Wednesday, December 5, 2001

So yesterday at noon, while sitting in the opulent break room in the building where I work as a data-entry chimp, I heard a message come over the intercom...

"Attention, everyone, attention. Oakland Police have given us the all clear and informed us that it is now safe to enter the building."


We had all been in the building since 8:15 that morning, and none of us had any idea what they were talking about. No evacuation had occurred, no warning was issued, and nobody knew anything was going on at all until the aforementioned announcement.

Today, we found out that the bomb squad had blown up a suitcase suspected of containing a bomb at the Marriot across the street. At first, I assumed that since it had blown up, there must've been a bomb in it, since socks and underwear are not known for their explosive properties (unless we're talking about those belonging to certain of my familiy circle who shall remain nameless - speculate at will), but it turns out that the bomb squad brings their own bombs to blow up things that are suspected of being bombs.


Sunday, November 4, 2001

So Halloween went by without much notice in our house this year. Halloween is usually one of our favorite holidays - Lee's window paintings of skeletons and stuff, the carving of mutant pumpkins, the trips to Home Depot for costume materials, etc. Then we usually have some kind of barbecue or party of some kind. We were even especially looking forward to this halloween, because it would be Jasper's first - we were going to dress him up like a squid, which would undoubtedly be more fun for us than for him.

Instead, we blew it off. With my current lack of gainful employment, even the expense of costume materials and sugary snacks for the local urchins and miscreants was deemed excessive, never mind barbecue and party stuff. We've become exceedingly cheap over the past few months.

Turned out, we weren't the only ones who skipped the festivities this year. Trick or Treaters were conspicuously absent from our street.

It was wierd.

Last year, Lee bought a TON of empty calories delivery vehicles to hand out to the roving gangs of costumed extortionists, and even made up like 50 little goody bags so they'd get something cool, not just another undifferentiated drop of sweetness into the candy oceans contained in the various pillowcases and plastic Jack-o'-lanterns. By the time I got home from work that night at 7:00, the goody bags were gone, and the reserves of snack sized Sugar Wads, Choco-Cruds, and Dento-Destructo Bombs were nearing zero. We had to shut down distribution a little after 8, and there were still tons of the little buggers running around the street for hours after that. It was a masacre. We didn't stand a chance.

This year, the street looked like World War II London with the air raid sirens wailing. Not just the porchlights, but the windows of every house on the block were black, as if they'd been painted out. Not a breathing soul walked the street, which is unusual even on a regular night.

Were people scared to take their kids out this year? Were they afraid that, this Halloween, the Tricks would all be excessively violent and destructive and the Treats would necessitate agressive courses of antibiotic treatment? I heard that other neighborhoods had an average crop of trick-or-treaters; even a few blocks away, I'm told, they were out in force. Not on my street though. It was completely deserted.

All in all, it was the creepiest Halloween I'd ever experienced, due to its conspicuous absence.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

I'm still without anything I'd like to call a real job, but I did start a temp job that features tedium of mind-crushing caliber today. I'm sure that will give me fodder in the future.

So now for the story.

This past Sunday, Lee, Jasper and I went to dinner at my Mom's. It was nice - she made chili, the baby did all his cute baby stuff, etc. etc. After dinner, though, my sister had some bad news.

"Oh, Jaeson, I forgot to tell you. I have some bad news. Mr. Frackenthrass passed away."

So, Mr Frackenthrass (not his real name) was my senior year high school English teacher, and my absolute favorite teacher from my whole pre-college education (he's in a three-way tie with two of my English professors after that). This made me really sad. I actually briefly considered attending my 10 year reunion just on the off chance he might be there, which if you know me says a lot. Being in his class changed the course of my education, and very likely my life.

In fact, right now, I feel bad about giving him such a silly fictional name for this piece. He deserves better. Oh well, too late now.

Too late now is also what I was thinking on the drive home as I remembered running into him about 5 years ago in a Barnes & Nobel in Oakland, when I told him I'd like to go have coffee with him sometime, and got his phone number, which I never quite got around to dialing, being too busy investing my time in a career that was destined to implode in 5 years anyway, albeit unbeknownst to me.

I thought about the guy for the rest of the night. Stuff he'd said, things I'd learned in his class about literature and the appreciation thereof, as well as the appreciation of what drives the creation of literature, namely, life and the experience of it. It was depressing. I really wished I had given him a call.

