I walked from my daughter’s teen meditation center along dusky streets of Oakland, the sun dipping over the edge of the earth. As I crossed a very urban street in this very urban center, a flock of crows caught my attention, pouring like a river around the edge of a corner office tower. They rolled like pinwheels over one another, black sawtooth wings akimbo, cawing in their unmistakable way. They alighted in waves, one after another, in a somewhat spindly sycamore tree not near big enough for them all. There they hung, and dangled, and struggled for position, shoulder to shoulder, rocking on delicate branches with their brethren.
Not unlike the desperate African migrants I saw portrayed in the NYT photo journalism essay today, the one that indicated in it’s very title that the living are forced to pick their way over the dead who’ve been asphyxiated or crushed to death in the bottom of the boats. And not just the weak, mind you. The torso of a young strong man was there, splayed out as if for absolution. It got to me, as did many of the terrible images. How could it not. It got to the photographer too, who said “I’ve seen a lot of death, but not this thing. This is shocking, and this is what makes you feel you are not living in a civilized world.” I resented that some of the images we’re ‘beautiful’ from a photographic standpoint. It seemed it shouldn’t be so.
I write this from a Laotian restaurant around the corner from the meditation center as I wait for my daughter and her friend. I have dinner here, where I am blessed to be served, and to be able to afford, short ribs grilled with a spicy peanut sauce, chicken fat rice topped with a fried egg, cucumber salad, and a perfect little Manhattan served in a modest bar glass.
While eating my worthy-of-a-king meal, my phone rang, or did whatever phones do these days. I leapt for it, something I rarely do. It was my friend, who’d been hospitalized at a local psychiatric hospital two weeks ago, for two days. After many scary days where his voice was dark and muffled, where I couldn’t understand his words, where he mumbled or seemed to be pressing the phone to his mouth, his voice now was to my shock, surprise, and delight, ebullient.
I just needed food, he said. Next time I call you and I’m down, just tell me to eat, okay? His voice was clear, ringing, with distinct edges to the words again. I just have to remember to eat! I was flooded with relief. Well, of course, I said, of course you have to eat! Daily! Three meals a day! And protein! I was so happy.
Then, he said, “Listen, I have an idea! Please, can you write an article?? The title will be, “What if toilets could talk?”