Sunday, September 17, 2006

Morning Coffee

The other morning I broke our coffee pot. I'd put it in the refrigerator the day before because I had several cups of perfectly good coffee left over from the morning brew which I didn't want to waste. When I pulled the cold pot out of the fridge, I nicked the door and the glass just came apart, glass and coffee everywhere.

While I wait for a new pot to be delivered I have to go up to an old hotel at the end of the street and get my morning coffee. The bums come early and sit around on the metal tables outside, sipping a cup of coffee, waiting, presumably, for their first free meal of the day. You can always tell the bums by the trash bags they tie over the seats of their ghetto bikes. That way when they're caught in the rain, the seat doesn't get wet. Bums have a pretty good life here in St. Augustine because there are so many charitable organizations willing to feed and clothe them -- they can save all their money for booze and drugs.

In the past I've resented these bums and wished they'd go away, but lately, with my new high-pressure job, I've come to feel a kinship with them. I look at them now and think that if worse comes to worst, it won't be such a bad life. I'll drop out and flop my way down to bumhood, where I can sit outside the cafes, drink a cup of coffee, and look forward to the day's first bottle. Maybe I should start making friends now, so I'll know the ropes when it comes time.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Aspiring Writer

I think I'll go from being an *aspiring* writer directly to being an *expiring* writer. Who needs success? There's a bright side to being the unpublished flop -- my taxes aren't going up.

Annoying My Co-Worker

Now that I have a new sucky job (NSJ) that pays me more money, I miss my old sucky job (OSJ) that paid me less money. At least I knew people. I had a co-worker there, we called her DS. She lived in Houston. I used to annoy her on purpose because I am good at annoying people. Here's a list of six things I did to frustrate and anger her. Ah, I miss the OSJ!

1. Start an IM conversation and tell her you have important news. Then reply with only emoticons. String the emoticons together to form patterns that might have significance. She will try to decipher these patterns.
2. Wear logoed clothing such as Brooks Brothers, Polo, etc., and talk about how a logo denotes craftsmanship and quality.
3. Insist that truly productive people work through lunch, taking (at most) a sandwich at their desks.
4. Insult Texas. Anything will do, provided you stick with it for awhile. At first she’ll be inclined to agree with you, so you must persist. Example: There are no real cowboys in Texas, only fake ones.
5. Make jokes and laugh at them yourself. Make sure you’re laughing louder and longer than anyone else.
6. This is the “nuclear option” of DS annoyance, because she and her husband are very much in love: Compare her husband to a Hollywood star, but make sure he’s a supporting actor, not a leading man. Bruno Kirby, for instance. Trust me, unless you compare her husband to Pierce Brosnan (or someone of that caliber), she’ll flame you to a cinder.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What I'm Reading

I'm not reading anything that I like. I find it best to avoid reading anything good at all. I like technical manuals and bad novels, really bad, because I can see the elements of a story at work without being blinded by emotion.

I also like spiritual books on the lives of saints, or books about shamans or healers. Not because they help me write better, but because they help me to sleep. They are simultaneously uplifting and tedious, the perfect combination to send me toddling off into the land of Nod.

I find that if I am reading anything to which I respond emotionally -- that is, anything that is well-crafted enough to induce suspension of disbelief -- I immediately lose the necessary detachment from my own writing. The last novel I read was Hermann Broch's "The Sleepwalkers" and although it was suitably turgid and overdone, the first half of the middle book (it's a trilogy) was an absolute masterpiece. Complete change in style, perspective, and subject matter. Like listening to a rotten album and then suddenly a perfect song comes on and you're riveted.

Broch couldn't sustain the brilliance of that middle section through the rest of the book, but there was a scene (the novel was set in Germany, natch) when a psychotic clerk takes a stern hausfrau on a trip to look at the Lorelei which was so unbelievably brilliant that I found myself laughing out loud and closing the book every few seconds to savor the performance. It was a horrible, droll, pathetic, and completely human scene. When a skilled writer is really hitting on all cylinders like that, there's nothing more compelling.

