A cold winter sun, my feet underground/a pale winter city, numbness for sound

Feeding the birds, Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[You can find all my photos from this day here. They’re more fun when you view them individually, so take the time to click through one by one, if you get a chance.]

Three days ago, I stepped inside the County of Alameda Administration Building in Oakland and set off the alarms on the security machine just inside the building’s entrance. Not just once, but twice.

Right, I am a serious danger to the world.

Was it the silver bracelets? I have skinny wrists but bony hands, and putting on and removing bracelets is too much of a painful process for me to do it regularly, so I’ve pretty much just left the same ones on for the past couple of years. Or maybe it was the hearing aid batteries. Thanks to those, I distinctly remember setting off airport alarms multiple times as a kid.

But no: “Are you wearing shoes?” asked the white-haired man at the…what is it called? security checkpoint? He tried to peer over the machine. Shoes? Why, yes, indeed I was, for once in my life. Stupid shoes. I resisted an urge to shake my fist at the ground. I always knew shoes were no freakin’ good for you.

“Raise your hands in the air and step back through the machine again,” suggested the man. I gingerly raised my hands in the air (I haven’t had much practice at it; hopefully that was the last time I’d ever have to do that) and walked through again. Another alarm.

The man just nodded and smiled and waved his hand to let me go through. I guess he had somehow come to a conclusion that it was the shoes, and that they were harmless. I took care of the business I was there for, and managed to walk out in five minutes. Across the lobby, the white-haired gentleman laughed and waved again as he saw me leaving. I waved back and called out, “Have a good day!” What a nice man. I liked this day already.

Once outside, I started for my car, conveniently parked right in front, but paused at the row of plaques hanging on a low wall that lined the building’s front plaza. It was a memorial wall dedicated to the children of Alameda County who have lost their lives by violence. One plaque for each year from 1994 to 2004. Some of the names stood out to me and I wanted to take photos, but wondered nervously whether that would be a bad idea. Setting off the security machine for wearing shoes (bracelets? hearing aids?) was amusing enough; getting busted for photographing an official county building might be a whole different thing altogether. But then I figured, The hell with it. It’s a memorial wall, I’m sure people photograph it all the time.

As I stood there taking photos, a man scrounging through the garbage can a few feet away looked over at me and muttered, “‘Bout time!” I glanced over, surprised. ‘Bout time, what? ‘Bout time someone noticed the memorial and photographed it? I wanted to ask him to elaborate, but he had already shuffled on to the next garbage can down the street.

I got in my car and sat there for a few moments, wondering what to do with myself. I had thought the Oakland stuff would take at least an hour, but it had taken only five minutes and I had nothing important to do for the rest of the day. I decided to stop by the lake I had passed while circling the block for parking. It looked pretty, and I felt like taking pictures.

I glanced cautiously around the perimeter of the lake as I was getting out of my car. Was it safe to be hanging around here, in this town I barely knew and a lake I’d never been to? But the lake was swarming with people jogging and strolling, alone and in pairs, and when I made my way down the path and stopped to take photos, I had to keep moving aside to let people go by.

I photographed a man feeding the birds. He stood calmly at the edge of the lake, throwing out bits of something, while the birds hopped around expectantly and, now and then, made a mad dash in the general direction of where he was throwing. Just as quietly as he had stopped for the birds, he was soon gone. I turned around from photographing the lake, and he had vanished. I shot photos of the water, the orange lanterns, and, oh, the birds. The birds were everywhere.

Two men paused while walking by me. “Taking pictures of the birds?” asked one in amusement. “Don’t you know you have to feed them first?”

I laughed. “Oh, don’t worry, they’ve been fed already.”

“What kind of camera is that?” asked his friend, “An SD40?”

“SD400,” I corrected.

He nodded.

“Have a good one,” said his friend.

“You, too!”

They continued walking.

I decided it had been a beautiful day so far.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, in the past month, I’ve felt safer in my little bubble of suburbia than anywhere else [even though I now won’t drive to the grocery store just four minutes away without locking my car doors from the inside], that places like Berkeley and Oakland, which I once fondly considered only “genuine and eccentric,” now make me feel guarded and wary.

But you’ve got to get out and live, no matter what the cost or the outcome sometime. And maybe, if this is all that life comes down to, even this would be enough: Walks around the lake, words exchanged with kind strangers in passing, the remembrance of those whom we’ve loved and lost and never stopped loving.