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9/11

The fall equinox is still a week and a half away, but the days are getting noticeably shorter. It’s darker when I leave the house, somehow more fitting with the hydraulic farts of an early-morning delivery truck I invariably hear in the distance. I take out my phone and snap a picture so I can hold onto a bit of the gloom to comfort me through the day. The camera autoadjusts, letting in more light for a clearer, brighter picture.

Technology is not always my friend.

I walk toward Muddy’s. My ass is dragging and I really need the coffee. I had a late night last night. It wasn’t in the same league as the kind of late nights I used to have. I was in bed before midnight. I’m older now though. I may not be any more mature, but I am more tired.

I make it a point to stay focused through my coffee-and-bagel ritual. My autopilot tends to malfunction when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. There was that time I poured half and half into the brown-sugar container instead of into my coffee. I’d rather that didn’t happen again.

At least there is no hangover to contend with. I was out at a show and I don’t like to drink when I go see a band, particularly one I’m into. Beer means needing to pee. Needing to pee means missing part of the act. It’s not worth it.

The band we went to see was Stiff Little Fingers. It was their 40th anniversary and I have been a fan of their music for 30 of those years. They’re a punk band from Belfast. Though there is no shortage of anger in their lyrics (especially in their early stuff), they are decidedly more pacifist in their outlook than you’d expect from that genre. In Northern Ireland, violence was the status quo. It’s not surprising they were sick of it. Today the band only has half its original members, but their frontman Jake Burns has grown to twice his original size so I guess it all evens out.

I chew my bagel and notice I’m a little deaf. My ears got pretty well blasted last night. No matter, my hearing would come back eventually.  Most of it anyway.

I keep thinking about how different I am from Jake Burns, and not just because I lack musical talent. I am not from Belfast. I grew up in Santa Barbara. Nothing bad happens to you there unless you do it to yourself.

The time is approaching 6:40 so I leave Muddy’s and walk to the bus stop two blocks away. It’s fully light out now and already warmer than I’d like. It’ll be hot as balls down in San Jose, but I’ll be in an air-conditioned office.

It’s my 9/11, I say to myself. It’s my inside job.

In some ways, 9/11 is America’s taste of Northern Ireland. Or maybe a crash course. We experienced roughly the same body count from terrorist violence as the Troubles. One major difference was that most Americans were never in any real danger. Another was that they spread their dying over decades and we got ours out of the way before lunch.

The suddenness of the attack kept me from processing it all. My behavior in its wake was certainly far from stellar. It wasn’t hate-crime bad. That’s not my style. It was joking in a crowded bar about rescue workers pulling disembodied vaginas from the rubble, blowing the dust off, and then having their way with them. That’s my style. The joking, not the violation of necrobits.

I felt pretty bad about that. I later regretted feeling bad. I lack tact and empathy is mostly an abstraction for me. I need to accept that for my own good.

I respect the hell out of Jake Burns for being able to turn his righteous anger into some great music. The problem is when I try to find similar righteousness within me and realize I don’t have any. It makes me feel shitty, maybe not kill-myself shitty, but think-about-it shitty. Not all the time, but sometimes.

At work, I try listening to some Stiff Little Fingers, but I’m not in the mood. Lunchtime comes and while I’m eating my microwaved phở, I start googling 9/11 pics on my phone. I find the one I’m looking for, the one of the explosion when the second plane hits the World Trade Center. Using my Meme Generator app, I add the caption “SO THIS HAPPENED” and upload it to Instagram.

Back at my desk, my spirits improved but I’m still not up for Jake Burns’ punk-rock earnestness. I put on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica  instead.

“My smile is stuck. I cannot go back to your frown land…”

If only, dear Captain. If only.

Hurricane Party Pooper

Harvey is a done deal, more or less. Some people’s lives are still upended and a few others, just ended. I’m unclear on a lot of the details. It seems like it happened a world away and the only effect it had on me was at the checkout line at Safeway when I clicked “No thanks” when asked if I wanted to donate to the relief effort (thoughts and prayers are more economical).

