Archive for the Blog Category

there were girls pettin’ squirrels, and there were squirrels smokin’ crack

Posted in Blog on January 25, 2012 by trevorgregg

Jury Duty.

It’s been almost two months, and the only positive thing I can say about our nation’s legal system is at least it’s not our healthcare system.  Everything else, from the pointless tangents and byzantine ritual of the courtroom to the shitty tar-flavored coffee in the cafe downstairs, has been awful.  The best moments of my day are disappointments and delays.  Some lawyer taking fifteen minutes to find a photocopy of a scan of a piece of paper in one of his fourteen binders while the rest of us sit, thirty some-odd people, in tedious silence – that’s a highlight. 

The fat lady in front of me drifts in and out of consciousness, her six jangly bracelets clicking against the side of her too-small plastic chair as she twitches in half-sleep.

Your life becomes divided, in both time and perception.  During the day you bear miserable witness to eight solid hours of paperwork trench warfare.  Your conceptions of reality and truth, of language, distort and distend.  Words and ideas you’ve known since childhood become estranged, warped by too much examination.  The word ‘expert’, for instance, has lost all meaning after being discussed and dissected at unbearable length.  The lawyers, somehow empowered, have ordained that the Legalese definition of ‘expert’ takes precedence over the normal, English, human one.  Two days, literally sixteen hours minus lunchbreaks and leg-stretchers, they spent beating my understanding of ‘expert’ to death with rhetorical two by fours.  For naught, of course, always for naught.  Just another pointless skirmish far outside the bounds of the real war.  As days pass and your spine compresses and twists to fit the unnatural, almost deliberate discomfort of your juror’s chair, so does your mind adapt to the perverse and terrible realities of the justice system.  What shocks and appalls you on the first day becomes regular, almost invisible, by the fortieth.

We get a break and I walk up and down the empty concrete stairwell to get my blood pumping, to bring back the illusion of life to my atrophied limbs.  I can get up and down the six floors four times in 15 minutes without sprinting, I’ve found, though I’m breathing hard.  I pass one of the defendants going back into the courtroom, and we make brief eye contact.  Neither of us speaks – we aren’t allowed to talk, of course, not even an acknowledgement for a held-open door.  In the legal twilight zone we inhabit, now, courtesy begets implied favoritism, a cardinal sin.

Some of the other jurors have struck up what I guess can be called friendships.  They talk and joke – the four Chinese people, three women and a man, laugh at each other’s jokes in Mandarin while we wait in the hallway.  They talk about shopping a lot, and coo appreciatively when the grandmother shows pictures of her grandkids.  They talk about shopping at Macy’s, and Christmas.

Some of the others, the lady with the bike helmet, the engineer with the folders who spends his every free second outside the court on his cellphone, they nod to each other in passing, or say hello.  I don’t even manage that.  I keep my head in a book during breaks, and the others leave me, Juror #5, alone.

We have an hour and a half for lunch each day, for some reason.  The break seems disproportionately long compared to the rest of the hurried day – we’re always rushing through he TSA-style security checkpoint downstairs, taking off belts and backpacks and shoes, or waiting impatiently for some late juror to show up.  A missed bus means the rest of us, a room full of people, sit in silence while we wait for the tardy person.  During lunch I go out to the sprawling lawn in front of City Hall.  There’s nowhere else to go, really – Civic Center is like a granite fortress boundaried by the filthy swamp of the Tenderloin and Market Street.  Moaning junkies and schizophrenics sleep in the December sun.

One guy washes himself from a milk jug of water while a gaggle of kids on a field trip to the Asian Art museum leer and giggle. 

I hate this fucking city.  The wind comes up so I go around the corner to a granite stairwell near Hastings to sit, and read, and wait to go back to the trial.

—————

Near the end, I start to understand the appeal of trial by combat.  To the modern mind, the idea that justice could ever be served by having opposing parties’ champions kill each other with swords and shields is laughable.  Obviously the worth of a cause has no relation to its champion’s martial prowess.  Only savages resolve their differences in such fashion.

But fuck, seriously. The whole process is so divorced from reality and justice that each party would be no less likely to stumble accidentally upon a proper outcome if they gave their lawyers bronze spears and threw them in a pit to sort it out old-school.  Whatever the Right Answer is, here, nobody in the room has any interest in finding it, or really any hope.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, a rat-faced ambulance-chaser who looks like a young Mr. Burns, is so hopelessly outgunned by the defense’s four lawyers that the possible rightness of his cause is totally secondary to the outcome of the proceedings.  His client’s a bankrupt immigrant, his opposition is the combined legal might of four banks.  It’s taken him six years to even get to this trial, six years spent in a paperwork nightmare. 

But looking out across the room from seat #5, I feel no pity for him.  It’s not David vs. four Goliaths.  It’s just one asshole lawyer vs. four asshole lawyers.  His incompetence doesn’t mask the moral vacuum that he carries around in his skull.  If he’d gone to a better law school he’d switch to the other side of the aisle in the blink of an eye.

In nine weeks, nine weeks of normal time stretched by legal relativity into approximately a millennium, I see only one faint eddy of humanity amongst the various attorneys.  One of the defense attorneys, a thick-necked Midwesterner who probably played lacrosse for Indiana, spaces out for a moment.  The plaintiff’s witness is reading some fucking passage from some fucking deposition taken in some fucking basement six years ago, and has been reading this deposition for an hour and a half.  I look over and for a minute or two, the lawyer spaces out.  His eyes glaze over and his white-knuckle grip on his Styrofoam cup full of Red Bull relaxes.  His brain goes elsewhere.  He’s probably at home playing with his kids – he’s younger than he looks, probably married only a couple years.  He has some life away from here, where he spends his time not being a stone-faced hatchetman for a despicable bank conspiracy but being a dad, or playing golf or drinking beer with other, similar douchebags. 

Probably when he’s out with his buddies or eating dinner with his wife he doesn’t think about his work, at least not all the time.  He forgets, if he ever knew, that when he does his job well he’s ruining lives, that the people he works for and thus he himself, increase the sum total of human misery in the world.  And fuck him for that.  He gets his oversized paycheck from his vampire superiors and I’ll bet he sleeps like a baby.

He wakes up after a minute, or two.  Time has so little meaning here.  His pen starts moving again over his yellow pad and he’s back in the trial. 

—————-

It’s not sad.  Sad is the wrong word.  Disheartening, I guess, is closer to the target.  It inspires despair, a suffocating sense of futility.  I walk into that courtroom and I marvel at what a piece of shit everyone is.  My companion jurors, the lawyers, the plaintiff and defendants, everyone.  The world.  And myself, by extension. 

Rightness finds no sanctuary in me.  My selfish instinct is to assume I’m better than these other people, but statistically, if there are that many pieces of shit around me, I’m probably no exception.  I bitch just as fervently about the inconvenience of the trial, about how many presents I still have to wrap.  I catch myself saying the same things that the rest of these fucking assholes say, every day.  I see how much like these other fuckwits I am, and I look away.

We’re released to deliberate, eventually, and it’s almost Christmas so, really, nobody cares any more.  They lead us each day into a room in the back of the courthouse, with no windows and one locked exit, like a casino or an asylum cell.

One lady, the cranky Chinese one, won’t even talk.  She’s made her mind up before we even start talking.  The rest of us talk through stuff, debate, and for a while things are a little better.  This is at least the sensation of movement, of problem-solving, of power.  But petty tendencies get the better of people one-by-one.  The old dude clings to his ignorance like it’s a life preserver, refusing to understand points made in the trial that we’re trying to explain to him. 

It’s a civil trial (what an epic misnomer that is), so thankfully we don’t need to be unanimous. 

Me, the foreman (Steve), and one other lady take charge and fill out the forms with a 9-3 consensus, the minimum.

We find for the plaintiff, but just barely. 

She’ll be broke and bankrupt and homeless when we’re done with her, and I can see the pity in the eyes of the women when they sign the forms.  But I don’t feel broken up about it.  My instinct for pity doesn’t make her case any more valid. 

Like I said, everyone involved sucks.  We aren’t here to pick favorites.  I try to apply logic and sanity to the meandering, ass-backwards and incomplete evidence, and go from there.

I’m convincing when I talk, and I get the others to agree with me, eventually.  Except for the bitter holdouts.  But I know the sum I, we, give her will not help this lady’s life, at all.  I don’t know if she deserves help, but I worry I’m passing up a chance to really screw a bank.

I try to talk to the lady next to me, some Marina housewife named Nicole, about it.  There’s some Edward Abbey quote I can’t remember about never passing up the chance to cut through a chain-link fence.  The same could be said for financial institutions, that they are worth screwing simply on principle. 

