Right Thumb Typing

My recent blog posts have been done on my phone. Even though I am left-handed, I’m typing almost exclusively with my right thumb. Either I’m not as left-handed as I thought or the tapping out letters requires less manual dexterity than holding onto the phone as I type.

A little of blogging is done on the couch at home, but most of it happens on the bus going to or from work. This is a perfect time. I can’t do it on the job because I’m paid to write code, not blog posts. When I’m home, I like to spend most of my time hanging out with Becca, tell her bad jokes, and generally be silly with her.

My old blogging method was to first scribble into a spiral notebook and type into a computer later. This sounds like a lot of extra work, but it really was necessary at the time. I was doing most of scribbling in a bar, trying to get what I could on paper before the whiskey fogged over my brain completely. The result was often a semicoherent mess that needed a lot of cleanup before putting it online.

After trading my barstool for a bus seat for my after-work downtime, I initially stayed with my old method, minus the booze, of doing longhand first drafts. That didn’t work too well due to motion sickness. If I don’t look out the window from time to time, my eyes and inner ear get in a pissing contest that trickles down into my gut and makes me nauseous.

This made the amount of writing I got done on the bus drop to almost nothing. The one exception was when I was doing NaNoWriMo in November 2015. Then I was supposed to feel sick to my stomach because I had 50,000 words to write and one month to do it. It’s something to be endured and was intended to be sustainable so my writing diligence did a predictable nose dive on December 1.

Writing on my phone, the outside is always visible from the corner of my eye. The queasiness never gets too bad as long as bus is on the freeway.

It’s nice to have a situation I can live with.

In a way, it reminds me of what my father had to deal with when I was maybe six years old. Dad used to race motorcycles.  He didn’t win a lot of races, but it didn’t kill him either and there is some measure of winning that comes from that alone. Anyway, Dad’s racing days came to an abrupt halt when he (in racers’ parlance) stepped off his bike, which resulted in breaking his collarbone and six ribs.

I was sitting next to Dad on the flight and eating my in-flight meal. This was in the late 1960s, back when food was served for free in coach, flight attendants were called stewardesses, and people in the back of the plane were not only allowed but encouraged to smoke.

It was a magical time for many, but not for my father on that day. He was wearing a vest cast and was in enough pain to put a serious damper on his mood. I thought it would be funny to pretend to smash my fist down on a mustard packet that was on my fold-down tray. It turned out I was better at the smashing than the pretend.

To audible gasps from my mother and brother, my eyes followed a trail of mustard spots going from my tray to my father’s. When I looked up, there was a big yellow glob hanging off his cheek.

“I can still kick you,” he said.

Dad was finding a way to make the most of what he could do in his situation with multiple broken bones just as I have with my mild car sickness. OK, maybe these two sets of circumstances don’t really compare,  but that does not change the fact that I can bang out entire blog posts using just my thumb on a hand that I don’t even write with.

Lincoln and Berkowitz

Never rape the truth. If there is only one rule in life you follow, make it that one. The forceful fuck of raking muck is nothing to be proud of. You might think otherwise though, listening to those so-called investigative reporters brag about their continuous probing to gain access to inside sources and consent be damned.

Terrible stuff, that truth rape.

The truth is something that opens itself to you on its own terms. To prove that you are worthy, it must be wooed.

Imagine you are trying to impress the object of your affections with a bouquet of flowers. You could go to the FTD website, pick a floral arrangement, and be done with it. That might even work, but is it really the best way? Is it not better and more personal to present a bouquet from what you have picked and arranged yourself? It is the same when trying to win over the truth. The only difference is that you use flowers and arrange them into the kind of bouquet called an idea.

I had started with a simple, well-known fact: America has an Uncle Sam. He is a symbol rather than a blood relative, but as a symbol he is an uncle to every American. David Berkowitz, in a similar symbolic way, is known as the Son of Sam. By logical extension, Berkowitz is therefore our American cousin.

This phrase, “Our American Cousin,” holds some significance to theater buffs and even more to history scholars. That was the name of the play Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated in 1865.

Lincoln was shot in Ford’s theater. What has that to do with anything, you may ask? Nothing, except that Berkowitz was finally apprehended based on witness testimony about the car he was driving. And what make of car was it? A Ford.

Full circle and boom.

After reporting my findings to social media, all I had to do was wait for the other pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. The way I saw it, the truth would come to me in one of two ways.

The first would be getting contacted by the 21st century version of Deep Throat from All the President’s Men. This person would fill me in on the details: Berkowitz’s time machine, the conspiracy to set up Booth as a patsy, all of it. Even though I have no car, I started hanging out in parking garages waiting for him or her to step out of the shadows.

Loitering in a parking garage was also a prime spot for the second option to occur. An unmarked van would pull up next to me. The door would slide open then I would be tasered in the nuts and taken blindfolded to an undisclosed facility. There in a windowless room with an iron table and two chairs, a G-Man with a crew cut would ply me with cigarettes to get me to tell him everything I know.

Even though I quit smoking in 2008, I’d take his bribe because I had the feeling I was not going to live long enough to get lung cancer or emphysema. This suspicion would be confirmed as soon as the agent said “No point in keeping it a secret from you any longer.” I would bear the same story as from Deep Throat 2, only this time it would be followed by my being held down and having my brain stem injected with a hypodermic full of air.

In time, it became obvious that neither of these scenarios would come to pass. I stood in the empty parking garage as the night wore on until a security guard told me to leave. I walked home feeling dejected and tried to take what solace I could from having done my best.

Somewhere there is an FBI file on me and thousands like me who tried and failed to win over the truth. We come from all walks of life, but have been assigned the same code name: Chopped Liver.

What Was That All About?

I was going somewhere with that last blog post. Seriously, I was. The whole thing was supposed to be an intro whereupon I’d do a pop-the-clutch segue and launch into what I really wanted to talk about. Then I started worrying that it was going to run too long. For a blog, I’ve been pretty wordy lately and I didn’t want people to not read my stuff because it was too much of a time commitment. I figured it was OK to blather on at length on occasion, but not all the time.

I therefore decided to wrap it up, post it, and get back to the other stuff later. It was a good plan except that the nihilistic platitude “we all die alone” is fine as an introductory point, but pretty cheeseball as a standalone.