Meanwhile, there is another hurricane that’s bigger than Harvey and barreling toward Florida. This one is called Irma. It’s my understanding that there is an alphabetical progression in a given year when it comes to naming these storms, so chances are slim we’ll have any hurricanes named Yolanda or Zeke. With global warming, that could change of course. We might have to start giving them last names as well. When Zachary Zimbalist smashes into the Gulf Coast, you’ll know it’s been a stormy year.

We don’t have hurricanes in California. We have earthquakes and fires instead. North Korean ICBMs may soon be added to that list shortly, but for now my home state is relatively safe.

So it is with idle and somewhat morbid interest that I pay attention to Irma’s path and where it may make landfall. I’m not exactly hoping for death and destruction and am certainly not wishing for anyone in particular to get killed, but I am content to sit and watch it all unfold.  I cannot stop the hurricane nor can I bring myself to hate it. It’s nature. It kills people. That’s what nature does.

It does however give me feelings of nostalgia in an indirect way. In 1969, Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi and moved north as far as Virginia, leaving 259 dead destroying over 5,000 homes. I was just shy of my seventh birthday when it happened so it didn’t  appear on my mental radar. It was some years later when I watched an educational film about the hurricane in school.

A Lady Called Camille was made by the US Dept. of Agriculture in 1971 and I saw it the first time in ’73 or ’74. Today I found it on YouTube and gave it another viewing.

The twangy Mississippi people seem as brain damaged as I recall, but now the filmmakers do as well. I could understand the foreboding music when the title appeared in the screen, but why did the word “Camille” have to be rendered in a Malibu Barbie font? Also, there was some sexism in the narration that would probably not fly today. When the hurricane unexpectedly altered course, the explanation was that Camille was “…like any lady, perfectly capable of changing her mind.” Yep, even if hurricane form, bitches be trippin’.

The 27-minute flick ended with those who lost their homes vowing to rebuild and then an American flag filled the screen because of course it did. None of that conjured up any memories from when I saw it in grade school.

What did resonate happened much earlier during the dramatic reenactment of telling residents they needed to evacuate. One person opens the door, beer in hand, and says “Welcome to the hurricane party.” We later are told that the Richelieu apartments, location of the hurricane party,  was destroyed in the storm. Everyone died except for one person who floated out a third-floor window on a mattress.

It is a sad, cautionary tale. It also turns out to be complete bullshit. A google search established that. The building did collapse and some people died, but there was no party. The Richelieu was no den of sin, cardinal or otherwise.  The folks inside had boarded up the windows and thought they would be safe. They were wrong.

The truth can be a disappointing thing. I remember how cool “Welcome to the hurricane party” sounded to me 40 some odd years ago. I was just a wee pup, but my budding festive nihilism could already appreciate the idea of a hurricane party. Years would pass, however, before I saw it as metaphor and adopted it as a way of life.

Seeing Ghosts

“Scooby Doo” lied to us, but don’t bother telling your cat about it. It will neither comprehend nor care. That’s how cats are about most things, but here it is truer than ever.

If you’ve seen even one episode of the cartoon, you know how it always goes down. Scooby and his human friends arrive in the Mystery Machine (their rape van) to investigate a haunted amusement park, carnival, or whatever. They pursue the case with Velma providing the brains, Shaggy and Scooby the drug-addled slapstick, and the other two the bland good looks.

In the end, the villain is unmasked as a disgruntled caretaker who would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids. There never were any ghosts, everyone’s fears were unfounded, and the little urchins watching the show are spared any risk of nightmares beyond what their childhoods already provide.

To a child’s mind, it all makes perfect sense. It takes many years on this planet before you realize that the message is bullshit. Ghosts are real. They’re just different from what you thought they were. You might not even call them ghosts, opting for the word “memories” instead. That doesn’t mean they can’t haunt you.

Cats have no concept of ghosts or even haunting. Everything that scares them exists  in the here and now because they live entirely in the moment. What little memory they have comes through recognition, not recall. They do not remember what happened yesterday. They have no idea what yesterday means.

