Feature image by Brenton Haslam
With the sun out like this, Lake Merritt begins to exert a magnetic pull on the city. People head out on their lunch break to pick up stamps or allergy medicine and don’t notice they’ve taken themselves to the water’s edge until it’s too late and their shoes are off and their feet are rejoicing in the grass. If your appointment for Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon was suddenly canceled it’s because your client or hairdresser or dentist caught the glint of the lake in his eye and cleared the rest of his schedule. It’s hard to stay away, it’s something we’re all struggling with.
At the lake we indulge the romantic aspect of city living. Elsewhere we rush each other. On BART we stingily defend our space, we gang up on the guy counting out change at the register, we silently condemn the woman slurping noodles on the bus, we avoid each other’s eyes.
But at the lake we are led to believe our neighbors spend all their time exercising, doting on their children and reading in the sun. We love them.
Of course there’s also various loons with their accessories- their metal detectors, their collections of analog electronics and crackling portable radios, their floor length puff coats worn with sun glasses and what appear to be multiple beanies. But when you’re at the lake you are in no mood to judge.
You’ll notice a guy who seems to be a pretty standard, no-nonsense dad except he’s on roller blades, just cruising, and you’ll think, cool.
You’ll locate the muted grind of base pulsing from somewhere: a van parked on Lakeshore, its doors flung open, exhaling sweet peachy smoke and spilling with a few bare limbs.
There will be men in Raiders jerseys barbequing and getting mobbed on by ruthless gaggles of geese.
There will be ecstatic dancers doing contact improv, throbbing with dank, psychedelic energy.
There will be women in dark head scarves and wrapped in swathes of patterned fabric, power walking.
There will be people on dates, ripping clumps of grass out and searching for something to talk about other than goose poop. They will sneak glances of each other while the other squints out at the water, they will wait until the sun gets low and the wind becomes insistent to scoot closer to each other for warmth. Then they’ll head back to his apartment to grab jackets. They won’t come back out of the apartment.
There will be women walking in twos and threes, gossiping. Teenage girls gossiping about that girl, you know, that’s so perfect? you want to hate her? but you actually really like her because that’s how perfect she is? Middle aged women gossiping about their children and their children’s creepy, furtive computer habits. Old women gossiping about people they’ve never met, people that don’t even know they exist.
Around 7 p.m. the light will take on that soft blueness that gives the white architecture a phosphorescent glow. The clouds will blush pink. You’ll notice the necklace of lamps around the lake. In this light everyone looks better. You may fight the urge to reach out and touch the purple lips of the person talking to you.
People will start making their way to Caña and the Heart and Dagger and Bar 389 or else they’ll go home. Back to their messes, their tragedies big and small, or else back to their contentedness.
And some of us will stay a bit longer, spread against the edges of this commanding opening in the city. Unconfronted thoughts still sunken at bottom of our mind like the Godknowswhat at the black-green bottom of the lake. We will stare at the mindless glare of the water and try to be like it: still, laid bare against the wind.