Privilegemobile 8: Cold Veal Conundrum

The commute home has just entered its second (and hopefully last) big slowdown. The bus had made its stop at Millbrae BART and ran into a traffic snarl just north of SFO.

I stare out the window from my usual seat at the back of the bus. Daylight-savings time has just ended so it is dark out already. This suits me fine. There is nothing worth looking at in this part of the peninsula anyway. It is a perfect time to pursue my thoughts.

One of the nice things about privilege is that it allows you time to ponder the hypothetical. We can mull over a scenario with the kind of intelligence and evenhandedness that only comfort and distance can provide.

The less fortunate are routinely faced with personal and pressing matters, and it shows in their work. Much has been said about why the poor do such stupid things, but I’ll provide one more example for those of you who have missed out.

Imagine some piece-of-shit apartment building catches fire due to “faulty wiring” (aka “landlord arson”) and one of the residents flees said building as it’s being consumed by flames. “Oh no, Fluffy!” she cries, remembering her cat. Rather than relaying her concerns to those on the scene who have flame-retardant clothing and are trained in both fighting fires and cat rescue, she runs back into the building, which collapses on top of her. In an ironic twist, her tragic death fails to gain the attention of Fluffy, who is idly licking his butt half a block away.

There are two lessons to be learned here. The first is how a crisis situation can cloud your thinking. If every day is one breaking point after another, you are not going to make the best life choices. The second lesson, and the one that means the most to me, is how a cushy desk job and a relaxing commute can imbue even a near dullard like me the wisdom to conjure up pithy fables to illustrate the challenges of our troubled times.

Traffic is still at a crawl so I have plenty of time for other hypothetical situations. One springs to mind that goes head on against the big issues: death, passion, innocence, and how our sense of right and wrong is put to the test when all three intersect.

I picture a mother and her daughter sitting in a car inside of a garage. The garage door is closed, the car’s windows are down, and the engine is running.

“You know mommy loves you,” the mother says, clutching her daughter’s hand.

The daughter is about nine, old enough to sense that something is wrong but not old enough to know exactly what.  If nine sounds off for that level of cognition, the age can be adjusted to fit. Another correction option is to either make the daughter a gifted child or give her Down syndrome. I decide to keep her age at nine, but bump up both her IQ and her chromosome count. Why not? The kid is going to be dead soon anyway.

The mother is intent on spending her last moments in this world justifying what she’s doing, though to whom is uncertain, so she talks on and on. However, she doesn’t want to let on to her daughter that mommy’s going to kill her so she expresses herself in vague, high-minded concern.

“Evil, rich men are destroying our planet, but there is a better world just for you and me,” she says before she and her daughter succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning. Citing pollution as her reason for murder-suicide is an odd choice, considering her exit plan. If she were really so eco-conscious, she’d own a Tesla and the two would be sitting in the car unharmed while the battery ran down.

The husband finds them when he gets home from work. He says boo hoo, wipes a tear from his eye, and grieves an appropriate amount. This is not his story though I do wish him well in his journey through the healing process. The real story, the one chock full of moral gravitas, begins when the two bodies arrive at a funeral home owned by necrophiles.

Frank and Hank Gooley nominally run the business together, but it is Frank who calls the shots. He is a tall, lanky fellow with a professional demeanor that reminds one of a kindly Boris Karloff. His ability to say “My condolences” in a reassuring tone was without peer. It is he who chose the name for the mortuary, “Bon Voyage, Port of Call for Your Loved One’s Final Journey.”

His brother Hank is shorter, wider, and resembles Benny Hill. He has a disconcerting habit of licking his lips while saying “My condolences” so at Frank’s urging, he no longer utters those words. He has also been instructed never to call the mortuary “Bone Voyage, Home of the Boffin’ Coffin” in front of the bereaved as such levity is seldom appreciated.

The siblings stare at the mother and daughter lying naked and supine on the embalming tables. The two cadavers had been cut open stink to sternum by the medical examiner at the county morgue then haphazardly sewn shut after the autopsy with what looked like kite string.

“It’s a shame their beauty had to be marred when the cause of death should have been obvious to everyone,” Frank says.

“I like their whore makeup,” Hank says, referring to the redness of the lips and cheeks caused by the carbon monoxide.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll have my dance with the mother,” Frank says. “Only 38, such a shame. At least she will never have to suffer the feminine indignity of growing old.”

“Fine by me, I wanted the tiny tart anyway,” Hank says. “I can’t wait to make her little cooter sing like this.” Hank then proceeds to imitate the sound by shoving his hand into his armpit and flapping his elbow up and down to produce a series of fartlike noises.

At this point, it is hard to believe that such a refined man and one so utterly boorish could possibly be related. However, the difference between them quickly evaporates as the two siblings disrobe and commence their respective tasks at hand. Both men bare their teeth while savagely pounding away at their lifeless paramours. Both wheeze like chain smokers and grunt like sports fans on their uphill climb to climax.

Just then, a SWAT team bursts into the room and the question of how Frank and Hank might differ in the afterglow will forever remain a mystery. An anonymous tip from a disgruntled ex-employee has sealed the Gooley brothers’ fate and they are hauled off to prison.

Neither get a lot of sympathy from the public, but it is Hank receives the harshest condemnation. He is labeled a pedophile, a stealer of innocence, and the lowest of the low.

But is he really? I’m not going to justify necrophilia. There is an implied lack of consent that makes it a transgression. Whether it is more like rape or trespassing is open to some debate, but it is still wrong.

Even if it is rape, I am not on board with making it the moral equivalent of fucking a living child. What makes pedophilia truly reprehensible instead of just icky is the lasting damage that it does. Last time I checked, corpses don’t need much therapy.

I’ll concede that Hank Gooley shows room for improvement. He is as bad as his brother, but no worse. It’s not like  he killed anybody. That distinction goes to the mother, but the outrage over that has gone missing, upstaged by a lesser but more lurid crime. Apparently killing a living child has become better than fucking a dead one. It makes no sense and yet that is what we as a species do. It is a riddle of the dead-girl diddle, a puzzle of the perished preteen and the pizzle, a cold-veal conundrum if you will.

Traffic eases and the bus is once again moving at a reasonable speed. It is just as well. I have taken this story as far as it can go and I can tell you that I weep for humanity and how our hypocrisy has damned us all.

“Je suis Hank,” I say aloud, not caring if anyone on the bus is listening. In fact, I am proud of what I said. These are good words. These are the right words. These are pretty much the only words I know in French. I sit back and stare out the window at the approaching city limits, basking in the glow of my own sage wisdom.

Je suis Hank. Damn I’m good.

Future Poo

Homeless Bob had a beastly itch. He shoved his hand down the front of his pants, not caring that he was standing at a crowded bus stop on a busy intersection. He began to scratch himself. The initial rakes from his bite-trimmed nails brought him some relief, but not enough, so he started anew with ferocious vigor.

His body odor alone was enough to keep people at least a foot away. This radius increased as the sight of his arm thrusting up and down into his trousers made those nearby take at least one step back and often two. Homeless Bob was unconcerned. He had lice and they needed to be dealt with. It was not long before the poppyseed-like bite scabs in his nether regions began to fetch loose and have the wounds bleed anew.

“Hoo doggy! I got me a Crab Nebula going on down there,” Homeless Bob said to no one in particular.

The bus pulled up and people crowded around its front and rear doors to board, hoping that Homeless Bob would not be joining them. They need not have worried. Although he often rode the bus and not pay the fare and sometimes would be confronted by a ticket inspector and given a fine, which he would also not pay, it was not going to happen this time. He had just pulled his hand from his pants and was too busy inspecting what was under his fingernails to bother with public transit.

There was uprooted pubic hair, dead skin, dried blood, not so dried blood, and a single louse that had gotten evicted by the scratching. Its tiny legs vainly attempted to gain purchase on thin air, but it seemed to be in pretty good shape for having survived a literal bloodbath.

“Howdy little feller,” Homeless Bob said to his newfound friend. “I think I’ll name you Buster, Buster Crab. Get ready for blastoff, Flash Gordon.” And with a flick of his finger, he sent Buster airborne. The trajectory carried the insect over several feet of concrete before landing on the head of the last passenger to board the bus. Buster held on for dear life and would soon settle into its new home where it would feed and lay eggs.

The bus pulled away and Homeless Bob was left standing there all alone. Though perhaps he was not as alone as he first imagined. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a bowel movement laying on the sidewalk. It was not terribly remarkable in itself, a single sausage-link deposit with a size and coloration consistent with having been produced by a human. It was an altogether typical sight in this part of the city except for one thing: It was not there just a moment ago.

