Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Breakfast Club

Come look: northwest of San Rafael, past the quaint downtown of Fairfax--a small town inhabited by 7,500 of the planet's seven billion people--four late-20's Dharma Bums jaunting up the Cataract Trail Loop in the Mount Tamalpais Watershed. Through fall foliage, branches and vines, creeks and trees, lakes and cliffs, past the town of Prius driving mountain bikers, we journeyed for almost eight miles and four hours, the final hours of what feels like a year that slipped away from me in some ways--a year I could never quite get a hold on.

Time: why can't it be controlled? It slips away and eludes, dashes and ducks, slithers and squirms--always away and forward, never backwards, no matter how much my thoughts run back ceaselessly to the past during the four-hour hike. Though, of course, we'll have to stop to snap hot pics for InstaFaceTwit Book because when you get eye candy like this up in the mountains, you have to try to at least capture that much of what is surely slipping away from us. Yet, sadly, I've now added InstaFaceTwit Book to my list of ever-growing addictions and compulsions. Damn it, Mike, get your shit together. I want so desperately to log off, but I don't know how.

Friday, I decided to celebrate my 29th birthday a little early and a little hard: I raged too much and added The Albatross, in the East Bay town of Berkeley, to the list of of bathrooms I've defiled. I pop vessels like it's going out of style: the more I drink, the weaker my stomach and tolerance get. On Sunday, back north and west of the Bay after a day spent hung over, my body must've been confused at this cycle of detox and retox and detox. To which my mind says: shut the fuck up, body, you don't know what we're dealing with up here, big fella.

Yet, I am Mike the Blogger and so can you: it wasn't all bad on Saturday morning. The man once called the Babe laid in bed with three other babes: a PhD, a JD, and what, an MS? Who can even keep track of all these fancy abbreviations? Certainly not this lowly blogger with a BA. I'm a blogger with a bloj*. No, I mean, I'm a guy with a blog who doesn't get bloj's.

(*Slang term for blow job)

And so but alcohol absorbs the body's nutrition. Most alcoholic drinks are sugary. Sugar makes us think we're starving. Sugar combined with loads of alcohol and not eating for 24 hours equals you definitely are starving.

The Professor--a classmate of mine since preschool before I decided to go no further with college--was in her bed yacking it up with my attorney--who is not my attorney at all but a soon-to-be counselor for hopefully more lucrative clients than the blogger--and the poor preschool teacher who has to either beat this debauchery or join it. Half-awake and half reading articles from Twitter, I yelled, "SHUT THE FUCK UP! THIS IS WORSE THAN HAVING TO READ IT BACK ON MY BLOG." When they kept interrupting my hung-over self-improvement activities with their banter, I texted my attorney, "No talking before I've had my coffee." Finally, I decided if I can't beat them, I'll hop in bed and join 'em.

They were talking about our upcoming high-school reunion, to which I said, "We're having a high-school reunion in bed right now. We have a fucking high-school reunion every weekend. Then again, I at least choose you lunatics as friends, so it's kind of different." 

"Mike the Blogger, you're going," The Professor says.

"Only if we get blacked out and end up back in this bed together," I respond.

"Then he's not coming," my attorney says disgustedly. She's over her Mike intake for the weekend and it's only Saturday morning. 

If you read my blog, there's a good chance you'll soon be getting up in bed with three women. If noting else, you can learn how to fuck a grapefruit, which sounds interesting. That video is certainly the best way to start a Friday night, as you'll spend the rest of the evening make bloj noises and wondering if you should, in fact, fuck a grapefruit. Now, if you follow my advice, you'll also probably never have sex with a woman, per se, though the Buddha and JC didn't have much sex either, so is that such a bad thing? And are grapefruits so bad? I report these asinine facts and thoughts on a blog that 50-100 people sometimes read, and then I wonder what the fuck I'm doing with my life, and you decide--I suppose. Hopefully this is better than Fox News, but I'm doubting it.

My trip into the bedroom scared these three other loko's straight, and we were off to replenish ourselves with good, local, GMO-free, organic, fair-trade 'nutes at one of Berkeley's fine establishments. I was pushing for good, quick hang-over food like BK or Mac Daddy's. I was told to seek help. Then again, famished and ravaged, after what felt like an hour-long wait, those three lunatics who will probably have to stop hanging out with me after this blog probably felt as though Mac Daddy's was a better choice. The hunger turns to anger, and the only saving grace was watching the same emotional swing from the pretty girl at the table across the restaurant. When I first started inappropriately staring at her, she appeared to be showing her mom pictures on social media or something. She looked so well-adjusted and happy: going out to breakfast with her mother like an adult instead of living with her like a degenerate. But as the wait increased, the exciting anticipation turned to angst, then despair. And that creep Mike is across the room pretending to read The Oakland Tribune or Twitter as he watches you, and then you lock eyes and see his enjoyment in your suffering, and finally, he turns back to his table and says, "Now that we have our food and the will to live back, we should do an 'It Gets Better' video for the other hungry restaurant patrons here." Too soon, too cheap, and too sad, Mike.

Speaking of Mike, he's back in that breach online dating again, though soon to be out once more. Last Tuesday night, I had a date that seemed to go fairly well, and we made plans to go out Saturday night. Seeing as I was asleep on the couch by 8 p.m., those plans weren't going to come to fruition. I texted an explanation Saturday afternoon and received the following reply, "Mike: you are a short, lying, unambitious, emotionally cheating degenerate who has no respect. Good luck." Wait, that was one of Stephanie's text messages that I have saved. Still, this one had the same message, and I mostly agreed with the sentiment.

As we arrived triumphantly back to the apartment from the restaurant, I read the text message aloud to the group, who decided this was another case of Classic Mike fucking things up, probably. Still, they were laughing, and I was laughing, and that felt good. It seemed like a scene out of The Breakfast Club: four wrecked people throwing away a November Saturday under a rising afternoon sun not because of detention but because they needed the escape one way or another for one reason or another. I could hear the lyrics in my head, but I sing too poorly to blast it out:

Won't you come see about me?
I'll be alone, dancing and you know it baby

Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving me everything inside and out, out
Love's strange so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on

Slow change may pull us apart
I'll get us back together at heart, baby

Don't You Forget About Me
Don't Don't Don't Don't
Don't You Forget About Me 

And that's the thing about friendship: it couldn't be quantified the way our combined massive student loan debts or questionable job prospects could be. Instead, it felt like some infinite, intrinsic value that I needed more of. Maybe that's what I was always searching for on the internet but never quite finding, no matter how terrific certain adult film actresses were.

Through the winding trails up the mountain on Sunday, I wondered what was going on in the minds of the others. I probably thought of Stephanie a handful of times on the journey to Alpine Lake, which doesn't really seem abnormal. You make that human connection once, and it's rare but you don't know it's rare yet and you throw this precious fucking thing away and can't get it back. Of course your mind will find its way back to something like that, because that matters.

If I could get in the minds of the others, would I realize that maybe I'm not so crazy? Or, am I more crazy than I even realize? I don't think it's insane to want Stephanie's dad to come on these hikes because why can't we still be friends at least? Besides, he would point out the different types of trees and plants. Plus, he'd make me laugh. Then, when I was starting to think that yes, it was abnormal to be wondering why it wasn't normal to have my ex-girlfriend's dad on a hike with me and three of my friends, I realized that this was all my parents fault: I should have been a woman. My three friends were women, the woman I couldn't work things out with was a woman, and so I should've been a woman. Thanks for nothing but supporting me for 29 years, mom and dad! So selfish.

Realizing that none of this was my fault, I relaxed. Then I began to fret again: were all these online dates Buddha's way of punishing me for years of being a terrible boyfriend to Stephanie? It seemed clear that this was karmic retribution at its worst, so I decided to quit Buddhism again--that unjust, horseshit religion.

