The Tower Lands

There is a water tower near where I work. It has a big, gray metal cylinder placed atop a base that looks a little like a castle keep. The resemblance is more of an aesthetic nod than an attempt to look like the real thing. Nobody’s going to believe there’s any medieval architecture in California anyway. We don’t even have White Castle out here.

I’m guessing the water tower is no longer in use. I don’t see how it could be in a modern city like San Jose. To be honest, I’m such an urbanite, I don’t think too much about my source of water as anything other than a faucet. Yeah, I know there’s a reservoir somewhere and it doesn’t hold a limitless supply, but I’ve never seen it. It’s hard for me to think of a water tower as anything other than an artifact of simpler times, now relegated to being a thing on which locals paint the name of the town so passing motorists know what to call this thriving little hub of pickup trucks and exploited farm labor.

It should therefore come as no surprise that I treated this agricultural anachronism poking up out of Silicon Valley as a simple landmark and nothing more. It was close to two years before I went for a closer look. It might have been a lot longer if health concerns about my sedentary lifestyle had not inspired me to get out of my cubicle and walk around once in a while.

The options of where to walk are fairly limited. It isn’t like when I worked in SF and could disappear into Chinatown during my lunch hour then head back to work with the blank stare and addled grin of sensory overload. I won’t tell you where I work now. Suffice it to say it’s an established tech company with a sprawling campus of buildings that all look pretty much alike. Doing lunch excursions on foot doesn’t work because all the places to eat other than company cafeterias are over a mile away. There’s a creek nearby with a trail running alongside it, but that gets old after a while.

Eventually sheer boredom sent me in the direction of the water tower. It was maybe five minutes away from my building and I wasn’t expecting much when I got to see it up close. And do you know what? I was right. There was nothing all that exciting about it.

What was interesting were the other buildings around it in the same fenced-off area. They looked like they had been abandoned for years. Most of them were adobe with Spanish-tile roofs, walls yellowed and windows tinted with grime. The bushes surrounding them were overgrown and weeds sprung up through the cracks in the adjacent sidewalk. There were no people around, just feral cats who idly groomed themselves and occasionally glanced half-interestedly at each other.

What was this place and why is there nobody around anymore? It looks like it might have been a school or some other government facility.  Walking back to my building, I saw a sign in front of one structure that said “Commissary Shipping & Receiving.” Maybe it was military installation that had been closed during the Clinton years.

I later did a bunch of Google searches and couldn’t find anything. Then I realized I didn’t want to. I liked having this big question mark a stone’s throw from where I work. With no logical explanation to spoil the fun, I could just make stuff up. Bio-warfare research, alien autopsies, corpse reanimated, all of the above. Nothing was off the table. This closed military base or whatever was going to be my personal horror show. There were no people on the premises who could prove me wrong. There were only cats and they weren’t saying dick.

I decided not to rush my imagination lest I come up with something lame. Plausibility was never my goal, but I wanted what I conjured up to make its own kind of sense. Maybe a really good horror could come out of it. I’ve always wanted to write one of those. That failing, I would at least have a lovely little morbid playground for my brain.

I have since walked back that way many times, all but ignoring the water tower but taking in everything else. I still had no narrative to go with the location, but I was confident that would someday change.

Two days ago, it did. I was looking through the chain-link fence with a sign in front with the number 51 on it with some indecipherable writing underneath. “Area 51” popped into my head, but I dismissed the idea because it was too obvious, too lazy. It was at that moment a rent-a-cop drove by the building. The name of the company on the side of his vehicle was “A-1 Security” or something equally boring. He was no doubt hired to keep winos and teenagers away. The mystery of the place evaporated and even though he was just there doing his job, I hated him a little for that.

Skip to the Loo My Darling

The bus I ride to and from work comes equipped with a lavatory. It’s in the back of the vehicle just behind where I usually sit. It’s not the reason I choose to sit in the back of the bus. I just like it there because I feel more comfortable when there is no one behind me. This is also the reason I don’t like standing in the middle of a room at parties.

I suppose if I wanted to make absolutely sure no one was sitting behind me, I could spend the entire ride in the lavatory. Though that might get the other passengers talking about me. I would like to avoid that if possible. I know I’m a weird guy, but I’d like to think I hide it well.

The lavatory gets a small to moderate amount of use. Veteran users are able to get in, do their business, and get out with much fuss. First timers, on the other hand, often have problems working the door, which slides to the side rather than opening inward or outward. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out, but having a full bladder or cocoa cavern can be mentally distracting.

If the person can’t get the door open within about five to ten seconds, I’ll give an unsolicited suggestion to slide it sideways. This usually earns me an uncomfortable thank you, which is fine. It’s an uncomfortable moment. If you’re over the age of three, a trip to the bathroom is something you are supposed to do unassisted.

I myself have used the lavatory on several occasions. It’s pretty basic in there. There is no sink to wash your hands, but it is clean so you’re not horrified at the prospect of sitting down. This is good because you are supposed to sit down even if you’re male popping in to take a leak. The international-restroom pictogram on the wall is very clear on that point.