Homeless Bob was certain about this. Life on the streets required a certain level of situational awareness just to survive so someone dropping a stool would not have escaped his notice. Besides, no one who got on the bus would have done such a thing. The only probable suspect was Homeless Bob himself and he was able to vouch for his whereabouts.

Yet the poo was right there plain as day. He could not deny its existence. It merely had no explainable origin, no past. Homeless Bob remembered this Sherlock Holmes quote:

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

It stands to reason, Homeless Bob concluded, that something that exists in the present, but did not in the past, must have come from the future. This was not just a poo he was looking at. It was a future poo.

The question remaining was why. What possible reason could people have to send their poo into the past? When Homeless Bob was younger and not yet homeless, he used to hurl his feces at old people for sport, but he had a suspicion there was something more significant at stake here. There had to be something very wrong with this poo, something that required its total removal by any means necessary.

Homeless Bob crouched down and scraped a small amount of the poo onto his fingernail. He then waved the sample under his nose and sniffed. Not surprisingly, it smelled like poo. He poked at the sample with the tip of his tongue. It tasted like poo as well. The smell and the taste did seem a little off, but he couldn’t tell exactly how. To find the answer, he had to make use of his keenest sense, his sense of pain.

Homeless Bob, like most homeless people, did not have a dental plan. As a result, his upper-left canine had rotted and had half of it broken off, leaving the nerve exposed. When he pressed the turd dollop on his finger against that nerve, the effect was immediate. A white-hot arc of agony shot between his tooth and brain. It was the brilliance of that arc that shined a light on the truth about future poo and once illuminated, that truth became both irrefutable and obvious.

“It has no nutrients!” Homeless Bob cried.

What made shit worth a shit, he figured, was its being a natural fertilizer. We eat and make poo. That poo goes into the ground where it helps grow the food that we eat. And round and round it goes.

Until it doesn’t. Human beings are a greedy bunch who are always finding new ways to skim off the top. In time, we would no doubt find a way to extend that to the very food we ate. That had to be what happened here. After multiple laps around the track, poo would eventually be robbed of what made it good fertilizer and it would become as useless as unrecyclable plastic. Landfills would brim beyond capacity with the stuff and humankind might well be faced with its own extinction if no one had invented the time machine along the way.

The past would become their new landfill, but it too would fill up after a while. Homeless Bob decided then that he was not going to wait around until the city streets became nostril deep in future poo. He had to do something, but what? How do you stop a crime when the perpetrators haven’t even been born yet? Well, maybe some of them have. Seeing a woman pushing a baby carriage, he picked the poo up off the ground and made his move.

The woman stopped in her tracks and her eyes widened when she saw the shabby man approach her with excrement in his outstretched hand. Homeless Bob saw this and realized that despite his good intentions, he sometimes had an unnerving effect on people.

“Cool your tits, lady. You’re too old for what I’m after. It’s your baby I’m interested in,” he said, hoping these words would calm her.

Homeless Bob saw the baby as an ambassador to the future and a possible connection between the present and the posterior of posterity that will one day birth this future poo. He knew it was a long shot. The dawning of the future-poo era might be centuries away. However, it was a chance he had to take.

He looked at the sleeping infant in gender-identifying blue pajamas. This was an ugly baby, uglier than most, but Homeless Bob needed a messenger, not a model. The trick was getting the baby to understand. He couldn’t simply explain himself, not to a kid who was too young to know how to talk. He needing him to reach that as he had, through profound discomfort.

Tooth decay on a par with Homeless Bob was out of the question, but the kid was probably the right age for teething pain. That would have to do. He scraped a fresh sample of future poo onto the tip of his finger and stuck it in the baby’s mouth.

“What the hell are you doing?” the woman screamed even though the answer was quite obvious.

“Back off, bitch. I’ve got a gun,” Homeless Bob said. He disliked having to lie to her, but it was a fib told in the service of imparting a greater truth, which made it OK.

The baby was awake now, wide eyed and vainly trying to force the finger out of his mouth with his little tongue.

“Ah ah ah, not until you’ve seen the light,” Homeless Bob said and pushed his finger in deeper. Tiny tonsils contracted involuntarily around the fingertip, which prompted him to remark, “Way to shake hands with it, kiddo. You’ll make a fine altar boy one day.”

Homeless Bob made eye contact with the baby and it was clear that the point had made. There was such seething hatred in those young eyes. It was obvious that the baby loathed future poo as much as Homeless Bob did. There could be no other explanation. Feeling satisfied, Homeless Bob pulled his finger from the baby’s mouth and wiped a shit-and-spit “V” for victory on the blue pajamas.

“Just one more thing,” Homeless Bob said. “Both you and this poo belong to the future. You’re going to have to take it with you.” He drove his finger into the future poo and dug out not just a sample but rather a big, thick wedge. He changed hands this time because he thought it would be more sanitary.

“Hey lady, you want to help getting the diapers off? I kind of have my hands full here.” He certainly did. Most of the future poo rested in the palm of one hand except for the freshly dug wedge on the crooked finger of the other. This finger had a hangnail that looked fully capable of slicing through any piece of sphincter that refused to yield.

When the woman did not answer, Homeless Bob looked around and saw that the woman had flagged down a police car and was was gesticulating wildly at the two officers inside.

The cops emerged from the black and white. One was a policeman who was built more or less like Rosie O’Donnell and the other was a policewoman who was built more or less like Rosey Grier. Officer Grier moved off to the side out of Homeless Bob’s field of vision while Officer O’Donnell stood front and center with one hand raised in the air.

“Stop what you’re doing,” the policeman said. “I just want to talk.”

“Well that’s splendid,” Homeless Bob said. “I appreciate it when law enforcement is willing to listen to reason. It benefits you as well. It will save you the embarrassment of arresting me when you’ll just end up letting me go. Now I’m sure there’s a law on the books about shoving things up a baby’s ass and it’s probably is a very good law. The problem is that it doesn’t apply here. Poo is defined as a substance that has come from pooping. Am I correct, officer?”

“Sure,” the policeman said.

“Well then, what I am holding is future poo. The pooping has not yet happened ergo the poo does not yet exist ergo any laws involving this poo are not yet enforceable. I’m sorry this woman wasted your time. Maybe you can arrest her for crying wolf.”

Homeless Bob smiled and nodded at the policeman, who smiled and nodded. Well that wasn’t so hard. Homeless Bob congratulated himself for being a veritable Perry Mason, which continued until Officer Grier came up behind him and put him in a chokehold.

He struggled in the policewoman’s grasp, but she was too strong for him. Saliva bubbled from between her clenched teeth as she tightened her grip. He grimaced. She grunted. He passed out. She belched out a chuckle.

Officer O’Donnell took a brief statement from the woman while Officer Grier loaded an unconscious Homeless Bob into the back of the police car. Soon the cops and their suspect were gone, leaving the woman to take deep breaths and try to regain her composure.

The next sound heard came from the baby carriage, but it was not the sound a baby would make. It had a deeper voice. It sounded gravely from years of drinking and tobacco use.

“What the fuck was that shit?” it said.

“Not another word, Time Dwarf,” the woman said. “You know you’re under orders not to talk.”

“But you saw what he did to me.”

“But nothing. I swear to Christ if you blow our cover, I’ll make sure you’re brought up on charges and executed by the High Command. Now shut up while I report the situation to HQ.” She began talking into her wristwatch. “This is Field Agent Dietrich. It looks like our operation has been exposed. You’ll have to suspend fecal transfer until you get the all clear. Fortunately, the arresting officers were two of ours. They’ll make sure he dies in custody so you shouldn’t have to wait too long.”

A Low Point of Sorts

Alcoholics hit bottom before they begin their recovery. It’s what they do. It also makes a certain amount of sense. You’re not going to be enjoying a cocktail in the company of good friends then suddenly check your watch and say, “Gotta run. There’s a meeting at the rec center where I’ll drink nine cups of coffee and listen to total strangers’ downward-spiral stories festooned with appalling grammar.”

So yeah, drinking has to get shittier than sobriety for sobriety to stand a chance. How low you sink prior to recovery varies from person to person and like most human affairs, there is some snobbery involved. High-bottom drunks are considered a better class of people than low-bottom drunks. The alcoholic whose liquid lunches caused him to get passed over for promotions can look down on one whose liquid breakfasts caused him to fuck his child. He in turn gets to look down on another kid diddler who was so drunk he  fucked the eye socket and had to thumb it in. And down and down it goes like so many metaphysical turtles upon whom the world rests.

Those of us who either drink moderately or drink ourselves to death are immune to this rigid caste system. For one thing, our low points are, relatively speaking, not all that low. Rock bottom is still a long way down. The lows are also more plentiful. We don’t see one as a wake-up call. We feel them in aggregate as the backbeat to our personal rock-and-roll song.

