Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Last Days of Something

I spent the first hour or so of the morning on my second to last day of work editing my co-worker's personal statements for admission to law school. Silverstein--a 5'10", skinny, 25-year-old paralegal from El Dorado Hills--and The Padre of Parades--a shorter, buffer paralegal from the coastal town of Pacific Grove where the folks are more mild due to the salted air--will be following yours truly out the door to attend law school in a matter of months. Hell, I may just go to law school, too. They let my attorney in after all, and she hasn't successfully prosecuted any of my cases, starting with that felony conspiracy charge when I was 16. Of course, she could just be throwing these cases.

I was planning a post-employment detox on my first day out of the Grindhouse. That planning involved me calling Silverstein even though he can hear me across our cubicles. When I informed him that it'd probably just be the three of us going he didn't sound too surprised. "The hatred your attorney has for you is palpable," he replied.

"It really is, isn't it? Fuck, I don't think I have any actual friends man. Like, we [my attorney and her friends Tamara and Nicole] had been planning to go to Santa Cruz for a while, and then when we decided to finally go, my attorney couldn't do Saturday and I couldn't do Sunday because of the AFC Championship Game, so they just went that Sunday."

"Yeah, like, that wasn't cool."

"It's a weird thing to have friends. Like, does anyone really have friends? I think this is why people get married. That way, at least you won't have to go to Santa Cruz alone."

"I think you're right. I can't think of any other reason to get married other than having someone to do stuff with."

"Yeah, but how do you find a wife? Like, I've gone on 8,000 dates and I didn't like too many of them."

"I think more than anything, I like to be liked. That's the appeal."

"But, when I first started dating my college girlfriend, I really liked her! I mean, we've changed a lot and hate each other now, but we did like each other once! How do you create that again?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I think it's time to dump some friends. Actually, Tamara might still come."

"Tamara's got that faith in the better angels of our nature. I like that. She's a good apple."

"We are bad apples."

"That's why your attorney hates you. What about Nicole?"

"She thinks she's a PhD student at a prestigious university or something these days."

"The pretention!"

And this is what Silverstein and I spend our days doing in between TPS Reports.

And so but The Padre of Parades is so nick-named because he called in sick the day the San Francisco Giants had a parade to celebrate their third championship in five years. One of his managers was absolutely convinced that The Padre played hooky to go to the parade, and she spent most of the afternoon watching the parade to try to catch him in the act. She came up empty: The Padre wasn't at the parade, but the fact of her desire to catch the little shit has been a running moniker at The Firm ever since.

Silverstein, well, I can't remember where I came up with that one. I suppose his adherence to the Abrahamic faith had something to do with it, and I was trying to keep his cover--we've got three Jewish paralegals among the 10, and another who is convinced of his own Jewish roots (me).

19 months ago when I returned to The Firm, I promised The Boss that I would adhere to the teachings of the so-called King of the Jews, Jesus Christ. In many ways, I upheld that promise. I processed my processes to the best of my limited abilities, I became a martyr for my faith in processing, and perhaps The Boss should've been more familiar with Matthew 10:34--"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

However unintentionally, I did come bearing my sword. Even while I was wiling out, throwing shit fits, writing blogs, and blacking out in co-workers' swimming pools, I was aware of and dissatisfied with my actions. I wanted to be better. I wanted to control my emotions. I wanted to turn the other cheek. I wanted to accept being over-worked, under-appreciated, berated, and five years past my expiration date for that particular Grindhouse. I wanted to accept my fate as a lowly database input specialist in This American, Late-Capitalist Economic Life. 

Sadly, I was born to privilege and couldn't let the capitalist system's monstrosities stand. Even more tragically, I could never find a way to hold it together for more than a few moments for a day or so. Lacking the ability to control myself, I found ways to lash out at those who perpetrated the persecution of me. Those crimes included making me work too much, not being particularly nice to me while making me work too much a lot of the time, and not allowing me to get hella rich for my labor. Or a little rich. 95 percent of humanity has it worse than me, as my favorite co-worker likes to point out while I stuff her Laffy Taffy's and Twizlers down my face-hole, but if you're a privileged, petulant, selfish, sensitive shit, what the hell do you care for the other 95 percent of humanity? 

Alas, it wasn't inevitable that we'd end up here. That July, when I first returned, I remember driving home on the back roads to my valley one Friday afternoon. Coming down the hills on the west side of our valley, suddenly, I could see the hills to the east that form the other side of the sheltered town of 59,000 inhabitants. Now a suburb that is increasingly urbanizing, our town was once referred to as Cow-Town, USA by some old friends of mine from the East Coast. Those same assholes called me Dawson from the hit-show Dawson's Creek, and I suppose some wounds cut too deep to ever heal. I won't admit to having related to that character, nor will I give credence to the notion that I am a 16-year-old girl trapped in the body of a 29-year-old man.

Alas, it doesn't seem to be all that important where you are, so much as who you are, how you feel, and who you surround yourself with. That Friday, as I came back to the valley, I felt as though things were finally starting to settle for me. I felt a calm confidence that I figured would get me through. 

It eluded me then, but it returns occasionally, like today, when I saw that same scene but in winter time. The sun had just set, and the hills were covered with a misty, red-orange fog. The blue sky was fast fading to black, giving me only a brief chance to experience some fresh air in a setting other than total darkness. 

I ran in the Patriots shirt my brother, Ringo, got me last Christmas and the Nike dry-fit pants I bought with a gift card he gave me this Christmas. I was pretty stoned when I bought those pants. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug--as defined by the United States Controlled Substances Act--with no medical value and high addictive qualities, which is another argument in favor of smaller government. I'm not saying that you should go out and smoke a bunch of dope necessarily, but I am saying that my limited marijuana use is totally justified and the least of my problems. No medical value? Have you ever treated nausea with a little gonja? Highly addictive? Compared to what? Sugar? Booze? Meth?

It's weird to have a brother. No one on the planet is as similar to me as Ringo--we have the same parents, we were raised under the same roof, we look alike. And yet, I read all the time, and he does not. I'm a raving lunatic, and he is not. I am the most single, undateable person on the planet who can't take care of anything, much less kids, and he is married with two children. He's taller than me. He's less afraid. We live in the same town and work about five blocks away from each other in the same city 24 miles to the south, and I have no idea what he does. 

We had lunch today to talk about how we want to approach our gambling on the Super Bowl. It was on his dime since I urged him, in the middle of being stoned again (in the fictional world where smoking pot is legal), to hammer the second-half overs--27--during the AFC Championship Game (in the fictional world where gambling is legal). My Patriots, despite having to play with a fully inflated football during the second half, reeled off 28 straight points en route to their sixth Super Bowl appearance during the last 14 seasons. If we have cheated to earn some of those victories, fuck you. We aren't vacating any wins, and we're onto Seattle.

This Super Bowl is a toss-up, with Vegas basically declaring the game a pick-em, as the Patriots are just a one-point favorite. Baltimore (+7) was an easy call in the Divisional Round--they were a terrible match up for New England, and they probably should've won that game. The Patriots have owned Andrew Luck and the Colts, so the only surprise out of the AFC Championship was that the Patriots appeared to have been caught in the act of cheating once more. Seattle would seem to be a tough opponent for Tom Brady and the Patriots. They have the game's best defense, and other than Rob Gronkowksi, the Patriots don't have any skill players that strike the fear of God into the opposition. Then again, Seattle's offense has the same problem outside of Marshawn Lynch. 