But I don’t do it.

We call the bailiff on the third day and they take us back to the courtroom to read the verdict.

——————-

One of the jurors, the lady behind me who was always reading Walden, starts crying.  I didn’t expect that.  The defendant didn’t cry, though the foreman, a lawyer himself, warned us that she probably would.

Nobody will be happy with this ruling, he said.  And he knows.  He’s familiar with such things, while the rest of us are not.  I watch the judge while we read the points of the verdict but his face shows nothing.

The lawyers can ask you questions afterward, they warned us.  You don’t have to answer them, or even talk to them.  You can just leave.

The oldest lawyer, for one of the banks, a tall guy who wears a hearing aid presumably from partial deafness resulting from sixty years of listening to his own shrill condescending courtroom voice, tries to shake my hand.  I stare at him until he backs away.  The other bank lawyers nod to me as they shake each other’s hands.  They lost but they beat the spread, I guess, which to them is a win. 

Young Mr. Burns won’t look at us.  He fumbles in his briefcase.

I push out through the door and take the stairs so I don’t have to see the other jurors in the elevator.

It’s two days til Christmas so I go home.

 

 

 

I don’t mind the sun sometimes

Posted in Blog on October 10, 2011 by trevorgregg

On my fourth day on Wall St. I decide I’m gonna stop and say hi to the protestors.  Show a little solidarity, support.  I figure I’m here anyway, and despite the Powers That Be’s best attempts, the whole Occupation thing seems to be taking off.   There aren’t that many of them, only 90 or 100 people at any given time.  There are bouts of activity, but for the most part it’s a lot of sitting around, chatting.  The cops, and there are a shitload of cops, look bored.  I walk through a knot of them all dressed in matching black NYPD slickers.  A tall, youngish cop is playing Scrabble on his cellphone.  Two others talk about football.

In the plaza itself, the protesters are milling around.  There are stacks of signs, many nonsensical, piled on the benches.  I get awkward looks – the bulk of the suit and tie crowd are conspicuously avoiding the park, crossing Broadway to stay as far from the protesters as possible.  I half expect to be confronted, assaulted as a collaborator as I conspicuously walk towards Wall St. with my blazer and briefcase, but no one approaches me.

An older woman, 60 at least, hands me a flier.  I look it over – it’s got slogans about injustice and human rights.  There’s weird phrasing about Spiritual Liberty and the Love of the World.  It’s heavy on exclamation points, light on content.  It’s certainly not a financial-crisis-for-dummies primer.

Three guys behind me are playing hacky sack.

There’s a bearded guy in a NY Jets parka, blinking and very obviously nervous, talking to a television crew.  He keeps glancing up at the thick clouds and wiping the mist from his face.  I can’t hear what he’s saying.  The reporter, a short woman in laughably tall heels, nods deliberately.

A white girl with dreads and bad teeth asks me for a cigarette.  I tell her I don’t smoke and she steps away.

So much for the revolution.

I look at my phone and see I’m late, so I walk out of the park.

—————————

I leave the office at 3 AM the next morning, another long night.  Two protestors are taking pictures with the cops on their iPhones, laughing.  The cops are laughing too.  One gives a big thumbs-up.

I cut across the park, and the rain lets up.

————————

Three days later I leave the office at 10PM, which seems almost reasonable.  The west entrance is blocked by the cops so I cut out the back, through the delivery entrance.  I can hear the roar of the crowd out of the far side of the building.  Chanting, shouting.  I can’t see much from the Wall St. side – 90% of Wall St. is blocked off by metal barriers and construction equipment, so all traffic is confined to a narrow sidewalk.  A wall of cops blocks the Broadway intersection, their backs to me.

Getting closer, I can see the teeming, moving river of people beyond them.  The rumble builds to a roar.  The crowd is large, much larger than the regular park contingent, and mobile.

I can see the appeal.  I can feel it.  There’s a rigid, tangible tension here.  Thousands of people shouting themselves hoarse in unison, pushing like a tide against the cops and the barriers.  It’s the kind of raw, mob emotion most of us never see outside of college football stadiums.  My own reaction surprises me – I’m exhausted, and haven’t eaten since breakfast, but the fierce, almost dangerous force of the huge crowd makes me forget.

A cop turns and sees me waiting.

“You gotta go around.  Not this way.” he shouts at me, although he looks sheepish afterward.  It’s just me here, standing, and he’s using his crowd control voice.

I turn and walk down to a subway station to cut through underneath the blockade.

—————-

A couple hours later I see videos online that make it look like a real protest, the first evidence I’ve seen to that effect.  Videos of the same corner, but taken from the other side of the line.  Nightsticks are out.  Cops wade through the crowd with riot shields and mace.  The word Brutality is applied liberally.  A 24 year old white girl, probably some arts graduate from Boston College, gets a kick in the chest and a couple of ribs broken.

As tired as I am, tired enough to feel delirious, I look out on the city from the apartment window.  The rain’s stopped, and I hear sirens and shouts from the glass canyons below.   This thing might be getting serious, I think for a moment.

—————-

In the morning, there’s no evidence of the previous night’s conflict when I hit the street.  Fifty or more cops stand in front of the Bank of America building, and traffic is at a standstill, but other than that things look unchanged.  The crowd in the park has swollen a bit but I don’t see any corpses or burnt-up cop cars.

I am vaguely disappointed.

I go to work, as usual, and fourteen hours later I go home.

——————-

By the time I’m back in California, the ‘movement’ has spread.  I see the (much smaller) SF protest as I drive up Larkin.  I know a couple people in the crowd, rumor has it.  I don’t see them as I speed by, of course, but word gets around.  Friends, friends of friends, the jobless and bored.  Nobody who knows anything, just excitable folks with a vague understanding that they’re getting fucked by the powers that be.  A girl I knew in high school posts fifty pictures a day from the protest in Oakland; she’s full-time now.  Left her kids with her mom, I suppose.  I think about calling her, briefly, and don’t.  She’s got no fucking clue.

The protest will last as long as the Indian summer does.  Bad weather and ambivalence, the status quo’s staunchest allies, will shut the hippies up, in the end.

I talk to Molly online, briefly, and she asks about Oakland.  The OPD, in typical fashion, has decided to swat a fly with a machine gun and forcibly evict the Oakland protestors.  Some Marine’s got a fractured skull, she tells me.  I haven’t kept up.

“No surprise.  A leaderless and critically under-staffed police force gets out of hand?”

“Yeah…”

She seems more sympathetic than I.

“Their hopelessly ineffectual hippy hearts are in the right place, I guess.” I say.

“It’s too bad we’re not Europe.  They can get a million people on the streets over a couple vacation days.  Those people know how to protest.”

It’s too bad.

—————-

“You fucking idiots.  Do you know what the Glass-Steagall act is?”  The girls look at me.  “I didn’t think so.”

The Blue Angels roar over us.  One of the girls, the shorter, drunker one, tries to look offended.  “It’s about inequality, ass.  That’s what.”  We’re in line for the one bathroom in someone’s house in Fort Mason.  The girls are wearing short German Barmaid skirts / costumes, the kind of silly sluttish costumes that would seem wildly out of place anywhere but the Marina.  I can’t remember their names – one is someone named Nicole’s roommate, I think.  I don’t know.  I’m not even entirely sure how I ended up at the joint Fleet Week / Oktoberfest party, or whose house this is, but the beer is free and people I know seem to know others.

“So you go carry around a sign downtown, and what?  The CEO of Citibank miraculously realizes the err of his ways, and gives back the billions they’ve stolen?  The B of A board of directors swear vows of poverty?”

“We’re raising awareness.”

Motherfucking hippies.  I can feel myself turning red.

“You don’t even know what the fuck you’re protesting!  You don’t think at least a layman’s understanding of the roots of the collapse is worth having?  You’re out there because you’re bored and you think it’s cool.  You may even understand you’re getting screwed, but you don’t know why, or how, so you’re worse than useless.”

Now she’s mad.  Her cuter brunette friend’s given up listening and is now mumbling into a cell phone.  Someone comes out of the bathroom and we all scoot eight inches down the hall closer to the bathroom door.

“You don’t know that.  We’re making a difference.”

I laugh. “How?  How are you going to stop them? Are you going to righteous-indignation them to death?”

“Fuck you.” she says, and now she means it.

“Listen, listen.”  I start to feel guilty.  “I’m just saying that no amount of excited discontent is going to fix anything.  That’s the rub.  None of the people that are in a position to affect anything give a shit about you or your anger or what you put on twitter.  You’re still using your Chase credit card, you’re still gonna vote for the same lobby-owned assholes in November.”

“We’re out there every day.”

“So what?  So what?”

