a regular, i was told. yet another cart pusher without cats as evidence of her crazy. i don’t know the closeness i can get so i just leave it be, sitting on the curb outside a korean-owned seven eleven store with my menthol. she pilfers my empty tall can soon as i make the bank shot. i study her every move making sure i can capture the moment just right in my mind: an elderly lady wearing layers of odd colors unfit for los angeles summer nights, face tanned and leathered like the cowboy belts i made at art camp, and shoes made out of shopping bags. she won’t ask me for quarters, i can tell based on my newly found sixth sense on knowing who will or will not approach me. it took only a few lonely nights on the street to pick up the skill. or maybe i give off absolute terror.
yoshiyuki sadamoto first described the absolute terror field, it’s the literal wall we put up to separate ourselves from other egos and the external reality. conversely it’s the blister pack around our soul, the excess smog from our little carbon generator that supports our separate existences. he figured it was the cause of loneliness and pain, and the absolute terror field is the quills on our backs that prevents us from ever getting close to another human because the pain, the terror, would be absolutely too great. how funny. if sarcasm is the lowest form of wit then paradoxes is god’s invention of the highest form. just imagine the platypus and, fuck, if you don’t giggle you’re just too stupid.
she won’t leave. but then paradoxically in a city with thirteen million souls and miles of space where can she go? i can feel her eyes strained on me, waiting for me to finish my second can. it’s worth a dime in redemption value based on california’s scammy shanty street economics. eleven means food at mcdonald’s. twenty one means a shower at a starbuck’s. i should just give her change. i finally have enough in my pocket to give away. yet, how close can i get?
“what’s your name?”
“angela.” angela in the city of angels. god is funnier than robin williams.
“do you need change?”
“no, sir.” she starts to dig through her bags.
“what do you need?”
she stops shuffling with her bags. “i need, i need, i don’t need anything,” she huffs.
“then why are you here,” i ask sheepishly. i already have an idea of why. there’s those on the streets because they deserve to be, the ill, the lazy, the untamed but there’s also people on the street because when you fly by wire all it takes is less than a handful of mistakes to land you here. the streets stays blind. how close can i get?
she looks at me with brown, judicious eyes. should i puff up a bit to pretend i’m trustworthy? do i chug my beer to show i’m just talking out of my ass? maybe i can play like i don’t give a shit? what if i lean back and open up? what if i just finally find something to stop my brain involving me with every fucking sigh, frown, or vapid, maudlin bullshit? what if i… so she spoke.
and i listened. to secrets that doesn’t requires repeating. to sighs. to frowns. to vapid maudlin bullshit. and she wouldn’t stop. how close did i get? in my field of work, in the military we call being so close to $17 million dollar jets dropping $100k bombs that we can feel our boots soles melting: danger close.
you don’t belong here, you don’t belong with us, she tells me. i don’t belong anywhere, i tell myself, that’s why i’m here living in my car. killing time one tall can at a time.
they keep mumbling to each other terms i don’t understand. acronyms that give me a headache when i press hard to decipher. AFC. IOI. Kino. Pecking. if they weren’t my friends, if i didn’t care that that kind of bullshit works, if they didn’t buy me the drink—some trick they use to get the skirts jealous—i would tell them shut the fuck up.
“shut the fuck up. you guys are making this really awkward,” i motion for the waitress to come by to make me feel well.
“god, what’s your problem, jerry? it works, bitches are dumb as fuck. why haven’t you read those PUA PDFs i’ve sent you?”
“because i love them so by design i can’t fuck them.”
“you can’t love them,” gabe laughs to hide the underlying emo shit he’s been extruding the past couple of nights. he’s the only one with a girlfriend right now. even if it’s one that insisted on a break this summer.
kara sits down with us in the booth instead of bothering to take our drink order. she nuzzles next to me. she likes my shirt, she told me. i don’t trust her, how fucked up is that? money’s at stake and those smug debt collectors have warned me about generosity in the past. her shoulder tenses up as i grab her close and whisper.
do you know what love is? i know what others tell me love is. charles bukowski told me. he thinks love is the morning mist before the sunrise, then it burns away. i don’t know, i’ve only had the unhealthiest kind of love all my life. you wouldn’t believe me if i told you.
