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Cindy and Danny move into a tent

Cindy continued to see Danny as summer slipped into fall. Her parents continued to resent it and harass her for it. Cindy took shelter in secrecy: she would not tell Dr. and Mrs. Wu where she had been when she came home at night. She never mentioned Danny by name. A frosty silence descended over the household.

That September Mrs. Wu fell seriously ill, with bacterial pneumonia in both lungs. She ended up in the same Kaiser hospital in which her husband worked. Although she was not his patient, Dr. Wu followed her charts, and worried. Her blood oxygen fell to dangerously low levels. The antibiotics weren’t working; her fever spiked to 104. They had to intubate her, to enable her to breathe. She remained hospitalized.

One evening Dr. Wu and Cindy ate dinner with barely a word exchanged. He was filled with anger and resentment, she with guilt and fear. Finally, he put down his knife and fork and said, “You have made your mother sick, with your willful disobedience. If she dies, it will be your fault.”

Cindy rushed from the table, went to her room, cried, then called Danny.

“Playa. Ten minutes. Don’t argue.”

She told him what had happened. Danny listened helplessly. Cindy could neither stay home under the circumstances, nor leave, since she had nowhere else to go. It was the same old conundrum. Suddenly, Danny blurted out, with no aforethought, “That’s it. You’re leaving. We’ll live in a tent if we have to, until we figure out what to do.”

Danny took the next day off from Creava, drove to REI and bought a large canvas tent, for which he paid $900. A mobile modem would give them internet connection, including cell phone. He also bought cooking, refrigeration and heating equipment for camping; the weather would remain warm through October, but he had no idea how long he and Cindy would be living in their new abode. Oakland winters can be cruel.

Where would they set up? Cindy opted for Lakeside Park. “Somewhere near the water, with a view. Not under some overpass,” is how she put it. Danny remembered hearing something about Mayor Schaaf saying she planned to end tents in the parks. He and Cindy rode Limes all around the park, from First Avenue in the south, to Lakeshore in the east, Lakeside in the west, and Children’s Fairyland in the north. There were tents everywhere; on that fine afternoon, tenters tossed frisbees, read, smoked weed, ate, slept on the grass. Whatever Schaaf was talking about, camping in Lakeside Park seemed safe enough. They chose a gentle slope above the wildlife sanctuary, with a sparkling view of the lake and, behind them, the Bonsai garden. There they established their new home, about 100 feet from another camper, George, who seemed friendly enough.

Danny told Nick and Flambé he was moving out of the Perkins Street flat.

“Into a tent?” Flambé gasped.

“For how long?” Nick asked.

“Yes, into a tent. And I don’t know for how long. Cindy has to get out. Her father is practically accusing her of murder. And since we have no other options, a tent is what it’ll be.”

Cindy adapted cheerfully. She brought potted plants—jade, begonia, blooming amaryllis, small cacti—and pinned some of old Chinese prints to the canvas. A Persian rug covered most of the floor. Danny installed LED lights with dimmers. Nick contributed a pewter candelabra with red candles, Flambé a personalized “Cindy & Danny” doormat (actually paid for by Nick). They had a housewarming party: tequila, Lagunitas and magnums of Woodbridge. Pizza from Round Table, buns and noodles from Cindy’s favorite Chinatown bakery, Tao Yuen. And weed, of course.

After their guests had gone, Danny and Cindy crawled into their double sleeping bag and made love. Cindy was soon gently snoring. As Danny drifted off, his girlfriend spooned in his arms, he listened to the susurrating trees in the night breeze, the background music for Cindy’s soft, regular breathing. Lulled by the rhythm, he drifted off to not untroubled sleep.

He walked to work the next morning around 8. Cindy began her Lyft shift at 11. He came back from work sometime after 5 and found her sitting in front of the tent, hands around her knees, crying. Someone had ripped off everything, even the Cindy & Danny doormat. Nothing was left except the tent itself.

Danny was furious. Fists clenched, he looked around. On the other side of the slope he saw their neighbor, George, waving and smiling. Cindy continued crying. Danny looked up at the sky, at the clouds tumbling in from the sea. He felt more powerless than ever in his 27 years. Something was terribly broken, and he didn’t know how to fix it.

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