Categotry Archives: A Day in the Life

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Searching for Direction

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

I’ve been playing the stock market for about four months now. On days like most of the ones this past week, they say that the market is searching for direction. As though the market, each day, were a living entity that was trying to feel out whether things would be up or down for that day. And that the inability to choose one, to be definitively up or down, would be somehow consternating to the market itself. That there would be mild frustration, even disgruntle at the middle ground, at (heaven forbid!) finishing the day unchanged.

No matter how weird this may be for a characterization of a collective group of gambling agencies called a “stock market”, I think I know how this anthropomorphized market feels. I am searching for direction.

Much of this is the direct result of the post-completion hangover that usually accompanies any major project, especially one that has dominated the horizon for a good bit of time. The project in question at this stage is, of course, the just-released Women World Leaders Quiz. There is always a mad rush of euphoria upon completing a major web project and especially a quiz. Such euphoria usually quickly is dashed upon the rocks of reality as I realize that the first few weeks rarely bring the bulk of the visitors, and that it will take months and sometimes years to build up the kind of visitor base and feedback loop that I’ve been dreaming of for any given quiz. This isn’t always the case, but I’m able to block it out in the mad rush of motivation that rolls toward quiz-completion as I grind out the last few answers. And then the rocky reality crash is replaced by a calm that slowly fades into malaise. As though to inquire so now whatchya gonna do?

Indeed. Now what?

Lord knows there are plenty of projects pending at the BP. A Facebook app that really got me going in late June, if you can believe it. A just pre-announced eleventh quiz that I’m already promising sooner than is probably reasonable. And no shortage of projects in various states of neglect and disrepair, summarily abandoned along the trail like only the web (or a very large closet) allows one to do. Unlike the closet, though, one leaves all the laundry piled about unless one actively tries to go back and retrieve, hide, and clean everything up. And that’s never really been my style. In part because I like history, the layers of sediment, and the snapshots of abandoned pages at their last moment of maintenance. Unlike the closet, or ruins of a civilization, there’s no innate decay in bytes. No real cobwebs on the interwebs. The ‘net preserves better than mummification.

So I have almost too many things I could be working on, but so much leftover void of having the one big bogeyman (shouldn’t there be two o’s in “bo(o)geyman”?… it’s not fear of being one over par, after all) project finally completed. Projects for others (the quiz is for my friends at Camp Kupugani) always carry more weight and onus than projects for oneself. Even if the projects for oneself involve countless others (e.g. the currently suspended-animation OMBFP). This is why having a day job manages to debilitate and undermine all the countless projects (including 3 books, a novella, and unending short stories) that I really should be working on. My Dad always said that half the trick in life was to be able to work as hard for oneself as one did for others. My Dad is smart.

And yet today is a lousy day to start a project, really. I mean, sure, they all feel like that sometimes, but really today. September is going to mark a highly volatile month. And not just for the world – I’ve got trips to Colorado (Will’s wedding) and Nuevo (10-year HS reunion) in the next two weekends after this. There’s a Counting Crows show in there somewhere, to match the Jakob Dylan show we just saw on Wednesday. (First concerts since last October, and it was probably 6 months before that to the last one.) I’m taking serious time off work for the above trips for the first time since coming back from India (oh, there’s a dormant project for you – remember when I was going to put all my India/Nepal trip pics online? Yeah. You’ll note I haven’t even managed to change the theme of this blog from last winter.). And then it’s Em’s birthday and baseball season ends and holy goodness it’s October. And we all know about October. (Hey, at least I’ll have to change the theme then.)

This is the point in our program where I try to draw my own personal failings, struggles, and queries into a larger point about where we all are heading at this moment in history. The obvious segue available is the election – what better way to capture a gigantic search for direction than a bi-polar election season with two divisive candidates vying for the allegedly most influential job in the world for the next four years?

And yet it seems off. It doesn’t quite draw the right note, does it? Oh, trust me, I see enough of your Facebook updates to know that a whole lot of you really believe in this stuff, have been swept away by another series of fanfare and speeches. (Who says the conventions don’t matter anymore?) It’s a culture war, a clash of civilizations, a knock-down drag-out for the hearts and minds. What could be more relevant? Right? But it doesn’t feel relevant, does it? It doesn’t really feel like it’s going to make a difference, does it? I dunno. Maybe it does to you. But I’m not seeing it.

Of course part of this must be because I see it as a foregone conclusion. Don’t listen to me too closely – I put money on Hillary being in the White House, too (though I still wouldn’t rule that out quite yet). But unless they cancel all the debates and/or there’s a major “terrorist attack” on US soil between now and 4 November, it’s Obama big-time. He may just win half the South while he’s at it. If you really think that the Southern Baptist Republican base is going to turn out to vote for two self-described independents from the far West, I think you’re in for quite a surprise. And if Obama keeps compromising, talking about how badly Afghanistan is going to get bombed under his watch, and keeps picking old Washington insiders to help him “change”, the base isn’t exactly going to go gangbusters for him either. 2 votes to 1 is a landslide by percentage, but it says something larger about what’s going on in the country generally.

This wasn’t intended to be a political post and now I’ve got myself all fired up. The point is simpler, perhaps larger. There is an undercurrent, some other sort of direction being sought, decided, flipped on a coin at present. It’s irksome and irritating, it makes me feel all discombobulated. Mood swings that are a way of life go from bobbing waves to richter-scale disruptions. (Though I can’t feel the actual richter-scale disruptions alleged in the region.) They say that April flowers bring May showers, but I might posit that September decisions bring October consequences. And while we won’t watch the ripples run away just yet, the pebble is going in the brook as we speak. You can just feel it.

It feels, well, much like getting pegged with a rock.

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Announcing the Women World Leaders Quiz!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Tags: ,



You’re Madeline Albright!
While you have a way with words, it’s hardly always pleasant for those around you to hear them. Even though you see it as your duty to be diplomatic, this rarely means that you use kid gloves. This iron-fisted approach has given you great influence over those around you, while also making a few enemies along the way. The name you use is much sunnier than your reputation, and hasn’t been your real name for years. Check, please!

Take the Women World Leaders Quiz at Camp Kupugani Multicultural Summer Camp for Girls.

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Errata

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Fish has been great lately about being my fact-checker. For example, I must’ve had Janice Mirikitani on the brain when I wrote “Janice Joplin” instead of “Janis Joplin” back in early July.

Later, he pointed out that Evan Bayh is from Indiana, not Iowa. Which really, I should’ve known (and did), but I managed to confuse him with Vilsack, whose name will never be on a nationally distributed bumper sticker. (Unless it’s of the ilk of “sh*t happens”.)

Speaking of bumper stickers, I’ve been thinking lately that bad drivers really shouldn’t put bumper stickers on their car. Or if they do, they should have bumper stickers that represent the opposite of what they believe. Nothing makes you want to vote for Obama less than being cut off and nearly hit by someone with three Obama bumper stickers on the rear of their car. Nothing makes you more tempted to set fire to a cetacean than being tailgated by and then swerve-rev-around-passed by someone advocating salvation for the whales. (I use these examples not because liberal bumper-sticker proponents are more likely to drive like feces so much as because that’s what’s around in my neighborhood. Also, because I couldn’t be less likely to vote for McCain or defend my right to own firearms, no matter what.)

But back to errors. I don’t correct things for the most part on this blog. I guess a legitimate typo that creates potential confusion where such should not have been may be fair game. I’ve corrected a couple of those. But by and large, I think there’s something interesting to be seen in the raw errata that come up in the course of spilling my thoughts on the page. In no way is this blog or its predecessor intended to be a refined product. I’m not trying to be particularly persuasive. I’m just trying to scrape little litmus bits of my perspective and what it’s like to be me at this moment in history and spread them on a screen. That sounds gross, but there’s something about the visceral feel for that description that perfectly reflects what I’m getting at. And why I don’t edit.

For some reason, I’d really love to see Janice Mirikitani sing “Piece of My Heart”. I bet she’d tear that up.

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Thursday Roundup: Peace, Hope, Truth

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , ,

Peace
So it looks, thankfully, like the Olympic Ossetia War may be over almost as quickly as it started. If you’ve been under a rock for a week (or in Vegas, as I was for the bulk of the war), Georgia invaded the breakaway republic of South Ossetia as the Olympics opened. Russia invaded South Ossetia to drive the Georgians out, then kept going for a ways, stopping short of the capital in time for a ceasefire.

Sound familiar? I’ve already made much of the parallels between this Georgia-South Ossetia-Russia scenario and the Iraq-Kuwait-USA scenario circa the early 1990’s. It took a while longer for the whole thing to unfold in the prior case, but then again, it was the USA and not Saudi Arabia that went in to “liberate” Kuwait. The fact that no one in the US media or perspective has labeled this recent struggle as Russia’s “liberation” of South Ossetia is frankly baffling to me. I thought our country believed in self-determination. Well, no I didn’t really think that. I’ve always known that we were hypocrites.

But the hypocrisy goes deeper than recent history. The more compelling parallel, it occurs to me, is the Mexican-American War, with Texas playing the role of South Ossetia. The majority of Texas wanted to leave Mexico and they declared a shaky and unsound independence. Unable to sustain real independence, they floated between Mexico and the US, leaning toward the US. When the US finally tried to absorb Texas officially, Mexico went in to crack down on the renegade province. And the US quickly reconquered Texas and penetrated the aggressor, this time going all the way to Mexico City and taking the Congo California, Arizona, and New Mexico as a penalty.

Now I’m not on the side of the US in either of these examples, or Russia currently. Nor am I on the side of Mexico, Iraq, or Georgia. Frankly, all these people are committing horrible acts by using violence to resolve their differences. If people want to be free, let ’em go. You’re not going to get very far by holding people against their will, be it in a prison, a camp, or a country.

What I do find interesting, however, is how prevalent the principle of defending a weak breakaway republic has been in US policy and yet how blatantly the US has sided with Georgia. It doesn’t surprise me, as stated – I expect the US to be inconsistent in an effort to only defend its friends and partners, no matter how atrocious their acts may be. I guess what surprises me most is how much the media have let the US policy advocates get away with this perspective. Not a soul has presented the counter-arguments about Russia defending a weaker (interestingly, ethnically Iranian) group against an invasive force. On the contrary, they’ve dredged up Cold War rhetoric and comparisons to the ’68 crackdown on Czechoslovakia. This is just preposterous. If you’re going to believe in the Mexican-American War and Gulf War I, you have to side with Russia. It’s just logic.

