This is a little essay from my blog that I thought I'd single out.


This may seem like a bit of puffery, braggadocio, or skullduggery but I wish to humbly assert that it is merely a way for me to understand myself. The un-rehashed life is not woth living.

When I went camping last week I was sitting in an old diner in the Sierra foothills with Garrick and talking about trash. His shirt said something about the garbage heap of the world that was America. I said, "What's your shirt mean? you." He said something like the potential of America is so great and yet it just ends up all shitty. He said, "Look at this place. What a piece of shit."

I happened to like the bright orange vinyl booths and wood paneling. It reminded me of my mother -- of a gentler time. I told him the thing that's best about it to me is that people can rise up and change their lot in life. I looked at our waitress -- probably 50, overweight, dopey expression and nodding her head upwards when she addressed you in a low-class country sorta way. I didn't imagine much change in her station. But then I noticed that everyone else working in the cafe was asian and there was even an older guy that looked like the owner -- a prejudiced guess that they were first-generation restaurant owners. Then I thought of the "dollar per item" chinese food joint on Mission and 18th and how I'd walked past just 2 days before and heard the vietnamese woman screaming "call 911" as she had a tug-o-war with a black woman over the cash register drawer. These Sierra dudes got it pretty good, but I figure even those people down on Mission do too.

It's relative of course. I could look at my present situation -- right here as I type. The Beck's I'm drinking is Ice Cold (that's good) and it's 8:41am (that's bad, some would say). Is it pathetic that I'm drinking so early in the morning? To me, I'm happy that I'm even writing -- and I after a night of hard drinking something mysteriously woke me up at 8am so I could move my car and not get a parking ticket. So what's that? I've already downed a gallon of water so the Beck's does quite nicely.

So back to the whole "rise above your lot in life" stuff. When we were in the cafe I said to Garrick that he need look no further than two feet straight ahead to reassure himself -- I am a shining example of America's promise. From my humble beginnings I've managed quite a bit. The first book I ever read was the paperback treatment of the movie "The Jerk" (yes, they made it into a book). The Jerk is just such a story. I've not had the meteoric rise and fall that Navin R. Johnson had but I've managed to use my imagination to make myself into a modern day Eliza Doolittle.

I once met someone who had stuck wasabi in their brother's eye when they were 5 in a fight. I was like, "what the hell is a 5 year old doing with wasabi" at first and then I was like, "wait a minute, wasabi didn't even exist in the 70's." It didn't compute for me. I thought sushi sprang into existence around 1990 and was only available in sushi restaurants in San Francisco. The guy explained, "Yeah, well, my parents used to make sushi at home." I was like, "I don't know where the fuck-all you came from. We ate goddamned shit-on-a-shingle." But now I'm lighting some incense and boosting the Chi in my apartment. I just turned my friend Rose onto the Mountain Goats and....ok, you're saying, "Big deal. Big whoopy ding. So he found out about some culture. So what. Everybody does that." Well I have to disagree with you. No they don't. And it's not about just more culture. I have always made the distinction of "better".

I'm a snob. No bout-a-doubt-it. How did my parents, who would've had Tom Brokaw kissing their hallowed worker hands, raise a snob? Maybe that's beside the point. I think I thought I was better than everyone from the moment I scored a 99 on the California Achievement Test in 3rd grade. My mom would say, "David, no one's better than anyone else, that's why we live in a democracy. The Japs and Germans thought they were better than other people and look what we did to them."

You'd have to know quite a bit about how shitty my family was to get a real sense of the things I've had to "overcome" but that's boring whiny stuff and I mostly want to talk about the sly tricks I used to remake myself. Wait, forget about "sly" -- they're ridiculously overt. And I want to wonder aloud if the makeover is really is just surface stuff. The most fitting metaphor I can come up with is the self-fulfilling prophesy.

Robert Merton wrote a book about it in 1957 called 'Social Theory and Social Structure', and I'm living proof. In it he says that the Pygmalion phenomenon occurs when "a false definition of the situation evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true." Logically, as a kid, I should have believed I was going to die a loser like everybody else I saw. But I didn't. I don't know if my definition was false or not. The one trump card I had up my sleeve, as it turned out, was that I was adopted. I didn't have to believe that I was going to turn out like the people around me. Somehow, after looking at my relatives (yikes!) I believed my genes were going to save me.

