Keeping Oakland Awesome


There are so many articles these days about Oakland — how it’s hipster central, how it’s a dangerous hellhole, how it’s the new Brooklyn, blah blah blah…  I read them all and agree with some points, and roll my eyes at others.  I’ve lived here for almost 20 years now, and I can say is that it’s an entirely different city than the one I moved to all those years ago.  Even in the seven years we’ve lived in this neighborhood it seems like it’s become a different planet.  Lake Merritt, which when I first moved here was lovely but dangerous (stories of bodies being dredged from the waters and brutal muggings — I even saw a mugging a few years ago), is now teeming with people with blankets and barbecues.  Neighborhoods that used to be avoided are now filled with electric cars and baby strollers.  Gritty vacant storefronts are now hip boutiques and beer gardens.  On one hand it’s progress — we want our city to flourish, right?  But on the other hand, we don’t want it to go the way of San Francisco and lose its soul to the tech industry, or change too much.  (We want change, but then we hate change.  It’s a vicious cycle.)  Mostly what I’m worried about are displaced families and economic disparity, and I feel like Oakland is starting to bust at the seams with people moving in.  And for every positive step forward, something always happens to set it two steps back.

So regardless of manbuns and baby strollers and beer gardens, Oakland still needs a lot of help.  I love my city and have so much faith in it, but like everyone else, I get frustrated.  But I also feel that I can’t complain too much if I’m not doing anything about it — as a member of any community, you have responsibility to take some action.  It makes me crazy when I hear people complaining about this that and the other, yet they shop online or elsewhere and not locally, so money doesn’t go into the city.  Or they get complacent and think, “It’s not my problem.”  I believe if you live in a city and you want it to be better for everyone, you need to do something about it instead of rant and post links on Facebook.

So last year I decided that I needed to do something more for Oakland.  I love volunteering at The Alameda County Community Food Bank — it’s fun and gratifying and a huge reality scope and check — but all weekend slots get filled fast.  (Which is SO great!)  And I’m not one to protest or march (not my thing), nor am I one to plant a community garden.  (Our plants looks like they’re suffering from the drought, but no — they already looked like that.)  I’d love to tutor kids, but those are all weekday slots and I can’t then…  I was getting frustrated, looking for something I could do.

But then my friend sent me a link to a volunteer job, and it was perfect.  The Bookmark Bookstore, a gem of a little used bookstore run by The Friends of the Oakland Public Library, needed volunteers.  THAT I could do, and do well!  With all my bookstore/publishing/library experience, it was a perfect fit.  And all the proceeds go directly to The OPL, and I am a staunch believer that libraries are important pillars to any community for so many reasons — not just the love of reading, but programs that teach about resume writing and job seeking to homework to world travel and so much more.  One thing that has always stood out to me was that I used to know someone who worked for the OPL, and he would always say that some of the branches were basically daycare for kids after school.  I would much, much rather have kids sitting in a library while waiting for their parents to get home than on the streets and in trouble, perpetuating the cycle of violence.  But because of the lack of funds, Oakland’s libraries are always threatened with closure, and that is an awful thought.  Where would the people go?  Libraries are absolutely necessary to keep Oakland strong and thriving, and to build better minds and cities.

So it’s not much but that’s my little contribution to help Oakland, by working on Sundays in the little bookstore and encouraging people to buy books to help our wonderful libraries, which in turn help our wonderful city.  I just wish more people would come in and shop!  I think The Bookmark is a well kept secret — when I tell people that I work there on Sundays, most people have never heard of it.  So I’m here to tell you about it and to go!  It’s all donation based so the inventory changes all the time, and I tell you — Oakland readers have great taste.  We’ll get rare antiquarian books and current New York Times bestsellers, and everything in-between.  The fiction section is consistently fantastic, the history section is always terrific, there are always a ton of memoirs of truly interesting people, and my personal favorite — the kids’ section — is GREAT.  There are treasures to be found every day — and I should know, because I go home with a stack every week.  (But I don’t feel guilty, because every penny goes to the OPL.) And everything is CHEAP!  All at a great price for a great cause.

I mean, look.  This gorgeous 1963 edition of “Of Mice and Men” for $3?  Come ON.  Treasures abound!


And tomorrow, April 12th, all books are 50% off!!! For more info click here:   So please go in and help support The Oakland Public Library, and Oakland itself.  It’s easy and a pleasure, and one of the best ways I know of to keep Oakland awesome.


The Bookmark Bookstore –721 Washington St in Old Oakland. 510.444.0473 Hours: Mon-Fri: 10:30-4:30 Sat: 10:30-3:30

Wanna Buy a Watch?

I don’t want an Apple watch; I’d much rather have a TeeterTotter watch.


Oh man, I loved my TeeterTotter watch.  In the grand scheme of things I probably only wore it about six times (I was not the type of child who was together enough to put on a watch every day — I didn’t really have a tight schedule and I was lucky if I remembered to put on matching shoes), but I was so fascinated by it.  It had a stars and stripes wristband (it was the ’70s, after all), was huge and made a ton of noise, and I was mesmerized by the colorful cogs and the boy and girl teeter-tottering.  (Not only was I not terribly together or fastidious, I was also easily amused.)

