Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sweet Land

My Front Yard

Since it's been getting nicer out, I've been trying to walk the mile and a half to and from the closest BART station as part of my daily work commute.

BART, for those of you who don't know, is Bay Area Rapid Transit. I like to think of it as a reliable, electric, bacteria filled steel transport sausage that communally delivers nice folks from one place to another. Does it sound delightful to you? It is, really! Especially compared to the slow snarl of rush hour traffic that the East Bay becomes circa 5pm every day and even more so compared to the vein popping hulked out rage machine I become circa 5pm every day when stuck in that slow snarl of traffic.

This morning, on my walk, I saw a big white pelican, a tiny crane, at least five species of duck, cormorants, which are kind of spooky when you get down to it, and coots, which have the ugliest feet of all water fowl anywhere I've ever been. I live just about a block from a large tidal lagoon, Lake Merritt. It comprises the center of the city of Oakland, and is America's first official wildlife refuge. This is my front yard, and I share it with my neighbors.

All around the lake are fancy fountains and gardens, extensive ones. Anyone can check them out! If you want you can grab a sailboat or a paddle boat or rent a gondola. It's cool! We all share. You can even bring your own. Close by, there's a wide green space where people can play soccer or tag or whatever they want. Sometimes people string ropes between trees and practice high wire or sit on the park benches and feed the birds or sit on blankets or steps staring off into the distance all dreamy like.

Did I mention the tennis courts?

My neighbors are pretty great, as far as neighbors go. When I go on my morning and evening walk, I see people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, of different sexual orientations and genders, of different ages and religions and socio-economic statuses. There are athletes and elites and hipsters and townies and transplants and oh, there's that guy who is always doing Tai Chi, like always, all the time. I bet he is super self-fulfilled.

Look, I have a well-developed sense of irony and cynicism. I know it's Pollyanna-esque and there are plenty of deep critiques of the City of Oakland to be made, but I'm going to venture to say, my neighbors and I, we have it pretty good, very good, maybe better than any super-rich kabillionairre in the whole wide world.

Maybe we don't get to go be all alone with our land or our stuff or our travel or our entertainments, but that's fine by me. I can be a bit of an urban hermit. It's good to be around people.

I'm going to say this quietly, so pretend I'm whispering: I think this might be something like Socialism. Okay, sorry. I know for some of you, it's a bad word. I was just thinking how, on our own, not many of us would have anything close to this, but when we share our resources, Voila! Fancy stuff!

And boy, do I like fancy stuff.

Winners get fancy stuff, like parking spots and sh*t!

So, I've been investing in my future lately, aka, buying Megamillions tickets. I've been thinking about what I would buy with that kind of money, if I won. Imagine with me! At the start, my lotto dream is altruistic. First, I pay off my student loans, and my buddies student loans. Then I set some of the kids in my life up with college funds. As you can see, education is very important to me. Then I establish a scholarship for working class kids. Then the rest goes to a charity. Most likely, I'd do something to feed hungry schoolkids. Good learning is helped by good nutrition, right? Wow, I'm a good person!

At this point, the fantasy changes. I start to think, "That's a lot of money. What if I keep some of it?" I could still give a lot to charity, but I could travel, too. I could travel and write, which is all that I ever have wanted to do with my life, and I could do that anywhere because I'd have an easy source of income. Me, a passport, some plane tickets, hostels, street food and a laptop: there's not too much overhead in that. But then, I'd probably want to have some place nice to come home to, maybe just a just a tiny condo in the city where I could keep my books and sleep when I'm in town. Okay, but then, if I just took an extra million or so from the charity fund, I could have a real detached house with land. Maybe it could have a lake and some fancy fountains and some gardens, extensive ones, and tennis courts (though I don't play tennis). So maybe those kids wouldn't  get lunch at school, but then it's not my responsibility to take care of those kids, anyway, and if it hadn't been for the fickle hand of the cosmos I never would have pretend won the stupid lotto to begin with. Jeez!

John Trumbell's Declaration of Independence

This week, I've been reading this book by Erich Fromm, Marx's Concept of Man. In it, he discusses Marx and Socialism outside of the framework of Soviet Communism, which many of us, including me, have a deep gut reaction to. In it, he argues for a more humanist view, one where Marxism / Socialism frees man of the burden of materialism and gifts him with freedom to pursue creativity, spirituality and whatnot. I've been thinking about this some during my morning walks and pretend lotto fantasies. It seems like no matter which end of the spectrum I'm on, and I'm assuming humanity is on, I want my basic needs + met so I am free to "pursue." Pursue what? I don't know. Maybe it's the elusive "happiness" so noted in our nation's Declaration of Independence. Maybe it's the freedom to write or do Tai Chi all day or watch football or worship or play Mass Effect 3. I don't know. Everyone's pursuit is different, right?

We, and by we, I mean, me: I want people to be free and happy, at least to have their basic needs met. So when I think about it, especially on my long walks through the shared public spaces that make up my world, I can only conclude that socialism, at least at the ground level, is an American value. Not all of us are going to be kabillionaires. We're not all going to achieve the elusive "dream" alone, but we can share it. We can have it together.

We already share a lot: our parks, our roads, our mail system, our defense, etc. I personally wouldn't mind sharing other things like healthcare or higher education or housing if it enriches my experience and that of my neighbors and nation.


  1. Ha, I've been reading Erich Fromm too, only _The Art of Loving_. If you win your mega millions you could buy a house and I could live there raising chickens while you are out in the world. When you come home I'll make you food. Commune!

  2. I read that in my "Study of Love" class in college. Seriously, Fromm, I always think of him as the Peter Elbow of philosophy.

  3. Totally, feel-good and slightly smarmy when you get down to it. I believe I later taught that "Study of Love" class, ma'am. And got fired from it for making it too academic and cutting out the dream journals and altruistic acts. I replaced the pillow room with _Tristan and Iseult_...people complained.


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