The self-fulfilling prophesy, or fake-it-till-you-make-it is what most people do unconsciously. I was so overt and conscious of it that it appears to be extreme hubris. By the way, it's heartening to note that these expectations can even be passed between a coed and a rat. (Oh, and I discourage further reading of the linked material as it may make you feel even more unhappy, insignificant and manipulated in your current work environment.)

First thing is attitude. Around the same time as the CAT tests, I was riding home from church in the car with my dad and he stopped at the corner of 12th and Union. I looked over at the Winchell's Donuts shop and and then at my dad. Then suddenly I hear a pathetic whimper come from between his lips and his shoulders kind of shook and he bowed his head forward and started crying. His was a most shabby form of crying. A high whiny voice bounced off the windshield and he held his hands in his lap, palms up. He tried to talk and regain his composure. His lower lip flapped in and out under this front teeth. He said, "David, what ever you do, don't work with your hands. I want you to get an education so you don't end up like me. I didn't get an education and now I'm just an old, beaten up, worthless man. If you work with your hands, nobody wants you when you get old." I think he was around 55 at that time. I said, "I know. There's no way I'm going to work with my hands." He didn't need to tell me of course. I had a sense that I was going to be different already. But it did succeed in lowering my opinion of him even more. I use this example only to point out that I had already started envisioning myself before anybody around me tried to "help me out". As a side note, the moment was important for me because this was the fucker that routinely smacked me around and seeing him crying and feeling like a failure empowered me. This is where the attitude comes from.

When I was pulling down 100 grand a year I'd ask myself, how I got from a Subculturally Strained "Lower-Class Boy with a Middle-Class Measuring Rod" to a Provider of Effective IT Solutions. By the end of high school I had visions of grandeur (of not sucking) but I was starting to replicate my home life in the world. I was a social retard. Social scientist Albert Cohen loves to study delinquent boys and he claims that losers in the competition for status experience strong feelings of frustration or deprivation. Most of them adopt a "corner boy" attitude which is what Bill Whyte described as the thing which drives young men to hang out on the corner. It seems I developed corner boy attitude as well but it just drove me into a corner. I hid. I shut up. I ran scared.

Lunch was the worst time, of course, for anyone who's been a geek will tell you that lunch is hard on geeks. I didn't want to sit in the library and read with the "uber-geeks". Those people represented booksmarts and I hated booksmarts. I imagined myself streetsmart and having lots of friends all over the school. Our school was a two-story square donut shape and after eating my vending machine food out by the football field (didn't want anyone to see me eating alone), I'd come in and walk the halls. I walked the whole lunch period and didn't stop. The halls were a square loop and I could switch floors at any corner so if you happened to be lingering in the hallway, you wouldn't notice that I'd just circled and come around again.

But here was the imagination: every time I walked by a person that required eye contact, like someone I'd been schooled with for the past 10 years, I would speed up my walk to a "late-for-class" pace and whiz by them with a wave and a "gotta go" and zip around the corner. Once safe, if this hall was deserted enough, I could slow down to a good time-chewing pace. It always looked like I was going somewhere, I didn't have to explain it. I though it effective. This is an example of how you settle in and start to accept alienation and wait for something to break.

The big break came when I could move away from home to start college. I immediately renamed myself from David to Dave in order to take on a more friendly, happy-go-lucky air. I sensed a change when people started respecting me for how big of a bong toke I could take. But by the end of freshman year, things were starting to slide back into a pattern of alienation when I got the lesson of my life.

My friend Doug, who I admired greatly for ability to disdain those around him only to have it returned as adoration, once gave me a sound lesson in social dynamics. (Remember, my master is a pot smoking, Maiden-listening, mechanical engineer.) We're walking down the street between dorms and this guy that was at the same party we were at last night, but whom neither of us has ever talked to, walks by. He gives the "Hey, how's it goin" and Doug returns, "Wassup" and then he's past. I launch into a rant that I'm confident Doug will support: "God I hate that, why do people have to say such inane things. It's not like you're going to spill your guts to him right on the street. He's asking how are you and he doesn't even care. I just hate smalltalk. Just think, you could go for years and never say anything more than 'Wassup' to that guy. If you aint friends with someone, why not just blow right by them?" And Doug replies, in the most touching gesture I'd ever seen him make, "Dave, if you don't say 'Hi' to people on the street they're gonna think you're an asshole."

