Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cold Pop Tarts and Flannel

I have an inadvertent adeptness for attracting the attention of fringe thinkers. When I walk down a street, people with pamphlets and alternative theologies flock to me, selling their gods and conspiracies like Chiclets. They can tell from something in my eyes that I will listen to what they have to say, and I often travel alone, making me more approachable than most flocks. And I do listen to what they have to say.

Yesterday I spoke with a homeless man who grew up in New Orleans and now is just “trying to survive” in the city. When he was younger he wasn’t concerned with his health, drinking carelessly and spending many nights with many women. “It was probably the women that did it!” he said and chuckled, holding onto his walker.

In Berkeley, a man without a shirt approached me and, knowing that I would understand his dilemma, sighed and said, “Man, I don’t have a shirt.” I realize that the normal thing to do would be to ignore him and move on, but I stopped, and advised him to get a shirt. He asked where, and I didn’t know; he was eyeing mine, so I left it at that. I also understand that Berkeley is some kind of epicenter for these sorts of people. I imagine they hold annual get-togethers.

So, my willingness to listen is easily perceived. I enjoy the conversations in a sort of arrogant way, like a physics professor enjoying a child’s explanation of why the sky is blue.

I speak of it now because a man in flannel just sat with me and, as I was reading, told me that Middle Eastern people are illiterate, on the whole, and that I will soon be drafted into a nuclear war. I won’t describe his whole outlook and strategic plans because I’ve already forgotten, and besides, it’s not like a nuclear war would require that many troops anyway, right? He also said it was “Hitler all over again.” I didn’t fully comprehend the analogy, it was just over my head, you know, but I nodded as he stepped away, and with a false sincerity that comes to me naturally, said, “Yeah, really.” Yes, brother man friend, I understand. I understand you and all of your problems. It is… Hitler, all over again. Eloquent, man.

I was caught by what a sad man he may have been, alone in his stained white undershirt and warm flannel, his bookbag holding some grocery store paperback. He flipped through a small notepad while I tried to read, and he tried to make a phone call. When no one answered, he chuckled and nodded his head. How typical of her, he thought.

He is always eager for conversation. I’ve seen him before. I suppose he works at one of the Tressider Union businesses---I can’t really tell. He doesn’t look or sound like an academic, and he is not a physical laborer. He likely sits in a small office from nine in the morning until the late evening hours tracking photocopy transactions at Kinko’s, and when he finally gets off from work, he passes through the coffee house for a brief, warm cup, and a conversation with today’s up and coming academics. “I guess I sat with the reading club,” he said to me, watching everyone with their noses between pages.

I think he lives alone or with someone he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him. When he gets home from work he complains that there is nothing in the refrigerator. Warm food would be a godsend and he realistically doesn’t expect it. She tells him, as she watches Deal or No Deal, that it isn’t her job and she didn’t have time anyway. He inhales deeply to raise his voice, but it’s been a long day and there’s no point to yelling anymore. He grabs a silver foil package of Pop Tarts and joins her on the couch, watching Howie Mandel and thinking back on the university kids he met earlier in the day. “I don’t know how you can eat those things cold,” she says. He doesn’t respond and wishes they were strawberry instead of cinnamon. They don’t speak to each other until the next night when she tells him that there is half a cheese pizza in the fridge, and that tomorrow is trash day so he better not forget to move the cans to the curb. They agreed he would take care of the garbage as they divvyed up the domestic responsibilities early on, but neither of them ever followed the so-called ‘rules’ with any consistency. In recent years he has become obedient to most of her demands; she really doesn’t ask for much but he doesn’t realize it. He does know she is a good woman and that the woman he married is somewhere there, still. She works early hours at a hospital with no room for promotions or aspirations and has grown weary of the daily routine, and the dreadful complacency of the lower middle class. She still loves the man he once was; memories of happiness, really, as well as financial convenience, are why they are still together. He is a red-faced, balding man with desperate grey eyes and yellow teeth; she is fearing her rapid age, worrying that her best years are past, and that ‘this is all there is’. She has been wearing thicker make up everyday and tries to emulate black and white photos of 1920s flappers by using bright red lipstick. They both know they will not be better off apart.

Tomorrow will be like tying old shoelaces, unconsciously simple, and at the end he will have to look at the calendar in his small notepad to see if another day has actually passed. It is Hitler all over again.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It’s like a month away

There are two things that I often write about in this venue. Holidays and espresso. But the Coffee House is as uncomfortable as ever, and there are no major holidays coming up.

Oh but there is! Anyone who’s been to a Starbucks within the past few weeks may have noticed the Valentine’s Day themed mugs and bears and things that are available for your convenient purchase. Valentine’s Day! It’s like a month away.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that it is perhaps the least meritable of themed days, invented for commercial reasons. Well, it’s been around forever really, since Romans and all that, but there’s certainly been a commercial push behind it. Sure, all major holidays have corporate backings, but Valentine’s Day as we know it was nearly invented by a mystical gathering of CEOs in crisp suits with bright patterned ties holding tight at their double chins. Balding, gray-haired, round-bellied corporate executives are the most romantic of people, and appropriately thought that love itself deserved a day of celebration. Not that peace-on-earth, Full House kind of love either--- it’s a day for purely freaky love, the kind that happens somewhere between dark alleyways and Parisian boulevards. Arguably the two defining characteristics of humanity are true love and true hate--- Hate Day will come soon enough, I guess.