So where were we? Ah yes, I have just told you about the inevitability of dying alone and you the reader react with “No shit, Sherlock” or words to that effect. Now I get to the point and tell you that despite my apparent obsession with death and dying, I have no desire to kick the bucket anytime soon. What I envy in the dying is the freedom when the end is fast approaching.

Think about it. You don’t have to concern yourself with anything because nothing is going to matter for very long. Being in the world will be a job you used to have and you have now gone off to…well, there is some disagreement about that. Shakespeare and Star Trek VI called it “the undiscovered country” though that’s a little spiritual for my liking. I prefer to think of death as a trip with no destination. Bon voyage.

Enough about death. Let’s get back to the joy of not having to give a shit. This is something I’ve strived for even though my mortality is little more than an abstraction. Granted, blissful apathy is not something I pursue full time. There is stuff that is important in my life. I love Rebecca. I care about my friends.  I enjoy having food and shelter. Still, I do enjoy telling most of the world to fuck right off.

There you have it. That was what yesterday’s post was supposed to introduce. It hardly seems worth it now. It hardly seems worth it at all.

Exit Single File

There are places on the side of the road where you can hear the traffic, but they can’t hear your screams. There are too many to count. They are in every drainage ditch, every thicket of vegetation, every vacant lot with machinery left there long enough to rust.

I often stare out the window of the bus at those places and imagine someone there is alone, afraid, and dying. It’s a morbid thought. I have a lot of those. I try to put myself in the position of the made-up person having a made-up death. I fail at that, which is surprising in a way. One would think that if I could empathize with anyone, it would be with a figment of my imagination. After all, I’m the one who wrote the owner’s manual.

Yet in my heart of hearts, I know that death is a trip we all take solo. It doesn’t matter if you are real or make-believe.  It doesn’t even matter if you die en masse. There can be some show of solidarity when you are a member of a group for whom the end is nigh, the band playing on the deck of the sinking Titanic and mutual handies aboard the hijacked aircraft on 9/11 to name just two. However, these are making the most of the last few moments of life. The escape pods are still single occupancy.

I could be wrong of course. Not being dead yet, my knowledge of human mortality is somewhat limited. There are people I’ve known over the years who have since died. You live long enough,  there is going to be some attrition. There have been cancer deaths, overdoses, and at least two suicides. No murders unless you count one aunt I never met in person. I think about them from time to time, but always in the past tense. I may not like that they’re gone, but I accept it.

With the exception of my father, they all died somewhere else and I heard about it later. I was in the room with my brother, his wife, my then wife, and Dad’s partner at the time of  his death. We all gathered around him trying to be as comforting as we could. He started breathing heavily then fell silent. We looked around at each other wondering if this was it. It wasn’t. Dad started gasping anew, heavier and faster than before. The next time he stopped, he was dead.

I’d like to think the old man was trying to fuck with us on the way out. That would be the Jennings thing to do. Sadly, this was unlikely. He had been in process of shutting down for almost a week. By the time I arrived the day before he died, he didn’t seem aware of his surroundings. He lay on the bed and his head shook back and forth. Maybe he was saying no to dying or maybe he objected to still being alive. Perhaps it was neither and just a reflex.

All I know was that on the one occasion when his eyes opened and he looked at me, there was no recognition, just displeasure. He quickly closed his eyes and turned away. It was as if the man I knew as my father had decided to leave ahead of schedule and brought in a temp to take his place. The end game of cancer is no fun. I can’t say I blame him.

Both Dad and his beleaguered stand-in exited the world alone. One day I’ll do the same, just like you and everyone else.

Quality Time with Acoustic Kitty

My cat woke me up the other night. I’m not sure what time it was, probably around 3 am. I don’t think she has any concept of time at that level of granularity. She knows day from night and that is about it. Even if she could tell time, she wouldn’t care. She is a cat. Her schedule is set by the needs and wants of the moment. My schedule is unimportant.

I’m usually awake for at least a little while during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t even consider it insomnia unless it takes me more than two hours to fall back asleep. I try to dedicate a little of that time to giving the cat scritches. On this night, I was quite literally sleeping on the job  as far as she was concerned so she kept batting my face with her paw until I came to.

I’m sure she likes me best at this hour. I’m not the mean dickhead who drags her off to the bathroom to give her medicine. I’m just a harmless space heater made from human meat who, through sheer repetition, has mastered the art of scratching her behind the ear or under the chin.

She will be 16 this summer and has been my cat for all of that time except for the first half year or so as a feral kitten in the backyard. When I adopted her (perhaps it was the other way around) at the end of 2001, I dubbed her Acoustic Kitty. I got the name from a recently declassified CIA experiment where they sewed a transmitter into a cat and sent it to spy on the Soviets in their embassy. The cat got run over by a taxi before she completed her first mission. I liked the story because it was gruesome and felt fine giving the cat that name because I knew she didn’t give a shit. Day to day, I just call her “Kitty,”but her full name is on file at Mission Pet Hospital where I’m sure they’ve seen a lot worse.

Kitty won’t be around for too many more years so I appreciate her while she’s still here. Sure she’s moody, self-involved, and criminally insane, but if those qualities bothered me I wouldn’t own a cat.

I idly petted her, listened to her purr, and let my mind wander in a pleasant direction. Too often I’m looking forward with worry and back with regret. It’s nice to let the brain head off sideways toward some topic of zero real importance. On this occasion, it was a celebrity impersonator from Vietnam whom I just made up.

There is an attitude among many Americans that our pop culture is the envy of the world and this person taking shape inside my head played into that notion. It couldn’t have been an American who impersonates a Vietnamese entertainer, mostly because I don’t know of any and was too lazy at this late hour to research them online. So instead of coming up with something refreshingly different, I stick to the trope of the star-struck foreigner whose object of emulation is where else but in the good ol’ US of A. To make this Vietnamese fellow extra quaint and adorable, he chooses an old-school Vegas performer and gives himself the stage name Hue Newton.

I didn’t share this play on words with Kitty. She wouldn’t care. She was happy with her cat thoughts, whatever they are, while resting her head on my outstretched hand and purring away.

