When you’re young you think you’re going to live forever. It’s not so much that you think you’re immortal. But death seems so far away you don’t even think of it.
But as you get older, death becomes a more pressing matter. Not in a morbid way. But because you’ve seen so many people that you’ve known over the years die. And that sooner or later (probably sooner) you know you’re next, motherfucker.
And it puts your life in this perspective. You realize what a fleeting thing it is that you’re alive here in the moment. Followed by an Eternity after you’re dead, where Existence will continue to go on without you.
Just as Existence was manifesting endlessly (apparently) before you blinked into existence.
A somewhat flukeful combination of father’s sperm and mother’s egg. And there you are. You didn’t ask for it. But there you are. Dealing with all of THIS. For the next 70 years or so, on average.
And then you know you’ll croak after that. So you can’t help wondering every now and then, in the back of your mind, in between eating and sleeping and farting and experiencing all this stuff (just trying to survive) what the hell the point of all this was. That you’ve been subjected to all this stuff. Not that we’re great philosophers piercing into the Meaning of Life. But you can’t help wondering in the back of your mind what this Thing (existence) was all about.
And what (if anything) comes next. After this fleeting experience (our lives) is over.
I once wrote a song where I imagined what I’d be thinking at the moment when I was about to die. And the lyrics went like this:
“When I die When I die I’ll raise my head Up to the sky
And as my soul It slips away I’ll close my eyes And this I’ll say.
This secluded spot, this balcony on the second floor over-looking the lower plaza, was one of my favorite late-night hangout spots for many years. WAS.
But now it’s just become a source of grief. I mentioned earlier that I’ve been feeling like I’m under more and more pressure, lately. And I’ve been getting into more and more conflicts with other people — mostly revolving around the issue of people violating my personal space. And now I’m starting to get concerned that I might snap.
So last night I was hanging out at my favorite late-night hang-out spot. What had used to have been a fairly secluded spot. But for the third night in a row somebody approached me, wanting to hang out there beside me as they charged their cellphones on the outlet that I’m using. And I don’t WANT any company. I come up there mostly to write. And I can’t concentrate if somebody is sitting right on top of me, making all sorts of noise, and looking over my shoulder. So the first two nights I got into an angry, potentially-violent confrontations with the people that approached me — they were both nutty asshole street fuck-ups (by the way) — the LAST people I’d want hanging out with me. So I ran them off. They both departed, shouting curses and threats over their shoulders.
But by the third night I’m starting to get weary of the whole routine. If you start turning every afront into a battle-to-the-death it can wear you out. So I tried to reason with the guy that showed up this night (in the hopes that he was a reasonable person) (I figured it was worth a try). He was a young guy, of mixed race. Maybe a light-skinned black guy, or a Latino guy mixed with some other stuff (not that it matters, but I just like to add some details to “put you in the room” — as we writers are fond of saying).
“Can I charge my cellphone on that outlet,” he said, holding up his cellphone.
“N-no,” I said. “I-I don’t want any company. I just want to be by myself. Th-there are plenty of other outlets you can use down there on the lower plaza.” (I notice my voice is cracking and wavering and in a higher pitch than usual. A definite sign of stress. Like I said I’m on edge and high-strung from all the previous confrontations I’ve been having lately. And here we go again.)
“None of the outlets down there work,” he said.
“No there are some outlets down there that work,” I said.
“No there isn’t,” he said.
“Yes there IS!!” I said.
(here we go)
I decided to go the extra mile to avoid a conflict. So I stood up and pointed down at the lower plaza. “See that bench down there? There’s an outlet right by it that works. And right beyond that, in the patio of the Bears Lair there are several MORE outlets that WORK!!” (I know where every outdoor outlet on the Berkeley campus is)
“I-I understand,” he said. And now I notice that his voice is starting to crack, and he’s getting nervous. And he’s backing off slightly, with his palms up. Like he can tell by the slightly hysterical tone of my voice that I very well might be a crazy person who very well might be on the verge of cracking up (which I very well might be, ha ha).
But like I said, I’m willing to go the extra mile to avoid a conflict, so add: “Try them. And if they don’t work you can come back up here and use this one.”
“Oh. OK,” he said.
And he turned and left. Never to return. Thankfully.
Well, I haven’t cracked up yet (though the night is young). I’m doing the best I can, folks.
So now it’s the fourth night in a row. And I’m hanging out at my favorite hangout spot. By myself. When this asshole shows up. This ornery old homeless guy. And guess what? He wants to sit right next to me, too, so that he can charge his cellphone on the outlet I’m using. He doesn’t even say anything to me, just walks right at me, holding his cellphone in his hand.
I helpfully explain to him:
“THERE ARE A HALF DOZEN OTHER OUTLETS RIGHT DOWN THERE THAT YOU CAN USE!!”