So today I started that temp job. They took us on a tour of the office, and described the mental gymnastics we'd be expected to perform in our duties as UC Application Processors. As we were shown the employee lounge, I found myself looking at the back of this guy's head at the coffee machine. He turns around, and HOLY SHIT!

"Mr. Frackenthrass!"

He now works at the place where I'm temping.

"Hey, Jaeson! How are you? Are you going to be working here?"

"Um, yeah, for a little while...hey, you might want to know little sister..."

"Amber, right?"

"...yeah, well, she told me you had passed away..."

"Really? I don't seem to remember doing that."

"...yeah, clearly...Hey, it's a relief to see that those reports were exaggerated."

"Yeah - well, I'll see you around the office, then!"

"Yeah...See you."

Sometimes, the Universe comes up with plot twists that no novelist would ever be able to get away with. Such license is enviable.

Monday, August 6, 2001

So, I'm beginning to get used to the idea that, for the first time in almost 15 years, I am out of work.

So far, none of my big fears about the situation is coming true - the biggest being that within days of my losing my job two big guys would come from my mortgage company and say "So's we's heard that you's lost yer job, eh? Tha's too bad. Especially since the people that we represent have a certain interest in your payin' your's debts, if you's know's what we's sayin'..."

Yeah, it's a pretty irrational fear.

Truth is, nothing's really changed yet, and won't for a few weeks at least. The biggest change is that when I wake up in the morning, I have this overwhelming urge - no, need - to get up and go to work, but there is nowhere to go. I find myself wondering how far I could get, how close I could come to actually going in for a regular day at the office. I could certainly go catch BART and ride it into Embarcadero. I would get off the train unmolested. I'd go up the escalator, put my ticket in the gate, and exit the station. I'd ride the next escalator up to the street. No one would stop me from walking down Drumm street, Crossing over through the park, continuing past the Safeway, through another park, and then onto Front street. I could walk down Front, turn left on Green, and get as far as the 50 Green street entrance. This door isn't locked, so I could go in. I could get in the elevator, and ride up to the 2nd floor. I could knock on the back door, and someone would probably come to open it...

...or, instead of going in at 50 Green, I could continue up to Battery and go in the front door. I'd be able to get into reception, then I'd have to call someone to buzz me in...

But then what? "Hey, man, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, just here to work, you know. Another day, another dollar, and all that."

" really what are you doing here?"

"What do you mean? I've got a deliverable for a client I need to work on," which is even kind of true. I was in the middle of a competitive benchmark assessment (yes, that's a real thing) when they let me go. The truth is, even after being released, I find that I'm STILL thinking about that document, how to make it better, how to deliver the most's disgusting really, "now can I please get to work?"

It's wierd. I imagine it to be somewhat akin to the institutionalization phenomenon, where long-term prisoners are released from prison, and they don't know what to do with freedom, and all they want is to be back in their cells.

Now, there are lots of ways in which one might compare a job to a prison sentence, one being that being removed from either is often referred to as being "released." One similarity that really really seems to me to hold water is that after enough time, both become a significant portion of who you are. When that is abruptly taken away, you have to find something to take its place, which turns out not to be so easy, so you immediately try to get yourself back into precisely the same situation you just left as quickly as possible.

In the case of prison terms, the word for this is "recidivism." I don't think there's a corresponding term for getting back into a job. While the former is considered a weakness, the latter is considered a virture, born of the protestant work ethic, or something similar. In both cases, though, it really is a sort of retreat, running back into the arms of the familiar. And in both cases, it seems to be born of a lack of knowledge of what to do with freedom.

Now, I am faced with this choice. Given the opportunity, I will choose recidivism in a heartbeat. I have too many things to protect - a home, a family, my own wellbeing - but I can't help but wonder wether I am simply too afraid of freedom, the freedom to extract my living as I see fit, rather than have it handed to me in return for giving the majority of my waking life to some larger business entity, to really take advantage of it.

