All posts by David Jennings

This is my short bio.

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.

I Need To Get Out More

It was sometime between 9 and 9:30 yesterday evening. I had just left Edinburgh Castle after hanging out with a friend and downing the two pints of beer I can have before I consider it a night of drinking. Moderation in beer consumption also made it so I didn’t have to pee every five minutes. I still had a ways to get home and was at the mercy of the Muni bus system.

The walk up Geary to Van Ness was pleasant and nostalgic. I’ve always liked this part of the city where the Tenderloin and Tendernob meet. I never lived in this neighborhood, but it has always been a pleasure to visit.

In some ways, I feel this is the true heart of San Francisco. It has just the right amount of grittiness to it. It’s not as off-puttingly moneyed as Nob Hill and you’re not faced with the kind of urban horror found deeper in the Tenderloin. People here might twitch and lurch, though seldom in a menacing manner. Even shooting up is done more respectably. Here the needle goes in one’s arm within the confines of an SRO hotel room rather than being jabbed into the dick vein while leaning against a dumpster.

Many of my own evenings of debauchery unfolded on these streets. After purchasing my party favors down in the Mission, I’d make my way up here by either bus or taxi and step out of the vehicle gushing coke snot and self-importance. Then I’d pay the cover to get into Divas, knock back one Jameson’s after another, and enjoy a celebration of gender free from the constraints of chromosome pairing.

Those were glory days indeed, but amittedly hard on the system. So I was more than happy to have my night out be one of near sobriety. Besides, my alarm goes off at 5:30 am. Also, I’m old.

So with my two-beer microbuzz, I walked the three blocks to the bus stop on Van Ness. I had to wait maybe 10 minutes before the 49 bus arrived. The wait could have been a lot  worse and frequently was, especially at night.

The 49 Mission is not much like the tech bus I take to and from San Jose. There is more urine and less Wi-Fi. It can also get a lot more crowded though it was not too bad last night. I managed to get a seat way in the back with some solitude except for a homeless guy eating unrecognizable foodstuffs out of a paper cup.

Eventually he got off, but a lot more people boarded and I found myself with someone sitting next to me. She maintained at least basic hygiene and there was no corpulent spillover into my personal space so I didn’t much mind her sitting there. I wouldn’t say I was smitten with her or anything, not like the guy who got on the bus shortly after she did and sat right in front of us in a row of seats perpendicular to ours.

He said hello to her and she either said something or she didn’t before she turned away. Unable to secure eye contact, he stared between her legs for a good, long time. Eventually, the visual bored him so he pulled out a smartphone with an absurdly large screen and watched a video of two women in their underwear thrusting and grinding on a dance floor underneath a  disco ball. It looked like they were having a good time.

The bus pulled up to the 24th Street stop and I said excuse me to the woman so I could get up. She stood up as well and found a seat some distance away from the gentleman in front of us.

I walked home in the cool night air. It felt good to have a night on the town, even a rather subdued one.

*click*

I sometimes think about taking up smoking again. That would be a monumentally stupid move of course, especially since I’ve had a friend drop dead from lung cancer not too long ago. Actually, you don’t really drop dead from that. It’s not like a heart attack. With cancer, you drop first and dead comes when it’s good and ready.

My dead friend smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish, as did I. During our college days, we spent many happy hours embodying these shopworn similes in that bubble existence of frat-boy life. We eventually graduated and stumbled wheezing into our respective futures.

My friend continued boozing whole hog before swearing it off for good around 1999. My own boozing has been half to most hog and continues to this day (though I’ve been more of a light drinker lately). As for smoking, I think he kept at it up to his cancer diagnosis and possibly beyond that because when it’s terminal, fuck it.

I myself quit smoking in 2008 after puffing away off and on for 17 years of my life. Perhaps I quit in time. We shall see.

Fortunately,  whatever death wish I have fails to stand up against smoking’s biggest drawbacks. I’m not talking about the snowballing social stigma associated with the habit. I kind of like feeling alienated. The expense is a major issue, especially now that cigs cost around ten bucks a pack. I also don’t like how addicted I get to them. I envy the hell out of people who only smoke when the mood strikes them. Having a cigarette because you want one is rather nice. Lighting up because you need it is not nearly as much fun. The morning ritual of coughing up lung cookies also leaves a lot to be desired.