They don’t work,” he says.
“THEY DO WORK!!” I says.
“They don’t work,” he says.
“THEY DO WORK!!” I says. “IN FACT I’M GONNA GO DOWN THERE RIGHT NOW AND USE THEM MYSELF JUST SO I CAN GET AWAY FROM YOU!!”
I quickly unplug my cellphone and pack up and move down to the lower plaza. And plug my cellphone into the outlet down there. And guess what? IT WORKS.
I admit my mental state is a little sketchy these days. But half the people I run into these days seem even more crazy and stupid then me.
I mentioned the other day that I was feeling under pressure lately, more tightly-wound and hung-strung than usual, and trying to keep from snapping.
So this afternoon I’m walking down Telegraph and I stop at the red light at Channing. When somebody bumps into me from behind. I turn around to see what that was all about. It’s this tall young guy, maybe Indian or Middle Eastern, who’s walking down the street with his girlfriend.
“Your Gatorade bottle in the side pocket of your backpack looked like it was about to fall out of your pack so I pushed it back in,” he explained.
“Hey, don’t be touching other people’s stuff!!” I said. And I guess I must have had a little extra edge in my voice (as well as maybe a slightly crazed look in my eyes) because he said.
“Hey chill out. I was just trying to be helpful.”
“YOU SHOULDN’T GO AROUND TOUCHING OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF!” I repeated.
“Hey, take a deep breath,” he said.
The light turned green and he and his girlfriend resumed walking up the street. I stayed where I was but got in the last word: “You’re an idiot, dude.”
I waited there at the corner for about a minute to give him a head start. Just so I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore. And then I resumed walking.
But about a half block up the street he was standing there on the sidewalk in front of Fat Slice Pizza waiting for me.
“Hey I apologize for doing that. I shouldn’t have done that,” he said with a smile.
“No it’s OK. I way over-reacted,” I said.
“No I understand how you feel. I’ve been there,” he said.
“Cool man,” I said. I pushed knuckles with him in a show of manly solidarity and headed back up the Ave.
I liked how that one resolved itself. It doesn’t always end up that smoothly
We were talking about road rage on another thread, and how stupid little incidences can sometimes escalate into bigger things.
And it reminded me of this one time when I was hitch-hiking on this 4-lane highway in Northern California. Stuck there for hours, nobody picking me up. Getting more and more pissed all the time. So I decided to take a break and get a soda at this store across the street. But as I’m crossing in the middle of the street this car seemingly speeds up and changes lanes to come right at me, just to fuck with me. So as I sprinted out of his way I gave him the finger and cursed at him as he passed me.
The guy actually stopped his car, put it in reverse, and came back to challenge me to a fight. I immediately apologized, said I was just frustrated that nobody would pick me up. That satisfied him and he sped off. It wasn’t worth getting into a fight over, after all, which is why I handled it that way.
But I thought: “Nobody will stop to help me out. But somebody will stop to fuck me up. What a world.” Ha ha.
Micro Scaredy can be such a prick. She does this thing where she wakes me up in the middle of the night, meowing and meowing at me. And she keeps swatting at my head with her claws. And if that doesn’t work she’ll climb right on top of my head. She’s hungry and she wants me to get up and fix her breakfast.
And then this morning she did her “I’M HUNGRY!!” routine AGAIN. To listen to her you’d think she was starving to death. The way she cries and cries and cries.
So I pour another can of cat food into the cat food dish. Micro Scaredy takes two bites of it, and then trots off. . . THAT STUFF COSTS A DOLLAR A CAN!!
My relationship with my father was pretty . . . unsatisfying. I guess that’s one way I could put it. Most of my relationship with him over the years could be characterized as a.) long periods of anger, followed by b.) long periods of indifference (where I mostly just tried to block him out of my life). Followed by c.) brief periods of respect, admiration and even gratitude.
The last time I saw my father was in the summer of 1999, twenty years ago (man, THAT went by fast!).He came to the Bay Area for a couple weeks on a vacation, mostly in the hopes of re-kindling some kind of relationship with my older sister (who also lives in Berkeley), who had pretty much completely disowned him, and refused to see him during the visit. At the time I felt I was on reasonably good terms with my Dad, and had resolved most of the issues that I had had with him in the past. So I ended up going out for coffee or lunch with him on multiple occasions during the course of his visit. But a weird thing happened: The more I saw of him, the more I disliked him. It’s like it kept reminding me of all the reasons why I had disliked him in the first place (many of which I had forgotten about at that point).
So after that, I didn’t have much to do with him over the next 20 years. Aside from occasionally writing him a letter.
Until last year when I suddenly got the news that he only had weeks to live. So I made a frantic effort to reach out to him before the clock expired. Managed to talk to him once on the phone. And then shortly after that, he died.The end.