Category Archives: Privilegemobile

Privilegemobile 11: A Better Tomorrow

I don’t know much of anything about my bus driver’s personal life. I don’t know if he’s married, what books or movies he likes, or his preferred vacation spots. Everything I do know is expressed through how he drives the bus.

I know if another bus is ahead of him at the bus stop, he will wait patiently at the intersection rather than pull up right behind the other vehicle and block 26th Street. When he does pull up to the bus stop, it will be at the same spot day after day. If I see a deviation from either of these behaviors, I’ll know the regular driver is taking a sick day or is on PTO.

It’s the stopping at the same spot that I care about. With people boarding different shuttles for different companies, nobody cares about forming a single line. Instead, we just find an unoccupied spot along the sidewalk and play with our phones until our bus comes.

Whenever possible, I have a place staked out so I am right in front of the bus door when it opens. This almost ensures that I will get my preferred seat, all the way back and on the right. Sometimes it’ll be claimed by someone who boarded at an earlier stop, but that’s rare because of its proximity to the lavatory. My sense of smell is not great so I don’t much care. Blast away, party people. It’s all the same to me.

That’s what I do early in the a.m. Waiting for the bus is pretty innocuous as activities go, but not everyone sees it that way. This past Monday, a concerned San Franciscan decided to take action.

The woman was older, perhaps my age or even more than that. She carried a sign that said “Illegal Street Activity” to let us all know we were in violation of the law. No one paid much attention to her.

My bus arrived shortly after she did. I took my seat in the back and looked out the window. The woman was gone, but her sign was leaned against a trashcan, facing out toward the street.

I wondered what happened to the woman. Maybe she was eliminated by a tech-bro death squad. Maybe their throbbing cocks were in on the assault. None of that seemed likely. The privileged rarely have to resort to force to maintain their position in the social hierarchy when they have the system to do it for them.

She probably just planted the sign then left on her own volition. Her statement made, she was free to go back to her support group who would tell her how brave and proactive she was.

In some ways, I applaud what she did. Her methods were perfectly acceptable. She could have hopped the curb in her hybrid and mowed us all down, our dying screams drowned out by Joan Baez blaring from her car stereo. Instead, she chose to express her displeasure without violence. Good on her for that.

I’m not even completely against the reasons behind her action, if I’m right about what they were. I’m not talking about the explanation she’d give if asked why our presence was illegal. She would probably lie her ass off about that, citing traffic and loitering laws of her own creation.

Tech buses have already been barred from using municipal bus stops, and with good reason. However, there have been no laws passed barring them from the city in its entirety. As for loitering, perhaps she’d have a point if only because the definition is so arbitrary and enforcement so selective. Anybody standing still in a public place could be called a loiterer. Usually, it’s the grubby and impoverished who get busted for it instead of techie scum like me unless you have a serious ax to grind.

I’m guessing she does and I can’t say I blame her. San Francisco has changed a lot since I first moved here and not all for the better.  It used to be affordable as big cities go. If you wanted to pursue some passion that didn’t pay well like music or art,  it was doable with shared housing and a lame-ass job. If your passion was simply to stay up all night on drugs, that was doable as long as you made it to work in a semi-functional state. Sure, the streets were more dangerous back then, but I wasn’t exactly behaving like I wanted to live forever.

I used to walk down Valencia Street and see poor people pushing shopping carts down the sidewalk. Now I see rich people pushing strollers. “Faulty wiring” frequently causes fires that gut low-income apartment buildings and have luxury condos rise from the ashes. The transformation of SF wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for tech douches with a sense of entitlement as bloated as their bank accounts.

So yeah, lady, I get it. You don’t like what’s happening. You want to turn back time, like Cher, or put it in a bottle, like Jim Croce. I don’t like what’s happening either. The difference is that you want keep the ship from sinking after it has hit an iceberg. I’m just trying to make my way to a lifeboat.

That means working in tech and stashing enough money to cut and run before my luck runs out. And it will run out. I’ll eventually lose my job due to a layoff or quitting in a huff because my undiagnosed mental illness staged a coup. My rent-controlled apartment won’t last forever either. This is not a good town to grow old in.

Fortunately, I doubt I’ll have to. Becca and I plan to relocate to a city about 600 miles north of here. It’s called Portland, Oregon. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

We go up there whenever we can, feeling a little more at home each time. Some locals don’t much like people moving in and making everything more expensive. That no doubt sounds familiar to you. And while I can see where they’re coming from, Becca and I are still going to do what’s best for us.

I bet that sounds familiar as well.

Privilegemobile 10: Backseat Striver

When I get pulled into death’s clown car and taken on a one-way trip to that big circus tent in the sky, what will my biggest regret be? OK, never learning to vet my metaphors will rank pretty high on the list, but what else? Procrastination is the short answer. Like most short answers, it leaves out more than it includes.