Brady and Wilson are vastly different quarterbacks who come to the same successful results. Brady--who is 6'4", deathly slow, and a traditional pocket-passing, progression-reading QB--finished fifth in passer rating while Wilson--who is listed at a generous 5'11" and can hardly see over the line but does his best work with his feet--finished close behind. Both quarterbacks are the unquestioned leaders of their teams. Brady is so obsessed with winning that he not only (allegedly) deflates his balls, but he's hired a body coach with a master's degree in Chinese medicine who keeps Brady on a strict exercise routine and diet that allows only for delicious sweets like ice cream made from avocado.

It's that obsessive devotion to winning at all costs that drew me into the cult of Brady and Belichick in the first place. If rules were broken, well, marijuana is a Schedule I drug even though it's harmless, so who really cares about the rules? Some rules are more equal than others, and some laws are enforced more unequally on the less equal members of society. Nothing gets the high-fructose corn syrup addicted masses going quite like the feeling of being able to hop on their morally superior high horses over a silly sports scandal. We'd all do well to ignore the noise of Deflate Gate and Spygate and focus instead on the qualities that have actually gotten the Patriots here: sacrifice, selflessness, attention to detail, preparation, and obsession. If that obsession put us on the wrong side of that fuckoff Roger Goodell's pointless rules, all the better. 

The Patriots reign is close to the end. The Firm won't have old Mike to push around anymore. The Drug War will continue unabated. The Patriots may lose on Sunday. They may get caught cheating again. 

In the end, we're not going to feel remorse because we pushed the envelope or because I kicked my garbage can at work and cursed too many times. As Jake Peavy put it, we aren't apologizing for passion. You were lucky to employ someone who gave a shit. You were lucky to have a dynasty like the Patriots dynasty, which at least taught a country of selfish egomaniacs that there is a concept called team, that's team, T-E-A-M. 

If the Patriots lose on Sunday, we're onto 2015. No matter what happens, I won't ever step back in the Grindhouse, but Silverstein and The Padre are now well versed on how to rage against the machine.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Things We Carried

It was one of those dark, foggy, late-winter winter mornings before sunup in our valley on that mid-week morning. Silverstein and Von Leigh carried cigarettes for the morning, afternoon, and evening dopamine hits. The Senor carried his gym bag for an evening weight-lifting session to tone his muscular physique. Billy Beane, Jr. also carried his gym bag for a physical therapy appointment. Galindo carried a brown-bag lunch presumably prepared by his wife, Mrs. Galindo. Charlie carried with him the anxieties associated with the end of his tenure at The Firm. I carried his burdens with me during our commute from the valley into The Firm.

Early that morning, Silverstein started wiling out when one of our photocopiers stopped working. "We just bought these fucking things! Does no one understand what is happening? I'll call our IT guy who will call his consultant to come in, and then that guy will call his consultant and they'll fiddle around and the fucking thing will work for a few days, and then we'll do this song and dance again. This is like an obstacle course that I've got to fight my way through each damn day, and no one cares!"

It always felt good to watch others wile out. It always felt terrible when it was you who lost control. That was the sin you couldn't tolerate in yourself. You knew the system was designed to break you, and the goal was to remain unbroken. This was not Vietnam. This was not life and death. There was no enemy other than the enemy within. Would you let the asinine, mundane realities of office work corrupt your spirit? If you did, that was death.

Charlie went to make a photocopy at the working copier next to Von Leigh's desk. The copier was slow, so he walked up behind Von Leigh, who was processing data input at his computer.

"Von Leighhhhh, how's it goinnnnnnnn?"

"Charlie, how's it goinnnn for you in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE?"

"I love that picture of Laguna Beach on your background there, man. Is that the Pacific Coast Highway?"

"Charlie, what the fuck? Why would the road that isn't anywhere near the Pacific Ocean be the Pacific Coast Highway?"

Charlie always struggled with the physical, scientific, mathematical world. But when it came to understanding the emotional, psychological, humanistic reality, I always felt he was a genius. He could immediately sense that Von Leigh's disappointment went beyond Charlie's failure to comprehend something so obvious as where the coastal highway would be in relation to the coast. No, it was a deeper, more sincere wish on Von Leigh's part. Why couldn't Charlie be just a little bit smarter? Why hadn't he done more with his life? Or maybe it was the realization on Von Leigh's part that he'd overestimated Charlie. He'd thought more of the guy, and now he was starting to see how Charlie's claustrophobic limitations were the cause of his life's underachievement. Charlie was initially sad to comprehend the reality of the situation, but then, he'd never presented himself as more than he was to Von Leigh. If there was something to admire in Charlie it was his desire to at least attempt to be honest with himself and the world around him, even though the cost of that honesty was usually too much to bear. It was so much easier to lie, to pretend.

We carried too much weight with us. We carried the weight of too little sleep, too much work, and poor nutrition. We carried too many sleights. We took things like broken copiers too personally. 

Charlie, sensing his friend Silverstein's grave sadness due to the copier situation, came over to our side of the cubicles and told us a story about the first set of new copiers The Firm leased.

"It was in the middle of July of like, 2010 I think, and I always felt July was the worst month here. It's so nice outside and you spend the whole month inside. You don't even want to look outside because it just creates envy. So we had a morning meeting in the conference room on the Bay, and it's just so beautiful outside. The Bay is completely still, the sun's rays are just beaming off the water, and it's such a terrible dichotomy with the misery inside that day. So we're getting this presentation on the new copiers, and the tragedy of it is that these things are actually going to create more work because now we've got to scan our TPS Reports to the website. And we've ordered new stamps to mark the TPS Reports after they've been scanned. So even with the website, we're creating even more paper! Mac, the guy from Boston who gave zero fucks after his second day on the job, came up with our new rallying cry after that painful meeting: Strength through Pain, War is Peace, Progress through Stamps."

On our state-mandated 10-minute break, Billy Beane, Jr. carried his parlay sheet and smart phone with him to the back conference room. He'd put about $3 down on an eight-team parlay to win $120 or so. The gambling was his dopamine hit. You had to admire the guy's system of integrity and values. Hell, more than that, you admired that he had a consistent value system of any kind. He was one of the nicer guys we'd had come through, but he wasn't going to sit there and take anyone's shit either. His hour lunch and 10-minute breaks were mandated by the state--that time was his little bit of time.

Von Leigh, Silverstein, and Charlie went outside for their smoke break, though Charlie was only an occasional nicotine doper. He was cheap and only bummed cigs when he desperately needed the quick hit. It was around 5 p.m. now, and we still had another five hours of processing to get through. Some days, Silverstein and Charlie would go hit golf balls for a bit before returning to their processes. But today, Silverstein and Von Leigh came back into the office, while Charlie took a post-sunset walk on the trail by the Bay outside.

He carried a picture in his mind of another walk on the water, this one from the year 2007 on the Atlantic. Was that the first time he'd seen that ocean? At Sandy Hook on that April afternoon, he walked on the deserted beach towards what must be Cony Island. Geography is never going to be his strong suit. He carried with him that day a lighter body and a lighter mind. The heavy stuff that's been weighing him down lately isn't there. His face isn't angelic by any means, but there's clearly at least a desire for innocence.

It was a day before The Great Recession, a time when more seemed possible. It all seemed more achievable from the distant vantage point of university life. The reality is always far more complex than the Ivory Tower leads you to believe.

The woman pictured with him that day, what was she carrying? The burden of being out of college and having to try to figure it out in the so-called real world. What do you when you're sad and don't want to do anything? How do you follow a passion if you're not passionate about anything? What do you when the world is caving in on you and you can't dig your way out no matter your intentions? How can you feel so alone on a deserted beach with the person who is supposed to love you? The look of profound disappointment on her face in his memory of that walk is the same one he'll see eight years later on so many other faces, including Von Leigh's earlier that day. It's the same sadness that has engulfed the reflection coming back to him from his own face in the mirror.

