Rough! My Life as a Dog in Oakland

Never tripped on Oakland. To me it was that other place across the bay with better weather and up to the minute shootings showcased on the local news. Being from San Francisco, I was constantly trippin’; trippin’ over my shoes getting from point A to B bypassing what was in between. I tripped over my thoughts, a combination of past, present and what might lie ahead. My tongue tripped over itself in search of words, words that might mean something. Due to circumstances I will not elaborate on at this time, I find my self trippin’ as I walk down the street of my new home in East Oakland. The streets I walk on are new and, like San Francisco, the pavement is a maze of sutures, remnants of wounds I didn’t bear witness to. Yet, I feel the scars and sutures and faults as if they were carved into my own skin. I walk onward.

I walk past empty storefronts, churches, corner stores of various sizes and a thrift shop with wigs, canes, furniture, clothes and books. I walk past people, faces black and brown with emotions built up inside skin and bone that can be felt. In my first week in Oakland, 3 people said good morning to me. That never happened to me in 50 years in San Francisco. I respond with a good morning and walk on.

I head to the Coliseum Bart station one day on my bike. Rows of houses with wrought iron gates and fences stand stoically alongside trees with rivers of stories carved onto the skin. One house is surrounded by a fence covered in clothes—shirts, pants, socks—dangling, coming alive in the wind—kicking, waving, swaying in the Oakland sun. The houses are old and without the anti-septic quality their counterparts in gentrified San Francisco are acquiring. I see a man in front of his house, water hose in hand, dousing his car; a baptism of sorts—a gleam of pride and dignity as he embarks from his home to take on whatever may come.

I see more faces, the dogs of the neighborhood along 73rd street. Dogs with thick meaty faces, scarred faces, distinguished faces, faces of quiet fire, faces that a mirror would not forget or regret. The faces resemble prizefighters of yesteryear–Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles dogs; Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano dogs—Sonny Liston dogs with a Tyson thrown in for good measure; dogs that are both ugly and handsome at the same time; dogs that have seen it all and do not have patience for foolishness.

One such dog is a dog I call Pogo stick. Pogo resides in a house behind a wooden fence. I ride by and pogo jumps up and down. I get glimpses of the top of his pointy ears and head as he bounces like a ball. One day he got high enough where we came face to face. I saw his fine row of teeth and each time he jumped he spoke.

“Say man (jump), where you goin’? (jump)…you think you can (jump) go to the corner (Jump) store for me and (Jump) and pick me up a pack of (jump) smokes (jump) and a lottery ticket?

I can’t get his teeth out of my mind so I ride off until I come to a black wrought iron fence. I approach. There is a black pit bull. He whimpers a tone that has sat deep for a long time. I lean against the fence.
“How’s life treating you?” I ask
“Rough!”
“Really? You look comfortable to me.”
He put his nose between the iron bars and poured it out:
“Rough, rough, rough…rough rough rough…rough! Rough rough! Rough rough rough…!
rough rough rough!”
I didn’t understand yet I felt what he was trying to communicate.

I was about to ride off on my bike when I saw a small dog approach. It looked to be a Chihuahua/lab or some other mix. It looked up at me like he was an old time gangster—he had an Edward G. Robinson face.
“What do you want?” The little dog asked.
“Wait, you speak English?” I said.
“What the hell you think I speak? You damn right I speak English! I speak a little Spanish too and I’m trying to learn Chinese”
“Oh”
We looked at each other for a moment. I broke the silence.
“So, do you know what that other dog said?” I asked, pointing to the pit bull. The little dog looked at me.
“Ruff!”
I looked at the pit bull, his thick nose glistening behind the gates.
“What I said” he began, “Is that you just got here in Oakland a hot second ago but I been here a long time, since before you was in diapers. And all that poetry you writin’ about my home ain’t nothing but a lot of bulls**t. If it wasn’t for this fence, I’d put some real poetry on your ass. I’d A-1 steak yo’ ass right here and now”
“A-1 steak my ass, what does that mean?”
“It means that all that stuff you writing about Oakland, about the sutures in the street and the fault lines and cracks that tell stories like a palm in some fortune teller’s trick bag ain’t about nothin’. The only cracks and sutures that you’re gonna see are the one’s in your ass when I take a chunk out of it
I moved away from the fence. I backed away. I heard a noise.
“Rough!”
I hopped on my bike and pedaled onward, faster and faster. The sutures in the street were mouths that smiled then laughed. I was trippin’. I tripped over my own pedaling feet and towards the fault lines in the street. I fell on my ass as the laughter of the dogs rang in my ears.
Rough, rough rough!

(c) 2014 Tony Robles

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