My own backbeat hit a particularly resounding thud this past weekend. There were friends visiting from out of town and their presence made this a special occasion, which effectively renders the rules of moderation null and void.

That’s what led me to being perched on a barstool at Iron & Gold way past my bedtime on Saturday night. Reading this, you might be asking what the big deal is. Tying one on with friends you don’t see very often sounds perfectly reasonable, and it is, but that is not what I was doing.

I  had arrived with Rebecca and she was feeling sociable enough to go chat with a friend sitting at the far end of the bar. I sat alone for a good long while and only spoke when ordering a drink. All three of our visiting friends said they would be coming out to the bar with us. None of them did.

We had all started drinking during brunch. It was nothing too hard core, mimosas mostly, and afterward we adjourned to a bar about a block and a half away. That’s where it all went wrong.

I was drinking pints of Stella, pacing myself because I predicted a long night ahead. One of the visitors showed no interested in pacing herself and started knocking back multiple double Jamesons she could neither pay for nor keep down. When it got to be late afternoon and we decided to temporarily adjourn before meeting up later, guess which one of us could not be talked into leaving because she decided two random bar patrons were her new best friends and attached herself to them like a lamprey.

After that, details are sketchy. Rebecca and I walked home. The lamprey woman eventually detached herself, went missing for a while, then showed up at the hotel spraying vomit on herself and her immediate surroundings . She wouldn’t be coming out. Nor would her friend who decided she needed looking after. That left one other person who turned out to be a no show for possibly unrelated reasons. Just like that, our big night out had turned to shit.

No matter, I said I was going to out drinking and that was exactly what I did. Never mind that I wasn’t having any fun. That wasn’t the point. Practicing drunks, like recovering ones, have their own snobbery. It’s acceptable to either bow out early or crash and burn, but not both, and the strata are formed from that axiom. The bottom of the pecking order are the matinee casualties, those sad sacks you see in the back of a police car at 7 pm on New Year’s Eve. The top is a tie between Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson. Mere mortals will never reach that level and the best we can do is make a good show of it. I decided to make a good show of it. This weekend was, after all, a special occasion.

As one drink followed another, I remained perched on both the barstool and my high horse just fine. I quietly drank until close to midnight. That’s when my friend Scott showed up.

I hadn’t seen Scott in a couple of years and despite being Facebook friends, I drew a blank on his first name. I remembered his last name and was able to cover my mental lapse with a quick visit to the FB app on my phone.

This maneuver would’ve been a nice save if I didn’t try to engage in conversation afterward. My mouth opened and a flash flood of gibberish poured out. I blathered in about the events of the day, the events of the day before, and the likely events of the day after. I bitched about my job and sorry state of the world. I was not all negative. I had nothing but good things to say about well scotch even if it was too late for happy-hour prices. I inquired about the health of a mutual friend then ended up blanking on his name as well.

Scott was laughing all through this and I realized I was complete wreck. I wished him a pleasant evening and left the bar. Driving would have been a real bad idea, but  I don’t do that and I could still walk without falling over. The cool night air sobered me a little, but not a lot. I hadn’t been this trashed in quite a while. It was my low point, in recent memory anyway,  and would remain so until the next one came along. At least I didn’t throw up (unlike some people) and so my nadir was not a ralph nadir.

There was one more poor life decision to be made before the night was over. I went into the corner store and bought some Cap’n Crunch and milk to go with it. This was exactly the kind of food I gave up a year ago to lose those 40 lbs. I desperately needed to lose, but a special occasion is a powerful thing indeed. I would have preferred the Cap’n Crunch without the Crunch Berries, but that’s all they had. We live in an imperfect world.

Pupa

“And if you wake up, you might learn something before it’s done.” -Bill Cosby

About 50 miles north of me, a high-school gymnasium had been transformed into a temporary shelter for evacuees. The rows of cots were all filled by those ordered to leave their homes as the fires advanced. They did not know if they would have a home to return to, but they were exhausted and for now, they just wanted a place to sleep. Except for a few children sobbing, all was quiet in the spacious darkened interior.

Until the farting started.

The first one didn’t even make a sound, but what it lacked in volume it made up for aroma. It smelled of broccoli, egg, and some sort of dead animal. The groans of protest from those still awake woke others so they could smell it too.

Since humans’ directional sense of smell is limited at best, the perpetrator remained anonymous and therefore immune to shaming. The only way to retaliate was to return fire. Sauce for the goose and all that.

Payback was not so silent. It trumpeted from the buttocks and took full advantage of the gymnasium’s acoustics. The person responsible had no hope for anonymity, but did not care. This was war.

Any need for restraint after that was, as they say, gone with the wind. Razzers, pops, and sputters erupted all around in the darkness, as well as frustrated grunts from those who tried and failed to add to the flatulent zeitgeist. Some farter non-starters decided that sound effects were better than nothing and drawing from memories of their summer-camp bunkhouse after lights out, put their lips against their forearms or palms pressed together and forcibly exhaled.

Unfortunately for them, the volunteer working the night shift was a former camp counselor and had little patience for such shenanigans. She blew her whistle and issued a direct order to knock it off. The gymnasium fell silent and sphincters tightened save the one that caused the ruckus in the first place.

Fifty miles can seem like a world away, especially when the threat from the fires are kept at bay by, of all things, a bay. What woke me from my my fitful sleep was not evacuee flatulence,  but my cat demanding attention as she often does in the vicinity of three o’clock in the morning.

Kitty is 16 now. If she were a dog, she would be dead. Cats on average live a little longer, but she is well into her dotage. A few years ago, she would have delivered multiple headbutts and/or taps on the face with her paw. Now she just leans her forehead in and lets gravity do all the work. It’s lazy but effective. I was soon awake and scratching that spot on her forehead.

“It’s OK, Kitty. We don’t have to worry about those nasty fires,” I said.

My cat, having never ventured north of 17th Street, purred and concurred.

There were posts on Facebook from friends who lived up there and  were now cooling their heels in Marin County. Soon they would go home and feel relieved that they had been spared, perhaps thanking the same god who saw fit to ruin the lives of their neighbors.

San Francisco was immune to these fires, but not their smoke. The more sensitive and cautious donned facemasks before setting foot outside. The sun turned blood red when it lowered into the late afternoon sky.

I had seen the sun like this on the tail end of by bus ride home from work and it reminded me of the Japanese flag. There were no streaks radiating from the sun so this was not the flag of the 1930s and 40s when Japan had lost its collective shit and took to raping Nanking plus countless comfort girls, bombing Pearl Harbor, and beheading POWs. No, the unadorned red ball was the Japan of Gamera, tentacle porn, and peaceful prosperity made possible by seeing that the way of the future lay in the transistor and not the vacuum tube. This is the Japan I visited. This is the Japan I love.

It was a lovely sunset, perhaps not worth the torching of California’s wine country to create it, but impressive nonetheless. Yet neither it nor the fires burning out of control held my attention. I had a bigger crisis of my own to deal with.

I did not know how to process the passage of time.

I had some conventional wisdom. There was that adage about time flying when you’re having fun. Not applicable given recent fun levels. Then there’s the Clash’s “Clocks go slow in a place of work/Minutes drag and the hours jerk.” That’s closer to the mark, but both fall short because they deal with perceived time. My concern is far more objective and quantifiable.

I have about a decade to move through before I hit retirement. I went to the epoch-converter website and with it and my calculator, I came up with how many seconds were left between then and just after midnight on my 65th birthday. It was a lot. In the low eight digits, I think.

I then remembered an internet hebephile during Emma Watson’s Hermoine Granger period who put up a clock counting down to her 18th birthday. There was quite an uproar over it at the time. He was labeled a predator by some, which was idiotic. A predator would not have been so willing to wait. Watson did eventually turn 18, but that’s all I know about how the story ended. There is probably not much else to tell, but part of me likes to think that one of her first acts as a consenting adult was to reward him for his devotion and patience. Perhaps consent was given with a most British “Right, in you go then” or maybe she was a Joe Don Baker fan and quoted his Final Justice catchphrase, “Go ahead on.” I doubt I’ll ever know.

I considered creating my own countdown clock, or better yet appropriating someone else’s, and customizing it to fit my needs. Underage actresses aren’t my thing, but knowing the number of seconds to retirement might provide comfort when work stress gets to be too much for me. Tick fucking tock, I would think while watching the number decrease.

Ultimately, I am afraid this would feed a much bigger problem. You see, I am in that stage of life where I am neither here nor there. In the past, I behaved irresponsibly and figured I could get away with it. Abnormally good luck proved my prediction, if not my judgment, to be accurate. When I retire, the plan is to have enough money to be irresponsible again and by then I’ll have the extra reckless abandon of knowing I’m on borrowed time.