Regardless, it very fortunately doesn’t seem to matter any more what side one’s on, because this conflict is over. It looked really scary for awhile, but everyone authentically seems to care more about peace than ego. Which is mind-boggling, but may give us some reason for…

Hope
Not only am I elated to see the end of this war, I’m also heartened by articles like this one, talkin’ ’bout my gen-eration. I know that I certainly feel like my generation cares more about being socially conscious, environmentally friendly, and actually doing good instead of evil, but it’s nice to see confirmation.

Obviously, though (you knew I wouldn’t stay optimistic for long), I am highly concerned by how this article seems to indicate that lip service is more or less enough to lure my gullible generation into signing on the dotted line. Yes, there’s a section entitled “More than just talk”, but if your company is destroying people’s lives on one hand and then turning around and giving a token amount of money back, it’s still mostly doing evil. Here’s a good indication if this is the case: the word company. This word means that the bottom line overrides other concerns, even if the bottom line can offer light dusting to the community. Usually the only reason it sprinkles this dusting is to advertise, to make people feel better about the company in the first place. Don’t be duped, fellow Y’s/Millennials (I still prefer Y because of the homophonic implication of my favorite three-letter word), it’s just a token. If you have to do a day job, best to put it directly into a non-profit, where there is no bottom line really.

But hey, if everyone is going into these businesses with these attitudes… and can somehow manage to maintain them while working in a company for decades (a gargantuan if), then maybe there’ll be some real change in, uh, 30 years. Hm. That’s a little hope, right? But the fact of the matter is that things are going to need to change big time before then. Fact? Perhaps I meant…

Truth
Which is actually going to be a section title for an update about fiction. Contradictory, you say? The old saying says that truth is stranger than fiction, but I’d actually like to coin that fiction is truer than truth. Before you start lumping me in with a Steven Colbert “truthiness” spoof, hear me out. This will explain why 98% of what I read is fiction and why I aspire to be a writer of same rather than non-.

The thing about non-fiction is that it’s trying too hard. The truth (!) of the matter is that everything that one writes, thinks, does is laden in one’s perspective. There’s no helping it or getting around it. Truth may ultimately be vision without perspective, but no one is ever able (in this species in this era in history) to divorce themselves entirely from their own vantage point. So attempts to be objective with a single or group voice are always going to fall short. One is always trying to prove a point, find an eternal truth, even just tell a story about something that happened to someone else. But it’s never (ever) 100% true. It’s fictionalized, cast in a certain light, omits some details, even if they’re only the details that physically can’t be attained in the process of researching the story.

None of these weaknesses of non-fiction would really be a problem if non-fiction called itself “semi-fiction” or “half-truth”. The real problem that non-fiction has is its branding itself as objective fact/truth. By claiming that something inherently biased is indeed objective, non-fiction sets itself up as misrepresentation and disaster, often misleading people into believing it, accepting it whole cloth. When of course, as we’ve established, it needs salt.

But is hope for truth lost? Of course not, because we have fiction. Fiction makes no bones about its factual content – it’s not even trying to be true. But to be believable, to be functional, to resonate with any reader, fiction must establish itself within a consistent and real framework. People are constantly analyzing and evaluating it for its reality, thus holding it already to a higher standard than non-fiction.

But more compellingly, fiction is freed from all constraints, so it can actually tell its story completely, regardless of what someone may say or think or feel or critique. And this liberation allows it to get at a more fundamental truth about the world, because it’s much less self-conscious. It’s not trying to recenter itself in some objectivity or reality, but simply trying to convey a feeling, a presence, a story, a reality of some sort. And this is really the only way to tell the truth. At least more fundamental truths, about how people really are, about what they go through, about what is important to humanity.

With that off my chest, this section was supposed to be about my proclivity toward absurdly long books this year. I’m close to completing Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon’s WWII treatise that feels more like work than any sort of recreation. I’ve never delved into Pynchon, despite being given the absurdly short The Crying of Lot 49 at some point in college, but he was compared to David Foster Wallace (actually vice versa), so I figured once I ran out of Wallace fiction, it was time to jump in. Having already read Infinite Jest (1,049 pages), The Brothers Karamazov (711 pages), and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (607 pages), I was not concerned about the 760 dense pages of this one. (Parenthetically, this is not me bragging so much as trying to explain why I’ve only read nine books this year.)

Boy, was I wrong. Gravity’s Rainbow is about as inaccessible and oblique as a book can get and still be in any way readable. While it’s an interesting challenge at times and authentically hilarious when one least expects it, it mostly leaves me apathetic. Part of my disappointment is surely derived from having read the first paragraph in a bookstore and being intrigued by what seemed like an apocalyptic plot. Instead, it was just another WWII retread. And I understand how WWII was confused for the apocalypse by the generation that lived it; I even understand why. But it’s less interesting now, it’s overplayed, and it clouds our vision of the future.

I mean, this may not be entirely fair. I don’t know where it ends. There could be a whole bunch of highly redeeming endings for Gravity’s Rainbow. Less than a hundred pages to go and it’s not looking stellar. But if Slothrop ends up in a GE lab with the five people controlling everything and all the other victims lined up… maybe. I’ve made a lifetime of reading books and watching movies out of hoping for crescendic endings that perfectly conveyed my perspective to all, only to have hopes dashed against the rocks 98% of the time.

Deus ex crapola.

Conclusion
I will talk about Vegas at some point, wherein I spent 72 hours (59 of them awake). I will talk about struggling through the ennui of life in the late summer of my day job world (because that’s something I haven’t talked about enough on this blog). I will talk more about the economic situation of a country that still doesn’t know it’s about to collapse, about the excitement and ambivalence of being here to watch it crumble.

But when the opportunity presented itself to filter today’s tidbits through the lens of my old phrase of the three big ideals, how could I pass it up? When I still haven’t decided whether to go to my 10-year high school reunion, why wouldn’t I label a post as I labeled my senior page in the yearbook supplement?

I think my world today can be summed up as follows:

“I’m thinking of going.”

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On Mars

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , ,

So there may be rocket fuel on Mars. It’s in our drinking water and now it’s on the Red Planet.

What would we be more likely to find as the remains of a past civilization, a past effort, than this explosive ingredient? Maybe from the rockets that left when things got too bad. Maybe from the rockets whose red glare signaled the end. Maybe from other explosives. Maybe from fireworks to celebrate on the way down.

Could there be a more profound time in our species’ history to discover the remains of Mars? To give us just enough clues of past life now departed, past trappings of destructive civilization now broken down into dust? Sure, October 1962. Maybe even August 1945, now just 63 years in the rearview mirror. People said it was a miracle that we discovered space travel just after, made it happen on the vision of the same President who nearly ended it all before we got the chance.

Maybe it was a miracle. Maybe it’s time.

Humans have a hard enough time paying attention to their own history. Even though the species is the same and the people sometimes occupy the same land or speak the same language, something seems wholly irrelevant about time long past. That was then and this is now.

But what could be more now than space discoveries? What could make history more relevant than it being brand-new? What could make experience more powerful than it being experienced by those we can only imagine, those we never met, those who killed themselves before we began to be?

It’s far too early and already, since this post idea came to mind, the internet has run away with the idea of life and been lambasted for it. NASA is trying to reign in science fiction imaginations with cold hard science. Water isn’t life. Perchlorate isn’t rockets. Conjecture isn’t evidence.

We have to dig deeper, further. We have to excavate. We will probably need to send our own species to look for the last one. We will probably need samples and endless debate, theorizing until one piece of evidence stands so irrefutable that it changes our view of the universe overnight.

But make no mistake, it’s there. We have never been less alone. We have never been closer to the edge of our collective ego. With apologies to Jake, the space program has never seemed more relevant.

In time, we will likely find that our obligation, our debt of gratitude to the long-gone beings of Mars, is to not repeat their mistakes.

If we have time.

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Tuesday Roundup: Takin’ Care of Business

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

Just because I don’t write Introspection anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t often think in terms of quick updates. This blog format affords the luxury of doing both short blippy quips about my life like the old days, as well as the longer, more thoughtful pieces…

One of the grand ironies of the American experience is that some of our greatest themes and anthems for revered concepts are actually songs lambasting said concept.

The least subtle example of this may be Peter, Paul & Mary’s “I Dig Rock-n-Roll Music”. This is a more obscure case, but it remains PPM’s only really fully legitimate radio song. With lines like “But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it, between the liiines,” it’s not really hard to see exactly where this song’s loyalty lies. And yet it made the radio and remains there to date as a sincere tribute to rock-n-roll (as opposed to folk music, which PPM were actually advocating). I’m sure the even crueler irony of this being their one radio hit when it complains that the radio won’t play folk music… yeah.

The most damning example may be Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. This tune has become third only to “Proud to Be an American” (a song guaranteed to induce vomiting within 30 seconds) and the national anthem itself as the theme music to flag-waving jingoistic American patriotism. And yet the song was written as an indictment of American hypocrisy and the Vietnam War. The non-refrain lyrics are just hard enough to understand and the chorus is just loud and brash enough to ensure that this song will always bring a smile to the face and a cheer to the voice of those who are unaware they are celebrating an anti-American tune. “So they put a rifle in my hand, sent me off to a foreign land, to go and kill the yellow man.”

But the song that’s stuck in my head from this category today is “Takin’ Care of Business”. Office Depot or a related office store has become the latest in an unending string of businesses using this anthem to explain how productive you’ll be when using their products. “It’s the work that we avoid and we’re all self-employed, we love to work at nothing all day.” Yeah. This song is about quitting your job and starting a rock band, which is explicitly stated to be a lazy sort of scam on those who actually slog away at day jobs. Business indeed.

The song is stuck in my head because it’s one of the rotating theme songs for my baseball video game of choice these days, the 2007 mod of the greatest baseball game of all time, MVP Baseball 2005. My Mariners are getting massacred in this game on a regular basis, but any time I win makes it all worthwhile.