And while I would probably be mesmerized by an Apple watch, I don’t need it or want it.  Because I haven’t changed much — I don’t have it together enough to wear the watch I already have, nor do I have the big bucks to buy one.  I don’t even have the big bucks to buy this one:

But my birthday’s coming up, hint hint.  Because nothing says “mature adult” like sporting a watch made for messy six-year-olds.

Still, it would be awesome.

Throwback Thursday

When I was in junior high, I was cursed with the worst thing that could possibly happen to an adolescent girl circa 1980: my hair did not feather.

Back then, feathered hair was paramount to success.  All the popular girls had feathered hair and glossy lips and satin jackets.  I, on the other hand, had limp, red hair that never did anything right, much less did anything at all except hang there, looking greasy. Kissing Potion lip gloss made my braces stand out more, and my mom refused to buy me a satin jacket or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.  To make matters worse, I wasn’t cute or coordinated in gymnastics, two other tickets to pre-teen success.  I couldn’t roller-skate very well, nor did I have a winning, flirty personality.  I read ‘Teen and Seventeen magazines, hoping that I would stumble upon the secret that the other girls seemed to inherently know, that was navigating them through the horrors of adolescence with confidence and pizzazz while I just felt irritated and gross and like a giant dork.

But one day I found the secret, and it wasn’t in any magazine — it was in the bins at the record store at the mall.  Thanks to an album with five girls in towels and face masks on the cover, I learned that I didn’t need feathered hair or designer jeans or to fit in; I learned that I didn’t need to fit in at all.  I learned that I could like what I liked and to pay no mind to what the popular girls may say — it didn’t matter anyway.  Hey hey hey.

I’ve heard this song maybe about, oh, a million times since the first time I put the needle on that record all those years ago, but every single time I still feel that joy I felt the first time I heard it — that life was filled with possibilities and I was going to find an escape from the angst, even if it was only for the two plus minute duration of the song.  Back then angst was more about zits and bad hair while now it’s more about paying taxes and bad hair, but still.  No matter how old or dorky I am, there’s always joy.

Here’s some joy for you.

Remember Time When You Were Near and Things Were Clear

The first time I ever met Bob was in my high school parking lot after a school dance.  He walked up to me and tweaked one of my earrings, a little Gumby that I had made myself (and of which I was very proud).  “I love your Gumby earrings,” he said.  I swooned and fell in love.  Alas, it was never meant to be.  I should have known better than to fall for a boy whose first words to me were a compliment on my accessories, and instead we became best friends.

The first time I met Laura was at The Berkeley Square at a Three O’Clock show.  She was sitting on a bar stool, sipping a cocktail.  We were fifteen.  “I’ve heard about you,” she said, narrowing her eyes.  I backed away a little, nervous.  I’d heard about her, too.  “Yes,” she said.  “Would you like to see my natural hair color?” She bent over and flipped up her white blonde bob, revealing dark blonde roots underneath.  She straightened up and smiled.  “I only show people I like my real hair,” she said.  “So I know we’re going to be friends.”  So we were.

And tonight, over three decades later, the three of us toasted our long and dear friendship.  The Gumby earrings are long lost and none of us have our natural haircolor anymore, but as much as things have changed, the really important things have remained the same.

Being with them is like being with family.  It feels like home.



I’ve signed up for the 100 Day Project!

I always see people doing things like this and I admire their creativity, and envy them for their motivation.  Honestly, I could sit on the couch and eat Taco Flavored Doritos every day for 100 days and that’s about it, because I’m lazy.  I’m not exactly what you’d call a go-getter, but I do like lists and checking things off.  And I have a lot of things I could put on and check off this list, including spring cleaning, dry cleaning, soul cleansing, and all the other things I see on Facebook that I’m supposed to be doing while wearing some sort of yoga pants.  (I do own a pair of yoga pants.  However, I call them “pajamas.”)

So I don’t have a big plan for these 100 days — I’m not going to do a paint-by-numbers “Last Supper” or invent something or even diet (though I should do all three of those things) — instead I’m just going to live my lazy life, but I am going to update here every single day for 100 days, even if it’s just a quick story, a quick sentence, or a stupid picture.

So today we begin.  And I will start with a photo from yesterday, the lamb cake I made for Easter:


(This is him on my lap on the way to my mom’s.  By the time we got there, he’d sort of melted.  But he still tasted delicious.)

I’d wanted to do a lamb cake forever and I finally got a mold.  I’m not a good cook; my baking skills are as good as the directions on the box.  But I was determined to do it and I did!  The sense of triumph I felt when I took off the mold and his face and ears were intact rivals any other triumphs in my life, including winning the Brownies costume contest in third grade (I was Minnie Mouse) and getting my MFA (just before I tripped and fell off the stage).  The ears were perfect!  The face was golden and shapely!  I had done it!  My neighbors must have thought I was being murdered or won the lottery, thanks to my screams of joy.  And then I frosted him and he kind of looked like a poodle, but still.  I was STOKED.

I loved him so much I wanted to shellac him, but alas, he was sacrificed for dessert.  Now I know how kids in 4H feel.  (Kind of.)  But this little lamb made me so happy, and made me feel like I could take on so many more things in life and succeed — within reason.  I know I can’t do a complicated paint by numbers set or invent anything or go on a diet.  But I can make a cake from scratch, and that is a mad skill.

Aaaand there you have it.  What you can except for the next 100 days!  (You should sign up. too.  Go to the link above for more information.)