Perhaps I’ll be like that one old fart Creepy Jeff told me about who got carried out of a strip club and thrown against a tree. I don’t know what his transgression was, certainly not simply leering. You earn that privilege by paying the cover charge. Maybe he got grabby or was caught sprinkling brewer’s yeast on currency before stuffing it into a g-string. Neither activity is my style. The tree fate could still await me, but only if it was a service I paid for and was carried out by strippers who were built like bouncers.

There I go again with the hints at my proclivities. TMI be damned. I may just have to write about it at length someday, but I’ll spare you this time.

The point is that in order to secure a future of not giving a shit, I need to give a shit now. That’s job one. I need to hunker down and transform. I am neither caterpillar nor butterfly. I am a pupa. (I originally wanted to call this blog entry “Cocoon” but did not want to establish a pattern of picking movie titles, especially with the softening of the film’s subject matter over the last one. Following this trajectory, the next one could be called “Terms of Endearment”and none of us want that).

Fortunately, being a pupa is not a 24/7 operation. I just need to remember to make the time count so I’m not just counting time. Irresponsible, self-centered people are supposed to be good at living in the moment. Half the time I don’t even know what the moment is. And it should be so easy. All I need to do is get over myself and see that the world needs me. Hand me a beer and stand back. I’ve got a fire to piss on.

Shriek of the Mutilated

Mission Bar, as the name implies, is a bar on Mission Street. It is near the corner of 23rd Street and about a five-minute walk from my house. Lately, I have been walking there quite often.

This is not to say I drink a lot when I get there. It has been my experience that if I have to work the next day, one or two drinks is fine. Three is iffy. Four or more is unwise. I have been unwise enough in my life to speak on this topic with authority.

Even if my alarm didn’t go off at 5:45, I would still rein in my drinking. My purpose is not to spend the evening in an alcoholic fog, maybe a few scattered clouds, but not a full-on fog bank. I have thinking to do.

Mission Bar has become the preferred spot for my midweek drink-n-think. Doc’s Clock, about three blocks away, has cheaper drinks during happy hour and more quirky charm. However, I don’t always want quirky charm, especially when done so intentionally. Mission Bar comes off as far less self-aware. The whorehouse-red lighting is understated as are the sporadically placed velvet paintings. Only the Halloween decorations, plastic skeltons that make the bar look like the Pirates of the Caribbean, are overbearing and they seem to be an honest mistake.

None of the bartenders there know my name and I’m OK with that. This allows me to focus on what’s going on between my ears. There is also a mirror behind the bar where I have a clear view of myself. I don’t need it for vanity. I just need to make sure my monster is kept on the inside.

That’s harder to do at longtime local, Iron & Gold. I’ve spent many evenings there and even more when it was the Argus Lounge. Over the years, I’ve tipped my hand too often to fool much of anybody. It’s the only bar I’ve been asked to leave except for that one time at another bar where I got ejected as part of a package deal when a drinking buddy set fire to the curtains.

The time I got booted for my own actions was 10 years ago during the Argus era. My infraction was less severe than arson and so the banishment was only for one night.

That night, the bartender had refused to serve me because I was a gibbering mess with lips shiny from spittle, eyes like runny eggs, and both nostrils caked with an illicit white residue. I must have been in pretty bad shape because when I got confronted by the owner earlier that year with my lips blue from doing nitrous hits in the back room, I merely got a talking to. The Argus Lounge would cut you a lot of slack. Anyway, I did not think being cut off was fair so I got a friend to order my next drink for me. That’s what got me booted. Looking back, raising my glass at the bartender in defiance was probably not a good idea.

I dialed it down after that and have been at least tolerated ever since. Neither the staff nor the owners from 10 years ago are there now, but there is enough overlap in the turnover to keep me from ever starting with a clean slate. I have no desire to sully my reputation further, even when the transgression likely exists nowhere but in my own head.

There was one of those instances that happened a couple of weeks back. Rebecca was down in LA to see Interpol and I was drinking at I&G, enjoying the healthy pours afforded a regular. The movie Grizzly was showing on the big flat screen above the bar. My tongue was loosened by well scotch so I told the bartender how I stowed away in a friend’s Mercury Cougar to see it at a local drive-in when I was in high school. This amused her so I went on to tell her how the film’s director, William Girdling, was decapitated by a helicopter he was about to board when one side of its landing  gear collapsed. She seemed less amused by this than the stowaway story. When it comes to real-life deaths by helicopter in the motion-picture industry, most people are hip to Vic Morrow but it takes a real film buff to want to know about more of them.

I now regret telling her, mostly because I was factually in error. While Girdling did die in a helicopter accident, the collapsing landing-gear beheading actually killed Michael Findlay, director of Shriek of the Mutilated. I’ve never seen this film. It’s supposed to be about a Bigfoot-like creature in upstate New York, but so what. It’s the title that really stands out and the film itself was probably just tacked on as an afterthought.

Since the title still packs a wallop after all these years, I have decided to borrow it for this blog entry. The title I was going to use (“Rules of the Game”) is simultaneously pompous and anemic by comparison. This one is direct. It has zazz.

So when I set off for Mission Bar, I did so with the understanding that the bartender would have zero interest in anything I had to say. This allows me to turn my focus inward where it belongs. There is also peace of mind knowing that keeping my mouth shut will prevent me from spouting a load of crap and being regarded as a blight on the premises. I may not like to drink akone, but I do like to do it with near invisibility.

I arrive a little after eight. Sportsball is on the two TVs, but no one is yelling at the screen. The people watching show only mild interest. It gives the eyes something to do while alcohol passes the lips.

I’ve seen the bartender before. She has bangs and tats and is wearing a black t-shirt. It’s a comforting look. It assures me that I’m in a neighborhood dive with a reasonable set of rules. She won’t act like I’m trash for ordering a well drink and I won’t say anything creepy or try to order a mojito.

My usual these days is a scotch and soda. The bartender may not remember this night after night, but she does drink after drink. That’s good enough. I don’t want to be that memorable. If asked, “He’s OK, ” said with a shrug is perfect. Let that be my epitaph.

Sitting at the bar with a drink in my hand, I can send my thoughts down a rabbit hole of my choosing. It is important to choose wisely. Rabbit holes are fine, but the abyss of existence is to be avoided. This is doubly true when alcohol is involved. The suggested two-drink limit goes right out the window as one’s mood goes into freefall. The best to hope for then is to pass out before doing something more regrettable than drinking too much.

I can usually avoid this by thinking about people in far worse shape than myself. The mass shooting in Las Vegas provided that in spades. First there were at least 50 confirmed dead. That number has since climbed to 58. I doubt it will increase, but one can never be sure. It took over 30 years and the death of Jim Brady to elevate John Hinckley from attempted murderer (and Jodie Foster’s number-one fan) to a bona fide killer.

As I’ve said on many occasions, empathy isn’t my strong suit. Here though, I don’t think it should be expected considering I have no idea what it’s like to either shoot somebody or get shot. People on the internet, however, seem to have all the answers.

It helps to have an axe to grind. Otherwise, you have no real urge to shout “Aha!” When a senseless tragedy occurs.

ISIS was first on the bandwagon and claimed Stephen Paddock as one of their own because of course they did. Far less odious, but still biased, people followed suit.

One sentiment that many of my friends subscribe to is the insistence that Paddock be called a terrorist. Their reasoning is that if he were darker skinned and/or Muslim, he’d be assigned that label in a heartbeat. On that point, I cannot argue and he may actually be a terrorist. Definition of the word can vary from person to person, but motive remains the deciding factor rather than how despicable the crime was. This is why I think Dylann Roof is a terrorist and Adam Lanza was not despite his higher body count. So far, Paddock’s motive is anybody’s guess.

Gun-control advocates chimed in and even though I doubt America will ever rid itself of guns, I do see their point. I don’t know how many people Paddock would gave killed if he were blasting away with a hunting rifle, but I’m guessing a lot fewer than 58.

Then there were those pushing the idea that the shooter was some crazed libtard who hated Trump and freedom in equal measure. Such people both amuse and frighten me.

The last of the axe grinders I’ll mention are those who point an accusing finger at toxic masculinity because it is toxic, pervasive, and drives people to kill. It is toxic, I’ll grant them that. My own masculinity is pretty meager, but what I do have is toxic all get out. I’ll also concede pervasive as I’m just one in a multitude of spiteful, entitled pricks in the world. You would think that with all these raging assholes running loose, the carnage would be far worse than it is.  Yet, most of us are not homicidal. The unsavory parts of my character may not stay my hand, but they don’t force it either.