Yet he'd have to say it's a happy memory to carry. He had no desire to be borne back into that receding past. He didn't maintain any regrets or harbor any secret desires for the present to be different. It might not have been utopian, but what was the alternative? If she were walking with him on this trail right now, would life be any better? Of course not. Life wasn't anything other than what reality offered in that moment. There was no shame in remembering a cold day on the Jersey shore. He couldn't find that beach on a map, but his mind was a map of deep personal memories from long ago and just moments ago. What if that mind wasn't a burden at all? At least that was a better way of considering things. 




Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Spygate and Deflate-Gate Do Not Bother Me

Congratulations, your favorite NFL team doesn't cheat! That's something to feel good about when the New England Patriots--who, after getting caught taping the Jets defensive signals in the first game of 2007 in the infamous Spygate scandal, have now been caught deflating footballs before the AFC Championship Game in the Deflate-gate scandal--beat the Seattle Seahawks to win their fourth Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady Era A.D. (2001-2015). What time does your favorite team play next Sunday?

The last time Belichick got caught cheating, the Patriots ran off 17 straight wins before losing in the Super Bowl. Maybe Belichick is using this scandal as another motivational tactic.

Cheating is a part of Belichick's legacy, and that is something to be proud of in this country. The thing is to win. If that means bending or breaking the rules in pursuit of victory, I'm fine with that. It's embarrassing that we keep getting caught, but deep down, I think Belichick wants to get caught because, fuck you. 

I've always been drawn to Belichick in large part due to his melancholia. According to David Halberstam in the book The Education of a Coach, Bill Parcells famously nick-named him Gloom when Belichick was Parcells' defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. Belichick is a dour sort whose righteous indignation is saved for those who would dare get in the way of his obsession with winning at all costs rather than for silly bullshit like following rules drafted by phonies on the various rules committees.

Spygate and Deflate-gate confer minute competitive advantages for the Patriots. Why would Belichick risk draft picks, fines, and his reputation over banal things like continuing to video tape defensive signals--which Belichick told Patriots owner Robert Kraft was virtually a useless tactic--after the league sent out a memo instructing teams to stop the practice or else? After receiving a harsh punishment for Spygate, why would Belichick risk the ire of the league over something as insignificant as slightly deflated footballs?

Because he has no respect for the NFL's horseshit rules, and he doesn't give a shit about his perceived legacy. He knows the useless suits in the league office aren't going to vacate any Patriots victories, and the only thing he cares about is winning. Well, winning and telling the assholes in the league office to fuck right off.

Belichick doesn't respect authority because one is supposed to bow down to the higher-ups; he respects success and toughness. 

Look, it feels good to take offense. It feels good to ride the high horse. It feels good to pretend to care about integrity in a sport in which the participants are getting brain damage as the league actively covers up the risks for several decades (see the book and documentary League of Denial). It feels good to raise your kids to be little sanctimonious brats who follow all the rules. It feels good to keep cheaters like Brady and Belichick and Bonds out of the Hall of Fame. It feels good to take Belichick's inventory and conclude that you are better than and morally superior to perhaps the most successful coach of all time.

But in reality, you're a lowly office worker making the median salary at a meaningless job that you hate rooting for a team that probably also breaks the rules but to no avail or doesn't break the rules but can't win football games in the National Football League, which is sort of the goal. If the price of victory is breaking rules, I'm okay with that. I can live with spying illegally on the opposition and deflating footballs and whatever other rule-breaking Belichick is up to, so long as we keep winning. That's the deal: whatever it takes. If breaking the rules is what helps the Patriots reel of these 12-win seasons every year, I can live with that. I'd rather break some rules and go 12-4 than follow the rules and go 8-8.

When former Patriots linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide, that was a moral dilemma worth considering. Seau, like many other former NFL players who have committed suicide, had CTE. Is the NFL something we should continue to sanction and consume if the price is often a man's life? This isn't war after all: the NFL isn't there to defend us from our enemies; it's there purely for entertainment purposes. Certainly, at this point, the players know the risks, but up until a few years ago, the vast majority did not due the NFL's ongoing cover-up. It's only very recently that the league has started to care about concussions and the long-term effects of the game on the brain.

If there is something to be outraged about with the NFL, it's the suicides and the murder-suicides like the one that took place in 2012 with Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice case is another incident worth getting worked up over. What did he think happened in that elevator? When Rice dragged his unconscious fiance out of the elevator, wasn't it obvious that something worthy of more than a two-game suspension happened inside? Goodell's half-assed investigation of that incident and subsequent dishonesty is a lot bigger scandal than deflated footballs and illegal video-taping. Domestic violence, suicide, murder, covering up medical information, tax breaks, and tax-payer funded stadiums: that's what the 10-billion-dollar-not-for-profit National Football League is all about.

Spygate and Deflate-gate are nice moral sideshows for fans of this awful game, including myself, to get sanctimonious about. But instead of patting yourself on the back for realizing that Bill Belichick is a scumbag and a schmuck--the term used by his own employer--maybe you should spend more time looking in the mirror. We are fans of a violent sport that begets further violence during and after these athletes' playing careers. Hell, employing Aaron Hernandez, who has been indicted in two murder cases, was a far worse scandal than this.

Our own government is illegally spying on all of us right now with the help of the state's corporate actors. Our own government is arguably illegally dropping bombs from drones in various places as we speak, which almost always involves collateral damage. We tortured some folks, as our Nobel Peace Prize winning President likes to say. We sort of butchered those Vietnam and Iraq Wars. We're rectally feeding some other folks on hunger strikes at Gitmo. Mass incarceration! Our tax dollars at work!

But, yeah, Spygate and Deflate-gate and Barry Bonds doing steroids is what ruined this country for the children! Will we ever recover from these monstrosities?

Sanctimony: it feels nice, but when it comes to Spygate and Deflate-gate and any other past, current, or future Belichick shenanigans, spare me. Save your sanctimony for things that actually matter, not for a dour prick of a coach who likes to rebel against assholes like Roger Goodell.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Closing the "Mike" File

What do you do at the point where you can no longer trust yourself? is a question I sometimes ponder.

Sometimes meaning often. 

I'm 29 years old and I have eight work days left at my current position, from which I resigned in late July of last year. I don't, like, really enjoy being told to do stuff all day, you know? You feel me on that? I'm not passionate about following orders, otherwise maybe I'd join the fight against them ISIL al Qaeda bad guys. I'm also a terrible coward who can't watch a war film without getting an anxiety attack. So that's one less career option for me. I feel like I probably have no career options and will live out my final days in a gutter somewhere, hopefully underneath I-80 so I can be closer to Silverstein.

My last therapist told me I had that anxiety and depression shit and I told him if he talks to me like that again I'll send him on a one-way trip down the Allegheny River. So, that didn't work out.

My ex-girlfriend Sonia told me shortly thereafter that I get away with being depressed by pulling stupid shit like writing these blogs like a goddamn moron. I replied, "Depression isn't something you get away with. I think it's more something to try to get away from. But yeah, I guess my actions aren't helping my mental state and whatnot." 

And so but yesterday I thought about coming into the office even though it was a holiday. But then I realized maybe less of me is more at this point on my journey here. At the same time, you know if you don't come in for three days straight that they're gonna have something cookin' for you when you get back. By the time I decided to come in and face the fire, it was too late.

I woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 6:45 a.m. I hit snooze until 8 a.m., at which time I was supposed to be at work. I arrived at about 9:15 to whispers that The Boss was more unhappy with me than usual. This time, Mike, you've really done it. One boss asked me, "Hey, what did you write on that timesheet?"

What the fuck did I do now I wondered.

The tension was palpable. Would The Boss, who has long wanted to fire me, pull the plug on this future grandma with eight days left? If so, should I preempt my firing with another resignation, this time effective immediately?

