The Rain Outside

I enjoy the rain. It sounds nice falling on the ground and I don’t have to be out in it for an extended amount of time.

My affinity for rain is mostly aesthetic.  I may say “We really need the rain” to someone complaining about the weather, but I only do that because it is easier to sound high-minded than to make a case to the unconvinced that rain is inherently neato.

Also, I don’t look at rain as a personal necessity, eventually sure, but not right away and not here in any event. San Francisco gets its water from Hetch Hetchy out near Yosemite. For me to get a glass of water or flush the toilet, it needs to rain (or snow) there. Further south, people are more dependent on local reservoirs so maybe my saying we need the rain is showing solidarity with those outside my community. Yeah, that sounds right. I’ll go with that.

I suppose I would be less of a fan of the rain if I were homeless. I would be less concerned with its sound than finding a place to bed down where it would not come down on me all night.

I’m guessing here. I rarely talk to the homeless about the rain or much of anything for that matter. I have nothing against homeless people on principle.  It is just that tend to turn toward my being asked for money. I invariably tell them no, which is usually followed by some insult or guilt trip uttered in my direction.

I know I’m not the most charitable person in the world, but I prefer not to be reminded of the fact. This is particularly true if the person reminding me is motivated more by self-interest than concern for the common good.

I don’t blame them for begging of course. Those bottles of Night Train are not going to buy themselves. I still prefer to avoid confrontation so when I walk past a homeless person, I make it a point to not engage in conversation or even acknowledge their presence.

Especially if it’s raining.

Two Bits

The price of a bagel with cream cheese went up 25 cents today, from $2.50 to $2.75. The woman behind the counter gave me the news in terms I could not quite understand.

“Twenty five more,” she said.

I looked over at the clear-plastic container where the bagels are kept. There might have been 25 of them. Surely she wasn’t trying to tempt me into eating 26 bagels. I’m not that much of a fat ass. I thought maybe she was taking pride in having plenty of inventory, but that was also unlikely as she has worked at Muddy’s for many years and I have never known her to be boastful about anything.

I was being pretty stupid, which is par for the course when it’s a pre-coffee 6:30 in the morning. She rephrased what she said no doubt because I was looking befuddled and kept trying to hand her not enough money. She was unnecessarily apologetic about it. Prices go up. That’s what prices do and it had been long time since the last price change, probably over a year.

It had been long enough in fact that I had started thinking about how the $2.50 bagel with cream cheese was living on borrowed time and I looked toward the eventual price change with a measure of dread.

It certainly wasn’t because of the money. I’ve gotten to the point where I sometimes don’t bother picking up a quarter when I drop one on the ground. My concern was the effect this was going to have on my routine.

Let me explain. In a practical sense, the world to me is a complicated, poorly designed machine that serves no discernible purpose. I can’t ignore it. I can’t make sense of it. However, I have learned that doing certain things makes it produce certain results and some of these are to my benefit.

Think of my relationship to the machine as a series of buttons I need to push to get through the day. Some are task buttons like showering and putting on clothes. I push these because I know my day will be better if I’m not smelling bad and under arrest for indecent exposure. There are a bunch of basic-human-decency buttons I push even when I’m not in the mood. Sometimes I want something in return, but not always. There is usually enough motivation just knowing that I am not the only one in the world consigned to button-pushing and there is no harm in mak9\ing their day suck a little less. The only reason I wouldn’t push a button would be out of sone sense of loyalty to the machine itself. Fuck the machine.

So what does all this have to do with the price of a bagel with cream cheese?  It’s because I want the button pushing to be as automatic as possible so I can stay inside my head where it’s safe and awesome. Up until yesterday, it was perfect. I order the same thing every day so I don’t have to say anything, let alone decide what to get. I’d always try have a five and a one handy. The five went into the register and bought me a coffee and bagel. The one went into the tip jar and bought me not being the kind of asshole who doesn’t leave a tip.

Now I have to adjust and use coins. This will probably mean carrying two extra quarters with me. I can’t continue to tip a dollar on $5.25 because that’s less than 20 percent and therefore make me the kind of asshole who doesn’t tip enough. I can bring a larger bill and get change, but I don’t want to do it all the time because I doubt there are enough singles to go around if everyone did the same thing.