And speaking of the Mariners and winning, last night offered a glimpse at the best inning of the year for the (real-life) Seattle Mariners. Raul Ibanez had 6 RBI in a 10-run seventh inning that catapulted the M’s from a 6-1 deficit to an 11-6 win. When I tuned in around the fourth or fifth inning, it was 6-0, Twins. I wasn’t even sure why I tuned in when the score was already that lopsided. The M’s haven’t exactly been specializing in comebacks this year. But Ibanez hit a grand slam that made it 6-5 and the M’s proceeded to tack on and on and on, all the way to bringing up Ibanez again in the inning as the 14th man to come to the plate, and again with the bases loaded!! He only smacked a single up the middle to plate two and the inning only ended because Willie Bloomquist tried to score too on a throwing error and got barely tagged out.

It’s funny how just an inning like that can redeem a mood and a perspective for a day or so. Even in a hopelessly lost season.

It’s the sun that’s hopelessly lost here in San Francisco, and it’s looking like my trip to Las Vegas (Thursday evening departure) couldn’t be coming at a better time. The 10-day forecast in San Francisco does not get above 65 degrees (high temperature). The same 10-day forecast in Las Vegas does not get below 81 degrees (low temperature). I am a little nervous about “Florida Syndrome” in LV, wherein people will air-condition casino interiors to the point of being as cold as August highs in San Francisco, but then I may just cancel half the poker to go sit outside on the Strip and bake. I desperately need to feel the illusion of some sort of summer.

Meanwhile, my job continues to be my job. Slightly more livable than two weeks ago, ebbing and flowing, constantly leading me on only to crush my spirit. If nothing else, it’s giving me great fodder for future books and stories, future tales of how the American work model fails its people on all levels. And I know that where I’m working is better than 95% of what else is out there. We’re not even driven by a profit motive.

And speaking of profit (and even prophet), is it too early to declare the End of Capitalism? Today, Wall Street wants to think so. It’s just so exciting to have a negative net interest rate! To just feel that money devaluing in your pocket. I mean, how often does your pocket burn a hole in your money? That’s just nifty. Let’s buy financial stocks before they fail.

What surprises me is not that people are revealed to lie, cheat, steal, cut corners, and fabricate in pursuit of almighty profit. What surprises me is that people are surprised by the revelations.

Work out.

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Analyze This

Categories: A Day in the Life, What Dreams May Come, Tags: ,

Last night I fell asleep early and slept a hard, lousy sleep. The kind of sleep of the half-dead wandering in the wilderness forty years, finally felled to respite on a stone tablet of some sort. Sleep that in some ways may be the best after forty waking years, but is colored by resting one’s temple directly on unforgiving rock.

As one might expect from such sleep (or from me, at least), there were dreams. Several of them were far-ranging colorful swirls of mayhem, but the last two were calmer, more sober, and vividly memorable.

The first was set in an igloo, starring documentarian Morgan Spurlock and his wife, who were presumably spending the next thirty days living there. I got inside the igloo and immediately realized how enclosing the space felt, how solid and impenetrable the iceblock walls. It immediately occurred to me: “If someone wanted to kill you, all they’d have to do is block up the entrance with snow, right?”

Morgan and Alex laughed and shrugged this off, and I pointed out something about having a backup ventilation system, like a chimney. They mentioned that the howling winds of the Arctic (we’re in the Arctic, interesting) make the cross-flow of air from two openings unbearably cold. They seemed really nervous when I went out to go to the bathroom and I assume got more so (I guess I sort of somehow knew they were getting more nervous in the dream, even though I couldn’t see them) when I took my time getting back. They were worried I was thinking about blocking up the igloo once they fell asleep, but really I was just afraid of going back in and making myself vulnerable to someone else doing the same.

The second dream was more concretely explicable and pretty much impossible to misinterpret. I was at a fair or festival of some kind with friends who felt vaguely close and comfortable, but who I could never quite identify or see. There was a handmade sign for horse-riding and people asked if I wanted to go. Why not? How hard could it be?

So we clamored up on horses, but one of my friends wanted to walk alongside me rather than board a horse himself (I could somehow detect his gender). He expressed concern for my safety. I got some aerial views of the parade ground for the horses as we were all marching in a line, feeling vaguely reminiscent of mules in the Grand Canyon (without the precipitous drops or elevation changes of any sort). Then back to first-person, whereon I was having a great time, but kept sliding forward in my saddle. Which somehow moved me not towards the mane of the beast, but toward the tail. I was facing the wrong way on the horse, but it was still moving in the direction I was facing. And this didn’t yet occur to me as the slightest bit odd, it was just frustrating that I kept getting jostled forward (backward on the horse that was walking backward), almost thrown over its rear.

Finally we came to some sort of traffic jam, wherein horses all held up and whinnied a bit at the sudden stoppage. My horse reared up on its forelegs, almost pitching me backwards and off, then did the opposite and almost ditched me the other way. I was clinging to nothing (there had never been any reigns) but somehow holding on while my friend insistently urged me to dismount before I got hurt. It occurred to me that people could be seriously injured or even killed by getting thrown from a horse and I had never once really internalized the danger of this process, especially since my horse now seemed to be utterly out of control. This feeling felt exactly like realizing I could be blocked up and asphyxiated in an igloo, and I woke up having somehow tied these twin realizations in a knot of new fear of the world around me.

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14% Less Storey

Categories: A Day in the Life, Tags:

No, the title isn’t a reference to how much less I’ve been posting lately. Ha ha. Long-term followers of my blogging will realize that it’s been down far more than 14% over the past few weeks. Suffice it to say the past few weeks have been “uninspiring” at best.

14% less Storey is actually how much less there is of me. Physically. Where there once were 148 pounds, upon my return from Chicago in April, there are now 127 pounds. I’ve shed 21 pounds in just over 3 months. I already discussed this at the outset, but I never really predicted success like this.

Having topped out at 150 and never being below 117 at this height, I’d say I may have actually gone a little too far. My goal range was 130-135, and 127 puts me both “officially underweight” and under goal.

I’ve already anticipated some objections in the prior post (linked above) from early May, but I will say that I needed to go on this diet to learn how to control my own food intake for the first time in my life. I also needed to make sure that, unchecked, my weight would not become a runaway freight train that would have me tipping the scales at 200+ by 2010. That may sound absurd to you given my history, but when one literally eats anything one wants (my life for 28 years), one never knows how well control can then be exerted. My previous dietary habits were a formula for explosion once my metabolism came back to earth. Which was exactly what was underway.

If you’re wondering, I’ve basically followed the self-prescribed diet of foods high in satiety and low in calories. The MVP of the diet was definitely FiberOne cereal, which my father makes fun of for consisting of cornhusks. Cornhusks or no, this cereal is packed with fiber (57% of RDA in a small serving), extremely filling, and tastes remarkably good for a fibrous cereal. It does have the slight drawback of looking like cat food, drawing many askance glances as I periodically bring it to meetings or eat it at my desk.

In addition to FiberOne, my diet has consisted of fruit, carrots, celery, broccoli, boiled potatoes, and one free meal a day to eat whatever I would normally eat for a large, filling meal. This is usually, for reference, Chipotle veggie tacos, a rice/bean or chile relleno burrito from one of the local taquerias, cheese enchiladas with rice, pad see ew jay, an omelette with toast and potatoes, or (very occasionally) a grilled cheese and fries. One of those per meal. Not all of them at once.

The question now becomes where to go from here. I have clearly figured out a sustainable diet whereby I shed roughly seven pounds a month. One would assume some diminishing marginal losses, but this would still put me in a really unhealthy place by Christmas. So clearly I need to stop the diet.

But how? Certainly not by reverting to my old life of eating unabated.

Clearly the answer is in that taboo (for me) land of the “middle ground”. Devising some compromise between my first 28 years’ habits and the last 3 months’. I do have the added comfort that if my compromise somehow misses and I start to balloon again, I have a surefire way of dropping weight again to get back to where I want to be. But still, it would be nice to have a clear understanding of how to proceed with caution.

Emily’s suggestion (the best and only so far) is to slowly add some snacks to make up for the calories I’m currently losing, without running away out of control. This is probably wise, though it’s sort of hard to merge snacking and discipline. Whatever I do, it should be slow and carefully monitored. Though now that my stomach has probably shrunk a bit, I might be able to relax on some of the rules.

Long term, the real next task is to figure out how to apply the same discipline and motivation to other areas of my life. Ha ha. Heh. Hoooo.

Perhaps if I can’t write a novel at the same time as working, I can write the next diet bestseller. FiberOne and Big Vegetarian Meals. E-mail me with a better title.

by

Cinderella Sweeping Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

“Grandpa, tell me what it was like back in the old country before the fall.”

“Well, what do you want to know?”

“I dunno. What was it like just before the fall? Did anyone know what was about to happen.”

“Oh, I think some people did. Back in ’08, Grandma and I went up to Gold Country for a little trip.”

“Were you looking for gold?”

“No, no. We were just going to a place with a little history to celebrate our anniversary. We’d been married for five years at that point.”

“History? Like how old?”

“Well, the first night we stayed in the oldest hotel in Placerville. It had been built in 1857.”

“Grandpa, that’s not old! Everything here in _______ is older than that.”

“Not everything.”

“Just about.”

“Anyway.”

“So you really weren’t looking for gold?”

“I mean, we joked about it a little, but all the gold mining novelty shops were sold out of equipment. Too many other people were trying to find it.”

“What’s ‘novelty’ mean?”

“Hm. It’s like a knick-knack, or a little trinket. Something you don’t really need, but you buy because it’s cute or you just impulsively want it.”

“That’s weird. I’ve never heard of that.”

“Yeah. I guess not. Huh. There used to be shops full of them in America, before the fall. But not so much right before the fall. Most of them were closing.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. On that drive up to Gold Country, we passed all these half-deserted towns and suburbs. There were all these signs saying ‘For Lease’ and ‘Space Available’. But they looked like they were in the middle of nowhere. Places people had built thinking everything was always going to grow and expand. But then… it didn’t. And there were just shells of buildings.”

“Kinda like Gold Country, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Old buildings and old towns that were kinda deserted. People moving on. I guess the difference is that no one knew where to move on to in the suburbs. Back in Gold Country days, there was always more opportunity just over that mountain.”