she looks at me with the saddest eyes, grey like baby hounds, in the world and says, “who’s charles buckey?”
only a drunk. only a fucking, piece of shit, drunk who’s too impatient to appreciate tolstoy. only a fucking, piece of shit, no good, scoundrel mess of a drunk that got famous because people too dumb to know the difference between what’s good and what’s not got fooled into thinking something was there. only a fucking drunk. i know who bukowski is, i’ve read all his books, i’ve seen where he sat to drink his liquor, i’ve sat where he sat to drink liquor, i’ve lived his edgy ways, i lived in the streets of Los Angeles, i communed with the drifters, the collectors, the losers, and i saw nothing. he’s a liar. but all drunks are.
she looks ready to take my drink order. make me roll the dice to go all the way closer to being like my dead heroes. maker’s and coke. double. i bet she’s not even from los angeles.
“why are you so angry?” tim’s been asking me the same question since i first asked to borrow his fucking gluestick in grade school. he was the only other kid to say the word fuck in grade school, it makes our friendship harmonize.
“why’s your face so full of shit all the time? i don’t want to get in on your pick up shit. it’s depressing to know how well it works,” mostly on the average chicks.
he gets up and wanders over back to the bar to talk to the gaggle cackling, maybe over something actually funny. his phone, barely out of his pocket, lights up. it’s suppose to mean one of us has to text him in a few minutes. good luck, ladies, he doesn’t even need dutch courage.
“he’s been really into it lately,” gabe said as he chugs the rest of his tecate—the new hipster shit. “but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.”
what does that even mean? i give him a pass tonight for not agreeing to every drunk slur i emit. after all, it’s tough having dropped five years into a relationship and have it end with her cheating on you, taking her back, then her asking to go on a break. it’s tough having emotions. it’s tough to be the one, so young, that care too much. it’s tough having someone occupy a bunker in your mind and knowing there are not enough zerglings to be spawned this side of space that can take it down. it’s tough being a little bitch.
“what does that even mean?”
he laughs nervously, “i just mean, you know, that sometimes, you realize you need to focus more on you, less on the relationship, you know? i don’t know. i’m just trying to recalibrate okay. i’m glad he’s doing this, we’re getting pretty good at opening. i can finally do this now that i’m free.”
“are you nelly furtado now? have you broke up with her yet?”
“no, i thought we were going to meet tomorrow to get it done but turns out it’s next week. what should i say to her?”
kara comes back with my drink, lingers her hands, seconds too long for the sake of politeness or soliciting for tips, over my shoulder as she walks away. too bad i’m not a poser with mountain man beard and lumberjack flannel to her confessed liking, too bad for her. i chug the rocks glass.
“you listen to me, you listen well, remember every word i say. you tell her that she fucked up. she fucked up and she damn well knows. she fucked up the second she got bored and cheated on you. she fucked up even though it wasn’t that big of a deal to her but it hurt you really bad. she fucked up when she realized how much more you like her than she likes you and didn’t want to think or deal with that possibility or consequence. she fucked up for wanting to end a five year relationship where all you’ve done has been to support her, love her, and care for her under those pretenses.
she fucked up for asking you to take her back because it was just one of those overdramatic romantic comedy bullshit to manipulate you some more. she fucked up for being a selfish cunt. she fucked up. you tell her all that and you don’t give her another second to respond because she deserves not a second more of your life after you’ve said your piece. stop giving a fuck. because she stopped a long time ago.”
“gabriella” pulls out his phone to text tim by the bar on the hunt and then blinks at me, “you don’t sugar coat your truths, huh? no wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.”
i want to say drunks are liars. by fault, by design. but no one gives a fuck.
Guilty men run, cowboys roam, and pirates drift. I spent a year not knowing I was which. Looked for an inexistence of something I demanded exist. Haven’t been home this summer, today got my papers to go back. Still same old, same old, but old feels good, man.
