August 21, 1999
Culture Shock
 

Yeah, there'll be some new stuff later today ... whenever the ol' synapses finally start firing. [Read this: when The Other 50% of the Population and his GUITAR aren't standing five feet behind my chair.] In the meantime, CLICK HERE to revel in the vast reserves of grooviness known as my pal, Edmund Kaz [with one of his personal gods] ... and then check back later.



Mini-scene from my day yesterday:

It's just past five p.m., and I am standing at a busy intersection in downtown Oakland, waiting for the #51.

If It's Friday, This Must Be *Bus Day.*

I'm trying to look casual: I'm holding a half-empty bottle of Calistoga Springs and "reading" an Avon catalog while I wait. My $1.25 bus fare is carefully wadded up in the palm of my right hand, ready for the meter. When people pass me on the sidewalk, I take another studied sip of water ... nonchalantly flip the pages of the catalog ... glance at my watch.

I'm cool. I'm collected. I'm slickly professional.

I'm full of shit.

What gives me away, I think, is the fact that my purse is slung around my chest, like one of those "Snugli" infant-carrier contraptions ... with the zipper side facing TOWARDS me, of course. ("Hello! I'm a nervous sweaty white woman from the suburbs! Please don't steal my purse, OK?")

Or maybe it's the fact that I'm reading the Avon catalog upside down. I don't know.

All I do know is that I feel extremely white, and extremely damp,and extremely UNPOPULAR whenever I stand at this particular intersection. And I doubt that my calm, collected routine is fooling much of anybody.

It's not a racial thing. Honest. At least, I hope it's not. It's true that Oakland is more racially diverse than any place I've ever lived, and that has taken some getting used to ... but I like to consider myself a fairly open-minded and tolerant human being. No. I think, in this case, that it's more about cultural differences. A year ago I was riding the bus in OREGON, forcryingoutloud  ...  where my biggest *bus stop fear* was getting pine tar on my Doc Martens. In Oregon, I waited for the bus at a stop so sheltered -- so remote --  that the only *company* I worried about were ants. So there is no small amount of culture shock at play here, as I stand on a street corner swirling with people.

And I think it's also about me personally, and about the fact that I've never been comfortable in big groups of people. I instinctively pull into myself whenever I'm in a crowd. It's the way I stay safe, emotionally.

I would probably make an excellent lighthouse keeper.

At any rate. It's been another brutal week at The Totem Pole Company, and all I want to do is get semi-naked and scream and eat cookies and listen to loud music for a while. (And unlike some of the other folks at this particular bus stop, *I* would prefer to wait until I get HOME to do so.)  So I'm just going to stand here and pretend to read about Skin So Soft Antibacterial Moisturizing Hand Gel -- "It's All About Moisture!" -- and clutch my purse very very close to my chest, praying that nobody attempts to engage me in conversation. I don't think I have two working *conversating* molecules left in my entire body.

So of course this is the precise moment that Panhandler Guy makes his pitch.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he says politely. He's an older gentleman, thin and unshaven. "I'm wondering if you could spare me a dollar so I can get something to eat?" And he gestures vaguely down the street towards Jack in the Box, spinning off into a long, complex (and mostly unintelligible, due to traffic noises) tale of unemployment and disease and a recently-deceased wife.

I don't even wait to hear the rest of his story: I immediately begin unzipping my purse. I have a handful of pennies, two nickels, a quarter ... and a five dollar bill. I give him the five. Not because I'm a compassionate and generous human being, but because I simply want him to go away and quit talking to me. (Also because I don't want to seem *cheap* by giving him a handful of pennies.)  David would doubtless have ten kinds of cow, if he knew. He doesn't believe in handing out money to people just because they ask. When we walk around Berkeley, he's able to resist Homeless Guy with Purple Cat ... Homeless Woman with Crippled Daughter in Wheelchair ... Homeless Guy in Tuxedo with Dog ... etc. etc. He simply looks them in the eye and says, "No, sorry" and keeps walking. *I* on the other hand always feel torn, as though I should at LEAST give them twenty-five cents or a breath mint or a Hello Kitty coupon or SOMETHING. But this time, I'm not giving this guy five bucks out of the goodness of my heart.

I just want him to go away.

Which he does, the moment the five dollar bill connects with his outstretched hand. "God bless you," he says, beaming. "God BLESS you."  For the first time all afternoon I look another human being directly in the eye. "You take care," I tell him sternly -- I almost want to request that he bring me the receipt from Jack in the Box -- and he smiles and God blesses me again and ambles off down the street. I zip my purse closed and tuck it safely back against my chest. And then I open the Avon catalog and "read" for another eight and a half minutes, until the #51 finally, blessedly, comes chugging up Broadway and carts me home to The Castle.


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


An online pal sent me an instant message the other day. "How can I live my life vicariously through you," she said teasingly/whinily, "if you never write anything new on your website?"

I don't know what to tell her. Once again my life has neatly compartmentalized itself -- or should I say, collapsed in on itself? -- into two activities: work and sleep. Sleep and work. (Too much of one, not nearly enough of the other.) Once in a while I manage to cram in a little unscheduled *extra* activity ... like sex, for instance, or eating, or laundry, or a sloppy website entry ... but I'm quite narrowly focused these days, otherwise.

And I hate it.

Part of the problem is the fact that I am profoundly unhappy in the new Exec Ass position. I don't want to sound like a complainer here, but it's becoming increasingly clear that it doesn't matter how competent or reliable or upbeat or ANYTHING I am, on the job. Franz needs somebody to browbeat ... and that somebody is whoever sits in the little office across the hall from his. But until I've accumulated enough of those precious Exec Ass *Experience Points* on my résumé and can start looking elsewhere, I've just gotta suck it up and try to figure out how to quit bringing my toxic job home with me, every night. It interferes with everything, from my relationship with David (and his kids), to my level of concentration and focus when I'm writing, to every day encounters with people on the street.

But the other problem I have -- at least as far as this website is concerned, and finding the time and inspiration to update it -- are the ridiculous "standards" I seem to have accidentally set for myself. For instance ... this feeling that if I can't write a masterpiece every time, then I don't want to write anything at all. Or the fact that I've actively avoided writing about the minutiae of my life, not wanting *FootNotes* to devolve into just another online diary. ("Do they really care what I had for breakfast? What I wore to the office? Whether the ingrown has become infected again?") This sort of belies the whole idea of keeping an Internet journal, of course, since I'm supposed to be writing about my life, even when it's less than perfect. 

Or less than interesting.

But these are some of the stupid issues I'm struggling with right now, as an "Internet journaler." (That, and trying to solve the mystery of "Third Voice." Where the hell are my public notes??)

So what's the answer? There isn't one ... except maybe just simple perseverance. I'll keep plugging away at the job. I'm giving myself another three month 'deadline'  --  if I'm still this unhappy by November, then I'm out the door. And I'll keep plugging away at *FootNotes,* as always. 

Even if it means I've gotta start writing about weather again.



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