She has no idea how to respond.  She’s crossed her arms and is staring at the blank hallway wall across from us.  Eric walks by us, nodding as he passes.

“Your friend is an asshole.” she tells him, pointing at me.  He nods and turns around to high-five me.

“We’re having an important socio-political discussion in this here bathroom line.” I tell him.  “I’m disabusing this drunk chick of her misguided hippy preconceptions.”  He leaves.  I turn back to the short girl.

“Seriously.  It’s a shame you can’t change things.  It is.  But the only way you’re gonna change something as fundamentally fucked as the US is with votes or violence.  But you don’t know who to vote for, and you don’t look like you’re ready to start beheading executives.”

She ignores me.

It’s finally my turn for the bathroom, and I lock the door behind me.  I climb out the window when I’m finished pissing and rejoin the party.  The jets roar overhead again, their screams drowning out everything for a few moments.

I wonder how long she’ll wait outside that door.  Fucking hippy.

————

LOD are you out there?

Posted in Blog on August 2, 2011 by trevorgregg

I open my eyes, which is a mistake. The pain is manifold. The world’s grown impossibly bright in my brief absence. I shut them again but the damage is done.

I become aware of my brain meat. I feel it pressing against the back wall of my skull. My brain seems quite heavy, disproportionately dense for something so delicate. Perhaps I’m over-educated.

I try to lie still, but unpleasantness begets discomfort, and discomfort begets pain… I turn my head to the side, seeking a more comfortable resting position for my maladjusted brain. I feel its pinkish-grey mass flop as I turn over.

It slumps from one side of my head to the other like a specimen in a jar.

My right temple presses against the unyielding, granite-like surface of the pillow. What meager relief this new position affords quickly wears off, and the side of my skull soon seems just as hateful and uncompromising as the back. I turn to the left, with similar results. Whatever gory, gelatinous system that’s supported my brain in safety and comfort for all these years appears to have been critically damaged. My head’s shock absorbers, like so many good things in life, are only truly appreciated once they’re gone.

I become aware of Ellie getting ready for work, and though she’s probably trying to be quiet, it sounds like she’s hitting a pile of tubas with a rake. How can one girl digging through a closet make such a riot of noise?

The idea of moving or even moaning faintly in protest fills me with nauseous dread, however, so I hold myself impossibly still, and tolerant.

Time passes, an eternity of clamorous hanger-banging and the jet-engine roar of hair-drying. Maybe she is being deliberately loud. Maybe she hates me. Maybe she exults in my obvious suffering, in salting my wounds with her goddamn morning cacophony.

She must. There is no other explanation for such a racket.

Her shoes crack across the hardwood floor to the bedside.

“How are you feeling?”, she whispers. I make no move, no response. I trust my silence communicates everything. She leans over and touches my agonized forehead. “You smell like booze. Have fun this weekend.”, she says. I draw on deep reserves of self-discipline and force a meager eyes-closed smile.

Her deafening, gunshot steps boom out into the hall.

As I hear the door close, I roll slowly on to my side and puke weakly onto the pile of rumpled clothes next to the bed.

A few more minutes pass. I pray for death, for the solace of the grave. Release me oh lord. Smite me with an aneurysm or a meteor. My prayers go predictably unanswered. I get up and limp to the shower, wretched.

Standing under the cold stream of water, I decide once and for all that hell is a cheap whiskey hangover.

—————-

I find Peter and Chris playing Mario Kart in the front room. Chris is in last place and keeps steering his little mushroom-hatted driver off of cliffs.

“You’re terrible.”, Peter says.

“Fuck off.”, Chris shouts. He kicks viciously at the back of Peter’s chair.

Quint is watching, curled up in his Spiderman pajamas in front of the coffee table. Paul is playing with his phone and murmuring to himself, because he’s weird. They turn to look at me, and laugh. Though all visibly hungover, they’re nowhere near the human ruin that I am. My agony shows on my face, apparently, even behind my black sunglasses. I clutch at the door frame.

I’d like to think that I can drink harder than any of them, and on nights like last night I act like it, but the bitter truth is that the lightest of my friends, Paul, still outweighs me by 50 pounds, and there’s no featherweight division in drinking games.

“Heard you puking this morning.”, Quint says. I nod. “What’s for breakfast?”

We rarely get together in the six years since we graduated, so I am determined to spend as little time as possible this weekend crippled or couchbound. My body will just have to deal with it.

“Put your shoes on.”, I croak.

—————-

I watch them attack mounds of greasy eggs, seared potatoes, and various pork derivatives. Chris gnaws at a breakfast burrito the size of a cinderblock. Flecks of chorizo stick in his red beard.

Dear god, the smell, the putrid fried-meat stench of their diner breakfast… This is what a crematorium must smell like. I’ve taken two sips of my iced tea, and even that threatens to return up my throat, violent and rebellious.

“You want some?”

“How bout some toast?”

“Coffee?”

They threaten me generously with forkfuls of fried things, waving them at me, goading me. I shake my head. “I think I’ll meet you guys back at the apartment.” I say, standing on shaking legs, my determination to hang tough overruled by my pathetic constitution. Leaving the house may have been a bit ambitious.

Outside, a brunette in a business skirt watches me scornfully as I cling to a parking meter and spit a dribble of bile into the Polk street gutter.

I give her a disgusting, acidic smile and she hurries off to work.

Our vacation is off to a good start.

———-

They ripped out the best bar, of course. San Luis’ descent into chain-store despair is so predictable, so trite that we barely even comment on it. This is America. We pave the plains, kill off the bison and the indians, and tear down all the good bars and replace them with Pottery Barns. Obviously a motherfucking Pottery Barn was necessary. Now McCarthy’s is just a hazy memory, and we can hardly find the energy to mourn. SLO’s just another small town devoured by the galactic corporate amoeba, that insatiable invincible spacebeast that eats history and beauty and shits Targets.

“Remember when that old dude, the bouncer, got knifed?” Chris asks. We’re sitting in front of a chain coffee shop in the contrived faux-European alley thing they’ve built on the once-hallowed ground.

“Yep. Three stab wounds. 82 years old. He was back at work in 2 weeks.”

“I forgot about that guy. What a champion.”

“He was more than a champion,” I shout, “he was an institution. A living, breathing monument.” He didn’t know us, but we knew him.

Who knows where he is now. Probably dead in some pauper’s grave out in Nipomo. The last and greatest king barfly of the Central Coast.

Three overweight women in matching peach blouses come out of the store across from us, cackling into their phones and talking at each other. I always wondered who spent money in these awful places, what kind of simple scum buy enough fucking lamps or whatever to keep Pottery Barn, Pier 1 and their ilk profitable. It’s fat chicks in peach blouses. I resist a powerful, caged-monkey urge to shit in my hand and fling it at them.

“Fucking Pottery Barn.”

We’re outraged for about twenty minutes and yell at each other and passersby about the Death of the SLO Soul before we’re rousted by a security guard. We walk back to the car.

Chris sticks his ass out the window and moons the brand new Apple Store as we drive by, frightening the locals.

It’s strange to be back.

————-

We stay at the Embassy Suites on Madonna, just off the freeway at the edge of town. Across the street is a manure-smelling spinach field. Most of the other guests are families, people with three or four young children doing whatever it is you do when you have three or four young children. There are a few obvious college scouters, parents with 18-year-old kids in town to look at the school. The kids are awkward and impatient, and walk a few steps ahead or behind their parents.

We’re definitely the only group of five late-twenties men, and the other guests shrink from us in fear and give us strange looks.

We’ve come back, I want to say. We ruled this town like lords, once upon a time, and now we’ve returned to remember the dream. We were young and proud.

Paul fiddles with the elevator buttons as we ride up to our room. Quint and Peter argue about where we’ll have dinner, which staple college restaurant we’ll revisit. I lean against the wall and think about how old we all are.

The door opens and a mom with her toddler daughter step in to the elevator. I try to smile at them but she turns away, unwilling to make eye contact.

We get off at the top floor.

————-

Frog and Peach serves hard liquor, now. It was beer-only in our day, an oasis of cool in the strip of collared-shirt bro bars. The live band still sucks, though, so at least not everything’s changed. A talented band playing the Frog would be quite literally the end of an era.

“Split up.” I say, shooing Peter and Paul away. “Three of us is enough of a sausagefest, all five of us standing together is a damn fortress.”

Chris and I walk out back by the creek. There’s a bouncer out here smoking and talking to a middle-aged Asian woman. Chris and I smile at a couple of girls across the table, but the stink of long-term relationship hangs on us like a fog and they turn away.

“They see your wedding ring.” I say, flicking beer foam at Chris.

“They see the leash marks around your whooped-ass neck.” he says, glaring at me.