“Or so they thought.”

“Yup. So maybe it was the same.”

“When did the banks start failing? That was a big part of what started it, right?”

“Oh definitely. Let’s see, that was… huh. That morning, actually. I’m almost positive. I’d brought the laptop up to Gold Country and checked the news that morning and it said IndyMac had failed. That was the first one. It didn’t seem like much at first, but people knew then that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going down too. And they were half the housing banks.”

“Why’d people choose such funny names for banks? They sound like people.”

“That’s a good question. I guess they wanted to sound friendly and helpful. ‘Like a good neighbor,’ that was one of the old slogans an insurance company had. Just like some regular Joe on the block who’s helping you out when you need it.”

“But can’t balance his own checkbook.”

“That’s pretty much exactly right. I’m not sure anyone in the old country knew how to balance their checkbook at that point. It was pretty clear that nobody really cared. Until all the banks started failing and then everything changed.”

“When did you and Grandma get out?”

“Of Gold Country or the old country?”

“Old.”

“Probably not soon enough, dear. Probably not soon enough.”

by

Ducking Behind Pillars

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

I’m not exactly the world’s most social person. This is a bit of an understatement.

Much has been made lately at my place of work of the classic old Myers-Briggs personality tests and their typologies. I have to smile wryly when people ask if I know anything about personality tests. But in those, as can be imagined, my needle is sort of buried in the “I” (Introvert) as opposed to the “E” (Extrovert). Still struggling with why Thinking and Feeling are considered distinct, but boy am I buried in the I.

There’s another letter, though, that probably plays just as much into this particular anecdote, which is “J”. Judging. As opposed to “P”, Perceiving. This burial of the needle toward one side is far less extreme than the old I/E dichotomy, but there’s a whole lot of J goin’ on. And the IJ combination creates not only a lack of prioritization toward the social, but a good deal of dismissal of those one isn’t interested in.

Which leads me to ducking behind pillars. I did it today, and it almost shocked me when I realized that my quick-walk high-tailing it out of the Powell Street melee was, in fact, the proverbial ducking behind a pillar after all. And boy did I need to duck, since I was wearing a blatant Brandeis sweatshirt, making any possible confusion regarding identity impossibly moot. It was not till I boarded the train that I realized the person in question was ducking behind pillars in my presence as far back as when we shared the same school. Mutually assured ducking.

For the unfamiliar, the ducking behind pillar question is a not-too-distant metaphor for indicating people one would rather avoid talking to than ever interact with again in one’s life. I don’t think this is nearly the harsh judgment to levy on past participants in one’s life that most people seem to. The etymology is relatively obvious: who would you, if seeing someone across a room that happened to have a conveniently placed pillar between you, duck behind said pillar to avoid speaking with? For whatever reason.

This exercise emerged from a conversation between Fish and I about this question regarding our high school class. I once estimated, outlandishly according to Fish, that I would duck behind a pillar to avoid roughly 75% of our class of 1998 peers. A later name-by-name analysis we conducted revealed 75% to be a conservative estimate – the actual number was closer to 85%. (Editor’s note: I am still considering attending my 10-year high school reunion this September.)

But before any drastic conclusions are reached about what this implies and how much I must have hated high school and my classmates, I should note my particular reasons for ducking behind pillars. Often it’s simply to avoid the type of conversation that emerges from chance bumpings-into. The person may be completely neutral, or even slightly positive, in general and/or in one’s memory. But the nature of making obligatory small talk, separated by years or even decades from any real contact with said person, is often aggravating enough to turn a good person into a bad interaction. One that leaves one with slightly tainted memories of said individual, souring what otherwise wouldn’t have been given much thought.

It’s often much the same interaction as one has on IM conversations, which is why I haven’t logged into IM (with a couple of weird purpose-specific exceptions) since college. “Hi.” “Hey.” “How’s it going?” “Not bad and you.” “Fine fine.” “Good.” “So… whatchya up to?” “Not much, y’know. Same old same old. You?” “Yup, about the same.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

And you’d think a distance of years would change this pattern. But it really doesn’t. Often, it exacerbates it. How to even begin to explain the last 8 years of one’s life? One can’t, and doesn’t attempt. Or how to even begin to explain how dull and predictable the last 8 years have been? One can, and doesn’t want to. It’s all the same fucking day, man. (Editor’s note: Janice Joplin)

And yet I’m Facebook-friends with some of these people. Nothing to say, nothing to catch up on, no good times to relive. Just wampeters and granfalloons. (Editor’s note: Kurt Vonnegut) Grand wastes of everyone’s time.

It must be stressed here that I am just as much a waste of their time as they are of mine. This is not some egotistical elevation of my time, energy, or efforts over others’. They should duck behind pillars if they see me first too. I prioritize my time only in as much as I personally make judgments about other people that they, in turn, should be making (Editor’s note: my opinion) about the people they have nothing to say to. If everyone did this (Editor’s note: Immanuel Kant), we’d all be free of those awkward, neck-scratching conversations and be all the more reassured that those speaking to us were really truly interested in what we had to say. (Editor’s note: …or, I suppose, really insecure. Or attention-starved. But mostly interested.)

And about that reunion. Our reunion hosts have made the somewhat dubious decision to have RSVP’s made public in real-time on a website. Presumably this is to create some sort of critical mass and move momentum toward more and more people participating because they just have to see so-and-so and they’ll definitely be there! Of course, I really think the impact is much more to the contrary. Something about having to actually face those names in monochrome on a computer screen. Curiosity can’t get the best of awkwardness in an era where one can just Google anyone with a distinctive name to see what they’re up to. And considering that at least two people who I’d push a pillar on top of rather than have to speak to (Editor’s note: not really) have RSVP’ed in the Yes column, it’s looking like my decision is more and more made up.

Strangers reading this blog are just never going to e-mail me after this post, huh?

by

Postcards of the Hanging

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Strangers on a Train, Tags: , ,

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
about the time the doorknob broke.
When you asked me how I was doing
was that some kind of joke?

Late afternoon rushing down the steps for the train whose destination I can only see upon turning the corner of the bottom of the staircase and left for the doors that will still be open hopefully if I can get there in time see this is why I didn’t take the escalator because you can’t control your own destiny in case someone fails to follow the rule of standing on the right and walking on the left no running on the left because I am running seeing the train and hoping it’s not too late and I have a split-second to read it to decide whether to dive between closing doors or make that little stutter-step hold-up motion that means I’m not going in here’s the last step…

The morning walks toward work lately have been graced by a blood-orange sky since Tuesday. By which I mean that an actual orb, hovering eastward, has been the picture of a blood-orange against a sky somewhere between charcoal and ash. Walking in its pursuit, ever in the direction of the sun and the train, has felt like an epic effort at some Old Testament mission. On Tuesday I thought it was just an omen, but have since learned that fires in the outlying areas are blowing particulate matter into the atmosphere, leaving us in permanent twilight. A co-workers eyes burn each morning as he disembarks his bike or motorcycle. Mornings and evenings are the worst; there’s something about the sun’s rise and fall that brings out the eeriest. Yea though I walk through the valley of.

…and now I can slow down just a hair as I have seen both RICHMOND and been able to jump aboard ahead of the closing doors, but here’s another split-second decision because people are ever at my back, more flooding throngs of people in the momentary chaos of train-boarding fight-or-flight, where is the nearest best seat? And I spy there, ever in motion and just catching my breath, it’s right there, there is a four-plex of seats two-on-two facing each other, and three of them are open and now I have the classic prisoner’s dilemma of whether it’s safer to take the outside corner spot so as not to invade this person’s space and seem too close to them even though the next station will clearly fill the next two seats and everyone will be close and personal or whether to just fill in and take the slightly favorable inside seat because after all it’s easier not to feel guilty about de facto displacing someone who technically might make better marginal use of the seat if one’s on the inside and couldn’t possibly get up to offer one’s seat because one’s trapped and the massive disruption and inconvenience for everyone of offering an inside seat just undoes any chivalric or actual value in offering one’s seat anyway. And besides which taking the outside corner inconveniences anyone who might have to get diagonally between the two sitters of which you would become the more difficult one, trying to get the inside seat which you just moments ago rejected because of the illusion of some sort of momentary fleeting personal space or becoming too personal with someone who after all you’ve never met because you’re just sharing a train and the mutual desire to be home and done with this already and my goodness just take the inside seat already even though this whole musing has been automatic, the actual thinking done long before, and taken about fourteen nanoseconds…

I have had so little to do at work these days that I have taken to keeping an eye on the financial markets very closely in the west-coast mornings when they are open. For one, I’ve begun a little gambling in “the market” and for two, it’s an interesting time to watch such things. And no doubt, the way things are going, the direction of everything surely impacts my work after all. Would not the soup kitchens of 1929 been well-served by keeping an eye on the ticker? And today was remarkable, a dive to those dreaded words: 52-week low. And indeed it was 21 months’ worth of low, something closer to 90 weeks, something incomprehensible to those who remind us that, in the long-term the stock market cannot decline any more than could Rome fall, the Titanic sink, or the US military lose a war. And yet, somehow, no one ever calls a market gain a “correction”. Corrections are only down.

…and so I slide in to claim the seat across from yes, another fellow human being and a stranger, just as the train is moving and the chaos has settled and for one brief stop at least we will be the only two in this group of four, just like people who know each other. My movements are reflexive, automatic, as I settle and start to reach to unzip my backpack to remove the book when she speaks to me. “Hel-lo,” in a friendly, sing-songy, familiar voice. And by “familiar”: there is no recognition on my part, but she speaks as she would to a familiar. A friend, a colleague, a long-lost comrade. I look up. Who is this person? My age? Younger? Slightly younger. School? Work? An intern met in a fleeting moment; the batch of anonymous looking wide-eyed kids that gets younger every year? A former college debater who saw me debate in outrounds? One by one, the possibilities recede. I just don’t know this person. But does she know me, or think she does? I am wearing sunglasses, after all, though also a coat that no one else in the world may own, a bright threading of orange, red, and brown picked up in Nepal. But I am left with no civil recourse but an equal rejoinder: “Hello,” with less sing-song and less familiarity, but not so little as to rule out that I have clean forgotten this person instead of had nothing to recall…

The line is getting longer, of course. By leaps and bounds. I’ve been charting the trends, adding up the food bills, trying to peer into the void and project the curvature of the next spike and up-tilting angle, really putting the analysis into my Analyst title. I could use a wizard hat and spectacles, and maybe a glass orb to refract the blood-orange light that is often already past my window by the time I take my 8:30 seat. The news is all bad: floods in Iowa, threats in Israel, defiance in Iran, idiocy in Washington, panic in New York. It’s speculators or it’s not; no one can tell. It’s the oil companies or it’s not; no one can say. It’s inflation or it’s not; no one wants to admit. Houses sold in a fire-sale. The job lines longer too. I look out my window to see our own line. New faces or old? Who can tell? Everyone looks old in line for free food.