Finally, we arrived at Alpine Lake. Ravaged and famished from the long journey up, we felt as though we were starving once more. I looked out at the flow of the pristine water and the gray, fall sky overhead and decided to become a Buddhist once more. If I could immerse myself in this moment, perhaps I could stop time and never have to go back to work again. If I could stop my thoughts, I could stop any notion of suffering. If I could become enlightened, I could stop writing blogs against humanity. But who has time for salvation? I've got to work, blog, eat, sleep, read, Tweet, shower, drive, drink, smoke, worry, think, fear, hike, and go, go--always on the go to the next thing because there is some perfect moment this is all heading towards. In the future, in the next moment, we'll get to where we were always going and then we'll finally have this thing licked. 

One imagines The Professor's older brother reading this right now and telling his wife, "I'm so fucking sick of Mike the Blogger's blogs. So far all we've got is him vomiting on Friday night after watching a YouTube video on fucking a grapefruit, wasting Saturday stuffing his face, laying on his ass, and chasing another woman away, and then going for a hike on Sunday. I thought he was a writer? This isn't writing! This is shit!"

He's mostly right but also wrong, I'm not just not sure exactly how he might be wrong yet. 

The weekend slips away; weekends were always slipping away and becoming new, dreadful, dreary weeks. I'd go back to a job I've already resigned from to deal with processes I loathed and tried my best to avert. Someone would be rude to me. Someone would be upset with my latest blog. I'd get angry and wile out at work. I'd decide to drink too much again. I'd get a text message too late from my bud Diamondstein and end up watching the Patriots game alone. Tom Brady would throw such a horrible interception that one would wonder if life was even worth living anymore.

It was. Time can't be stopped and I can't go back. I don't think I can make myself taller, or somehow guarantee that my ambitions will be achieved. Yet more and more, I'm starting to see that time can at least be well-spent and enjoyed. Height and talent and time are givens beyond my limited scope of control. There are billions of other people on the planet doing other things besides hiking or reading about hiking with the Four Loko's on a Sunday in November of 2014. I'm not so vain as to think because I'm doing something, it must matter. Of course it doesn't matter.

But come look anyway: four people sit atop a mountain by a peacefully flowing lake that cuts right through the forest of trees. Is this what the world looked like at the beginning? It's billions of years older now and I'm older now and time relentlessly flows on with the river, but up there, for a few precious moments, I felt that some semblance of peace was possible.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Night Lights

As I drove across the Richmond Bridge for seemingly the millionth time this year on Thursday night to catch some Thursday Night Football with Thomas J. Diamondstein et al., my insane mind wondered what it would be like if I could take the current cast of characters in my life back to a time when things were more settled. [Stephanie, on advice of counsel, yes, I do understand that you are "no longer a part of my increasingly troubled existence." However, not on advice of counsel, you aren't obligated to read any further, nor is anyone else who doesn't appreciate my blogs against humanity. Also, you aren't even a real person. Hell, I don't even go back and read these things after I crap 'em out anymore. Anyway, hope all is well.]

Friday night after school, I drove Diamondstein up north so he could watch me face the firing squad. After we get past the initial afternoon traffic, Diamondstein [Hey, bud, I hope you're reading this. I'm writing it in your office while drinking a glass of veno.] pulls out a bottle of whiskey and begins sipping on it.

"Jesus, big fella, really getting after it tonight, huh?"

"Yeah man, I didn't take a night of from work to just watch you get your ass kicked."

"I'm surprised The Last Honest Pizza let you out. We're gonna pull this one out."

"Good God, you've really been taking that Jesus stuff too seriously if you think you're gonna beat these guys."

"Just because you're Jewish doesn't mean my religious beliefs aren't valid."

"Just because you're a born-again, right-wing Christian doesn't mean your religious beliefs are valid."

"I'm not even conservative. I don't even believe in half this shit. I know Jesus wasn't born via a virgin birth and all that nonsense. I've created my own version of Christianity that I follow."

"Nice. So does that mean I can get my drinking buddy back?" Diamondstein replies, offering me a swig.

"I suppose God made whiskey, so why not. Besides, I'm gonna need a few shots of courage for this battle. These motherfuckers hit hard," I respond, taking a pull off the handle.

"Dope dope dope. Does this mean we can get back to chasing public-school pussy?"

"I have a girlfriend still, brah. You're gonna have to get used to living without my left-overs."

"Oh God. What are you, like, in love?"

"Yes. I love her terribly. More than you, even."

"Ugh. You guys are so disgusting. What are you, a gay?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"You plow her out yet?"

"Get a handle on yourself."

"Don't tell me you're some born-again virgin."

"I'm not."

"Maybe one of these country hicks will knock some sense into you tonight. That Tamarra girl sucks, by the way. She fucking hates you, even more than me, as she wouldn't have to deal with me if not for your decision to fall in love with her best friend."

"Of course she does. She's the third wheel to some jock now, and she can't stand it. She's pretty funny though. Got a mouth on her for a Christian girl. You should make a play #OneTime #BigFella."

"You lunatics should stop worshiping a dead Jew. It's unbecoming."

"If Christianity was good enough for Dostoyevsky, it's good enough for me."

"Yeah, and he was a hell of lot smarter than you."

"Pass me that bottle."

We arrive at the stadium under the Friday night lights, where I take my leave from Diamondstein. "Alright buddy, there's plenty of hick, public-school pussy up here for you to chase. Let's go get 'em."

"Let me have your keys so I can hot-box your car."

"Ok."

"Is Stephanie coming?"

"She might. I don't know. She doesn't bother me when I have a game. Maybe you can get at Tamarra tonight if they come."

"Not in a million years."

"Alright, come find me when I get out of the locker room. I'm gonna need another swig before the game."

It's a 90-degree, early September night in northern Sonoma County. When we get ready to leave the locker room, we can see the opponent for the first time. Clad in all blue with yellow stripes and shiny helmets glistening under the Friday night lights, I can see I'm in real trouble. These guys are too big to be blocked, too fast to be out-ran. I'm paralyzed with fear, and Diamondstein is nowhere to be seen with that anti-fear juice I need, that fucking Judas. Finally, I spot in him as we warm up on an adjacent field before running out to our graves. I head back to the locker room, and he follows me inside.

"I'm scared to death, bro."

"You should be. They're going to kick the living shit out of you."

"I know. Give me another swig." I take a drink but it doesn't calm my nerves. This is the most afraid I've ever felt. I run in the bathroom stall and vomit. I haven't eaten anything besides Gatorade today, so there isn't much to expel. 

Still scared out of my mind on the first play of the game, I avoid a block, which allows their kick-off returner to take the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Last week, in my first varsity football game, I took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. This week, the opposition is just a tad better. I realize right away that there's some invisible line I'll have to cross to ever play well at this level. It's a line I don't think I have it in me to get across, but after taking that first hard hit and surviving, I make it through the game with at least some of my dignity intact. They're big and fast and tough and hit hard and hit low even though I'm short, yet I keep carrying the ball and taking the shots--low, high, and in-between. It's a fucking slaughtering tonight. Our starting defensive back hurts his hamstring early in the game, and I suddenly have to play both ways. Their running back breaks a big run, but I'm fast enough to chase him down, only he throws me off of him and takes it all the way for another touchdown. Good God, this is going to be a lot harder than just lifting and running more. I'm going to have to become a raging lunatic to play football well.

After the game, the one coach who has any clue pulls me aside to discuss what was just beaten into our souls. "This team is a sinking ship with no heart. Don't go down with the ship. You've got to keep getting better, keep upping your game regardless of the rest of the team. You're the only player who was prepared to play tonight. You're the only player that the other team has to respect right now. Tune out the distractions in here and get better. That's the only solution. Meet me tomorrow morning. It's time someone coached you up. That's great that they want you to run through people, but you're 5'7", 160. You need to get around people, elude them."

I'm the last one to leave the locker room. I'm not despondent because we lost, I'm depressed because I don't think I have what it takes. When I leave, there are only a few stragglers left under the Friday night lights. I walk out on the field looking for Diamondstein, who I find sitting on a bench with Tamarra and Stephanie; I hadn't realized they showed.

They walk out to me, and we head back to the parking lot--four solitary kids leaving the battlefield of my nightmares as the lights go down. 

