Category Archives: Privilegemobile

Privilegemobile 8: Cold Veal Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Je suis Hank. Damn I’m good.

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.

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.

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.

Privilegemobile 3: The Turtling

The third and final (maybe) entry in the Privilegemobile (again, maybe) trilogy is going to be a prequel of sorts. It won’t offer any background or explanation for the other posts, but it does precede them chronologically so I suppose it qualifies.

It is also installment number three yet it deals with number two and takes place on July 1. Don’t worry though. I don’t think you’ll find this piece confusing. Disgusting, perhaps, but confusing, no.

All shit great and small (and the one I took that morning was certainly great) comes from a meal and it is the type of meal that determines its density and destiny. So here’s the thing: I cannot for the life of me remember what I had for dinner the night of June 30. Later events would indicate that it was a sizable meal, but with little evidence as to its exact contents. I think I ate either pizza or a cheeseburger and fries. Either would prove consistent with, well, the consistency.

I think the reason I’ve forgotten about the dinner is that it had no immediate effect other than putting me in a much-needed food coma. It had been a tiring week so I was more than happy to crash early and  sleep like, well, a log.

At this point, you are probably at or reaching the conclusion that I have an obsession with feces. While there is some merit to this claim, I cannot say that it is entirely true at all times as I am about to point out.

For most of my morning commute on July 1, the subject of poo was the furthest thing from my mind. It was a lovely bus ride down the peninsula. Traffic was light so there were no sudden slowdowns to reel my mind back from where it had gone on walkabout. The earbuds were in and one of my favorite albums, the Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime,” was playing at a comfortably high volume. The word “shit” was in the lyrics fairly often (more so than in, say, Barry Manilow songs), but it was mostly used figuratively. Defecation, particularly mine, was a topic I blissfully and uncounsciously ignored.

That all changed at some point after the bus exited the freeway and I was a couple of miles away from my stop. Do you know how you kind of have to go to the bathroom and you decide not to worry about it until the situation gets more urgent? This was not one of those times. I went from not having to go at all to going into ass labor within a blink of an eye. A brown eye.

To make matters worse, I also had intestinal gas so it didn’t feel like I was going to make it for the rest of the trip. If all this happened twenty minutes ago, it wouldn’t be a problem. The bus has a lavatory so all I would have to do is go in there, drop the bomb, and spend the rest of the commute in comfort.

I needed to relieve the pressure and do so quickly. If the poop is solid, farting is reasonably safe.  Diarrhea yields a different result. Lucky for me, I am in tune with my body in that I I can tell with near-perfect accuracy if a bowel movement is solid or liquid while it is still inside of me.  . This is a valuable skill to have when your only options are to cut the cheese or explode. So cut the cheese I did and it was a big one that provided me a wonderful if temporary respite from the peristalsis juggernaut.

You may be wondering if I have any moral qualms or shame when it comes to public flatulence. Like most people, it’s only problematic for me if I get caught. Humans, unlike some other animal species, have no directional sense of smell. Ergo, post-fartem plausible deniability is pretty easy to maintain as long as you’re not giggling or asking for a high five.

People do however possess a directional sense of hearing and with my earbuds in and loud music playing, I had no idea how loud the fart was. Maybe no one heard me . The nearest other passenger was two seats ahead and maybe my wind was less of a thundering trumpet than it felt like coming out. Maybe the it was indistinguishable from the sound of the bus. Or maybe the guy was hard of hearing. He wasn’t wearing a hearing aid that I could see, but maybe he needed to.

He got off the stop before mine. I didn’t see any dirty looks from him as he walked by, but I really wasn’t paying attention. The relief my flatulence had gotten me was short lived and my attention was focused on getting ready to exit the bus pronto and make a bee line for the nearest restroom.

Fortunately, the only other person getting of at that stop was sitting way up at the front and she was out the door fast enough to not impede me. I even managed to grunt my pro-forma thank you to the driver, exhibiting some of that grace under pressure that Hemingway had such a hard-on for.