You need that extra something to commit mass murder. Stephen Paddock had it. I don’t think I do. There’s only one person I ever think about killing and that’s the ugly fucker in the mirror on the other side of the bar.

And there’s the abyss I was talking about. I need to back away and shift my focus to those I hate even worse. There was the CBS attorney who said the victims deserved what they got because they were country-music fans and therefore likely Republicans. Then there was the owner of a vegan food truck in Pennsylvania who cheered for the animal lives saved by the death of all these meat eaters.

These are not the people I hate. Sure they’re assholes, but they are up front about it. No, the ones I truly despise are the ones who chant their “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences” mantra and set out to get those who offended them publicly shamed then deprived of their livelihoods. You are not doing me any favors. I like it when people say offensive things. I enjoy the freedom to say “What an asshole” when the situation merits it. You rob me of that freedom with your need to enforce civility through any cowardly means available.

I’m not against your right to criticize. Criticize away. Denounce. Wave your arms and pitch a hissy. Just don’t stifle people and then pat yourself on the back for being such a wonderful person. People on both the left and the right do this and I gave nothing but contempt for the lot of you.

And yes, I like to be offensive as well.  It’s how I process human tragedy. It’s also a lot of fun. People are caricatures to me.

Sitting at the bar, I have nary a twinge of guilt as I muse about that procrastinating murder victim James Brady and his devoted wife Sarah, who took care of him for all those years. She had to get sick of his shit once in a while.

Picture if you will, James Brady sitting on the floor in his diaper eating tapioca pudding with a plastic spoon. To minimize the mess on his shirt, he is wearing a bib with “BRADY BILL” emblazoned above a picture of his face with a duck bill. Enter wifey Sarah with a strap on and she mounts his forehead and starts fucking his Hinckley hole for all its worth, Old Puddinhead wet burping his meal rhythmically with the thrusting.

The bartender sees my head tilt slightly and a smile spread slowly across my lips. She asks me if I need another drink. I tell her I’m good and gather my stuff to leave. I don’t share my anecdote. I doubt she’d appreciate it and it’s her bar, in reality if not by ownership. She needs to come here to earn a living.

You, on the other hand, get on the interwebs in large part for the same reason I go a bar, to amuse yourselves. Do keep that in mind when you have the urge to turn into a self-righteous piece of shit.

 

Northbound and Down

Your workday dies a lingering death when you have a long commute. If you’re driving home, you may not think about it too much because you’re too busy concentrating on the car ahead of you and the slow crawl of rush-hour traffic. I ride a tech bus so I have plenty of time to think.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to own a car again. It’s been 24 years since driving my old one to death by not caring much about scheduled maintenance, including oil changes. I’m not very good at taking care of things, whether it be my car, my teeth, or my career path. I’m also not a very good driver because other cars on the road just aren’t all that interesting to me. While it may be true that driving a car would give me the freedom to go wherever I want, letting someone else drive gives my brain the freedom to go wherever it wants. I like that better.

It’s usually an hour and 45 minutes of my semi-workday purgatory before the bus gets off the freeway. I spend this time fretting about work, fretting about things that aren’t work, or losing myself in my fantasy world so I don’t have to fret about anything. The only thing I have to do is stay on the bus. Unless it crashes. Then I have to lie on the asphalt and bleed a lot. Either way, I’m still a prisoner.

The bus exits at Cesar Chavez Street, which was Army Street when I first moved here and its current namesake was still alive. I remember some of the older and more conservative (by SF standards) residents objecting to the name change. I didn’t mind. Sure, it took a couple of extra syllables to say, but Chavez was a pretty good guy and streets in this town have been named after far worse than him (e.g. Fillmore and Columbus).

I actually heard Cesar Chavez speak one time. I can’t remember what he said but he earned a lot of applause, being Cesar Chavez and all. It was 1988 and I had just moved up to the Bay Area and was living in Oakland. There was an event at Dolores Park that had the words “jobs,” “justice,” and “peace” in the title. I’m not sure of the order and I don’t think it really mattered. The three were all good things and the intended effect was to create a big, liberal umbrella that was welcoming to one and all.

It worked. Dolores Park was transformed that day into a veritable swap meet for progressive causes. Environmentalists, feminists, socialists, and “Where was George?” finger pointers had all set up shop on the grass. Bored by the overall nonviolent vibe, I gravitated toward the table with the pro-IRA swag on display.

The table wasn’t actually run by the IRA with some hatchet-faced Fenian hissing about the “durrrty Briddish” through a jack-o’-lantern smile. Instead, I was greeted by a rather fetching redhead who represented an organization calling itself Irish Northern Aid.

She informed me that their mission was to support the families of “political prisoners” in Northern Ireland and if I signed up for their mailing list and made a small donation, I could help myself to one of those nifty “Victory to the IRA” bumper stickers. It was just a few dollars so I handed her the money and put the bumper sticker on display in the front window of my apartment, where it received pointed disapproval from my English friend whenever he came by for a visit.

That’s as close as I’ve come to being a sponsor of terrorism. Irish Northern Aid, or NORAID, was accused of supplying the Irish Republican Army with cash to buy weapons. This was never proven outright and I did not know about the allegation at the time. Even if I had, I don’t know if it would have made any difference.

My ancestry is Irish as much as anything, but I had l no real kinship with the land of my roots. At the time, I never visited Ireland and had no strong opinion whether it should be united or not. Even now, I have no dog in that fight. For people in Northern Ireland, the IRA were a grim reality. For me living in California, they were a parlor game.

The only thing I ever liked about the IRA is that they got drunk and blew stuff up. To this bored and sheltered idiot, that was some punk-rock shit. I didn’t know the issues and didn’t care. When someone pointed out the ideological inaccuracy of writing “IRA” with a circle around the “A” to denote anarchy, I sneered at his attempt to stifle my creativity.

I wasn’t all that sympathetic either. I heard about the hunger strikers while I was in college and with a level of tact that hasn’t changed much, I wrote “Bobby Sands” on a piece of paper and taped it to a skeleton Halloween decoration at the frat house. Some guy who took the Troubles very seriously pitched a hissy over that. If he were actually in the IRA, I probably would have gotten kneecapped.

Real violence has always scared the piss out of me so to make the IRA seem more palatable, I half convinced myself that they were committing “A-Team” mayhem where there’s a lot of property damage, but nobody actually gets hurt.

Looking back, I was perhaps exhibiting a similar stupidity as some of my contemporaries were with their “Mao More Than Ever” t-shirts, which were a perfectly acceptable social and fashion statement if you were willing to ignore the fact that your beloved Chairman’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution killed people by the tens of millions. I’m guessing they were into it out of boredom as well. The 80s were a stultifying decade. We all had to amuse ourselves as best we could.

The bus stops at 24th and Guerrero Streets. I get up and make my way to the exit. I move past a number of seated coworkers, most of them millennials.  They look so committed, so earnest. I really have nothing in common with them at all.

Fuck-You Money

There is a meme that’s made the rounds on Facebook and other social media. There are in fact a lot of them, but the one I’m talking about has a quote about how socialism never caught on in America because the poor see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

The quote is attributed to John Steinbeck and is accompanied with a picture of the author to clear up any confusion over what Steinbeck looked like. You have probably seen this meme and may have even shared it with an enthusiastic credulity common among meme sharers.

It’s a nice quote. I’ll grant you that. The only problem is that John Steinbeck never said it. Ronald White did. Not Ron “Tater Salad” White, another guy. Something similar happened with Martin Luther King Jr. with a quote about never rejoicing in anyone’s death. It’s a sentiment King might well have shared, but the actual quote belongs to one Jessica Dovey, a nonfamous American teaching in Japan. Steinbeck did have something to say about “temporarily embarrassed capitalists,” but it was part of a longer bit about how armchair communists seldom accomplish jack shit.

I was discussing this at Iron & Gold with my friend Ken, a semi-retired academic. Ken eschews most social media and is not very meme-savvy, but makes up for it by being knowledgeable about stuff that people actually said. I told him about the “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” quote and he said it reminded him of what a German sociologist and economist named Werner Sombart had to say on the matter.

I had never heard of this Sombart character because I drank away my college years, but I made note of his name for future reference. The conversation then drifted to what famous people we each shared birthdays with. His claim to fame was HP Lovecraft and mine was Mink Stole, making us dead even when it came to bragging rights.

So the following Monday morning on the bus ride to work, I was googling Werner Sombart to find out what he had to say about why socialism has been a non-starter in the USA. I’m a Wikipedia scholar at best who’s had a short attention span before it became ubiquitous, so I was hoping to find something glib and pithy as an easily digested takeaway.