Not that it matters. We both know our skirt-chasing days are behind us, but obviously it’d be gratifying to know we were still at least approachable, that we aren’t so old and pathetic that we should be shot and turned into glue and dogfood.

“You know Dille has three kids?”

“The fuck?” I say, shocked.

“Three kids.”

I remember Dille as a short guy with a military haircut. I remember him and his roommate, Dustin, spending an hour primping their 1/3 inch long hair and ironing their t-shirts before going out. They were good kids, despite their weird vanity.

I remember Dille running around the floor of our dorm, naked, being chased by Brian. Both were armed with spearguns, though I can’t remember why, or where the hell they got spearguns. As far as I know, none of us ever went or have ever been spearfishing.

Nobody was hurt that night, miraculously… But meetings were held, people were written up, and there was much displeasure from the Powers that Be after one of the couches in the lounge ended up with a three-foot aluminum spear shot through it. It was a shitty couch anyway.

Now Dille’s got three kids, and presumably the house, wife, and minivan to match.

“That’s a shame. You remember… where the hell did they get those spearguns?”

Chris just starts laughing.

“Oh man I remember that…”

A girl walks by, cute but short.

“Hey.” I say.

“Hey,” she says back, glancing at us and walking by into the bar. She disappears into the neon glow behind the swinging doors.

“Still got it.” I say. Chris highfives me and we click our glasses together.

“She wanted you.”

“Yep.” I say, leaning back against the warped wooden fence.

——————

Later, after many drinks, we’re out back at a bar called Black Sheep. The exterior patio is sheltered by a trellis completely overgrown with ivy. Dim and damp, it’s like a cave with barstools.

Paul, glassy-eyed and rowdier than normal, is yelling at us.

“That’s not my fucking address.”

“Yes it is.” Chris says, laughing over his beer. Chris has known Paul since they were ten, and he’s shooting Paul’s feeble attempts to feed me disinformation full of holes.

Slowly, painstakingly, I’m entering the sum total of Paul’s information and history into CatholicSingles.com. No easy task given the amount of shots we’ve had and the small screen size of my smartphone. It’s for your own good, we tell him. Signing him up for Catholic Singles rather than, say, a ‘real’ or ‘popular’ internet dating website will both appease his staunch British Catholic mom and hopefully protect him from fake Russian wives trolling for his credit card info.

I love Paul to death, but he is exactly the kind of person who would accidentally send his life savings to a fake Russian chick on the internet. And none of us want that.

Paul finishes his beer and makes a swipe for my phone. Nimble and paranoid, I avoid it with ease. Back the fuck up son, I say. We do this because we love you. Come at me again and I’ll post you on Craigslist instead.

I continue feeding Paul Shandi, heart and soul, into the Catholic Singles Fully Automatic Internet Robot Love Machine. Quint starts hissing at some girls that walk by.

“Silence! I must have total concentration. This is delicate work.” I say. “Paul, you are a many-faceted jewel of a man, a true and genuine human being amongst us low beasts. I must explain, no, I must CAPTURE you in such a way that catholic bitches on the internet love and lust for you. Now stop fucking resisting and help me fill out this form. What is your favorite color?”

“Black.”

“Blue.” Chris says, talking over Paul. Chris knows more about Paul than Paul does.

“Blue it is.”

“Would you describe your physical proportion as ‘Athletic’, ‘Generous’, or ‘Trim’?”

“Fuck off.”

“The fuck does ‘Generous’ mean?”

“Generous means fat.”

“Do you like cats?”

“No.”

“No, he doesn’t. That is correct.” Chris says, factchecking.

“Chris – you me and the internet, we’re going to find Paul a soulmate tonight. I can feel it. Love is in the air.”

We take about fifty pictures of Paul, ninety percent of which have him either flipping us off or blocking the camera with a palm like some harassed celebrity ducking the paparazzi.

Eventually Quint gets one of him, surprised, coming out of a bathroom stall. He looks a little drunk and a little cross-eyed but it’s better than him giving us the finger. We post his profile and wait for the matches to be made.

——————

We wander the streets after the bars close, checking my phone every minute or two for any contact from any Catholic Singles. Paul seems anxious for word, any word, but as his day-to-day level of anxiety is painfully high, perhaps hes not in fact any more anxious than normal. I tell him to buck up.

Small clumps of Poly kids drift by on the clean sidewalks, laughing to each other. The girls stumble in their gilded heels, shrieking, while the boys shove each other amicably into parked cars and signs. I marvel at how young they all are. Like drunk children. Did we ever look like that?

Some ancient instinct, some Pavlovian discipline draws us collectively away from downtown to the corner of an alley we once knew so well. We find ourselves standing in front of a high-end Greek restaurant, all white tablecloths and wine racks. Murals of olive trees and dramatic Mediterranean cliffs adorn the walls.

Peter stops mid sentence.

“…what?”

We stare into the plate-glass windows.

“Where’s… Where’s TA’s?”

Quint runs to the corner to check the street signs, and for a brief, brittle moment we’re shouting at each other. This is not the right spot. It can’t be.

But it is.

Our frail disbelief and confusion splinters. We are here. We are not lost.

I press my face to the glass, peering into the gloomy innards of Greek place. The floor plan is different, the aesthetic, the tables, everything, but the approximate dimensions seem right.

“Fuck.”

My hands leave long streaks on the windows as I slump down to the sidewalk. Chris lets out a piercing, animal howl, his sense of loss too powerful for words. The dream is dead.

Tio Alberto’s is no more.

———————

We duck into an all-night Belgian fry spot. Quint rips his tan corduroy jacket off and tosses it under a table. He stands in line, nonchalant, and pretends to read the menu. Outside, with a screech and a siren blast, a cop car hops up onto the curb. The cop, a white, moustached caricature of the small-town conservative policeman, shines his piercing spotlight in through the windows at us.

He’s looking, presumably, for the guy in the corduroy jacket who was just pissing in the alley in front of his squadcar.

To a city resident, the idea of actually being pursued by a cop for public urination is laughable. Perhaps pissing in the street is illegal in SF, but like jaywalking and drug use, it’s so pedestrian, so ubiquitous that the police don’t even pretend to enforce the law.

Unless you actually pissed on a cop, they’d never give you a second glance.

The brilliant, awful glare of the spotlight passes over me, and I shade my eyes. Fucking SLOPD. Some things never change.

Too lazy to actually get out of his car, he drives away a few minutes later, and Quint puts his too-easily-identifiable jacket back on. I try to make a joke. Nobody laughs. Even flight from the fuzz can’t lift our spirits.

Paul and Chris eat a basket of shitty fries in total silence.

I talk to the girl behind the counter.

“So… Belgian fries? This is the new all-night food downtown?”

She smiles and nods. This must be her first night on the job, judging by her positive attitude, her fresh-faced and kindly customer service. Soon enough she’ll learn the harsh realities of the shrieking barnyard clusterfuck that is closing time at the SLO bar scene. It’s only a matter of time before she’s hit with a flying pint glass or groped by some drunk football player. The puking and the punching and the base ugliness of state-school humanity she’ll witness for $6.25 an hour will haunt her dreams, I guarantee. I want to give her a hug and tell her to quit right now.

“Yep.”

“There used to be a place called TA’s on Garden. Heard of it?”

“No, sorry.”

“Oh, sweetie you’re pouring salt on an open wound.”

The restaurant’s empty except for my friends, the cashier girl and the Vietnamese cook lurking in the back. She looks at me with genuine concern.

“What do you mean?”

I shake my head.

“You’re a good kid.” I tell her. “You’re young. We were young too, once.”

“You aren’t that old. Thirty?” I glare at her.

“Twenty-nine, thanks. Now listen. There was this place, TA’s. It was a strange and unpredictable place, prone to unexplained closures. A family of Nicaraguan evangelicals ran it, real serious religious-types. No drinking no dancing, that sort of thing. They’d up and leave for weeks at a time to go to some crazy-ass tent revival out in the valley. The food aspired to mediocrity, at the best of times. Often it was just bad. Soggy nachos and too many onions in the burritos.”

“Doesn’t sound so great.”

“Oh but it was. When it was open at all, it was open til five or six in the morning. When all the other lights went out, when your wild and hellish night was just hitting its lowest point, when you were crossing that treacherous strait between drunk and hungover, you came to TA’s. Your buddies were there, waiting in the absurdly long line. That girl from your kinesiology class you’d been ogling for six weeks, she was there, and she said hi when you walked in. Your neighbors from two houses down, who you don’t really know, they’d already have a table and when they saw there was no place to sit, they’d ask you to come join them and you’d become lifelong friends, almost brothers. On any given Friday, more doomed relationships and regrettable plans were born in tiny Tio Alberto’s than in the rest of San Luis Obispo county combined.”