My daily timesheets came back with a note that said, "What is this? This is ridiculous?" When I saw the phrase "This is ridiculous," I was so happy. Those were the words of my long-lost hero, my ex-father-in-law.

When I say father-in-law, what I mean is that I adopted him as my father in an ongoing custody battle with the aforementioned Sonia, who also fired me. Well, I fired her, but then she still doesn't want to re-hire me despite my decision to spend the last like year and a half since we broke up drinking and getting high and being hungover and losing my job and self-respect and dignity and chasing off all of her replacements. I guess she doesn't understand what it means to buy low. Anyway, her father used to say, "This is ridiculous," about everything and everyone.

One November morning in Monterey a few years back, I was having breakfast with Sonia and her parents when her father started talking about their son Gary, who didn't make the trip. He told the story and concluded, "My son....Gary....he is RIDICULOUS!" as though the fact of his son's ridiculousness was the greatest discovery in the history of mankind.

And the mother lost her shit and started yelling at the poor bastard, "WE ALL KNOW GARY. WE ALL KNOW HE'S RIDICULOUS! SO WHY DO YOU HAVE TO TELL THESE POINTLESS STORIES ALL THE TIME?"

He looked confusedly at his wife, and then at me under his large glasses which dominated his handsome, still child-like, Asian face, and I just kind of shrugged back. He smiled at me coyly. He was poking the bear on purpose! I didn't figure he was that sharp.

Sadly, the note was not from my long-lost soul mate. That I fell in love with my ex-girlfriend's father is not something I'm ashamed of--not in the least. Nor am I angry at myself for thinking he would fly from suburban New Jersey to suburban California to write a note telling me I'm ridiculous so that I would feel good instead of bad after a long drive through the fog from the sky and my depressive thoughts. Absurd as that notion was, our President tells us to have hope, right? And what's a better thing to cling to than your love for a fellow man?

Another one of his descriptive phrases was like, "Mike is good," or "It is good, just eat it." I know he thought I was good. Deep down, I still think I can somehow be good again. 

The note was from The Boss. On Christmas Eve, another boss had told me that I needed to have better descriptions for my non-billable time on my daily timesheets. "That's a lot of non-billable time....you need to describe it better."

I felt as though that was sort of a ridiculous request given that non-billable time is just lost time for a lost person in a losing situation. Who cares what I write in there if it isn't going on a legal bill to a client? Additionally, I resigned in July, the new guy is taking over, and we have two people for one spot for one month here. It's not an ideal situation for anyone, but these are the superfluous circumstances we've all agreed to. Thus, with that temporary redundancy, we're going to have some non-billable time there. I think The Firm may survive. Lastly on this point, I field questions from the other paralegals literally all day, which I see as more of a management task but I'm happy to assist because I'm not really doing anything else and I've been here longer than the rest of the team combined. I'm happy to share my institutional knowledge and boost morale with my self-deprecating, absurdist wit. So that's what I'm doing and whether or not I capture that on a timesheet doesn't seem all that important to me, and I found the delivery to be rather condescending, as though I was purposely slacking off just to spite you. I'd rather someone show the slightest appreciation for what I have done and then went on their way than take any more fucking shit for my many flaws, as though I'm the only fuckoff in this dungeon of drug addicts, alcoholics, sex addicts, food addicts, and whatever other form of self-inflicted misery you can come up with, as though I'm not already doing the best job on the planet of beating the living shit out of myself.

Alas, on Monday, December 29, 2014, the Monday after Christmas week, I came into a shit storm. Several e-mails with client requests were flat-out ignored, which is highly problematic given that 90 percent of this job is processing client requests via e-mail in a timely manner. The new guy, who has been here for four months, left me a note explaining why I needed to process other of his processes besides the missed e-mails while he was out on vacation for the week. I was disgusted at the audacity of the whole situation: I've been at this god-forsaken office built on a landfill and sewage dump in the middle of shit-fuck nowhere for six years and now I'm taking orders from the new guy while cleaning up e-mails that went unattended? How was that okay? My boy Fresh got shit-canned for less than that. I can't imagine being four months into this job and just flat-out ignoring correspondence and putting processes off and somehow getting away with that shit. Fuck, I remember losing some documents in early 2009 when we were down to just two paralegals and I had no clue what I was doing and too many clients, and I was ready to dump myself in the Bay outside this office park for my sins. But I was once a good egg and not a bad apple.

So, on my timesheet from 22 days ago, I explained in detail that for the two hours of non-billable time I had that day I was investigating these matters while also checking Twitter, meeting with Silverstein and The Senor about various matters, taking smoke breaks, and venting to anyone who would listen that they were making me work a lot that day. One of my bosses explained to me the following morning that maybe my description wasn't entirely necessary, though it was a solid attempt at humor. So I crossed it out, wrote a new description by hand, and exported the new verbiage. Case closed.

Nope.

At the end of each two-week period, you've got to re-circulate the timesheets back through your immediate managers, then to The Boss, and then to Corporate. Instead of circulating the corrected timesheet, I just left the existing approved timesheet in my two-week batch, not thinking that anyone was going to read about my crossed-out and redacted administrative activities from 12/29/2014. If anyone wants to read about those activities, this absurd, embarrassing blog is more descriptive than that one timesheet in which I chose to be a smart-ass.

So, I drafted an e-mail back to The Boss trying to explain the circumstances that led to me write what I wrote. I re-drafted the e-mail. I attached documentation. I read it and re-read it. Then, I deleted it. Sending the e-mail explaining my actions and apologizing for taking it too far once more would indicate that we were two co-workers who both get it, who both are trying to get on the same page, who both are trying to work towards the same ends even if we have to agree to disagree most of the time. But that's not the reality. The reality is that we've moved from the less than ideal but workable communication phase of the relationship to the irreconcilable differences phase. The Boss hates me, I hate me, I hate this place, I hate that I came back, I hate that didn't walk out the door on that July day six months ago, and I certainly shouldn't feel the need to explain myself to bosses that I don't respect.

Was my administrative description for that day too much? Were these blogs that 50 people--who don't care--read too much? Were the temper tantrums in my god-forsaken cubicle too much? And, what the fuck is with cubicles? My God, if you want someone to be less of a headache, maybe don't cram them into a dungeon with eight other lunatics as a captive audience for the temper tantrums. And, who do those temper tantrums hurt actually? Certainly, I'm ashamed that I have no self-control, that I let things that don't matter get to me, that I ever actually cared about this meaningless drivel in the first place, but at the end of the day I kept processing, didn't I? By my calculation, I kept processing to the tune of 1,591 billable hours last year. If the price of getting a miserable, disgruntled, petulant shit to get his work done is to listen to him whine a few times a day, isn't that a price worth paying?

I'm looking at a document that I saved from my first stint here in which I was blamed for a report that was missed by Silverstein's team. In the green file to the right of me, next to the "What is this? This is ridiculous?" note in the same hand-writing is a note that says "MR didn't...." and then some information about how this whole missed report fiasco was somehow my fault. I always saved documents like that which were brought to my attention because I figure if you're gonna keep files on me, I'd better start investigating you.

I don't like what I see when I investigate myself. I've wanted to change but I haven't been able to. I'm starting to fear that I cannot or that it's too late. But when I look at this place with the same lens, and through the eyes of so many who've come before me and escaped my lengthy sentence, I see similarly unchangeable problems. If I was a higher-up here, I would be just as ashamed of that as I am about where my life is at right now. It would be a terrible reflection on me if my employees hated their jobs as much as a lot of my friends have hated this place through the years.

While I've certainly created many problems and contributed to the dysfunction, and while I deeply regret stepping into the same bay twice, at least in this case there are others who can corroborate and share in my misery.