My mind turned back to Hue Newton and the hostility he received on social media from both the left and right. It was a terrible misunderstanding that could have been avoided if more people knew that “Hue” is pronounced like “way.” Or perhaps it’s more like how Stewie Griffin pronounces “whey.” I’m not sure on that. The important thing was that it was not pronounced “Huey.”

Hue’s critics knew nothing about him or his act, but decided to go damn the facts and full speed ahead anyway. Conservatives thought he was glorifying Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, which they considered to be a terrorist organization. Progressives held Newton and the Black Panthers in much higher regard and assumed that whatever Hue was doing had to be some mix of crass commercialism and cultural appropriation. Hue repeatedly tried and failed to convince them that he was not Huey. After all, why would he take the name of the type of helicopter that killed his grandfather in 1968?

This was all riveting stuff, I told myself. It laid out American exceptionalism as a given while simultaneously elevating it above the stink of politics. I was proud of myself, proud of how unabashedly full of shit I was.

I wanted to share this moment with the cat as much as was possible, which pretty much meant giving her scritches while I basked in my smugness. Alas, she was gone. She had bailed while I was off in Daveland and was probably in the kitchen having a late-night meal.

I knew she’d be back before long. I was still her meaty space heater and a real pushover whenever she wanted attention. When she returned, it would be a beautiful thing just like when Hue and Wayne would finally meet in Las Vegas. There the impersonator and the real-life Sin City legend would look each other in the eye and say the two perfect words that were in a language foreign to them both:

Danke schoen.

Three on a Match: Third Light

For the Record

“Starting with the affirmation of man, I work my way backwards using cynicism.” -Minutemen

I am the Emperor of the Squawks. We are a proud race. Our talons are sharp, our minds sharper, and our tooth-lined beaks are well suited to feast upon both the plants that sprout from the land and the animals that walk upon it.

I am known to my subjects as the greatest ruler the empire has ever known. This isn’t just their opinion. It is the law. Ours is a civilization that emphasizes progress. Science and culture are expected to improve over time. So are the emperors. I am greater than my father, who was greater than his father before him. I have a lot to live up to. Fortunately, my greatness has already been established by decree so whatever I decide to do is great by definition. An emperor shouldn’t have to second guess himself.

This is not to say I’m perfect. If I were, I would have led the Squawks to victory over the entire world and that is clearly not the case. I am not speaking of military rivals. All of them have been wiped out centuries ago. I am referring to scientific breakthroughs not yet discovered, a workforce that sometimes falls short of peak efficiency, and monuments to imperial glory that remain unbuilt.

And the vermin. We mustn’t forget about them even though life would be far more enjoyable if we could.

They live in the walls, under the floorboards, and in the shadows. They are easy enough to kill individually or even hundreds at a time. This has become a hobby of mine. Swinging an ancient war hammer of my ancestors, I have left countless wet smears around the palace from vermin who were unable to scurry for cover. Alas, they breed too fast for me to put so much as a dent in their numbers.

This is tragic for they are singularly disgusting creatures, not at all like the noble Squawks. They have neither scales nor feathers. Instead they are covered in hairs, like on a caterpillar, but thicker. Their young are born tiny and weak, but rather than stomping them to death as any self-respecting Squawk parent would when faced with such pathetic offspring, the vermin mothers feed them with a vile, white liquid they secrete from their own bodies.

I made myself a promise that I would be the emperor who bought about their extinction. Brute force alone had proven ineffective so I called upon our top biologists to come up with a solution to the vermin menace.  The scientists had found cures for many of the diseases they carry, but have failed to come up with a way to exterminate the vermin themselves.

I am a ruler, not a scientist, but I have done everything in my power to help. I have levied additional taxes to fund more research. I had underperforming biologists executed as a reminder to the others that I expected results.

I even enlisted the help of non-biologists in this quest. When a team of astronomers came to the palace with news of a comet on collision course with our planet, I asked them if it would kill off the vermin. Their answer was that it would kill quite a few. I told them I was not impressed. I had personally killed quite a few vermin myself without the help of any comet and I gently but firmly reminded them that killing quite a few makes no difference in the long run.

I rephrased my queston and asked the astronomers if the comet would kill all of the vermin. They said it certainly would in the area of impact. I told them that was a good start, but what about the rest of the world. They said they weren’t sure. I told them they needed to be sure and not to bother me until they were.

They all left the throne room except for one young Squawk astronomer. He was a proud specimen, his prominent beak defiantly thrust forward, the claws on his feet scratching at the marble floor. He knew how dangerous it was to disobey a direct order from the emperor and yet here he was standing before me. I admired him for that.

“Emperor, perhaps you do not realize how destructive this comet is going to be,” he said.

“Of course I do. If it is going kill off the vermin, I would expect there to be some collateral damage. Wouldn’t you?”

“It’s going to be a lot worse than that. It could wipe out our entire civilization.”

“And you would prefer to go on living in a world infested with vermin?”

“I’d try to make do.”

“Yes, I imagine you would.”

And with that, I summoned the guards and had him put to death.

He was such a disappointment. I was so hoping he was going to propose a bold plan that would ensure both the survival of the Squawk Empire and annihilation of the vermin. I did not believe any such plan could possibly work, but even the most laughable idea would have been preferable to his display of cowardice. Fear leads to treason. I did well to nip it in the bud.

I spent most of my time going over reports submitted by the two teams of scientists. The astronomers said the comet was definitely going to hit us, the location of impact was going to be a peninsula far to the south, and it would be an extinction event (at least for us Squawks). There was some good news, they assured me. Although the comet’s collision was certain, it was by no means imminent. We had decades to devise and execute a plan.

A plan to do what? I asked them. Kick the vermin the comet only stunned, but did not kill outright? And weren’t we supposed to be killed as well? Their answer was that most of the deaths would not be caused by the impact itself, but rather by a state of permanent winter brought on by all the dust cast up into the atmosphere. They said there was still time to construct shelters and stockpile food so at least some of us could survive.

Fine, I said. You can build your shelters if you can guarantee that no vermin will get inside. If they do, those shelters will be your torture and execution chambers.

They did  not build the shelters.

News from the biologists was no more encouraging. Poisons would kill vermin within certain radius but not outside of it. Infecting them with diseases would either kill them too quickly for a plague to spread or turn them into immune vectors that spread the illness to Squawks.

