Monday, July 30, 2007

found on the ground

The other day I found a piece of blue lined paper torn from a spiral notebook. It was lying on Castro Street, in the gutter. I had to turn around and go halfway back across the street to retrieve it. Mark and Frank continued on, not yet registering that I’d backtracked to pick up what appeared to the untrained eye to be litter.

Litter, yes. But irresistible litter.

An abstract blobby-looking flower decorated the bottom where the page number should be. It was girlie notebook paper. Retro 1960s girlie notebook paper, judging by the flower.

The handwriting wasn’t neat either, not at all. It strayed from the lines as if all this writing were done in the dark, during the audio-visual portion of the school day; the lowercase letters were small, jagged and crabbed. But there were fancy architectural flourishes on the capital letters like the “F” and the “D”. Swoops and curlicues.

The promise of junior high school drama on the half-shell.

One side said, “Friend Chart” and listed three names, one per line:


Cool names, those. Friends anyone would be darned proud of. Clearly the names of the junior high school royalty. Names that aren’t mispronounced at roll call. Names that no-one makes fun of.

Didn’t Freakonomics have something pithy to say about names as destiny?

Deja. Janaeah. Cameron. They’re the modern replacements for the friends on the last generation’s Friends Chart. Gone, the perky Cheryls, the slutty Francines, the ingratiating Lindas. Gone too are the names that came after, the Caitlins, the Taylors, the Heathers. They’re grown up now, breeders themselves. They’re pushing Peg Perego strollers in Noe Valley.

Enter Deja, Janaeah, and Cameron. It’s your 15 minutes, girlfriends! Your turn to be the dELiA*s models and Trendspotting spokespeople.

But the short list I found was hardly a chart. I’d expect some lines connecting Deja with Janaeah telling me whether Janaeah liked Cameron, or vice-versa, and how much. Or maybe a matrix, comparing the features and foibles of the three girls. Who’s all emo? Who’s got the hippest playlist on her iPod? Who’s got the worst case of camel toe? As I recall, the cruelty of 7th grade girls knows no bounds.

But shouldn’t there be social networking software to do this?

Didn’t I just read about, a site with the tag line, “You’ve got friends!”?

Ah, but the real list is on the other side. Here we’ve got all of them, the ♥Friends♥. Deja, Cameron, Janaeah, Lj, Isoke, Allie, Anja, Giselle, Ellen, Gabby, and Miriam make the grade. BFF, as the tween trendspotters would say.

I’m assuming these are all girls, even though the only other Gabby I know is a dog. A girl dog, but a dog nonetheless—that’s the kind of relationship that should be conducted on Dogster, right?

If the anonymous list maker were using a real social networking service, she’d have a lot more friends than that. And isn’t that the point, to have a really, really (rilly rilly) long list of friends (even if you have to pad it with products you use, weird guys that hit on you, and bands you occasionally listen to)? You’d be embarrassed to have only 11 friends on MySpace; you’d need to have at least 7227 friends.

Actually it’s more fun to snoop around on social networking sites than it is to imagine what’s behind a scrap of notebook paper. The MySpace version of Allie, for example, tells me that she’s sick of my shit, that she’s just adopted a one-eyed dog, that she’s bought a Jayne Mansfield movie, and that she loves her girlfriends. Julie, Ashley, Tracy, and Paige.

I look for Julie, Ashley, Tracy, and Paige among the 539 names on Allie’s friends list. I find Paige among scads of Betties in mid-century glamour poses and cat-eye sunglasses, but no sign of Julie, Ashley, or Tracy. Jenny and Katertots (TM) figure prominently though.

Oh, this friends stuff is *fickle*. One minute they’re your friends and the next minute, they’ve defriended you forever. Oh, the harsh realities of drunken FaceBooking.

Maybe there’ll eventually be a social networking site for exes.

Haven’t you ever had the experience of meeting the ex-girlfriend of your ex-boyfriend and bonding instantly? You’ve got this great thing in common: you hate the same person, a person who has no doubt exhibited the same bad behavior to both of you. Now you agree that Cameron is an irredeemable skank or Jason needs to take far greater interest in his personal hygiene.

Any ex of my ex is a friend of mine. Sounds like a fine basis for a social networking site.

Think about it: who makes you feel the best about your break-up? Another ex, of course! You have more in common with your ex’s exes than you do with the people you’ve gone to school with, the people you’ve worked with, the people who listen to the same bands that you do, or the other dog and cat owners of the world. You might even share important things like social diseases (possibly contracted through other social networking sites): imagine that!

There’s more too: I’ve heard many people say that when they’re trying to stay awake in a dull meeting, they make a list of all the people they’ve ever slept with. The cognitive effort of this exercise keeps them awake and entertained.

