Pupa

“And if you wake up, you might learn something before it’s done.” -Bill Cosby

About 50 miles north of me, a high-school gymnasium had been transformed into a temporary shelter for evacuees. The rows of cots were all filled by those ordered to leave their homes as the fires advanced. They did not know if they would have a home to return to, but they were exhausted and for now, they just wanted a place to sleep. Except for a few children sobbing, all was quiet in the spacious darkened interior.

Until the farting started.

The first one didn’t even make a sound, but what it lacked in volume it made up for aroma. It smelled of broccoli, egg, and some sort of dead animal. The groans of protest from those still awake woke others so they could smell it too.

Since humans’ directional sense of smell is limited at best, the perpetrator remained anonymous and therefore immune to shaming. The only way to retaliate was to return fire. Sauce for the goose and all that.

Payback was not so silent. It trumpeted from the buttocks and took full advantage of the gymnasium’s acoustics. The person responsible had no hope for anonymity, but did not care. This was war.

Any need for restraint after that was, as they say, gone with the wind. Razzers, pops, and sputters erupted all around in the darkness, as well as frustrated grunts from those who tried and failed to add to the flatulent zeitgeist. Some farter non-starters decided that sound effects were better than nothing and drawing from memories of their summer-camp bunkhouse after lights out, put their lips against their forearms or palms pressed together and forcibly exhaled.

Unfortunately for them, the volunteer working the night shift was a former camp counselor and had little patience for such shenanigans. She blew her whistle and issued a direct order to knock it off. The gymnasium fell silent and sphincters tightened save the one that caused the ruckus in the first place.

Fifty miles can seem like a world away, especially when the threat from the fires are kept at bay by, of all things, a bay. What woke me from my my fitful sleep was not evacuee flatulence,  but my cat demanding attention as she often does in the vicinity of three o’clock in the morning.

Kitty is 16 now. If she were a dog, she would be dead. Cats on average live a little longer, but she is well into her dotage. A few years ago, she would have delivered multiple headbutts and/or taps on the face with her paw. Now she just leans her forehead in and lets gravity do all the work. It’s lazy but effective. I was soon awake and scratching that spot on her forehead.

“It’s OK, Kitty. We don’t have to worry about those nasty fires,” I said.

My cat, having never ventured north of 17th Street, purred and concurred.

There were posts on Facebook from friends who lived up there and  were now cooling their heels in Marin County. Soon they would go home and feel relieved that they had been spared, perhaps thanking the same god who saw fit to ruin the lives of their neighbors.

San Francisco was immune to these fires, but not their smoke. The more sensitive and cautious donned facemasks before setting foot outside. The sun turned blood red when it lowered into the late afternoon sky.

I had seen the sun like this on the tail end of by bus ride home from work and it reminded me of the Japanese flag. There were no streaks radiating from the sun so this was not the flag of the 1930s and 40s when Japan had lost its collective shit and took to raping Nanking plus countless comfort girls, bombing Pearl Harbor, and beheading POWs. No, the unadorned red ball was the Japan of Gamera, tentacle porn, and peaceful prosperity made possible by seeing that the way of the future lay in the transistor and not the vacuum tube. This is the Japan I visited. This is the Japan I love.

It was a lovely sunset, perhaps not worth the torching of California’s wine country to create it, but impressive nonetheless. Yet neither it nor the fires burning out of control held my attention. I had a bigger crisis of my own to deal with.

I did not know how to process the passage of time.

I had some conventional wisdom. There was that adage about time flying when you’re having fun. Not applicable given recent fun levels. Then there’s the Clash’s “Clocks go slow in a place of work/Minutes drag and the hours jerk.” That’s closer to the mark, but both fall short because they deal with perceived time. My concern is far more objective and quantifiable.

I have about a decade to move through before I hit retirement. I went to the epoch-converter website and with it and my calculator, I came up with how many seconds were left between then and just after midnight on my 65th birthday. It was a lot. In the low eight digits, I think.

