Death, Taxes, and Spring

If you’ve ever done the kind of drugs that take you to the ceiling rather than the floor, you know what it’s like to hate the break of day. This sort of activity comes at a price. Never mind the money you handed at barstool level to the guy with no last name sitting next to you. That was just a deposit. The real bill, the one you owe for trying to make the most of your 3 am comes due with the realization that 3 am does not last forever. Morning is here and now you’re fucked.

Perhaps it’s just my own experience, but this unwelcome dawn seldom appears as a vampire-killing, blinding ray of sunshine. Rather, it creeps in as a faint glow in the overcast night sky and slowly gets brighter from there. It’s easy enough to turn away and ignore it for a bit, but that won’t last. The drugs are wearing off and reality you thought you murdered was never really dead.

And when reality does return, it holds a nasty grudge. If you need to function on some level, you’ll need to keep enough of your drugs in reserve to make through work, school, jury duty, or what have you. There won’t be enough to get high, but maybe enough to get by. And if you have the foresight and maturity to save your drug bender for the weekend, you’ll have the luxury of spending the next day in bed, unable to sleep and unable to do much else. This will give you plenty of time to swear off this behavior with a resolve that is white hot in intensity, but never seems to last very long.

Those days are behind me, likely for good, but I’m still the same person deep down. There are times when I crave those little nooks and crannies of existence where the annoying things can’t get in. I just deal with it now without the help of a white-powder life coach.

I still do love the night though not with a goth’s dark romanticism or a nightclubber’s urge to dance and hook up. I just like it when the sun won’t make me squint and when there are fewer people around.

Because of my schedule, the slice of nighttime I claim is the part at the very end. During these winter months, I leave home at around 6:20 am when it’s dark outside. A half hour later when I board the bus to work, it’s still dark.

When the sun does come up, I’m so relaxed and pleasantly distracted it takes me a while to notice it. When I do, it’s no big deal. It feels much the same as sleeping in.

Now the days are getting longer and the sky is beginning to glow by the time I get down to the bus stop. Pretty soon it will be broadcast daylight. Pity that.

Oh well, there is always next winter.

Bedtime Story

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom and within that kingdom lived the Royal Wizard, who was considered the wisest and cleverest man in all the land. All the people loved the Wizard and and the King sent invitations to the Wizard for many parties held in the Wizard’s honor, all of which the Wizard declined.

“Take no offense, dear King,” the Wizard would reply. “But I really cannot step away from my laboratory even for a moment. You see, I am hard at work on a magical potion that will allow all the people in the kingdom and beyond to live and love happily ever after.”

The King took no offense for he knew that this Wizard was not only wise and clever, but good and dedicated as well. If the Wizard said his work was too important to attend a party, then it was too important. There would always be another party on another day.

And so the Wizard continued his work. Day in and day out he labored, taking off only enough time to eat and sleep.

Then one day, all of the Wizard’s hard work finally paid off. The potion sat in a glass bottle on the laboratory table and the formula for making more of it was safely stored inside the Wizard’s wise and clever head.

“This will please the King,” the Wizard said. “As it will please his subjects and people everywhere. I shall take it to him, but tonight I must rest for it is late and I am very tired.”

The next morning, the Wizard grabbed the magical potion and embarked on daylong journey between his laboratory and the King’s palace.

It was a beautiful day outside. The sun was out and it was neither too warm nor too cold. Birds sang in the trees. The Wizard’s heart sang as well.

“How glorious it is to be outside again,” the Wizard said. “Now that my work is done on this potion, I hope to be able to enjoy countless days as wonderful as this one.”

About halfway to the palace, the Wizard encountered a large, shabby peasant named Drooly standing in the middle of the road. Poor Drooly, the Wizard thought, his mother spent all the months she was in the family way drinking at the village tavern. Perhaps his next potion should be one to drain the water between the poor brute’s ears.

“I got a riddle,” Drooly said.

“And I would love to hear it, but right now I must deliver this magic potion to the King. Perhaps we shall meet upon my return,” the Wizard said.

Drooly did not step aside.

“What did the pillow say to the sleepy head?” he said.

“I’m sorry, but I really have no time for this.”

“Get off my case,” Drooly said and waited for the Wizard to laugh at the punchline.  When no laugh was forthcoming, Drooly punched the Wizard hard enough in the face to send him flying off his feet. Drooly then reached into a burlap sack and pulled out a meat tenderizer, which he then wielded like a club.

The Wizard lay on his back. The bottle carrying the potion had shattered and its contents began to evaporate. The Wizard stared up at Drooly and saw the bits of meat, blood, and hair stuck to the business end of the meat tenderizer. The last thought to pass through the Wizard’s mind was the realization that Drooly had told this joke before.

And that, dear reader, is why there is no cure for AIDS.

Like a Shvantz in Cold Water

I have heard that the universe is expanding. A lot of physicists say this and they have the data to back it up. I won’t argue. In the greater scheme of things, which is really the only approach when describing the universe in its entirety, I’m sure they’re right on the money.