"Told you you were gonna get your asses kicked," Diamondstein begins.

"You were right. We're poorly coached, poorly prepared, and poorly motivated. It's going to be a long fucking year."

Stephanie looks afraid, so I put my arm around her. She's a senior in high school; Diamondstein and I are juniors. I'm her first boyfriend. She's one of many girlfriends I've had, but the first I really like. She's still so seemingly innocent, and I've already lost my virginity, been arrested, and ex-communicated from the Catholic church.

"You did good," she tells me.

"Haha, you don't know anything about football, do you?"

"No, not really. I don't like football. 42-7 doesn't sound good, though."

"It wasn't. Those fuckers were good. I'll probably feel those hits for a while," I say, and she can see the dried blood on my hands and forearms.

"Are you okay, babe?" she asks.

"Yeah, I'm good," I respond, and I kiss her on the top of her head.

She smiles at me, catches my eye, and kisses me on the lips. It's the most tender moment of my life to this point, coming right on the heels of a display of such sheer violence. I'm far more comfortable with peace than war.

When we get back to my car, Diamondstein asks, "Do you wanna rage tonight?"

"No, I'll drop you off. I'm going to the gym."

"To the gym! What the fuck!"

"Yeah, I'm gonna lay in that hot tub for an hour."

"You suck. This girl is ruining you."

"She's the best thing about me. Back when I was getting in trouble all the time, part of the issue was that I was so upset that I wasn't good enough for her, ya know? I used to see her in Study Hall, and I'd go talk to her all the time, but she was always busy with her AP classes and all that crap--getting a 4.3 and whatnot when I couldn't get a 3.0 to save my life. And then I'd go to the soccer games just to watch her play. She's so much better at soccer than I am football. She's better than me at everything."

"You're better in the sac."

"She needs someone like me to coach her up."

"She's a dime. You're doing her future boyfriends and eventual husband a terrific service."

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before."

"I hope you care to live?"

"I can't say."

"Buried alive how long?"

"I'll be 17 soon. So, 17 years."

When Tamarra and Stephanie get back to their car in the lot, Stephanie says, "Tamarra."

"What?"

"Tamarra."

"What?"

"OMG. He's sooooo cute. Can you even believe it?"

"Ugh. You two make me sick."

"But can you believe it?"

"Believe what?"

"HIM!"

"Get over it, loser."

I drop Diamondstein off at the defeat party, where our boy Redacted is outside, apparently high on shrooms, apparently not wanting to be a guard anymore.

"Redacted, be a guard," I yell from the window.

"Reynolds, be a dick," he yells back. "Set the edge and play powerful football, big fella. Which we didn't do tonight, did we?"

"No, the power football was more on their end tonight, per se."

It's two weeks into the season, and this team has completely lost its focus. I lay in the hot tub at the gym for what seems like an eternity. I go in the steam room and sweat out the tensions of this life, wishing that I could be better at the only thing that truly matters to me, wondering how in the fuck I got into this godforsaken sport in the first place.

The following morning, I meet my coach at the school, where we watch the game from the night before. I can see how tentative I am, how the fear prevents me from seeing the field and finding the small openings I need to wiggle through.

"You will player better," he tells me, and I think, "Based on what?"

"You will definitely play better than this. You're better than this. We can build from it. We have to train you to see the whole field, to avoid putting your eyes down. See it, move to it, react to it, and explode. Keep your eyes on the end zone at all times, because that's where you're going. Let's go get you to the next level."

And it's this leadership that I've been waiting so long for. There's a problem, and we need to find a solution, and so let's go find a solution. It's the leadership that leads you to a girl like that: beautiful, intelligent, athletic, above the fray, going places--can I follow her wherever she goes? Or, will she eventually see what's broken in me and perhaps can never be fixed? The coach can see it, but he'll do everything in his power to beat the weakness out of me. No--he'll teach me how to expunge it myself; he'll point me in the right direction, but I'll have to do the heavy lifting.

Two paths diverged at that point in my life: I could go all the way or none of the way. My developing mind was increasingly afraid, but I was hopeful of staying on the right path.

"It was so fun to watch you play last night," she texts me the following day.

"Thanks for coming. I wish I had done better. I will do better." And for the first time in my life, two weeks later under the Friday night lights once more, I finally upheld a resolution worth keeping. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Letters Imprinted on my Mind


He walks down the trail, composing the letter in his head. He should take the shortest trail; he wasn't planning on coming out here. He doesn't even have any water.

He takes the longest trail possible, not knowing where it will lead, knowing he has no supplies. He'll need the entire day to write the final good-bye letter of the million final good-bye letters. Besides, what would it be like to wake up dead on one of these trails? What would it be like to feed yourself to a hungry mountain lion?

"I know I shouldn't be doing this," he writes on the thoughts that flood his mind--no, it's the wave of thoughts that imprint on his mind over and over again. The writer is the victim of his delusional thoughts, of his delusional life--a life built around an aversion to all things, and after all of that aversion, there's nothing left now but the aversion to the life he's created. This shit looks better than that shit, I'll try that shit. Only, that shit ended up being shit, too, and on to the next thing, always running.

I ran from you, after all, and I would do it again.

"Can you believe I tried to go on a date again? Can you believe I'm writing to you again?"

["Of course I can believe it," she thinks while reading the letter, though part of her cannot even. "He'll never quite go away, but in a way, that's somehow comforting. One more fall-back--just in case--in a world where it's nice to have options, particularly as we get older and more doors close."]

"Before I went, I felt so depressed. What was the point? Nine times out of ten, you get there, and immediately want to leave. The other time, they immediately want to leave. Or, if there's some unlikely connection, I can't help but compare it to our first date, and nothing compares to you--nothing measures up to the illusion of what we had. Could anything possibly measure up against the person who wasn't there? How do you measure something against that which doesn't even exist? Worse, how could it measure up against the unreality of what might have been? The possibilities of what might have been are endless, and the possibility of replacing what we initially had doesn't exist anymore. I measure time against that which isn't there--and worse, against that which, sadly, never was."

He continues up the trail, not knowing where it leads, composing the letter which he knows leads to nowhere.

[She reads the letter and realizes each one of these is getting more insane than the last. Instead of leading him back to sanity, these are leading him further astray.]

"I know this obsession is abnormal. But life isn't some linear thing towards normalcy. What constitutes a normal human experience? We aren't on some trajectory towards sanity via therapy, exercise, anti-depressants, meditation, Buddhism, Christianity, or all of the above, or some of the above. We're on a trajectory back towards the void from which we emerged. If I could accept that consistently on a level deeper than the intellect, these letters would cease. But I've given up my hope for change, and instead will hope for acceptance of what is, and maybe that can lead to change. If I could reserve judgement on myself, I could be better.

"When I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, I didn't see a brave young man casting off the shackles in order to chase his dreams. I don't even have dreams. I wake up from my nightmares either in the middle of the night or the beginning of the morning. I dreamed a dream with you once, and I'll never be able to do it again."

["I can't read this. Can you get someone to cease and desist from letter writing?"]

"Worse than the thoughts of what was and might have been are the moments where I realize it doesn't matter at all. Because then what? If this part of my sheltered, miserly, claustrophobic existence doesn't matter, then what does matter?

"All paths towards salvation seem worse than this path away from salvation. Of everything I've ever read, this by Hunter Thompson seems to be the closest thing to the reality of existence, 'Not that they didn't deserve it: No doubt they all Got What Was Coming to Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create...a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody--or at least some force--is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.'

"No one is tending that light at the end of the tunnel, because there is no light at the end of the tunnel. To believe there is might make one's life better, but what is the point of making one's life better if the path to doing so is a lie?"

["Each time, the hopelessness increases. The writing improves, but Mike as a writer? What a joke. My father built the internet, you don't see me in Silicon Valley pretending to be some techie fuck-off, do you? Mike is the dumbest, literally the dumbest. You had to at least be smart to write. My God, he really needs help but won't accept help, and I certainly can't help a cause this lost."]

