There is a “there” in Oakland

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.
I am in the midst of mine.
For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.
The book is titled, Live Long*, Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

Up to now we have been jumping from one memory to the next in more or less chronological order. My hope is that I have planned and lived generally with a long perspective. Now I’d like to look back with the focus of the second part of the title, “Learn a little.” Everything I have learned came through some kind of situation, not always breathtaking, sometimes boring, but couched in some setting. The experiences brought not many epiphanies, and not always happy endings, but often a fact or lesson worth adding to my modest store of knowledge, and maybe even a little wisdom. Including…

Writer and art connoisseur Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) famously said of her home town Oakland California, “There is no there, there.”

People chuckled assuming she was referring to the city’s casual, bordering on haphazard layout. She claimed she was misunderstood. She meant that her idyllic growing up countryside home had been urban developed, and her memories paved over.

Whatever the correct interpretation of her line, I know one man for whom there is a “there” in Oakland, a special, even sacred place. It happens to be a gutter.

One twilight time I was standing on another location sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Oakland Mormon Temple. Looking down and west from the high hillside, I watched the lights blinking on across the bay in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge in the distance inviting the adventurous to sail the deep blue waters of the Pacific to the great world beyond..

“Beautiful isn’t it?” he said.

I turned to see a smiling man a bit past middle age with a sizable and serious minded dog on a leash. “I’m a lucky man. I get to watch this drama most every night,” he said.

“You work here?”

“I’m the night watchman. Actually, Buster here is the night watchman. I just watch him and go where he leads me. I follow him, and he follows his nose.”

“So he’s a watchdog,” I said.

“More like a specialized search party. As you probably know, smoking is not allowed on this property. But some people like to hide in the bushes and practice that and other unlawful activities.”

“And Buster sniffs them out?” I asked

He has a teetotaler nose for tobacco smoke and an authoritative bark. That usually makes the point and sends them skeedadling,” my new friend said.

“Skeedadling,” I said. “I haven’t heard that word since my mother used to grab my brother’s hand and mine and take off when we were late for church, Sakes alive and land o’Goshen.”

He smiled, “That’s a quick commute through time and space. I grew up back in Utah too.”

“What brought you out here?”



“I was blessed with a photographic memory. Read it once, repeat it forever. I could quote poetry by the hour. School was easy, too easy, sometimes boringly easy. Work was the same. I became an electrical contractor. I was fast and accurate. I could read through a set of blueprints once and never have to go back to them. I made more money than I knew what to do with. Married my beautiful childhood sweetheart, and had a picture post card family.”

“Doesn’t sound stupid to me.”

“I’m getting to that. School, money, family, all handed to me on a silver platter. Success was so easy I took it for granted. I got bored with it all, started looking for kicks in other places. Found it in the booze bottle, and worse.

“Everything unraveled. I lost my contracts, my wife and kids, my home and fortune and the respect of my family, friends, and myself. I drifted out to here, ended up on First Street. Do you know what that means?”

“Tell me.”

“Most every seaport town has piers and wharves, and just up from there, First Street the first chance for the gamblers, the hookers, the con men and the booze joints to get their claws into the stupid sailors who come ashore looking for action. I came from the landward side, but got snared by the same people.

“One night I ended up as low as you can get, sea level, First Street, literally face down in the gutter, and I couldn’t even lift up my head. Through the spit and the vomit I mumbled out a prayer. I said ‘God I’ve lost everything. If you can see me down here, and if you think I’m worth the trouble will you please lift my head up on to the curb?’

“He did. Then he dragged up one leg, then the other. I was able to crawl next to a building and sleep it off. That was the beginning of the road back. From up here I can see pretty much see where I was that night. It was right there.”

“So there is a “there” in Oakland,” I said.

He smiled. “There are more beautiful spots in the town, but none more important to me.

“I’m not where I once was, but I’m not down there. I didn’t get back my family, my skills, or the respect of people who mean a lot to me. And my memory washed away in the booze. Alcohol dissolves brain cells. Did you know that?

“Most important I got back my faith in God and Jesus Christ, and I’m getting my hope back. The kind people who hired me to watch this hallowed ground, and many other forgiving folks are supporting me. I’m going to make it.

“Well, Buster and I have to go sniff some more bushes. Nice talking to you. Keep the faith brother.”

“You too. Thanks for sharing. With your permission, I’d like to use a square foot or two of your grass here to kneel down and make a call home.”

“Sure. I’ll leave you alone”

I watched him walk away. I looked down to the lights of the cities, and up to the stars and whispered my gratitude and my petition. “Beloved Father in heaven Thou who telleth us thy wayward children, ‘Come unto me. My hand is stretched out still’ please bless my brother and Buster, and all of us when we lose our way. I thank thee for lighting the road home. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

What do you think about this part of the book?
Everybody I know is busy, including me. Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.
I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)
The questions are these:
“A” How much did you enjoy this?
“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?
The rating is:
1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.
2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts
3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary
4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to
5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door
So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, but since that that would probably be from my mother and she has passed away, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)
Also feel free to add comments if you like.
Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.