“Wow.” she says.

“And now here we are, six years later, and a young lady like you will never know the wonders of its hallowed halls. You’re stuck eating piece of shit Belgian fries with gourmet ketchup. No offense but what kind of drunk food is this? Fries? Those burritos saved lives. Many’s the alum who was brought back from the edge of alcohol poisoning by those nachos.”

“The fries aren’t very good. I know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. You just work here. And I’m just drunk and sentimental. This whole fucking town is a pale and depressing approximation of what it used to be.” I shake my head. She refills my soda. “Anyway. What’s your name?”

“Lara.”

“Lara, you stay safe and don’t talk to strangers. Get on the day shift.”

She laughs. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t understand, and wouldn’t care if she did, any more than I cared about what other people said when I was 19.

“Have a good night.”

I step to the door, then turn around.

“Listen, Lara, are you a single Catholic by chance?”

Paul shoves me rudely into the street before I can finish, and we stumble away from crappy restaurant. We look for the car and wait for the sun to rise.

———-

The flowers are blooming at Gus’s. Trumpet vines and other creeping ivy-like plants I don’t recognize line the side of the building. I watch the Establishment across the street, but nobody comes in or out. Even if they did, I wouldn’t know them. I’m sure all the stabbies are new stabbies.

Cars pass slowly and my eyes hurt from the bright midmorning sun.

This guy, El Tony (pronounced El Tonay) used to live in the boxy white building across the block. We’d see him riding his weird gas-powered bike around. He was a CPE, like me, and used to brag about all the super awesome computer equipment he’d steal while working as a cashier at Staples. He universally loathed, and talked constantly in every programming class we had. He also dated the ugliest girl any of us had ever seen. She looked like Swamp Thing.

I wonder what happened to that fucking guy?

I sit in one of the green plastic chairs and wait for the girl to come out through the swinging screen door with my sandwich. Peter and Quint are playing cards and talking about the places we used to live.

Up the hill from here, one Halloween, Quint pushed me off an embankment in a shopping cart. He thought he’d killed me, broken my neck, but I was fine other than scrapes and bruises.

I have no memory of the event, but he swears it happened.

A few blocks from Gus’s, if you turn left on Laurel, you can drive up the hill and find Peter’s old place. We made potato guns there, with PVC pipe we bought at Home Depot. They were dangerous, fickle contraptions to say the least. Peter shot one next to my ear and I went deaf for a week. Chris shot a wadded-up sponge out of his at Paul, and even with such soft ordnance it left a welt the size of a grapefruit on his chest. Brian, ever the one to take things too far, shot a yam through their metal shed.

In the three weeks we played with those homemade cannons, we went through fifty cans of Aquanet and had the cops called on us no less than eight times. There was a rest home a block away, and the skittish old people cooped up in their rooms watching 20/20 thought every loud noise was the first shot in a city-wide gangfight, or some kind of minority uprising. The townies were not known for their benevolent attitude towards the college kids. The cops never figured out it was us, though I can only imagine what they’d have said when they saw our three-foot long thirty pound plastic bazookas strewn about the house. Probably would have arrested us as terrorists.

I remember Chris firing his off the back deck once, and the barrel jammed. The explosion blew the back of the cannon off and burned away his eyebrows.

The girl calls my name and brings my sandwich over when I raise my hand. It’s early and the lunch crowd hasn’t arrived. I drink my beer and watch the cars pass.

Let me see you make’em smile

Posted in Blog on May 20, 2011 by trevorgregg

I come up Fifth under the freeway and past the donut shops and furniture stores. At Market, I see a man prostrate on the ground, next to the Nordstrom’s valet. He’s spread-eagle on the grimy concrete, eyes closed and teeth clenched. He’s still but obviously not dead. The business people step around him, the tourists give him a furrowed brow or a worried glance and stay clear.

There are always at least a few crackheads down here, usually on the steps of the shuttered Mint. They sleep or panhandle there on the convenient stone steps. This guy looks in worse shape than most.

As I approach him, he lurches up, making a retching sound like some dying beast. I stop, cautious. He rolls over a couple of times, parting and disrupting the lunch pedestrians, and ends up on his back again in the crosswalk. Two cops leer from their squadcar parked on the far sidewalk.

He takes a can out of his filthy jacket, paint or glue or some kind of aerosol solvent, and, retching, presses the button and takes a big huff in his cupped, shaking hands. He gasps and coughs for a second, then takes another deep huff. He tips backwards, flat on the street once again. His back arches, and hisses out breath through yellow teeth.

I stand still, and the tourists scurry. The cops watch from behind empty blue sunglasses, but make no move. The guy lays flat in the street, riding high on the violent death of his own braincells.

A taxi rolls to within a couple feet of him, horn blaring. His eyes are still shut. He doesn’t move.

I turn into my office and climb the stairs.

————-

I go to a poker game. It’s mostly IT people, a couple of developers. Computer People.

I’m a shitty player, and expect to lose. I lack patience, control. I’m too aggressive with the strong, too cautious with the weak. I pay to see too many flops. I don’t cut my losses. When I do win, credit’s due to the cards and not the player.

The guy across from me talks to his neighbor about a Ruby on Rails project he worked on.

We play No Limit Hold’em exclusively, a shallow, predictable variant. ESPN, it occurs to me, has ruined poker. ESPN and the Internet. What little gunfighter barroom mystique the game once held has vanished, and the traditional Western poker has been replaced in full by this cheap, cowardly imitation. Hold’em punishes the bold and rewards the conservative, almost by design, and ESPN’s vile Nascarish ‘Pro Poker’ shows have made the game a haven for nerds, idiots, and self-styled aficionados.

The Indian guy next to me, Harran, spills his bowl of cheetohs into my chip tray. He apologizes profusely, picking the red and orange puffs off the green felt. The light-blue sleeves of his collared shirt are stained with the orange powder.

I drink my beer and don’t say anything.

A couple hours later Quint’s taken all their money, which makes me feel a little better.

————-

A guy on BART hands me a brochure. May 21st 2011 the World will End. The Rapture is Upon Us, the brochure proclaims.

That’s this Saturday. Tomorrow.

Judgment Has Been Foretold.

There are billboards scattered along the freeway reiterating the message. The Faithful will be Saved, the rest of us…

I ask the brochure guy what he’s going to do if by some chance the Rapture doesn’t occur.

“It’s coming. It’s on May 21st.”, he says. “It’s in the brochure.”

“I know it’s in the brochure. But what happens if it’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?”

“The brochure.”

He looks at me, shoving the little pamphlets at other passengers who push past.

“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” he asks.

“It’s impolite to answer a question with a question. That’s in the Bible, somewhere. Deuteronomy I think.” His blank look has become a sneer. He’s a squat, wan-skinned man in his mid-forties. He needs a haircut. He looks like a medieval peasant dressed in Walmart dress slacks. I look down at him, standing up straight for once. “You people are so full of shit.” I tell him. “See you on Monday.”

He turns away from me and I get off at the next stop. Fucking morons.

Is this a clue

Posted in Blog on May 12, 2011 by trevorgregg

Five seventeen AM. It’s appropriately fucking cold, given the hour. Too cold and too early are well-matched miseries, almost twins. I have to concentrate hard to tell them apart, to see where the discomfort of one ends and the other begins.

I sit on my suitcase at the curb. The streetlights shut off, anticipating dawn, and the trolley cable is conspicuously silent. Its grinding is so omnipresent on this street that I notice it only in absence.

A black towncar pulls up (has there ever been another color of towncar?). 5:30 on the dot. A giant, neckless, shaved-headed Eastern European gets out and tosses my heavy baggage into the trunk with disturbing ease. His double-XL black suit makes him look like a Bond villain. He was probably a bodyguard for some war criminal back in the Old Country. Probably the veteran of a hundred nameless conflicts, the scourge of some miserable snowbound place with too few vowels in its name. He’s probably witnessed some terrible things in his time. Probably participated in a few.

But now he’s in California, chauffering overpaid computer nerds to the airport at five in the morning. Ah the vagaries of life.

I want to lean over to Wes and remark on this, but he’s already nodded off, and even with the noise of the freeway I’m wary of our driver’s supersensitive commando hearing.

It’s too early for trouble and we’ve got a long way to go.

—————

We hit serious turbulence somewhere over Kansas, as soon as I get in the bathroom. Of course. A decade of capoeira the finely tuned equilibrium that comes with it are all that keep me from crashing pants-down and face-first into the toilet as the 787 bucks and shudders. Knees bent, muscles tense but not rigid. Stay focused, alert. Breathe.