I then remembered an internet hebephile during Emma Watson’s Hermoine Granger period who put up a clock counting down to her 18th birthday. There was quite an uproar over it at the time. He was labeled a predator by some, which was idiotic. A predator would not have been so willing to wait. Watson did eventually turn 18, but that’s all I know about how the story ended. There is probably not much else to tell, but part of me likes to think that one of her first acts as a consenting adult was to reward him for his devotion and patience. Perhaps consent was given with a most British “Right, in you go then” or maybe she was a Joe Don Baker fan and quoted his Final Justice catchphrase, “Go ahead on.” I doubt I’ll ever know.

I considered creating my own countdown clock, or better yet appropriating someone else’s, and customizing it to fit my needs. Underage actresses aren’t my thing, but knowing the number of seconds to retirement might provide comfort when work stress gets to be too much for me. Tick fucking tock, I would think while watching the number decrease.

Ultimately, I am afraid this would feed a much bigger problem. You see, I am in that stage of life where I am neither here nor there. In the past, I behaved irresponsibly and figured I could get away with it. Abnormally good luck proved my prediction, if not my judgment, to be accurate. When I retire, the plan is to have enough money to be irresponsible again and by then I’ll have the extra reckless abandon of knowing I’m on borrowed time.

Perhaps I’ll be like that one old fart Creepy Jeff told me about who got carried out of a strip club and thrown against a tree. I don’t know what his transgression was, certainly not simply leering. You earn that privilege by paying the cover charge. Maybe he got grabby or was caught sprinkling brewer’s yeast on currency before stuffing it into a g-string. Neither activity is my style. The tree fate could still await me, but only if it was a service I paid for and was carried out by strippers who were built like bouncers.

There I go again with the hints at my proclivities. TMI be damned. I may just have to write about it at length someday, but I’ll spare you this time.

The point is that in order to secure a future of not giving a shit, I need to give a shit now. That’s job one. I need to hunker down and transform. I am neither caterpillar nor butterfly. I am a pupa. (I originally wanted to call this blog entry “Cocoon” but did not want to establish a pattern of picking movie titles, especially with the softening of the film’s subject matter over the last one. Following this trajectory, the next one could be called “Terms of Endearment”and none of us want that).

Fortunately, being a pupa is not a 24/7 operation. I just need to remember to make the time count so I’m not just counting time. Irresponsible, self-centered people are supposed to be good at living in the moment. Half the time I don’t even know what the moment is. And it should be so easy. All I need to do is get over myself and see that the world needs me. Hand me a beer and stand back. I’ve got a fire to piss on.

Shriek of the Mutilated

Mission Bar, as the name implies, is a bar on Mission Street. It is near the corner of 23rd Street and about a five-minute walk from my house. Lately, I have been walking there quite often.

This is not to say I drink a lot when I get there. It has been my experience that if I have to work the next day, one or two drinks is fine. Three is iffy. Four or more is unwise. I have been unwise enough in my life to speak on this topic with authority.

Even if my alarm didn’t go off at 5:45, I would still rein in my drinking. My purpose is not to spend the evening in an alcoholic fog, maybe a few scattered clouds, but not a full-on fog bank. I have thinking to do.

Mission Bar has become the preferred spot for my midweek drink-n-think. Doc’s Clock, about three blocks away, has cheaper drinks during happy hour and more quirky charm. However, I don’t always want quirky charm, especially when done so intentionally. Mission Bar comes off as far less self-aware. The whorehouse-red lighting is understated as are the sporadically placed velvet paintings. Only the Halloween decorations, plastic skeltons that make the bar look like the Pirates of the Caribbean, are overbearing and they seem to be an honest mistake.

None of the bartenders there know my name and I’m OK with that. This allows me to focus on what’s going on between my ears. There is also a mirror behind the bar where I have a clear view of myself. I don’t need it for vanity. I just need to make sure my monster is kept on the inside.

That’s harder to do at longtime local, Iron & Gold. I’ve spent many evenings there and even more when it was the Argus Lounge. Over the years, I’ve tipped my hand too often to fool much of anybody. It’s the only bar I’ve been asked to leave except for that one time at another bar where I got ejected as part of a package deal when a drinking buddy set fire to the curtains.

The time I got booted for my own actions was 10 years ago during the Argus era. My infraction was less severe than arson and so the banishment was only for one night.