Let me back in, boss. I miss my cell. I miss my scheduled time in the yard, my circumscribed two-day furlows, my regimented waking and sleeping, my savant-like existance. Provide food and shelter for me, I don't know how to do it myself. I've never had to. I can't take life on the outside. I'm not made for it, I don't know how it works. I'm afraid of this new freedom, afraid I'll use it badly, or not at all. Let me back in. Please. Let me back in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2001

There's this joke that Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait used to tell...
"So I lost my job...well, I didn't really lose my job aa-aa-aaa I mean I KNOW WHERE MY JOB IS STILL...It's just w-ww-w-when I go there there's THIS NEW GUY DOIN' IT!!!"

So, after walking between the raindrops for the toughest year the Internet industry has seen (yet), the pink slip with my name on it was finally written.

They're not pink, by the way.

Today, I drank a bloody mary at 11:30 am, shared a final conversation with my former co-workers, and carried my own box of personal effects down washout lane as I'd seen so many others do before me.

Funny, somehow I thought I'd have more to say, but I don't just now.

Friday, July 27, 2001

Song Fragment, to the tune of the Willie Nelson classic (you know the one):

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build websites.

Don't let 'em learn Java or HTML,

They'll just end up on the Gravy Train to Hell.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build websites.

They'll work 'til they drop, and then they'll get laid off,

And try to move back in with you.

Still working on finishing it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

My son never has bad breath.

He's 6 1/2 months old, and he's never had bad breath. Not once. Not when he first wakes up, not when he's been crying for hours, not right after he eats...never.

For an adult, 6 and a half months without a single episode of halitosis would be a feat worthy of television coverage, or at least an interview in a local paper...maybe in the "would you believe" section. For babies, though, it seems like the rule rather than the exception. Granted, their diet is somewhat limited; no garlic, onions, or other known dietary/olfactory offenders. Still, my kid eats squash, and peas, and carrots, and other stuff that kind of stinks just in and of itself, with nary a zephyr of fetidness to be detected in his diminutive respirations.

I'll bet if you think about the various breaths you've smelled, you'll find that the majority of them have been bad. In fact, it seems to me that I only ever really remember somebody's breath when it reeks (case in point: my high school physics teacher, who seemed to exist solely on coffee and cigarettes. A classmate of mine aptly described his breath as "smell[ing] like he ate a 10-foot asshole for breakfast"). That octagenarian Sunday School teacher who was always whispering far too closely into your face to "be quiiiiiet during the seeeeermon,"...that girl whose mouth you were so ravenously devouring last night, much to your distaste and disbelief this morning (cigarettes are sexy...)...the merit-smoking, braunschwagger-munching aunt who always wanted a kiss...look at how smelling their breath influenced not only how you felt about them at that moment, but you view of them in general. Think of how you feel about yourself on those mornings when it feels like a baby bear used your mouth for a toilet. The eyes may be the windows of the soul, but the breath, like that smell of pent-up dog in the otherwise impeccable living room, is what first hits you when you walk inside.

It's primal. An evolutionary echo to our pre-hominid existance. Smell was vital to our survival, be it in evaluating a meal (or mate), finding our way home, or detecting a threat. Though the areas of our brains that process smells have atrophied considerably over the eons, there is still hefty evidence that smell is strongly tied to the unconscious. It has been shown to trigger memory and influence emotion. Studies have purportedly shown that students taking tests do better when in the presence of certain smells (particularly if they were present when they were studying), and that sexual attractiveness may be significantly affected by odor, and I'm not talking Chanel No. 5. Smell seems to be one of those direct mainlines to the unconscious - slipping in, often unnoticed, past the gates of the conscious mind to install code right on the hardware.

And breath, ahh, breath. It was how God placed life in our clay forms, and how we first check for its presence when we suspect otherwise. Breath infuses all we do. The Latin root spirare, meaning breath, is the etymological root not only of respire, but inspire, perspire, expire, and spirit. Breathing not only sustains us, it defines us. So many of the things that pollute our whole selves also leave their stain on the air that enters and leaves our bodies - tobacco smoke, alcohol, coffee - vices that all exact a tax on the body and mind as they leave their trace on the breath. Ultimately, breath binds us all together. We all breathe the same atmosphere, each breath like the proverbial drop of water that becomes the sea as we inhale and exhale all from this same ocean of air. Breath is life. Breath is soul. Breath is essence. The breathing of another's breath is like receiving, for a time, their being into our own - the most intimate of connections. The breath of another is a fleeting experience of their very soul. We need it, we share it, and cats are said to steal it. Breath is essence. Breath is soul. Breath is life.

