Tuesday, October 23, 2007

There Goes the Neighborhood

Lately I’ve been walking west Oakland, which is not a good neighborhood. It does have some nice houses, a few new condo developments, and a few prominent businesses, like Esther’s Orbit room and The Crucible metal workshop.

But much of it is bland at best, blighted at worst. In the northern area, near the Emeryville border, you see a lot of derelict men pushing shopping carts and drinking out of paper bags. Closer to the West Oakland BART station, you get strips of public housing, and run-down little houses with chain-link fences around their yards.

To summarize: It’s not a great place, and last week, I managed to make it worse.

I was walking around listening to music and wearing a t-shirt that in retrospect I wish I’d left in the drawer. I bought it at the Hooters restaurant in Hangzhou, China where Pipi and I went to watch a soccer game on TV. (Honest.) At the time it struck me as ironic and fun. It has Chinese characters on it, so it seemed like it had more cultural value than it really does.

So I was walking around West Oakland wearing this hip, edgy, ironic shirt that’s going to wow all my friends at the next party when I found myself walking past a school—a junior high school, I think. It was recess time, and several girls were sitting by the fence braiding each other’s hair. I could see that one of them had stopped braiding and was saying something excitedly to me. I took off my earphones and asked her to repeat it. “I like your shirt!” she beamed.

This was exactly what I had been afraid she’d said. I certainly hadn’t meant to bring the word of Hooters to the youth of our nation. That was dumb. From now on, it’s plain white Ts, women’s sports jerseys, or shirts I’ve gotten from charity events, I promise.

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