I am reminded of the time Jim tried to tip over a Port-a-potty while I was in it, back in Boy Scout camp. That little fucker.

The opposite bathroom door opens as I step out of mine. An older, balding Asian guy steps out, frowning, his jeans wet. He looks like he ran through a sprinkler. Poor bastard. I try not to laugh.

One of the stewardesses, the bottle blonde, looks up at me from behind her Us Weekly. She’s sitting in the little cargo seat, strapped in back with the food carts. I smile at her. That’s right, sweetie. I hope you’re impressed with my ability to not piss all over myself.

I head back to my seat, and bash my head painfully against one of the compartments as the plane jumps again. Fuck.

Say what you want about Virgin America, but between the inflight wifi and staffing their planes exclusively with attractive girls and peppy gay guys, they’ve got my company’s business locked down. The wretched, sour hags they’ve got on United and Delta and American can make even the shortest flight into a prison sentence.

I sit back down and fall asleep watching some piece of shit Robert Downey Jr. movie on my little back-of-the-seat TV.

———-

Everything I know about New York I learned on Law and Order. What vague, disconnected sense of the place’s geography I have is defined entirely by fictional precincts, scenes of various fictional crimes. Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, they’re just names with no substance, size, or relation to each other. I resolve to look at a map.

The cab driver is throwing a fit, berating Wes for paying with credit card. They have a surcharge with credit card, he says. It takes up all the tip. As though it’s our fault his union or company or whatever the fuck has locked them in to this terrible financial arrangement. His tone is self-righteous, accusatory yet desperate, which will get him told to fuck off pretty quick. Wes seems surprisingly patient, though, and I realize moments later that this is only because he’s carsick from the hellish ride from the airport.

“Keep pestering him and he will puke on you.” I warn the cabby.

“What?” he asks.

“Puke.” I say, making the universal fingers-spraying—out-of—the-mouth handsignal. “On you. Because you drive like an asshole.”

“Hey fuckah you guys ok?”

“Yeah ok.”

“Fuckah you.”

“Glad that’s resolved.” I wave to him as he lurches off into traffic, one foot on the gas and one on the brake like some fifteen year old girl in her mom’s station wagon. “Fucking maniac.”

Wes leans over a garbage can, looking green and close to eruption. I look up at the towering buildings. Hundred-foot advertisements and electronic billboards flash on every surface. Germans and Japanese take pictures of each other staring up into the endless commercial seizure.

Times Square.

I guess we’ve got to start somewhere.

—————

The subway is great. A marvel. Anyone who says otherwise has never ridden a bus in San Francisco. Yeah there are some rats, some psychos, some hipsters, some beggars, but don’t bitch to me until you’ve gone from Cesar Chavez to Broadway on the 49 next to a multiple-felon crackhead whose burst colostomy bag is leaking on your leg. Don’t bitch to me until you find a dead body on the 27, and realize it’s been there, unnoticed, for at least two days. Don’t bitch to me until you’re on the 22 when it hops the curb on Fillmore and plows down a clump of kids because the driver was up all night spending some of his union-mandated $120k a year salary at a whorehouse in Belmont.

I swear to god I know a guy who caught Hep C riding the Richmond line BART.

Compared to MUNI the NY subway is a fucking royal palanquin carried by beautiful slavewomen.

Pedro’s at the restaurant when we arrive. There are cheers and big, clapping brohugs all around. We haven’t seen each other in a year.

The line’s out the door at this place, but Wes wants to tough it out.

“I’m half-drunk already, man.” P brags. “We’ve been sailing all day, drinking whiskey and eating some cheese.”

I give him a look. “That’s the fucking Eastcoastest thing I’ve ever heard.” I tell him. “You’ve been here too long. Gone native.”

Fucking sailing.

We shove our way in through the crowd and get to the bar. We order Sapporos and the bartender gives us Kirins, because “it’s pouring better.” Whatever the hell that means. After three thousand miles and ten hours on various modes of transport, a beer is a beer. We drink, we catch up, we wait for our table.

Mostly we talk about Life Changes. Pedro’s engaged, again, and he’s decided to go back to school. The first half-hour is purely a discussion of who’s gotten married / divorced, who’s gotten pregnant, and even a couple of who’s gotten deceased for good measure. We take turns listing out names and occurrences, like announcers reading baseball stats. No opinions or critiques, just sheer factual updates on the people we once called friends.

“What about you?” he asks me, afterward. I shake my head.

“‘The Dude Abides.'”

“No plans? No crossroads reached?”

“Not so much. Just going. Getting old, though.”

“Yeah man.”

We’re silent for a minute while we think of something else to talk about.

—————

Two and a half hours later we’re seated. Aside from the day of high school we skipped to wait in line for Episode 1 tickets, it’s the longest we’ve ever waited for anything, let alone food.

“This fucking ramen better change my life.”

“This place serves ramen?! I thought we were at least getting sushi, or something complicated. Shit.”

“Nope. Two and a half hours for noodles you can make in a microwave.”

“Fucking New York.”

We clink our glasses to that.

We talk a lot about business, now that we’re seated. Wes’ buddy is in startups, Pedro’s in consulting, and we’re IT. We talk about The Market, about bad clients and worse business models. We talk about standardization in network hardware, and bitch about having to dress up for our East Coast clients. Ties and black shoes, what a nightmare. We talk about systems integration and business cards.

It’s Important Stuff, the things we discuss. Maybe only to us, and our peers, and our sphere of influence. It’s the mechanics of the world. It’s our lives, like it or not. Fleshing out ambitions and decisions over dinner seems somehow both depressing and vital. I suspect that grown men talking business over noodles has been a core element of human progress for thousands of years.

That’s some consolation.

———————

We share a cab back north and west. “Uptown”, since apparently New Yorkers are above the traditional cardinal directions.

A few minutes into the ride, the cabbie shushes us and turns up the radio. The crackley voice tells us Osama bin Laden’s been killed in Pakistan. The President will make an announcement shortly.

“Oh shit.”

We sit there for a moment, the cabbie looking at us and we at him. Obviously this means something, but none of us are sure exactly what.

“I wonder how they got him?”

“Troops?”

“Probably a bomb. Or drones. Predator drones.”

“Probably drones. Probably Robocop.”

We pull up to the curb in front of our hotel. The cabbie turns to me, earnest and serious.

“It was not Robocop.”

I look back at him. “You don’t understand. Robocop is the best we’ve got. If anyone could get bin Laden, it’s him.”

He gives me the blankest, most uncomprehending look I’ve ever seen. We’re two mutually incomprehensible aliens, for a minute. I slam the door and we walk off.

I fully expect bin Laden’s bullet-riddled body to be paraded through the streets of New York tomorrow morning. Obama will be close behind, pulled in a golden chariot and waving to the roaring hordes as they shower shit and rotten fruit on the prostrated, emaciated corpse of our latest and greatest conquered villain. I expect a full-scale Roman Triumph.

That’s how far things have gone, here in bizarro world.

—————-

Wall St. is not what I expected. It’s older, narrower, crowded with tourists. More stone, less glass. Where are the power suits?

Where is Patrick Bateman?

There are cops with assault rifles and German shepherds, which I didn’t expect. Tasteful.

I look around for the despicable, soulless greedheads that have tanked our economy, our nation. I try to pinpoint who, exactly, took that steaming epic shit on our future, for the precise individual who impoverished our kids and grandkids, who put us on the path to the Third World. Is it that bald guy with the black briefcase? The two guys smoking on the corner of Nassau? The woman shouting into her blackberry?

It’s hard to tell. They just look like people, these monsters. They’ve disguised themselves so well, masked their malevolent awfulness with such aplomb that even I can’t tell them apart from normal, godfearing humans.

No wonder none have been brought to justice. If the Bad Guys all wore convenient black uniforms with snake symbols, or cackled maniacally as they stroked their wispy moustaches, or were led by some brain in a jar in a secret volcano lab, things would be so much easier.

As it is, I scowl at everybody just to be safe. I am rather free with my scorn on Wall St. Nobody seems to notice; in fact, it makes me look more like a New Yorker.

Wes and I are led down back alleys and ancient hallways to the various server rooms we need to visit, and are quickly lost in the wiring racks and the roar of climate control.

—————-

We meet Stephanie and her friend at a restaurant in the East Village. There’s an old Chinese man playing Free Bird on the fiddle in the subway, and a guy on the corner playing a banjo. The banjo guy is good, really good. Too good for the street, that’s for sure. I toss a quarter in his overturned grey hipster hat.

He’s probably a professional posing here for his gritty album cover photo, some studio rat trying to build up his street cred by slumming it.