Hands down, the biggest pain in the ass when it comes to smoking is quitting. I’ve quit a few times in my life and the experience has gotten progressively worse. The last time was just shy of ten years ago. I took a few days off work so I could quit cold turkey. I avoided most human contact and lay on the couch eating cheap Chinese takeout and cursing the day I was born. I was successful in the end, but it’s not the kind of thing I care to repeat.

So my death wish has its limitations, but it is still there to some degree. Or maybe it isn’t a death wish at all, but more of a need to push my luck and see what happens. A comfortable life can get a little boring and it’s only natural to start taking it for granted. Also, there’s no better way to feel immortal than to knowingly engage in behavior that can shorten your life. This is true whether we’re talking about smoking, booze, drugs, or fucking. It’s not a rational approach, but that’s part of the fun.

I’ve often bragged to Rebecca about the stupid behavior I’ve engaged in over the years. She asked me how I’m still alive even though she knew the answer already. It’s dumb luck of course and nothing more. God does not smile upon me because there is no God and the law of averages simply hasn’t caught up with me yet.

Part of me has learned my lesson. My current brand of stupid is decidedly more subdued than it was in my glory days. Still, the thought of living out my days behaving myself is a dreary prospect.

Smoking is out, but I think I’ll lose my shit if I don’t partake in some kind of risky behavior. It also needs to be something I can lose myself in. I’ve never done heroin and likely never will, but I really am a junkie at heart so I’m always on the lookout for some means of escape.

It can’t be entirely free of risk or at least it needs to feel like it isn’t. Let’s make this interesting, as gamblers often say. It’s funny because I’ve never enjoyed gambling. The rush is not worth the money lost, not compared to what you get when you spend the same amount on an eight ball. Not that I want to do that either. Cocaine failed me and can no longer be trusted.

So what’s left? Russian roulette would be about as big a thrill as I could ever imagine. Just to hear the click of the hammer over an empty chamber just once. That’ll never happen though. I’m too chicken. Also, I might find that I enjoy the rush too much to stop. That’s a dangerous habit to take up. Worse than smoking, I’m told.

Depth out of Scope

Once upon a time, there was a man who took a shit down his grandmother’s throat. Because he had earlier gorged himself not only with raisin bran but also cheese, the bowel movement he delivered was both voluminous and solid.

The grandmother was not on board with this. If she had been able, she might have reacted with some mild, grandmotherly admonishment like “Oh for heaven’s sake” or “In my day…” Alas, the girth and gravity of the bowel movement blocking her windpipe rendered her incapable of anything beyond making seal-like noises as she convulsed on the floor. Even the convulsing didn’t do her much good since he was standing on both her forearms while he squatted down over her.

Eventually, she died as elderly women with a trachea full of feces are wont to do.  For the grandson, it would have been a perfect crime if he had bothered to close the blinds prior to committing the murder. As a result, everything start to finish was observed by the nextdoor neighbor. After it was all over, this neighbor pulled her hand from her pants, tasted herself, and called the police.

The cops arrived promptly because the people who lived in this neighborhood were not poor. When the two black and whites pulled up out front, the grandson walked out the door to face the music.

Because he was not a person of color, the grandson planned ahead and brought a toy gun to wave in front of the police officers. He had also planned to shout “Allahu akbar!” but that turned out to be unnecessary. The cops unloaded their guns into him and he was dead before he hit ground.

Upon writing this, I turned my attention away from my phone and stared out the bus window at the Peninsula bedroom communities passing me by. Suburbanites are stupid, I told myself. I had neither logic nor data to back up this claim, but I had said it often enough that no further justification was needed.

“Is that it?” said a voice next to me. I could have sworn I was sitting alone this time. When someone does sit next to me, I’m usually disliking their proximity enough for them to never be completely out of my thoughts.

When I turned and looked, it wasn’t a real person at all. It was the grandson from my little story. He was semi-transparent and gave off a bluish glow that made the blood from his bullet wounds appear magenta. I found him even more irritating than someone who was flesh and blood because they at least refrain from talking to me during the ride.

“I thought I killed you,” I said.

“If you bothered to pay attention,” he said. “You’d realize that I actually killed myself. Classic suicide by cop. Now why do you suppose I did that?”

“You tell me.”

“That’s the thing. I can’t. I have no idea why I wanted the cops to shoot me. That goes double for killing my grandmother. I had nothing against her. Then again, I might have, but you never supplied that detail. In fact, you never supplied any details that might some light on my motivation for doing what I did.”