Sep - Jetted around the country
Oct > Dec - Palo Alto, San Francisco
Dec - Las Vegas
Jan > Mar - Cupertino
Mar > May - Los Angeles, San Diego, Salton Seas, Loma Linda
May > July - San Bruno
July > Aug - San Miguel, Los Angeles, Tahoe, Home
Who lives like me? Out of suitcases and carpetbags? An unavailing Stretch Armstrong with a head far flung, fighting snapping to reality, to where my body and soul never moves? Who else fantasizes they’re Mr. Fantastic? I’m looking for a support group.
At least I worked the hippie out of my system. Now watch I make something of myself.
On a flight out of Charlotte I sat next to a demure lady. She agreed with my choice of diet Pepsi when the flight attendant came to ask. She took her nap while I wrote in my notebook and gazed farm tessellations being past by. When she came to and was bored we began.
She’s a cognitive therapist, priding in working with children. She’s flying home from a conference for psychologists and she was a-buzzed about her work like I’m obsessed with wife-beaters on girls. She was excited and depressed with how it took a War at the human cost of soldiers and sailors suffering from PTSD to finally get the funding and attention needed to generate new techniques. She went on about what the front-line mental health professionals had to see day in and day out. She told me the names of the children she work with for the past six years, as in she’s seen these children for six years, sometimes teens until they’re into young adulthood.
One technique she’s tried, with great success in increasing communication and trust, is the toy figures. She asks the children, abused or traumatized from dysfunctional families, to just play with a box full of figurines. Cowboys and indians, army men, farm animals, people figures. She says time and again the heart breaking commonality that stood out was how they would pick out a daddy, a mommy, maybe siblings, and fences. The family members would always be boxed in by fences. The fence is the fantasy of safety and stability.
In 2005 I was sent to southwest USA to build a fence. In 2010 there are still boundaries issues.
Hurt goes deep. Let’s not pretend we’re all strong enough to move on.
Been living godless too long. Without a mission, without an enemy. Can’t live like that, because then you get bored, bored enough to finally notice just how shitty every single assault of the senses reality really is, you lose the game. Then he stares at you like you’re a fucking idiot, with his arms outstretched, his shame pointer arking like the Staff of Ra.
But what can you do? When you’re one of the rare few that’s persevering to be better? What can you do about wanting to be so winning that much more? To living free and always going some place new? To bounding anxiously being adored and demanded? What can you do about hoping the next leap brings you ready to face what’s in the mirror?
Them baffling boondoggling quagmires to banter during break about. Then you end up thinking too long what he is on and on about. Then it gets expensive as time gets brokered down like currency, because in a set and setting where money is going—going—gone after Geithner the Gutter had gypped it, you realize what’s really rare.
Next thing you know you’re thinking too long about something else. Something like how a magic mouse is wandering around too long quizzical and irked how new Tumblr works and wondering what the Tom Cruise just happened on South Park and who’s going to be the first YouTube Google homepage viral video star canon d replacement?
Depressed, disappointed, and offensively desperate. Now, without boring you with details, I cleared three for three. Today as a present I have calmness and, well, calmness makes you boring but calmness is also the cash to keep you abiding. And abiding, dude, isn’t the only way but on earth when there far more endurable systems, beliefs, things, learning to abide saves you a lot of heartaches.
Maybe it’s not worrying about what gets lost in a fire… maybe it’s the fear I won’t find what’s really dear to me in the mess.
Like everyone I always fear what comes after when something good ends. It’s not about what I should do with myself after I’m alone — I learned to live alone young — but what do I do to restart?
I’ve started the process by cleaning. That’s what you do at 6 in the morning on a Sunday, when you realize you’ve lost control of your life and chocolate pudding isn’t enough. What started as a temporary room became an adorned home for a year going now. And what it’s adorned is just a box of things with forced meanings and vague memories.
Once a colleague called me up randomly, asked me for a favor. Am I, and will I, be able to show up somewhere to help a mutual friend? Being a sucker, I said of course. He alluded to what needed be done and leaked not a single word more, bring trash bags he concluded. He thanked me for not bothering to ask who we’re helping. I am a bag man, I have always been a bag man. Professionalism means discretion.
