I often marvel at the way certain, random occurrences in life can conspire to create truly magical experiences--experiences wherein, afterwards, I find myself silently thinking things like: "If I had left the house just 30 seconds later--or earlier for that matter--I wouldn't have stopped at that red light just in time to see that bird shit on that guy's head. Whoa..."
A few weeks ago, I celebrated (read: drank myself into a deep depression) the fact that I had been at my new job for three whole months. I should have been happy--I mean, I'd been unemployed for nearly two years prior--but I couldn't find any joy in this particular occasion. Sure, it was nice to be able to feed myself again, but I didn't spend two years "finding myself/searching for the meaning of life/blah blah blah" just to wind up at another unsatisfying job that I have no interest in beyond getting a paycheck. Or maybe I did...
See? Depressing stuff. Anyway, craving a much-needed pick-me-up, I did what any non-reader of Chicken-Soup-for-the-[insert noun here]'s-Soul would do: I decided to clean something. I find that cleaning something is the perfect solution for those times when I'm depressed or bored or have something more important to do. And that is how my roommate, The Douche, came to find himself outside in the pouring rain, scrubbing cigarette ash and sand off our front porch while I kept "accidentally" squirting him with the hose. When we were done with the porch, Chris decided that as long we had the hose out we might as well wash the windows. Using my thumb to control the water pressure, I got to work, while he, playing the role of supervisor, began yelling and gesticulating wildly to ensure that I was employing the proper technique and not missing any spots. I suppose this scene would have been amusing to watch under almost any circumstances, but given the fact that this was all taking place in the midst of a torrential downpour, I can only imagine what anyone watching us was thinking. Actually, I can do more than imagine, since one of our neighbors across the way decided to open her window and ask, "Why are you using a hose when it's raining?" She had me stumped, but luckily Chris jumped to our defense: "We're idiots," he said.
Moments later, us two idiots were recounting this neighborly exchange to an amused Mor-Ann as we sped through the rain in her car. Destination: Target-West. (The geographic suffix is necessary because there are actually two Targets within half a mile of each other, one on the East side of the freeway and one on the West. Maybe it's just California, but it seems like all the ghetto places are always on the East-Side. Target-East, being no exception, has parking spots specifically reserved for police vehicles.) The purpose of our trip, ostensibly, was to buy a new welcome mat for our freshly cleaned porch, so we started there. After deciding that we didn't want any cutesy sayings ("Wipe Your Paws") and definitely didn't want anything that said "Welcome" or even suggested the idea of welcome-ness, the choice was relatively simple. We then spent the next hour or so doing what we really came to Target to do, that is: swing golf clubs, baseball bats, and Serena Williams-endorsed tennis rackets; play four-square, dodgeball, and football in the aisles; look at LEGOs, etc. After somehow finding the inner-strength to overcome an overwhelming urge to pop the tops off all the cans of tennis balls, I made my way over to the CD section where I was unable to muster the strength needed to avoid impulse-buying Michelle Branch's Hotel Paper and Journey's Greatest Hits, marking the first time I'd purchased a CD since Michelle's The Spirit Room in late 2001.
All three of us were headed for the check-out lines--I had my two CDs, Chris had a massively overpriced CD rack, and Ann had what appeared to be a training bra (though my experience with bras and women in general is so limited, I can't be sure)--when we discovered the vacuum cleaner aisle. We had been discussing replacing our circa 1970 vacuum cleaner due to it's poor suction and lack of attachments for some time, and decided that as long as we were there we might as well do it. The only problem was that there were at least 20 different vacuum cleaners to choose from and we all felt very strongly about the features we wanted: I was convinced that we needed one with "supreme wind-tunnel technology," Chris was adamant that we get one with a "crevice tool" attachment, and Ann was absolutely indignant in her insistence that we buy one with a "headlight." Luckily, we found one that had all three of the features we desired (and then some!) and finally made our way to the check-out.
The car ride home was filled with excitement, and the sound of Steve Perry's legendary voice. We sang along as best we could with the mega-talent blasting through the car speakers. I think I speak for everyone there when I say it was truly a transcendental experience.
When we got home, I carefully placed our new doormat, wiped my feet on it, and walked inside just in time to see Ann tear into the vacuum box like a kid on Christmas morning, then expertly wield a Phillips-head screwdriver and successfully demonstrate that women can do everything men can do by putting the thing together, reading the directions, taking the thing apart, and putting it back together the correct way. With the vacuum finally assembled, and our collective wit exhausted making jokes about the "crevice tool," we finally gave the thing a whirl. Were it not a tired cliché, and in this case a gross understatement, I would tell you that watching this vacuum cleaner do its thing was like watching poetry in motion--or maybe more like watching dirt, dust, and other particulates spin around in a CleanView® Bagless 3-Stage Filtration Chamber. In other words: totally awesome.