The breath of my son smells to me like innocence.

Friday, July 13, 2001

Here's a funny joke.

Sneak into a co-worker's office, steal their desk calendar, and change it to April 1. Then, when they come into work, you can play a trick on them, and yell "April Fool!" They'll look at the calendar and say "Oh, you got me."

Then you can say "HA, Ha, it's not really April Fools' Day!! You're an IDIOT!!!"

This joke works best on days that are close to April Fools' Day, and is least effective actually on April Fools' Day.

Thursday, July 5, 2001

So yesterday was the 4th of July, the day on which America celebrates the birth of our nation by blowing up a small piece of it (that's a stolen quote; I stole it from Lee, but I think she stole it from somebody else first; I don't know to whom it is originally attributed). As for me and my family, we sort of eschewed the whole fireworks was cloudy, sort of cold, and we were all full of barbecued meat and vegetables. We watched a movie instead.

Does that make us less patriotic? I don't know, but...

The most memorable fireworks display I recall experiencing was on July 4, 1994. I was celebrating the birth of my nation by leaving it: "Happy Birthday, America, sorry I couldn't stay for cake and presents and stuff, but I gotta get outta here for awhile. You understand."

At 6:30pm, I was boarding a plane for Prague, in the Czech Republic, where I would spend the next 6 weeks. I was going over to teach English to a bunch of Czech high-schoolers, presumably so that they would be more able to participate in the "Global Economy," which was and is pretty much dominated by American rules, ideals, and cash. I was reasonably sure that my friend Jeff would be there to meet me when my plane landed; I hadn't actually spoken to him about it, but I'd sent him my travel plans, and his parents had assured me that they had spoken to him and he knew I was coming.

I really had no contingecy plan if he wasn't there. I had never been outside the US, except for Tijuana, which doesn't count. I was on the plane, it was in the air, and I was going to be on Czech soil in 22 hours (with an 8 hour layover in London).

As the plane flew eastward and the sky darkened, I saw the first of the fireworks. They were relatively small, seen from 37,000 feet, but they were still strangely engrossing. Gradually, more and more fireworks began to appear. From our airborne vantage point, we could see several displays at once - at least a dozen were visible at one point - all these little concentrated displays of enthusiastic nationalism and love of country. It was strange, seeing all of this from above. It was unifying, in that you could see that the whole country was celebrating the same thing at once, but at the same time, the displays were so small from our viewpoint, and so localized, each seeming to have nothing more than coincidence to connect them.

In 1990, the Berlin Wall had come down. In 1994, I was on my way to Central Europe, where nations were simultaneously trying to join "The Global Economy" and reclaim their individual national identities. The effort continues to this day with the endeavor to create the European Union. Even in the U.S.A., people still argue and fight about Federal vs. States rights. As someone who has grown up in California and then travelled to other states, it has often seemed to me that we're no more unified than the separate nations of Europe. Culture evolves in pockets and eddies, be it within a single nation or distributed among many. Common language, common currency, a certain measure of common law, and still we're pretty divided.

So, what? "The more things change, the more they stay the same," or "variety is the spice of life," or "vive la differance," or "diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks?" What am I getting at here? Am I getting at anything at all?

I don't know. I just know that usually when looking at the earth from great altitudes, I am struck by how contiguous it all is, how the lines disappear, and all that. But this one time, when the Sun was down and the bombs were bursting in air, I saw the opposite, and began to wonder at what it means to be one of the largest nations, and arguably THE most powerful, on the globe. I wonder sometimes if it's real. Just who is the U.S.? Is it really us?

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Okay, It's about 20 to 1, and I just got back with my lunch, a Turkey and Ham with Cheese (#26) from Togo's. I go there fairly regularly; it's nearby, it's cheap, and the people who make the sandwiches wear rubber gloves, which makes me feel a little bit better (I'm sort of a Howard Hughes when it comes to food. As a result, I almost always get "the hair", or "the toenail", or "the squirrel head", or whatever...but I digress).

Anyway, Here's the point. I really don't like mayonaise. I had a bad childhood experience with it. I do, however, like mustard. I like it a lot. It's one of nature's greatest gifts.