"I'm supposed to be writing. That was my plan, but I cannot execute plans. My good intentions are always fouled up by my limitations and doubts. I would just go back to work, but I'm unemployed and unemployable. Writing? Why do I write? A blog? What a joke. I should delete everything I've ever written, delete the internet from my life entirely. Other than the atomic bomb, has there been a worse invention? I scroll through Twitter and read all of these tweets and articles and pretend to be learning while I'm just accumulating random information that goes in my fucking Twatter and right out. Oh, it's all such drivel signifying absolutely nothing, and the worst drivel is my own! I am the worst offender!"

A man stopped on the trail asks him if he saw a boy with other men further down the trail. "He's part of our troop, but he's struggling."

"Ya know, honestly, I'm so wrapped up in my own mind right now, I haven't noticed anything for a while," he responds with that same bug-eyed look of terror he saw reflecting back at him in the mirror this morning.

The man looks back with a look of sheer astonishment. Who could be out on these trails overlooking the Pacific and not notice anything?

"Wait, where the fuck am I?" he thinks. "Should I turn back and re-trace my steps? Let's see, I've been here for an hour, so if I turn around now, I should be fine. But what would I do if I turned around?  I'll eventually have to turn around--but not yet."

He walks on and his thoughts drift to other subjects that also don't matter.

"I can constantly see the error of my ways with you, and I can see where I went wrong at work. I wanted so desperately to change, but I never could, and then it was too late. Can you believe I'll be 29 next week? When Dostoyevsky was 28, he faced the firing squad, but he lived to tell about it. He was set to die but he lived, and where would we be without what I imagine has to be one of the greatest artistic achievements ever? We'd be right where we are because not even that seems to matter.

"We used to read together, remember? Music Through the Floor, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior--you don't still read, do you? How can that be? Ah, you're better off. I can't remember anything I read anyway. Oh, to not be so stupid!

"You'd have loved A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

"The fear, it accumulates around the eyes. You can't hide your lying eyes. It ages you right there, so as to remind you every morning of what you've lost and will continue to lose.

"Was there a point to this? There was something I wanted to say, but I've lost it, and now I've got to re-trace my steps back to a car I don't want, back to a life I don't want, back through a letter I won't be sending anyway. But what do I want? 

"In A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, the heroine, a doctor, measures time against a sister who wasn't there, a sister who disappeared. In that godforsaken short story we read, the main character also measures time against a sister who wasn't there anymore. Is it easier to love the people who don't exist anymore? Sadly, it seems that way. To actually live and to actually love in reality would be much harder than remembering what's been so irretrievably lost.

"In my mind, suddenly I'm a little boy again at the big court on the east side of town. It's the first moment I can remember before fear. We're playing touch football in the street, and the quarterback is throwing the ball a million miles an hour. No one bothers to cover me since I'm the youngest and couldn't possibly catch one of these throws even if he did throw it to me. Eventually, he does throw it to me, only I do catch it because I'm in that timeless, thoughtless void before something like an aversion to hard throws can set in. To go back to that timeless void beyond fear again, is that even possible? And, if I was once a child, that means you must have been a child once, too, right? I was a child once, and so were you.

"I briefly felt that same fearless sensation once more later in life: when I met you and we faced down the fear together for a brief moment. To go back to that is certainly an impossible delusion that I refuse to let go of.

Best wishes,
Mike." 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Strangers

Mike the Blogger returns from a four-day vacation from blogging--also known as a bender--with an entirely fictional blog post. 


"Where have you been?" she asks me as I walk in the door on Sunday night, she being my increasingly agitated girlfriend and roommate.

"Um, I guess I need to start being more honest with you," I respond.

"Are you cheating on me?"

"What? God no. I haven't been able to get a fucking Rodney since you started slipping those anti-depressants into the coffee."

"I only do that because I care about you."

"Slipping someone drugs in their coffee isn't a really good way to show someone that you care."

"Well, you refused to go on them or even see a therapist, and you need help."

"Paying some asshole $175 an hour to pretend to listen to my problems doesn't seem like a great way to get help."

"It's working for me."

"I don't quite see it as 'working' per se."

"Why are you such a close-minded asshole?"

"Why are you so gullible?"

"Are you high right now. You're eyes look blood-shot."

"Yes, I'm quite high. I think I might've smoked crack."

"WHAT?! WHAT IS GOING ON WITH YOU?"

"Well, like, the new associate called last night and asked if I wanted to go hiking today. He knows I like to hike. And I new you'd be at work, so I said yes. But then when we got to Muir Woods, all the parking lots were full, and then there was no parking on the side of the road either. So we went to Mt. Tam, but there was no parking there either. So I said, 'Fuck it, let's just go to Stinson.' And he was like 'Perfect, light up this spliff for me.' And I'm all, 'Dope, dope dope,' thinking that a spliff is just weed and tobacco. But the more I'm thinking about it the more I'm wondering if maybe I'm totally wrong and a spliff is weed and cocaine. Then I'm thinking about it more and wondering if you smoke cocaine that that means you're smoking crack. But I light it up and smoke it anyway and then I'm high right away so I'm thinking duuuude you just smoked fucking crack. And I can't ask the guy because then I'll look dumb and silly and I'm running a fucking law firm here so I cannot risk my credibility. And then we're driving on those windy fucking roads up in the mountains and I don't like heights or cliffs or the thought of driving off a cliff while potentially being high on crack, and then I think of having to come home and lie about all of this to you, but at least I'm being honest now. Can't you at least see that all my good intentions are ruined by a lack of parking spaces and other horrible things?"

"Mike, Jesus Fucking Christ, you call him right now and ask him what a spliff is. I cannot have you high on crack in this house." 

"It's just tobacco and weed, honey. I already asked Diamondstein because he knows I'm a dork."

"Mike, this isn't the man I married."

"We're not married."

"Exactly."

I know that if this conversation keeps going like this, I'll reveal all sorts of secrets that will only push her further away. But maybe that's exactly what I want. I don't know what I want. My new associate had asked me that very question while we were sitting together on the beach.

"Mike, like, I like you, man. I like working for you. But I get the sense that you're really disappointed with things. I mean, I hope it's okay for me to say that."

"Of course. Friends can say anything to each other," I respond, feeling guilty for seeing someone other than Diamondstein this intimately. But fuck him, he's at a weeding this weekend and I don't see myself there as his plus-one right now, do I?

"Well, what would your ideal situation be?"

"I don't know. I wish I knew. I'd like to get out of this legal racket and do something else, go write a book or something, but I've got too much debt and whatnot. Plus, I don't really like my writing."

We walked along the beach for a while. I didn't understand why this guy liked me, but then Diamondstein liked me, too, and so maybe there was something in me worth liking even if Stephanie was struggling to remember what that was. Did they know I didn't like myself? Stephanie knew, and she told me to stop that, but then she continued to go on not liking me, either, so how was I supposed to like myself?

The sun had burned off the early-afternoon fog and now came pouring over the ocean. Across the Pacific was Korea, probably, where Stephanie's father had come from 35 years ago. Now his daughter was living out of wedlock with a degenerate trial lawyer whose firm was involved in racketeering, money-laundering, and now illicit drug dealing. Yet somehow, I got the sense that the more I let her down, the more she ultimately loved me. If I had been something better, someone more successful, I'd have chased her away through sheer boredom. The more I failed, the more I fucked up, the more I felt as though we could salvage our failing relationship. It was a delusional line of thinking, but our world had become such a delusional place that sanity was unrecognizable. Who could differentiate between the sane and the insane thoughts that ran through all of our minds each and every day, creating this godforsaken collective unconscious?

The night before, Saturday night, I had went out with a friend from high school.

"Did you just drink that entire bottle of wine?" Stephanie asks me before I leave, as though she can't see that the bottle of wine is indeed completely empty.

"I did."

"You're an alcoholic."

"I am what you say I am, as labels like alcoholism are just constructed concepts that don't mean anything."

"Enough with that Jesus Christ and Buddhistic bullshit. You're not even religious. You're not Jewish, either."