The next few days at work, I couldn't stop thinking about that vacuum cleaner, or about the day we bought it. There was a real sense of camaraderie between my roommates and I that day, something that I think had been missing for a long time. There was no bickering or fighting, no Ann-imosity or douchey-ness...it was just an all-around good day. But I must confess to feeling very ambivalent about the whole experience. I mean, let's face it: when a trip to Target and a new vacuum cleaner is what passes for excitement in your life, you start to question whether you have one at all. Of course, I could chalk it up to the fact that I'm very easily amused (I chuckle to myself every time I set the "Load Size" on the washing machine) but I'd still be left dwelling on a day in the past, albeit the not-so-distant past, as the last time I had any fun.
Have you ever had that feeling where you just want to be somewhere---anywhere--else? You just need to get away for awhile--not forever, just a little while--so that when you come back things will seem fresh and new and not so stagnant? In one of those odd coincidences in life, that was the exact feeling I had 10 minutes before my boss told me I could take vacation in April if I worked nights for a month, 20 minutes before I got an email from United Airlines to inform me that I would lose my frequent flyer miles if I didn't use them soon, and 30 minutes before I got another email, this one from a friend in Italy, wondering if I was ever going to come visit. Life is a trip.
I got a ticket to Italy, departing on Easter Sunday. Because I know a couple people in Germany, two weeks later I'm supposed to catch a flight from Berlin back to the States. I have no idea how I'm going to get from Italy to Germany, but I suppose that'll be part of the fun. Two weeks off work...I can hardly wait.
Working nights at my job means working from 6:00pm until 6:00am the following morning. They don't call this the graveyard shift for nothing: you are dead to the world, and the world is dead to you. Sunrises become your sunsets; you sleep while the world works, and work while the world sleeps. There is an odd, dreamlike quality to your existence; you're never fully awake, because your body and mind know they should be asleep.
If there's one good thing about working nights, it's that the world seems a lot less crowded. I was thinking about that when I decided to drive to San Francisco International Airport to pick up my tickets at 3 o'clock in the morning. I was operating under the pretense that airports are open 24 hours a day, which, as I would come to find out, is only sort of true: they're open, but nobody's there.
On my way to the short term parking garage, I drove around the arrivals platform of the International Terminal and was surprised to find it empty. There was not one bus or taxi or even one single solitary person in sight. Why this did not deter me is not entirely clear, but, undeterred, I parked my car and took the elevator up to the Passageway to Terminals.
The Passageway to Terminals consists of the longest moving walkway I've ever seen. Standing at one end, I could not see all the way to the other. This was most likely due to the fact that I'm blind and don't wear glasses, but I told myself that it was a "curvature of the earth" thing. In any case, I'm telling you: this thing was a tenth of a mile if it was a foot. And I was the only one on it.
I moved along in eerie silence; the only noise was the rhythmic sound of the moving walkway. At the far end I hopped on an empty escalator and was filled with pure amazement when I got to the top: there was the International Terminal, five stories high and as big as ten football fields, totally and completely devoid of even a single sign of life. There were no airline workers, no security guards, no one. The only thing I could hear was the sound of the escalator I had just gotten off. It was the most surreal thing I'd ever seen, a post-apocalyptic wonderland (if you will). I silently cursed myself for not bringing my camera and began to explore.
I had only walked a few feet when I heard footsteps behind me. I stopped and turned around, but there was no one there. I kept walking, slightly freaked out, and heard the footsteps again. I stopped and spun around, listening intently for any sign of life, but all I could hear was the escalator and the sound of my own heart, beating rapidly. I stood there, admittedly scared, and timidly called out, "Hello?" My own voice answered me from the back wall. I stomped my foot, and the back wall repeated the sound. I laughed, no longer afraid, and set about exploring the place.
