Sunday, June 06, 2010

I am Magic.

All My Luck.

My girlfriend is great. She said the other day that she was going to blindfold me and take me somewhere for breakfast. That I'd be excited.

My brother bought me a hat a while ago that I don't really wear because it doesn't fit my head correctly. I have a giant head and this hat is small, and made of wool, and so the times that I've worn it in the snow have shrunk it quite a bit. Just the cap part, the ponpom is still the same size. I keep it because it reminds me of my brother, and that my brother is the kind of person to travel alone to the deeper parts of Mexico without knowing spanish and buy me a hat. To reorganize: My brother once went to the heart of the Mexican jungle, so deep and far away that it barely counts as Mexico and bought me a winter hat. I like the hat. I'm talking too much about the hat. My brother is also great.

Anyway. So we get in her car that is slowly becoming our car, though I'll never really call it that. I'll leave it be her car, it makes more sense. Our car will come after that one and we'll buy it together. The main function of "our" is mutual ownership, I'm just lucky enough to use this one. Our apartment is our apartment. Our cats are our cats. Her car is not our car. I put my brothers hat on and try to pull it down over my eyes, but it doesnt fit, so I tilt it so the back is up over my ears and the front is down over my eyes. I can see right through the cap, so I have to use the headband to go over my eyes. Also, the wool is not machined. I don't know if it's wool even. But it's itchier than hell, the strands of hat will poke into your skin, so leaving my eyes open is not only impossible but borderline dangerous.

I brought a deck of cards. If we were going where I thought we were going, we were going to Stinson Beach to enjoy a nice California day outdoors. Amanda. My girlfriend's name is Amanda. I should have said that by now. Anyway - early in her time here in California, just after she'd moved here, I took her to Stinson Beach because it's an amazing place to go and you can make it from my then apartment and our current apartment on a quarter tank of gas and significantly less planning. It's beautiful. It's the california coast and it's blue and green forever. I brought the deck of cards today, because on that day, when I took her to Stinson the first time we had a deck of cards with us so that we could play Gin. I should say: so that she could beat me in gin. I do not win at gin. That first day we wound up sitting at a bar having lunch and playing cards and trying to ignore the locals. Today, with the blindfold on, I took them out and idly began to shuffle because it is difficult to hold a conversation with a blindfold on. I decided, silently, that I'd stop shuffling when I thought there was an ace on the bottom of the deck.

Important note. I removed the cards from the pack and began to shuffle them and could tell - based on the wear of the cards - which side was up. This was the only thing I could honestly tell about the deck of cards. I cannot see the cards. I only know which end is up. Though, they could be some up and some down in the deck - but I confirm with Amanda: "Is this right side up?" she says yes.

I start shuffling the cards while we talk. Maybe thirty or forty times. And then I stop. And then I ask Amanda "Is this an ace." And it is. It's the ace of clubs. I don't believe her so I peek, and it is. It's the ace of clubs. I am excited because I am magical and that's amazing. But 1 in 13 chance. Not crazy long odds.

I go back to shuffling, Amanda does not believe me or my magical abilities. We're talking. I laugh a bit and in the process, while blind folded, I drop the cards everywhere. Not all of them. But about a quarter of the deck. Some go between the seat and the center console. The rest go to the floor, some are leaning against my shoes, they are scattered and I pick them up. I put them back in the pile again - blindfolded, not looking. I assume they're all in the right order, but there's no way to know. I count the cards in tens to make sure that I have them all. I don't - I'm missing two cards. I feel around for them on the floor for about thirty seconds and eventually find them. They are under the seat and have slid down through the space between the center console and the seat. I grab two and slap them back on top.

It's about now that we're talking and amanda correctly assumes that I have a pretty good idea of where we're going. "If you guess right, I'll tell you." I say "Stinson Beach." And she says "Right!" And I'm excited because it's a perfect goddamned day and I pop off my brothers hat and we're about halfway across the Richmond bridge and I still have the cards in my hands. I am amazed to find that they are all facing the right direction, I spread the cards in my hand and the filigree on the blue bicycle cards fans across, except one. The ace of clubs, dead in the center of the deck.