Some MRAs might get their misandry-aware Underoos in a bunch over this rule, but it does make sense. A moving vehicle can bounce around a lot, but your urine stream shouldn’t have to. As long as everybody sits down, it won’t be disgusting for anybody. There may come a day when some douchebag, probably in marketing, decides to wipe his ass with the social contract and piss all over everything, but until that day comes the lavatory will remain part of the civilized world.

Well, that is as far as I know. One assumption we make when we go to the bathroom is that we are afforded some level of privacy. The expectation is that you can do jazz hands and make funny faces and no one will know about it but you. But what if that isn’t true? The technology certainly exists to have a wireless video pick up and transmit your every move, quite possibly to another passenger on the bus.

But who would want to watch such a thing? On one level, pretty much everybody. Back in the mid 90s when the Web was new and full of joy, some pranksters decided to take the idea of the coffee-pot cam and run with it. This cam, as you may recall, was set up so people in their cubicles could see when the pot was empty. Streaming video would have used too much bandwidth so a still image was captured periodically instead. What these pranksters did was put up a toilet cam for all the world to see. Only it wasn’t a toilet cam. It was a single picture put on a web page and never updated. They then sat back and watched their web traffic go through the roof. I’m sure there were people out there who spent an entire afternoon reloading that page.

Casual voyeurism is one thing. Actively violating someone’s privacy is quite another. If someone were to install a hidden video camera in the can, what kind of person would do it? If we judge by those who were caught doing this or similar activity, there is definitely a type: a male, unattractive, socially awkward sad sack who doesn’t entirely grasp he’s done anything wrong.

But what about the ones who get away with it? They have to exist.  What are they like?  One thing is for sure. If a device is found and investigators start trying to find the perp, they’re not going to be looking for a six-foot, blonde female triathlete with Ivy League credentials and a Pepsodent smile.

OK, maybe that description has more to do with my villainess fantasies than with any bearing on reality. I don’t know. Then again, no one does. Those who never get caught are by nature creatures of mystery and wonder.

This is all hypothetical anyway. I have no reason to believe there is or ever has been any kind of hidden camera in the lavatory. It’s hard to be 100% sure though. Maybe it’s well hidden or maybe it’s hiding in plain sight. I might not even notice. When I’m in there, I tend to stare at the door, paranoid that the lock might not work. Maybe all I need to do is look up to see a camera staring down at me, its origin and purpose as unknowable as God.

Road Not Taken

I have a soft spot for the myth and romance of the open road even though I dislike driving. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be a problem. When Rebecca and I talk about the road trips we’ll take some day, we have both agreed that she will be the one behind the wheel. My job will then be navigation, dumb-joke telling, choosing the music, and changing the music when she’s not in the mood for punk rock.

So far, this is all in the realm of the hypothetical. The reality of our travels has been flying or taking the train to our destination then getting around either by public transportation or on foot. All of our trips have been quite enjoyable, but they don’t exactly evoke the spirit of Kerouac.

In the meantime, I try to make do with my imagination and my daily commute. There are over 80 miles round trip so you would think that would give my brain something to chew on. And it does in large part. Commute time is decompression time. My mind wanders off to wherever it feels the urge to go so even if I’ve had a stressful day, I step off at my stop at 24th and Guerrero feeling relatively sane. It’s a bit like spending a couple of hours in a bar minus the liquor.

One thing my commute cannot do is simulate a road trip. This is strange because it has all the basic ingredients: a road, a vehicle, and motion. The only thing missing is what’s required for any adventure: the unknown. Day in and day out, the bus follows the exact same route from San Francisco to San Jose and back. Even the lane the bus is in on a given stretch of highway differs very little.

I don’t want to believe that it’s all so predictable. I even went so far as to blog about how it’s impossible to truly know the world around us because of all the details even the keenly observant can miss and how things change over time. My argument was not completely without merit, but there was an element of bullshit to it as well. It was like saying we cannot know what a beach is because we have not memorized every grain of sand and that the tides and crashing waves can move some of that sand around. I’m sure there’s a name for this logical fallacy. Something involving a forest and trees, I imagine.

So the reality of my commute does not lend itself well to this brand of make-believe I wish to impose upon it. It doesn’t need to. It has its own surreal quality. It is a piece of conduit connecting my home and work life, but it a part of neither. I exist on the bus, but I serve absolutely no purpose there. There are other people riding with me, but interaction with them is not expected or even appreciated. We have our laptops and smartphones to keep us amused and we all just stick to  those.

This is fine by me. I’m not one of those people who is constantly bemoaning how technology alienates us from our fellow human being. I’m old, older than most of the technology they’re talking about, and have felt at least a little bit alienated my entire life. Yeah, I’ll put down my phone, but it sure as hell won’t be so I can find out what the guy watching “Friends” on his laptop in the seat in front of me  has to say about life.

Instead, I’ll turn my focus inward. It’s an appropriate move here on the bus and I’m good at it. Maybe I’ll find the road I’m looking for to while away the time.

Death, Taxes, and Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well, there is always next winter.

Bedtime Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I got a riddle,” Drooly said.

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

Drooly did not step aside.

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

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

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

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

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

Like a Shvantz in Cold Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koala Rape Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Trivial Musing from My Phone to Yours

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

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

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

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

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