Apparently, this makes me some kind of freak.

Whenever I order a sandwich with no Mayo, and no further explanation, I have about a 50/50 chance of not getting any mustard either. I don't know if there's some statistical correlation between liking mayo and liking mustard or what, but I always have to spend at least 3-4 extra sentences explaining that I DO want mustard but DO NOT want mayo. It doesn't matter where I go, or how strong a grasp of the English language the sandwich maker appears to have. This is a nearly universal problem. I decided I needed to find an easy phrase with which to make my sandwich needs known, one that would be clear, universally understood, and would roll off the tongue as easily as "small-26-on-white".

I used to always say "no mayo", which as mentioned above was often insufficient. I then started saying "no mayo, but with mustard," which I thought would surely do the trick. Nope. Tried "without mayo, with mustard." People still screwed it up, or looked at me quizzically, and asked "no mustard?".


After extensive experimentation, I have found one phrase which seems to work almost all the time, "no mayo, yes mustard." Of course, this makes me sound like some kind of linguistically impaired pinhead, but people seem to get it.

So now I order my lunches from Togo's thus:
"Small 26 on white with provolone no mayo yes mustard."

Realizing that I have now written 2 entries in a row about lunchtime dramas, I resolve to write about something else tomorrow.

Maybe something about prairie dogs?

No, probably not.

Friday, May 18, 2001

God Dammit.

Somebody stole my lunch.

We have a refrigerator here at the office, and this policy where you have to label and date everything you put in there so people know whose it is, since apparently people have trouble recognizing things that aren't theirs.

So, sometime between 9am and noon, some asswipe made off with my clearly labeled and dated burrito.

I have only one consolation. The burrito in question was prepared by my father-in-law on his last visit. Roy is an extraordinary chef, especially where mexican food is concerned.

And he does not mess around.

Roy's burritos are insidiously spicy. They taste really good, and there is definitely some "heat" to them, but they save their most potent weaponry for their journey down the lower ailamentary canal about 12-14 hours after eating.

To anyone who has not yet built up a strong tolerance to capsicum, the spicy element in peppers and chiles, the effect is not unlike having Vick's VapoRub mixed with hydrochloric acid injected into your anus every time you evacuate your bowels, which will be about every 15 minutes over the course of 3 hours or so. Basically, these things employ a slash-and-burn, scorched-earth policy on the diner's colon.

So whoever you are, you burrito-theiving heathen, all I can say to you is I hope you enjoy your evening on the toilet.

Slash and Burn, baby...slash, and, BURN!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

So my wife, who is far more brilliant than I, came up with the perfect name for this contraption. "Work on Machine". That's what I'm going to call this thing. Here's the back-story:

Once upon a time in San Bruno, Lee, Dave, myself, and Dave's friend Nate were at a very fine flea market. Among the many mysterious treasures, lying on a table that held mostly unfilled bullet shells, slugs, wadding, and empty black powder containers, we found an old datebook, circa 1965 by the look of it. It had been well-used by the previous owner; almost all the pages had been filled up. Here's the wierd part. Every day, EVERY, SINGLE, DAY, had the same appointment - "Work on machine." Really. I'm not making this up. Every day said "Work on machine." No mention of what the machine was, or what work was to be performed, just that single, automaton-like imperative, "Work on machine."

As we continued to page through this remarkable masterpiece of autistic savantism, we found that after a few months, the guy had switched to just putting ditto marks on each day. There was never any mention of "Finish machine," or "Test machine," or "Unlease machine on unsuspecting populace," or any indication that this endeavor ever bore any fruit. Maybe that's a good thing; given the other artifacts on display at that particular table, I can only shudder at what the nature of this all-encompassing project might have been.

Every time I think of this artifact, I slap myself in the head, hard. Because, no, I did not purchase it. I don't know why I didn't - I thought it was beautiful when I found it, and I think it was like 75 cents or something. Maybe I was just overloaded by the detritus of human lives that surrounded me, like the broken Felix the Cat clock and the Penthouse Swizzle Sticks that turned into naked ladies when you put them in your drink. For whatever reason, I passed up a golden opportunity, and I will forever regret that.

So here it is. Welcome to "Work on Machine." I hope you enjoy it, for as long as it lasts. Don't get too attached. I'll most likely delete it in the morning.