It’s much easier for everyone, especially me, to have the dollars and change in hand so I truly earned the right to then retreat into Daveland where I don’t have to care about anything at all.

Privilegemobile 7: The Things Outside the Window

It is a 43-mile bus ride from 26th and Valencia Streets in San Francisco to the stop in front of my building at work. I got the total miles from Google Maps app on my phone. I’ve learned to trust Google Maps.

The total is probably more than that, but I don’t know by how much. I put in the start and end points, but did not take into account the stop at Millbrae BART. The total trip from the freeway exit to the station and back could be a mile. I really don’t know. Including this detour could have given me a more accurate figure. Then again, maybe not. The “43 miles” Google Maps tells me has no decimal point and no inkling whether the integer is rounded or truncated.

I used the app in the afternoon so the total drive time could not be taken as gospel either. The 1:19 it predicts however is pretty close to how long it takes most days. Go figure.

I have ridden the bus to work well over 100 times by now. I spend most of the time drinking my coffee and staring out the window at passing scenery. City-limit signs and prominent buildings have become familiar sights. I sit on the right, away from the morning sun, so everything I see is out that window. I don’t see a landscape, but rather points on a line. Given enough time, I tell myself, I’ll become enough of an expert on that narrow strip of scenery to give a full account of everything that lies along kinda-sorta 43 miles.

That, my friends, is a textbook example of hubris. Even for the most attentive among us, this is an unrealistic goal. Let’s say for argument’s sake that every building, tree, and anything else visible from the bus will register in my brain over the next decade or so. At best, that would make me the kind of authority that comes with major disclaimers. Trees are cut down, buildings are demolished and built, and businesses close and new ones open. What I’ll be left with is a patchwork where the whole will have existed at any one point in time.

And let’s be honest. I don’t pay that much attention. I am more focused than I used to be. Of course, all that means is that I don’t check out mentally all the time, only when the current situation is boring or unpleasant. Or if something fun pops into my head and I decide to run with it.

More often than not, I step off the bus in the morning only vaguely aware of the 43 (or whatever) miles I traveled during my commute. I get to my desk and sit down. Now I am focused. Now I am paying attention. Just don’t ask me where a particular conference room is located because I really haven’t got a clue.

My Ho-Hum Atheism

I don’t believe in God and never seriously have. When I was younger, I preferred to call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. My reasoning was that the existence of God could neither be absolutely proven nor disproven therefore being either an avowed believer or disbeliever would be closed-minded.

I have since changed my mind and am now an atheist. I still concede an unlikely possibility that God exists, but think that this possibility is a moot point.  I try to live my life as a tolerable human being and the prospect of getting into heaven just doesn’t enter into things.

So how is that working out for me? It’s a mixed bag actually. Now if I really wanted to laud atheism as the single best way to lead an exemplary life, it would help if I were more exemplary. Or willing to lie about it. I’m not very good at either and I have no interest in converting anybody. I certainly can’t claim it has made me a better person. I’m not terrible, mind you. I don’t rape or murder, but that can be said of most people and I don’t expect a gold star for that. I’m just this guy. Overall, I would rate myself on a par with how Douglas Adams so succinctly summed up humanity, “mostly harmless.”

I can’t even say that embracing atheism is a liberating experience. Maybe it would be different if I had an oppressive religious upbringing, but I didn’t. All I have to compare atheism to is agnosticism and they are not all that far apart. Whether God is a no or a who knows, the one who gets on my case over my wrongdoing is guy I see in the mirror. Though I lack the Almighty’s neediness and smiting mojo, I do share his knack passing judgment on my sins long after I can do anything to remedy the problem.

My neurotic corruption of Heinlein’s “Thou art God” is about as close as I’ll ever get to having a spiritual side. I don’t fault other if they have one, mind you. One of my personal heroes, Larry Wall, is a devout Christian. He invented the Perl programming language, which has turned into a source of mental exercise and cash for me coming up on 20 years now. I may not envy Mr. Wall’s faith, but it seems to work well for him.

As for me, I’m content to live out my days as a nonbeliever. Atheism may not bring me any personal enlightenment, but it does comfort me knowing that I shall never have to get up early and go to church.