The researchers were convinced that there had to be some hidden weakness in the vermin’s genetic makeup. This was not a new idea. It was nearly as old as the Squawks’ hatred of vermin. There were literally centuries’ worth of tissue samples preserved from experiments that went nowhere. The biologists thought their predecessors may have missed something so they set about reexamining the samples in the hope of finding some crucial detail that had gone undetected.

It was this course of action that brought the worst news of all. A comparison between the vermin used in the earliest experiments and those alive today showed differences in their brains. Current vermin’s brains were larger and the cerebral cortexes more convoluted. The difference was barely perceptible, but it was there. The vermin were slowly getting smarter.

I had suspected this for some time. While others were quick to dismiss the vermin’s natural cunning as mere instinct, I knew there was more to it. This was part of what made them so hard to exterminate. It was also why we needed to kill them all while we still had the upper hand.

I asked the top biologists to make an estimate of how long it would take before the vermin became our intellectual equals. They said that evolution works very slowly and estimated it wouldn’t happen for another 65 million years, give or take.

This would be reassuring except that we did not have 65 million years to wipe put the vermin. We had less than 30 years before the comet hit. There was a good chance that we would be wiped out and they would not. Our world, everything we had worked and fought for, would someday be theirs for the taking. I decided right then that I would not allow this to happen and issued the following proclamation:

THEY SHALL NOT HAVE OUR CITIES. THEY SHALL NOT HAVE OURSELVES.

We Squawks can be pretty cunning too, you see. To force the vermin to build their world from nothing as we had, we had to eliminate any trace of our existence. Not only that, we had to hamper their advancement through a misinformation campaign the likes of which the world has never known. In short, the vermin would inherit a past that never was.

One phase of the operation was the dismantling of every building and every machine we had ever made. Even my palace, the most glorious structure all the Squawk Empire, was reduced to dust that was cast to the four winds.

Many of the Squawks themselves, either by volunteering or through conscription,  had their physical bodies become part of the grand deception. Our medical technology in the field of tissue regeneration had found a new purpose.

Through megadosing, Squawks were transformed into huge, grotesque creatures bearing little resemblance to their former selves. Some had theirs necks extend to be as long as their tails. Others had plates of bony armor form on their heads or sprout from their vertebrae. I think my personal favorites were the ones whose heads expanded while their arms withered into tiny, useless appendages. Seeing one of these poor creatures writhing in agony, I was unable to tell whether it was the pain of metamorphosis or the sound of our laughter that tormented it more.

Mercifully, none of these poor souls lived for long in their current form. Their bodies were buried in locations worldwide at varying depths. This was carried out  under the direction of one of our most brilliant scientists, who had engineered every detail to create a plausible geological narrative.

We completed the project not long before the comet arrived. Those of us remaining, the last evidence that the Squawk Empire had ever existed, traveled to the peninsula that would be the point of impact. There we stared up at the night sky and watched the approaching object, once cold and dark, burn hot and bright as the midday sun.

Three on a Match: Second Light

Flash Photography 

“They realized that their god was dead so they reclaimed power through the bomb instead.” -Crass

What I remember most about the early 1980s was that Ronald Reagan was president, everything sucked, and we were all going to die. Death for most of us was to come suddenly in the form of thermonuclear war. The Cold War was still very much a thing and both the USA and the Soviet Union had more than enough nukes to decimate the population of each other in addition to those in any other country unlucky enough to be on the same planet.

Hoo boy, I thought. I can hardly wait.

I, of course, was exhibiting a grasp of reality one sometimes  finds in middle-class college kids who have never faced a serious crisis of any kind. It’s an old story. I was a bored frat boy who didn’t feel like he entirely fit in where he was, but didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere else either. Furthermore, I was in denial about a social awkwardness that has stayed with me all these years so rather than face the discomfort of being a wallflower, I took refuge in binge drinking and stupidity.

Through all this, I remained convinced that a glorious future awaited me in some form or another because of all the people who told me about how gifted I was and how much potential I had. Unfortunately, I had a sneaking suspicion the world didn’t see it that way. Therefore it had to go.

Perhaps a post-apocalyptic wasteland would really give me a chance to shine. In The Road Warrior, I identified most with the Gyro Captain, both for his tactical cowardice and his his discolored teeth, and he did all right. I figured I’d do just as well if I managed to live that long.

Unfortunately, I lived in San Diego, which is about as military as an American city can be. If the USSR started lobbing missiles at us, a lot of them would be coming right at me. I had little chance of surviving even the first hour of the war. Most of my friends had little affinity for life in the wasteland and they would say things like “Dude, I’m glad we’re living at ground zero. If the Russkies ever bomb us, I’m just gonna crack a beer and watch the fireworks.”

There was no arguing with people like that.

I realized the only way I could survive World War III was if I was out of town when it started. A fraternity road trip to the desert would be perfect, but an evening’s run south of the border might possibly work as well. Tijuana was a little close to downtown San Diego, outside the core blast radius but within range of shock waves and radiation. Ensenada would be a wiser choice. Since it was on the coast and prevailing winds eastward not southward, it would be spared much of the fallout. Ensenada also had a nightclub where you could watch a stripper have simulated sex with then stab a stuffed ape, which showed the town had a head start on the post-apocalyptic mindset. I pondered these points and decided that while I was still overall in favor of thermonuclear war, whoever was in charge of it would have to make it work with my schedule.

World War III finally arrived on its own timeline and terms. It came on November 20, 1983 in the form of a made-for-TV movie called The Day After. Its death toll was high but limited to the confines of our television sets. Granted, this was before the days of flat screens so TVs took up a lot more space back then.

The producers at ABC predictably treated the subject matter very seriously so the end result was both depressing and lame. There were no leather-clad S&M bikers with mohawks like in The Road Warrior. Instead, they gave us Jason Robards stumbling around with even more scabs on his head than a non-celebrity his age while the rest of the cast kept boo hoo hooing about their world gone to hell.

The movie did do an impressive job depicting the nuke explosion. There was the obligatory stock footage of actual bomb tests. Those are fun to watch, but I had seen them countless times before. What I really liked were the people caught in the blast who got turned into skeletons an instant before being vaporized. Two of the victims were a mother and her baby, which I thought was a nice touch.