It’s a cold, clear Friday morning and I’m on that part of the commute where traffic slows down as it approaches the turnoff for the San Mateo Bridge. I try to expand on the procrastination theme, but find myself distracted by sights and sounds I’ve seen and heard hundreds of times before.

It’s an aha moment and I’m about to pat myself on the back for my keen insight. Then I remember that the stuff about procrastination and clown cars was all window-dressing preamble and what I really wanted to blog about was an almost wholly unrelated topic.

Meanwhile, my decision to double down on my self-referential bullshit by writing about it instead of letting the backspace key work its magic has sent this writing headlong into a morass of meta.

What the fuck was that? I look up from my phone. I’m in Menlo Park already. Outside my window is what was once the corporate headquarters of Informix. I was a contractor there in the early 90s. At a holiday party one year, the CEO decided to treat us all to a home video of his children. This same CEO would later plead guilty to securities fraud and be sentenced to two months in federal prison. I wish the judge had known about the video incident. He might have tacked on another five years.

Now where was I? It was the point of all this. It’s always the goddamn point. Fine, I’ll get to it already.

I promote this blog five different places. The first four I’m sure you’ve heard of. They are Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram. The fifth is a site for perverts called Fetlife.

Fetlifians (or whatever they call themselves) pride themselves on being responsible members of the kink community. Much of the writing there is proclamations of how things should be. If you have the soul of a hall monitor and an affinity for riding crops, Fetlife really is the place for you. Comments to these writings agree or disagree on the rules set forth and pretty soon, what had the potential for intelligent debate quickly devolves into ad-hominem attacks and the occasional death and/or rape threat.

I ponder why my work never generate such interest as the bus passes Moffett Field. The President supposedly lands there when visiting the Bay Area though I’ve never seen Air Force One parked on the runway.

I don’t have have to ponder for long. The reasons why my stuff has failed to be a hit on Fetlife are pretty obvious. For one thing, I post links to my blog rather than copying and pasting the entries. Clicking on strange links is scary and the name poisonspur.com does not exactly inspire confidence. Visiting there could give you a virus, possibly AIDS.

I’m off the freeway now. Levis Stadium is off to the right and there is about 10 minutes left in my commute.

It isn’t just the link. The content itself is not that popular with that audience. It isn’t that I am too vanilla to understand the plight of the kinkster (oh heavens no). It’s just that I steadfastly write about what interests me and what interests me the most is myself. What I churn out has little mass appeal or bullet points to aid in its consumption.

I’m on a bridge crossing the Guadalupe River, which is little more than a creek except after heavy rains. Ahead lies the sprawling tech campus where thousands of us come each day and earn the kind of money that sends the local cost of living into the ionosphere. I’m sad to say I’m only barely complicit in this injustice. Compared to many, I don’t make dick.

I suppose I could learn to write for my market. On Felife, a surefire way to make their “Kinky & Popular” list is to cobble together a bunch of tepid kindnesses and slap on a title like “18 Things Domly O’Leatherpants Can Do To Make Weepy McSubsub Feel Less Like a Sack of Shit.” People swoon over that stuff because people are idiots.

So what’s stopping me? The short answer is procrastination. Those of you have read this whole will see that I’m thematically coming full circle, but only tangentially. Let me explain.

It is past procrastination that drives me. For the longest time, the bulk of what I wrote was scribbled into spiral notebooks and there it remained. That turned out to be fine as most of it wasn’t very good. Later I wanted some people to read what I wrote and thanks to the interwebs and social media, that was easy to get.

The problem was my love of instant gratification. I’m no genius, but I am somewhat clever so I’m able to fire off a mildly amusing quip more often than not. Fellow members of my mutual-admiration society would cough up some praise and I would feel good about myself for a while. That shit turned out to be addictive and I would go for the quick validation and never write anything of substance.

The only way to break out of that was to concentrate on writing what what I wanted to say and to hell with the rest. I wanted readers, sure, but I also wanted them to read what I wanted to write. That required some callousness in my resolve. Does my work not interest you? Tough shit. Are you triggered? Ha ha fuck you.

The bus pulls up to my stop and I step off into the cool, crisp air. As I trudge toward the building with my signature thousand-foot stare, I can take pride in being, above all things, honest.

This sounds good, but am I really that honest? I told no overt untruths either about the events of my morning commute or the thoughts running through my head. The lie was pretending that I blogged all this during one morning commute. I started writing this yesterday and the initial draft had “a cold, blustery Thursday” instead of “a cold, clear Friday.”  So what’s the big deal? In purportedly true stories, it is not uncommon to have some compression and tweaking of the facts. For example, multiple people can become a composite. Is it really so different to have two days joined into one? It isn’t, but it does throw bullshit into the mix. The end result is the false claim that I can turn my thoughts into prose in such a short amount of time. I’d like to claim that ability, but I cannot.