Privilegemobile 6: Hell Is Other People

My morning commute is pretty relaxing. I have usually gotten enough sleep the night before, I have my morning coffee in hand, and there are yet to be any workday aggravations to weigh on me. The bus is also pretty much empty.  I like that most of all. It turns out not many people want to go stand on a street corner before seven a.m. There is really no need since the bus that comes an hour later stops at the building where I work at an acceptable 9:20, give or take.

In the afternoon, there are also two buses that follow the same route. I take the earlier one.  So do a lot of other people. Now I’m not blaming anyone for taking the late bus down and the early one back. If they still get their work done (or even if they don’t), it really is no business of mine.

This does make for a more crowded bus, but not hugely so.  The bus has never gotten so full that people have had to stand. The lack of handrails would probably make it illegal to operate the vehicle at that capacity anyway. It is not even so full that the seat next to me is necessarily going to end up taken. Alas, it’s not necessarily going to remain vacant either.

It is late summer now, which makes it the season for summer interns. Thankfully, they seem to be a nice enough bunch this year. They are certainly better behaved than the high-fiving bro-fest that plagued my afternoon commute last year. My only issue with them is that they push total vehicle occupancy past the brink, the brink being the point where I run the risk of someone sitting next to me.

As situations go, this one is pretty small potatoes and yet it causes more distress than if every seat were taken every day. If this were the case, I would simply resign myself to my fate and spend the bus ride mentally withdrawn into a singularity. If however the outcome is uncertain, then I am faced with a stressful game to play.

The rules of this game are quite simple. The seat next to you remains vacant until someone asks to sit down. If someone does ask, you cannot tell that person no.I have no idea what it it’s like to be a seat seeker since I get on the bus at one of the first stops so I only know what it’s like to play defense.

On the surface, it sounds like a rather boring game of chance and it would be just that you didn’t get to load the dice with body language. It’s all about making someone feel unwelcome. Alas, this form of dissuasion is easy to do and it seems like everybody is in on the act. Late-boarding coworkers looking to sit down walk down the center aisle and  are greeted by averted eyes, diagonal sitters, bags and laptops opened and laid out on the untaken seat, and manspreading so wide it pushes the hamstrings to design limit.

And I am right there with them, spiral notebook atop my backpack on the seat next to me as I lean over and scribble away. I used to object to such inconsiderate displays and even griped about it on Facebook, but my high ideals eventually collapsed and I joined the passive-aggressive horde.

It’s a demeaning game all around, but I only have to play it for three shuttle stops over a ten-minute period.  After that, it’s onto the freeway where if I’m lucky, I might celebrate my good fortune by putting the notebook away.

Privilegemobile 5: My Old Friend Mr. Gray

I am looking forward to short winter days. Job stability permitting, I’ll board the bus with the sky still dark, sit way in the back, and stare out at a world that is allowed a little more time to sleep. The insanities that come with night will have receded and for a few precious hours, the city is a peaceful place.

I don’t have that now, but I can take some comfort in the overcast skies this summer. The  gray sky I see out the bus window carries over to the buildings and any people I happen to see walking down the street at that hour. This makes what I see pleasantly unreal, but there is more to it than that. This gray sky is a pleasant reminder of the city I’ve lived in and grown accustomed to, a city is that growing unrecognizable.

It is also a welcome change of pace. California, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention to anything, has been in a serious drought as of late. San Francisco’s cool summer days and the famous quote falsely attributed to Mark Twain have been sorely missed over the last couple of years. Locally, the drought seems to have abated though further south, the heat of the sun burns like a rash and the dead-grass rolling hills are ready to burst into flame at any moment.

I feel swaddled by the exterior grayness as the bus rolls down Cesar Chavez Blvd. toward the entrance to the 101.  From there, there’s one more stop at the Millbrae BART station and that’s it until we’re in the South Bay. The fog is usually gone by the time we’re halfway down the peninsula. I enjoy it for as long it lasts.

While it does last, I let the grayness of the sky carry my thoughts into the past. There is no honest reflection here, just vague, innocuous memories of how I like to think life was. It has been said that hindsight is 20-20. That is only true until it turns into nostalgia. Then it sees nothing but a nice, soft blur. I am OK with that for now. There will be time enough to agonize. There is always time for that.