With that one phrase my entire pathetic life up to that point had been unscrambled. To this, I immediately added the technique, as shallow and inauthentic as it may seem, (especially for some one as pissed-off and intense as I was) of trying to smile more often. I hated the idea of it but I wanted friends more than anything. I was now ready for the big leagues.

But it wasn't until 2 years later in the middle of college that I began to fully kid myself into a higher social class: a cool person.

It happened when I met Eben Carlson at my job at the College Inn Cafe. He immediately started in on the task of getting me up to snuff to hang out with him. He handed me "It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and by inference let me know that if I said something, it had to be funny in some way. Our friendship cemented by night-long philosophical talks over 12-packs in the park, I was introduced to his friends.

I cannot stress this enough: Here is where I first learned what I wanted from my life. I wanted to be like Eben and his friends. Up until this point, I had only been presented with examples which I immediately rejected and I could not imagine anything else. I cannot do justice to the magic that swirled in the air when his apartment on Howell street was filled with them. Nils and Patty and Larry and Charles and Kathy and Tammy and Dale and Robin and a bunch more who filtered through. Eben would laugh at this now and he would've then but it felt like the bigtime to me. I'd never met people so funny, creative and nice. It was a revelation to me because it seemed like all the dumbfucks had been filtered out. A secret society -- but by what magic? It was like when you're a kid and you go over to your new friends house to stay the night and they do things completely differently than you do at your house: Take you shoes off before you come inside? What? No milk with dinner? Huh? Only Dad touches the remote? Why? Grab a spray can and paint graffiti on the wall? OK! Now we're talkin'!

It wasn't my life but I imagined having my own one day. Like Navin R. Johnson, I was forming ridiculous images in my head of the high life. The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need! My name in print! That really makes somebody! Things are going to start happening to me now.

Everyone's probably been in a situation they admired but felt they couldn't contribute to. I was struck dumb. Rockstars party around me. I just sat there and smiled. I knew that copying them wasn't good enough. I had learned a wonderful post-adolecent lesson: be unique. I mean, these people had done it, (Hadn't they? Maybe I just didn't know who they were copying.) and I guessed I could be unique too (is that copying?). I just sat there and smiled. (And isn't that really the key?) After months of this someone recognized my presence, I think it was Tammy, and said, "Dave. How cool is Dave? He just sits there and doesn't say anything. That's sooo cool."

But I still didn't have any friends. I point that out because the true social acceptance I was looking for was a long way off. Nobody called me. I was included (parties, shows, BBQ's) only when I was in the vicinity or if I called while it was going on. My efforts consisted of hovering about and trying to be within shouting distance when a leader rallied the pack. These were only my acquaintances (and by proxy at that) but I could see the lifestyle I wanted.

And this isn't something as shallow sounding as lifestyle shopping -- even though I did use that word. I was barely clinging to my sanity. Intense loneliness drove me to do the most humiliating things. Ugh, I can't go into it.

I became a rock journalist so I could be involved in the scene (which was damn good around 1989) and continued to fake my way into the world of the beautiful people. As an aside, I should add that when I mean beautiful people, they weren't exactly pretty people -- and many of them couldn't live without lots of drugs. It just felt beautiful because of the creativity and community. But enough of that mush. I had been declared "cool". Three more years of serious make-believe and I was a full blown hipster and ugly as hell on the inside. By the way, during that time I started to feel like I needed to do something to deserve being called "cool". I couldn't imagine what, so I left Seattle.

Well, this is getting to be a pretty long story. I think I'm tired of it. The short way out of it is that in SF over the next 5 years I had a total breakdown and rebuilt myself from the inside, (with no role models in sight) concentrating on being a nice person and loving people. This is the point when it became clear I was not faking it, i.e.: "a false definition of the situation that evokes a new behavior" because I was starting from scratch. Then I quit my job and started to call myself an artist to anyone who asked and just this week, 2 years later, I sold my first piece of art to someone who wasn't my friend.

I don't know if today I could handle hanging around that bunch of 23 year-olds on Howell street. I honestly can't remember what they were like. They pointed me in a generally upward direction. They reminded me of my promise to my father when I was a kid. I wasn't going to be ordinary. I still like beautiful people but I don't try to be like them any more.