But here’s the thing: In the greater scheme of things, I am insignificant to the point of being negligible. I am not part of God’s big plan. It’s OK because neither are you. Neither is anyone else, either individually or collectively. This is true even if you buy into the myth of God existing in the first place.  At best, all life on this planet would merit a footnote for being some carbon in a test tube where weird shit happened. After our atoms have reverted back to lifelessness, no one is going to care about the cities we’ve built, the wars we’ve fought, or how important we believed ourselves. Not when there are galaxies to consider.

Yet we matter to ourselves and, to a lesser extent, each other. I consider myself to be my favorite person and bestow all preferential treatment accordingly. I don’t steal or use force to get what I want, mostly because I don’t need to (and to be honest, I’d be pretty bad at it too). The game I’m running is one I’m allowed to get away with because I’m causing no demonstrable harm and my little corner of the world has plenty of resources to go around. I wish prosperity for others as well. That makes them less likely to turn on me. Adversity doesn’t build character so much as it creates desperation.

So here I am focused on myself while the universe around me continues to expand. From my perspective, I feel like it’s me who is shrinking. To maintain relative size , I need to grow with everything around me. It’s a daunting task given the immensity of it all.

There are two ways to tackle this problem. One is to actually grow. This requires a lot of effort and the results are far from guaranteed. What I find far more satisfying is to treat potential as a foregone conclusion. Start with the Joe Strummer maxim that the future is unwritten, which is true enough, and feed your brain a diet of endless possibilities to keep despair at bay. Sure it’s a mental ponzi scheme and therefore  not sustainable long term, but then again neither am I. Something will kill me that day, but until that day comes I fully intend to keep my spirits aloft with smoke blown up my own ass.

And that’s how I keep from collapsing into a singularity.

Koala Rape Revisited

I’ve been on Facebook since 2007 and given the volume of what I’ve posted over the years, there really is no way to keep track of it all. There is no searchable database accessible to me and manually scrolling down is too tedious to keep going beyond a couple of months or so.

That’s why I like to check out the “On This Day” feature that shows what I was blathering about n number of years ago. Some stuff is good. Some is kind of boring. This one from five years ago is one of the good ones.

It’s a slow day so maybe I’ll be a Johnny Appleseed of fucked-up shit. There are at least a dozen conference rooms on my floor alone, each one equipped with its own PC. What fun it would be to clear the auto-complete and repopulate it with some words and phrases of my choosing. My only regret is that I wouldn’t be physically present to enjoy that moment when someone types the first few letters of “analytics” only to have it expand to “anally rape the koala.”

What makes this interesting, at least to me, is that thoughts of koala rape would be filling my head 21 months later.

In my 2013 NaNoWriMo effort Golden Years, the marsupial mascot of the fictional Rancho Eucalyptus High School is abducted, sexually violated, and killed. Like most of what happened in the novel, this was played for laughs.

In real life, such a brutal and violent end would be a tragedy regardless whether the victim was human or animal. Would I chuckle about it then? Probably, but I would at least realize that my levity was inappropriate.

I wouldn’t feel too bad about it because most of my transgression would be a breach of taste. Most, that is, but not all. It can be argued that trivializing a violent act in essence blames the victim. Yes, a violent act occurred,  but I cope with my fear of it happening to me by reducing it to slapstick. All parties involved become buffoons so by extension none are entirely blameless. The victim ceases to be a victim. Prevailing wisdom says that if you bring something upon yourself, you become a de facto willing party. You are no longer just a victim to be blamed. You have become a slut to be shamed because this prudish society we live in is all about that.

This is not what I want to do. I detest slut shaming. For one thing, I admire sluts. They commit no real crime while they wipe their asses with decorum in pursuit of living life to its fullest. Of course, this description does not apply to victims cast into the role of sluts so my admiration does not apply either. You may object to victim blaming because it is punching down and punching down is wrong. On the other hand, you may have no problem with punching down because victims, being victims, should be used to it by now. I can see merit on both sides.

So if victims can be arguably considered fair game, can slut shaming also be OK? As much as I hate to admit it, the answer is yes. However, this is only true if the slut in question is dead. My reasoning is simple: The noble slut values fulfillment at the expense of reputation so demonstrable harm would be impeding this fulfillment through either word or deed. After death, all that remains is reputation, a disposable commodity.

This point was driven home to me by the dying words of my grandfather. He was lying on his deathbed, as dying grandfathers are wont to do, and he overheard me slut shaming my grandmother. I had recently found a shoebox in the attic full of old nude photos of her. After scanning them and uploading them to the internet, I decided to taunt her for her indiscretion.

“Granny whore! Loved to score. Back when she spewed monthly gore,” I chanted at my grandmother, who was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s so she just continued to stare at the wall and make spit bubbles.