"You don't know me. You don't know my story."

"Why do you need to drink an entire bottle of wine before you even go out?"

"Because otherwise things would be awkward. You can't just show up sober to see a guy who you used to drink whiskey and smoke pot with while listening to Cyndi Lauper when you were 14 years old. I mean, I don't think what we had back then was homoerotic--not that there's anything wrong with that--but certainly there was something beyond ordinary friendship when you're blacked out in your buddy's room listening to, 'You're lost, you can look, and you will find me...Time after time,' or however the fuck it went."

"My God, I'm so glad I didn't know you in high school."

"I wish you had known me. If I had found you in high school, then I'd never have become such a degenerate. I found you too late, and you can't save me."

"I've tried, but you are beyond help."

"You should come. We can pretend it's 1999 or something. 9/11 ruined me, I think."

"I'm not coming. I have to work tomorrow."

"Don't worry about it. After you and your medical industrial complex cronies poured $60 million into defeating Prop 46, you don't have to worry about going into work loaded and getting sued for killing someone. Nice one, you right-wing sociopath."

"You're a bigger scumbag than John Edwards."

"I keep my dick in my pants, at least, even though we haven't had sex in how long?"

"I'm not very attracted to this drunken, lost version of you."

"I'm lost, you can look, and she will not catch me, time after time. Also, I'm not that eager to have sex with someone who is always trying to stick things into my fucking bee-hole."

"I've never stuck anything in your bee-hole."

"Yeah, but I'm worried that you will. You're always threatening me and coming close--too close for comfort. In this post-feminist, post-partisan, late-capitalist world, I can sue you for that, probably."

"You're drunk."

"I'm going to go get drunker."

"If you come home and vomit, I will kill you."

I came home and vomited, but she didn't hear that cry for help. The anti-depressants and depressants (alcohol) had created a rift between us that we could never bridge. We were strangers to ourselves and even stranger still to each other. She wanted to stop feeling depressed and I wanted to feel more depressed because then at least I'd still be feeling something besides that ire from a woman who was becoming increasingly numb towards the world.

After I vomited, I went straight to the couch where I fell asleep reading The Dharma Bums to prepare for Sunday's detox.

 "I told you stop reading that," I hear her tell me the following morning.

"Good morning," I say, and pick up the book and begin reading aloud in protest because I know how much she hates my literary activities:

"I've been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up slaves, and horrify despots, he means that's the attitude of the Bard, the Zen Lunacy bard of old desert paths, see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray..." (Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums).

"That's a great notion, but people--including us--actually prefer our bondage to the consumer culture with our iPhones and laptops and big-screens and fridges and fancy cars to wandering around like junkie hobos."

"You're so bourgeois."

"You also own the means or production, you hypocrite."

"Hardly."

When I set out that morning to meet my buddy, I was planning on actually detoxing. But then the universe wouldn't allow my plans to take place, and so I started vibing with what was instead of fighting with what clearly wasn't to be. The Prius-driving Marinites had gotten their cars into the parking spaces more quickly than we were able to because they didn't need the detox as badly as we did. Eventually, those limousine liberals will have to face the universe's karmic retribution for taking up all of my potential parking spaces.

Driving down the mountain, thinking I was smoking crack and about to die in a car accident or via a heart attack from the crack, I saw that Stephanie was right: my reading of Kerouac was just more of the same bullshit. I was never going to actually do anything different from what I had been doing all my life because despite the emotional pain, my life had always been comfortable--even the emotional discomfort had become familiar and thus acceptable. To make any kind of change would be uncomfortable; to face my many fears would be unfathomable. I had always been scared and I had always accepted that fear as something allowable, and I had become a coward who would soon chase her away once and for all, but I didn't care. I would just blame her for leaving, and go on with my miserable, anxious, depressed life, only now I would have meaning and purpose as a scorned lover even though I was incapable of love.

"What do you want to do tonight?" I asked her after the shock of me thinking I might have smoked crack wore off.

"I don't want to sit here and watch you watch sports," she replies. "That's all you do is spectate: read other people's writing, watch other people play sports. Why are you watching basketball? It never stops. Baseball finally ends, and now you're onto football and basketball."

"I asked what you wanted to do, not what you didn't want to do."

"I want to watch Gossip Girl and stick things up you're stupid bee-hole, you fucking crackhead."

And with that, for the first time in months, she smiled. I couldn't stand to see her happy, so I decided to ruin our one, brief moment of happiness.

"Look, there's something I need to tell you," I say.

"Oh God."

"You need to prepare for the likelihood that I'm going to jail. The Firm is involved in some seriously illegal shit now. We just couldn't stay afloat with traditional measures in this fucked-up economy. There was just no way."

"What the hell are you into?"

"I mean, at this point, The Firm is just a front. There's just not enough money in ambulance chasing anymore. There wasn't enough demand for our services, but there's demand for other services, and so we decided to capitalize. But, at some point, the authorities will catch on."

"So, I'm living with a criminal?"

"Yes, absolutely. But there just aren't legal ways to make the kind of profits necessary to enjoy a nice lifestyle anymore. I mean, you're a doctor, you're a fucking criminal, too. The entire system--legal, medical, financial, technological, whatever--it's all built on an extra-legal basis. Do you think medical consumers aren't being absolutely fucked over? No other industrialized country spends what we spend on healthcare, and we're a nation of fat, obese, sick addicts despite what we spend. Ya know, the second an oil contract gets threatened in Kurdistan, our so-called left-wing, socialist president is immediately bombing those fuckers who pose a threat to quarterly corporate profits."

"Don't turn this around on me or the system. I'm not the one breaking the law."

"The law?! Fuck the law! I'm a lawyer, don't tell me about the god-damn law! I know the law, and the law is written by a bunch of corporate lobbyists and idiot political stooges who couldn't cut it in the private sector!"

"You're false outrage at the system doesn't fool me. I know that you're dead on the inside."

"What does that even mean?"

"Get out."

And so I did, and I drove to my parents' house. My seven-year-old niece asks me to take her to the park, and so I do.

The sun has set but the sky is still blue with streaks of orange clouds dotting the landscape. It's a beautiful fall sky. We stand in the middle of our valley, Highway 101 cutting through the town in the west, and Lakeville Highway to the East. It's good to be with someone who is still innocent, who hasn't yet had to make the compromises one has to make to function in the adult world. I was starting to think that maybe my conscience was the problem. I could never do anything without doubting whether or not I was doing the right thing, and thus I had spent my whole life at odds with myself, never knowing what I wanted or what I should do, always harshly judging my every sin while comparing my immoral behavior that of great Bodhisatvas like Jesus and Buddha. But then I didn't even believe in that asshole, judgmental, Catholic God that had stuck with me through 12 years of private school. I had a horrible, harsh conscience that paralyzed me and created fearful traps from which I could never escape.

She asks if we can play kickball, and so we do. Darkness is falling faster and faster on the valley, but there's a brightness developing inside my soul for the first time in what seems like years. Maybe I can still get out and do something useful and meaningful with my life. Maybe it isn't too late.

My niece kicks one over my head, and I'm slow to chase down the ball. She rounds second and heads for third. I throw the ball at her to tag her out but miss. She rounds third and heads for home. I chase after the ball, pick it up, and run after her as fast as I can, but it's too late.

"A home run!" I yell.

"I have three points now and you only have one!" she yells back.

There's something about this young person whose life was just crated that recalls me back to life. If it feels too late for me most of the time, at least everything is still in front of her.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Better Know a Giant: We're Moving on to 2015

The Giants are in the midst of the franchise's most successful stretch since they moved to San Francisco. Since 2009, the club has had a winning season every year except for 2013. General manager Brian Sabean corrected course last year by signing Tim Hudson, Michael Morse, and trading for Jake Peavy once rotation stalwart Matt Cain went down with a season-ending elbow injury. The result was a 12-win improvement and the club's third World Series title in five seasons.