“Not my problem,” I said. “You come here with your low-rent Pirandello shit and expect me to put in the work on rewrites until the piece is polished enough to bring you closure. That isn’t going to happen. You see, this is a blog and as such, it’s ephemeral as fuck. I write something. I post it. I forget about it. It’s what I do.”

“Then why do you even bother?” he said.

Good question, I thought. There were a lot of ideas that existed only existed either as hastily scribbled outlines in notebooks or solely inside my head. These ideas were worth the bother. They deserved better than the slapdash kind of writing that goes into blogging and so they never make any progress toward coming to fruition.

They did serve one purpose though. Just thinking of them managed to distract me from the vile grandson and his existential mewlings. After a few moments had passed, I looked back and he was gone, just a creature of the moment that had faded into the blur of others like him.

Chill Time

I took a few days off from work. There was Rebecca’s birthday on Thursday, the following Friday and Monday, and of course the Fourth of July was Tuesday. All this added up to a six-day weekend and I’m happy to report that I didn’t accomplish shit except play this game on my Android called “Adventure League” where you lead a band of medieval mercenaries and cruise around a hexagonal map where you fight a quickly repetitive assortment of foes. My crew was called the “Diarrhea Desperados” and we kicked ass until we all got killed.

Maybe my claim of total sloth is not entirely true. I did write a blog post on Saturday where I at least splashed around in the shallow end of the suicide-ideation pool. I did an OK job with it, good enough to get me some of that social-media validation I crave far more than is healthy. One thing I would have changed if blogging were more conducive to rewrites would be to ease up on the “I won’t go through with it” disclaimers. Some of those are necessary lest some well-meaning but uninformed friend decide to 5150 my weepy ass for my own good. The number of times I did this was, if you can excuse the expression, overkill.

I’ve also walked around the city more. I needed that. My usual workaday existence consists of an alarm clock going off at 5:45 am, a full day down in San Jose, and a long bus ride going to and fro. When I get home, I’m flopped out on the couch with a glass of wine instead of hitting the town.

It’s a comfortable existence albeit an insular one. I enjoy time I get to spend inside my head, but sometimes I feel like I get lost in there. This is partly true even at work. Sure I’m required a lot of focus and some amount of interaction, but the detachment is still there. There is nothing wrong with my coworkers. I’m just too weird to share my thoughts in a job environment and too enamored by my weirdness to shelve it so I can listen to someone else’s mundane crap.

With much of my life differing little from day to day, it’s not all that surprising that my urban strolls quickly fell into a routine of their own. I would head down to Muddy Waters (aka Trash Muddy’s) for my first cup of coffee, which I would drink in the back room. From there, I would head off to Wicked Grounds, a mile and change further along in SoMa.

On the way, I would pass a number of homeless encampments along the sidewalk near Folsom and 16th Street. I didn’t see too many people. They were either in their tents or elsewhere. Of the few who were around, none panhandled me. That was nice. I like a world where people leave each other alone.

Between the upwardly mobile douchebags on Valencia Street and these unfortunate bastards, I started to feel like I was middle class, an average Joe, a water treader. Then I corrected myself. There is no such thing as middle class in San Francisco, not anymore. You’re either privileged or you’re fucked and as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I’m privileged as hell. I’m just old and less flashy about it.

When I finally get to Wicked Grounds, I would order an Americano because if you just want a cup of coffee, it’s either that or French press and an Americano sounds like it’s less trouble. It probably isn’t though. I’m sure both are a pain in the ass.

Wicked Grounds, as far as I know, is the only kink-friendly coffee place in the city. You have to be at least 18 to go there, there are floggers and other toys available for purchase, and munches are sometimes held in the back room. There is gender fluidity among both the staff and patrons, and the vibe is relaxed overall.

I like it there. Even though my appearance is conspicuously conventional, nobody gives me any attitude. This is probably because I always tip and neither gawk nor talk shit. I don’t know if they assume I’m vanilla. Is there some BDSM version of gaydar and if so, would I set it off? I definitely have my thing, but it’s a little different from most kinksters are into. (Relax, concerned citizens. It’s all consenting adults.)

It hardly matters. I feel somehow validated knowing I’m different, but in a different way from other different folks. Not a bad trick for such a stodgy-looking doofus. I try my best to conceal my smugness as I drink my coffee before the long walk home.

