I was up late on the night of the Fourth. Illicit fireworks continued to crackle around the neighborhood like small-arms fire. Perhaps some of it actually was small-arms fire. There were definitely a few times when what I heard sounded more like a gunshot than an M-80. I’ve lived in the city for more than twenty years now. As a seasoned Mission dweller, I like to believe I tell the difference between the two. Then again, I like to believe a lot of things.
When I started blogging again, I thought the words would come easily. Well, perhaps “easily” is an overstatement. I’ve always agonized over what I’m writing, or to be more precise, what I’m going to write.
I try to make it over to the East Bay at least once a week. It keeps me from feeling like my life is just one day rolling into the next, an unintended consequence of an easy existence.
I used to tell myself I had lived through a major earthquake. The Loma Prieta quake certainly was the largest local temblor in recent memory. It paled in comparison to the big one in 1906, but 1906 was a long time ago.
On October 17, 1989, I was about halfway through my noon-to-eleven shift as computer operator in the corporate office of Bay Area retail chain. I was just sitting down in front of one of the terminals in the machine room when the ground began to shake. My coworker let out an “Oh my God,” and then went to go stand under a doorway. I was feeling pretty macho that day, at least enough so I felt no need to take cover just because of a minor tremor. And it was a minor tremor, at least it felt that way at first, but after a few seconds, it got a lot more lively.
As the room rocked back and forth, I hurried over to the doorway next to my coworker. The tiles in the false floor bounced around in their settings and tape racks began to fall over. Shortly before the shaking stopped, the power cut out. We stood there in close to total darkness for about 30 seconds until the emergency lights kicked in and the emergency siren began to wail.
There wasn’t much of the building that required the emergency lights. When we walked down the short hallway and turned the corner, we saw the cubicles in the one-story office drenched in light from the afternoon sun. Outside in the parking lot, many of the other employees stood around in the parking lot wondering what to do next while some went to their cars to listen for any news on the radio.
There were reports of damage and deaths. Houses in SF’s Marina district were on fire. A section of the Bay Bridge gave way like a trap door. In Oakland, part of the 880 freeways collapsed onto its lower level, smooshing an untold number of commuters.
While the news trickled in, one person pointed at a crack in the sidewalk and swore that it wasn’t there that morning. A number of us gathered around and pondered the newness of the fissure in the concrete. I don’t think any of us attributed any great significance to the crack, but compared to the guesswork and hearsay that was coming in from the radio, it was at least something tangible.
In the days that followed, aftershocks came through with decreasing frequency, electrical power was restored, and the final death toll stayed in double digits. For most, the aftermath was more of an inconvenience than anything else. The Bay Bridge was closed for a month, which necessitated a using the San Mateo Bridge as a detour. That was about it. You weren’t likely to be homeless and starving unless you were that way to begin with.
After I was promoted to junior programmer/analyst some months later, I got to be good friends with another programmer there. In the summer of 1999, he vacationed in Japan with his then girlfriend and upon his return told me he planned on moving there. By November he packed his bags and left, only returning for a few short visits in the past decade.
When I woke up on the morning of March 11, I did my bleary-eyed ritual of grabbing my iPhone from the bedside table and checking the latest on Facebook. My friends were commenting about Japan. Due to an earthquake in the Pacific, a tsunami had hit the northwestern coast of Honshu. Hundreds were reported dead. Compared to what happened to Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka in 2004, it seemed like small potatoes at the time.
When I bought my computer, I decided to splurge and buy a new monitor as well. This could prove to be an unnecessary and foolish luxury. I did have five fully functional CRT monitors on the floor of my office. I am also on the fast track to unemployment. My current contract is over in a month. I may secure another job between now and then. Then again, I may not.
In my defense, there are reasons to get rid of your old CRT’s. They don’t have anywhere near the resolution of the new flat screens. I remember their time being up as far back as 2004. I had a short gig doing desktop upgrades at the offices of the California State Bar in downtown San Francisco. Part of this was replacing CRT monitors with new flat screens. The old equipment was taken to a floor that was still under construction. When I saw row after row of CRT’s with their screens all facing me, my brain should have thought, “Gee, I have a bunch of these at home. Maybe I should get rid of some of them.”