When I showed up I was told to brace myself. We both were writers and we both cringed when those words lingered in the air. The door would not budge without applying my body. Once inside the San Francisco efficiency all you can see were silver whippit canisters on the ground, they were everywhere, clinking like a Damien Hirst pachinko machine. What I was recruited for was to clean out a room left behind by a junkie. A junkie friend. A brilliant junkie friend with personal struggles that he ran from thirty short hilarious seconds at a time.
It’s suppose to be harmless, the white kids back on the block would use it and get riled up before the Friday night football games and rammed concrete walls in their helmet until it was time to charge. I wouldn’t know, I was in marching band.
I’ve been told it feels like love, these little silver canisters. A deeply satisfying detachment from the physical world and person. Launch you into another dimension. Maybe somewhere more beautiful than sitting alone in a dark room, walking around on top of canisters, grinding glass cups into sand, not even hungry enough to gorge on trash. With Ministry playing. Ew, Ministry.
I kicked a few around me feet, it must be good if every other head shop in the Mission only sells them by the distributor boxes that comes in hundreds. A pallet of which ended up in this man’s house. Cheap considering there was no legal pot back then.
My friend and I spent the night clearing out all the little dream passes. Bagging them and then running downstairs and dropping them into the trash bin behind a Walgreens guarded by the bums in the shadows. By the time we used up all the boxes of trash bags I brought we decided it was a good time to take a burrito break.
What happened to him, I finally asked.
He’s in the hospital. Yesterday he stood up and fell down. Doctor thinks he has vertigo.
Must be rough lately, I couldn’t judge.
He never asked for help with his troubles.
I nodded even though I didn’t know anything about his life. Finally I thought of something writer-y to say. The strongest ones never do, they think they can ride the lightning forever.
Yeah, he was happy before. But then she left. He’s been through a lot.
It’s hard to accept things we cannot change and it’s harder to give up thinking we know the difference, that was writer-y enough. I then sunk back into the best carnitas in town. I call it taco therapy.
Back at the apartment I rifled through the man’s life. The explicit instructions was to keep only things of value and toss everything out. I had a hard time following that. I imagine everything was of value, they’re all clues to a life of an older man high in his career, a good place.
The polaroid of a young him standing in front of some track-prepared Jaguars. His collection of writing books. His posters commemorating him and his work. His guitar. His vinyl collection. His bills. His prescriptions. His tax returns. His computer. His rotting food. His expensive hi-fi setup. His old school camera. His pictures of her.
I wanted to keep it all. I was young, full of empathy, I was afraid in the twilight of age I would easily forget and forgetting what I had would be the worst crime. I didn’t know when and how to stop in a junkie’s house. So I tossed it all. Not forgetting was why I ended up there in the first place.
I don’t recognize the person I was when I came here and now as I go through my accumulated crap over the year I don’t know the person I became. The books betray me to be a geek. The business cards scattered all about make me to be socializing but I’m as lonely as ever. All the mail and envelopes means I’m irresponsible. And all the drugs… I don’t know how the drugs got there.
It’s just stuff, stuffed into a stuffy tiny little room like stuffing. I doubt it’ll even fetch four figures on Storage Wars. I came here with a plastic tub and my laptop, told myself I can always get more stuff and fulfilled my own fears which fed my disgust.
The world is unlikely to run out of stuff in the long run. But they’re all of cheap quality. Three Apple mices lay by my hand. Trinkets, jujus, knickknacks on my desk. Clothes by the pound that need to be laundered. Shoeboxes of more crap cluttering everywhere. This is just the stuff I see.
You know how at a new restaurant, given overwhelming amount of options, you just end up standing there? The young risk trying something new, the old stick with what they know, and neither want to admit the urge of otherwise. When you rush you end up with something you don’t want, when you slow down and analyze you end up getting passed by. Paralysis of choice. That’s, ironically, by choice. You can decide, it’s not hard, but you lack the serenity to do so.
I was trained by the Corps to know hesitation kills. Critical decisions have to be made and they have to be made quick and you have to learn to live with the consequences.
It’s easy to forget how to live hard when you get soft. That’s what they warned me when I didn’t sign my re-enlistment papers. I lied and told them I’ll keep that in mind.
Today I have that in mind. I’m not going to be afraid. I’m not going to be regretful. I’m not going to cave. I’m just going to start. Anywhere, somewhere, and don’t stop. Today I’m tossing. Today I’m cleaning. Today I’m going to restart and deal with stuff, both the seen and unseen.