Alas, German scholars are not big on being either glib or pithy. They would much rather verbally beat the shit out of a topic from every possible angle. Sombart was no exception and in his 1906 motherfucker Warum gibt es in den Vereinigten Staaten keinen Sozialismus, he dedicates over 150 pages to the subject.

I didn’t want to read all that, nor did I want to pay to download the PDF in its entirety, so I gleaned what I could by perusing the publicly available previews to each section. Sombart’s description of the American workers’ level of optimism falls in line with the Ronald White quote, but he also includes such points as the tendency of America’s most ambitious people to go into private business rather than public service and how two major parties dominate our political system.

From what I could see, Sombart’s arguments are valid and I can offer few objective criticisms of the work. On a personal level, it doesn’t all ring true. Part of that is because over a century has passed and his assertion that American workers are better off than their German counterparts is not as true now as it was then. It’s more than that though. My biggest objection is that I’m not nearly as optimistic as Sombart and White’s perception of the American worker bee.

I’m also kind of a socialist myself, but only kind of. I think laws to make sure workers are treated decently, and this includes a respect for work-life balance that goes beyond lip service, are both beneficial and necessary. I like single-payer healthcare and access to higher education that doesn’t cost a fuckton of money. There are some things the public sector is better at providing and since those things cost money, I’m OK with kicking in my fair share in taxes to pay for them.

It’s the nanny-state bullshit I have a problem with. If your ideal society is devoid of enjoyment of vices and unpleasant thoughts or words, I want no part of it. I’m kind of a libertarian because of this, but again only kind of. I believe that my life is essentially my own and no one else’s, but I don’t buy into the notion that unfettered capitalism makes the world a better place. Left libertarian is a fairly accurate description of my leanings, but that doesn’t seem to be an option in America these days. You’re given a choice to side with either the Pollyanna statists or the plutocrats with a selective appreciation of personal freedom. I choose to drink.

So what’s left? What possible light can be found at the end of this long, dark, and ugly tunnel? For me, the answer is fuck-you money.

I first heard the term “fuck-you money” from comedian Doug Stanhope, but I’ve been acquainted with the concept as long as I can remember. It’s that amount of cash you need to spend the rest of your life doing what you want.

The fuck-you part of it doesn’t even have to be hostile. You don’t have to say those words to your boss when you quit and you certainly don’t have to take a shit on his or her desk as a parting gift. If your situation merits that, do what you have do, but it’s hardly a requirement. In fact, you don’t have to quit your job at all if you enjoy it enough. Fuck-you money is about your own happiness, not obligatory rebellion. Personally, I’d make my exit and do it on friendly terms because I don’t want to be remembered as a complete asshole.

How does the dream of fuck-you money differ from being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire? For one thing, FYM may be a figure considerably less than a million dollars. It all depends on your definition of a comfortable existence. There are places on the planet I can afford retiring to right now. Unfortunately, they tend to be in areas where the local water supply comes from muddy tire tracks and paramilitaries periodically roll into town for their festival of rape.

The good news is that if I keep working for another ten years, I can retire in a place a little more civilized, like Oregon. I’ll also be 65 then so I’ll be eligible for Social Security, that is if people can keep a muzzle on Paul Ryan and his ilk.

What does this dream of attaining fuck-you money have to do with cockblocking socialism in America? Not a whole lot. It’s a lot more pessimistic than being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire so you don’t have the same enabler relationship with capitalism. You’re under no illusion that the corporate world that backhands you really loves you deep down.

On the other hand, diehard pessimists are less likely to work for positive social change. Nihilists like me are good at brooding, but we can’t be counted for much else. Viva la revolution. Tell me when you’ve won.

With people like me pretty much a wash as far as socialism goes, what is the impediment exactly? Werner Sombart might have had the answer and if I were a more diligent reader, I would have picked up on it. I must therefore look to Sombart’s contemporary and bestie, Max Weber, who wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. OK, I didn’t read this either, but I’m willing to guess it discusses how the two things in the title have something to do with each other.

This is certainly true from my own experience. Sharing the religious aspects of puritanism may not be required in this day and age, but the nose-to-the-grindstone, killjoy element from those Mayflower buckleheads is still alive and well with the company you work for serving as a sort of surrogate god. You must stay busy and productive, but more than that, you must never shut up about how busy and productive you are. Part of this is self-preservation as you want to be spared when there is a round of layoffs because the shareholders (your god’s gods, in case you’re keeping score) get hungry and demand a blood sacrifice. It’s more than that though. I see this song and dance done far more than is necessary and through sheer repetition, it becomes second nature.

What’s even more pathological is the expectation of team spirit beyond what’s required to get your work done and not be a dick to your colleagues. This exists throughout a company, but is concentrated in areas where the accomplishments are less tangible (people in marketing and HR are particularly known for their pep). Critics of socialism are quick to point out its odious forced collectivism while conveniently forgetting how rampant that shit is in capitalism as well.

It’s far from perfect, but it’s the only viable game for me. Trying to change the world is not my nature. Creating my own little world is. For now, I’ll carve out a little one as time permits and keep checking my bank balance. Someday my money will hit the fuck-you threshold and I can retreat full time into my own little nook of resistance. I won’t need much, just the basic creature comforts. I neither need nor want a trophy room of possessions. I just need enough so the failings of the world are no longer my problem. Where I can live each day on my own terms. Where no one will take it all away from me.

Until someone does.

Origins of Aquaman

On September 4 of this year, a 25-year old woman working at a McDonald’s in Redwood City gave birth on the job then tried to flush her newborn down the toilet. It was an awful crime, inexcusable in every way, yet perversely fitting on Labor Day.

I did not know about this news story until almost two weeks later and might never have known if it were not for a link tweeted by comedian Anthony Jeselnik. I’ll be paying more attention to Jeselnik’s Twitter feed from now  on.

The story was on the website for Time magazine, a publication that may or may not be considered fake news depending on which side of the post-truth polarity you happen to slavishly adhere to. However, in this case there might be no contention as infanticide is roundly condemned on both sides of the aisle (Note to anti-abortion zealots: Shut up. Now is not the time).

This is the third atrocity from the Golden Arches that I’m aware of. Fortunately, each has been less horrible than the one preceding it. I don’t wish to trivialize what happened here, but there was a silver lining and it was her ineptitude at baby killing. Did she really believe that a newborn weighing possibly eight or more pounds would flush successfully? I’ve birthed bowel movements only half that big that didn’t want to go down.

The second atrocity in 1984 at McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA was far worse. Unlike the third, there was a body count and an impressive one at that. Twenty one people died and another 19 were injured that day when James Oliver Huberty told his wife he was “going hunting humans” then drove to Mickey D’s to make good on his promise. If it were not for the eagle eye of a police sniper, the death toll would have been even more super sized.

The first atrocity was the McRib.

In meteorological terms, this third atrocity was a mere tropical depression compared to its hurricane-force predecessors, yet it is the one that looms foremost in my mind. It’s partly because the news is so fresh. More than that though, I ride the tech bus through Redwood City twice a day, five days a week.

I don’t know the exact McDonald’s where it happened or even if it can be seen from the freeway.  Still, I like to stare out the window when I think I’m in the vicinity and come up with little ditties like:

Crying, the baby won’t hush
Trying, it maybe won’t flush
Now society wants to expunge her
While I would have offered a plunger

I’m not proud of that. Poetry isn’t my strong suit, but what’s worse is that I’m being dishonest in my verse. If I had witnessed the crime (and never mind why I was in the women’s bathroom in the first place), I would be as horrified as anybody and I certainly wouldn’t be an accomplice. “Ma’am, that’s wrong,” I might even say.

You see, I’m not such a bad guy after all. The kid had a rough start, but I’m hoping he has a rewarding life ahead of him. In fact, I believe he should get a little something extra after all he’s been through. A superpower would be nice. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

I’m thinking this superpower should be something Aquaman-related since his traumatic first experience occurred in the water. I’m no expert on DC Comics and I don’t know all the powers to choose from, so I’m limited to the ones I remember from watching the “Super Friends” cartoon show as a kid.

So what makes Aquaman so special? He can swim. Hell, I can do that. He can ride a giant seahorse. That’s not a superpower. That’s a possession. You don’t yell “Shazam!” and then drive down the road in a Lamborghini. What it takes is the money to buy one. So what else? He can also control the actions of sea critters with radiating concentric circles that come out of his forehead. Actually, that sounds pretty awesome. Let’s go with that.

Of course I don’t really think that’ll happen, but I’m growing increasingly weary of reality. Reality put a pumpkin-hued piece of shit in the White House. Reality tried to flush a baby down the toilet.