Instead, I thought that they kind of looked like space helmets and addressed them thusly: “Greetings troopers. I am Commander Zork. Today you will lay waste to the agrarian society on the planet below so that I may rebuild their world with gladiator arenas, fast-food restaurants, and whorehouses.”
As a result, my own collections of old monitors spent the next six and a half years gathering dust on my floor.
These monitors were not only dinosaurs. They were also bulky, weighed a ton, and were full of toxins. You can’t just throw the things away. The innards of these monitors can find their way into the ground water, resulting in a skyrocketing cancer rate and birth defects that would make a sideshow barker blush.
Fortunately, there are other ways disposing of these things. You can pay an electronics-recycling service to take them off your hands. Goodwill still accepts them as donations as well. At least I think they do. I dumped four of my five CRT’s (all that would fit in my friend’s car) in the donation bin just inside the front door. No one seemed to mind, though I’m not sure anyone noticed me. I didn’t stick around to find out. It’s amazing what kinds of things are allowable for those who are willing to make strategic assumptions and haul ass.’
So four down, one to go, and that will go the next time my friend volunteers to make a Goodwill run (note to self: remember to peel the “ASS PHLEGM” sticker off the front of it first). If there’s room, I’ll also get rid of a couple of old computers, minus their hard drives. I am too lazy to format the things and I doubt they want my porn.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. By this, I mean life in general. I’ve embarked on some projects recently that have yielded some positive results, but nothing that has made me say, “Aha!” and certainly nothing that would make me want to listen to A-ha. Am I making any sense here and does it really matter? After, no less a genius than Charlie Sheen has already shown us that coherency is so 2010.
Ah yes, 2010. I was writing quite a bit back then. I convinced myself of my literary pretensions while knocking out stories about zombies, murder, upskirt voyeurism, and retards. Yes, retards. It wasn’t the kind of feel-good story where somebody with a learning disability tried extra hard and achieved a measure of greatness, or at least managed to sew a wallet in arts-and-crafts class in retard camp for his case worker Bill. No, this is a tale where I shamelessly make fun of people with learning disabilities. Actually, I dedicated 6000 words to the subject. In my defense, the story was pretty funny provided you can get past the fact that the author is an insensitive asshole.
There are other stories in the queue, unwritten except for a few words jotted down in my spiral notebook. In none of them am I so crass as to make fun of those dealt a bad hand at birth. Instead, I stick to my time-tested themes: alcoholism, revenge fantasies, and loss of bowel control. I do plan on writing these stories. I really do. Some of them at least. At some point. Maybe.
I have been busy, sort of. I bought this neato linux box. Actually, it was a Windows 7 box before I wiped the stink of Redmond from its hard disk and installed a real operating system. I named it ralphus, in honor of Sardu’s plucky and diminuitive assistant in Bloodsucking Freaks. I was so proud.
Granted, getting a linux machine up and running these days is no great accomplishment. This isn’t like the old days when you could only expect the OS to work with the monitor, the keyboard, and if you were lucky, the mouse. Sound cards were at best iffy and most peripherals were out of the quesiton. Not so with the latest Ubuntu linux. The webcam, external storage, and a lot other fun stuff that plugged into a USB port
The scanner didn’t work with it, but that was mostly because it was five years old. Most software for linux, and especially stuff like device drivers, is developed by volunteers in the open-source community. These people are awesome, no doubt about that. However, their time is limited so you can’t expect them to make everything work seamlessly with yesterday’s hardware. I dropped about 80 bucks on a new scanner and gave the old one to a friend.
That paved the way for at least one of my projects. A friend of mine (coincidentally the same one who now owns my old scanner) came into possession of a number of old Car & Drivermagazines from the 60s and 70s with articles written by my father. I’ve been scanning his work in the magazines and checking out various OCR software with the eventual goal of setting up some sort of online tribute to him. I’m not a gearhead personally but I do like my dad’s writing and think it merits being shared. This may run afoul some copyright law, but screw the bastards. I’m not doing this for profit and I am his son. I think I’m entitled to be proud of my old man.