But I am besides myself and besides my points to be made. The best Valentine’s Days, I think, were in grade school, when everyone exchanged candy and cards with everyone else. The cards, coming in those perforated sheets of nine thin cardboard cards, with little envelopes, were always an immense decision. They came in all kinds of cartoon or movie character themes, and you simply had to find the correct cards to capture the true essence of your personality. I can’t remember what I specifically chose, but I think there were Looney Tunes one year, and probably Ninja Turtles before that. We decorated paper bag mailboxes and passed out sweets and notes, and at the end of the day we all had weighty bags of mutual appreciation. Those were thaaa days.

In second grade, a girl gave me an entire box of chocolates. Specifically, they were those chocolate-covered syrupy cherries, which I now forever associate with that grade and time. In truth, I don’t remember if those chocolates came on Valentine’s Day or on a more arbitrary date, but that doesn’t matter. I was astounded--- a free box of chocolates, all to myself! She must have been smitten by my seven year old witticisms and academic prowess. You have no idea how many times I was Super Citizen of the Week.

The long and short of it is that it’s all been down hill from there. You knew I was going to say that!

In many regards we are all after the simple and pure joy that only the worriless, unfettered, underexposed and over-dependent childhood mind gave us, and the freedom which complete dependence allowed us, through chalky heart-shaped candy and pink teddy bears and white chocolate cupids. Oy vey.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Monday, January 15, 2007

According to my viewer statistics, someone recently got to this blog by searching on google for "feminine pee."

I'm really sorry for not meeting your expectations, pee-searching person. But I did in fact use the words 'feminine pee' here, so hopefully yo weren't entirely disappointed.

UPDATE: For those of you looking for "kids reenacting frogger," Google has decided that this website will satisfy your curiosity. In fact it's one of the only ways to get this site as the first result.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Promise Fulfilled, High Five

A few nights ago a friend turned to me and said, “Promise me something.”

“For you, anything,” I said, wiping the sarcasm from my lips.

“Write about this night.”

So I am writing about that night. Which is unfortunate because nothing of a particularly mentionable nature occurred. Different people have different measures of what is mentionable and what is not. Writing is editing the world down into a few mentionable sentences. I guess bad writing is the same, but the wrong sentences. There are many to choose from.

When I visited the restroom of the restaurant, a young man slammed the door open from within just as I reached for the handle. “Sorry,” he said. Alright. I guess he was talking to the door, or apologizing to the restaurant in general. Like when the Incredible Hulk throws a school bus at a liquor store because he got a parking ticket, and just can’t control his raging green self. He was apologizing because he couldn’t control his rage against the door. He must have run into some problems at the toilet.

I talked to a friend from a while back who was recently hit by a car. She was not in a car, you understand, but was hit by one regardless. Like Wile E. Coyote. She broke a couple of legs and a few other things, I think. You must respect someone who laughs at broken legs and slight brain damage. But the brain damage was probably why she was laughing. It’s temporary damage.

There are two possible reactions to getting hit by a car. You can depress yourself at the absurd lack of luck in it, and harvest pity like ears of corn, or you can laugh, and once you are no longer comatose, joke. You can react with the blunt and simple realization that reenacting Frogger does not benefit anyone, but is sort of funny. And while it is an unfortunate occurrence, it is only one occurrence among many, ending nothing and starting others, as long as you are still living. That’s a small detail. She will be forever plagued by metal detectors bleeping at gears and widgets within her leg, but that is all.

There is no new year moral here, but happy new year.

Oh, I remembered something relevant to that night. My lack of respect for the ‘high five’ gesture. I’ll be brief so as to not unconsciously quote Seinfeld.

A victorious slapping of hands? Like cooperative applause for oneself? Okay. No thanks. Worse than any single high five is a repeated five soon after the first, for whatever reason. For scoring that three pointer or getting to level 99 on your electrogame. It has a diminishing value. It’s barely a high one if you’ve already high fived in the previous 24 hours.

Once, when saying goodbye to an acquaintance at the end of a quarter, I was high fived as the culmination of ten weeks of extensive work. It was as if to say, I don’t know you well enough to hug you, but I do wish you the best, so swiftly feel my hand. Fast like a sniper handshake.

Another time, working late in a bookstore, my coworkers and I were done cleaning early and ready to close shop. The manager wanted to do some midair chest bumps to celebrate our efficiency, and proceeded to. I did not participate in that. It is essentially a full body high five. Though I wanted to maintain a haughty dignity about myself, I also feared that my glasses would go flying and shatter into dangerous shards of Lenscrafters plastic. I don’t remember what I said, but I surely glared at them with a proud evil eye, assuring them that I was far too civilized, nearly royal in a delusional way, to voluntarily collide.

The only real appropriate use of the high five is to anyone who is less than five years old, as they may very well find value in the five. Sarcastic high fiving is also an allowable usage. High five.


Originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.


the end of something.