First and Fantasy World Problems

I don’t multitask well. I never have really. Perhaps it’s because attaining any level of focus is such an uphill climb for me. Once I have that focus, I make best use of it with no distractions other than perhaps some music to keep the creepy crawlies in my head from going into open revolt.

My boss seems to understand this and as long as I continue to be productive, I’m pretty much left alone. I enjoy being left alone on the job and in the fullness of time, I’ve learned how diligence can earn me that privilege. If I were ever to write a professional-success guide, its overarching theme would be perfecting the art of making people go away for a finite amount of time.

That said, I am also well aware I have job responsibilities that go beyond just writing code. For one thing, I work for a consulting company at a client site so I essentially serve two masters. The client’s needs are straightforward. Produce results. They don’t care a whole lot about my morale, team spirit, or my plan for professional growth. I am not their employee. To them I am a resource, not an investment.

It is a bit different with the consulting company. There are performance self-assessments, quarterly staff meetings at the local HQ, and weekly timesheets so they know how much to bill the client. I don’t particularly like having to do deal with any of these things, but I treat them as necessities and do what needs to be done.

Not letting things slip has been a hard-won victory over my innate flakiness, but well worth the effort for its benefits. Not having any extra stuff hanging over my head means I can concentrate on work when I’m working and on whatever the fuck I feel like when I’m not.

This all works just fine until it doesn’t.

This Monday, I did my usual five-minute ritual of deleting spam comments in this blog (about 400 per day in case you’re wondering) and checking if any software needs updating on the VM where it is hosted. There was a new release of the operating system available and I was given the option of doing an upgrade.

Stupidly, I did the upgrade without creating a system snapshot first as an emergency backup. This would have come in handy as both this blog and another site hosted there got broken. It was annoying, but not the end of the world. I got operational on Monday night. The other site,, is more of a convoluted beast that I’ve set aside some time to deal with this weekend if I’m not too burned out to muster any enthusiasm.

So far, no big deal, just a hiccup for me to deal with on my own schedule.

Tuesday morning, there was an issue with submitting my timesheet. It’s due every Friday, but I like to get it taken care of early in the week. I took the laptop issued by the consulting company to work with me as that’s the only one I can use to access their intranet. I figured there was some technical snafu and I would call the technical help line and get it fixed.

No such luck. I tried three times and each time I heard “Hello? Hello?” followed by him hanging up. My guess is that he turned on mute and forgot to turn it off again. If I worked in tech support, I would probably do the same thing. I gave up and decided to try my luck the next morning.

My luck got worse. The intranet was down when I tried it from home and when I got to work, the guest-accessible Wi-Fi in the building wasn’t working either. I also found out that this was an administrative rather than technical issue. This meant having to talk to people and wait for an answer. I am not very good at either.

That’s what fucked me up. I know it’s a minor thing for most people, but for me it proved to be an unfinishable task that would haunt me through the rest of the week. Don’t get me wrong . I’m no perfectionist. I have no problem embracing Murphy’s Law as long as it does its damage elsewhere, but if a missed timesheet deadline happens enough times, that could impact my annual bonus.

So I fretted. To concentrate on work, I kept having to shove worst-case scenarios to the back of my mind, something I achieved with only partial success. My off time was worse. Instead of engaging in my hobby of thinking up terrible puns to say about a tragic news story I’ve read, my imagination ran riot with thoughts of me taking the blame for whatever the mix-up was even though it wasn’t my fault.

You see, I hate injustice, at least a specific subset of it.

In the end, everything worked out fine thank to the grace of my personal lord and savior: Privilege. Once again spared the avalanche of shit that forever rolls downhill, I am free to look at the world and amuse myself with all the wrong I see in it.

Privilegemobile 4: Ball Tourette Gunner

As usual, the fan was on in the bedroom last night. However, I was not thinking about warp drive or interstellar travel. The metaphor had ceased to hold up even though I was just trying to get to sleep.

It was still a song to relax to, but it held no promise of long-term serenity. Instead, it was respite from some impending event that would require what I am most stingy with: my undivided attention.

So naturally, I imagined the sound came from a B-17 bomber and I was on my way to some target city in Europe.

