After two long days at the office I drove away with a work friend and we talked about why meetings are stressful even when nothing happens. We picked up a friend in berkeley and then went to dinner at a vegan soul food place in oakland. It did feel a little like the south, with the painted cement-block walls and a live soul/blues band with just a guy singing with an electric keyboard and a guy playing bass. They were playing some song I love that I told myself to go home and download and now I can’t remember what it was. I lay in bed last night trying to remember. There are vegans of a wide variety of races in oakland, and also I suppose a lot of people like me, who will eat anything that might be delicious. There were two eating spaces, one where you first enter the building and order at a counter and one in back, where we were, with the band. We had a nice dinner and as we were packing up leftovers we heard huge banging coming from the front room, and then people started panicking, which just means, I think, forming a pack and trying to move as a pack in some direction and being unsure, stiff and on the edge of shove-y. I didn’t think the banging was guns, but I did think we were being robbed, that there were probably people with guns in the front of the restaurant. I stood up and went out the back of the restaurant, and my friends followed me. We were in the alley between this restaurant and the beer garden next door. I could see the street and went toward it but then I could see commotion and a man wild with the adrenaline of violence. It’s amazing how a person in that state seems in three D compared to anything around him. I thought he could come down the alley, and I still thought there could be more than one person. I pulled my friends to me in a knot behind an SUV, feeling trapped right by the back door we’d just come out of, and we waited there until it was quieter and I saw the woman who’d taken our order come to the back door and go back inside quietly. So we went back in and sat at our table. Other people were sitting at their tables, too. The band was gone, though. Then I got up and looked into the front of the restaurant. The front door was broken in, and they were sweeping up piles of safety glass. I asked around and the story was that a man was after a woman in the restaurant and tried to come after her through the front door, but the door opened out and he was slamming inward against it, which was the booming noise, and then it broke. The police had him, and the woman he’d been coming at wasn’t hurt.
(So fast– now I picture police running after him the whole time, because I didn’t hear any sirens or see a car or hear anyone shouting or anything– in fact I asked my friends and none of us remember any human noise the whole time, just the banging which I thought sounded like a waiter dropping an enormous steel tray and my friend thought sounded like guns. I know very well what guns sound like, though.)
Oh, oakland, I am not giving up on you. Vegan soul food restaurant, I sure hope you survive this assault.
What this has to do with something like “stress at work” is the force of mere threat, the state of being fine, and being quite sure that something could happen at any moment. The metaphor of something happening in the next room. What this has to do with writing, for me, is just that I try to write about this all the time. Being fine, or not fine. What is that? I could see the way fear was manifesting in each of my friends in her own way. I looked at the woman who had taken our orders, remembered what she was like at the counter, genial, she had a piece of jewelry that went across her brow somehow, so pretty, and then the way she looked when I saw her at the back door and used the fact of her safety to decide to go back into the restaurant, where I’d left my bag at the table with our cartons of leftovers. She looked, I guess, sort of thickened, something like “unreceptive” was the difference. That’s all I felt like, actually.