Encroachment

The concrete seating made my ass hurt. Most of the people around me wisely brought seat cushions, but the only padding I had was the kind I packed on myself. Too many nights of poor choices in food following poor choices in drink can do that. Unfortunately, cushions made of ass fat also contain nerve endings so they are not nearly as comfortable.

There had been both kinds of bad decisions the night before. After some immoderate drinking at Iron & Gold, Becca and I stopped by McDonald’s on the way home. It had been years since I’ve been there and I regretted it even at the time.

I spent much of the next day lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and feeling two kinds of poisoned. Becca headed off to Berkeley early so she could be first in line (or near enough) for the Interpol show. I was free to show up whenever, as long I arrived by the time the doors opened at six.

I made it out the door sometime after four and arrived at Berkeley BART around five. From there, it was a mile hike uphill through the UC campus to the Greek Theater. It was warm out, in the upper 70s, and I zigzagged to take advantage of every bit of shade along the way.

When I got there, Becca was there with her Interpol friends (whom she calls “Interpals”) near the start of the line. They were dressed in black and eager to get in. I was sweaty and eager to sit down. In my defense, I’m old, over twenty years older than most of them.

My job when the gates opened was a simple one. I was to carry Becca’s purse and deal with any delay from its being searched for contraband while she made a beeline for the front of the stage. The plan went as expected. Becca secured her spot at the railing. I handed back her purse then went off to buy an energy drink and find a seat in the old-people section.

The first of the opening bands had yet to take the stage so the crowd was still sparse. I found a spot one section over and about 30 feet left of the soundboard. As one could guess from the venue’s name, the place was laid out like a Greek amphitheater with a semicircle of tiered seating in front of the stage.

There was also an open area for people to stand. I don’t know if that’s part of a traditional amphitheater. My knowledge of ancient Greek is limited to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and I only know about that because of the Tom Lehrer song.

The first band, Sunflower Bean, got on stage and started playing. They started with something pretty Joan Jett-esque. The rest of their set had some songs I enjoyed more than others. Overall, I liked them pretty well, as was the case with the following acts, The Kills and Interpol.

When I really the music at a show, whatever else is going  on in life seems unimportant. I get into my bobblehead, knee-bend dorky dance and I am immune to worry. A rocking Dave is a bulletproof Dave.

Oddly enough, there is a similar effect if I really dislike the band. Then I focus all my mental energy on inwardly heckling the act. I sneer at a band member’s resemblance to some D-list celebrity, even if the resemblance is slight at most. I mentally rewrite the lyrics so the songs are about something violent and/or degrading. This activity creates a sort of Kevlar against what might be bothering me at the time.

If something is bothering me, going to a show where I like the music just OK is problematic. The tunes are neither engrossing nor off-putting so they fade into the background. That leaves the brain free to wander into unpleasant territory.

The territory on that day was particularly unpleasant. It was not the usual work-related paranoia or agonizing over some idiocy of mine from decades ago. This was something more tangible and dire.

My landlady had sent me an email saying she was going to inspect the back deck. Seeing the kitchen was less than wonderful, she announced that she would be inspecting the rest of the place. How bad is bad enough to merit an eviction? I wasn’t sure. I made arrangements for a junk-removal service to haul way years of accumulated crap and hired a house cleaner as well. Would that be good enough? Would anything be? I knew that being in a rent-controlled unit, I was paying way below market rate. It was not in my landlady’s best interests financially to cut me any slack.

Thinking about this had kept me up much of the night before. As drunk as I was when got home, I told myself, parking myself further back would allow me enough personal space to relax and put my worries out of my mind.

What I failed to consider when I first sat down was not everyone shows up at the same time. More and more people arrived before and during the opening act. As the amphitheater filled, a design flaw in the seating plan arose. There was no set width of an individual’s space allotted, but that’s not what bothered me. Some folks are fatter than others and I’m OK with that. The issue was there was no set boundary how far you could sit back and how much legroom you got on the tier in front. I found myself wedged between one person who sat way back and another who liked to stretch his legs.

I tried to shrink away, but the more I did, the more my neighbors fore and aft took advantage of the space made available. I looked to the side of me to see if the person next to me was in the same predicament. He was playing air guitar and seemed to not to have a care in the world. How I envied him.

After the show, I moved to the front as the crowd dispersed and found Becca. She said that she and her friends were going to stake out the exit and hope to spot one or more members of Interpol. I wished her the best and headed back toward the BART station.