So a social networking site for exes is just the thing.

What’ll we call it? ExTeriority, perhaps. That sounds sufficiently post-boom, doesn’t it? We don’t want anything too obvious—that signals pre-Internet bust thinking. Y’know. Friendster. All of the obvious names demonstrate that you’re too naïve to embark on an online venture in 2007.

Venture Capitalists. Are you listening?

I can see the comments area now.


You know how he always flossed his teeth all over the apartment, while he was walking around or watching Buffy or something. Little flecks of tooth scum everywhere! Stuck to the TV, even!! Eeeewwww!!!!
It could get fairly gruesome and unbecomingly obscene, which seems like the hallmark of any good and successful social networking site. There’s apparently a real human need to air that dirty laundry.

To wit: I found this one on torn UPS packaging, again in the street in front of our house. GLEN STROUD CANNOT BE TRUSTED.

It’s a simple accusation. GLEN STROUD CANNOT BE TRUSTED. It seems to be everywhere, all over town. It’d be a perfect comment for the social network consisting of all of Mr. Stroud’s exes. And unlike the creepy (and discriminatory) eHarmony, we can make this an open site that respects exes of any orientation or level of commitment.

What a perfect opportunity to Rate My Service! That’s one of the future-looking features of the site: it’s not just for ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, but also for next boyfriends and girlfriends. Such valuable information. It might not cause you to change your mind, but you’d know what to expect. And it wouldn’t demand full disclosure from the prospective partner—after all, full disclosure is a style not everyone appreciates.

It’s just the opposite of LinkedIn, which we have already established as the Amway of social networking sites.

And no matter what I say to my friends and colleagues, I still get invitations to join LinkedIn because people have a compulsive need to sweeten their numbers. Already have 1047 connections on LinkedIn? Why not go for 1048! And they invite me, thinking theirs might just be the invitation that breaks my cone of silence.

But my cone of silence is invincible. We can’t talk here, Chief.

Of course, I make it a point to perversely hang on to my listing in LinkedIn, with its single link, just to demonstrate how very tenuously linked to reality I am. (In case you’re wondering, my one link is from Larry Masinter, who himself gets around. Larry’s the one who was prescient enough to invite Sir Tim B-L to PARC in 1992, when the WWW was finite and innocent, a repository of folk song lyrics and high-energy physics papers. I figure a link from Larry is enough.)

But you just wait ‘til there’s ExTeriority.

Then you’ll be dishing the dirt on your own scrap of notebook paper.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The best excuse in the world

For once I have a really good excuse.

Usually my excuses barely qualify as lame. Face-saving, really—they’re just face-saving excuses that no-one believes, but they allow all parties involved to carry on without feeling too bad.

“Oh! I thought the party was next Saturday.”

“I really was intending to come back in after I stepped outside. I didn't plan to be gone for 3 months.”

“I’d have brought a bathing suit if I’d have known you had a pool.”

This time though, I have an impressive excuse, one that’d get me out of almost anything. A Get Out Of Jail Free card.

Two weeks ago, I almost bled to death.

Everywhere I went looked like a crime scene with blood spatters and bloody handprints. Then, with little preamble, I ended up on an operating table, and like Keith Richards, had my blood changed (with the same degree of apparent casualness that my Honda has an oil change). I also seem to have lost four or five non-essential parts in the process.

Who’d have known that people are so similar to IKEA bookcases? Not because they have names like “Knappa” or “Glörg”, but rather because you can leave out parts when you put them together. I was under anesthesia at re-assembly time, so I have no idea whether the surgery involved small black hex wrenches, but some suspicious-looking bruises lead me to suspect it did.

I was put back together with hex wrenches and some parts were left over and left out and presumably thrown away or perhaps even used to re-assemble someone else.

I suppose I could’ve asked for the leftover parts so I could’ve enshrined them in Lucite and put them on the mantel next to my Five Year Clock, Aunt Yetta’s cigarette dispenser, the bust-of-Lenin butane lighter, and all of that other special bric-a-brac, but I didn’t. I forgot. I was unconscious. And when I wasn't unconscious, I was dosing myself with Fentanyl at ten minute intervals.

Frankly I was too distracted to ask for a doggy bag.

So my only souvenir of this unexpected hospital stay is an 8 inch vertical incision down my midsection. At least, that’s what I’m told. Any kind of medical imagery makes me so queasy that I’ve been unable to inspect my own surgical artifact. In fact, I’ve discovered it’s not all that hard to avoid peeking at it. I just don’t look.

And unlike LBJ, there’ll be no photos in which I show you my scar by way of telling you that I’m okay. Unlike Andy Warhol, I don’t want to show you the extent of the damage.