I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, expecting a security guard or somebody to approach me at any moment. Slightly emboldened when no one did, I grabbed a stray baggage cart and pushed it as fast as I could before jumping on for the ride. I rode it a great distance before stopping at the foot of another escalator. After reading a sign nearby that said, "PLEASE DO NOT TAKE BAGGAGE CARTS ON THE ESCALATOR" I knew exactly what I had to do: I put that baggage cart on that escalator and I rode it all the way to the top, where I got off and rode it around like a shopping cart some more, before wedging it onto another escalator. The noise I was making was absolutely earth-shattering in the stillness of that huge empty building, and yet no one came to see what all the noise was about. I started yelling from the upper tier in short bursts, waiting for my voice to echo back. The acoustics were incredible, and it wasn't long before I was singing Journey songs at the top of my lungs. I got crazier and crazier, until I was running around like a madman. I ran down the up escalators and up the down ones, I slid down banisters and clomped around like that guy in the Breakfast Club, yelling and singing and being a total jackass. It felt like hours, though I'm sure it was only a few minutes. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. To top it all off, I ran as fast as I could on the moving walkway back to the parking garage. It felt like I was moving at an incredible rate of speed. Probably because I was.
It wasn't until the elevator doors had closed that it dawned on me I hadn't the foggiest idea what level I was parked on. If this didn't happen every single time I park in a garage, I might have been worried. On a hunch, I pressed the button for Level 5. When the doors opened, I was staring at a double-wide trashcan, one end marked for recycling. Beyond that was a yellow cinderblock wall, completely non-descript save for the large number 5 painted in white. This level did not look familiar to me at all--of course, it didn't look unfamiliar either... Instead of stepping out, I pressed the button for Level 6.
I ended up pressing the button for every level in the garage (eight in all) and each time the doors opened I was presented with the same double-wide trashcan and yellow cinderblock walls. Other than the white numbers, each level looked exactly identical to the one I had just been on. On a whim, I hit the button for Level 5 again. When the doors opened, there was a man standing in front of the trashcan. Having become conditioned to seeing that double-wide trashcan, and definitely not expecting to see another person, I leapt back with a yelp. The man did not seem to notice. He just looked at me and said, "Good morning." Composing myself, I looked back at him and said, "Indeed."
It turned out that my car was on Level 5 the entire time. I hopped in and drove to the exit, where I waited forever for the car in front of me to pay. Finally the gate went up, allowing the car to drive off, and I pulled forward. The guy in the booth was surprisingly conscious, considering the fact that he was working in a parking garage at 4:00am:
Guy: "Sorry, man. Dude didn't have his ticket, so I had to make sure the car was his."
Me: "People try and steal cars out of this garage?"
Guy: "Oh yeah. I had two last week."
Guy: "Yeah, this one guy pulls up in a convertible 'vette, top down, wearing a white jumpsuit. He bolted as soon as I called the cops."
Guy: [leans in close, voice lowered] "You wanna catch a criminal...you look for the milkman."
Guy: [straightens his posture, boasts] "Yep, this job can be pret-ty interesting sometimes."
Me: "I'll bet."
Though never formerly diagnosed, I have long suspected that I have severe mental problems. First and foremost: I am unable to make new memories, thereby leading to embarrassing situations like forgetting where I parked or telling the same people the same stories over and over again. I have conditioned myself to start almost every sentence with "stop me if I've told you this" and, more often than not, I am stopped by someone shaking their head in disbelief that I do not remember telling them this story just five minutes earlier. Also embarrassing is when I ask someone if they've seen a particular movie and they respond with an incredulous, "Yeah, last night...with you!" But perhaps most troubling is my acute neurosis. I will often lie awake at night for hours, repeatedly going over the day's events, examining every situation in detail and every conversation for nuance of meaning. Sometimes, when it's late at night and I'm lying in bed staring at the ceiling trying desperately to determine if a girl's response was curt, or just merely terse, I fear that I may be clinically insane.
Case in point: although extremely brief, the social interaction that occurred at the airport kept me preoccupied for the drive back to work and the duration of my shift. I was trying to figure out why I had responded with, "Indeed," when the guy at the elevators had said, "Good morning." If he were making a statement, as in "It is a good morning," then my response would have been acceptable, though slightly awkward all the same. It would have been better, and much less dorky, to have said something along the lines of: "It sure is," "You got that right," or simply the word "Yes." Then again, in all actuality, the man's utterance of "Good morning" was probably not a statement at all--and probably a salutation--in which case my response, confirming a perceived statement, was wholly unacceptable, perhaps even offensive. I should have said, "Same to you," or simply nodded my head and repeated his greeting back to him, "Good morning."
And let's not forget the garage attendant, who in just a couple of sentences had my head spinning for hours. He had leaned in close, glanced around nervously, then looked me directly in the eye like he was about to impart some universal truth. And when the words that came out of his mouth were, "You wanna catch a criminal...you look for the milkman," I did not even hesitate before responding with the word "totally," as if his statement were a foregone conclusion that I would be foolish to refute. But try as I might, I could not derive any wisdom from the criminal/milkman connection. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I found it to be patently absurd. And yet I had responded in a manner which completely validated his statement.