…she is now looking half-expectantly, half-normally. She is not looking away after the requisite time of casual observance. She is utterly unrecognizable, still. I am reading a book, the one I now start to pull out of my backpack, that includes a subplot (or maybe the main plot – who knows at this point?) about mind-control tests done on one particular subject who thinks he’s just another one of the testers but he’s being altered. Messed with. One might argue, given my history, that this is a terrible book for me to be reading. Or perhaps the best. But pull it I do, and she makes this overt, awkward show (she must be younger than I am) of trying to look at the cover, trying to parse out the low-contrast words of the title, presumably in hope that she has something to say about it, or ask, or, but she must not know Pynchon, or like him, or be able to quite make out the cover which I do nothing to exactly thrust in her face (nor to really obscure; I’m just trying to be normal here in this suddenly very self-conscious reality) because she mumbles something that sounds from my seat like “Rhurbook?”…

Eventually I need my own food and stumble downstairs toward the door, thinking perhaps I will spend some time away from the building for awhile because it’s just not been a good morning. And I’m half-hoping to find a place with a TV to watch the Euro Cup semifinals that Russia has somehow surprised their way into and it would really just be too overt to watch on the streaming video at my own desk in my shared office. And I’m not quite dizzy with hunger yet, but getting close, as I play the constant game of dodgeball with all the inhabitants of the Ellis Street Tenderloin; our usual crew accustomed to taking time that even when bored I never seem to have. Or feel to have. And it’s all strangely quiet, even the guy who shouts random numbers and city names and facts a high volume is somehow muted and the glower of blood-orange stands much more blatant above even though it’s just a bit past midday and the uneasiness they’re writing about in New York seems somehow manifest here in San Francisco while I’m hoping to get to images of the anxious situation developing in Vienna (the first half was scoreless, I’d already periodically checked online) and all I can really see is people in a haze of uncertainty. Even the tourists look vaguely a step behind. By the time I get away from desolation row and down to the cable cars, I’m just in time to catch some Russian from a cable car, a big burly bear of a classic Russian voice, and I think if this man can skip his homeland’s biggest soccer match in 20 years, maybe I can too. I find a chile relleno burrito in a nearby taqueria which somehow doesn’t have a TV anyway and return to my room on the row.

…”What?”
“I said ‘Oh. A book.'”
“Oh.”…

Russia lost, three-nil.

…and I have literally nothing else to say, not a damn thing that won’t make this already extremely awkward situation more awkward and I have to wonder: is this awkward for her? Is she paling in frustration over the fact that I can’t remember who she is? Or that I somehow am coming across as standoffish and east-coasty to her simple friendliness? Or is she – oh God – is she somehow hitting on me? Play with my wedding ring. Try to half-smile so as not to appear to be a total jerk. But there’s nothing to say. It’s one of those situations where I often yearn to say something that completely exposes the weirdness of the situation to turn it on it’s head and say something akin to were you just being friendly or should I know you from somewhere or who do you think I am or what?, but of course I almost never say those things in better situations; certainly better situations than now on the train, waiting for the miles to fly by under the tunnel and up the gut of the East Bay. Where – I am literally sweating now – I will be captive, captured, hemmed in by my own deliberate guilt-assuaging seat-clinching strategy, forced to sit through the ratcheted awkwardness that would be created by any sort of risky comment taken poorly. And so I stare, through sunglasses now actually fogging from the sweat of my literal brow as I grow red-faced and thankful that at least if I start to tear up slightly, the sunglasses will conceal, stare at the page without really being able to read or concentrate or focus. It’s hard enough to concentrate on this book as it is, especially on the afternoon side of the train when my mind is weary from too much time in the seat. Just staring at the page, wondering if she’ll say something, if I should, if she’s getting off at the next stop? Ha. She’s almost guaranteed to get off at mine…

And there was more to do, as there always is of late, in the afternoon, with a meeting approaching and late calls from outside sources. And I was thanked for one of my finer works, again and again, this one about it all – about food and prices and projections and where it’s all going. If one more person tells me how much easier I make their job when I’m about to stop I’ll. But what can I do? One cannot just slowly slide into shoddier and shoddier work if one ever hopes to be employed again (I don’t, but may have to, y’know). One cannot especially if one actually still believes in the work being done by the whole operation to begin with (I do, oh ever how I do). And, perhaps most key, one cannot slide simply because it is what has angered one so about certain others who almost forced this issue coming up nigh on a year prior. But the days one wishes that issue had been forced after all? Those are bad.

…and we sit and sit and sit. Sit there. Stop after stop. I, very occasionally risking a glance without head motion, through the sunglasses at her demeanor as it – does it? – descends into more and more grumpy, less and less sing-song cheery. Silence reigns. I am able to focus on my book for periods, but always with a lingering malignance in the back of my brain. The sweating fades, some of it still cold on my forehead, but the redness tilts back to a normal shade (this I can only technically imagine, though one can surely feel redness, no?), and I start to anticipate how this will end. My co-worker was spat on today, with an ambiguous level of deliberateness. A subtle kick? I’ve had those on the train before, someone obliquely making one lose one’s footing as a personal victory snicker. But now she’s staring out the window into the black tunnel, looking the picture of depression and surely it’s just because I can’t see her face but – oh God – (and here the fiction-writer takes off in his fancies and imaginations and storyline plot futures) what if she is recovering from x trauma or y experience or z deep-seeded fear and this was some sort of test or guidance from Mr. Therapist or Ms. Spiritual Advisor or Miss Friend and surely just saying hello on the train with a cheery tone and a Broadway smile will make it all better, restore Faith, demonstrate that there Is Some Hope and Goodness in the World. And I’ve dashed it somehow, or squandered it, and maybe it ends up being about her personal appearance or her ability to speak or just even what it all matters for anymore and can I even give a crap about this sham life that we all seem to be going through? And suddenly I have stomped on whatever flickering coal was left of that, something that had to be heartily coaxed with much log-shifting and blowing by Mr.T/Ms.SA/MissF at personal exertion and energy, knowing they were taking a small but potentially perilous risk in saying “just start saying hi to people with that winning voice and smile and you just see if things don’t improve” and I am the agent of destruction. What if she does something terrible? But of course I know deep down that I’m exaggerating and running away and way overblowing my role in any particular strangers life. Aren’t I? Though isn’t it sometimes strangers who seem more objective than friends, therapists, advisors? But surely, I have nothing to do with this right? I mean, maybe I really did meet her for five seconds and I’m just amnesiac. Although then this reinforces all the previous concerns – she’s forgettable and oh God we’re off to the races again…

But today is not a bad day, except for this little internal tiff. This sinking feeling of everyone being all smiles and hope and somehow, no matter how one plays one’s cards, one knows one to be Judas. This is surely exaggeration, but perhaps it only seems so because this is not my world. I do not belong where words like “career” and “empowerment” are bandied about. But they cannot see this, and this fact feels like a knife or 25 pieces in my hand.

…I get off the train at my stop, perhaps a shade early so if it’s hers as well I can’t be following her. All three remain seated besides me. There are no words, no look, no kick, no event. I proceed out of the train and out of the station, briefly glancing to see she’s not behind me…

I walk again downstairs, out toward the train, ‘neath a blood-orange sky.

…I walk upstairs and homeward, ‘neath a blood-orange sky…

by

Did I Miss a Memo?

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Strangers on a Train, Tags: , ,

No one came in to San Francisco today. The train felt almost post-apocalyptic.

Of course not a real apocalypse. How could the trains still be running after a real apocalypse? And there would be no others aboard rather than the seeming 33-50% reduction witnessed this morn.

But the dreams were intense enough last night and the empty train car surreal enough to beg the question of which was reality.

Quickly the question turns to evaluation, to analysis, to logic. It is summer, after all, with the first and longest day over the weekend. We are trained from an extremely early age to take off in the summer, to alter our schedule when the weather warms and expect things to get better, easier, calmer. July fourth looms on the horizon, but surely not everyone is taking their requisite two weeks starting now?

And indeed the weather has snapped rigidly cold, back to Mark Twain’s San Francisco “summer” after a week’s reprieve sent from balmier climes. Could people have somehow foreseen, checked a 30-day forecast and requested their week now, departing sunny and warmed for a place that would stay that way in June’s final week? Could that kind of prescience been in play, anticipating how difficult it would be to face another bitter, teasing joke from the City’s skies?

Unlikely. Indeed more likely that the decision was faced 30 minutes prior, not 30 days. That facing a window and a weather report, many chose to burrow rather than bolt, to neither fly nor flee, but freeze. Or beg not to freeze ’neath an added blanket, holding an ironically brewed cup in the face of no need to wake.

Staring awake, envisioning an empty train, its few riders unnerved by the sense of watching rats walk the ropes, single-file, out of the ship’s hold. Some carrying small bags or little blocks of cheese and meat from last night’s feast. Suddenly the yestereats turn in one’s own stomach, one notices the rocking of the waves a bit more, shoulders slouch and hunch as one braces unconscious for unimagined impact. One knows not whether to vomit over the side or to jump. Or to hang on for dear life.

Yes, no doubt they nestle amongst the bedclothes, stretching in that utterly relaxed way, regretting caffeine but taking solace in leaving the seats alone today. The trains were running late and stalling often; even conductors are not immune to waves of intuition, to coordinated impromptu staycations. We are all more connected than we could ever imagine.

