housing. But that takes money, and the city’s
broke! With the new condos and retail, Oakland’s tax base will improve, and the
city can use the extra money to help the homeless.”
three of them were getting pretty high by now, and Nick’s and Flambé’s tempers
were rising. Nick had noticed a few times how they seemed to rub each other the
wrong way on occasion. Little things could cause sparks, like a sinkful of
dirty dishes or Flambé’s persistent lack of money.
decided he needed some fresh air; he wasn’t into a political debate. Excusing
himself, he went out to Perkins and headed down the hill, towards Grand. He was
in a bad mood: feeling sorry for himself, pissed at Nick and Flambé for their
petty arguments, annoyed with himself.
hadn’t consciously decided to go to Playa, but force of habit carried him
there. The bar was mobbed. Between the weed and the beer, Danny was already
pretty stoned, but he decided to get a gimlet anyway. Elbowing his way to the
bar, he downed his first in a minute. Then he ordered a second—and a third—and
a fourth. Around midnight, he stumbled out the door, disoriented, dizzy and
with double vision. He managed to weave uncertainly across Grand without
getting hit by a car, found Perkins—barely–and got halfway up the block when
something strong and heavy came down on his head. All went dark.
* * *
got multiple contusions, and we put in six stiches, just above his right ear. And
he’s got a pretty good concussion,” said Dr. Erwin Wu, holding an x-ray of
Danny’s clobbered skull against the light. “But he should be okay. We’ll keep
him here for a couple days.”
passerby had found Danny sprawled between the sidewalk and the gutter, blood
trickling out of his head. The good Samaritan called 9-1-1; they’d brought him
to the Kaiser emergency room. The unconscious man had no identity papers on
him, his wallet having been stolen. The next morning, he had regained
consciousness, told the Kaiser staff his name and Nick’s phone number, and
informed them that his medical insurance was from Kaiser. A nurse phoned Nick
at work; he left Pandora immediately, picked up Flambé at home, and rushed to
Nick, Flambé and Dr. Wu were at Danny’s bedside. Danny was in pain, but in good
spirits, considering the situation. Nick would call the credit card companies
and have Danny’s VISA and MasterCard canceled. Flambé fluttered around Danny
like a nurse on a battlefield, holding up water for him to drink, dabbing a
towel on his brow, straightening his pillow. Danny got to calling her Flambé
Wu explained the antibiotics and painkillers he had prescribed for Danny. “Go
easy on the OxyContin,” he warned his patient. “You don’t want to get
addicted.” He told Danny he’d be back to see him later that afternoon. As he
turned to leave, Danny had a sudden thought. Cindy’s last name was Wu. He
figured Wu was a pretty common Chinese name, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
Dr. Wu, you wouldn’t be related to a young lady named Cindy, would you?”
Wu’s eyebrows shot up. “My daughter is Cindy.” It was a small world. Dr. Wu
stayed behind for a few minutes as Danny explained that he’d been seeing Cindy.
she told me she had a new friend, but she didn’t go into detail. Mrs. Wu and I
will have to have you to dinner sometime, after you’re better.”
would be nice,” Danny replied, shaking Dr. Wu’s hand. After Dr. Wu left, the
three roommates chatted for a while, but Danny grew tired, and Nick and Flambé
said they should probably be going. Nick had to get back to Pandora, and Flambé,
who had decided to make a little extra money as a dog walker, needed to start advertising
her new service on social media.
lowered his bed to the “sleep” position and closed his eyes. Trying to ignore
the pain in his head, he drifted off to Dreamland.