I thought about this quite a bit on this morning’s bus ride to work while sitting in my usual spot way in the back and feeling the mild bumping and jostling as we rolled south from SF on the 101. I think this is one of the older buses in the fleet and the years of wear plus the odd hopped curb have taken their toll on the shocks. It’s not an unpleasant ride as long as I do nothing but relax and stare out the window. If I try to do anything productive, motion sickness is soon to follow.

With time on my hands, my thoughts turned to the B-17. I’ve been exposed to some fun things about the plane over the years. There’s Randall Jarrell’s unflinching short poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” which I’ve always loved. There was also Jimmy Stewart, who flew a B-17 on something like 20 missions on his hiatus from Hollywood, and the otherwise ho-hum Harrison Ford flick Hanover Street that had a nifty scene where just about everybody in a B-17 Ford was flying got killed.

Strangely, I knew close to nothing about the plane itself until started playing this old game my friend Ralph had, “B-17” or “Flying Fortress” or something like that. It was a board game of sorts where the board was a map of Europe with concentric semicircles expanding outward from England. The semicircles were the borders of zones that the different target cities fell within. Inside of each zone, a roll of the dice determined if you had to fend off German fighters. When you reached your target, fighters were pretty much a given.

The object of the game was to complete 25 missions and not die. I always died.

What I found perversely appealing about this game was that other than requiring a human hand to roll the dice, the game played itself. The missions selected, the outcome of air combat, and the accuracy of the bombing were all decided by what was rolled. There was no being good or bad at this game. There was just lucky and unlucky.

I learned that the B-17 had a 10-man crew and what their jobs were. There was the pilot, the co-pilot, the bombadier, the navigator, the flight engineer, the radio operator, two waist gunners, the tail gunner, and the hapless ball-turret gunner. Because putting any mental effort into winning the game was pointless, my mind was free to think about which crew member I would like to be most.

At first I wanted to be the co-pilot because he doesn’t have to do jack shit unless the pilot dies, but I gave up on that when I realized that I was not officer material. I also decided against being a ball-turret gunner despite there being a neat poem about him. My death wish, while it exists on some level, is mostly played up for effect. Ultimately, I went with the radio operator because I could be the CW McCall of the sky.

I made that decision in 1987 and have never found a reason to go back on it.  I closed my eyes as the bus continued south. The rattling of the bus was air turbulence. No reports of fighters. The skies were clear and the German countryside laid out before us, too pristine and rural to pockmark with craters.

Suddenly, the plane is gone and I’m sitting up in my seat looking around. Four accidents on the southbound 101 in the vicinity of Palo Alto have brought traffic to a near standstill. The Luftwaffe has won this round, at least by proxy.

Back and Forth

I am of the opinion that a dying wish, last will and testament, and the like should be honored unless there is a good reason why it should not be. A request to have one’s cat microwaved after one’s death can and should be rejected, but something ike choosing one’s epitaph should be respected as a basic right. Alas, this is not always the case. Ernest Hemingway’s “Pardon me for not getting up” and Dorothy Parker’s “Excuse my dust” were epitaph requests that were rejected post mortem by people whose sense of humor was as dead as the authors whose posterity they wished to protect.

As of this writing, what I would like on my headstone or urn (preferably the latter) is “What was I thinking?” I believe it fits my life very well and as Rebecca will almost certainly outlive me, I have someone in my corner whom I can trust to defend my wishes against tight-assed naysayers. It also helps that I have no real posterity to protect.

Not that I’ll be needing an epitaph anytime soon. According to an online actuarial calculator (where I answered lifestyle questions honestly unless self-incrimination came into play), I should live to the ripe old age of 86. This is older than I had earlier predicted. Since my paternal grandfather died at 58 and my father at 69, a continuation of the 11-year generational increment meant that I would keel over when I’m 80 years old. Either 86 or 80 is a long way off.

So back to my epitaph. As I said before, it makes sense to me. However, it may not hve the same meaning to someone who takes the words at face value. Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had many moments of cringeworthy stupidity and occasionally still do, but that’s not how the phrase resonates.

Imagine me when I was in college: younger, thinner, and better looking, but also dumber, angrier and crazier. As messed up and often miserable as I was back then, I did still have a vision of a better future. Being so young and clueless, I was wrong about almost all of it. I had figured that by the time I was 30, I’d me a successful writer (natch) and living in a nice suburban home with a wife and possibly children, none of whom would (much like my writing career) require any great effort on my part. From then on, my future would be a blur of martinis, steak, and rave reviews from The New York Times. I also predicted I would still have all my hair. At least I got that part right.