Hazy Landscapes

The sky is the color of drywall. Or perhaps horchata. The sun is up there somewhere doing its thing so I don’t die. Wait. That would imply the sun operates purposefully on my behalf, which is nonsense. There will come a day when the sun doing its thing will be to supernova. That will likely be long after I have died from an unrelated cause, but you never know.

I have been told by people who know about such things that we are all made up of stardust. As such, we are part of this mind-bogglingly vast and wondrous universe we live in. If that gives you a sense of belonging, good for you. You are still going to die.

If it makes you feel any better, I’m going to die too. It is unlikely to be today or tomorrow, but it’s probable I have fewer days ahead than behind me. Death may come suddenly in the form of a road accident or a stray bullet, or I maybe told I have a terminal illness by some doctor who punctuates the bad news with a shrug.

To be honest, I would prefer a shrug over some perfunctory display of commiseration. Finding out I’m going to die soon would be hard enough. Do I also have to feel bad for ruining the day of the bringer of bad news? There has to be a clip on YouTube of Charles Bronson smiling and saying “tough shit.” I just need to find it and send the link to my doctor with the note “If I’m stricken with pancreatic cancer, do that.”

For the foreseeable future, I’m better off assuming that The Life of Dave is not yet in its final act. I have decades of at least intermittent happiness to look forward to, even though suicide ideation is my go-to when I’m feeling pissy.

SI has been longtime companion of mine, but not always the best of friends. Whenever it feels even the slightest bit real, it hurts like a bitch. Even writing about it right now makes me feel a little uneasy, but that could just be the coffee jitters. I’m not terribly in tune with my body. I know I should treat it like a temple, and I do, but like a temple of someone else’s religion where I’m itching for some hate-crime desecration.

At least that was the old me. I’m better behaved now, but the temple walls still carry the stains of bygone stupidity.

Enough with the belabored temple imagery. Now where was I? Ah yes, offing myself. More to the point, thinking about offing myself even though I’m never going to do it.

The thing I’ve learned about my SI is that it is a total drama queen. It needs no serious commitment on my part, but it does like to be romanced. Fortunately for all concerned, its tastes have become subdued with age. I no longer feel the urge to go at my wrist with a razor blade, coyly dancing around major arteries so I could achieve some excellent Ordinary People scars with no real risk of doing myself in.

Now I just have my dying places, secluded spots I have walked by and committed to memory. I never need to go visit them. It is enough to know they’re there. I like to think of them as my Winterwood after the Patrick McCabe novel, but with two major differences. One is that I never even think about killing anyone else. The other is that I never will actually kill myself either.

None of this is healthy, but it is familiar. Over the years, I’ve learned to romanticize the hell out of the darker recesses of my noggin. Now I’m not sure how much I’m coping with extant darkness or how much I’m just going through the motions because I’m a creature of habit. Internally, there’s a certain twisted beauty to it all. But if I dared to step outside myself and watched with an objective eye, I’d see a creature akin to Milton from Office Space mumble-plotting revenge for the loss of his stapler.

It’s a good thing I can tart up my embracing of life as well. I am still putting on a show for myself, but it’s a far happier one than my occasional strolls through Grimville. It’s also a lot more fun for others to be around, provided they’re OK with puns and toilet humor masquerading as genuine wit.

Mrs. Spastic

I can’t remember what her real name was. Spacek? Spassky? I’m sure she had a first name too, but if she ever said it I wasn’t paying attention. What I do know was that in some small way, I was instrumental in her personal growth.

She lived in Oxnard Shores. I no longer did, but I spent some weekends there visiting my father who had moved back after some time away. I still had friends who lived there. I was  about 14 at least a year or two older than any of them as I was both immature and small for my age, stunted in mind and body.

One of these friends was a boy I’ll call Jake. He was about 12 or 13 at the time. He came up with Mrs. Spastic’s nickname and was the one who introduced me to her as well.

“She’s a crazy lady. This’ll be fun,” he said.

Mrs. Spastic lived in a typical house in Oxnard Shores, a single-story tract home with a cinder-block wall to shield a concrete yard from the ocean wind. Shag carpet was commonplace (it was the 1970s), screen doors ubiquitous.

We walked up to her front door and rang the bell. Jake told me we could just walk right in if we wanted. She never locked the door. She never locked anything.

The door opened and there stood a woman in her 40s as best I could tell. She was about five-two, no matter which way you held the tape measure. I was no taller than her then, but I was considerably narrower. Her hair had a bowl cut that I would one day associate with child molesters. Her most prominent feature though was her smile. It was too wide for a normal set of human teeth so hers spread out leaving gaps you could floss with a shoelace.