This reminded me of something I had heard about Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb exploded there, the shapes of people were left on walls they were standing in front of when they were incinerated. It was like flash photography, but with a photographer named Enola Gay.

I had never seen any pictures of that phenomenon so I imagined buildings left standing in downtown Hiroshima were decorated with silhouettes of people in interesting poses. Think of Keith Haring murals done in ash. When I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum many years later, I saw an actual section of wall imprinted with what used to be a human being. I expected better resolution. The shape was vaguely humanlike, but I couldn’t make out any individual limbs. If people were caught in an A-bomb blast while using their bodies to spell out Y-M-C-A like the Village People,  they would leave four disappointing amorphous blobs.

People turn stupid when confronted with the extreme. The unbelievable is never unbelievable enough so we need to embellish the facts. For example, people have died in horrific accidents at Disneyland yet I’m pretty sure my childhood friend was lying when he told me about the guy who got decapitated when stood up on the Matterhorn and that his headless body sprayed blood as it did cartwheels in the air before landing in the submarine ride. I believed him at the time because I wanted to. Movies about the Vietnam War seemed bent on outdoing their predecessors in portraying how messed up it was over there. If those films kept getting made unabated, today they’d consisted of two solid hours of US soldiers fucking severed baby heads in the eye socket. I’d probably pay good money to see every one of those movies so it’s really no surprise I expected A-bomb flash photography to show as much detail as my senior yearbook picture.

There was more on my mind than just photographic quality however. After watching The Day After, I started thinking a lot about all the different things people might be doing when death came at them in a blinding flash of light. Most of my thoughts were about guys sticking their dicks into food, pets, or siblings because I knew my sense of humor and I enjoyed amusing myself. I realized that the number of people engaged in these compromising behaviors at any given moment is not great, but it is also not zero.

So here’s my question for you: Would you really like your final moment of existence on this planet to be balls deep in your cat? Or more to the point, how would like an image of you doing this to be blasted onto your bedroom wall so the living can point and laugh? You might shrug and then remind me that I’ve already stated that the image is going to be too low-res to be able to make out anything. No, I said the image I saw in Hiroshima was low-res. Nukes have gotten a lot more powerful since then, tests have all been conducted underground since the early 1960s, and the government is staying mum on this topic.

 Still not convinced? Fine. I’m willing to concede that there is probably no big conspiracy here. There doesn’t have to be. What I’ve spent about 1300 words getting around to is the idea that not only can we die at any moment, we have the notion pounded into our heads that we should be ready for it. And by ready, I mean not doing anything that might make us look bad. Always wear clean underwear. Don’t have anything in your browser history that will make your mother cry. North Korea might nuke you at any moment so keep your nose clean.

Judgment Day has become God-optional. I didn’t fully realize that in 1983 because I was only 21 and still half convinced that death was something that came knocking for everyone else but me. Now that I’m older, I see it as an unwelcome eventuality. What I don’t accept, and I hope I never do, is that I need maintain dignity for the sake of posterity.

We humans are an insane species because we know that we are going to die and we are driven even crazier because we do not know when. The simple solution is of course to not worry about the when and to just savor the not yet. Not many people can manage that. I know I can’t. I have to do the next best thing and hope my exit leaves as disgusting an imprint as possible. Whether I go by heart attack, plane crash, or atom bomb, I’ll leave some kind of stain and I want it to be one of my choosing, not some testament to social norms. I know that’s a tall order. Death can come literally in a flash, but if at all possible I’d like a moment’s warning. I don’t need much time, just enough to strike a pose, or to put it in 80s terms, to Vogue.

Three on a Match: First Light

Throwaway Places 

“I wrenched the nylon curtains back as far as they would go and peered through perspex window panes at the acrylic road.” -X-Ray Spex

Facebook never forgets. It keeps track of all my activity on the site. Over the years, that adds up to a lot. It won’t dump all the data upon request for me to download and I can’t search using criteria of my choosing, but through their filters I can find stuff going back years. For example, I can tell you that on August 22, 2010 at 7:05 am, I used my phone to check into the “Stump ‘n’ Hump Amputee Brothel.”

For the credulous among you, let me say that this place does not exist nor has it ever existed. It might exist somewhere, but certainly not at my home address where I was lying on my bed feeling bored and curious whether you can invent a place with a preposterous name, check in there, and have it appear as a valid location for everyone else to see.

It turns out you can do that, a point I’ve proven many times over.

The amputee brothel is the only fake location I’ve checked into from home. I have also never done it at anyone else’s home. That is a rule I adhere to. In my youth, I lacked this kind of restraint and used to gleefully piss in the sinks of friend and foe alike. I guess I’m all grown up now. Go me.

And oh yeah, I should mention I have avoided this activity at my places of employment because the corporate world is not known for its sense of humor. I’m unlikely to get caught doing it, but I don’t see the point in pressing my luck when there is rent to pay.

With people’s residences and my workplaces off limits, the locations for my check-ins have been more less random points on a map. Whenever what I thought was a witty place name popped into my head, I would whip out my phone and give birth to it.

For the most part, I stayed local. “Loan Gunman Collection Agency,” “If You Encyst Dermatology Clinic,” and “Joaquin Wounded’s Army Surplus Superstore” are in Oakland, while “Murder Most Fowl Poultry Plant,” “Fragrant Vagrant Homeless Shelter,” and “Mike O’Dolences- ‘The Funeral Guy!'” are in San Francisco. Well, as much as any of them can be said to be anywhere, that is.

It is probably no surprise that I am a big fan of “Bob’s Burgers” though my intention was not an homage to the buildings adjacent to the eponymous eatery. That isn’t a bad goal. It just wasn’t mine. For one thing, I started my fake check-ins before I started watching the show so my influences came a little from “The Simpsons” though far more from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which once had a wanted poster for an outlaw named “Joaquin Behindu.” I was not doing an homage to those shows either. Homages aren’t my thing. I am too selfish, too much of an ingrate.

My reasons were far baser. I wanted to fuck shit up and feel good about it. Fucking shit up is relative though. I lack the temperament to get off on doing anything truly malicious. Physical violence has never been my thing and my youthful fling with vandalism was neither satisfying nor lasting. I do however enjoy messing with people’s sensibilities and being a general pain in the ass. I also fancy myself to be a very clever boy.