Don’t expect to see his work here on Poison Spur. I have a little more respect than that. Its eventual home will be on platypus.org.
That site needs a serious overhaul. It has not been updated since 2001 and can be accurately described as a cobwebbed lump of shit. Fortunately I have a project for that as well. I’ve installed drupal on ralphus and have been playing around with it during those evenings I spend away from the bar. Once I know what I’m doing and let trial and error eventually make up for my lack of design sense, platypus dot org will be a presentable site with Dad’s tribute page and other nifty features.
My dance card is getting mighty full. So where does that leave Poison Spur? It will continue, I promise you that. New entries may appear sporadically, but I know in my heart of hearts that I am a showoff. I can’t quit forever. If people stopped telling me I’m cute and clever, I’d probably dry up and blow away.
When I opened my desk drawer at work yesterday, I noticed that someone had put a box of tampons there. There were 16 of the 18 remaining. Who put them there, and why?
Since there were a couple of tampons missing, I began with the assumption that whoever put them there planted them as a stash for personal use. If this was the case, I could safely eliminate all male coworkers from my suspect list. The same logic could be used to eliminate all the more venerable female ones as well, especially the few whose blue-rinse cooters haven’t shed a drop of blood since Hinckley shot Reagan.
Unfortunately, this did not even come close to eliminating the possibilities to a select few. My workplace is pretty large, relatively young, and women make up at least half of it. Even if it did not run afoul of both the sexual-harassment policy and common courtesy, it simply would not be feasible for me to confront and accuse each potential tampon-box planter individually.
As if the question of who wasn’t perplexing enough, figuring out why seemed absolutely mind boggling. We all have desk drawers. Why would a woman choose to store her feminine-hygiene products in my cube rather than her own? Naturally, I smelled a conspiracy.
One only has to look through my extensive secret file that is no doubt being amassed in the basement of some quasi-legal shadow-government agency somewhere. “It is hard to imagine how someone who is so chronically inappropriate with the basest of sensibilities and immaturity run riot has neither been incarcerated or beaten to death by decent people. It is our recommendation that Jennings be tempted to perform some loathsome act for which he shall be apprehended and severely punished.”
In light of this, the motivation behind this becomes pretty clear. The person or persons responsible placed the tampons in my cube in the hope that I would be caught on video taking one one of them out of its wrapper and putting it in the office coffee pot. You know what? I would have done it in a heartbeat too if I had not been onto their little game.
hese sorts of dirty tricks by the Global Managers are nothing new. One need only look at the tragic case of Phineas Gage. Gage was a railroad employee in the mid-nineteenth century. By all accounts, he was both a conscientious worker and a virtuous person. All accounts, that is, until his “accident.” In 1848 while working as a crew foreman in Vermont, Gage was in the vicinity of some dynamite that “just happened to go off” and launch a three and a half foot tamping iron up through his jaw and out the top of his head.
It is my guess that he learned something he shouldn’t have and because he was a good American, said he would go public. Among the railroad robber barons, only locomotives were allowed to do any whistle blowing.
The injury changed Phineas Gage forever. The once solid citizen had been transformed into a violent and lecherous alcoholic. Even if he made good on his threat to tell all, no one would trust a man who was known for the horrible sucking sounds his cranium made while he downed one rye whiskey after another and tried to ram his hand up a barmaid’s skirt.
I was certain that the merciless success of silencing Phineas Gage has emboldened many thuggish operatives over the years and that I was the intended target of this brutal legacy. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first. I was willing to accept as mere coincidence the fact that both of us being in the employ of large profit-motivated organizations, or even that “Gage” and “Dave” have the same number of letters. What I could not dismiss was the undeniable fact that TAMPING IRON THROUGH THE BRAIN is an anagram of INHERIT THROUGH BRING A TAMPON.
