Conference Room 125 in California’s State Capitol Building is outfitted with ten-foot doors and ornate molding, and there are chairs upholstered in green leather with applied nailhead trim. The framed paintings are oil–not replicas–and only the conference table, by comparison, is something of disappointment. One might expect mahogany but it’s crafted of a more pedestrian wood and sheeted in glass overlay.
We’ve invaded the place, visiting with a menagerie of animals. A Eurasian Eagle Owl perches with an air of regality on a stump in the corner. All day I hear interns and politico handlers make jokes comparing the zoological and political professions. Stumping, handling, the fact of animals as part and parcel to each respective vocation.
Inventory includes: a kinkajou, an opossum, a porcupine, two owls, two penguins, a dragon. There’s a kangaroo, too, that takes repose in the assembly room, and on a jacquard carpet. She has a joey that’s now so big, its ears and legs don’t fit the pouch anymore. Instead appendages stick out in rakish and adorable angles. The joey’s along for the ride and her mom paws at the carpet as she did the lawn outside the capitol, grubbing in the green threads as she would clumps of grass. The mother roo is so earnest in her affection of people that navigating the office furniture is something both nonchalant and eager; she accepts every bid for attention while carrying around a fulcrumous tail that gives all movement an unexpected grace. Incidentally, kangaroos are the only animal on the planet whose heart rate slows when in motion.
I talk with Speaker Toni Atkins who, briefly, has a kinkajou on her shoulder. She is saved disgrace when the kinkajou’s keeper notices a raised tail and when he—in deft motion—removes the kinkajou by its prehensile extremity, simultaneously palming a sudden and voluminous scat. Animals are what they are. Atkins is preoccupied with the penguin and doesn’t notice.
In the executive room, there are more visitors. I’m asked to bring a penguin to the governor’s office, in which case a meeting of the Executive Fellows is interrupted. The gubernatorial conference room features a long farmhouse table, but also sundry dog bowls because Governor Jerry Brown brings his corgis and borgis to work. The table is lined with well-tailored and surprisingly young professionals, shouldered in almost ridiculous fashion round the workings, hunched over papers and wafting a soft cumulus of bergamot and agarwood.
Governor Brown is nonplussed, though he certainly has been disrupted, and he invites the penguin to the table. He exudes a James Caan gruffness and has particularly close-cut hair. The surreality of a sudden penguin in the room deserves remark, and I say as much to the Governor; but then we exchange identical wounds, which are not surreal but matter of fact, he having been bitten by his new borgi pup this morning, and me having my wrist reddened by a penguin nip a few hours prior. He shows me his bandaged purlicue, white tape in between the thumb and forefinger.
“You know those puppies, how they have soft teeth.”
The penguin runs up and down the table to much amusement, its tamping feet making their particular slapping sounds, and I hope to God my bird doesn’t shit on any important legislative papers. Instead, the penguin suddenly finds a centerpiece she needs do battle with—a basket of antlers and wicker balls that grabs her attention—and she pecks at it determinedly.
Governor Brown’s borgi trots into the room and we conclude there, feathers and fur in the same room and with the Executive Fellows laughing, cell phone cameras on point.
The day will end with my second time on an airplane in less than twenty-four hours, leaving SMF for SD when in the morning it had been a more alphabetical affair, SD to SMF.
But midday, my colleague Lara and I sit in the shade outside the Capitol Building for a lunch away from the animals and—it being the late spring growing season—the Capitol arboretum is rife with new and verdant leaves, something we both remark as we laconically gnaw our sandwiches. We’re sitting in the welcome shadow of a needle-leaf tree next to a bronze statue commemorating the Sisters of Mercy.
There is the disjoint of buildings surrounding the Capitol: roofs with patinas,also dilapidated gables. In between there are pre-cast concrete facades and curtain walls of reflective glass. It’s an interesting downtown, certainly incommensurate, like there being a rusted-out fire escape across from the new and sleek sushi joint. The bicycle racks outside are something also soft-toothed.
In the ascent leaving SMF there are fields like geometry outside the window, acres of humus dissected in neat right angles by aqueducts, cruor-browns bordered in cypress green. There are tall tree lines planted to block the wind, just opposite of what we need, we being also a tall thing only up up in an airplane and where wind is necessary. Things wink out of sight once we pass the clouds and when already it is dark.
I’m reading an old book of poetry to pass the time—Sharon Olds—and I’m writing down the words and phrases I find interesting.
‘The craft of oblivion.’
At 39,000 feet, the pilot announces that we’re at 39,000 feet and I read: ‘He looks at me the way Houdini studied a box to learn the way out, then smiled and let himself be manacled.’
I hate being trapped this high up and in a fuselage. I have leg-room which means I’m nowhere near an exit door, but on the way down and when the avenue lights are acceptably in focus, I feel ok–commensurate–and my penguin calls a quiet ‘hoo.’