If I were of an activist bent, I might describe what I do as culture jamming. It certainly has all the trappings of being such. I’m hijacking a communications medium and subverting commercial interests with my campaign of misinformation.  Heck, I might even call myself as a one-man digital version of the Billboard Liberation Front if I were OK with lying to myself as well as everyone else.

The truth is that it was pure mischief at first, but after a while it started becoming something more. If you either know me personally or have read this blog before, you’ll have learned that I reach most of my epiphanies after I’ve crawled up my own ass. This was no exception.

One day while indulging my smugness over my puerile hijinks, I thought about the places I’d invented and I started to connect the dots. I imagined I created a parallel world, one that existed on the material plane of puns, crudity, and cruelty. I liked this world I made though I wouldn’t want to live there any more than God almighty would want to rub elbows with a bunch of smelly mortals.

However, I am not God. I don’t believe God is God either, but that is another topic for another day. If you buy into the God thing, you may find him or her to be benevolent, vengeful, a mixture of the two, or none of the above. What you’re not going to call God is a slacker. Take a look at the world. It’s a total clusterfuck, but you have to admit there is a whole lot of it. Even with omnipotence, a ton of work went into making this mess. To achieve the same end on a human scale, I would have possess a godlike sense of purpose proportional to human form. I would have to be Henry Darger.

Darger was a janitor by trade, but is remembered as an outsider artist and writer. Having no friends to speak of, he spent every waking hour outside of work creating his world, one that featured naked little girls with penises fighting against the big, bad atheists. This is not a world I either envision or desire, but it was his and he devoted himself to it tirelessly. By the time he died, he left a staggering body of work including a 15,000 word novel filled with hundreds of his illustrations.

I admire but don’t envy Henry Darger. I think I would get very lonely living my life as he did. Perhaps he got lonely too, or maybe he was genuinely happiest alone with his work. I’d prefer the latter were true. By all accounts, he never caused another soul any harm so it would be nice if he had a satisfying life on his own terms.

I can only guess as to what drove him onward. He had some pretty horrendous things happen to him when he was a kid and the news of a child’s murder affected him deeply, but these factors can only explain some of the nature of his work. They provide no insight as to why he bothered in the first place. It certainly wasn’t for fame. He never made any effort for his work to see the light of day. However, he didn’t throw it in the furnace when he was done with it either. He wanted it to live on, perhaps so a piece of him could live on as well.

There is a Dave version of that I can relate to.  My own demise is likely decades away, but I would like to have some lasting effect on the world after I am gone. It doesn’t have to last forever, just long enough to cheat death a little bit.

A little bit is the best I can hope for. I am at my core both a dilettante and an instant-gratification junkie. Expectations of the scope and depth of my efforts need to be adjusted accordingly. In so doing, any comparisons between myself and the late Henry Darger become patently absurd.

My fake check-ins, these throwaway places, are thought up and executed with the same level of concentration as breaking wind. When it comes to effort, they don’t even rate compared to my other modest creative endeavors. I have five first drafts of novels gathering dust on a hard drive and of course there is this blog, an on-again, off-again labor of fickle love that has managed to amass over 200 entries in its almost 11 years of existence. Both the novel drafts and blog are undeniably more substantial yet neither have the reach or staying power of what I do on a lark while walking down the street. The places I’ve created are visible to everyone in the area on Facebook, and in San Francisco terms, that means everyone because I’m pretty sure the entire city has joined the site. And since there is no QA to weed out shenanigans like mine, none of my made-up places have been deleted nor do I expect they ever will be.

It looks like my best shot at a sliver of immortality will come in the form of this smart-ass world created off the cuff by me, a distracted mortal playing God. I’ll just keep adding to it when the mood strikes me and it’ll eventually amount to a legacy I can be proud of. It’ll be an anonymous sort of fame, but I’m fine with that. In my own little way, I’ll take my place with the DB Coopers and Kilroys of posterity. I could do much worse.

Some might argue that thinking there is artistic value to my fabrications or that they constitute a world in any cohesive sense is utter nonsense. They might say that the average person who stumbles upon my contributions to the landscape is more likely to be irritated than anything and that even those who are mildly amused probably aren’t going to attempt to retrace my steps and piece together the mosaic from my digital breadcrumbs. They might further go on to say that I need to get over myself and stop tagging the Facebook map like it’s a Muni bus.

These are valid objections and I would take them to heart, but I am too busy being  up my own ass and having an epiphany.

Retirement Plan

I do not know what year it is. I stopped keeping track of that sometime prior to 2020, back when the hair on my head was not all gray and the face in the mirror did not wear its skin two sizes too big. I’m sure the year appears on bills, financial statements, calendars, and at the top of news stories. Fortunately, I don’t have to look at any of those things.

Life has been kind to me. Some might credit my success to luck or privilege, others to talent and hard work. I prefer the latter because it makes people feel slightly less entitled to my money. I like having money and I like to think I spend it well. Life certainly wouldn’t be the same without it.

It’s a lovely morning to sit outside. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and the sky is overcast so I don’t have to squint or put on sunglasses to look out upon our backyard . Rebecca is sitting next to me and put on her sunglasses the moment we left the house. I think she’s just wearing them so I won’t notice if she falls asleep when I’m talking to her. I find that adorable. She of all people should know by now that when I talk, I don’t always need someone to be listening.

We are each sipping a Pimm’s cup. It is the preferred morning drink for both of us, just one of the many things we enjoy together. I’m on my third and I believe Rebecca is as well. It’ll be nice to be equally blotto when lunchtime rolls around.

Guillaume is in charge of pouring our drinks. In fact, he’s in charge of pretty much everything in the household as well as managing our finances. I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. I also love his name because it the last name of the actor who played Benson, the greatest butler in television history. After adeptly handling the affairs of the dysfunctional Campbells  (or was it the Tates?), Benson went on to run the Governor’s mansion, often at odds with Odo from “Deep Space Nine.”

Our Guillaume is following in this fine tradition. He doesn’t look much like Benson (or Odo for that matter), mostly due to his lower jaw being blown off in a civil war that was going on in whatever country he’s from. I believe it’s somewhere in either eastern Europe or western Asia, one of those geographic gray areas where even the people living there aren’t sure what continent they’re on.