But we're not here to talk about the past; we're moving on to 2015. Anything less than a fourth title in six years will be unacceptable to this blogger who has grown accustomed to winning. Greed isn't just good, it's absolutely necessary if you're a sports fan with little else to get excited about in life.

Before looking ahead to 2015, it's important to look at 2014 to see where the Giants should look to improve this winter. After all, this was a club that didn't even win its own division!

The Giants were fifth in baseball in defensive efficiency, which is a simple formula that measures the rate at which a team turns balls in play into outs. If the Giants do not re-sign left fielder Michael Morse and replace him with literally any able-bodied human being, they'll likely improve an already promising defense. However, free-agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, despite his portly physique, will be difficult to replace at the hot corner if he departs. Sandoval ranked four runs above average according to both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating.

The Giants rejected Sandoval's overtures at a Hunter Pence style extension last April (five years, $90 million), and Sandoval rejected the club's starting offer of three-years, $40 million. Given that Sandoval's OPS declined for the fourth straight season last year, I see no reason why the Giants would suddenly be willing to meet Sandoval's demands despite his strong postseason performance. Not re-signing Sandoval would net the Giants a draft pick in addition to an extra $15 million or so to play with on the free-agent market. If the Giants can sign an adequate replacement like Chase Headley to a cheaper deal and net a draft pick, they should certainly go that route.

Offensively, the Giants finished 12th in runs, 10th in batting average, 18th in OBP, 13th in slug, 17th in dingers, 21st in walk rate, 15th in strikeout rate, and 21st in base-running. Weighted Runs Created, a stat that controls for park effects, ranked the Giants as the 10th best offensive team in baseball. Given that the club returns Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, Andrew Susac, Brandon Crawford, and Gregor Blanco, the Giants should remain an above-average offensive team when controlling for the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park.

On the bump, San Francisco finished 10th in the game with a 3.50 ERA. The bullpen finished fifth in the game with a 3.01 ERA. However, Giants starters finished 16th with a 3.74 staff ERA despite playing more than half its games at pitcher-friendly parks such as AT&T, O.co, Dodger Stadium, and Petco. A return to health and effectiveness from Matt Cain would certainly stabilize the rotation behind ace lefty Madison Bumgarner. Still, if there's one area where Sabean should look to upgrade this winter, it's in the rotation. In the playoffs, each game was a struggle when Bumgarner couldn't pitch. Bumgarner is locked up on a team-friendly deal through 2019 and Cain is signed through 2017 with a club option for 2018. Tim Hudson is under contract for $12 million in 2015 and Tim Lincecum will make $18 million in the final year of his deal, though it's unclear if he'll begin the season in the rotation after he lost his job in 2014.

Let's take a look at the Giants' payroll obligations to see how much money they'll have to play with this winter. The team's opening day payroll was $149 million last year, up nine percent from $136 million in 2013. Let's assume an $11 million increase up to $160 million for 2015 for the sake of simplicity. Factoring in players under contract, arbitration-eligible players, and the pre-arbitration players under club control, the Giants already have approximately $138 committed to the 2015 roster. That would leave only $22 million to re-sign or replace Sandoval, Morse, Peavy/Ryan Vogelsong, and reliever Sergio Romo. Thus, if the Giants do re-sign Sandoval, I'd expect them to go the trade route to improve the rest of the club this winter, unless they're planning on hiking payroll north of $160 million.

CF Angel Pagan: 2015: $9, 2016: $10
2B Joe Panik: under club control through 2020
C   Buster Posey: 2015: $16.5, 2016: $20, 2017: $21.4, 2018: $21.4; 2019: $21.4; 2020: $21.4, 2022: $22 club option ($3 buy-out)
RF Hunter Pence: 2015: $18.5, 2016: $18.5, 2017: $18.5, 2018: $18.5
1B Brandon Belt: 2015: $3.4, 2016-2017: arbitration eligible
LF Gregor Blanco: 2015: $3.5, 2016: arbitration eligible
SS Brandon Crawford: 2015: $2.5, 2016-2017: arbitration eligible
3B We don't have one

C Hector Sanchez: 2015: $1, 2016-2018: arbitration eligible 
IF Joaquin Arias: 2015: $1.45
IF Marco Scutaro: 2015: $6
IF Matt Duffy: under club control through 2020
C  Andrew Susac: under club control through 2020
OF Juan Perez: under club control through 2019

SP1 Madison Bumgarner: 2015: $6.75, 2016: $9.75, 2017: $11.5, 2018: $12 club option, 2019: $12 club option
SP2 Matt Cain: 2015: $20, 2016: $20, 2017: $20, 2018: $21 club option ($7.5 buy-out)
SP3 Tim Hudson: 2015: $12
SP4 Yusmeiro Petit: 2015: $1.6, 2016-2017: arbitration eligible
SP5 Tim Lincecum: 2015: $18

CL Santiago Casilla: 2015: $5, 2016: team option
LH Jeremy Affeldt: 2015: $5
LH Javier Lopez: 2015: $4, 2016: $5
RH Hunter Strickland: under club control through 2020
RH George Kontos: under club control through 2019
RH Juan Gutierrez: 2015: $1.7

Free Agents:
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Michael Morse
SP Jake Peavy
SP Ryan Vogelsong
RHP Sergio Romo

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Idiot

Yesterday morning, over coffee, my grandma tells me, "We need to get you happy! You need to find a woman who will make you happy."

"I think that ship has sailed."

"Don't say that! You are so handsome, and so intelligent. You have so much to offer."

"Maybe so. I just don't really like people, I guess--most of all myself!"

"You never liked people from a young age. You used to push that lawnmower around, and when my friend Judy asked you to mow her lawn, you just rolled your eyes and walked away."

"Well, happiness is overrated," I say, mercifully ending this recurring conversation.

Recently, my hero at The Corporation where I work, Himself, rolled his eyes and walked away from
me, leaving me alone in his office. I went in there to bitch about having to do something I didn't want to do. He looked up from his computer, rolled his eyes at me, and walked out. He's the best.

"What are you doing?" Diamondstein asks me over our iPhones later that morning.

"Just reading The New Yorker in bed."

"How's that?"

"It's okay."

"You want to come get fucked up?"

"Yes."

I hop in the shower and remember that I have to stop drinking because I'm not in the best shape of my life. Instead, I'm in the worst shape of my life. I text The Professor to see what she's doing. She's busy professing. I get in my car and drive from Petaluma to Pt. Reyes where I can escape my demons for a few hours.

"Where you at?" Diamondstein texts.

"Pt. Reyes. Decided to change plans and detox today."

"Pick me up! I want to detox too!"

"No you don't. This is awful, too!"

I pack up my backpack with my journal and two bottles of water and head for the ocean. Half-way out, I hear someone yell, "Mike the Blogger!" as they pass me by.

"What the fuck?" I reply.

The woman who I went to high school with over a decade ago and her mom stop, and I stop. I hug the woman and then her mother.

"What's going on?" I say.

"Just good to be out here and not hung over, watching football."

"I'm not hung over either!" I say enthusiastically.

"It's good to be out of the living room," the mother says.

"Who do you hang out with again....[Redacted] and....?"

"And [Redacted and Redacted]."

"Tell them I say 'hello.'"

"Will do!"

I keep walking out to the coast. It takes me 1 hour and 16 minutes. I will be 29 years old soon. The vast majority of Americans have nothing, according to that left-wing think tank The Federal Reserve (via an article I had read in The New Yorker earlier in the morning). Comcast and other horrible internet companies could afford to build a faster, cheaper internet infrastructure, but they choose to spend their funds on corrosive lobbying efforts instead. I hated this fucking country and its horseshit corporations, and I was proud that I hated the whole rotten system. I was sick and tired of the whole fucking thing.

Earlier in the week, I was asked to re-do a TPS Report for not properly checking a box, which led to a lengthy e-mail correspondence that ended with a discussion on "the way" we do things at The Corporation, that way being the way of perfection. That's a nice notion but also an absurd one. The actual way we do things is with fear, loathing, and aversion: sloppily, half-assed, and with malice towards all. If I didn't cut corners, if I attempted to do my job correctly at all times, I'd be there until midnight each day, which would be better for my wallet but worse for my health, and after a while, with sleep deprivation and a lack of exercise, I'd end up doing things far from perfectly anyway.