During my mid to late thirties, I actually was married and my prediction of the future was decidedly different. Within five years, my stock options would have made me a millionaire and I would have moved with my then wife to her native Netherlands. After that, it got a little murky. I pictured myself alone much of the time, wandering the streets of Amsterdam in the drizzling rain and ducking into a bar whenever the mood struck me. I wouldn’t have to do much else because I had earned my fuck-you money and therefore had already won at life.  As it turned out, neither the dot-com bubble nor the marriage had the staying power to make this a reality.

Five years did pass though so by not predicting the end of the world, I was by omission partly correct. I found myself in a less than stellar segment of my life. I may write openly about this period at some point, but not today. Suffice it to say that because I am writing now in the flesh rather than from the grave, a common prediction of mine from that era proved to be (pardon the pun) dead wrong.

Life is different now. I am as content as is possible for the likes of me. I’ve been happily  partnered for a couple of years and I am gainfully employed at a job I like well enough. Despite still having some crazy in me, though it doesn’t get star billing like it used to, I’m managing to settle comfortably into middle age.

I think I’ll be able to retire in ten years or so and have a pretty easy go of it while I run out the clock. Unlike my other predictions, I think this one has a reasonable chance of coming true. The only two things that might spoil the deal are my luck and myself.  Alas, experience has shown me that neither can be trusted.


I haven’t seen an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in at least two years. I used to watch the show a lot, some during its initial run, but mostly afterward in syndication.

Watching ST:TNG has been a soothing experience. Other than Wesley Crusher and the Ferengi, the characters were not grating on the nerves and the crises in each episode were usually depicted as to not cause undue stress. The show was therefore perfect for whiling away weekend afternoons when I was sidelined by booze-fueled bad decisions from the night before.

Looking back, TNG’s story lines are a little hard to tell apart from episode to episode.  There was often some problem that threatened the ship. Data would call it anomaly and Geordie would run a full diagnostic that never revealed dick. Details are hazy, but one thing I do remember clearly is the sound of the Enterprise engines in the background, a gentle reminder that whatever issue is both caused and cured by flawed physics is happening aboard a vessel moving at several times the speed of light.

I do not personally sleep aboard a starship, but we have a fan in the bedroom we leave on at night. When I am lying in bed and unable to sleep, I like to pretend I’m aboard a space vessel and that the sound of the fan is from its engine. It’s at a higher pitch than the sound of the Enterprise engine, but at least it’s a noise. Insomnia in dead silence is not fun.

To be honest, lying in bed listening to a faux warp drive is not a lot of fun either, but it’s not meant to be. It’s supposed to be boring, only holding enough of my attention to keep bad things I’ve done in life from appearing on my mental radar and having me agonize over them. So I lie there and enjoy the space voyage for what it is: uneventful, purposeless, and lacking both origin and destination.

Eventually, sleep comes and with it dreams. I am at work. It’s kind of my current job, but kind of not. I am hiding under my desk because I am not wearing any pants. My pants are on top of the desk. If I reach for them, I run the risk of being found out as someone who is pantsless. It could be worse though. The pants could be in the far end of the building, left at home, or I could be in a world where pants exist for everyone but me.

I take the risk and luck out. Once the pants are on, I’m in a pizza place in my hometown of Santa Barbara. There is no pizza to be found, or any food for that matter, but it is undeniably a pizza place on some abstract level. It is on Cliff Drive across the street from a strip club where I spent a birthday alone many years ago. I don’t remember anything from that night, but I don’t have to. It is the kind of strip club that makes you ashamed you ever went there. And what makes this strip club so bad? I’m not sure. All I know is that it’s decorated with a lot of chrome.

Then I realize that there is no strip club across the street, just an ice-skating rink. Since this awful strip club does not exist, I could not have gone there. I feel comparatively better about myself.

I awaken to Rebecca saying “Goddammit!” and feeling a pillow pushed onto my head. I must have been snoring something awful. I roll over and check the time. It is sometime after three. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to sleep again, but it’s worth a try. I concentrate on the sound of the ship’s engine as I continue my interstellar journey to nowhere at all.