Friday, September 20, 2013

Say what?

I was walking during Noon Hour today in my old neighborhood.  It's a beautiful old area, mostly developed in the 20's and 30's as the commuter railroad extended out to North Berkeley.  The houses are large and genteel with mostly spacious yards, but not much space between them.  There's lots of oak trees and the occasional redwood or cedar or sycamore tree.  Though I was near a major business district, it was quiet out that way, as it nearly always is.  That's one reason I go there for a long walk.  It's a half hour away by foot, up and down lots of hills.  I turn around and head back to the campus at the north end of the Solano Tunnel and I can get back to my office before they start wondering where I am.

Some days I am hyper aware and tend to notice nearly everything that moves anywhere near me, from a passing truck to a finch flitting around a shrub.  Today, however, I was striding down toward the turnaround point and was deep into a brooding reverie, thinking about things having little to do with my surroundings and barely noticing when cars or people passed by.  I stepped off a path down Los Angeles Street, and made a sharp right turn onto the Solano Avenue sidewalk that leads into the tunnel.  Across the street on a slope that leads up to Mendocino Avenue is a sizable bank of ivy under large spreading trees.  As I'd turned onto the sidewalk I looked at this ivy, as I normally do, and saw nothing but ivy.  A few strides later I heard a noise like a large human stamping around in it.  Looking back and expecting to see a street person rooting in the foliage, I saw a large buck deer with an impressive pair of antlers.  He and I stared at one another for a long minute, then he casually turned up the slope, seemed to levitate over the chain link fence and trotted up Mendocino Avenue toward Arlington Circle, no doubt in search of something to eat and a path back to Tilden Park.  

Deer in the Berkeley Hills?  No big deal, you might say.  It's completely common.  Still, I usually see a doe and a fawn or two.  This thing looked like an elk.  It seemed enormous.  Being partially a child of Sixties TV, I immediately thought of the Challenge Butter wrapper.  Then I briefly wondered if there was mountain lion around, but thought the better of that since there was no fawn.  I had a vision of looking back as I walked through the dusty oily darkness of the tunnel to see a large mountain lion stalking me, having failed to bag the deer.  People passing in buses and cars would be treated to the sight of me being dragged off by the hungry puma.

I was so removed and so blunted by the urban milieu that this impressively large animal was entirely invisible and inaudible to me.  I suspect that it was moving around eating leaves and I just never noticed it.  Would I have noticed it if it had been making weird little metallic clicking sounds or the whirring of a spinning flywheel as it's jaws opened and closed?  If I'd been a little sharper, a little more attuned to all of the world around me, I might've seen this magnificent beast before he'd seen me and had chance to admire him before he decided he needed a more peaceful lunchroom, i.e. someone's backyard.

The incident had me wishing I could check out for a while and go live in a place where one rarely hears a motor, rarely sees a man made moving object.  The High Sierras would do, or even an atoll in the Tuamotus.  Failing that, perhaps I could move my desk into the local redwood grove, and dispense bureaucratic ed biz whizdumb surrounded by a carpet of redwood needles, smelling the sharp woodiness of the great trees in the heat of a long afternoon.  I could bury the wires for my computer and phone.  I might even get something done.

Happy Friday, y'all.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fear of the Virtual Suckatorium*

I just recently started a Facebook page.  This came about because of my own curiosity, and relations who kept urging me to go ahead.  Well, what the hell?  So I did.  It's fun, I must admit, to have that admission into people's lives that otherwise I would not.  It's fun to have yet another channel to contact friends (real ones . . . from before Facebook)  Yes, I am a bit of a voyeur.  I don't know too many people who are not.  It's cool to see photos of one's friends and people one hasn't seen since about 40 years ago. It's fun to banter over the net with people who might not pay attention to you if it weren't for the urge to respond to posts on one's page. 

Still, there's something about it that makes me feel vaguely silly.  I don't say that with any feeling of looking down upon it or on anyone who spends time on Facebook.  I don't look down on them or it.  I've been asking myself why I am doing it.  Even when I don't need to, while on there I have an urge to look over my shoulder to make sure no one is watching me.

This is consistent with the way I have been since I can remember.  I have been and still am a person who doesn't like to actively, knowingly join a crowd, to follow a fad, a trend or what have you.  For instance it took me 6 years to see Star Wars.  It took me 10 years to see the Godfather.  I don't do Twitter or even try to understand it. I have resisted Facebook since it's inception, and resisted MySpace before that.

Oddly, I often find that I have somehow over time started to do the things the crowd does.  I have started following the trend. Why do I consciously avoid that which I often end up doing anyway? 

I had a recent experience which fueled my reluctance where Facebook is concerned.

I couldn't quite put any of this into words until just the other night when I had gone out to the Safeway late to get last minute dessert items.  There's a Starbuck's in there and even though it was closed, the little fenced off cafe area still had three people sitting in it.  Two looked deeply forlorn, as though they knew life was passing them by and they were just sitting there watching it happen.  They were slightly disheveled and each between maybe 55 and 70 years of age.  They were just sitting there staring at nothing in particular.  They might've been a street people, and perhaps they just needed a place to be indoors for a while; a place with other people where they wouldn't have to breathe exhaust fumes from passing cars or be actively ignored by those from whom they'd asked a little change. They both seemed to fit with the overall dusty brown milieu. 

The third person was a guy about forty years old, overweight, balding and hadn't shaved in a day or two, had an empty Starbuck's snack bag and coffee cup, and stared listlessly at a laptop.  Dressed in grey slacks and a black Derby jacket, his skin was sallow and puffy.  He had one hand on the mouse and the other planted firmly under his left cheekbone.  I watched him for a moment from a discreet distance as I went through the checkout line.  Only his eyes and his right hand moved.  His mouth hung open and he didn't blink, but I could see his eyeballs moving back and forth every now and then.  He seemed to be running on impulse power only.  I approached him as I was leaving the store and looked back at his laptop as I passed and there was Facebook.  Being quite sure he hadn't noticed me, I watched him click through things on the page.  I couldn't tell what he was looking at; just photos and posts from people and the occasional link to some other site.  He'd go from one thing to another and back to the page he'd been on.  He'd click a link, then without being there very long, he'd return.  He seemed to be going nowhere fast.  The whole display made me feel queasy and I quickly scrambled into the cool semi-darkness of the parking lot to find my car. 

Perhaps it was only a case of guilty paranoia, but I couldn't shake the image of me doing exactly that about 5 months from now, having become a hopeless, overweight, insensate Facebook addict, staring at it by the hour hoping for a moment of . . .  of something; something elseAnything else.

It makes no sense, I know.  It won't happen.  If it were likely to happen, it wouldn't take Facebook.  I could long ago have done that with a set of old HP Lovecraft paperbacks.  To think of all the beautiful things I would not have experienced and might still experience gives me enough of a grip to prevent it, but just the mere image of me being him was enough to have me question the whole idea of finding social interaction over a web page.  Yeah, I know, I get social interaction here, but not on the scale of Facebook and I'm here for different reasons.    

I think perhaps I am fighting against the feeling that I am joining the crowd.  I just don't like knowing I'm doing that.  Why don't I like it?  Why have I never liked it?  What gets me interested enough that I do it anyway?

*Thank you, JF.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Rest in Peace, Mom


June 6, 1924 - August 28, 2013