Upon greeting me, she grasped my hand in both of hers and held it against her belly, which had surprisingly little give for a woman of her corpulence. When I tried to pull my hand away, she tightened her grip.

“Jake tells me you’re an actor,” she said. Surprisingly enough, this was a little bit true at the time. I had started auditioning for school plays in the eighth grade, something that would continue all the way through high school. I wasn’t that good so I mostly got cast in small to medium parts in dramas and bit parts and extras in musicals. In the musicals, I was told not to sing because they said I couldn’t carry a tune. I sometimes sang anyway just to prove them wrong. I never did.

“Theater’s pretty cool,” I said.

“Do you like Oscar Wilde? Because I think you would be perfect in The Importance of Being Earnest playing …” she said, citing some character in the play whose name I didn’t recognize. I was trying to figure out if the Ernest in the title referred to Hemingway or Borgnine, but I wasn’t about to tell her that. Like most 14 year olds, I was loathe to admit I didn’t know everything.

“You think so?” I said.

All the while, Jake is standing behind Mrs. Spastic making faces and clicking his retainer every time she said something. I found I could keep myself from busting out laughing if I let myself smile. I ended up smiling a lot. She probably thought I was the most charming boy ever.

“Hold on. I’m going to get my copy of the play. I think it’s in the bedroom,” and off she went to go find it.

As soon as she was out of sight, Jake went into the kitchen, picked up a plastic bottle of dish soap, and squirted its contents all over the curtains covering the window above the sink. Not to be outdone, I opened the refrigerator and fired a snot rocket into a carton of milk.

Mrs. Spastic emerged from the bedroom empty-handed, blathering on about how she couldn’t find the play anywhere. That suited us fine. We already had our fun for the day.

Jake and I visited Mrs. Spastic a number of times after that. On each occasion, we committed some mischief. A salt shaker had its top loosened so it would spill all over her dinner. A toothbrush was peed on. Her garbage disposal was stuffed with Brillo Pads so it would grind to a halt the next time she used it. We never stole anything though. Both of us considered thievery to be low-life behavior and we knew we were better than that.

For a while, we got away with everything. She was nothing if not trusting, so trusting in fact that she used to leave her keys ignition if her car. This proved to cause my fall from grace in her eyes. One day, I thought it would be funny to start the car and rev the engine as high as it would go.

This caused Mrs. Spastic to storm out the front door all apoplectic and screaming at me to stop that this incident while I ran away laughing. She also threatened to tell my parents, or maybe the cops. In either case, I wasn’t too worried. The reason crazy people make the best victims is that nobody believes them.

After that, she had little interest in my acting career, which was fine. I was spending less time in Oxnard Shores anyway and Jake had moved away. Before Jake left, he must’ve introduced her to some other kids in the neighborhood because word had gotten around that she and her home were fair game for anything you wanted to do.

One weekend I was visiting, a bunch of us were sitting around feeling bored so we decided to all go see Mrs. Spastic together. We marched up to her front door and rang the bell.

“Hold on boys. I got something for you,” she said and shut the door. All of us liked gifts so we waited patiently for her return.

When the door opened again, her smiling gap teeth were now gnashing in fury. Not only that, she had a weapon. I didn’t get too good a look at it, but it appeared to be something akin to a high-powered slingshot with a pistol grip and she was shooting what I think we’re ball bearings at us. We scattered and fled. She could have easily put one of our eyes out, but I doubt she cared. She was clearly sick of our shit.

I never saw Mrs. Spastic after that. I doubt any of the others did either. I like to think she went on to spend her days enjoying her well-earned peace and quiet, free from unexplained mishaps around the house, and relaxed enough to read her beloved Oscar Wilde.

Heat

There’s a reason I don’t live in the Southwest, or the South for that matter. It’s their summers. One’s a dry heat and therefore less oppressive, though I’m not a fan of either of them. One kind of sweltering heat makes you fuck a cactus, the other your cousin. Both could be fun to watch, but I wouldn’t want to live that way.

I live in San Francisco where summer days usually aren’t bad. There are exceptions though. This past Saturday was one of them. It was not as hot as either the South or Southwest and did not drive me to sexually assault a cousin-cactus hybrid, which I figure is at highest risk for rape in extreme heat and moderate humidity.