I don’t think I can call myself a realist now and I owe much of that to a Facebook friend I have known since we were 13. His posts are often an inspiration and by that I mean they inspire me to look them up on Snopes. The most recent of these was a shared meme about a heroic dog named Daisy who saved close to a thousand lives on 9/11, making several trips up a smokey staircase of one of the twin towers and not even stopping once to reward herself with Mohammed Atta’s charred penis nub as a Scooby Snack.

The story smacked of bullshit and a quick trip to snopes.com bore out my suspicions. Daisy was as big a lie as our reasons to invade Iraq. But here’s the thing. It’s not a harmful lie and I would even go so far as to say it does some good. Other than the great jokes it inspired on “Family Guy,” 9/11 was a real downer. Daisy the wonder dog lessens the tragedy with every life she saved. As fictions go, she is as comforting as God and not nearly so wrathful.

So plausibility be damned, I decided that I would one day offer to my services to help this kid come to to terms with his superpower. Be a mentor, and not in an El Duce sort of way. I don’t know precisely what kind of help I could offer, but there is plenty of time to work that out. Twenty years, I’m guessing.

I have no desire to approach him while he’s still a child. My intentions are in no way sexual, but his adoptive family and the law enforcement might see things otherwise. I don’t need that.  And to be honest, children make my skin crawl in general. Teenagers are even worse. They improve as adults, not much, but a little.

You might think such a gesture is out of character and you would be right. I’m usually less interested in giving back to the community than I am in getting back at it. Altruism usually doesn’t drive me and it isn’t what’s driving me here. You see, my death is far from imminent, but it’s not so far off in the future to render it an abstraction. I’m afraid that when the day comes, I shall die with four score and nothing to show for it. My plan for 20 years hence gives me some sense of purpose and if it works the way I want it to, renewal as well.

Between now and then, I have my work cut out for me. The biggest obstacle I’ll need to overcome is my lack of people skills. Don’t get me wrong. I can be quite witty and folks who know me usually consider me harmless. The problem is my lack of empathy, made worse by living in a world where empathy is worn like a politician wears a flag pin on a lapel. If yours is not clearly visible, there must be something wrong with you.

Maybe it’ll be different in two decades’ time. Maybe apathy will be the new empathy and uncaring shits like me will be held in the highest regard. Even if that turns out to be the case, empathy will be a valuable skill to have and I believe it is one that can be learned.

I imagine a lot of people are under the impression that empathy is this ingrained thing and you either have it or you don’t. This likely comes from a misconception about what empathy really is. More often than not, those who claim to possess empathy are merely in tune with an accepted range of thoughts, opinions, and emotions, and find themselves connecting with those who operate within that range. Empathy is not about common ground. It is about venturing into uncharted territory and that is what I intend to learn.

To reach that end, I plan to use every tool available to me. Psychology, hypnosis, mysticism, psychic projection, you name it are all on the table provided they produce results. I realize that my methods might raise some ethical questions, but I must remain undeterred. Getting a toe hold in someone’s brain, so to speak, is not something that comes naturally to me. And given what I hope to accomplish, the end does justify the means.

So let me give you how I expect this to play out. In 20 years, it will be 2037. Technology will certainly have advanced, but I have no idea how much and in what way so my actions will not be dependent on that. The planet will have changed to some degree. I’m guessing it will be warmer on average and the ocean level will be higher. Again, I don’t know how much on either front or how ecological steps like low-flow toilets that make babies harder to flush might slow climate change.

I too will have undergone significant changes by then. I’ll be 75 years old so that is to be expected.  As for how much, my estimate is to take the amount of decline over the past decade and multiply that by two. That should leave me frail but ambulatory and in possession of half my teeth but most of my wits. While not exactly spry, I’ll be in good enough shape to get the job done so here goes.

I am walking on a trail along Bair Island, a wetlands preserve on the shore of San Francisco just north of Redwood City. It is my first time here, but these marshes and islets are familiar to me because before I retired, I used to gaze upon them from the bus when traffic on my northbound commute had slowed to a crawl.

My septugenarian knees aren’t what they used to be, but I’m able to soldier on. At least I’m no longer a smoker. Quitting close to 30 years ago was the smartest decision I ever made. If I still smoked, I’d either be dragging an oxygen tank with me, or more likely, wouldn’t be here at all.

I see Bob in the distance. His mother was too busy trying to kill him to give him a birth name so the only one he has was provided by his adoptive parents. From a splendid evening spent in a bar with the father, who is a talkative drunk, I learned the name is unofficially short for “Bob for road apples.” Of course, neither parent let Bob in on the joke because it would hurt his feelings and they are good people.

Bob is standing motionless with his shoulders slumped, staring out upon the water. He is a large young man, brutish but not athletic. The water holds some fascination for him. Is he thinking about Aquaman? Unlikely. His earliest experience was a traumatic one involving water and even though he has no memory of that, he is unconsciously trying to come to terms with it.

“Have you ever seen any of the Sharknado movies?” I ask as I walk up to Bob.

“Look, you old perv. I ain’t gonna let you suck my dick unless you buy me a case of beer first and probably not even then,” he says.

What a charming lad he is.

“That’s not why I’m here. Let me assure you of that,” I say. “For one thing, my sexual orientation is…well, let’s just say that at my age it’s none of the above. So you haven’t answered my question.”

“What, those stupid old movies? Yeah, maybe I saw one or two. Didn’t they make like 12 of them?”

“There were 14 in total. And yes, I agree that they were stupid. You always knew that the sharks were going to lose because they had no strategy, no game plan. Now what if they had a leader like Aquaman and his fishy mind control to command them? Those sharks would kick some serious ass.”

“Yeah, I guess that would be pretty cool. So what.”

“What if you had the power to control those sharks?”

“Nothing, because sharks flying around in tornadoes aren’t real.”

“You’re right, but people go swimming. Isn’t there someone you hate enough to command your sharks to go in for the kill?”

“With my Aquaman powers.”

I nodded.

“OK, old man. You’re full of shit, but yeah, there are a few people I wouldn’t mind turning into shark chow.”

“Like who?”

“My boss at Arby’s. I’d love to feed his fat ass to the sharks. And that bitch in high school who wouldn’t go to the prom with me. I’d get a great white to bite her titties off. Bitch wouldn’t think she was such hot shit then. And maybe you because you’re starting to piss me off.”

“That’s the spirit, but there must be someone else. Like your mother, for instance.”

“What the fuck? No way, my mom is totally cool.”

“That isn’t your mom. Have you ever wondered why you don’t look like either of your parents? Your mom, your real mom, tried to flush her baby down the toilet at a McDonald’s in Redwood City. You must have have heard about it at some point. That little baby was you. She’s out of prison now and it’s high time for you to get even.”

“You shut the fuck up.”

“You won’t be able to do it alone. You’ll need lieutenants to command the sharks at all the beaches she is likely to go to. They’ll need your powers, powers you don’t even realize you have yet. Like what happened to you, you’ll have to hold them under water. If it doesn’t drown, you got yourself a little Aquaman.”

“You shut up right now, old man.”

I walk up close to him and spit the following words right in his face.

“You can steal them while their parents are at work. Their nannies making minimum wage aren’t going to care. I’ll even abduct the first few just to show you how easy it is. You can dunk them in the water right here. Nice and secluded. No witnesses except for me and I won’t tell. Don’t be squeamish, Bob. You know you’ll love it. After all it’s in your blood.”

Two meaty fists grab me by the shoulders and I am pushed down into the water. He is as angry as I hoped he would be. Now comes the hard part. What I had spent the last two decades studying how to do had to work now. I wasn’t completely sure it was even possible, but it’s too late to turn. I can only hold my breath for about a minute so there isn’t much time. I concentrate and go through all the steps with an unwavering clarity of purpose.

I see my face below the surface of the water. There is a brief look of surprise in the eyes before they go lifeless. Bubbles trickle from the old man’s mouth. I let go of him and stand upright.

I look around and there is not another soul to be seen. My lungs fill with the warm afternoon air. I haven’t felt this good in years. Walking away, I spot my reflection in a shallow marsh. I may not be much of a looker, but at least I’m young and healthy.

“Mama’s boy,” I say to the reflection and laugh. Bob might not have appreciated the joke, but I do.

Dunce Macabre

Rebecca and I arrived just in time for happy-hour prices. We each got a $2 pint of PBR and sat in a booth toward the back. We would have preferred to sit at the bar, but too many people had the same idea. I didn’t expect it to be this busy on a Tuesday, but there you go.

We were at the new Doc’s Clock, a couple of blocks from its old location. I don’t know why it moved. The owners probably lost their lease (which happens a lot) and managed to find another spot they could afford (which happens far less often). I’ve been told that most of the interior looks the same.