Of course Broch couldn't sustain that brilliance; nobody could! But I'm telling you; word-for-word, for purely brilliant writing, I'm not sure that anyone can touch Broch in the first 100 pages of that middle book.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Houston IT Drone

There were good waves in Saint Augustine last week. I was looking at them on the internet from my hotel room in Houston. Yuck, Houston sucks. Actually, it's not that bad if you like restaurants, skyscrapers, and big highways. I took a walk one night just to get myself moving around. The cars were blasting past. It was just me and the Mexicans on the sidewalks. I stopped into a grocery store to get some stuff I like to eat and then I was really a legitimate member of the lower class, carrying my plastic grocery bags down the sidewalk, taking a rest on a bus stop bench. All I needed to complete my initiation was a package of off-brand cigarettes in the pocket of my shirt.

It was actually restful, in a strange way, to be disconnected from the transportation grid and on my own. There was a skyscraper with a fountain in front of it, and I realized that I could cut across the lawn and sit next to the fountain if I wanted. I didn't though, because it was too damned hot. The heat drove me back into my hotel room where the television was waiting. Most everything on television makes me sick, but I'm usually too weak to resist. To make the experience more tolerable, I like to flip through the channels that are not on the menu. You can find strange things there sometimes, such as snowy porn on channel 65. This is doubly valuable. One, because snowy black-and-white images make me nostalgic for my pre-cable childhood, and two, because the porn is bad and the people not at all attractive. Without the low-fi reception, it would be unwatchable. The experience is not arousing in the least, but I feel reassured by the sight of these people's blurry, abstract pursuit of sexual pleasure. At least someone, somewhere, is having a good time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis was a young nobleman's son who found his release from earthly cares when he began ministering to the lepers in a colony near his house.

The girl I met at the Starbucks, Laruen Williams, has since communicated to me via email that she graduated Cooley Law in 2001 and that she already has a poor young boyfriend and a rich Indian doctor boyfriend, both.

I've got to go to Houston in a few minutes and train my replacements on how to do my job. All day yesterday I was paralyzed by fear and regret. What was I thinking, taking a new job? There's no way I can do it. Why didn't I stay where I had it good?

St. Francis was a young nobleman's son who found his release from earthly cares when he began ministering to the lepers in a colony near his house.

The drummer from Def Leppard's only got one arm.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Sucky Motorola Phone

I can trace last night’s fiasco back to the sucky design of my Motorola phone, honest. Here’s what happened: Last night around 9 I called a friend of mine to see if he wanted to surf in the morning, but I dialed the wrong number. One digit off. This happened because my sucky Motorola phone was “charging”, which means I’d been plugging it in and unplugging it from its flimsy charger, wiggling it around (like they tell you not to) in hopes that it would catch some juice, all to no avail. Therefore I had to dial my friend’s number by memory, and wouldn’t you know, I got it wrong.

No big deal, right? The number I called went to voicemail, but since it wasn’t MJ’s voice on the other end, I declined to leave a message and simply hung up.

We got the first call around 1:30 that morning. Some idiot on the other end, asking for a series of nonexistent people. He’d found my number on his cell phone and decided to prank it. My wife hung up. I’m not even sure I was awake for that one. The second call, about 10 minutes later, she made me answer. The third and fourth calls, each about 15 minutes apart, woke me up, and in my confusion I kept forgetting to turn off the ringer or to say anything at all. The fifth call I freaked out and began swearing and threatening to call the police (as if that would do any good).

Angry now, I went downstairs to my computer to see if I could block the number from calling again, but of course, we don’t have call blocking. Who pays for stuff like that, right?
So then I had this bright idea that I’d bomb them back with phone calls. I remember I did that once with an old Windows NT machine, using the modem. My wife came down and begged me to just shut off the ringers, but I wasn’t listening.

I was concocting my perfect plan of revenge. It took me a long time to figure out that Windows XP’s dialer program does not really support calling like it did on NT, or at least, I couldn’t get it to work. I could enter a number to dial, but it never seemed to find the modem. Was it a hardware conflict? A modem configuration issue? A firewall problem? Here it was, getting on toward three in the morning, and I was standing there at the counter reading newsgroup posts from 1999 on how to call your grandmother through your Windows 98 machine.

Just as I was about to give up, I had a bright idea to set up a modem network connection, and see if that would get me somewhere. As soon as I had finished setting up the connection, I heard the sweet sound of success. The buzz of the dial tone, the modem dialing, the answer on the other line. Perfect! I didn’t need to say anything, I only needed to keep calling. In the Advanced properties of my new modem network connection, I set the redial timeout to thirty seconds and instructed Windows XP to try 1000 times before quitting.