Instead, I lay on the couch and wheezed F bombs at no one in particular as the afternoon wore on. Rebecca eventually got motivated and dragged her ass to the gym, but I did not budge. When she came back after an hour or two, I was feeling the effects of caffeine withdrawal. It was then I  decided to finally get out of the house.

“Going to Trash Muddy’s!” I said to her as I headed out the door. I was referring to Muddy Waters, a cafe owned by the same people as Muddy’s and located eight blocks away on 16th Street. It’s a little crustier down that way, hence the nickname I gave it.

I stuck to the west side of Valencia Street, shaded from the late afternoon sun, as I walked toward the cafe. I was unfortunately not shielded from the late afternoon crowd. The douchebags in v-neck t-shirts and Shia LaBeouf hair were the most aesthetically offensive, but to be honest I wasn’t thrilled about any of them. They walked slower than I did and impeded my progress. Never mind that I was in no hurry to get where I was going. If I was going to dawdle, I wanted it to be on my terms.

I got to Trash Muddy’s, ordered a large coffee, and sat in the back room. I was at the same table as last week, the one with “DIE TECHIE SCUM” etched into the wood. Did the person who wrote that mean me? Maybe a little. I do write code for a living, but I’m not some 24 year old who’s lived a life of privilege. I’m a 54 year old who’s lived a life of privilege. There’s a world of difference.

It was hot in there and the air was heavy and still. Ordinarily, I would hate that. I kind of liked it though, either despite or because of my drinking hot coffee.  I was able to relax enough to enjoy being the only back there. I also liked that other than my phone, I couldn’t see any technology more recent than 1990. It almost made me put my phone away and enjoy the old-timey goodness.

Almost.

Pausing Briefly To Look Around

I’m in a different building this week. From the window where the training course is being held, I can see a couple of other buildings of the company campus. The one where I usually work is on the other side of things. I figure it’s probably a few blocks away.

I’m a city boy so I think of distances in blocks, where getting from points A to B can be plotted on a concrete-and-asphalt grid that reeks of piss and vomit. Where I work is not like that. There, getting around involves a straight shot across expansive parking lots between uniform beige buildings placed at odd angles to one another.

The building I’m in for training is just far enough away for me to choose a different route for my lunchtime stroll. So, instead of walking by the water tower and the abandoned special-needs gulag surrounding it, I wandered along the base of an embankment with a creek on the other side to the corner of the company campus. There I sit in a shady spot behind a bunch of dumpsters and shipping containers, which I imagine will be some kind of makeshift post-apocalyptic village after society takes a one-way trip down the crapper in the near future.

My routine and surroundings are quite similar to any other week, but just different enough to make me feel like I’m wandering around a place that isn’t quite my world. Fortunately, I feel like that most of the time already so the experience is not all that disconcerting.

I’ve felt similar about this blog lately. Believe it or not, I had a mission of sorts when I started blogging more back in late January. Trump had just been inaugurated and I predicted that politics, particularly that of the “Trump sucks” variety, was going to dominate verbal outpouring on the interwebs. I wanted no part of that.

It’s not that I’m an apolitical or that my political leanings have been kept entirely out of my blog posts. It just wanted what I wrote to be my voice and my perspective instead of echoing what everyone else was saying.

I’ve spent enough time on social media (primarily Facebook) to be sick to my guts of the neverending onslaught of groupthink. One could blame millennials and their affinity for the hive mind, but my memory is too good for that. People have never needed much prompting to jump on the bandwagon. Modern technology just gives them the opportunity to be more vocal about it.

Fuck that, thought I, I’m going to say what I want. I’m not going to worry if anyone sees things my way. And to show real bravery, I’m not going to back down even if no one cares one way or another what I say.

So month after month, that’s what I did. I indulged in high-minded experiments that yielded mixed results at best. I was open-ish about my mental-health issues and past substance abuse. And of course, I fell back on vulgar humor when I didn’t have anything else to say.

I was all me, all the time and while my efforts didn’t get me much in the way of accolades or increased readership, the volume of work has been high and the quality at least adequate. Where I think I’ve failed so far is that I haven’t produced that breakout piece of writing that raises my work to a new level.

Still, I keep at it simply because writing is preferable to not writing. It’s all a little strange, a little absurd, and what was once purpose has turned into force of habit. Maybe I’ll achieve brilliance someday, but it’s nice to know I don’t have to.