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Danny Ends Up in the Hospital

Sometime after midnight on a Tuesday night in October, a five-story building development under construction on 27th Street, slated to be a mix of residential condos and retail, went up in flames.

The neighborhood was shaken out of its sleep by the wailing sirens of fire engines and police cars. By daybreak, it was clear that the building was a total wreck. Nearly a year under construction, it had been reduced to rubble in hours.

It was the fifth local construction project to be destroyed by fire. The first four had been determined by the authorities to have been arsons. This one probably was as well. Over the next few days, Oaklanders seemed torn down the middle in sentiment. Some were glad that another project they viewed as wicked gentrification had been stopped in its tracks. Others were appalled. Oakland needed more housing, they argued; burning it down only made the situation worse. Yes, their opponents said, we do need more housing, but not million-dollar condos. We need below-market rate apartments for our artists, teachers, cops, waiters, retail clerks, office workers, street cleaners.

Danny, Nick and Flambé typified the various attitudes. Nick, assuming that the project had been deliberately torched, praised the perpetrators. “They’re civic heroes, dudes,” he told Flambé and Danny a few days after the fire. They were sitting around the kitchen table, strewn with empty pizza boxes and beer bottles. Flambé took the joint Danny passed her and asked, “How can you call them heroes? Somebody could have died. If you ask me, the real heroes are the first responders.”

“You just like cops and firemen ‘cuz they wear uniforms,” Nick grinned.

“That’s not true!” Flambé said. “Well, maybe a little. But they save lives and property, instead of destroying them.”

Danny listened. In his own mind, he wasn’t sure what to think. Housing had never been an issue for him. He could afford what he could afford. But after being back in Oakland for less than three months, Danny had been shocked to discover how divisive the housing problem had become.

Many of his old friends, and even some of his co-workers at Creava, were having trouble paying their rent. Practically none of them could afford the down payment on a house. Most had given up on the American Dream of home ownership, at least during this part of their lives. They were sharing flats, and considered themselves lucky to have a room of their own. Two people Danny knew were actually living in rented closets. Creava had ongoing problems of employee retention, as talented engineers and coders—many of them making more than $100,000 a year–were forced out of Oakland, to lower-rent areas like Chico, Vallejo and Fairfield.

“Oakland used to be a working class town,” Nick was saying. “Folks could afford to live here. It wasn’t like San Francisco, or Marin, or the Peninsula. That’s the Oakland I want, not all these chi-chi condos with a bunch of Millennial bozos who don’t know shit about our town.”

Flambé wasn’t buying it. “You can’t stop progress. You want to make time stand still, but it never does. Change is inevitable—and while it can be disruptive, it’s usually for the good.”

“’For the good’? I can’t believe you’re saying that, Flambé.” Nick had something of the unreconstructed Leftie in him. His parents had been hippie socialists. He’d been born in a commune, where the wealth was shared equally, and in his time had been a huge supporter of leftwing causes, like gay marriage. A devoted Bernie Sanders follower in the 2016 presidential election, he still believed in the Vermont Independent. “These damned developers,” he told Flambé, “want to turn Oakland into Mar-a-Lago by the Bay.”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” Flambé responded. “You’re always saying Oakland should build its own low-cost housing. But that takes money, and the city’s broke! With the new condos and retail, Oakland’s tax base will improve, and the city can use the extra money to help the homeless.”

All three of them were getting pretty high by now, and Nick’s and Flambé’s tempers were rising. Nick had noticed a few times how they seemed to rub each other the wrong way on occasion. Little things could cause sparks, like a sinkful of dirty dishes or Flambé’s persistent lack of money.

Nick decided he needed some fresh air; he wasn’t into a political debate. Excusing himself, he went out to Perkins and headed down the hill, towards Grand. He was in a bad mood: feeling sorry for himself, pissed at Nick and Flambé for their petty arguments, annoyed with himself.

He hadn’t consciously decided to go to Playa, but force of habit carried him there. The bar was mobbed. Between the weed and the beer, Danny was already pretty stoned, but he decided to get a gimlet anyway. Elbowing his way to the bar, he downed his first in a minute. Then he ordered a second—and a third—and a fourth. Around midnight, he stumbled out the door, disoriented, dizzy and with double vision. He managed to weave uncertainly across Grand without getting hit by a car, found Perkins—barely–and got halfway up the block when something strong and heavy came down on his head. All went dark.

* * *

“He’s got multiple contusions, and we put in six stiches, just above his right ear. And he’s got a pretty good concussion,” said Dr. Erwin Wu, holding an x-ray of Danny’s clobbered skull against the light. “But he should be okay. We’ll keep him here for a couple days.”

A passerby had found Danny sprawled between the sidewalk and the gutter, blood trickling out of his head. The good Samaritan called 9-1-1; they’d brought him to the Kaiser emergency room. The unconscious man had no identity papers on him, his wallet having been stolen. The next morning, he had regained consciousness, told the Kaiser staff his name and Nick’s phone number, and informed them that his medical insurance was from Kaiser. A nurse phoned Nick at work; he left Pandora immediately, picked up Flambé at home, and rushed to the hospital.

Now, Nick, Flambé and Dr. Wu were at Danny’s bedside. Danny was in pain, but in good spirits, considering the situation. Nick would call the credit card companies and have Danny’s VISA and MasterCard canceled. Flambé fluttered around Danny like a nurse on a battlefield, holding up water for him to drink, dabbing a towel on his brow, straightening his pillow. Danny got to calling her Flambé Nightingale.

Dr. Wu explained the antibiotics and painkillers he had prescribed for Danny. “Go easy on the OxyContin,” he warned his patient. “You don’t want to get addicted.” He told Danny he’d be back to see him later that afternoon. As he turned to leave, Danny had a sudden thought. Cindy’s last name was Wu. He figured Wu was a pretty common Chinese name, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

“Hey, Dr. Wu, you wouldn’t be related to a young lady named Cindy, would you?”

Dr. Wu’s eyebrows shot up. “My daughter is Cindy.” It was a small world. Dr. Wu stayed behind for a few minutes as Danny explained that he’d been seeing Cindy.

“Yes, she told me she had a new friend, but she didn’t go into detail. Mrs. Wu and I will have to have you to dinner sometime, after you’re better.”

“That would be nice,” Danny replied, shaking Dr. Wu’s hand. After Dr. Wu left, the three roommates chatted for a while, but Danny grew tired, and Nick and Flambé said they should probably be going. Nick had to get back to Pandora, and Flambé, who had decided to make a little extra money as a dog walker, needed to start advertising her new service on social media.

Danny lowered his bed to the “sleep” position and closed his eyes. Trying to ignore the pain in his head, he drifted off to Dreamland. 

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