Monday, October 18, 2004

What Happens in Our Oak Tree Stays in Our Oak Tree

It's hard being trivial. Only the enormously vain -- or supremely self confident -- can be trivial with ease.

Mad props to the deceptively simple.

My guess is that in this wide (and possibly shallow) country every small market and every medium market newspaper -- oh let's count the zone editions and throw in all the big newspapers, too -- has one columnist whose job is triviality, that is, writing about everyday life every day.

Kids, school, dog, cat, wife, husband, life partner in some urban centers, bourgeois joy and bourgeois sadness and darn it, let's go to church each Sunday morning, let's kneel and pray side by side. With varying degrees of angst, faith and larger social awareness, this is what a lot of columnists do.

I'm trying to do the old grin and shuffle myself today, and I am discovering yet another thing that makes it hard. There's just no peacock moment in writing about the trivial. I say this because last week the Opinion Bug bit me. I did two little political things, forced jokes really that I hoped to sneak into real print somewhere but failed. Still, saying something about politics made me feel like a player. I understand that opinion columnists seldom write about themselves or the routine of their lives because that's not what readers turn to them for, and the average opinion writer doesn't have the chops to do that kind of writing anyway. There's something else, though. Opinion writers -- I discover through personal experience what I had only known through drab logic -- must feel so damn important.

I am pontificating now. Everyone listen. Listen, and the world shall be saved. I am smart. I am smarter than you. I am smarter than the politicians I write about. I do not ever need to write about my everyday life because a person like me is not everyday. The Greeks had a word for it: Philosopher King.

And that's how I feel today as, sullen and apolitical, I look out my front window, ready to write about Squirrel Girl because I am just a regular guy living a regular life and that is my goddamn charm you want to make something of it?

Squirrel Girl. Squirrel Girl is the collective name I give to the three squirrels that live in the oak tree on the high side of our front yard. I can't tell them apart, but why should I? Squirrels do not strive for individuation. (Think Blue Man Group.) I assume Squirrel Girl has male members. The colony has been there for nearly 13 years, and the members of SG are nimble still, running around the yard -- capering, I would even say -- and my word that looks like the prelude to a love tussle to me. I kid you not. I am writing and watching, and SG1, unless it's SG2, just ran across the lawn chasing SG2, unless -- get out of the street you stupid squirrel! Little idiots.

Anyway, half the time they seem to be burying acorns, and the other half of the time they seem to be digging acorns up. Being a squirrel in Oakland -- land of oaks; get it? -- seems to be pretty much like being a street person in San Francisco, given the benign weather and the fact the people who actually own the real estate are indulgent.

I like the squirrels. They haven't gotten in the attic. They have bushy tails they employ con brio. They leap from branch to branch and run along the telephone wires. They coexist. They survive. They entertain the cats.

If I thought about it all a little more, I'm sure in the lives of the squirrels are lessons that will threaten my complacency or confirm it or both. depending on the needs of the moment. That's what a clever columnist does reflexively: There's the world outside my window, here's the simple lesson, now go read the business page.

I don't know what the lesson is. I'm just thankful we have an oak tree, a soft lawn and street with a stop sign.

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