It’s a good look. Red lights illuminate the shelves with the bottles. A CD jukebox probably hailing from the 1990s sits to one side of the bar. Above it is a painting of a kneeling beefcake dude with a footlong shvantz and what looks a portion of the EU flag behind him. There is a divey vibe to the place, but a quirky and friendly one. If you want wood paneling, NFL calendars, and nightly fistfights, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

I made a mental note to come back here some day and get good and trashed. Take advantage of happy hour while it lasts and be too drunk to care about the higher prices after nine. It shouldn’t take much at this point in my life. Five or six drinks is enough to turn me into Ray Milland.

This is not the night for such shenanigans. Rebecca and I have just popped in before heading off to Alamo Drafthouse a block and a half away. They serve beer there, but no Pabst. I admittedly have my hipster side, but I’m far more of a PBR hipster than a craft-beer hipster, especially when they’re selling the latter for eight bucks a pint.

“Fuck that shit, Pabst Blue Ribbon,” a very wise man once said.

We were going to see Carnival of Souls, a movie Rebecca and I both loved but neither of us had seen in years. It was like going to a midnight movie though screening at a more sensible 9:45 pm.

Mission Street is less busy than Valencia on a Tuesday night. It has also held onto more of its past. Gates closed and locked for the evening have the same old stores selling identical knockoffs and plastic crap as dozens of others. Corner stores and taquerias have also survived gentrification in large part.

There have been casualties though. Apartments housing poor tenants have suspiciouly gone up in flames, sometimes with the people inside. Out of the ashes have come lofts and luxury condos too expensive for even middle-tier techie scum like me to afford.

We arrive at the local Alamo Drafthouse, which was once the old Mission Theater that had closed long ago and spent its intervening years as either a discount crap emporium or a Pentecostal church. Newly remodeled and boasting a full bar, it was an inviting place to walk into.

Rebecca had gone to see a movie there with some friends once, but this was my first time. We walked down to theater one and took our seats. There was a table in front of us with a menu and a pad to write down our orders if we wanted anything. It was all very civilized. A server came by, checked our tickets on my phone, and explained the ordering process.

At 9:45, a nebbishy emcee walked out in front of the screen to present the movie we were about to see. He had a disarming and lighthearted demeanor, like the kind of standup comic who is neither offensive nor funny. He enthusiastically sang the praises of the film. It was endearing to watch, but I also wanted him to shut the fuck up and show the movie already because I had to be at work the next morning.

A lot has been written about Carnival of Souls by people more knowledgeable than me so I won’t bore you with my assessment of the film. There is one detail I do want to mention though. The movie came out in 1962, the year I was born. Staring at the screen, I was reminded what a primitive place it was back then. It was still mid-century, post-war America. Cars were enormous and women who didn’t want to settle down were suspect. Also, so much of the technology I take for granted now simply did not exist. Oh I suppose they had computers of a sort, but they were the size of a house and didn’t do jack shit.

And yet it was an era that was living on borrowed time. Some of the changes were heartening, like the civil-rights movements. Other developments were scary, like getting an RCH away from World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We’d make it through that only to have Lee Harvey Oswald and Vietnam waitng in the wings.

It is worth noting that my birth year was smack dab in the middle of the five-year run of “The Twilight Zone.” TV viewers, tired of the mundane, could tune in and watch mysterious forces knock people’s lives for a loop.

Carnival of Souls has been compared to “The Twilight Zone” and by this I mean a good episode and not any of that “Bewitchin’ Pool” bullshit. The broken reality here was of the menacing sort and zeroed in on an unlucky individual. The danse macabre toward the end has classically symbolized the universality of death (thanks Wikipedia!) but here it was something the protagonist had to face all on her lonesome. I loved it.

There is little surprise there. I watched an unhealthy amount of “Twilight Zone” marathons growing up and while a number of episodes now seem silly, the effect on me lasting. Many, and one could argue too many, of my own story ideas borrow from the show’s playbook. It’s magical realism of the semiliterate TV addict. I’m far too aspy to craft plausible human drama so I go for the mind fuck instead. Often with a gross-out element because that’s how I roll.

The movie ended and we were on our way home. I enjoyed the film immensely and part of that was the glimpse back into the time that spawned me. I knew it was neither a representational nor realistic depiction, but I was OK with that. I was too young to have my own memories from then so I have to go by what got captured on camera and didn’t get left on the cutting-room floor. And while the story was implausible outside its genre, the way people talked and acted seemed to ring true. But then again, I can only guess.

Of course the film was no mere artifact. The reason it has managed to hold up after 55 years is that it managed to do so much with so little. There was no star power and practically no budget to speak of.

However, it was the type of story it told that won me over. I’ll always be a sucker for malevolent forces being relentless and leaving a mark on the reality they wash over. It’s the kind of story I like and the kind of story I like to tell, albeit often less artfully and with more poo jokes thrown in.

We turn off Mission Street and start walking up 22nd toward Valencia. Streetlights hitting trees and houses cast a variety of shadows on the sidewalk. I look at the dark shapes and try to conjure an idea I can run with. I come up empty. There is no danse here, macabre or otherwise, just the mundane theatrics of the here and now.

9/11

The fall equinox is still a week and a half away, but the days are getting noticeably shorter. It’s darker when I leave the house, somehow more fitting with the hydraulic farts of an early-morning delivery truck I invariably hear in the distance. I take out my phone and snap a picture so I can hold onto a bit of the gloom to comfort me through the day. The camera autoadjusts, letting in more light for a clearer, brighter picture.

Technology is not always my friend.

I walk toward Muddy’s. My ass is dragging and I really need the coffee. I had a late night last night. It wasn’t in the same league as the kind of late nights I used to have. I was in bed before midnight. I’m older now though. I may not be any more mature, but I am more tired.

I make it a point to stay focused through my coffee-and-bagel ritual. My autopilot tends to malfunction when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. There was that time I poured half and half into the brown-sugar container instead of into my coffee. I’d rather that didn’t happen again.

At least there is no hangover to contend with. I was out at a show and I don’t like to drink when I go see a band, particularly one I’m into. Beer means needing to pee. Needing to pee means missing part of the act. It’s not worth it.

The band we went to see was Stiff Little Fingers. It was their 40th anniversary and I have been a fan of their music for 30 of those years. They’re a punk band from Belfast. Though there is no shortage of anger in their lyrics (especially in their early stuff), they are decidedly more pacifist in their outlook than you’d expect from that genre. In Northern Ireland, violence was the status quo. It’s not surprising they were sick of it. Today the band only has half its original members, but their frontman Jake Burns has grown to twice his original size so I guess it all evens out.

I chew my bagel and notice I’m a little deaf. My ears got pretty well blasted last night. No matter, my hearing would come back eventually.  Most of it anyway.

I keep thinking about how different I am from Jake Burns, and not just because I lack musical talent. I am not from Belfast. I grew up in Santa Barbara. Nothing bad happens to you there unless you do it to yourself.

The time is approaching 6:40 so I leave Muddy’s and walk to the bus stop two blocks away. It’s fully light out now and already warmer than I’d like. It’ll be hot as balls down in San Jose, but I’ll be in an air-conditioned office.

It’s my 9/11, I say to myself. It’s my inside job.

In some ways, 9/11 is America’s taste of Northern Ireland. Or maybe a crash course. We experienced roughly the same body count from terrorist violence as the Troubles. One major difference was that most Americans were never in any real danger. Another was that they spread their dying over decades and we got ours out of the way before lunch.

The suddenness of the attack kept me from processing it all. My behavior in its wake was certainly far from stellar. It wasn’t hate-crime bad. That’s not my style. It was joking in a crowded bar about rescue workers pulling disembodied vaginas from the rubble, blowing the dust off, and then having their way with them. That’s my style. The joking, not the violation of necrobits.

I felt pretty bad about that. I later regretted feeling bad. I lack tact and empathy is mostly an abstraction for me. I need to accept that for my own good.

I respect the hell out of Jake Burns for being able to turn his righteous anger into some great music. The problem is when I try to find similar righteousness within me and realize I don’t have any. It makes me feel shitty, maybe not kill-myself shitty, but think-about-it shitty. Not all the time, but sometimes.

At work, I try listening to some Stiff Little Fingers, but I’m not in the mood. Lunchtime comes and while I’m eating my microwaved phở, I start googling 9/11 pics on my phone. I find the one I’m looking for, the one of the explosion when the second plane hits the World Trade Center. Using my Meme Generator app, I add the caption “SO THIS HAPPENED” and upload it to Instagram.

Back at my desk, my spirits improved but I’m still not up for Jake Burns’ punk-rock earnestness. I put on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica  instead.

“My smile is stuck. I cannot go back to your frown land…”

If only, dear Captain. If only.