That night, the bartender had refused to serve me because I was a gibbering mess with lips shiny from spittle, eyes like runny eggs, and both nostrils caked with an illicit white residue. I must have been in pretty bad shape because when I got confronted by the owner earlier that year with my lips blue from doing nitrous hits in the back room, I merely got a talking to. The Argus Lounge would cut you a lot of slack. Anyway, I did not think being cut off was fair so I got a friend to order my next drink for me. That’s what got me booted. Looking back, raising my glass at the bartender in defiance was probably not a good idea.

I dialed it down after that and have been at least tolerated ever since. Neither the staff nor the owners from 10 years ago are there now, but there is enough overlap in the turnover to keep me from ever starting with a clean slate. I have no desire to sully my reputation further, even when the transgression likely exists nowhere but in my own head.

There was one of those instances that happened a couple of weeks back. Rebecca was down in LA to see Interpol and I was drinking at I&G, enjoying the healthy pours afforded a regular. The movie Grizzly was showing on the big flat screen above the bar. My tongue was loosened by well scotch so I told the bartender how I stowed away in a friend’s Mercury Cougar to see it at a local drive-in when I was in high school. This amused her so I went on to tell her how the film’s director, William Girdling, was decapitated by a helicopter he was about to board when one side of its landing  gear collapsed. She seemed less amused by this than the stowaway story. When it comes to real-life deaths by helicopter in the motion-picture industry, most people are hip to Vic Morrow but it takes a real film buff to want to know about more of them.

I now regret telling her, mostly because I was factually in error. While Girdling did die in a helicopter accident, the collapsing landing-gear beheading actually killed Michael Findlay, director of Shriek of the Mutilated. I’ve never seen this film. It’s supposed to be about a Bigfoot-like creature in upstate New York, but so what. It’s the title that really stands out and the film itself was probably just tacked on as an afterthought.

Since the title still packs a wallop after all these years, I have decided to borrow it for this blog entry. The title I was going to use (“Rules of the Game”) is simultaneously pompous and anemic by comparison. This one is direct. It has zazz.

So when I set off for Mission Bar, I did so with the understanding that the bartender would have zero interest in anything I had to say. This allows me to turn my focus inward where it belongs. There is also peace of mind knowing that keeping my mouth shut will prevent me from spouting a load of crap and being regarded as a blight on the premises. I may not like to drink akone, but I do like to do it with near invisibility.

I arrive a little after eight. Sportsball is on the two TVs, but no one is yelling at the screen. The people watching show only mild interest. It gives the eyes something to do while alcohol passes the lips.

I’ve seen the bartender before. She has bangs and tats and is wearing a black t-shirt. It’s a comforting look. It assures me that I’m in a neighborhood dive with a reasonable set of rules. She won’t act like I’m trash for ordering a well drink and I won’t say anything creepy or try to order a mojito.

My usual these days is a scotch and soda. The bartender may not remember this night after night, but she does drink after drink. That’s good enough. I don’t want to be that memorable. If asked, “He’s OK, ” said with a shrug is perfect. Let that be my epitaph.

Sitting at the bar with a drink in my hand, I can send my thoughts down a rabbit hole of my choosing. It is important to choose wisely. Rabbit holes are fine, but the abyss of existence is to be avoided. This is doubly true when alcohol is involved. The suggested two-drink limit goes right out the window as one’s mood goes into freefall. The best to hope for then is to pass out before doing something more regrettable than drinking too much.

I can usually avoid this by thinking about people in far worse shape than myself. The mass shooting in Las Vegas provided that in spades. First there were at least 50 confirmed dead. That number has since climbed to 58. I doubt it will increase, but one can never be sure. It took over 30 years and the death of Jim Brady to elevate John Hinckley from attempted murderer (and Jodie Foster’s number-one fan) to a bona fide killer.

As I’ve said on many occasions, empathy isn’t my strong suit. Here though, I don’t think it should be expected considering I have no idea what it’s like to either shoot somebody or get shot. People on the internet, however, seem to have all the answers.

It helps to have an axe to grind. Otherwise, you have no real urge to shout “Aha!” When a senseless tragedy occurs.

ISIS was first on the bandwagon and claimed Stephen Paddock as one of their own because of course they did. Far less odious, but still biased, people followed suit.