I stood there for awhile (probably had a gleeful expression on my face) as my computer dialed the number of the prank callers. They’d answer, say hello, scream abuse, and eventually hang up. As soon as they did, my machine started the redial process. Brilliant!

I went on back to bed, but now I was too excited to sleep. I alternated between wild, exciting fantasies of just how frustrated the prankers must be getting by now and feelings of guilt. After all, they were probably drunk. And what if they had some emergency and couldn’t dial out? What if they found out where we lived and came by to throw rocks through the window?
I couldn’t sleep. I was too keyed up. Finally, around four-thirty, I went downstairs and disconnected my machine.

Feeling better, I went back upstairs and had just drifted into a doze when the phone rang. That’s right, the prankers again. As soon as their line was freed up, they made use of it. After the ringing stopped I went around the house and disconnected all our phones, then fell back in bed, exhausted.
“What I told you to do in the first place,” my wife said.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” I said.

So, how does this relate to my crappy Motorola phone (which is part of a 2 year contract with Cingular, natch)? If the charger on that thing wasn’t so completely klugdy and brain-dead, I’d have had my friend’s number available and never needed to dial that wrong number. Which means the prankers wouldn’t have mine. Which means…well you get my drift. It’s all Motorola’s fault!

Update: I have figured out a way to make your Motorola phone a little easier to charge. Look down into the base of the phone, where the charger connects. You should see a group of three copper-colored strips where your charger is supposed to make a connection. Chances are these strips are a cloudy gray-green color by now. Take a knife or some other object with a sharp point and gently scrape these strips until they are shiny again. This should greatly improve your chances of getting the phone to charge.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Out of the Past

So I woke up again at 4 in the morning, thinking about all the things I needed to learn and do for my new job at the big tech company. While I was lying there in the darkness I heard the paper slap up onto the porch. I didn’t look at the clock; I still had hope that I would fall back asleep.

Lately I’m not always sure when I’m asleep and when I’m awake. Yesterday afternoon I was saying goodbye to a certain co-worker, with whom I’d become very good friends over the last seven years, when suddenly I was convinced that I’d dreamed that very moment, our very exchange. Or rather, that my co-worker had dreamed it, and that she’d once told me her dream. I don’t know, it was confused, like all my experiences with déjà vu, and as soon as I began to examine it more closely, it faded.

I was thinking way too hard, way too early in the morning. It was almost painful, but then I remembered it would only be a bad thing if I had an agenda for the day, and that led me back to the twelve steps and the idea of letting go of my own expectations, so I began to repeat the twelve steps and then fell asleep.

At 6:30 my wife and I got up and took the dog for a walk on the beach. The waves were nicely groomed by the westerly breeze but too small for surfing. Still, it was a pleasant, slightly cool morning, and we had a nice walk down the beach, throwing the toy to our dog.

After our morning beach walks we always go to Starbucks to get a coffee. The last few times we’ve been there I’ve noticed a girl working behind the counter who looked very familiar. Once it even popped into my head that she looked like someone from my hometown of Flint, Michigan, but my mind is a confused, drafty place and the thought soon drifted out again.
Today that particular girl was not behind the counter when we came in, but when we’d gotten our coffees and were doctoring them up with milk and Splenda I saw her come in the door and heard someone address her as “Lauren”.

“Oh, my god,” I said to my wife.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Wait until we get outside,” my wife said. She later told me that she wanted me to wait because she thought I was going to say something about the lesbians who were kissing behind us.
So when we got to the car I told her that I thought the “Lauren” from the Starbucks might be the same “Lauren” from fifteen-years-ago Flint.
“So go in there and find out,” she said.
I must’ve looked dubious. I was thinking that this might be some kind of trap. You mean my pregnant wife wants me to go in and talk to some strange girl, alone?
“You come back in with me,” I said. “Otherwise I’m not going.”
“No, I want to sit here, I’m tired. Go on, what are you worried about, go on.”

I went back in. Perhaps that was a mistake, I don’t know. Long story short, I asked one of the other baristas if Lauren’s last name was Williams, and they said that it was. Then I made my introduction.

