In Pursuit of Adequacy

The Uber inched its way up toward SF on US 101. It was well past 7 pm and I thought rush-hour traffic would have dissipated by now. I usually head home a couple of hours earlier in the day. Traffic is heavy then too, but it’s different on the bus. No conversation is required there so I’m free to do whatever I see fit to make the outside world go away.

No such luck here. This is not a slight against the others. They’re nice folks, much nicer than me. Most people are. I’m including the driver in this even though I didn’t really know him. He had neither spouted racial slurs nor swerved to hit any animals on the road and that made him aces in my book.

The other passengers were my coworkers. We were employed by the same consulting company working at the same client though I had few interactions with them day to day. They let me ride shotgun.

We had just gotten out of a mandatory team gathering held offsite at a fancy brew pub in Sunnyvale. Awards were given. I neither received nor deserved one. They are given to those who demonstrate leadership or initiative. I just keep my head down and try to be productive enough to be worth keeping around. My accolades come in the form of continued paychecks and I’m all right with that.

One of my fellow Uber passengers did get an award for stepping up in a situation where a lesser consultant might have just shrugged. The other passenger did not receive one, but I imagine she will eventually.  Both of them are young and earnest. I used to be one of those things.

“So Dave,” said the award winner. “What do you see as the biggest opportunity in your area?”

It was a fair question. What consulting companies do is to find out where someone with a skill set is needed and then bring in someone who has those skills. That’s how I got my job. I didn’t have an immediate answer so I talked about the project in general terms instead.

I wasn’t being deliberately evasive. I just drew a blank because I don’t think in those terms. My brain is a noisy place and a frequent open-mic venue for either my self-loathing or my delusions of grandeur. Often with the help of music, I put considerable effort into keeping that part of my noggin under control so I can focus on my work.

Also, I tend to call first dibs on potential opportunities. You see, I’m old and scared shitless of being made redundant. If the client needs someone to do something that doesn’t require people skills, I know some old guy with bad posture and worse teeth who’d be a good fit. I need to hang in there until I turn 65 or have amassed fuck-you money, whichever comes first.

The Uber made it into the city and I hopped out at 24th and Folsom Streets, bidding my colleagues a pleasant evening. I had enough time to hoof it home, drop off my backpack, and meet a friend for a drink. Tomorrow would be another work day and another chance for me to strive to be acceptable.

 

Three AM in Portland

The air conditioner in the motel room was cranked up to deliver a subarctic blast. I lay next to Rebecca beneath the thin blankets. It was a little chilly to be completely comfortable, but it felt kind of refreshing. The last time we were outside, about six hours ago, the humid evening air still hung heavy from the day’s heat so this had been a nice change of pace.

The TV was on, tuned to Cartoon Network or something like it. I had just woken up and was barely conscious, but could make out enough of the dialogue for a later google search to tell me that the show was “Tokyo Ghoul.”

Rebecca was asleep at the time and would not have chosen to watch this. She likes cartoons, but isn’t a big fan of anime. To be honest, neither am I. I watched my fair share of “Speed Racer” reruns in my youth, but even as a kid I thought they were pretty stupid. Most anime I’ve seen since is just as dumb. It just happens to be more pretentious. However, a tentacle-porn element can vastly improve it.

“Speed Racer” could  have used some of that hentai goodness. Though for a change of pace, I’d like to have Trixie be the one to grow the tentacles and start going to town. Not on Speed though. That insufferable goody two shoes has been in the limelight for far too long. Trixie could spare one tentacle for him, just to coil around his neck and snap it like a twig. She could then turn her affections on a more deserving target, the hard-working but overlooked mechanic Sparky. She would be gentle at first before really showing him what’s what. Spritle and Chim Chim watch this for a while until their own lust overcomes them and they embark on an interspecies bucking 69.

Yeah, that’s the shit.

Now where was I? Ah yes, I was half awake at the Palms Motel in Portland with the air conditioner blasting and the TV on with its volume a bit louder than I would have liked. And now I needed to pee, which wasn’t surprising considering the beer consumption earlier. I got out of bed and went from a chilly bedroom to the equally chilly bathroom. When I got back, I planned to turn the TV off and go back to sleep. I’d leave the air conditioner going as I enjoyed both the cold and the sound it made.

I fumbled in the dark trying to find the power button of the TV. I then heard a knock on a door. I wasn’t sure if the knock was on our door or another room. Maybe the television was too loud. Even if that were the case, I was not about to open the door at that hour. This was a motel. Outside the room was the outside world with a very un-Portland neon palm tree in the parking lot and Intersate Blvd. beyond it. Who knows whay could be lurking out there?