Any place in which after six years they're communicating their displeasure with you through sticky notes and whispers and mean-mugging in the hallways, well, I guess it's time to get out. At least I don't feel the slightest desire to ever pull another punch. I'm the bad apple, sure, but that awful taste won't go away when I'm gone. There will be more bad apples, and not just those that I've spoiled during the last few months.

Hell, one employee kindly told Silverstein, The Senor, and I to go fuck ourselves today. Could be time to close the "Mike" file and start a new one. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The National Football League

On Thursday, our heroes--the protagonists on this blog, Mike, Marco, and Silverstein--were back in the Richmond Annex, that strip of East Bay land acquired by the City of Richmond in the War of 1812, I believe. El Cerrito and Albany were defeated by the great warriors of Richmond in that horrific struggle in which our heroes' ancestors fought so valiantly.

Four score and seven years and then even more years later, our heroes dodged out of work at The Firm, hopped on the Richmond Bridge, and entered a local Trader Joe's in the El Cerrito Plaza to load up on provisions. As they entered the produce section, Mike told his two partners in crime, "Did you know that non-organic fruit causes cancer?"

"I don't think that's true," Silverstein replied. "Besides, we're all eventually going to fucking die whether we eat organic fruit or GMO's or gluten or MSG or high-fructose corn syrup or not. But I think non-organic fruit is good for you."

"Na man, I read it."

"Well, if you read it, it must be true," Marco replied. "My dad always ends arguments that way. 'No no, I read it somewhere, so I'm right.' Works every time. Of course, you actually read this bullshit, which is why you're so fucked up, whereas my dad just makes up having read things."

"I'm not fucked up because I read too much. I'm fucked up because I read and remain ignorant and neurotic and depressed and anxious. Then I have to drink with you morons to pretend to feel good oh
my god holy shit look at that babe in the Albany swim sweatshirt."

"I think she's a little young."

"She looks old enough. We've got to start hanging out at grocery stores more. We should pretend to work here."

"Can I help you with your sexual needs?"

"Exactly. This can definitely work."

Mike tried to keep an eye on his newest potential Mrs. Mike Candidate, but trying to find the cheapest bottle of red wine possible took up a tremendous amount of his limited mental capacity.

"$3.99, it's gonna be hard to beat that. And it doesn't even really look like vinegar. Oh, wait, this stuff is only $2.99 over here. Ah, fuck it. Let's class it up."

Before going to the checkout lane, the three men took advantage of Trader Joe's generous free samples of pasta and coffee. At the checkout lane, the pretty woman in the Albany swim sweatshirt was purchasing some type of greeting card.

Mike, who was wearing glasses, Marco's flannel shirt, Silvertein's black jacket, and Silverstein's cargo pants for Casual Thursday, to be followed of course by Casual Friday, announced to the friends who had clothed him, "Nothing says I don't give a fuck about you like a Hallmark card."

The woman wisely chose not to acknowledge this creepy attempt at an introduction. Shamelessly, Mike's mind moved on to the next thought, which was his recollection of a David Foster Wallace YouTube video in which Wallace talked about, like, being patient and chill in a busy late-capitalist grocery store, which Mike felt he had done well by making that joke. Then, he wondered if maybe that wasn't the point of the video at all and maybe David Foster Wallace killed himself because he went through a period of making motivational YouTube videos instead of writing fiction? No, that couldn't be right either? It's all becoming so murky and confusing up in that dope-infested mind.

With milk for White Russians, red wine for Christian religious practices, frozen orange chicken, and coffee samples, they headed back to the Annex. At a red light, Mike was suddenly pouring his coffee on Silverstein's cargo pants, as per usual. Only, this time, Mike's actions were justified. Silverstein stormed out of the car, yelling at the woman who had just slammed her car into them, "Lady, did you just hit me? Are you texting? Of course you are. Are you fucking kidding me? Pay attention! You didn't even know you hit me!"

He gets back in the car and drives off.

"You should pull over and get her information and stuff," Marco says.

"Fuck it. I can't deal with insurance people anymore," Silverstein replies, which is sensible given that his last car was stolen out of his driveway and Mike's ex-girlfriend recently threw a rock through Silverstein's window in a jealous fit or rage. "Besides, there's just a small scratch."

"We should sue anyway. I poured coffee on my leg. I'll never recover."

"The version of myself seven years ago would've avoided this accident," Silverstein yells at Mike.

Earlier in the day, Mike and Silvesrtein had gone to their weekly best buds therapy session, which mostly consists of them stuffing Laffy Taffy and Twizzlers into their faceholes. [Marco doesn't partake in these sessions because he "has a penis and not a vagina and doesn't need to analyze shit."]

Sadly, Silverstein and Mike's therapist's New Year's resolution is to eat only lettuce for 12 months. Even more sadly, despite having only eaten lettuce for two weeks, their therapist has only lost like 20 pounds so far. Thus, she wasn't really in the mood to hear Silverstein bitch about the shitty copiers, the cheap toilet paper, the lack of administrative support, the long hours, and the lack of positive reinforcement in his life.

"Silverstein, quit your bitching. These aren't real problems. You could leave earlier if you wanted."

"That is such bullshit. Do you think I enjoy staying at work until midnight?"

"I think you enjoy the paychecks."

"Haha. Yeah, I love living paycheck-to-paycheck and having no life."

"Come on, Silverstein. At least you don't have Ebola or any real problems."

In defense of Silverstein, Mike, who usually enjoys being chastised by their therapist due to his immeasurable self-hatred and comfort with his mostly self-created suffering, replied, "I hate that line of argument. First of all, you can never put yourself in the shoes of the West African single mother with 11 kids, no job, Ebola, and every other problem imaginable. Secondly, even if you could, you'd still hate having to deal with working overtime and other problems that obviously are less bad than the problems of others."

"But you can try to empathize and change your perspective, Mike."

"Well, the person with the worst problems in the world would work at our job for six weeks and complain just as much as we do," Silverstein said.

"Oh, you two are such whiners."

"And you don't ever complain!" Mike protests.

"No, I never complain," the elitist, New York Times reading, lettuce eating, Prius driving, Marinite therapist confidently asserts, knowing that Mike and Silverstien are too stupid to recall her many whines throughout their therapeutic sessions.

The subject changed to Silverstein's law school applications.

"Where are you applying?" the therapist asks.

"Hastings, Davis, and my dream school is Boalt."

"Don't even bother applying there. Might was well save the application fee on that one," she replies.

"Jesus, I will fucking pay the application fee for him in that case."

"No, I mean apply, but you won't get in."

They discussed Silverstein's LSAT score, which led the therapist to conclude, "Yeah, but with the continued downward spiral in the legal sector, smart people aren't applying to law school anymore. So, your high score wouldn't be nearly as high if you took the test seven years ago when smart people were still going to law school before The Recession."

That comment, combined with overwork, sleep deprivation, and the car accident, sent Silverstein over the edge. "It was all just so much fucking better seven years ago! There were no problems, no car accidents, no stupidity!"

"It's just not your day, Silverstein."

The thing about life though, is like, most of this stuff is okay if you have friends you can pass the time with. I think that the real problems, at least in a first world, relatively affluent enclave like the Annex, develop from that fundamental human delusion that you are here and everyone else is out there. Or, more simply stated, isolation from human contact creates this notion of separation, which promotes illusions and creates more ignorance. The companionship is all.

Back in the Annex, Marco, who is a 25-year-old Italian kid from Monterey, made his famous White Russians to celebrate the San Francisco 49ers decision to hire the former Mob fixer Tommy Tomsula as their new head coach. The three boys sat down on the couch with their drinks to watch the replay of the Tomsula presser.