Wes is on the phone with our west coast clients. The time difference is a pain in the ass, and we’ve been working 8 AM Eastern to 6 PM Pacific. I listen to him explaining domain controller reboot procedures over the phone. Boring.

People have told me that this is the “Mission of Manhattan”, but the comparison seems pretty flat so far. I haven’t been stabbed yet, or stepped in human shit, and I haven’t seen even one skinny-jeaned asshole asking to get jumpkicked off his fixie. The people here seem generally normal, almost friendly. For a city with such a bad rep, everyone seems pretty fucking approachable.

The hostess, whose miniskirt is offset by her giant 1940’s bugeye grandma glasses, seats us after a few minutes. Stephanie was ready to bolt after having to put a name in. Screw waiting for food, she says.

She laughs when I tell her about our previous restaurant experience.

Two hours for noodles. She shakes her head, astonished by our stupidity.

Her friend, Belinda, asks a waitress if the pan-fried trout comes with the head. No, it doesn’t. She special-orders it with the head still attached.

It’s weird to eat a fish with no head, she tells me.

New York.

While we eat, the girls talk mostly about dating. They’re both ostensibly single, and it’s a primary concern. They want to know what it’s like in SF, and they complain about the ratio.

I’ve heard this from other people too, that NY has more women than men. No wonder people move here. That kind of advantage is probably worth a dirty, snow-smothered winter.

“There are so many more girls than guys.”

“Good.”

“Good for you, maybe.”

“No, good for humanity, and humility. It’s about time you ladies got a taste of what our lives are like.”

“What?”

“Dating is a perpetual uphill battle, from the male point of view. It’s tedious, strenuous, rarely satisfying labor. Like digging ditches.”

“Oh whatever, SF isn’t that bad.”

“You’re right, it’s not. But I went to engineering school. Even the most snaggle-toothed halitosis-ridden trollbeast had four dudes a day asking her out. Your ratio complaints do not move me.”

I make sure to speak with the cultivated air of superiority and contempt that a person in a Long Term Relationship is required to use when dropping knowledge on the single. Despite me, we have a good dinner, although I almost choke on a brussel sprout.

That’d be a fucked up way to go.

————

The 6AM train to Washington is more what I was expecting. Old white guys in expensive suits, yelling in to phones and pouring over spreadsheets. Everyone on this train is a certifiable asshole and has the cufflinks to prove it.

We speed down through Jersey and Philly and Baltimore, accumulating more and more lowlife politicos until the train is at capacity. Everyone is in a rush, everyone has places to be. I find myself hoping for derailment. The world would be a better place.

The train disgorges us at Union Station, and the various lobbyists and middle-managers and parasites and sycophants rush to their taxis and cars, shoving and glaring.

Now we’re in DC, the sickly poisoned heart of it all.

Of course there’s traffic.

I look out at the monuments and statues. It starts to rain.

—————

We have dinner with Wes’ friend, a professor at GWU, in some old restaurant across from the Whitehouse. A couple of uniformed generals sit at the booth behind us, and there’s apparently a Senator at the end of the row, though I don’t recognize him.

“So Wes tells me it’s your first time in DC?”

“Yep, first time on the East Coast really. I went to Boston once for a wedding, but only for a day.”

“Oh, wow!”

Everyone here reacts when they learn that someone my age has never been east of Montana. They’re surprised, but condescendingly kind, like I’ve told them I just recently learned how to read.

Part of me wants to be vengefully elitist, to explain how SF and the West are the actual center of the world, but I can’t. We might have most of the population and innovation and industry, but let’s be honest – California is pretty much a corrupt shithole.

Instead I nod, and say how impressed I am with whatever East Coast thing we’re talking about. Sometimes it’s true.

Wes’ friend, though friendly, is obviously interested in him. As dinner progresses, I quickly become more of a chaperone than a participant, though I don’t mind. One learns to be tolerant of single women in their thirties.

Four gray-haired men drinking highballs at the bar burst into laughter, one bumping into a busboy and making him spill dishes. No one gives it a second look.

I ask the Russian waitress for another overpriced beer. I find I dislike DC immensely. I’m sick of wearing dress shoes.

Later, we walk around the Whitehouse, which is lit up at night. Fifty Southern highschool kids wander by, all in matching outfits, following an impatient tourguide. There’s a candlelight vigil in front of the gates, though I can’t recognize what nation’s flag they’re holding up or figure out what they’re protesting / celebrating / mourning.

——

After an hour or so of map consultation, I take a couple trains and a bus up into Maryland to meet Amos, another long-lost college buddy.

Maryland’s green, all unkempt lawns and tall hedges. The houses have big yards and wrap-around porches. Amos’ place has a distinctly collegiate feel – five bikes are locked to the porch railing, and he opens his bedroom door with a key. One of those places.

There’s bad rock blasting from a backyard across the street. A couple of girls walk by with giant Chevy’s sombreros, and I realize it’s Cinco de Mayo. Good old drinko de mayo.

The first place we head to has a long line, and a couple of drunk undergrads are already fighting in the street in front of it. The bouncers yank them apart, kicking savagely at their shins and knees until they collapse onto the pavement.

We duck into another bar, also crowded with fake-ID wielding girls and drunk dudes named Jeff and Mike. We eat shitty burgers and drink Stella out of plastic cups. We shout to each other over the din. It’s good to go to places like this on occasion; it tarnishes one’s idealized memories of youth and college with a little reality. Locked in a cubicle watching your hair turn grey, it’s easy to forget how obnoxious 20 year olds really are.

Amos is getting ready to go to Israel to do some work with medical device companies there, an extension of his MBA program. We talk about that, mostly. I haven’t seen him in three years, but he seems mostly unchanged. Hair’s a little longer, I guess, and he speaks almost entirely in acronyms and technical terms, his vocabulary having been completely overrun with MBA jargon. He’s not the first MBA I’ve encountered like this, and I don’t think it’s an affectation. More likely business school is 10% substance and 90% terminology. A sure sign of a worthwhile subject.

A hammered, overweight blond next to us slips out of her plastic chair and falls onto the dirty wooden floor, laughing. Her friends help her up. Christy you’re such a klutz! I know right! I know! Oh my god!

“You’ve really found another SLO here, man.” I tell Amos. I realize, briefly, how old we look in our dress shirts, and how startlingly out of place. Amos sighs.

“You don’t even know.”

“I didn’t realize College Park was such a kid’s town.”

“This area is; most of the grad students live on the other side, farther from campus.”

We finish our bad food and order a couple more of the beers in plastic cups, watching the rowdy, stumbling youths around us. A skinny guy pukes in a garbage can, and gets thrown out onto the sidewalk head-first by a bouncer.

“I can’t fucking wait to graduate.” Amos tells me.

——————-

I drag my grey rolling suitcase down the streets, click click click on the sidewalk, pushing my way through the crowds of commuters. Laptop, suitcase, grey suit, blue tie, phone, sunglasses, tickets. A couple of older black women in blazers and skirts are in front of me, chatting conspiratorially about a coworker. They don’t like her, it seems.

I drag my hand along the tiled wall as the escalator carries me down deep into the metro tunnels. The wall’s cold, and my fingers tap lightly over each grout seam.

There’s noise around me, the commerce of the morning. A hazy smell of cigarettes and coffee.

I wonder how I got here.

——————

More buses, more subways, more crowds and distances.

I’m back in New York. Two orthodox Jews in their black costumes argue with a Vietnamese pretzel vendor in front of me, and I have to go into the street to get around them.

Hmmm hmmm hmm I hum. There’s a Beck song, Hollow Log, stuck in my head. I check my phone map for the hundredth time, to make sure I’m going the right way. I would be righteously fucked in this maze without a smartphone.

Get yourself a pistol, get yourself a dog…

I cut through a small park. It’s full of tulips and bronze statues of dead guys on horses.

Stay up all night getting drunk, sleeping on a hollow log…

A French couple with four kids argues over a map, pointing at various street signs and glaring at each other while their little brood plays around a rusty fire hydrant.

Walk til you’re restless, sleep til you’re tired…

I’m hungry, having been stuck on the road for the better part of a day. I duck into a Thai cafe, and duck right back out when I see the Pad Kee Mao is $17. Fuck your bullshit food prices, NY.

Wake up without thinking, you’re the one that I desire…

I make my way to the hotel and sit on my bed, watching the street below through my window. It’s Friday. It’s warm outside, and I try to open the window. It only slides four inches up before some hidden safety device jams it. I reach my hands out through the thin gap to feel the warm breeze. I hear voices from below, but they blur together, and become indistinguishable.

Walk around with a broken leg and a hundred dollar bill…

Tomorrow’s our last day in New York.