Come to think of it, I am not entirely certain his name really is Guillaume, which is far more common a name in France, half of Belgium, and Quebec than in his bullet-ridden homeland. He did answer “Guillaume” when I asked him what his name was, but his massive-trauma overbite has left him with a substantial speech impediment so everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like “Guillaume.”

No matter, it is almost time for the infanticide air show. I can hardly wait. We adopt babies two at a time and have Guillaume handle all the paperwork. Thanks to draconian anti-abortion laws and human fecundity continuing unabated, babies are practically given away no questions asked if your credit is good. And thanks to Guillaume’s bookkeeping skills, ours remains stellar. He may not be able to enunciate well, but he is a champ at everything else.

The catapults have been calibrated and the babies have loaded into them. OK, maybe the launchers are more like trebuchets, but that lacks the alliterative allure of “calibrated catapults.” I am but a simple old man and should be allowed allowed a few simple pleasures.

Rebecca is not entirely on board.

“Have you considered finding a new hobby?” she asks with her sunglasses pulled down on her nose to give me a better view of her raised eyebrow.

“If you were around in the 70s, you’d understand,” I say.

“Yes, you’ve told me all about the skeet game at the pizza parlor in Oxnard. Projected on a big screen, bonus points for hitting two with a single shot. I love you and appreciate your nostalgia, but babies are just gross.”

At this moment, the two infants are sent skyward from their respective launchers. The calibrations prove perfect as the projectiles collide at 50 feet in the air before plummeting to the ground where they are feasted upon by Myra and Ian, our two pugs.

“That’s 100 points in 70s video skeet,” I say with pride.

“That’s all?” Rebecca says.

“Those are clay-pigeon points. I’m sure baby points are higher.”

“You do realize that skeet isn’t skeet without shooting.”

“Yeah, but I’m a lousy shot. Besides, look at the pugs. See how much fun they’re having?”

It was true. Even at a distance, I could hear their playful grunts and belabored breathing as they tore loose and devoured mouthfuls of dead-infant flesh.

“Aww, I love seeing them having such a good time. OK, you can keep killing babies,” she says.

I am about to say “Well actually, it’s gravity that kills them,” but I hold my tongue because she is being such a good sport. I really do love her and should never take how she indulges me for granted. I decide it’s time to talk about what interests her, like her recent volunteer work.

“So how are things at the homeless hospital?” I ask.

“Couldn’t be better, thanks for asking.”

“And how is the divine Ms. Mittens?”

“Her star continues to rise.”

Mittens is the hospital cat. She was feral until she wandered into the emergency room after a paramedic pushing a dying wino on a stretcher. Now she has full run of the place and her litter box in one of the operating rooms. In hospitals for regular people, this would not be allowed because of sterile-environment nazis calling the shots, but things are far more lax with nonpaying indigents filling the beds. Besides, the patients who are not at a high risk of infection just love having her around.

If Mittens’ star is is on the rise, the same must be said for Rebecca. I’m so proud of her. She turned her community service for a road-rage case into something really special. She could have kept to her task of waving hand puppets at patients having second thoughts about their cash-for-organs deal to distract them until the anesthesia kicked in, but then she would have never started her webseries project.

It’s called “Doctor Kitten MD” and if you haven’t already guessed, Mittens plays the title role. Rebecca says she wants to have at least half a dozen episodes completed before she starts releasing them for public consumption. The first two she’s done are both quite good. In “Scritches and Stitches,” Doctor Kitten is standing on the chest of some guy who just came out of surgery and starts pulling out his sutures in reaction to Rebecca reaching out and scratching him behind the ear. And in “Stay Gold, Ponybum,” the cat pees on the face of a patient who is in a coma.

“Is there a new DKMD I should know about?” I ask Rebecca.

“As a matter of fact, there is. Would you like to see it?”

“You know I would!” I say and get up to go sit on her lap as she pulls her tablet out of her bag. She hits play and the episode begins.

The credits scroll up the screen. “Doctor Kitten MD starring Mittens and co-starring a bunch of people at Homeless Hospital you don’t much care about. Written, produced, and directed by Rebecca Peachschnapps. Episode three: ‘Cat Eye.'”

“I love your showbiz name,” I say.

There is something blurry and shaking in the background as Mittens, aka Doctor Kitten, is playing with a human eye that has been pulled from someone’s head. It’s amusing enough seeing her bat it back and forth between her fore paws, but the real comedy starts when she picks it up in her mouth and tries to eat it.

A key element of Rebecca’s talent is her ability have all of her work be so fresh and new. She can do this because the magic she creates never gets old for her. She has undoubtedly watched this scene countless times, but shows the enthusiasm of a first-time viewer.

“Oh goodness! Oh goodness!” she says as we watch the eye stuck in the cat’s mouth like an apple in a luau pig.

It is then that I notice the optic nerve coming out of the eye and the blurred, shaking form in the background is the head it is attached to. A lesser video maker might have included the screams of agony that were no doubt going on in the room, but Rebecca wisely chooses to have “Pop Goes the Weasel” playing over and over as audio. It comes as no surprise when Mittens ultimately biting down and popping the eyeball like a cherry tomato is perfectly timed with the music.

“This is brilliant” I exclaim. “Have you shown this to Guillaume?”

“The thought never crossed my mind,” she says. “So far, my only viewers have been you and the pugs. And Mittens, but she pretends not to be interested. She’s a real Greta Garbo, that one. Do you Guillaume would like it? He seems too serious for such lighthearted fare.”

“He’s been through a lot. I bet he needs something to help him lighten up a little.”

Both of us are on our feet now, snapping our fingers at Guillaume and beckoning him to come over. When he arrives, Rebecca holds the tablet screen in front of his face and plays. I hear Rebecca say “Oh goodness! Oh goodness!” once again with undiminished enthusiasm. It’s hard to fully guage Guillaume’s reaction because facial expressions aren’t his strong suit, but the widening of his eyes says something.

When the episode is over, Rebecca says, “How did you like it. Isn’t Mittens just the cutest thing?”

“Guillaume,” says Guillaume.