Some left-wing member of the liberal media had the audacity to ask Tomsula, an overweight mustachioed 46-year-old defensive line coach from the Rust Belt, what his coaching philosophy was. After about 10 minutes of hand gestures and talking in circles and generally making no sense while attempting to quote a Hillary Clinton memoir at one point, Tomsula gathered himself and said, "I'll tell you what, okay, my philosophy is to take a fucking Louisville slugger, okay, to any son-of-a-bitch that crosses my path, okay. So for that question, okay, I'm gonna take this here baseball bat to your fucking knee, okay."

"I love this I-talian," Marco announces.

Mike, a Patriots fan and a front-running ass mark, tells his 49er faithful friends, "This is Singletary 2.0, but he's even more entertaining."

"The players all love this guy."

"The players all fucking hate Belichick, and they all loved Singletary, too."

"If we get good coordinators, we'll be fine."

"You just chased out a great defensive coordinator. Who is going to want to work for this team after the way Harbaugh and Fangio got run out the door by that asshole owner? Besides, if Tomsula was worth a shit, wouldn't one of the other teams with a head coaching vacancy have bothered to interview him?"

"Who cares about that shit? We're gonna line up and play power football and bludgeon people."

Silverstein and Marco were optimistic about their new coach, but that would change in short order. After making Mike sit through that 49er crap, Marco threw him a bone. The NFL Network has a short documentary on every NFL team that has won the Super Bowl. When Marco clicked down to the 2001 New England Patriots, Mike screamed, "That is my favorite team of all time!"

"Let's watch it then."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes. These are good."

"Mike, how wet are you right now?"

"Totally creamed."

When they showed Bill Belichick wearing his same dour look and awful hair cut from 13 years ago while explaining his decision to leave Tom Brady in as his QB1 instead of giving the ball back to Drew Bledsoe who had returned from injury, Mike said, "What a miserable son-of-a-bitch. But he's the best."

"Do you need to change your underwear?"

"Yes. I am so excited.Reliving this is almost better than the first time around."

Belichick was telling the assembled media, "Mr. Kraft is paying me to make the best decisions for this football team. And that's what I'm going to do for as long as I'm here."

"Mike, you can sit back and relax," Silverstein says. "The Patriots won this Super Bowl. It isn't retroactively going to be taken away during this doc because you didn't set on the edge of your seat."

"You don't know that. They could review the Tuck Rule or something. Vinatieri could miss the kick this time. YOU DON'T FUCKING KNOW, MAN! YOU DON'T KNOW SHIT COMPARED TO PEOPLE FROM SEVEN YEARS AGO! WE COULD LOSE THOSE SUPER BOWL'S AND THEN WHAT WOULD I BE LEFT WITH?"

During the 2001 Super Bowl, the Patriots ran out of the tunnel as a team rather than having the starters announced individually. When the documentary showed this scene, Mike excitedly pounded his hands on Marco's thighs and then on his own thighs. "I love this fucking team!"

Ty Law's pick-six, Brady's game-winning drive, and Vinatieri's game-winning field goal lead to safety Lawyer Milloy's embrace of the head coach who had made winners out of losers, who had stuck with Brady over the franchise cornerstone, and who would lead the Patriots to two more Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004.

The next doc Marco chose was the story of that other great Bill's first Super Bowl: the 1981 San Francisco 49ers run under Bill Walsh. The similarities between Belichick and Walsh are as vast as their differences with Tomsula. Both men insisted upon and maintained final say on personnel matters. Walsh's West Coast offense relied a quick, precise, horizontal passing attack in an era in which the NFL was still a run-dominated sport. Walsh's offense was complex: all 11 men had to see the same thing and the receivers had to adjust their routes based on the pre- and post-snap look of the defense. Belichick--who coached against Walsh in the 1980's as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants--is running the modern equivalent of the same offense. Both men hated dealing with the media and gave the papers very little to chew on. Walsh knew that Civil Wars like the one for the Richmond Annex were the hardest to fight. In New England, any dissenters are quickly expelled from the program. In the end, both Bills were surly innovators who cared about the only thing that mattered: winning Super Bowls. Walsh won three before emotionally burning out, but the 49ers dynasty would last into the 2000's and total five Super Bowls. Belichick, who either has no emotions or better control over his emotions than Walsh, has taken the Patriots to five Super Bowls and nine AFC Championship Games during his 15-year reign in New England. Walsh revolutionized the game with his West Coast passing attack. Belichick revolutionized the salary cap era by building a consistent winner in the age of ego mania and turnover.

In comparison, Tomsula is seemingly a clown, a buffoon, an impostor. After watching the stories of Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who both grew up idolizing Montana in Northern California, the 2001 Patriots, the 1981 49ers, and the 2010 Packers, there was no way Marco and Silverstein could cling to the hope of a Tomsula/Kaepernick championship in Santa Clara. The entire situation just reeks of an implosion. Three straight NFC Championship Games wasn't good enough because Jim Harbaugh was difficult where Tommy Tomsula will be pleasant, compliant, and manageable by management. He'll also almost certainly be less successful.

Maybe Trent Baalke will get players and coordinators that are so good it won't matter who the head coach is. Maybe he's the Walsh and Belichick of this organization. Maybe Tomsula is a lot smarter than he comes off with members of the normally relaxed Bay Area media, who quickly smelled blood in the water with this dope. He'll probably be more comfortable in his skin down the road when he isn't so clearly worried about avoiding stepping on the toes of his bosses, who very clearly will not tolerate dissent in the post-Harbaugh scheme. If Eli Manning can win a Super Bowl, so can Colin Kaepernick. Tomsula will certainly be entertaining: just type his name into YouTube and come back after a few hours in that sinkhole.

Still, when Mike left the Annex on Thursday night, he couldn't help but imagine his buds going through a dark period as the 49ers imploded. Then again, Brady was 37 and Belichick was 62. The end might have already come in Santa Clara, but the Reaper was probably on his way to New England next.

If the end does come, we'll always have one of the gutsiest performances imaginable from Brady last Saturday. Down by two touchdowns two different times, with no running game, no pass rush, and a suspect offensive line down a starter, with the Baltimore defense knowing he was going to throw on each and every play, after taking vicious hits and throwing a potentially season-ending interception, Brady rallied and led the Patriots on three second-half touchdown drives to eek out a 35-31 victory. Belichick put the ball in Brady's hands over 50 times, knowing full well that was the only hope. Brady delivered a performance that highlighted so much of what is lacking in so many: mental and physical toughness, an unwavering, maniacal devotion and commitment to being the very best at one's craft, an ability to bounce back and stay the course, committing fully to each moment and then moving on to the next without regret, an incredible burning desire to achieve the only goal that matters--victory.

Mike may have jumped on a bandwagon that wasn't his to jump on, but following Tom Brady was the best choice he'd ever made. If one is to suffer the fate of being a sports spectator, might as well hitch your wagon to the best there is to offer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Looking for Clues

Some mornings, when I'm in the shower and then driving to work, thoughts will come that induce me to write. Other days, the numbing doubt takes over and I cannot put pen to paper. Buddha said that doubt was a poison, but he certainly must've experienced a great deal of doubt in going off on his own, giving up his family and possessions, and forging a new philosophy of living. At times he must've thought, "Buddha, you're a joke. What the fuck are you even doing?" Every time I write, or think of myself as a writer, those doubting thoughts creep in: Why bother? You aren't talented enough to do this.

On the days where I am imbued by my Creator with thoughts that inspire me to actually try to say something, I....I don't know what I really do.

When you're pushing 30, working your last days at a dead-end job that still creates a tremendous amount of misery, struggling to learn how to write, completely and totally fucking lost, and have just spent a week drinking way less than normal to numb those prior realities, you're going to start investigating yourself. You're going to start looking for clues.