I must admit my word choice was pretty childish. In my defense, this did happen a long time ago and I was not nearly so mature back then (I was 35).

“Shut the hell up, you little bastard. Don’t say things about her when she’s right there,” my grandfather hissed with all the breath his cancerous lungs could muster. After muttering some ethnic slurs that don’t merit repeating, he said “She’s right there” one more time before dying and losing bowel control. Or perhaps it was the other way around. One can never tell about these things.

But he was wrong, you see. She wasn’t right there. She wasn’t much of anywhere. Her dementia had seen to that. I had nothing to feel guilty about. I cannot tell you how relieved I felt when I realized that.

 

A Trivial Musing from My Phone to Yours

Last year, the bus I rode to work had fold-down trays like you find on the backs of airplane seats. They were far preferable to resting your laptop on your knees. The bus eventually got switched out because it had no wheelchair lift and one was needed for some guy on an internship.  The internship lasted a few months, but the bus with the tray did not come back when it ended. No big deal. I liked the tray, but never for a moment did I feel entitled to it.

Time passed and buses came and went. Some were more comfortable than others, but all (except for the one that broke down) reliably got me to and from my job in San Jose. None of them had a tray, but as I said before, no big deal.

That changed today, sort of. The back of the seat in front of me does have a fold-down thingy, albeit one far too small to place a laptop. It’s obviously intended to be a cup holder. An innovator needs to look beyond something’s intended use. That’s why I decided to mentally repurpose it as a castration device.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like it would be terribly effective. Though it is the right size to hold the testicles, it lacks the requisite spring action for it to bite through the scrotum. The game changer is being in a moving vehicle. If you insert your nads and the bus collides with something, the force of your own body flying forward will give the bite all the power it needs. Of course, bus drivers like to avoid getting in accidents so it’s necessary to distract them somehow. This can be achieved with whistles, horns, or the deviously honest “Hey, look at me! I got my balls in a cup holder!”

The how of all this is pretty simple. The why is a bit more complicated. This is not a rational thought so it cannot be understood on a rational level. You need to go down to the bilge water of the human soul where guilt and boredom take turns raping each other to produce offspring like the little thought I just shared.

479 Alan Road

The house had changed a lot over the years, but none of it surprised me. I had seen it on Google Maps street view on a number of occasions. I already knew the tree in front of my bedroom window that provided easy access to the roof was long gone, as was the unchecked ivy growth that covered the backyard fence. The unkempt front lawn had been given a landscaping makeover. The car in the driveway was a far cry fancier than Mom’s old beat-to-shit Honda Civic.

Still, I wanted to see the house in person. I was visiting Santa Barbara that weekend, something I had not done in over six years. Rebecca and I took the train down on the Friday Trump was inaugurated. Now one might see this as no mere coincidence and concluded that I was attempting some kind of escape into the past to avoid at least temporarily avoid a bleak present and near future. Not true, I’m afraid. As much as I loathe Trump, my actions were motivated by more personal matters than political. They usually are.

The reason I chose this particular weekend was to attend the memorial service that Saturday for an old friend who had recently died of cancer. I knew little of Holden outside of the cafe where we used to hangout in the mid 1980s. It was good to hear his family give me a fuller picture of the friend I had lost.

Holden published a zine called Short Fuse that I contributed to on occasion. I had not seen much of him in recent years and had missed  him during my last visit. I wanted to see him the next time I was in town, but his death in October made that impossible. Attending his memorial was as close as I was going to get.

After the service, Rebecca and I walked back to the hotel and changed clothes before walking to the transit center to catch a bus to my old neighborhood. We had originally planned on going Sunday, but decide to take advantage of the break in the rainstorm that was drenching Santa Barbara.

We boarded the number 5 bus, the same line I used to ride to get to high school. Twenty minutes later, we got off at the Alan Road stop on Cliff Drive.

There used to be big vacant lots down at the corner when I first moved to Santa Barbara in 1975. Now there were houses, much larger and more expensive than the modest tract homes further up Alan Road. I pointed out this and other tidbits to Rebecca we walked up the street. I was probably boring her, but she was being a sport and letting me have my moment.

I felt no immediate nostalgia when we reached my childhood home. It looked exactly like what I saw on Google Maps and not much like the house I grew up in. I still had my memories, but they were attached to a place that no longer existed.

With no overgrowth of ivy, there was nothing to connect the backyard fence to the time my friend Ricky and I crouched in the foliage with his Wrist-Rocket slingshot to take potshots at passing cars. I remember when it was my turn, I put a rock clean through the plastic side window of a Triumph. The driver turned around and came back looking for us, but we had dropped down into the backyard. We struck and disappeared without a trace. We were just like the Viet Cong. It was wonderful.

Now four decades later, I looked at the bare wood of the fence and realized that no child today could use it to have the same kind of fun that Ricky and I once had.

Rebecca and I walked away from the house in the direction of the beach where the old snack bar was now a high-end eatery.

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 not have existed at any single 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.