Lit cigarette on the sill. I’m on a comedown. Explosions in the sky, all of a sudden I miss everyone. My bank account is nearing empty again, but I’m eating good, I’m staying warm, and I have change to spare. The adventure team jaywalked across the street with a pink tutu, crackheads just walk on by. The garbageman’s name is Joe, he only picks up recyclables, Jason runs the refuse. I beg and I beg and I beg but websites don’t give me what I need, what good is it for? Social doesn’t have curfews but still has a bed time. Live earthquake map is the only thing tying us all together. Summer is ending, I taught my mom how to drive this summer. Old habit of drinking just water stuck again. Where is that feeling of tantalization, I’m bored with it. I’ve seen this all before.
It’s a sickness in us, yearning for peace. We search for a cure, end up only being entertained by barkers and charlatans. The only true salvation is knowledge, but we humans are crafty businessmen.
We put price tags on knowledge, and when people can’t afford the costs we fabricate imaginary systems of loaning money for you to go to school, which in turn inflates the costs and value of said knowledge.
Do you want to know who the false prophets are? They’re the assholes that come around proclaiming they have touchy-feely answers. And if you act fast you can have it for a lifetime of easy payments of pittance dollars and cents.
Yoko Ono is in the business of art. She released the movie Bed-In for a few weeks because it’s a good business move. Traveling around the world to preach requires money.
Barack Obama is in the business of democracy. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin are in the business of political machining. CNN and Fox News are in the business of news. The assholes hanging around the Tea Party are in the business of selling you gold trinkets and badly written bullshit. Hosni Mubarak and Farouk al-Sharaa are in the business of stability. Scott Harrison is in the business of charity. Harvey Levin is in the business of gossip. Mark Zuckerberg is in the business of time. James Skinner is in the business of real estate. California is in the business of pot stores. Jayceon Taylor is in the business of middling bullshit. Al Sharpton is in the business of racism. Benny Hinn is in the business of church. Mom is in the business of robot oil. Anonymous is in the business of protesting. Everyone is in the business of living.
What is peace? But a business. Who are we? But being sold. And business is good.
Around fall of 2006 the Marine Corps handed me papers to go home. Having done my time in the Carolina swamps freshly minted at 22 as a combat engineer that wasn’t sure if I could pair detonator to dynamite they told me go home after denying my first—of many—attempts to go to war. Slot’s full, they said, wait for the next cycle. Don’t worry, war will always be there they chuckled. Glad that became true.
So I took the ticket out and slunk back to whence I came up, the quiet burbs of Cupertino. Back to my old room with the bunk bed, my stoner buddies, back to my old life, drifting around. I had cachet though, I recalled. I’m a United States Marine. That meant something anywhere but where I was.
The overachievers roundly finished college and found exciting jobs being cube drones. Back then, before Y Combinator validated, before the tipping of nerd being chic, before startupping was trend du jour, before all of that society told us being desk drones was the best outcome. It didn’t even matter what you did as long as there’s a desk, a chair, internet, and a paycheck.
Despite knowing that’s not what I wanted, that was why I dropped out of college, I somehow ended up doing the same thing. Living at home, in front of a desk, sitting on a chair all day, hooked on the internet, making no money, and dreaming about war. My mum nagged me all day to get a job so I did. I went down the street and picked a drabbly death star looking office building and walked in.
Apple chose an medium-grade industrial walk-up back in 1976 in Cupertino because it was convenient. It was orange orchards everywhere back then, fertile land for planting dreams. There was a windmill that locals took their grains to for grinding down the block. It’s now a Chinese bank building.
Back then only nerds walked in and out asking for jobs. That’s just what a garage startup in Silicon Valley was like. If they were smart they got to keep coming back and help out. Apple was a small fry fighting to convince the world worked through mail and telephones that the average joe blow deserved a $666.66 computing machine on their desk. Woz had no problem designing the computer but Steve had a tough time belying he’s capable of turning his cadre of misfit super nerds into a corporation.
