Privilegemobile 4: Ball Tourette Gunner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back and Forth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.