I was more catlike in my youth. I think a lot of people were. My memory was far better being a human and all, but it was not an active narrative to compete with what was going on around me at the time. I was far more concerned with the creation of new memories than reflecting upon the ones I already had. Being young, the only way I knew to be noteworthy was to do things that were foolish and regrettable. Realizing regrets are no fun, I poured liquor down my throat so I would be too drunk to remember anything unpleasant. This is how I lived in the moment. It made a lot of sense at the time.

Alas, blackout drunk is never guaranteed even for the absolutely shitfaced. With the exception of a few nights involving copious amounts of Night Train, this has been particularly true in my case. The memories were a little cloudy when I first woke up, but over the next hour or two they would reveal themselves in a striptease of shame. As a result, the log books in my gray matter have grown over time with both the good and bad, the affirming and the embarrassing.

Now that I’ve reached the point where more of my life is behind me than ahead of me, the here and now often gets outvoted in what gets my immediate attention. I’ve lived in the same apartment for 20 years and in the same neighborhood for 27. Most of the places I go are places I’ve been to countless times before.

Walking up Valencia Street after my pre-coffee coffee at Trash Muddy’s, most of the storefronts are different than they were 20 years ago, but that doesn’t keep the memories away. My then wife Laura and I used to have weekend breakfasts at The Pork Store on 16th Street. My usual fare was the heart-healthy chicken-fried steak covered in creamy sausage gravy and washed down with a lot of coffee.

I can see myself in some shop or another while Laura looked around.  I would try to be patient, but the need to get to a toilet would increase with every passing minute. Finally I would say “Ooh.” No other words were needed to let her know that the time was nigh and we would be on our way.

Both Laura and the poo are gone from my life now, as are many familiar parts of Valencia Street. There was Val 21 and their heavenly habanero jelly on cornbread. There was Leather Tongue Video with the great cult-film selection and the owner, whom I had a crush on even though I doubted she was into boys. There was the bald, fat man who punched me in the middle of the afternoon because he was angry, drunk, and needed someone to punch.

I see myself in all those intersections of time and space, longer hair with less gray in it, more determined to live up to the attitude-heavy persona I had crafted for myself. I was a shit, but I was a younger shit, and I envied my previous self for that. Also, I was never truly wretched on Valencia Street so catching a few reruns of the Dave show should be pretty harmless.

Unless it’s not. One of the less attractive things about reality is that it’s a real attention whore. This is a lesson I learned in 1982 when I was riding my moped back to the frat house from a tailgate at what was once called Jack Murphy Stadium. I had just gotten into some kind of tiff with my ex-girlfriend and while I was reliving it in my head, I went off the road and crashed. My attention skills have never been stellar and I was completely stoned at the time. Though even without weed, I need to keep an eye on myself. I can totally see myself ducking into the past while my present self on autopilot steps off a curb and into the path of an oncoming car.

There is less chance of this happening in bars I used to frequent of course. When you’re sitting with a drink in front of you, the rest of the world can go fuck itself. It’s a constitutional right guaranteed by the 21st Amendment.

The memories  are more intriguing as well, though not always as pleasant. If another person were to step into the past to watch me perched upon a barstool, they probably wouldn’t see what the big deal was. Early on, I  knew to behave well enough to continue to be served. It doesn’t take much, but it’s the one skill you need if you’re a drunk who doesn’t want to drink at home. I played my creepy, entitlement, and self-pity close to the chest to remain outwardly tolerable. Inside I was a burning latrine.

I remember this all too well as I picture an earlier me, perhaps from the era of my unfortunate affinity for Hawaiian shirts, sitting in quiet desperation and waiting for that magical event that would whisk me away on a one-way trip to Awesome Town, knowing deep down even then that it was never going to happen. Watching this makes me feel exasperated. My life has been pretty easy in the greater scheme of things. Why couldn’t I just realize that and appreciate what I had, borrow a page from a cat’s playbook, and enjoy living in the moment?

It is at those times that out of the corner of my eye I notice that I’m being watched. When I turn to look, he’s gone. I can’t quite make out who it was. He looked a little like me, but older, grayer, and more displeased.

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.

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.