I didn’t know any of this as I tailgated the random guy past the security doors. I just knew Apple was finally in exciting times again. Every empty commercial space in town has been snatched up. Every empty factory now have motor pools everywhere. Badgers walked wandered to every Yelp reviewed spot within walking distance during lunch. Times are a-changing, Macs are hot, and a new generation of users won’t have to live in shame like I did, spending my school time recess on the yard arguing over which was better: PC or Macs.
The building I chose happened to house the support arm of the company. Across the street was finance and legal. Engineers and the higher ups had the reserved luxury of working in the mothership. It didn’t matter, I was okay with anything. So I asked people I saw and met about work. They looked at me like I was crazy. Then I figured out what was wrong, they were too young. I readjusted fire.
The nice lady looked trendy and amazing for the silvering she’s been up to. A framed letter thanking her for the 25 years she’s put in and signed by Steve Jobs was on her desk. She was a lifer. She smiled, perhaps reminded of the garage days, when I told her what I wanted and handed me a laptop she pulled from the Steelcase cube drawer. Fix all the HTML in these files so she can prepare them to be uploaded to a CMS. I nodded and sat in the cube of the guy on vacation.
At the end of the day I emailed her the files. She told me to come back in the morning. Then the next. Then next. I managed to cheat my way into becoming a cube drone at the soon to be most influential company in the world.
I loved exploring Apple’s campus at night with my badge. For every red horrendous beeps there was a green light openings doors somewhere. I was like a rat sniffing around every inch, I waltzed around different departments and studied cube decorations, took in the complexity of ideas and thoughts left over on whiteboards.
Some desks had red PCB motherboards strewn about, some desks had vintage Apple posters, some desks were cluttered with broken iPhones collected for support engineering testing. To a kid that grew up in Silicon Valley, to a nerd that obsess about computer, to someone that marveled at how radically technology changes lives, this was where the magic happened. And it was all just so normal work place, where people integrated systems, designed products, wrote software, and made business deals—a corporation.
One late night while working on QA-ing help content for new iLife products I stepped out of the sterile lab I was in and took another walk. You hear the thud of the doors every now and then as late night bachelor badgers finally it quits and go back home but no one ever bothers you.
I was on the fifth floor of IL1, the atrium that you walk past the main entrance, overlooking the massive product ads when he walked by.
I’ve heard that happens. I’ve seen it happen before, during lunch once. He wore the same mock turtleneck and jeans, tapping on his iPhone, followed by three little girls eating cookies from the cafeteria. People open up the sidewalk and just let him on through, like a Mose parting the pedestrian seas.
He nodded and I nodded, unsure of what to say. Or if I should even say anything. Scuttlebutt was that the top floor of IL1 is forever Steve’s universe. He has a show room built so he can practice his presentation, have demos, and get things done. I imagine it to be much like what John Lasseter does at Pixar, endless hours of tweaking great things to greater things.
Great things, though, are done by irrepressible people. So I was shocked at the rusty and cramped words that came out of my mouth, “how, how do I get all this?”
He paused in walking away from me, turned around, and inspected. “What,” he must be wondering if it’s worth talking to me—and he sure took awhile before deciding. “You chase. Every day. And sometimes you’re lucky to do the right things.” Chasing I’ve heard of but it’s the sometimes that scared me straight.
You see I believe Steve lives in a different world from you and I. He chased his entire life to make his world controllable through good design, good products, and good technology. If I know anything about luck it’s that it’s not something that just happens, you chase it, and when you’re a great master of the universe you make it.
As a business hacker Steve made his luck, he made his chips to leverage, he made deals happen like Gaza depends on it. It was a fault many thought flawed, that the obsession tarnished what he made but great things are done by irrepressible people.
Every moment a constant struggle between two mentalities in my mind, thinking that either life is controllable or not. Some days I’m overwhelmed by what little I have control of but when I’m empowered by amazing technology my life is filled with watch cat videos, find cheap eats, look up how to get lost, record every aspect of every major moment of my life, and channel otis redding soul through two Chinese handmade earbuds at any moment then I’m powerful. And still thankful, as much as I take it all for granted now. By god, you remember when you were stuck with a StarTAC for a burner? Eww.
Namaste, bro, you’re pretty rad.