I did have a good laugh though, thinking again about the whole milkman/criminal thing, when I remembered an exchange I once had with a roommate:
Roomie: "I was home alone today and this guy was snooping around out front and hiding in the bushes. It was so creepy...but then it turned out it was just the mailman."
Me: "...but it's Sunday, so that's still creepy."
This line of thought is how I came up with my very own non sequitur: "If you wanna catch a criminal...just look for the mailman on Sunday." I can't wait to blurt this out at someone. I'll bet you anything they won't say "Totally."
Oh, that reminds me, when the guy claimed that his job was "pret-ty interesting," I had responded with, "I'll bet." The truth is, however, I wouldn't wager a dollar that sitting in a tiny booth at the exit of a parking garage could ever, under even the most liberal of definitions, be considered remotely interesting. Why did I say that? Was I trying to make him feel better? Was I just trying to get out of there? Why, why, why?
This neurosis of mine has been getting steadily worse over the last few years, which probably explains why I've become more and more anti-social. If I go out on a Friday night, which is rare, I'll have to spend Saturday alone, hiking along the ocean cliffs or going for a bike ride, so I can "think." It's not all bad though. The truth is, I love hanging out with myself--which is different from being by myself--which sucks. I amuse myself greatly, and have, with a few notable exceptions, begun to prefer my own company to the company of others. When I was alone in that airport terminal, I was not thinking, "I wish someone was here with me," I was thinking how awesome it was to have the whole building all to myself.
This observation was pounded home just hours later when I went back to the airport at the end of my shift. In the words of an esteemed cousin and brother, the place was an absolute "Goat Rodeo." There were taxis and buses and great masses of humanity crawling all over the arrivals platform, the parking garage was filled near capacity, and I was one of a dozen or so bodies jammed into the elevator to the Passageway to Terminals. Exiting the elevator, I was extremely disappointed to find the moving walkway sputtering under the weight of hordes of people too tired or lazy to move of their own volition. I had to stand in line to get my tickets.
A few minutes later I was standing in the middle of the terminal, clutching my tickets, staring up at the ceiling with my eyes closed. I listened to the cacophony of voices, footsteps, and assorted ambient noise surrounding me, and found it nearly impossible to believe that only hours before I had stood on this same exact spot, completely alone. I strained my ears for the sound of that lonely escalator, but it was impossible to hear; lost, like me, in the great din.
When I got back to the moving walkway, something stirred within me--and it wasn't the four Taco Bell burritos I'd eaten at 2:00am. It was something much more powerful and delicious: Contempt. Contempt for the sea of people now stretched out before me, especially those that insisted on standing next to their traveling partners and blocking my attempt to sprint the length of the walkway. (Don't people know that you're supposed to "walk on the left, stand on the right"?) I entered the moving walkway knowing exactly what I had to do: head held high with a look a fierce determination, arms swinging wildly, and feet pounding, I began to power-walk.
I never backed off my pace either. In fact, when I was coming up on people who were in my way, I walked faster and stomped my feet louder to announce my presence. The looks on these people's faces as they turned around and spotted me, then, realizing that I was not going to stop, scrambling to move themselves and any assorted baggage out of my way was priceless. What was even more priceless was when someone would try to be polite. They'd get so far as, "Oh, are you trying to--" just as I went whizzing by, running into them if necessary. I was having a great time.
And then I saw them: a group of booger kids engaging in horseplay at the end of the walkway, completely blocking the exit; jumping off and back on again, and walking backwards to avoid getting off the walkway. Setting my jaw firmly, I increased my pace and headed straight for them like a bowling ball headed for a group of pins. I was only vaguely aware of an adult's voice behind me saying, "Kids...kids, get out of the young man's way," when my left arm, swinging like a pendulum, caught Booger Kid #1 in the shoulder. I watched him grab his upper arm, look at me with contempt, and in a long, drawn out, whiney voice say, "Owwwwwwwww!" just before my right knee made contact with Booger Kid #2, folding him in half and sending him to the ground in a crumpled heap, causing him to finally exit the walkway in a most ungraceful manner. I heard Booger Kid #1's whiney voice let loose again, this time with a truly awful, "Daaaaaaaad!" but I never turned around. I just kept walking tall, grinning from ear to ear, highly amused with myself and my uncharacteristically uncivilized behavior.
Moments later I was in the car, windows down, stereo up, cruising down the highway and watching the sun rise over the bay. Steve Perry was telling me that "the wheel in the sky keeps on turning."
And I was totally agreeing with him...
P.S. LJ-cut? Hmm... What's that?