 

Make It Your Canvas

I don’t really understand quantum mechanics and I’m OK with that. It’s enough to know it’s out there messing with our preconceptions about reality. By this, I mean even more than science has done in the past. If you think about how everything is made up of atoms, you realize that solid surfaces aren’t as solid as you think they are. That’s trippy enough, but when you introduce quantum mechanics and start looking at the behavior of subatomic particles, you’ll find them breaking just about every law of conventional physics.

That’s about all I know on the topic. There’s also something about mere observation affecting results because dead cat, which just compounds the weirdness. Being a freak myself, I felt drawn to the subject and attempted to read up on it. I can’t remember the title of the book, but the forward was riveting. It promised a look into a world where my long-held beliefs about reality would be blown out of the water. Neato, thought I, only to be disappointed early on in the first chapter where equations and graphs appeared.

Higher math is not my strong suit, which is strange because the word “engineer” has been part of most of the job titles I’ve had over the last 20 years. I do know that a logarithm has less to do with regularity than the name would suggest and that discrete math is different from discreet math, which involves people multiplying in motels under an assumed name. Oh, and “The Quadratics” was an awesome band name in Welcome to the Dollhouse. I don’t know enough about calculus to even make jokes about it.

Most of my knowledge of physics and quantum mechanics in particular was gained from listening to my friend Kirk talk when we were both whacked out of our minds on blow. Kirk worked at a national lab where a bunch of physicists were researching new ways to blow up the world. He loved the work they were doing and, unlike me, had the math and science skills to grasp what was going on.

Kirk also had periodic infusions of disposable income. He was always being sent off to some conference and was given more cash for expenses than he needed. Since returning the money meant unwanted paperwork, he blew it on drugs instead. And since the money bought more drugs than he wished to do on his own, he was happy to share.

On these occasions, Kirk was unsurprisingly quite talkative and he often talked about physics. He’d wipe his nose, clench his knee with a hand glistening with coke snot, and yammer on for hours. Fortunately for me, he skipped over the geeky, hard stuff and focused on the whiz bang and far out. Tiny subatomic particles, I learned, were doing what wasn’t supposed to be possible like existing in two locations at the same time and arriving at a destination just prior to when they left their starting point. It was wonderful.

Kirk and I are still close friends. The drugs days are long gone and good riddance to them, but lessons learned during those late-night benders have stayed with me. I’d have to say that my two biggest takeaways are that if you look close enough, you’ll realize that your perception of reality is pretty much a crock of shit, and if quarks don’t play by the rules, why should I?

These are both potentially liberating ideas, but it is important to temper them with practical considerations. For example, I’m not about to stand on the railroad tracks and scream “Your outdated Newtonian physics doesn’t scare me!” at an oncoming train. There are safer ways to thumb your nose at superficial reality. I am of course referring to lying.

Lying is wrong, you might say, especially if someone you are trying to impress and/or fear is within earshot. I commend you for your noble concern. However, it is important to remember that you may not actually be lying even if you think you are. If you believe that reality is governed by the laws of physics, know that there is currently no set of rules that apply to both large and small objects, and realize that you are made up of tiny protons and electrons as well as your femur, taint, and other big things, anything you say or do is going to be outside of one rulebook’s jurisdiction. Top physicists are working on a unifying theory, science’s version of Sauron’s one ring to rule them all, but until that’s found you can pretty much lie your ass off with impunity.

It’s how you lie that’s important. Survival lies, the kind where you feign belief in a God or ideology no matter how ridiculous just to save your skin, are necessary though it’s important not to overdo it. Reluctant complicity is fine, but being a true believer is unseemly. Rabid flag wavers, anti-porn crusaders, and staunch Myers-Briggs proponents are just three examples of people who should kill themselves.

So what’s left? There are plenty of lies worth telling. They need to be believable because what good are they if they crumble under a moment’s scrutiny, and they need to be art.

We humans have a lot of potential, but on average we are a pretty insignificant lot. Most of us live and die in these little regimented roles imposed on us by our fellow human beings. Sure, you can react to this injustice by going on a killing spree, but all that does in the end is make people afraid and take solace in the kind of narrow-minded thinking  that pissed you off in the first place. This is where lying as an art form comes in. People gain sustenance from what they perceive to be true. It is their wellspring. Make it your calling to poison that well.

Kellyanne Conway gave us the phrase “alternative facts” and bless her for that. A lot of people don’t like her, but I think that’s just because her boss is such a piece of shit. I personally have a bit of a crush on her because she reminds me of Dee Reynolds from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” America deserves to have its own Sweet Dee. I just wish it were under better circumstances.

Even with Ms. Conway giving the green light, that doesn’t mean you should lie all the time. People are stupid, but they’re not that stupid. After a while, no one will believe you and all your lies will be for nought. Ideally, you want to keep your lies on hold until they are most likely to be accepted as truth.

September 11, 2001 was perfect for this. Events on that day were so horrific and inexplicable that people were able to buy into all kinds of bullshit in the hope of making some sense of it all. “Irony is dead,” said some. “This is why we should invade Iraq,” said others. All of it was nonsense, but we ate it up because we were desperate nitwits.

These are not the kind of lies worth telling unless you are in power and have something to gain from controlling people. The other kind of lies not worth telling about this day are conspiracy theories. This isn’t because they dishonor the fallen or other such sentimental gibberish. No, the reason these lies are no good is that nobody but the unhinged will give them credence. They also embolden true believers as much as the killjoys and right wingers do.

I think the perfect place for the perfect lie on 9/11 had to be on board Flight 93. Think about it. Here you had the chance to upstage what may have been biggest lie of the day, “Let’s roll.” What was really said might very well have been the more utilitarian and less action-movie cheese “Let’s roll it,” but Neil Young and countless other slogan mongers were not to be denied. If I were on that flight and all was lost (which it was), I would have hung back from the heroics, pulled out my phone, and texted:

MILE HIGH CLUB FUCK YEAH!

A puerile move, sure, but maybe that’s what the day needed. A little silver lining might have made people little less gung ho to go off and die in a pointless war. And if it didn’t, so what. My final act would have left an indelible mark upon the world and sparked a lively debate whether it was better to go out dutifully pushing a cart other getting some strange in the lavatory. All because of a lie. My lie. A lie backed up by science if you don’t think about it too hard.