———————-

Eight of us go to a modernized Korean restaurant to celebrate. Our reservation’s for 11:30, but everyone’s late so we don’t sit until after midnight.

We eat oysters, kim-chee, and a huge slab of roast pig. All except the token vegan, who picks at some lettuce and a bowl of rice, looking at each of us in turn to make sure we take note of her noble suffering. Pedro and I drink beer while the girls sip weird-colored soju cocktails, some of which look like Drano. Somebody’s talking about Sundance Film Festival, somebody else about a ski trip in Patagonia.

The pork’s good, slow-cooked for a day according to some arcane Korean culinary mysticism. Worth the expense. Hell, it’s Friday.

…I heard on NPR the other day…

…she said ‘That’s not the reason I took this job.’, right to his face…

…Law school always seemed like kind of a waste to me…

…probably have the reception at the Signet, on 37th…

…ordered the Lemon Drop? Kathy?…

…the same purple Adidas I’ve got, but in men’s…

…lunch tomorrow, on the set. Producers only, except for us…

I work to stay interested in the back-and-forth around me, to participate. There’s some excitement as a cripplingly drunk / high person stumbles into the restaurant off the street, shouting about the end of the world. A waitress quickly herds him back out.

The food takes quite a bit of construction and concentration – take your piece of lettuce, put some pork and rice and various pickled things into it like a fajita, pour some hotsauce, etc. It helps to have something to do with my hands.

Around two thirty we emerge, back into the cold streets. Various parties drift off, and there’s discussion of where to go next. What scene everyone’s interested in. Where there’s no cover, where the band is playing, where who went last night.

The arguments lead nowhere, and eventually we wander back to the subway.

Back in the hotel I read for a while, some scifi book about robots.

———-

I had prepared myself to hate the East. SF is veritably infested with Easterners, many of whom are horrid, insufferable people. They come here in droves for their late twenties, doing some kind of extended-adolescence tour of duty in Beautiful And Culturally Significant San Francisco before drifting elsewhere to breed and age. They go to shows and get really in to sustainable food and snowboarding. They take pictures of goddamn everything, and reminisce vocally about how much they Brooklyn / Boston / Vermont / Whereverthefuck.

I want to choke them with their own dumbass knitted scarves.

NY itself, though, was quite bearable. The sheer scale of it, the density, maybe the age, has given it something SF doesn’t have. Maybe it’s just the sheer crush of people on people – you’re forced to behave differently to those around you when you’re shoulder to shoulder with them every hour of the day. It’s crossed some threshold that we haven’t, for better or worse.

There are more people in the streets. Things happen outside. People hang out on their stoops in groups. They don’t just huddle out there to smoke a hurried cigarette before rushing back upstairs, they stand around, they bullshit, they yell to each other across the street.

The bars stay open late, the cops ignore you, the subway’s open 24 hours. There’s no desperate rush to catch that last fucking train back to the burbs at midnight.

I don’t know.

Maybe it’s the spring. Warm weather after a solid six months of brittle fog and damp wind is like a fucking miracle. Maybe it’s the novelty.

I know, deep down, that there’s plenty to hate about it. But for a week in the spring, a week without having to run the junkie panhandler gauntlet on Polk, a week without endless abyssal 50 degree overcast stupid bullshit SF weather, a week without Mission hipsters and their horrible god damn chatter on the bus, a week without Bay Bridge traffic… for a week in the spring NY is quite a place.

But don’t tell them I said it.

Won’t be dead just won’t be here no more

Posted in Blog on September 10, 2009 by trevorgregg

Music – John Lee Hooker – Blues in a Bottle

Sabbatical time.  There won’t be any updates for a bit, as we’re gonna try something a little different.  If it works out, well, I’m sure you’ll find out.

See you kids on the flipside.

-T.

Forever holler hoody hoo

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , on August 21, 2009 by trevorgregg

Music – Buena Vista Social Club – Dos Gardenias Para Ti

Heather Fong is retiring, and she will not be missed.    If there is any justice in the world Newsom will bestow upon her that most coveted medal, San Francisco’s Crumpled-up Aluminum Foil Star, an award given only to those whose careers have been a most sterling example of Ineffectuality In Government Bureaucracy.  The creme-de-la-creme of hapless state-employed failbags.

She’s being replaced by some assbite from Arizona whose name escapes me.  Our newly chosen police chief, eager to appear proactive as leader of Our Fair Shithole’s finest, went on several ride-alongs in SF’s more troubled neighborhoods.  He told the Chronicle that he was shocked to see people selling drugs in broad daylight in the TL, a mere four blocks from City Hall.  I showed this article to some friends and we had a good laugh.

Welcome to the big city you bumpkin fuck.

Crackheads, along with pigeons, are the ones who control the streets of San Francisco.  Not the cops.  Anyone who’s been naive enough to report a crime in San Francisco understands that the police fulfill a largely ceremonial role rather than serving any practical purpose.  Based on my experiences, I’ve compiled an accurate list of the daily tasks for SFPD beat cops as mandated by the department:

1) Parade / Event Management
2) Get Starbucks
3) Drive Around / Set Up Some Cones In The Street
4) Give Directions to Tourists
5) Parking Enforcement
6) Union Meetings
7) Maybe Do Some Paperwork
8) Investigate Crimes In Affluent Neighborhoods

You’ll notice there’s nothing in there about drug enforcement, vandalism, prostitution, panhandling, etc.  I’ve had occasion to call the police several times since I moved here, for a variety of reasons, and though they’ve always been cordial nothing was ever actually done.  The first time I called because someone was breaking into the car in front of my apartment while I watched.  The second was because my roommate’s car had been broken into and her shoes, loose change, and Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits cd stolen.  The third was because an angry hobo wouldn’t leave our vestibule at the studio.  The fourth because a crackhead was getting a bj from another crackhead in our studio parking lot.   Not exactly life-threatening situations to be sure, but all falling squarely within the popo’s sphere of responsibility.  Although they did come by and chase off both the giver and receiver in the bj incident, the police made no visible effort to rectify any of the other situations.

The modern metropolitan man, it seems, is left to fend for himself.  We’ve been forced to employ a guard-hobo for our parking lot who, in exchange for cigarettes, stands guard against other more-unpleasant hobos, prostitutes, and junkies.  His name is Steve, and he does a good job.

Oh but the police have the time and manpower to hand out tickets in Dolores Park for drinking in public even when there’s no disturbance or rowdiness involved.  They don’t have time to protect my small business from constant vandalism or crackheads taking a dump and passing out in our entryway in broad daylight (true story), but they can go hassle some hipsters for bringing a six-pack of PBR to the park on a Saturday afternoon.  Not that I have anything against hipster oppression; in fact it makes me almost physically ill to side with them, but fuck, come on.  Much as I’d like to see them and their fixie bikes thrown under the tires of a speeding squad car, they’re really pretty harmless as a demographic.  If you’re gonna write tickets for DIP, why not also enforce it for those dudes on Jones street who only set their forties down long enough to stab each other’s whores and rob 7-11s?  Why not concern yourself with things like murder and theft and gunfights in Northbeach rather than impounding goddamn hotdog carts for operating without a health permit?

What’s worse, unlicensed hotdogs or murder?  Broadway on a Saturday night is like a miniature Tijuana, people throwing bottles and fistfighting and shooting each other…  all kind of unruly badness.

Breaking in to cars is the #1 most popular part-job in San Francisco county, but god forbid they investigate that shit when there are leashless dogs frolicking in our parks.  MA’AM YOU NEED TO PUT THAT GODDAMN PUG ON A LEASH BEFORE I HAUL YOU IN. HE’S A FUCKING MENACE TO SOCIETY.

The whole force seems to suffer from serious Forest-For-The-Trees disease.  I mean hey, I’ve watched The Wire, I understand that policing a big city is a righteous pain in the ass logistically speaking.  I also understand that Joe Q. Flatfoot has little to no say in what his policing prioirities are.  I certainly would not trade places with a beat cop even if it means I get to taze and drop-kick any and all motherfuckers who dare sass me.  It’s a hard job, and I do not envy them.

Maybe this new dude, Chief Whatever from Arizona, will move beyond SF’s venerable Contain and Ignore strategy.  Maybe he’ll work on combatting actual crimes rather than being some Neighborhood Association’s fucking noise-level enforcement squad.  Maybe Newsom’s War on Fun will be put on hold in favor of things like murder investigations.  Maybe he’ll make an effort to KEEP CRACKHEADS FROM STEALING ALL OUR CAR STEREOS EVERY DAMN NIGHT.

Maybe.

And maybe ten-thousand Dutch-speaking pigs with gossamer fairy-wings will fly out of my ass and begin distributing free diamond-studded mountain bikes to anyone with proof of SF residency.