One sentiment that many of my friends subscribe to is the insistence that Paddock be called a terrorist. Their reasoning is that if he were darker skinned and/or Muslim, he’d be assigned that label in a heartbeat. On that point, I cannot argue and he may actually be a terrorist. Definition of the word can vary from person to person, but motive remains the deciding factor rather than how despicable the crime was. This is why I think Dylann Roof is a terrorist and Adam Lanza was not despite his higher body count. So far, Paddock’s motive is anybody’s guess.

Gun-control advocates chimed in and even though I doubt America will ever rid itself of guns, I do see their point. I don’t know how many people Paddock would gave killed if he were blasting away with a hunting rifle, but I’m guessing a lot fewer than 58.

Then there were those pushing the idea that the shooter was some crazed libtard who hated Trump and freedom in equal measure. Such people both amuse and frighten me.

The last of the axe grinders I’ll mention are those who point an accusing finger at toxic masculinity because it is toxic, pervasive, and drives people to kill. It is toxic, I’ll grant them that. My own masculinity is pretty meager, but what I do have is toxic all get out. I’ll also concede pervasive as I’m just one in a multitude of spiteful, entitled pricks in the world. You would think that with all these raging assholes running loose, the carnage would be far worse than it is.  Yet, most of us are not homicidal. The unsavory parts of my character may not stay my hand, but they don’t force it either.

You need that extra something to commit mass murder. Stephen Paddock had it. I don’t think I do. There’s only one person I ever think about killing and that’s the ugly fucker in the mirror on the other side of the bar.

And there’s the abyss I was talking about. I need to back away and shift my focus to those I hate even worse. There was the CBS attorney who said the victims deserved what they got because they were country-music fans and therefore likely Republicans. Then there was the owner of a vegan food truck in Pennsylvania who cheered for the animal lives saved by the death of all these meat eaters.

These are not the people I hate. Sure they’re assholes, but they are up front about it. No, the ones I truly despise are the ones who chant their “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences” mantra and set out to get those who offended them publicly shamed then deprived of their livelihoods. You are not doing me any favors. I like it when people say offensive things. I enjoy the freedom to say “What an asshole” when the situation merits it. You rob me of that freedom with your need to enforce civility through any cowardly means available.

I’m not against your right to criticize. Criticize away. Denounce. Wave your arms and pitch a hissy. Just don’t stifle people and then pat yourself on the back for being such a wonderful person. People on both the left and the right do this and I gave nothing but contempt for the lot of you.

And yes, I like to be offensive as well.  It’s how I process human tragedy. It’s also a lot of fun. People are caricatures to me.

Sitting at the bar, I have nary a twinge of guilt as I muse about that procrastinating murder victim James Brady and his devoted wife Sarah, who took care of him for all those years. She had to get sick of his shit once in a while.

Picture if you will, James Brady sitting on the floor in his diaper eating tapioca pudding with a plastic spoon. To minimize the mess on his shirt, he is wearing a bib with “BRADY BILL” emblazoned above a picture of his face with a duck bill. Enter wifey Sarah with a strap on and she mounts his forehead and starts fucking his Hinckley hole for all its worth, Old Puddinhead wet burping his meal rhythmically with the thrusting.

The bartender sees my head tilt slightly and a smile spread slowly across my lips. She asks me if I need another drink. I tell her I’m good and gather my stuff to leave. I don’t share my anecdote. I doubt she’d appreciate it and it’s her bar, in reality if not by ownership. She needs to come here to earn a living.

You, on the other hand, get on the interwebs in large part for the same reason I go a bar, to amuse yourselves. Do keep that in mind when you have the urge to turn into a self-righteous piece of shit.

 

Northbound and Down

Your workday dies a lingering death when you have a long commute. If you’re driving home, you may not think about it too much because you’re too busy concentrating on the car ahead of you and the slow crawl of rush-hour traffic. I ride a tech bus so I have plenty of time to think.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to own a car again. It’s been 24 years since driving my old one to death by not caring much about scheduled maintenance, including oil changes. I’m not very good at taking care of things, whether it be my car, my teeth, or my career path. I’m also not a very good driver because other cars on the road just aren’t all that interesting to me. While it may be true that driving a car would give me the freedom to go wherever I want, letting someone else drive gives my brain the freedom to go wherever it wants. I like that better.