You’ll have to take my word for it.

If you asked me three weeks ago, I’d have told you that an 8 inch incision down one’s midsection would be damned painful. I’m happy to report that my intuitions were exactly right: it is indeed damned painful and I’d be reluctant to recommend you do this by way of body modification.

Sure, pierce your ears—or even pierce those more tender parts—but tell ‘em to leave your belly alone. Get that career-limiting tattoo on your forehead. Sear a corporate logo onto your haunches with a red-hot branding iron. Paint your Lee Press On Nails with liquid paper. But leave that tummy be. You don’t want to modify the configuration of your midsection. Trust me.

Sometimes when I stand up too quickly, I have the momentary sensation that my entrails are about to pop right out and go sploosh on the floor. There’s no provocation too slight. This causes me to move around more slowly than usual, because if my entrails do pop out, I want to be able to stuff them back in right away. I’m thinking that the 5 second rule applies, as it does to fumbled roasts, dumped pans of lasagna, or dribbled canapés. Just pick those entrails up and stuff ‘em back in and no-one will be the wiser.

Pop. Sploosh. Stuff.

But shouldn’t there be some perqs to being down and out? Surely there must be a few besides the usual offering of pain pills (which are used and gone all too soon) and the glamorous bouquets of cut flowers I’ve received (and they are quite lovely).

I had my tonsils removed when I was 4 or 5 years old. What I remember from that experience is that the complicit adults told me I could have all the ice cream and jello I wanted after the surgery was over. It sounded like a fabulous deal. All of the ice cream and jello I wanted. And I wanted unlimited ice cream and jello. I believe the forbidden red Kool-Aid figured into the deal too. Ah, a promise of paradise.

What they didn’t tell me is that my throat’d be way, way too sore to want any ice cream or any jello. That all of the ice cream and jello would be consumed by Kathleen Philips who came to visit me in my sickbed, attracted by the ready availability of unlimited ice cream and jello. That my hellacious sore throat would only be superseded by my mounting resentment of Kathleen Philips whose throat wasn’t too sore to eat my rightfully-earned ice cream and my rightfully-earned jello and to drink my rightfully-earned Kool-Aid.

What’s that red stain on your tongue, Kathleen? Been drinking too much Kool-Aid?

I could’ve bopped her one for enjoying my treats when I was too sick to partake. Except she was bigger and healthier and would’ve beaten the crap out of me. So her tongue got redder and redder and she got higher and higher and more hyperactive from all that sugar while I sulked in bed, feeling deceived and ill-used.

I’m not sure what the equivalent perq is as an adult. Probably to watch all of the mind-numbing TV and DVDs you want, all day, every day. So naturally now I don’t feel like watching TV.

Right after I got out of the hospital, I went through a brief flirtation with the Food Network, where there are shows featuring Horchata experts and hot dog experts and funnel cake experts and pirogi experts, all willing to comment authoritatively on their respective foodstuffs. I watched X-treme sports for awhile too, musing all the while about head injuries and what they must do to an eighteen year-old’s capacity to make intelligent remarks during on-camera interviews. I even tuned in to the Comedy Channel, knowing full well that if I laughed, it would really hurt. It was okay: I never found occasion to laugh. Finally I clicked over to the high numbers, to the XM satellite radio channels. There’s only a vague visual component to satellite radio channels on TV, cartoon raindrops, unreadable song titles, instructions how to order—that kind of thing.

Boring. Boring.

Susie came over on Saturday and loaned me DVDs of the first season of all the TV series I’ve missed in the past decade. Sex in the City. Weeds. Buffy. Veronica Mars. I haven’t started in on those yet (although I suspect that’s what I’m going to do after I publish this post). Nor have I broken into my three Netflix videos, videos that have been sitting on top of the TV since last October.

What good is a life of ease on the sofa if you can’t hunker down with the TV? I had no trouble watching 8 hours of TV each day when I was a kid. Drat! What has happened to me? Did one of those surgically removed parts house my F Troop enjoyment apparatus?

Will I ever be able to watch TV again?

Now that I have unlimited license to watch bad TV, I just don’t feel like it.

And after only two weeks, work has become a distant memory, perhaps gone with my old blood or spare organs. The strangers’ blood I have coursing through my veins instead must have a strong slacker factor. Heartier than my own blood to be certain, but not inclined to force me to break though the lassitude of recovery and return to work.

So there you have it: the best excuse in the world.

And what am I going to do with it?

Take a nap, of course.

[Note: If you have any predisposition to give blood, please do. Especially if you're Type AB Positive. I was grateful to have it there for me. Thanks.]