And our constant reminder of same, the price of oil, rocketing ever skyward as though it could outrun the rain. Threatening to capsize a once proud crew of sailors, leave them faced with water that had been so untouched and unthreatening as to seem metaphorical. I sail on a mythical ocean, they might’ve bragged back in port. It looks of water, but ’tis made of glass. We slide along like skaters on the ice.

Eventually all things break. Glass, ice, people, even rats. We are not meant to experience infinince on this planet, only to gaze upon the concept in wonder and disbelief. That which endures here may be somewhat overblown. Best not to make too much of longevity and focus on the meaning in that which we see, feel, touch, sense.

Sense. Use it. Maybe tomorrow, the trains will stop altogether.

In the meantime, friends, it looks like a deluge. Even the sidewalks of the Tenderloin are clear. And those here are in motion. Running in circles feels like progress when you know it’s wrong to stay in one place. Walking beats standing. Standing beats sitting. Sitting beats lying down, at least outside of a bedclothes bunker.

It’s morning in America, but I don’t see much daylight.

by

The Race Goes On

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, Tags: , ,

My job is making me a racist.

I probably mean something very different by this than you might expect. Perhaps because my definition of “racism” is as much “awareness of race” as anything else. I could go into an extensive diatribe about why I find this to be the case, and I’m torn about whether the time and place for this is now. In part because, rather obviously, if awareness of race is racism, then the more one talks about race, the more racist one becomes. Or is acting. So the whole enterprise is inherently somewhat self-defeating.

The two-minute summary involves the fact that race is innately misleading and arbitrary. Race is based on appearance and nothing more. Nationality is something that at least has some meaning and complexity and subtlety, and awareness of nationality (or primary language) might actually have some value in relating to both culture and to how to understand or serve someone better. But race glosses over these subtleties and divides people based on physical appearance, into 4 to 6 categories that are based on some idiotic Anglo-centric perception of how people look. At the very best, our racial classifications are like a Racist’s Guide to Race.

White folks are defined as those who look totally and completely white, without a strain of anything else in them. African-Americans are those who have at least 1% of their ancestry from pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa. Asian/Pacific Islanders are a meaningless conglomeration of over half of the world’s heritage; a group within which there is as much diversity of culture, background, and appearance as within the rest of the groups combined. And Hispanic is a new category created because those now placed in it didn’t look quite whitebread enough to be White. Even though, functionally, Hispanic is essentially White.

Some people have Native American as a category, presumably as a conduit for further subjugation of these victims of the most successful genocide in world history. And then a few places are finally adding Multiracial, a category that would honestly encompass 80-95% of the population if people were thinking clearly. And whose takeover of 100% of the population is the only real hope we have of putting this issue to bed once and for all.

The point is that these categories are meaningless at describing anything except the broadest of appearances, and basically appearances only through an extremely traditional White racist filter. “Oh all them Asians look the same to me.” Come on. It’s pathetic. And continuing to codify and classify based on these distinctions only cements the way people look at the world, perpetuating future generations into meaningless classifications along vaguely colonial racist lines.

My job is making me racist because my workplace, like most leftist “liberal” institutions in contemporary America, is obsessed with race. And my job as a statistician and analyzer ends up focusing a great deal on race. I end up running demographic reports and devising new ways of making more interesting demographic reports… and by far the demographic most people are interested in is race. I work with executives and consultants who are obsessed with race and believe that the entire question of poverty in America can be solved through the filter of these 4-6 categories that divide people upon meaningless, Eurocentric lines.

Indeed, every time I run a report by race, I get this twinge, this pang in my gut that I’m doing something wrong that’s making things worse. Any alleged enhancement of service that would be derived from this report would be based on a racist stereotype… e.g. “All people who look African-American do this.” or “Most people who look Asian want that.” Like it or not, these are stereotypes. And last time I checked, stereotyping based on appearance was racist.

It just goes to show, as much as anything, that no matter how deeply committed I feel to the general mission of a workplace, I still wind up doing things I feel terrible about in all my day jobs. Restraining kids at Seneca. Having to kill ants at Chapman. Sales work at RMI. There is no way to fulfill my principles and not make compromises unless I’m on my own, making all of my decisions. This is an important thing to remind myself when evaluating what to do with my time.

And I know at least some of you would argue that my problem is there are too many things I don’t like or feel morally constrained about. To which I have this to say to you: You’re wrong.

Anyway, true to form, just like going to law school makes you more likely to justify selling out or living in Washington DC makes you a bigger believer in the power of the US government, working with racial data all day has made me much more aware of and focused on the issue of race. And people’s individual races. And that stinks.

I know, I can hear all you people hollering in the back about the inability of any of us to truly put away our mental knee-jerks about race and the people we see. To an extent, with some limitations, I might even agree with you, for our generation. And probably the next if they keep having to juggle these 4-6 asinine categories. Ultimately, though, this behavior is entirely learned, so once we stop teaching it, we’ll be in good shape.

And there was a time when I really didn’t see race. I went to three schools during my second-grade year, when I lived in Washington DC (1987-1988), plus spending a fairly significant time homeschooled. All three were pretty low on diversity, but the third one (Watkins Elementary, where my Mom taught the whole year) was the lowest, running at about 97% African-American. At first, having been in majority-White environments my whole life prior, it seemed a little different. But after about 45 days there, I really stopped being able to see the distinctions. People were just people, and I probably couldn’t have even named the race of a given person after awhile. This may sound crazy to you, but I was seven years old. It was early enough for me. Had I spent time in similarly mixed environments thereafter, especially with even broader diversity, I might’ve had to have someone teach me in college what race was again.

But the next year, we moved to the Oregon coast and I once again fell back into a monoracial world. Which is not a criticism of my parents; just an explanation of my development and where it went.

Still, I think I’d be a lot further along the road to the perspective I crave were I not asked to constantly divide our programs and clientele and numbers by race every week.

And this fact didn’t really hit home until this morning, when I went to return a book at Borders. This is really the anecdote that’s reinvigorated my wake-up call about this whole issue and spurned this post in the first place.

The other night, in the midst of the crazy volatility of feelings and urges that has been the story of Spring 2008 in many ways, Emily and I decided to go to some bookstores at 9:30 at night. Even though we’d pretty recently been to bookstores and there was no particular need for new books. So we rushed out to Borders before they closed and spent a good bit of time accumulating some more tomes. One of which was Paradise for Toni Morrison, which Em was intending to read.

But we got back in the car and realized we weren’t done – we craved even more bookstore. So we remembered that Half Price Books, just two blocks from our house and full of cheap used editions, was open past 10:00. So we headed there and acquired more. I bantered with the clerks about buying both War and Peace and Gravity’s Rainbow for pleasure… some “light summer reading”. And Em found a copy of Paradise that looked almost as good as the new one she’d just picked up at Borders, for less than half the price.

I chided her about the odds of her returning it and we briefly jested about looking for a third bookstore that might offer a third copy of the Morrison book. But we called it a night and left the book in the car.

Fast-forward to today, wherein I’m taking Em to the train station in Emeryville to head to Fresno for her parents’ late-breaking renewal of their vows on their 40th anniversary. The renewal is tomorrow and the train will offer her much-needed time to catch up on work, while I have projects of my own that need attention here, plus baseball on Sunday. Regardless of which, there was the new Borders edition of Paradise, waiting with receipt, to be returned to the store literally across the tracks from the station. Em looked at me imploringly and I sighed.

I have trouble with any customer service interaction that is not abundantly positive. There are various reasons for this, but a primary one was that I was raised around a lot of negative customer service interactions that frequently made me feel uncomfortable. I basically now find it impossible to complain at any restaurant, store, or other sales environment, no matter what’s going on. I will only send food back if there’s meat in it, since I simply couldn’t eat it as-is. I will eat around sour cream, mushrooms, and any other detestable vegetarian thing that comes on my plate, no matter how explicit I was about asking that it not come with my food. I will not bring up any price discrepancy on an item being rung up, no matter how much I may be overcharged. I simply try to ride these interactions out and have them wind up okay.

I couldn’t remember returning anything in my life that wasn’t broken. In fact, I’m not sure I could remember returning anything, broken or not. It’s just not something I think of doing.

But I begrudgingly agreed to return the book, because the proximity was too obvious to make it anything but perverse to refuse. I made it clear to Em that this was a big deal to me, and she reassured me about how breezy and normal it can be to return a book, especially with the reason that we’d found a cheaper copy somewhere else.

I make sure to walk in an entrance that is immediately visible from the sales counter, since I’m also randomly paranoid about being accused in this kind of transaction of trying to scam someone by picking up a copy off the shelf and returning it with the old receipt. I think my reasons for this little paranoia are somewhere between my appearance and my inability to deal with any vague implication that I might not be 100% forthright.

Anyway, matters are not helped by the sales clerk in this empty bookstore (it’s 10:20 on a Saturday and I’m a little surprised they’re even open this early) joking to my opening request “We don’t do returns here, only sales,” with a serious face. I had actually started to pivot toward the door on my heel when she starting waving her arms and saying she was kidding and would help me right over there.

And I immediately became conscious of the situation through a racial filter. I was returning a clearly untouched Toni Morrison book to an African-American woman. On a receipt with other books by non-African-American authors. And it’s not just an African-American, author, it’s freaking Toni Morrison, who wrote The Bluest Eye for Chrissakes. Me, a European mutt, doing this. I quickly set the book on the counter upside-down, thinking that after all the barcode would be there and it would make the transaction less obvious.

Wrong again. As I glanced down, the author picture on the back smiled up towards the clerk, revealing that the live person in front of me was a dead ringer for Toni Morrison twenty-five years younger. And I don’t say that because I think all African-Americans look the same, I say that because the hair was identical. The exact same dreads. And of course, I’ve determined about myself that roughly 80% of my visual perception of people is their hair. If someone drastically changes their haircut, I will risk not recognizing them, while nearly any other dramatic change is almost unnoticeable to me. The facial structure is mighty similar too, and the body type.