It’s usually an hour and 45 minutes of my semi-workday purgatory before the bus gets off the freeway. I spend this time fretting about work, fretting about things that aren’t work, or losing myself in my fantasy world so I don’t have to fret about anything. The only thing I have to do is stay on the bus. Unless it crashes. Then I have to lie on the asphalt and bleed a lot. Either way, I’m still a prisoner.

The bus exits at Cesar Chavez Street, which was Army Street when I first moved here and its current namesake was still alive. I remember some of the older and more conservative (by SF standards) residents objecting to the name change. I didn’t mind. Sure, it took a couple of extra syllables to say, but Chavez was a pretty good guy and streets in this town have been named after far worse than him (e.g. Fillmore and Columbus).

I actually heard Cesar Chavez speak one time. I can’t remember what he said but he earned a lot of applause, being Cesar Chavez and all. It was 1988 and I had just moved up to the Bay Area and was living in Oakland. There was an event at Dolores Park that had the words “jobs,” “justice,” and “peace” in the title. I’m not sure of the order and I don’t think it really mattered. The three were all good things and the intended effect was to create a big, liberal umbrella that was welcoming to one and all.

It worked. Dolores Park was transformed that day into a veritable swap meet for progressive causes. Environmentalists, feminists, socialists, and “Where was George?” finger pointers had all set up shop on the grass. Bored by the overall nonviolent vibe, I gravitated toward the table with the pro-IRA swag on display.

The table wasn’t actually run by the IRA with some hatchet-faced Fenian hissing about the “durrrty Briddish” through a jack-o’-lantern smile. Instead, I was greeted by a rather fetching redhead who represented an organization calling itself Irish Northern Aid.

She informed me that their mission was to support the families of “political prisoners” in Northern Ireland and if I signed up for their mailing list and made a small donation, I could help myself to one of those nifty “Victory to the IRA” bumper stickers. It was just a few dollars so I handed her the money and put the bumper sticker on display in the front window of my apartment, where it received pointed disapproval from my English friend whenever he came by for a visit.

That’s as close as I’ve come to being a sponsor of terrorism. Irish Northern Aid, or NORAID, was accused of supplying the Irish Republican Army with cash to buy weapons. This was never proven outright and I did not know about the allegation at the time. Even if I had, I don’t know if it would have made any difference.

My ancestry is Irish as much as anything, but I had l no real kinship with the land of my roots. At the time, I never visited Ireland and had no strong opinion whether it should be united or not. Even now, I have no dog in that fight. For people in Northern Ireland, the IRA were a grim reality. For me living in California, they were a parlor game.

The only thing I ever liked about the IRA is that they got drunk and blew stuff up. To this bored and sheltered idiot, that was some punk-rock shit. I didn’t know the issues and didn’t care. When someone pointed out the ideological inaccuracy of writing “IRA” with a circle around the “A” to denote anarchy, I sneered at his attempt to stifle my creativity.

I wasn’t all that sympathetic either. I heard about the hunger strikers while I was in college and with a level of tact that hasn’t changed much, I wrote “Bobby Sands” on a piece of paper and taped it to a skeleton Halloween decoration at the frat house. Some guy who took the Troubles very seriously pitched a hissy over that. If he were actually in the IRA, I probably would have gotten kneecapped.

Real violence has always scared the piss out of me so to make the IRA seem more palatable, I half convinced myself that they were committing “A-Team” mayhem where there’s a lot of property damage, but nobody actually gets hurt.

Looking back, I was perhaps exhibiting a similar stupidity as some of my contemporaries were with their “Mao More Than Ever” t-shirts, which were a perfectly acceptable social and fashion statement if you were willing to ignore the fact that your beloved Chairman’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution killed people by the tens of millions. I’m guessing they were into it out of boredom as well. The 80s were a stultifying decade. We all had to amuse ourselves as best we could.

The bus stops at 24th and Guerrero Streets. I get up and make my way to the exit. I move past a number of seated coworkers, most of them millennials.  They look so committed, so earnest. I really have nothing in common with them at all.