West Coast Bump City Oaktown O’Town
Jingletown, which everyone thinks is named for all the nortenos and their popsicle carts with bells on, but is really a reference to a boom town time when filipinos would exhort their friends and family to come to Oakland and get good jobs so their pockets would jingle with coin. I never mention it to my neighbors. They prefer to think Jingletown is a current state of affairs.
Ronnie says he grew up down the way on 7th Street where all the major acts came to play gospel blues and jazz. You think you know the blues but you don’t. It’s in three blocks of tilted dereliction, a neighborhood evicerated by progress. Slim Jenkins lives on the side of a building in helvetica letterforms made of some efficient polymer. There may be affordable housing arranged in its courtyards. This is the neighborhood where everyone claims to have written The Thrill Is Gone. I believe every one who so states. You look at the signage, gone bald, really, and the club facades turned into pissfronts, and squint.
The home of the west coast blues. Used to be, after the cypress had been torn down and caltrans announced they were building a replacement on top of the famous 7th street area, one of the squats along the bart tracks was holding out just a little, to make the wrecking ball appreciate its booty, I guess. The squatters put a sign in their window, at eye level for commuters:
it said. Sigh. Not only is the sign gone, the squatter’s gone, and the building that kept them both is just a square of dirt with a bunch of rebar jutting out of it. A little tower of babel is going in right there, with every slam of the pile driver.
When Ronnie’s dad got home drunk in the middle of the night, he’d wake Ronnie up and bring him out to the living room in his pj’s and order him to put records on the player for him. Each song would move his father to tears. Put on another one, now, he’d sob. Ronnie would put every record on until his father’s torment turned to sleep.
That’s how I learned, Ronnie says. Everybody played there. *Everybody*. There was no where else to play. It was a time, Fred says, oh, the minks. Oh, my god, Ronnie says, it was not the lateness of your arrival hour that made you important at those clubs, it was the length of your mink. Stop, I say, no fuckin way. Way, Fred says, the *only* way, and when Sylvester showed up, his mink went from the top of his head to the floor and out the door. Sylvester kissed me on the mouth, Ronnie announces, did I ever tell you that? Stop it, I say again, this is too much. He did, and I was proud to tell everyone that Sylvester kissed me on the mouth.
Every time I’m in the van with the kids I ask them to explain all the tags to me. What’s that tag? Where are they from? How do they compare to? I keep showing them my tag, and they never know who it belongs to. That’s my tag, I say. Then they roar with laughter.
They don’t believe me.
I’m not from here.