Of course, coming clean does have a way of spoiling the narrative so maybe you’re better off forgetting what I said. Just pretend the last paragraph doesn’t exist and picture me whipping out my phone as I walk toward the lobby and hitting the publish button without even bothering to check for typos.

Privilegemobile 9: Not My President’s Day

It was cold enough for my cat to love me last night. She was lying against my outstretched arm and using one of my fingernails as a place to scratch her chin. Lately, she has been down at the foot of the bed or under it, venturing into the kitchen occasionally to have a bite of food or take a dump in the vicinity of the litter box. She’s sixteen and a half, and more or less done with the world.

I know the feeling.

My alarm went off at its usual 5:45 and it was time to start. There was no drinking last night to hobble me this morning so I was able to shower, shave, and get dressed with a minimum of groaning. I gave Becca a goodbye kiss and called my cat a little bitch, taking care not to reverse the two.

It was 43F when I left the house this morning, cold weather unless you’re used to real winters. I am not. I zipped up my jacket, thrust my hands into my pockets, and marched off toward Muddy’s for my hot coffee and a toasted bagel.

I turned the corner from 24th onto Valencia St. and saw the lights in Muddy’s was off and the gate was shut. There was a sign in the window saying that in observance of President’s Day, they would not be opening until 7 am. Crap.

It was 6:23 and I didn’t fancy the idea of trudging to the bus stop and waiting in the cold for the next 25 minutes. Besides, I needed coffee. I walked back to 24th St. and headed in the direction of BART.

There was a cafe right next to the station. The coffee was passable, but I knew from a previous visit that they had no bagels. When I asked, the barista shook his head and gestured me toward an assortment of gluten-free inedibles. I decided not to go through that again.

Fortunately, Cafe La Boheme across the street was open as well. They would have bagels. In fact, they might have a whole variety of things. Unlike Muddy’s, the menu board was one of a full eatery. I didn’t know what was available at that hour though a bagel was a safe bet.

I went in and got a large coffee and a garlic bagel with cream cheese. I like Cafe La Boheme and regret not going there more often. There were only three customers including me at the time, but the regulars would drift in eventually and they are what give the place its character.

It’s an old-style coffee house with more books open than laptops and there are scruffy seniors with hair in their ears who play chess where a piece is moved about once every hour. It’s the kind of establishment that is quickly disappearing from San Francisco and eventually from the world.

After finishing my bagel, I headed to the stop at 26th and Valencia.  The bus arrived more or less on time, but with a different driver. The regular guy was probably on vacation. It seemed everyone but me had the day off. I knew this wasn’t true, but I grumbled about the injustice of it all anyway.

Facebook is my go-to source for what people say when they want to sound like everybody else. My newsfeed has been awash with stuff about how on this President’s Day, folks were going to celebrate 44 out of 45 because Trump sucks. I don’t like him either, but am unwilling to pretend the others were all peachy keen. But if you really want to honor the legacy of James Buchanan, far be it for me to stop you.

So when I said it’s “Not My President’s Day,” it’s not an expression of political solidarity. I was ticked I had to go to work. I was also not happy about having to go to the bathroom, a feeling that kicked in as I started writing this blog entry on the bus. Fortunately, the Privilegemobile has a restroom. Unfortunately, someone removed the toilet seat a couple of weeks ago. I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant, but there business to be taken care before I could concentrate on anything else.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the toilet to be reasonably clean. With the seat gone, I was afraid that greenlight people pissing all over everything. I spread some toilet paper around the outside of the bowl and sat myself down.

I had my phone with me so I read about the recent school shooting in Florida. The CNN site had an article about the victims. They all seemed like decent folks though even if any of them were assholes, I doubt that it would have been reported.

Also, I disagree with those who insist the press concentrate on the victims and not the perpetrator when covering mass murders. I get the appeal of depriving killers their fame, but they are the ones you look to  when trying to understand the crime. The people killed are tragic, but not terribly elucidating.

After I finished, stood up and hit the black flush button. Blue water spiraled the bowl and I wished my former fellow traveler farewell as it disappeared from view.

It was at that moment the bus hit a bump and the lavatory door flew open. I quickly slid it shut and relatched it. It was unlikely anyone saw me as the seats all face forward. Still, it was possible. My underwear was up, but my pants were around my knees. The sight of that could be triggering, but my Stars and Stripes boxers kept my patriotism beyond question.

At least there was that. With no traffic to hold it back, the bus raced southward. I returned to my seat and hunkered down.

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.