The clerk was consummately professional and cheery and conversational (we had a brief talk about wrestling with bar code scanners that don’t function and the joy of all those manually typed digits), perhaps a little as a result of feeling bad about the poorly-timed joke, but mostly because she was just good at her job. She betrayed no indication of feeling weird about the racial dynamic of the interaction, no even vague wisp of a hint of such. But I was almost tearing up, a lifelong biological reaction to feeling like someone is secretly uncomfortable in dealing with me or having a less than sincere interaction with me (yes, I’m a North American champion debater, but I often nearly go to pieces in 1-on-1 interactions when I pick up on negative cues). I couldn’t wait to get the receipt and book it out of there.

And I immediately thought to myself, I wouldn’t have even noticed this had I not been working at Glide the last two years.

Glide does wonderful things for all kinds of people. But I wish they, and so many other leftist groups doing otherwise wonderful things, would just ease up on the racial categorization. I, for one, would feel a little more comfortable. And I daresay everyone else they’re serving would too. One-size-fits-all is not perfect, but four-to-six-stereotypical-sizes-fit-each is much worse.

When can people just be people? Mandatory intermarriage would almost be better than this.

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Storey’s Favorite Stories

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Read it and Weep, Tags: , ,

I just assembled a PDF packet of my seventeen favorite short stories of all-time. Given that the short story is probably my favorite use of the written word, this was a pretty big undertaking for me. I like the benefits of it being accessible online, but I don’t really want to have this become a regular Blue Pyramid project that everyone can access and gets indexed on Google because, well, it’s not exactly respectful of copyrights. But this system beats the heck out of copying 200 pages and shipping them to people.

So, uh, e-mail me if you want the URL. I’ll share it with whoever’s interested… I just would like to limit it and not make it fully public.

Maybe it’s ironic that I feel compelled to limit access to great short stories, but not my daily emotional reality. It makes sense to me.

As an introduction, here’s the intro I wrote last night that appers on page 2 of the 196-page packet:

It’s actually been a couple of years since Matt “Fish” McFeeley and David “Gris” Gray and I were sitting around and came up with the idea to share our ten favorite short stories with each other. Gris made his list relatively quickly and printed out a packet for Fish, which I believe he still has to this day. And I dallied on making my own list, only becoming re-inspired recently upon reading a new story and thinking to myself: That has to make the top ten! (And so it did, at #10.) Fish joked that it would be pointless to reprint Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” ten times. (This story narrowly missed inclusion with this compilation.)

In any case, as you can see, I found it difficult to restrict myself to ten stories. After all, seventeen is my favorite number. And at a certain point, the exercise’s point is equal parts to rank a top ten (which this expanded compilation does achieve) and to showcase the most memorable and profound stories experienced in a lifetime of reading. And indeed, this latter may be the larger purpose behind the effort. Thus, the prime criterion in selection was to choose stories that had most deeply impacted me in both the course of reading them and especially in my days to follow. This not only makes it easy to compile these stories (they can easily be recalled), but often the test of time is the best judge of a good short story.

The best short stories are ghosts. They follow one around, haunting and affecting one’s mindset for years to come. They’re waiting for you around street corners, behind people you meet, over your bed when you go to sleep. These stories have all played that role in my life (with the exception of the new one, whose haunting season has only just begun). No doubt I will be chided for the extremely healthy portion of Ray Bradbury stories, but there’s a reason he’s my favorite author. Six of the reasons are herein included.

Please note that all these stories are copyrighted by their respective authors or estates. This is a much more efficient way of compiling them and presenting them to everyone than copying on actual paper, though you should print on your own if you prefer to curl up and read instead of staring at the screen. But please don’t spread this URL around too far so that I get in trouble with the copyright police. I have the deepest respect for these authors and don’t want to steal from them. But until I’m an author that people are expecting to compile short stories for republication and public consumption, this’ll have to do.

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Things are Looking Up (Maybe)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

The weekend was sort of a waste. A very fun waste, but I still didn’t get nearly done what I was hoping to. Both in terms of making decisions and in terms of catching up on other projects of import. There’s a lot that needs to happen in the next few weeks and the sooner the better.

But it’s Monday and that can mean fresh starts and new beginnings.

To wit:
-Silver skyrockets.
-I actually have work to do.
-A project that seemed like it was going to be harder turned out pretty easy after all (more on this tonight).

But the granddaddy of them all, the mighty news that brought an actual lift to my life today, is this:
The Mariners fired Bill Bavasi today.

The Mariners are 24-45, worst team in the majors, and just got swept by the worst team in the NL. At home. This season would be hard-pressed to become more abysmal. And suddenly, like a sunburst through the clouds, the man responsible for assembling this on-field travesty is kicked out of his comfy chair. As though somehow, somewhere, concepts like accountability and consequences may still have meaning on American soil.

Our Manager, who got lucked into the job by his old boss retiring last year, needs to go too. And Mel Stottlemyre needs to remember how to coach pitchers. And we have about half our payroll going to people who will probably never be good again. This is no panacea, and it’s not going to save 2008.

But oh, what a start. I haven’t been happy like this since Ryan Franklin finally departed the Mariner ship.

So today, somehow, I’m almost feeling like Barack Obama. There’s hope in the water. Which is a lot better than the bacterial microbes in the water of my dream last night. (We were back in India, forgetting to ask for bottled.) A lot better than the (literal) stench of death that hangs around my office today. (At least two dead mice and a third who must remain unfound, given the ongoing odor.)

Cautionary, filtered, fettered, unsteady. But today, I’ll take it all. It’s not even Tuesday yet. Hallelujah.

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Decision 2008

Categories: A Day in the Life, Keepin' it Cryptic, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

I’m rapidly careening towards a decision. There’s just too much evidence, too much obviousness, too much at stake.

That train’s heading nowhere good. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Call me if you strongly disagree. Or if you agree and want to vouch your support. Or if you’re really confused, but concerned.

Hopefully there won’t be too many cacti. And maybe a little water nearby where I land.

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On Boredom

Categories: A Day in the Life, Tags:

The only time I ever consistently got in trouble in grade school (or really, any school other than Broadway) was for talking loudly about how bored I was. In first grade at St. Paul’s Elementary School, I would quip about how easy a timed math test was and wonder, along with my friends who were also done early, why the school was wasting our time so.

We spent recess inside. Our reward for expressing dissatisfaction with boredom was more boredom.

The teacher pulled me aside after one of the episodes (maybe every episode – it probably got repetitive for both of us) and explained why I was missing recess. “How do you think other people feel when you say that? Maybe the test isn’t easy for them.”

This seemed truly impossible to me. I appealed to objectivity. “But it was easy.”

“For you it was easy. But it might not have been easy for everyone. And hearing you say it was easy just makes them feel bad.”

It’s been one long slow spiral into mediocrity ever since.

I think those who spend time bored in school assume that the rest of life must offer a respite from the regime of the dull. I know I was counting on this. But as the Country Quiz, countless posts in this blog and in Introspection, and hundreds of lost hopeless hours can attest, boredom is just a way of life. The real world requires boredom of its subjects, doubly so for those who work quickly and hunger for interesting uses of time.

I’ve many theories on why this is, and the truth likely lies at the crossroads between all of them. For one, as the fable of my six-year-old self attests, the average task is tailored for the lowest common denominator. Even in a high-quality job, one will generally only be expected to fulfill the bare minimum that could possibly be expected of the worst exemplar of that job. For example, modern financial CEO’s will be lavished with bonuses and praise for not losing the entire fiscal future of the company. People used to criticize the government deficit, saying that if “I ran a business like that, I’d get fired.” Not so. But if you ran a business slightly better than that, you’d get promoted! Or poached by another higher-paying firm.

We all must sit for 40 hours in our respective seats (or more for some) because 40 hours would be required by people with a pulse and little more to do their jobs. And everyone has to have a job! What would become of people if they didn’t have the meaningless drudgery of a commute, a job, and a return commute every day? If they could make use of their time rather than being wiped out to the exhaustion of a TV-only-stupor by meaningless expenditures of 40+ hours? Rebellion, creativity, mayhem, that’s what. So 40 hours for all of us, regardless of whether only 12 of it are productive.

You know what’s a good supplement to your 40-hour time-in-the-seat fiesta? Trainings. It’s like bringing school back to work! The two grand sources of boredom, together again in one impossibly unbearable package. Trainings can teach you to use buzzwords that make it sound like you’re spending your 40 hours on a more sophisticated plane than others. Or to spend more of your time trying to make it seem like you’re doing things while not criticizing others for seeming to do even less than you seem to do. Or for somehow not managing to do things, even when there is so. Much. Time. In the seat.

The thing is, people are freaking out about 5.5% unemployment, so the 45% unemployment that would be created by cracking down on boredom in the workplace just wouldn’t be palatable. See all the analysis above about people “needing” jobs.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that about 95% of that 45% need a job to “earn a living” in this society. That they would starve or have to seek inappropriate work instead. So my complaint is not really with those people so much as the structure into which they were born and raised. One should not need to sit for 40 hours a week in utter boredom in order to feed oneself. There just has to be a better way.

I don’t know what to tell you if you’re still in school and desperately hoping that something other than boredom is waiting on the other side of your current strife. Most people would tell you to get a job where you’re sure you won’t be bored.

To which I have this to say to you: “Good luck.”

Because you will be bored, unless you get extremely lucky. Even jobs that seems like the most scintillating and interesting uses of time are filled with trainings, or sudden bouts of downtime, or so much rote work (even stressful, tight-deadline, high-pressure rote work), that you will be bored. You can put it on the board. Yes.

Even the President of the United States must be bored much of the time. State dinners? Meetings with the leaders of obscure but quietly settled countries? Fundraisers?

I was bored an uncanny amount of the time while counseling troubled young teenagers, living with other troubled young teenagers, who all sat around much of their lives waiting for perfect moments to violently attack us, each other, or themselves.

Good luck.

Collectively, something could be done with all this rotting of brainpower in wasted, monotonous time. Something momentous. Something that people currently consider physically impossible within the limitations of the planet on which we reside.

Defying boredom and finding something worthwhile to do is looking less like a good distraction and more like a moral obligation.

Maybe I just need to go out for recess.

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Uncertainty

Categories: A Day in the Life, Keepin' it Cryptic, Tags: ,

These, it has been said, are uncertain times.

Imagine that you are on a train. As long as you are on this train, you will be fed money at an almost alarming rate. You will be reassured. You will have people tell you how wonderful you are.