I could sense the resentment of many folks at The Corporation since I cut out early on Tuesday and Wednesday to watch the World Series and then refused to do a TPS Report that used to be under my jurisdiction but was removed from my responsibilities recently. One of my managers sent an executive an e-mail explaining that I'd be guiding one of them new people through this particular TPS Report. I responded explaining that I would not, in fact, be doing any guiding, nor would I be doing the TPS Report. I didn't go on to explain that it would be asinine for a bad apple like Mike the Blogger to train anyone at The Corporation, and that I certainly wouldn't be doing any further training without at least a $10,000 training/managerial consultant fee. The last time I trained someone they spent so much time sticking the knife in my back on the way out that I can hardly walk due to the severe back pain.

These are the thoughts I thought as I reached the rock--Arch Rock--above The Pacific Ocean. An Asian woman--who, from a distance, resembles my ex-girlfriend Stephanie--reaches the rock a few minutes after me. She stands above the ocean snapping pictures on her iPhone with a look of eager joy on her face. Is that Stephanie? I wonder. No, she's not as pretty.

No one is.

I think of Diamondstein who, on Friday, told me that he had his weekly chat with The Mom's the night before. Diamondstein has one lengthy chat with The Mom's each week, which he puts off for as long as possible.

"Dude, we should switch mom's, bro. Here's how a conversation with my mom goes:

Mom: Where you been, you little shit?
Me: Work, mostly.
Mom: Why are you in a mood?
Me: I'm not.
Mom: [Hangs up].'

"Never lasts more than a minute. I'd love to talk to your mom for a few hours each week instead," I tell him. "We could really break shit down and analyze things over and over."

"I don't know, man. My mom is a real stickler. Like, growing up, if you put the dish in the dishwasher wrong, you'd get a lecture on how you put the dish in wrong and how it won't be washed properly because of your error, and you need to put it in this way at this angle so it gets cleaned."

"Dude, that reminds me so much of Stephanie's dad. One time, we came back from a hike in the middle of winter in New Jersey, and I put the gloves I had used on the counter. Her dad, who was working from home, gets up and puts them in the drawer where they go. Later that night, I ask her, 'Does your dad have OCD or something?' And she's like, 'What do you mean?' I'm like, 'He stopped working to put those gloves away earlier.' ''No, it's just a cultural thing. In Korean culture, you put things where they belong. Everything has to be done properly, correctly.' And like your mom, he was extremely successful. I think successful people just try to do everything correctly. It's like Tom Brady walking across the field before the game to check the surface. They asked him why he does that and he goes, 'Because everything matters.' I want to start doing things correctly!"

"Me too! But we don't know how!"

"I know," I say, dejectedly. "Let's go eat a bunch of donuts." And so we did, because donuts are good for you, probably. I'd like to convert to anarchism so I'd only have to work four hours a day, four days a week, but I doubt that political movement will take hold. Thus, I'm going to have to keep grinding like Brady for 90 hours a week, though I'll never accumulate as many funds as he has.

The Asian woman sits behind me now and eats an apple. I can't remember the last time I ate a piece of fruit or this new thing they call a Veg-e-Table or something that's supposed to be good for you. A bird flies above the ocean. I've always hated heights and I fucking hate that bird for making me look up. I notice two empty bottles of Smirnoff Ice. It's one thing to litter out here in nature, but Smirnoff Ice? Come on! I pack up the bottles for recycling. If the Asian girl notices me doing a good deed, she'll probably fall in love with me.

Probably not. Still, this scene is so gorgeous it looks fake. When you begin to approach Arch Rock and can see the ocean for the first time, it appears as though it's rising above you. Then, when you get on top of the rock, you're looking out over the entire world: the endlessness of the ocean, the endlessness of the sky, the length of the coast, the birds flying aimless over head, the sun pouring down on the ocean. If you could see all the way across the ocean, would it be Korea on the other side?

Probably. But I've never really understood the world too good.

She gets up and begins the long march back. I continue writing frantically in my journal. The reason I wasn't hung over is because the night before, instead of using my membership at Club Mallard in Albany, I spent the night editing some past blog posts into a compilation of my best work. The best thing I've ever written, sadly, was for a Creative Writing class in 2005. Instead of getting better, I've gotten worse. I could only get through about 50 pages before I became too depressed to continue. My God, this is hopeless. But then, it makes sense that my best work would've come during college when I was reading, writing, and learning, and not during the last six years when I've spent so much time rotting my brain with the mindless drudgery of TPS Reports. The fact that I've gotten worse is an argument to keep going, to dedicate all of my time to this. Besides, what the fuck else am I going to do? I am insubordinate and unemployable. I just said "fuck" in front of a nice girl's mom, for God's sake.

I begin the journey back to civilization and eventually catch up with the Asian woman.

"Getting away from it all today?" I ask her after a few minutes of side-by-side, awkward silence.

"Um, I'm on holiday."

"Where from?"

"Singapore."

"Oh, nice! What do you do in Singapore?"

"I do maaket resuch," she says in that beautiful, slightly broken English. "What do you do?"

"I file and sort, mostly, but I'm getting out of that racket soon. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up still. Where are you staying?"

"San Francisco. Where do you live?"

"I live in the suburbs, about 20 miles or so from here. Do you live in a big city in Singapore?"

"Um, like, Singapore is a city."

"Oh. I thought it was a country. I'm sorry."

"It's both."

"That doesn't seem fair! I'm sorry, I'm very stupid and sheltered. I took a class in college on the history of Asia, but there are so many countries and so much history! How many people live there?"

"Five million. It's very densely populated."

"That means you must never be lonely! The suburbs are very desolate and lonely. Everyone is so far away from me. But then whenever I got to San Francisco or Manhattan, I remember why I like the suburbs!"

After a few minutes of silence, I say, "So market research, that's like, figuring out why people buy shit?"

"Yes. There are many reasons why people choose to or choose not to buy things. It's complicated."

"I can imagine. Like, I bought a new phone recently, and I don't even know why I bought it. Do I even need it? I mean, not really. All I use it for is to check social media, and that's mostly useless!" 

We continue on in awkward silence for what seems like an eternity. Up close, she looks nothing like Stephanie. I bought new glasses and I still can't see shit. I remember back to one Sunday spent in the living room watching football. Eric Mangini is coaching the Jets and he's hired a boxing coach to help his team. The coach explains to the team that, "when you're calm, you can see more, but when you're afraid, you can't see anything." I guess since I'm never calm I hardly notice anything.

"What time is it?" she asks after about 45 minutes of silence.

"It's 3:30."

"The bus leaves at 4."

"At this pace, we should get back in time."

"Good.....Yesterday, in San Francisco, there was a parade?"

"Yes, for the Giants. They won the World Series. Are American sports popular in Singapore?"

"No. Just soccer. You know, football?"

"Yes. That's only popular here during the World Cup for reasons of patriotism. American football is the most popular sport here. It's a $10 billion dollar industry now."

"I think it's good to see so many people excited like that," she says in reference to the parade.

"Most of those people probably don't know anything about baseball and are just jumping on the bandwagon," I respond.

"Did you go?"

 "No, that type of thing doesn't interest me. I didn't do anything to help them win! Besides, I used to write about baseball, but I don't care as much these days."

"Maybe you can write about baseball when you grow up."

I laugh and respond, "That would be good!"

We reach the end of the trail and, even though we're a few minutes late, she notices her friend waiting at the visitor's center. She would've really hated Americans if I couldn't even get her to the bus on time.

I get back to my car and check the iPhone. No one has tried to contact me. What is the point of this stupid thing? I text The Professor and describe the conversation I just had with the Singaporian.

"You're an idiot," she responds.

"I know."

I message the girl from high school who I saw on the hike and apologize for having said "fuck" in front of her mother.