As if rational concerns weren’t reason enough not to answer the door, I also had a nasty dream from a few nights before. In this dream, I was living in this one-room shithole not unlike the $300/month hovel I rented in Santa Barbara in from 1986 to 1988. I walked past these two guys standing by a vehicle parked outside my door. Shortly after going inside, I heard someone knock and I answered the door. It was the two men. One asked me if I heard about the recent robberies. I said I did. Well, he said, we’re the ones doing them and they forced their way in.

I managed to shake myself awake before any harm came to dream Dave. This is a valuable skill I’ve picked up after many years of nightmares, but it doesn’t work worth a damn in the real world.

I couldn’t find the power button on the television. I crawled back into bed, tapped on Rebecca’s shoulder, and asked if she could do it for me. She was the one who had turned the TV on and knew how to work the remote (I am often useless with such things despite being techie scum). Without saying anything, she went to turn off the TV and got back into bed.

Now the only sound was the air conditioner. Until there was another knock, that is. Like the one earlier, I couldn’t be sure if it was our door or someone else’s. Maybe the air conditioner was too loud as well. This seemed less likely than the television noise being a problem, bit with thin walls it was possible. This I did know how to turn so this I did and returned to bed in a perfectly quiet room.

Staring up the ceiling, I felt like I was in a submarine running silent. Granted, the comparison didn’t hold up to any scrutiny. Eliminating sound from the room did not make my location uncertain. Still, the “I’m being quiet, go away” part of it was spot on.

My thoughts turned to what an ugly place the world can be. The previous day, I learned that an online friend of mine had died. I did not know her that well, but I liked her fine. Cancer killed her. She was 48, which is too young to die. That same day, the shit storm in Charlottesville turned deadly. A woman there was killed by a cancer of the human variety. She was 32, which is way too fucking young to die.

I heard voices in the next room over. It was two women. They sounded both young and drunk. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying, but it sounded like a topic that had nothing to do with noise coming from our room. I started to drift off to sleep, content at that at least for the moment, the outside world was no concern of mine.

A Sticky Ball of Cheese

Part of my morning ritual as of late is the pre-cofffee coffee. Rebecca and I often go for our coffee and bagel around ten or so, but I get a hankering for caffeine while she’s either asleep or semiconcious.

I showered, got dressed, and was out the door around eight. I headed down to Trash Muddy’s near 16th Street to get in some exercise in case I was a complete slug for the rest of the day.

The walk down Valencia Street was far less irritating at this hour than later in the day. There were no slow-moving phalanxes of douchebags impeding my progress. There were just a few joggers, cleaning crews hosing off rubber mats dragged out from restaurant kitchens,  and homeless folks lurching down the sidewalk from where they slept last night to where they’d sleep today. The morning crowd wasn’t much of a crowd at all, and that made me like them just fine.

There is usually the same woman working there at that hour and this day was no exception. I don’t know her name and have never seen any point in finding out. I paid her for the coffee and was sure to tip. She thanked me by not spitting in the cup. We have a healthy professional relationship.

I found an empty table (there are plenty on a Saturday morning) and drank my coffee. I have a weakness for stimulants and caffeine is a safe way to indulge it. It feels great in small doses, but ceases to be fun if I’ve had too much of it, unlike the more illicit substances that also pep me up.

And also unlike those other substances, caffeine fuels the imagination without fueling delusion well. Self-criticism is necessary. That’s why coffee addicts can produce such great writing while cokeheads churn out complete crap. I had no germs of ideas to write about bouncing around in my head, but one was going to hit me during my walk home.

An idea, yes, but far from a perfect one. I was about halfway back around Valencia and 20th when these words formed in my noggin:

A prisoner of the shadows and angles of your own selfie.

Good Lord, I thought, that’s cheeseball as fuck. You see? A cokehead wouldn’t react like that. Instead, he would have taken that phrase and run with it, and in a day’s time knocked out a screenplay envisioning himself in the starring role. A sane and mature individual, on the other hand, would realize not all ideas are good ones and quickly vanish the phrase from his mind.

I did neither. As cheesy as those words were, I could not dismiss them as pure bullshit. There is an element of truth there, hamfisted certainly, but truth nonetheless. It reminded me a little of this quote from Mother Night: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

But only a little. Vonnegut, being Vonnegut, said it better,  but he also said something somewhat different. His words carried a message of social responsibility. Mine did not. They rarely do.

I’m kind of the wrong generation for selfies to resonate, except that I’m not. Millennials did not invent self-involvement. They just came of age with the technology to share it with the world. I may be an old fart, but I engage in more self-absorption before breakfast than most of these whippersnappers will do in their entire lives. It all comes down to a sense of community and I have none.

So yeah, I get it. Narcissism is a losing game yet one you’re compelled to play if you’re of the mind to. You focus not so much on yourself as the self you want to be seen as. You become a willing slave to this and it all seems natural to you.

That’s what I was driving at. I just wish I had a more clever way of saying it. Instead, I have a verbal ball of cheese, as unsightly as a booger and like the real sticky ones, just as hard to flick away.