On the way to the building, the situation was now desperate. I felt like I was turtling mighty Gamera himself.  I decided not to try to get to the third floor where I worked. There was a single-occupancy shitter through a door in the lobby. If it was occupied, I didn’t know what I would. Shit, both figurative and literal, had just gotten real.

Luck was with me and the restroom was empty. I was inside, pants down, and on the pot in nothing flat. Then came the closest thing to childbirth I shall ever experience. One could even call it more of a burdensome ordeal because in my case, abortion was never an option.

After several minutes of straining, huffing, and puffing, the deed was done. Like a mother of a newborn, I looked upon my creation with awe. Like the mother of a newborn on prom night, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I flushed the toilet and it was gone, most of it anyway. Despite the industrial-strength toilet common to office building, some of it remained stuck to the porcelain. If I left it there for others to enjoy,  perhaps it could be called “skiddie porn.” The thought of that made me smile and I flushed again, then walked away leaving no trace of my handiwork.

Privilegemobile 2: Crisis Pitched Underhand

My alarm goes off at 5:45 in the morning. It doesn’t play music, ocean waves crashing, or anything else soothing to ease me into the land of the wakeful. Instead, it delivers blaring beeps that is every bit as unpleasant as I am at that time of day.

After I turn the thing off, it is aother five to ten minutes before I actually get out of bed. I spend this time doing nothing terribly productive. Memories of recent dreams fade from my mind. I grumble about the early hour with Rebecca, who is even less of a morning person than I am.

This may not be the most efficient routine, but it works well enough. And as much as I like to tell myself what a free spirit I am, routines are a comfort to me. Maybe that’s a symptom of getting older. Or perhaps I associate it with the domesticity I’ve embraced now that I’m happily cohabitating. Or both. I don’t know.

At any rate, the routine was interrrupted this morning by an overlooked detail.

I work for a consulting company and one my most important  job duties (other than keeping the client happy) is dutifully filling out my weekly timesheet.  No timesheet means no billable hours, which means no money from the client. I can see why it’s considered a big deal.

Recently, my employers began a new fiscal year and now have similar, but wholly different, billing codes for all their accounts and projects. I got the new code for my work and assumed that was the end of that. I was wrong. It turns out the for public holidays changed as well and I used last year’s code for the Fourth of July, probably because I hate freedom.

Fortunately, such an error is fixable. I just had to call the time-and-attendance office on the east coast and have them reopen the timesheet for me. This I did at six a.m. after getting out of the shower, which eliminated this morning’s slow-rising ritual.

Everything went fine until I was just about ready to go and could not find my phone. This was odd considering I had just made a call with it just a few minutes before. Then again, most of what I did over the past 20 minutes or so was done on autopilot. Maybe that’s another reason to like routines. Doing the same thing you always do has its advantages when you’re not paying attention.

I traced what I thought were my steps after submitting the new timesheet. Then retraced them again and again. This went on increasing anxiety for another ten minutes until I found that I put my phone in my backpack because of course I did.

With all the time wasted, I barely made it to the bus on time. Well, “barely” ay not be the right word since I was still able to stop at Muddy’s for my coffee and bagel. I was however in too much of a rush to sit and eat the bagel there, and that has to count for something.

I got on the bus and took my usual seat way in the back and on the right side away from the rising sun. There I put in my  earbuds and turned up the music loud enough  to cause permanent hearing damage if I didn’t already have that. A silly punk rock song spirited me away before I had a chance to think about how I’d hold up if I ever faced any real adversity.

Life Aboard the Privilegemobile

There is a stretch of northbound 101 during the morning commute where the traffic slows to a crawl. It sits between Redwood City and Bair Island, wetlands protected by law against encroaching real-estate development. It would be nice to think that the drivers are nature lovers who slow down to look at the ducks, but the reality is due to backed-up traffic from the San Mateo Bridge exit about five miles up ahead.

The slowing of the bus snaps me back from wherever my mind had wandered during the last half hour or so. I find myself paying attention even though I don’t have to. There is a driver for that and he is good at his job. He might be a generally good person as well, or perhaps he is a vile brute with a nightly ritual of chugging Jack Daniels and beating his wife and kids. I really have no idea and as long as he’s not violent behind the wheel, I don’t much care.