I know that I’m going to have to watch my back to avoid a similar fate.
This is another placeholder post. I am still working out how frequently I can update the blog without burning out or resorting to posting filler like you’rre reading now. I’m writing a little every day now but I can’t always get something worth a damn finished inside of 24 hours.
Sometimes that’s because my writing for that day is complete crap. On my latest project, I don’t think that’s the case. At least I hope so. It’s a longer piece, not as long as “Hold Me Closer Tiny Cancer,” but too lengthy to whip out in a single day.
That’s about it for now. I don’t have much more to say today. It would be a shame to finish before culturally enriching you in some small way. I know. How about a haiku about tea? Ito En Teas’ Tea had a haiku contest and I really wanted to enter, but the contest was already over when I went to their website. Oh well, their loss is your gain. Here is my haiku:
I pissed in your tea
Hey you stupid fucking bitch
Drink my goddamn piss
I’ll be back Friday. I think. Fuck, I don’t know.
I did laundry this weekend, two whole loads. It was time. Actually, it was well past time. For the last three weeks I’ve been avoiding the chore, figuring no one would catch on if I never wore the same shirt to work two days in a row. I could conceivably continue in this manner indefinitely if it weren’t for the smell. Even with a cushy office job, the pits can get a little ripe after a while.
So I took care of that task. Along with sleep, feeding myself, and basic personal hygiene, the bare essentials were checked off my to-do list. It was time to get creative.
I have a couple of good ideas for stories (along with countless bad ones) but I felt this weird inertia that kept me from diving into either of them. I wasn’t too worried. It was only Saturday afternoon and my muse would either return to me or wouldn’t.
I spent a couple of hours on Stickam chatting with a friend of mine in Europe. He’s usually a good conversationalist and it was my hope that some witty banter would provide a colonic for my writer’s block
There were two factors that kept this from working out as well as I liked. The first was the time-zone difference. My friend was nine hours ahead so mid afternoon for me was past midnight for him. The second factor was the lump of hashish he decided to smoke. In a few short moments, an engaging and intelligent human being was transformed into a spaced-out dullard with sleepy-creepy Baldwin eyes. I was on my own.
So there I was, craving an artistic outlet but not knowing quite what to write. If I could draw, paint, or play an instrument, I might have created something beautiful that I could be proud of. Instead I had to make do with whatever was within reach, which turned out to be a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of Tapatio hot sauce, and a plastic baby head.
The baby head, purchased in Japan in 2003, is actually a piggy bank with the coin slot in the location of the fontanel. Now before any of you jump to conclusions, let me just say that the slot is too narrow and the plastic too hard to use the head as a sex toy. Besides, I’m not just some sicko. I have the soul of an artist. That’s why I used the hot sauce and toilet paper to make it look like the baby had its eyes gushed out and then was hastily bandaged in a futile attempt to keep the blood from gushing down its face.
So that was Saturday. Sunday was, of anything, even less productive. I finished reading Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald, which I enjoyed for the most part but was a little let down by the ending. I’ve read books with worse endings (most of Harry Crews’ work falls under this category), but Dahl’s short stories have never lacked for satisfying and twisted conclusions.
I eventually found my way down to the Argus, as I am prone to do. I waited until after the Giant’s game was over because I don’t do well around sports fans who are drunk and stupid enough to think that their home-team hard on had any bearing on the outcome of the game. Instead I showed up while the 49ers were playing. They suck this year so the crowd was not nearly so rowdy.
I took out my notebook and scribbled down the opening to one of the stories. It wasn’t much but it was something I could work with. Every little bit helps.
I was still feeling distracted so I started surfing the web on my iPhone. I learned that the flood of red sludge in Hungary had actually killed people, at least seven of them. The phrase “Hungarian Ghoulish” popped into my head and I was proud of myself coming up with that. I wanted to turn that into something, a poem perhaps. I never got that far in this endeavor, probably because I could not decide between this opening verse:
I can barely hold my breath
and this one:
I can barely hold my fudge
There are some things in life best left unaccomplished.