And eventually, at an indeterminate time, this train will careen off the tracks and plunge into a deep ravine.

But the train doesn’t stop at any stations. Or at least isn’t planning any stops until the ravine-dive. So to disembark prior, you’re going to have to jump. Which is infinitely safer than plunging heels-over-head into a ravine, mind you. But perhaps adds that extra special little disincentive (along with the money and the reassurance and the praise) to leaving the train behind.

The obvious question of the day is:  When do you jump?

It should probably herein be noted that one can’t really jump when one sees a ravine on the horizon. Maybe the train is always skirting a ravine for its entire run. (Presumably one would jump in the opposite direction when deciding to flee the train.) And no one can imagine being coordinated enough to jump one way as the train is plunging ravine-ward. So let’s just leave that hedge out altogether.

We’re also going to caveat that you can take it with you… you’re being paid in a form that you won’t at any point weigh yourself down and make a leap less feasible. At least not physically.

So when do you jump?

There are those, including my childhood self, that would advise jumping ASAP. Immediately. Posthaste and without delay. As long as that train rolls on with a chance of taking you into the ravine with it, there is nothing worth letting that happen. Prevention of worst-case scenarios is a principle I’ve lived by a lot, and maybe it’s the obvious solution to this one.

And there are probably many of you still looking for a way to hedge this one. Surely you can get some clues or indications that the ravine is coming, right? I mean, the whole train can’t go into the ravine at once, right? Unless maybe there’s an earthquake. (Indeed yes, unless there’s an earthquake.) Surely you can hang out in the caboose and minimize your chances of a negative outcome?

I mean, maybe. But maybe I have to push this metaphor to the extreme and say there’s a thick mesh netting around the train that takes a decent amount of time to cut a jumping-sized hole out of. So one has to prepare to jump – it’ll take much longer than a few seconds. Yes, let’s go ahead and commit to that. This mesh also has the dual impact of making it very hard to see where the train is going at any given time. And adding yet another small disincentive to jumping at all.

But you have to jump. The ravine is not survivable. Or if it is, it’ll be so crippling that no amount of money/reassurance/praise will be worth the cost. If nothing else, you’ve learned that lesson before.

While I wrote this scenario primarily with one (maybe two) setting(s) in mind, I think it’s widely applicable. All over the country, people are making calculations that look a lot like trying to figure out when to jump from the train. Or perhaps they just should be… it’s more likely that most folks are actually trying to discern how long they can cling to the train, regardless of how many ravines it attempts to navigate. For many, jumping looks like the most dangerous option. As though a million phantom cacti appeared to them in every direction, everywhere but onboard the train and on the tracks themselves. Making jumping so viscerally painful that even worse consequences could be swallowed wholesale.

But the cacti are small and spread out, if indeed they exist at all. The train probably slows to a good 25 or 30 miles an hour sometimes, though it probably has to go at a constant speed for the analogy to work. Then again, one could always just hold out, hoping for a slower train. Hoping that maybe it would stop sometime and the jump would be palatable.

Don’t get your hopes up, kids.

Clock’s tickin’. Train’s a-whistlin’. Ravine’s a-waitin’.

It is still too early to be too late.

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Pluck o’ the Irish

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Tags: ,

Every summer, a teeming horde of young Irish men and women descend on San Francisco for a taste of life in the big American city. Youthful, exuberant, and almost sweet enough to convince one that there really is such a thing as innocence in the twenty-first century, they come to San Francisco for what seems like just three months’ worth of America for perhaps a whole lifetime. Frankly, that’s probably more than enough.

I don’t know if there’s an actual overt summer program based at some Eire university or a collection of them, but it seems more of an organic tradition than anything overt. They come seeking summer jobs and summer sublets, immersing themselves in a culture that must seem supercharged and hyper compared to the green homeland hills. Do they come to every city? Does San Francisco share a special place in the heart of the young Irish fancy? Until I move, I may never know.

My special insight into this small temporal demographic of the City comes from two sources. For one, the Irish, like all Europeans, are more accustomed to riding trains than the average American. So they fill the subways when the rest of us might otherwise leave them empty. But I might never have truly noticed the trend had Emily not worked so long and devastatingly hard for PIRG, finding many of the young Irish in the employ of their summer canvass by summer’s end. They come, no doubt seeking just enough work to earn their room and board and revelry in the midst of one California season. They left, those at PIRG, thinking that only in America can we muck up idealism and civic engagement with obsequious panhandling and worker abuse. No doubt, it’s a lesson worth learning from our sordid country.

I was nestled amongst three such Irish on the train home today: two lasses and a lad full of the high optimism of early summer interviews. They were tired and already feeling the pinch of the interview process, but one among them had been triumphantly offered a job at a clothes shop that afternoon, recounting an amusing anecdote of picking up a shirt to demonstrate her sales technique and finding it rather small. “Can you believe,” she went on to explain, “they have a clothes shop only for children?”

“I would love to work in a clothes shop,” her fellow female responded wistfully.

I’m likely painting a far more starry-eyed visage of these young Eireanns than they deserve, but if so, it’s because I want to believe. My picture of Ireland is idealized enough as it is without idealistic fresh-faced inhabitants coming to San Francisco with their folkloric accents and ginger freckles. No doubt I would’ve jumped at the chance one summer to take off for three months in Dublin with a handful of friends. And maybe I would’ve never returned.

It might also be worth noting that Irish is my selective heritage. I say selective because truly “European mutt” is the only description that can fit my bill, though Irish is tied with English and German at the top of the list. Somehow Ireland’s history feels better to me than England’s or Germany’s, though, and I’ve taken a special liking to that particular quarter. I say it here perhaps only to disclaim my interest in these visitors, or perhaps disclaim anything that might be misinterpreted. These are “my people” and I can say what I want to, like so many religious and ethnic groups will speak of their own.

Of course, truly, I have no people except those friends I select and the parents who raised me. Any ethnic kinship with any real group feels shameful at worst, irrelevant at best. And America? What is America except a place to disappoint the hopeful aspirations of a downtrodden but rising race of Irish?

And yet they keep coming. If you have to come, it might as well be San Francisco. Weather just like home, only less interesting. The isolation of a peninsula to replace an island. A sense of quiet perseverance against a surrounding world that might not understand.

Malarkey? Blarney?

You mc the call.

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The Misery Index

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

The world of finance, of which I’ve become just slightly more aware/interested lately, has something called a “Misery Index”. Herein, undesirable conditions for individuals like unemployment and inflation are combined to demonstrate just how much harder it is to be financially viable under those conditions. I’ve been thinking a lot about personal misery indexes lately, in part because all the meters seem to be pretty high.

Misery Index: Weather Edition

Hey, if a popular TV show can put four words together in a non-sequitir with a colon in the middle and the word “Edition” on the end, why not me?

In any case, this would be the index that determines how frequently a given city or town has weather where the high stays below 72 and the low stays above 32, with no interesting “weather events”, such as rain or extremely high winds. While many people might make an index desiring such a state, mine would uptick the misery for every day where such conditions were met.

I’m guessing San Francisco gets a 325 (the scale is 0-365, of course). Higher is more miserable.

The only thing intolerable (or indeed, even less than stellar) about the Bay Area is the weather. And my goodness, is it ever intolerable. This much middling, piddling, nondescript but still a little crappy and cold weather is just killing me. Give me rain, snow, heat, frigidity, anything but this. I mean, look:

The last time it got over 72 was May 17th, when there were, admittedly, 4 days of decently warm weather. The last time it got below 32… the data I’m looking at doesn’t go back that far.

I need some extremes, some seasons, something other than slightly miserable weather for months on end.

Now I’m really curious what would score well (low) on my Misery Index… I’m guessing places like Chicago and Albuquerque, which have weather I love. It would be great to find a site with actuals (averages don’t really cut it) for a year or two and just run the numbers.

Misery Index: Personal Edition

I stayed home from work today with a raving migraine. Despite vastly improving my migraine status with my own self-regulation and stabilization of caffeine intake, combined with the profuse wearing of sunglasses and maintaining a non-fluorescent work environment, I still do get migraines from time to time. And this was a doozy that made the idea of being on a BART train, let alone sitting in front of a desk for 8 hours, utterly laughable. It was starting to clear by about 6:30 or 7:00 this evening, this after I had spent basically all but an hour or two in bed from waking up at the parallel time in the AM until 3:30 in the afternoon. In a word, joy.

Last night, I got a $328 bill from AT&T. For calling Canada. You are no longer handling my long-distance, AT&T. SBC was a wonderful company, but AT&T is currently proving itself to have ravaged everything that was even a little good about SBC. I’ve hated AT&T my whole life, and owning the Giants’ ballpark isn’t going to get them out of this. I called Qwest this morning to switch long distance, and my internet might be on the block next. The hate I cannot exaggerate. I actually wrote a diatribe on the memo portion of my check.

I have seemingly forgotten how to play poker. Which is not a big deal (none of these things are what we would call a big deal), but it makes everything else worse, or at least feel a little more miserable. Of course, there are just enough times when I play really well, but get outdrawn at the last second that really cut to the quick. But still, early May was one of the best poker periods of my life. That time is gone.

I am no longer in Albuquerque. The trip was great, but it’s over now. And I’m left with that drought where I have no scheduled trips or breaks to look forward to. Having something to count down towards is an essential part of making life less miserable. And I’m fresh out. And there may be the ‘Deis debate reunion thing in August in Vegas, which would be great (though less so per the paragraph above, I suppose), but August is a long way down from now.

There are other things I could put here, but I really should self-censor. They are in arenas that it is just best if I don’t post about for the time being. But they are probably the most difficult/miserable items.

And the M’s are 20-34. This is, however, somewhat mitigated by the fact that the best game of all 54 of them was last night and I got to watch all 9 innings. It was a 1-0 shutout gem where Yuni Betancourt (my second-favorite position player on the current team) smacked a rare homer to cement a Bedard/Morrow/Putz strikeout-laden shutout victory, a second straight over the defending champion Red Sox.

This last fact is the only happy thing I can really think of today. That, my friends, is – what’s the word? – miserable.

Apologies for the complaint-laden post, especially when all of them are mild and only really combine to make for much misery. But in the sine-curve lifestyle, one has to take the chutes with the ladders.

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