I moved briskly through the campus so I could make the last train back to the city. The charge on my phone was all but dead so I had to make the trek without use of the Google Maps app. It turned out I didn’t need it. To reach my destination, all I had to do was keeping going downhill.

Life During Wartime

I was sitting on the couch when the shots were fired. I was not sure they were gunshots at first. They could have been fireworks. I am not an expert on such matters and besides, I had a somewhat stressful workday and was deliberately not paying attention to the goings on of the outside world.

Instead, I refocused on the game I was playing on my laptop. Some time later, Becca came into the living room and told me that there were gunshots at the corner of Elizabeth Street and San Jose Avenue, half a block from our home.

“I read it on Citizen,” she said. Citizen is an app that sends alerts of local crimes and other unpleasantness. Becca uses the app to help fuel her disenchantment with San Francisco so when the time comes to move up to Portland, there will be no second thoughts.

I decided to install the app as well, but not for the same purpose. It’s not that I lack disenchantment, far from it. It’s just that I was already acquainted with the city’s nastiness back when my fondness for the place was unwavering. Besides, the app would likely only alert me to the misfortune of those I didn’t care much about. In the end, all it would fuel is my schadenfreude.

The post-installation payoff was immediate. As I was was reading comments about the alert (at least one person was decrying “snitches”),  the cops arrived and investigated the scene as they are wont to do when shooting is done by non-cops.

Of course, shots fired neither by nor at me only hold my interest for so long. I like a little quirkiness in the crime I read about. The more an incident resembles a scene from Reno 911! the less real danger it presents because it does not seem quite real.

Florida has traditionally filled this need. Whenever I read a news article with a Sunshine State dateline, I expected there to be some guy high on jenkem and naked as a jaybird, running down the street with a meat cleaver in his hand and a rubber chicken hanging out of his anus. I giggle at these stories, but know deep down that every one of them is a peek inside the soul of America.

Or something like that. Your soul-of-America mileage may vary.

I decided to use the Citizen app to find a bit o’ Florida in my own backyard. I did not have to wait long. The next morning, I saw an alert about a “MAN ARRESTED FOR TRYING TO STEAL BABY.” Then there was “AGGRESSIVE NUDE WOMAN THROWING ITEMS AT TRAFFIC” and later, “MAN PERFORMING LEWD ACTS” at a BART station. It was wonderful and I wanted this kind of entertainment to continue. Being as crazy as I am isn’t always easy, but there is some comfort to be had by being surrounded by stuff that’s even crazier.

It didn’t work out that way for long. Some wise, old grumpy pants once said, “The problem with the common man is that he is unbearably common,” and the same holds true for the common criminal. In the end, the Citizen app proved not to be showcase for warped performance art, but rather for dull, violent people doing dull, violent things.

The app inundated me with robberies, fistfights, stabbings, and whatnot, all at an alarming rate. Since I was used to getting my news through conventional news outlets, someone has to consider it newsworthy for it to appear on my radar. With the Citizen app, there is no baseline threshold to speak of so I get everything. On one level, I really shouldn’t find this all that surprising. I’m no stranger to this kind of misbehavior. People suck. I have known that for years.

This is not just armchair misanthropy talking. I have personal experience to back it up. Though I  am not prone to committing acts of physical violence, I have often been sufficiently impaired to make myself an inviting target. As a result, I have been in a few unfortunate situations. None of them made the papers.

Another thing I noticed is how random and senseless the violence is. Again, it’s a case of confirming my suspicions rather than surprising me with some  great revelation. I never for once thought there was a grand choreography at play yet something in my brain expects some modicum of rhyme and reason.

I think that’s a holdover from how I’m used to getting my news. I don’t think the outlets are concocting overall themes as part of some media conspiracy, but the themes exist nonetheless. Some stories get reported because they’re a big deal all on their own. Other lesser stories might get omitted if not for being somehow related to the big-deal stories. As soon as you have related stories as part of editorial decisions, cohesion is manufactured. Real life makes a lot less sense.

As depressing as Citizen can be, I am not about to remove it from my phone because of the treats it occasionally throws my way. Just two hours ago, there was a report of a man at 17th and Capp throwing used needles at pedestrians.  Good for him. AIDS and darts should go together.

Like an abusive partner with a box of chocolates, this app knows how to keep me coming back for more.