“Hi Lauren, you probably don’t remember me,” etc. etc. “But I was in a band with Matt Bully and Elliot, remember? I used to hang around at the Eskimo house, remember?”
Her face when a little white, then red, then white again. “Oh my god!”
Of course she didn’t remember my name, I had to tell her that. She was busy at work, but took my email address, and that looked to be the end our chat until she said, “So how is Matt, anyway?”
“Oh, you don’t know,” I said. “Well, he’s dead, actually. But it’s a long story, I don’t want to tell you at work.”
“No, I’m pretty busy.”
“Right, I’ll tell you some other time.”
“I’ll email you,” she said.
“Sure, good.”
A strange, awkward encounter, but then again, how else could it have possibly gone?

Now I have to give some background on Lauren Williams. For awhile, during my sophomore year of college, she was the absolute “it” girl in our little scene. She was a thin, Nordic blonde with a haughty expression and excellent fashion sense. She was the first girl to wear blue Doc Martens (which she got in Toronto) and she had an impressive array of Cure tour t-shirts.

She was that kind of girl. I got the vague impression that her family had a bit of money – for one thing, she drove a Volkswagen Cabriolet (the sorority-girl dream car) -- but she hung out with the skuzzy guys in punk bands. Her current beaux always benefited tremendously from her presence. He could be the biggest loser in the world, the lousiest musician, with the lamest haircut, but if Lauren was on his arm, he was instantly legitimized.

Matt dated her first, and for awhile they were the first couple of Flint. When they came into a room, everyone’s head turned to watch them. I think they really liked each other, and they were quite compatible (she was pretty and intelligent, he was a musical genius), but they had one thing working against them – Elliot.

Elliot was Matt’s best friend. Now, Elliot was the kind of guy who decided he was going to be your best friend whether you liked it or not. He had tremendous energy and a tremendously strong will. In this instance, he decided that he would sleep with Lauren Williams.

I remember his campaign to break Lauren down. I was a friend of both Matt’s and Elliot’s, and I was often present when Elliot was working on Lauren, and I should note that Elliot worked on her both in front of Matt and when Matt was absent. After two solid months of turning the conversation to sex, of suggesting that he might be able to please her more than Matt, he had seriously undermined Lauren’s resolve not to cheat; I could see it coming. It didn’t help that Matt, like a lot of geniuses I’ve known, was incredibly passive when it came to relationships. When I tried to warn him, he just shrugged.

“I’m not going to stop her,” Matt said. “If that’s what she wants.”
“But it’s Lauren Williams!” I said. “You won’t find a girl that pretty again, not in Flint.”
“Ah, I’m kind of tired of the whole thing, anyway.”

It happened on a trip to Toronto to see a band (I can’t remember now if it was the Cure or VoiVod). Elliot enticed Lauren out of the bed and onto the floor of the hotel room. They consummated on the floor while Matt was passed out a few feet away. Ah, youth!

When we got back to Flint, Elliot and Lauren tried to do the switch thing, where everyone continues to hang out and remain friends, but as usual, this didn’t work. I think Lauren wanted Matt back, but Matt wasn’t interested anymore. And Elliot, well, once he had a girl, they usually lost interest. He was a hell of a salesman, but not so good at delivering on all those promises. So Lauren Williams drifted away from our little scene. She stopped coming to our shows, which immediately took our band down a notch in everyone else’s estimation.

Every once in a while I’d see her out at a local restaurant or at a club, and I’d always give her a little talking-to, just to see if she had any interest in me. I knew she was too good for me, but I had a glimmer of hope – after all, if she’d taken up with Matt and Elliot, why not me? Maybe just for a night? Nothing. No interest whatsoever. She was polite but distant, same as ever. Story of my life…

So I drove home from the Starbucks with my pregnant wife, again thinking that I’d dreamed all this before, and trying to remember how it turned out in my dream.
“What do you think her story is?” my wife said.
“I don’t know. Married someone with money, most likely, then got divorced, working at Starbucks for the benefits,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” my wife said. “I’m not sure what the story is, but I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”
Later, when we’d gotten home, my wife said, “I trust you.”
And I replied, “She can’t hold a candle to you, baby, come on.”
It was a true statement. Lauren isn’t half as hot as my wife, even at seven months pregnant. And yet, there’s always something about your past that seems so attractive, something back there that you lost, something you regret. I don’t know what I expect will happen. Part of me hopes she loses my email address. After all, what good could come of it? Then again, something that improbable can't be totally without meaning, can it?