Early in childhood, my family lived on the east side in the sprawling suburbs of our valley. We lived on a court with probably 15-20 other homes. At the end of the block, the younger, cooler neighbors drew a white chalk line called the KKK Line, which separated the normal neighbors from what we perceived to be the lunatics on the end of the court. My cousins lived across the street from our court, and my best friend Bobby's family would move into that same house during high school.

I was the youngest of four, which is why everyone called me Babe. I was also the youngest of the 20 or so kids who lived on and around the court. One summer day, we were playing a game of two-hand touch in the street. No one covered me because the QB1 on our team was throwing the ball 100 miles per hour. Could a five-year-old boy actually catch one of Adam's passes? Late in the game, Adam zipped a pass my way, and I actually caught it and ran to the KKK Line for a touchdown.

If I'm looking for reasons why I'm such a mess at 29, unfortunately, my childhood doesn't seem to have the answers. Well, I mean, I was fucked up then, too. I used to spend hours playing elaborate, imaginary baseball games on our front lawn, announcing my neuroses to the world. For some reason, perhaps because my parents knew I was a neurotic mess, they decided to capitulate to my desire for the family to get a cat.

I was obsessed with the San Francisco Giants best player, first baseman Will Clark, at the time, so I named the cat Will Jr. Alas, the cat wasn't very friendly, and he would shit all over the house. The rest of the family hated that cat, and I felt guilty for the fact that my mother, Pun, was mad that Will Jr. was pooping all over her rugs.

Will Jr. wasn't around for long, however. If I can pinpoint the moment in which my worldview darkened, it would probably be the summer day in which my oldest sister's friend Erin went into the garage to get a Popsicle from the outside fridge. On her way back in, Will Jr. tried to sneak through the closing door back into the house. He didn't make it in time.

I was outside in the backyard playing imaginary baseball on the lawn behind the pool, which was shaped like a boot.

"Babe, you need to come to the garage. It's Will."

I arrived in the garage to the scene of my cat bleeding to death. Blood ran down the driveway from Will's broken neck as he squirmed and squealed and writhed in pain, until he met his end. Pun came home from work, picked the dead cat up, threw him in the trash, hosed the driveway down, and went back to work.

I can still remember watching Will squeal and flip around like a fish out of water in the garage as blood came pouring out. It isn't a memory that causes any pain right now, so perhaps I am making progress.

Later in childhood, at age 24, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge with Mac after work to watch the Patriots lose on Monday Night Football, I received a call from Pun. Our next cat, JoeJoe--who had been with us for 13 years or so and was much more well-liked than Will--had died. His liver had been failing, and he was going potty all over the house like Will. His mind seemed to be going too. Pun couldn't take it anymore, so she had the vet put JoeJoe down. I was more angry that I didn't get to say goodbye to him than anything else. I loved that damn cat and still do.

I called my girlfriend, who was in graduate school at the time, and asked her to send me pictures of JoeJoe because I knew she had done some photo shoots with him as they lounged in my parents' backyard. He was an incredibly handsome orange tabby cat with wise white whiskers. Perhaps due to his handsomeness, JoeJoe was well-liked by all people, even those who didn't like cats much. Unlike most cats, JoeJoe reveled in the company of humans--enjoying getting pets from all comers with euphoric purrs of approval.

My girlfriend had caught JoeJoe at the end, when he was past his prime and pissing on her things. I felt bad that JoeJoe had lost control of his bladder at her expense, but I still had to defend the guy. He had been the world's greatest cat for more than a decade. That he'd come to the end was tragic, but we were all suffering as we watched him go insane, and not just those of us whose things he was urinating on.

Some nights, I dream that JoeJoe has come back. He's alive! And he isn't senile anymore! But even the dreams in which JoeJoe has triumphantly returned, deep down, you know it isn't quite real. You know that even though he's right in front of your eyes, it doesn't add up. He died and cannot rise again. 

I tried to search through my e-mail for a picture of him, but all I could find was this exchange with my now ex-girlfriend, even though I thought I had deleted all of our communications:

Me: I like cats.

Her: Where's JoeJoe?

I wish I could say I was drunk when I wrote that on Twitter, but I wasn't drinking at the time. I can't find the pictures she took of JoeJoe, but in my mind, I can see the orange tabby cat stretching out by the pool, lounging, enjoying the last days of his life, posing for the camera in his glorious beauty.

Another memory from childhood that stands out is another summer day when we were in the backyard by the pool. My older sisters were in the pool with some friends, while my brother and I were lounging outside. My brother, Ringo, has a terrific sense of humor that sometimes goes a little too far. Like any great comedian, he pushes the boundaries. On this day, I felt that he went a little too far in making fun of our older sister. He was standing outside the pool, so I surreptitiously tip-toed up behind him and nudged him into the pool. Immediately, I started running. In addition to being humorous, Ringo also had a darker, temperamental side to him in his younger years.

Thank God I still had my speed at that point in my life. I made it into Adam's house across the street, where I explained my life was in danger. Knowing Ringo's temper, they quickly hid me in the shower. From there, I could hear Ringo screaming inside the house, "I'm not going to hurt you, Babe, I'm just going to make you bleed!"

I must've blacked out with fear at hearing my brother's rage since I don't know how he eventually calmed down and refrained from making me bleed. At that time in our lives, it would've been more likely that Ringo would project as the degenerate, lunatic blogger, which gives me hope that I can still become something different on my journey to eventually reunite with Will Jr. and JoeJoe.

I must've been in the first grade when we moved to the west side of our valley. One day, a girl I didn't know from a higher grade came up and said hello to me at the Catholic school we attended. Who the hell was that? I wondered. It turned out that she was my new neighbor on this smaller court with bigger houses and fewer friends. Still, it's odd that 22 years later I can remember that scene on the playground, but I can't remember anything from the last book I read. What was the last book I read? I have much better human interaction comprehension than reading comprehension, perhaps due to my over-sized ego and hyper-awareness and sensitivity while in the presence of my fellow man.

Who can say?

Ringo played on a team called Moreda's during little league with Adam's younger brother, and Pun would send me over to the dugout to listen to the coach's half-hour post-game speeches. None of the players were listening, but Ringo's little brother Babe would have a full analysis of the coach's speech for the parents. The weird thing is how much I looked forward to the coach's post-game analysis. In some ways, I had adult tendencies very early in life, which makes it even more odd how difficult I've found growing up to be.

My co-worker, an A's fan, is wearing a 1989 A's World Championship shirt today, which recalls to mind the days in elementary school when I'd tell Pun I was sick so that I could stay home to watch the documentary Champions by the Bay about the '89 earthquake and World Series. How dare this young punk try to ruin the last days of my childhood by bringing up that terrible World Series! Respect for elders like myself is a dying concept in this country.

The girl who man-slaughtered Will Jr., Erin, recalls to mind my new best friend, also named Erin. This is how the mind works: thoughts come, connections get made, more thoughts come, etc. The best thing about being best friends with New Erin is that she doesn't even know we're best friends yet. Her best friend in her own mind is probably her husband.

Erin is only two years older than me but she's happily married, gainfully employed with a real career, ten times more emotionally, physically, and mentally fit than me, and yet equally concerned with the existential fact that even though her life is materially much better than mine, we're both going to die and our lives are rather mundane and meaningless. So, while we aren't actually best friends at all, we can have rather honest, intellectual conversations built around the shared attempt at the knowledge of our eventual deaths. Her willingness to tell me things like, "Mark, mental health problems worsen with age," though often painful to hear, keeps me going back to her office in search of new nuggets of wisdom to gain and share. 

Because it's an honest assessment of things that is often needed but seemingly always neglected. It's nice to be around people who tell the God's honest truth to your face. Hell, it feels good to tell the truth to other peoples' faces.