I then think that for as much as I hate global capitalism, maybe it's working. This woman from Singapore probably works three times as hard I as do, is three times as smart as I am, and makes three times as much money. Plus, she knows more about America than I do about Singapore, obviously. Thus, she gets things like holidays in America while I haven't been on vacation since February.

I remember back to a lecture I heard in college by the great professor Dr. Anderson, who half-joked that all the crap we Westerners are addicted to now--sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, etc.--were major aspects of the imperialist, slave economy. He made the statement, then took a sip of his Diet Coke. I loved that guy.

As I leave the parking lot, I stop at a crosswalk to let a family of pedestrians cross. I look to my left and see the woman from Singapore waving at me. I wave back enthusiastically and yell, "It was nice to meet you!" Maybe I didn't make such a bad impression, and if nothing else, she'll think Americans are nice to look at.

I make the journey home and check my Twitter feed. Vox tweets a video of John Oliver lambasting the sugar industry which, like the telecommunications industry, spends money to keep politicians from having any thought of changing a broken system. Oliver cuts to a video of a rat--not high on sugar--swimming through a maze and getting to shore. Then, a rat all fucked up on sugar gets in the water and can't figure out how to get out. It's hilarious, but it's also quite sad.

Maybe if I wasn't so toxic--so loaded with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup and booze and dope--I'd know what the fuck Singapore is. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Spectating: The Last Night of the Giants Dynasty

"That's it, I'm getting the fuck out of here!" I announce in the cubicle on a Thursday afternoon. "The Patriots and the Giants are playing tonight, and I won't apologize for what I'm passionate about!"

The TPS Reporter sitting next to me at The Corporation, Dougie Fresh, laughs and says, "Spectating: your life's passion."

He cut to the core of me with that sentence. Why had I spent so much of my life living vicariously through the accomplishments of others, particularly Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Buster Posey?

Dougie sits at the desk formerly occupied by Mac and Margot, two Bostonians who quickly realized TPS Reports weren't something to take quite as seriously as Mike the Blogger took them. Again, I won't apologize for passion; nor do I think they should apologize for their lack of passion.

On Wednesday night, I again left work early for Game 7 of the World Series. I watched the game at a bar in Berkeley with The Professor, my attorney, the bartender, his buddy, and the teacher. I was so nervous throughout the game that I couldn't eat anything. My attorney was so nervous that she kept asking me, "Why do I care more about this more than my clients?" I responded, "Because when's the last time 60,000 people showed up--and millions more tuned in on television--to watch you argue a case? Then again, I care more about this than my own life because my life is totally devoid of meaning and purpose."

Despite my nerves, the San Francisco Giants clung to and eventually held on to a 3-2 lead to win their third World Series in five years. They'll likely never win a World Series again in my lifetime after this brilliant run, and that's a deal I'll gladly accept.

It was a lost year for me as a Giants fan. As I've gotten older, my priorities have shifted. Once I couldn't make a living writing about baseball, the game had to take a backseat to things that could eventually lead to the procurement of funds for me. On Opening Day this year, I didn't have my normal feelings of excitement. In fact, I went on an online date and missed most of the game. I showed up to most of the few games I attended this year late. I'd have probably even done the wave if the opportunity arose. I rarely sat down and spent three hours watching the Giants each day after having done so for most of my life.

My lack of interest in baseball this season didn't make the Giants championship any less enjoyable. In fact, it was the sweetest one yet given what this team endured in 2014.

The starting second baseman, Marco Scutaro, played in just five games and managed to knock the starting first baseman out during his brief appearance with an errant throw during batting practice. Former ace pitcher Matt Cain made just 15 largely ineffective starts before having season-ending surgery on his elbow and then an additional surgery on his hobbled ankle. Former ace pitcher Tim Lincecum made 26 inconsistent starts before being demoted to the bullpen. Starting center fielder and leadoff man Angel Pagan played in just 96 games surrounding two back injuries. First baseman Brandon Belt played in only 61 games due to a broken thumb and the concussion he suffered from Scutaro's throw. When Pagan went down again in September and left fielder Michael Morse strained his oblique, the Los Angeles Dodgers easily ran away with the division. When Belt returned from the disabled list after suffering recurring problems from the concussion, he looked so rusty that it wasn't even clear if he should play in October. Buster Posey spent most of the year battling a nerve problem in his back that seemed to sap his effectiveness until late August. The situation got so bad at second base that the Giants turned to Dan Uggla, who went 1-for-11 with six strikeouts and two errors in four games--earning his release in record time. With second base being a black hole, the rotation being in flux, Posey ailing, Pagan and Belt having lost seasons due to injury, and then Morse going down with Pagan in September and Belt looking like a lost cause, I wondered if the Giants should even bother playing the Wild Card Play-In Game.

On June 8, the Giants looked like the best team in baseball. After completing a three-game sweep of the Mets, they sat at 43-21, 9.5 games up on the Los Angeles Dodgers. They'd go just 45-53 the rest of the way, dropping 15.5 games to the Dodgers in the standings during the process.

Yet once October rolled around, it was a different team, largely because the postseason doesn't expose a team's flaws the way the six-month regular season grind does. In the playoffs, Madison Bumgarner could throw 52.2 of the 160 innings the Giants had to pitch compared 217 of 1,449 in the regular season.

When Tim Hudson was struggling in the second inning of Game 7, I told The Professor that Bochy had to take the ball from him after Alcides Escobar hit a two-out single. With the score tied 2-2 and two runners on, Bochy couldn't afford to get behind. There was no tomorrow. A loss ends the whole thing in heartbreak.

He summoned Jeremy Affeldt, who delivered his 22nd straight scoreless postseason appearance with 2.1 scoreless innings. "For the moment, Jeremy Affeldt has saved our season," I texted my friend. He had saved the season, but not without the help of Joe Panik, who seized the job from Uggla in late July and hit .305 to finally stabilize the keystone. With one on and no one out, Eric Hosmer hit what looked like a sure single that would've put runners on first and third with no one out. Panik dove, somehow came up with the ball, and flipped it from his glove to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who made a great throw to get a diving Hosmer at first for the double-play after Bochy successfully challenged the initial safe call. Panik's play, aided by Crawford's terrific arm, will go down as one of the best in World Series history.

When Bochy summoned Bumgarner from the bullpen on two days rest, social media blew up with excitement from Giants fans. I wanted to respond, "You idiots! This isn't a good thing. We're out of pitching, and this is an act of desperation!"

My mistake was in thinking that Bumgarner was a human being subject to the laws of science. With his 6'5" 235-pound frame, large arm stroke, and three-quarters release, I guess he doesn't need rest. The ace of October delivered five innings of two-hit, shutout ball to keep the Royals at bay. Even when Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez tried to turn a pretty routine play into a near inside-the-park home run, Bumgarner was unflappable. He calmly induced Salvador Perez to foul out with high fastballs to end it. The Giants were champions once more despite the fact that they were playing with Blanco and Perez--a fourth and a fifth outfielder--and a worn-down Posey, who managed just 17 singles in 69 postseason at-bats.

As I was driving back from the bar to The Professor's apartment after the Giants had won it all again, my brother, Ringo, texted me, "Unreal. Bochy looks like he stole something and got acquitted with no re-trial." 

Who can say where the Giants will go from here? Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse are free agents now. Pagan's health hasn't been there for two straight seasons. Lincecum hasn't been good since 2011. Cain hasn't been himself since 2012. Posey has a ton of mileage on his body despite being only 27 years old. Bumgarner can't throw all of the team's innings next year, unfortunately.

Wherever we go from here, against my better judgement, I'll always be paying close attention, even if it's at increasingly more of a distance. Life changes with each passing year, but the Giants always seem to be there. They might have stolen one this year, but with an ace like Bumgarner, anything is possible in a short series. That 2014 got away from me as a fan is probably a good thing; that I got back on the bandwagon in time for the postseason run is, perhaps sadly, one of the greatest decisions of my life.

I might not be a champion in my own life yet, but the Giants have three World Series championships during the last half-decade, and the rest of baseball's fans do not.