To review:

While blindfolded, I figured out that a deck of cards was all face up. Then I was able to shuffle them and then, using my psychic powers feel that an Ace had settled on the bottom of the deck. Then with my less useful clumsy powers I dropped about 20 cards on the floor. I picked them up, arranged them to correct face-down position, and when I removed my blindfold the only card facing face up was my card, the ace of clubs.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The MacArthur Bart Station

A friend is putting together an audio walking tour of a specific stretch of Oakland starting at the MacArthur Bart and the area where they have First Friday Art Murmur.

A handful of writers each write a fictional piece about a landmark. It is loosely themed on "Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino. I do not like this book. I did the best I could, I feel neither here nor there about it. I don't think it's good, I don't think it's terrible.

That semi-negative paragraph aside - the overall project, the walking tour, is a brilliant idea and it's being very precisely executed. There are some really talented people involved and it's going to be pretty incredible if I do not sully it with the following:

The MacArthur BART Station

Most of William Milhue's attempts to convince the various boards of directors that the spire was in fact a good idea was predicated upon the national attention that the BART would undoubtedly receive. The BART is and was a major engineering feat - hundreds of miles long, headlong through mountains and dives deep beneath the waves to emerge on other side bone dry. The BART was, in and of itself, a beautiful, gigantic undertaking. Why not one more? Think of the tourism. Think of the gift shop.

He was desperate by then. He'd abandoned using the physical structure to convince anyone. It hadn't worked and it wouldn't. They didn't like it. They couldn't see it. They were boards of directors. They had a little green book that told them what they could do and it nested inside the big black book that told them what they could not do. In his later years he would tell me about how desperate he became, about the year spent taking scale models to city meetings begging and pleading to be given the commission - to be given the permission - by people who bothered themselves with the affordability of the iron gates that kept people out of the building they were so proud of.

"Buildings are a ridiculous medium" he said.

Milhue's Spire would straddle the MacArthur BART Platform on its way into the sky. The base would comfortably envelop a city block and the tip would rest at 1500 feet. Before his gift-shop peddling desperation, Milhue promoted the building as the world's first community skyscraper. It was to house twenty two floors of low income housing, a gardening center, a library, classrooms, a theater. The works. A city in a bottle in the heart of Oakland. It was to be made of steel girders, rest on a floating foundation thirty feet deep in the earth and define the skyline of the entire Bay Area. It was designed by William Milhue, the artist, who carried it under his arm from Town Hall meeting to Boards of Directors question and answer sessions. It was more than a little dusty and the center was held together with duct tape after he'd dropped it from a a cab at 40th and Telegraph, the road that would wind around the circumference of Milhue Spire park.

The MacArthur BART station was designed capably and built precisely. It is a functional thing. William Milhue's great, unfinished work, was a grand piece that would dwarf the Golden Gate Bridge and "Makes Eiffel look like a coward".

The design was complicated and to this day there is debate as to whether or not it would stand. In interviews Milhue would dismiss this as being "Vastly besides the point." What was most importantly the point was that it was deep red, reflective and held ripples like a luffing sail. From an interview with Milhue shortly before his death: "I have not yet devised a way to make the building itself ripple, but I have settled for angling the windows at odd angles. It will ripple as the sun sets." When asked what the unusual design would do in an earthquake, he said "It will flicker like candle flame."

Milhue did not consider the Spire a blemish on his long career. Rather, it was difficult to get him to admit even that that the spire had not been built. "It's named after me. I'll decide where it is or isn't." Milhue suggests in all of his writing that it was a failing of the viewer, and that it was unfortunate they could not see it. "It's very beautiful. Especially from the Bay." Milhue had finished construction on the building in the unfortunate space between realization and existence. For Milhue it had been built, but it just did not exist. "Most things don't exist. They're important."

After Milhue's death, the spire, in it's current state, was willed to the City of Oakland. At the time of this writing, the plans are on display on the MacArthur Bart Platform next to the elevator that goes down to the exit or up to the observation deck that wraps around the north face of the fiftieth floor.