In early July, the aforementioned ex-girlfriend's brother called me to express his deep concern. "I read some of these blogs, and while the writing is decent, I'm worried about you, man. I get it. Life is hard. Life sucks sometimes. And maybe some of this stuff is just for the literary effect. But, like, do you need help? Isn't there anyone in your life you can talk to about this stuff?"

"Honestly, not really. I mean, does anyone actually want to talk about these aspects of life?"

It seems that although we should certainly think less, the memories we do have often trend towards the good. Hell, even remembering that cat breaking his neck is funny to me now. An introduction from a new, childhood neighbor, the honest feedback from someone you'd never speak to if you didn't work together, and a concerned phone call from someone you never thought would show the slightest concern for you: if I can't control my thoughts, I can at least highlight some of the warmer memories which flood my mind as I slog through traffic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Confidential: Diary of a Nutjob

1/6/2015
5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Confidential: Diary of a Nutjob 

The last of the day's sunlight reflects off the affluent homes in the East Bay hills. The light blue sky turns a pinkish orange around the hills surrounding the bay. The water flows into San Rafael, where I sit and watch this scene from The Firm's conference room.

My co-worker, Galindo, snaps a picture of me through the glass windows. I can hear him making fun of me with Von Leigh in the cubicle off the hallway across from the conference room.

A tall white woman jogs along the paved trail between the office buildings and the bay. A Hispanic male crosses her path, jogging in the opposite direction. A number of solitary birds fly high above the bay from time to time. A few float in the water, enjoying their late afternoon swim. Others fly close to the water searching for dinner. A large tanker appears to barely sneak underneath the Richmond Bridge. Automobile traffic begins to accumulate on the bridge as commuters rush to avoid being part of the five o'clock gridlock. Tiny ripples appear in the bay as the sun falls and the wind picks up. The sun sets. The houses in the hills lose their pretty glare. The sky becomes less clear.

I've always enjoyed looking out at the East Bay hills as the sun reflects off the glass windows, normally while standing on Silverstein's front porch over in the Richmond Annex--the part of the city Richmond annexed from El Cerrito, I suppose. 

After Galindo catches me in my meditation, I walk over to Von Leigh's cubicle where they are looking at his desktop background.

"What is that?" Galindo asks.

"It's a picture of Laguna Beach taken from a drone."

"THERE ARE KNOWN AL QAEDA OPERATIVES DOWN THERE. BLOW IT UP. PSHHHHHH-BANG!" I yell to announce my return.

"There he is," Galindo replies. "What were you doing in there?"

"Meditating. Let the Buddha alone!"

"I took a picture," he says, showing me a photo of the back of my head and the back of the chair facing the bay.

I walk from Von Leigh's cubicle past the Wall of Shame--a cubicle wall with photos of former TPS Reports staff members dating back to at least 2007--and into Silverstein's cubicle.

"You ever make it to the driving range?" I ask.

Dejectedly, Silverstein replies, "Na, never made it. Too many processes. Now it's dark. Maybe they have lights though, I'll check."

"Galindo's over there snapping hot TMZ pics of me."

A blogger at work. Photo credit: Von Leigh
"Come ahhhn, Galindo!"

I walk back to the conference room and begin writing in my new journal. After writing for a bit, I hear the door squeak open. I turn to see Silverstein entering the room. He's wearing a red shirt, dark pants, and dress shoes.


"I'm gonna go to the driving range if that's something you're interested in," he says through his wide, brown eyes. His beard, a new look, continues to grow.

"Na, I'm not much of a golfer," I respond.

"I just don't want to be here, so I'll be there."

"That's a great call. You coming back?"

"Yep. Got to."

The sky is now a light blue on top with a darker blue forming at the bottom underneath the remaining pinkish hues surrounding the hills and the bridge.

Von Leigh makes small talk with the receptionist as he returns to his cubicle, presumably from a bathroom break. Earlier in the afternoon, his face was bright red. He runs a few times a week during the middle of the day to boost his mood, create energy, and thus improve his processing skills. The back bathroom stall has a shower, so you know Von Leigh has gone for a run on the days when water accumulates in the stall. The drainage system indicates the builders weren't planning on too many in-shape office workers taking advantage of the paved trail leading from the office to a newly built Target and beyond, into a housing development. I've run that trail a few times in recent months but running is not something I can stick to at this point on my journey. My lower back is shot.

I noticed gray hairs in my newly-grown goatee this morning.

Galindo tells another worker, "Have a good night," as he signs out to leave for his hour-long commute home to Mrs. Galindo. Their marriage is built to last. Silverstein says, "When you're a couple, it's the two of you together against the world." I get that sense with Mr. and Mrs. Galindo. The only thing that can come between them is this blog, which must annoy the shit out of Galindo, who is a deeply private person. He doesn't fuck around with Facebook. I turn and see him heading out the door with his lunch bag in hand.

I return to my cubicle to share my diary with the world, or with the 55 people who've read my last blog. This one can be shared because it doesn't contain the usual, cyclical thoughts of confusion, self-loathing, and disgust. Fuck, those have been shared, too.

Who cares what someone else thinks?

Silverstein has texted me, "A little traffic sitch."

"I'll tell mom [Silverstein's mom is some type of traffic expert]."

Last night, I watched the film Meet Joe Black on cable. It's not a good movie, per se. However, it's a good movie to watch when you want to attempt to stop time, as office workers are wont to do on a Sunday evening. Then again, last night was a Monday.

The last time I watched Meet Joe Black was on a Sunday night with one of my ex-girlfriends, as I recall. Did watching the film trigger that memory, or did I always remember that night? Come to think of it, the details in my mind from that are almost certainly not accurate.

It must've been a Sunday night. When I begged her to put the dvd on her computer, she asked me why I wanted to watch it. Anything I wanted to do, she was antagonistic about. Normally it was something like watching sports, so I could understand that. But why was she dead set on fighting me on Meet Joe Black, which is sort of a chick flick? Probably because I was selfish, and she was tired of always doing what I wanted to do.

"Meet Joe Black is the perfect movie for a Sunday night. It just keeps going on and on, getting nowhere. It stops time. Don't you want to look at Brad Pitt for three hours?"

"We aren't watching Meet Joe Black."

"Fine. Then what do you want to watch?"

This is how I would normally get my way: by giving up the argument for what I wanted and giving her a sense of having won. She didn't actually want to watch another movie; she just didn't want to see me win by getting to watch Meet Joe Black without difficulty. 

Watching the movie last night, David Foster Wallace's article in The New Yorker, "All That," came to mind. He writes, "The fact that the most powerful and significant connections in our lives are (at the time) invisible to us seems to me a compelling argument for religious reverence rather than skeptical empiricism as a response to life’s meaning."

Which is a good argument for writing this post. Though nothing of any significance has happened in the last hour since I entered the conference room for a late-afternoon meditation session, perhaps later in life I'll look back to this moment and feel the same terrible sense of significance I felt watching Meet Joe Black last night. 

We'll never be here again. I'm leaving soon. Today was a slow day, a Tuesday hangover after grinding too hard with the go-getter energy of a Monday. Getting out of bed was an impossibility. This office, any office, isn't where anyone wants to be right now. We all long for that moment in the future when it will be better, when we won't have to go to the office anymore, or for that moment in the past when time seemed to stop and that awful Monday grind never came.

Between that past I remember incorrectly and seem to fixate on, though I'd argue a lot less than this blog indicates, and the future I project misguidedly, there are the banal conversations and duties of office laborers. And since I think and cannot control my thoughts, I write.

Sooner than expected, Silverstein has returned! Eagerly, I walk back over to his cubicle to see how he hit 'em.