Heck of a job, Brownie

So I realized that if I wait for time to sit down and do a proper blog this week it ain't gonna happen, because I've been on the move since last Thursday, when Linda and I left for Phoenix to spend the night in a motel near the airport. We booked standby on U.S. Air and the flight we were going to take Thursday night filled up, so we decided to fly to San Jose on Friday morning and take the train to San Francisco. Which is how I ended up running down the speed walker trying to make the gate ...

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, but when I tried to check in with the kiosk, it said, "You know, Dan, U.S. Air and America West have merged, and the system is all fucked up. You see that long line over there with the half dozen agents who look like they're sedated? Go get in that line."

"You're very sophisticated for a kiosk. I'm surprised you can't check me in for the flight."

"You know, Dan, U.S. Air and ..."

"Never mind. I'll go get in the line."

U.S. Air seems to be under the illusion that the people in the line, trying to see an agent, are there because they are checking bags or something. It is not a check in line, actually; it is a problem line. People who thought they could check in at a kiosk are in the line because they don't know why the computers are not merging the two companies seamlessly.

Of course, people with problems can take awhile, and I must say the U.S. Air representatives were focused on solving these problems. In fact, they were so focused on it that in most cases two representatives were dealing with each individual or group. The line was stopped. At first I thought it wouldn't be a problem but the minutes kept ticking away and we were still not able to get to the agents, some of whom seemed to be sliding away into the back room as the bran cereal kicked in and decimated their ranks. But finally we made it to an agent and I got something I could trade for a boarding pass.

We were going to have to hustle but we could make it.

Then we got into the wrong security line. There were only maybe four or five people in front of us, but there was a bag in the conveyer which was having roughly the same effect on the screener as a beaver on a lonely guy. He'd stare at it awhile, then the conveyor would jerk backwards a notch and forward a notch, and he'd point out something to the other screener, who would scratch his ass and nod. Then they'd stare some more and discuss it some more. Nothing moved. The lines to the left and right of us were flowing along at a sensible pace but we were stuck, and we couldn't move to a different line at that point.

"We have to run," Linda said, when we finally got past this idiot. I took off, shoes untied, a horse with saddlebags, loping down the speed walker. I've been taking allergy medicine and it dries my mouth, so I found the exertion was causing me extreme dry mouth. I had to stop at a fountain for water, and when I looked back, Linda was way behind me, her sandals having proved not up to running speed. So I forged on, and of course it was the very last gate, the far end of possible distances to catch a plane.

Boarding was closed but the attendant called down and asked if they'd closed the door to the plane yet, and they had not, so they let us on, puffing past the disapproving faces looking to see what kind of people hold up an airplane by not making it to the gate on time. There was no room in the overheads so we just shoved our bags under the seats and made do. As soon as she had settled, Linda said, "Dan, if you ever again call a screener Barney Fife when we're in a security line, I'm not traveling with you.

"What's wrong with you anyway? If he'd heard you we'd be strip searched or something."

"You're right. I shouldn't have called him Barney Fife, because he made Barney Fife look like a professional. He could have opened the goddamned bag and looked at whatever had him in a trance in about thirty seconds, instead of just stopping the line while he got caught in a game loop for ten minutes."

"It doesn't matter. You can't insult them. It's a federal offense."

"Federal offense has become a pleonasm since Bush took office."


"It's the opposite of an oxymoron. Instead of the government defending the citizens because they are the source of power, it now makes a preemptive strike against the citizen at any opportunity, under the Cheney one percent theory, that if there is the slightest chance I am a threat, I should be treated like a terrorist."

It was a hell of a way to start the day, showing up at the airport with more than an hour to spare before the flight, and running for the gate with zero minutes to spare. And yet the free cookie and soft drink did their magic, so that even with an orange threat level looming over the tin can hurtling through space, I managed to divert the conversation away from airport security to protocol for crash landing in the ocean. "The important thing," I said, "is to not inflate the vest before you leave the aircraft."

She just looked at me like Queen Elizabeth looking at Boy George Bush.

At first it had seemed a nuisance to fly into San Jose, but once we got to the train station it began to look like fun. There was a cafe with coffee and bagels right next to it, and the tickets were cheap. I'd never been on Caltrain before, because normally I have a car in San Francisco. This time we had all the cars in Arizona and had to rent one, but it was at the San Francisco airport. The train ride from San Jose was actually a lot of fun, and less than an hour's ride. We began to feel like tourists by the time we transferred to BART and then to the Air Train to get to the auto rental center.

The first order of business on arriving back at the apartment in the city was lunch, and we have a favorite restaurant, a Vietnamese place near the corner of 9th and Judah called "The Dragonfly." We dined on vegetarian spring rolls, coconut shrimp, a fried rice dish, and deep fried pineapple coconut ice cream. Then we bought some wine and watched some old "Twin Peaks" episodes.

Saturday mornings in San Francisco mean the Farmer's Market is on at the Embarcadero. We drove down and bought organic produce and other goodies before making the first showing of, "The Lives of Others," at the Embarcadero theater (my favorite in the city). You can read the reviews to get an idea of how good this movie is, but even then you can't quite imagine it really is that good. But it is. It's one of the best movies I have ever seen. It is about the secret police in East Germany before the wall came down, and how they intruded into the lives of the citizens. But it's not just the subject matter that made it so good. It was the acting, direction, cinematography and believability. This is a case of fiction depicting the truth more accurately than reportage can depict it.

Right now this is an important film for anyone living in the United States, because it depicts what can happen when the State begins to gather information on its own citizens, in order to protect the entrenched party from what it considers dangerous influences.

The weekend was rolling along splendidly and leading up to the main reason we flew back for the weekend, which was a party at the home of some friends, who are leaving the city to move to Sebastopol. I have been going to parties at Arnold's house for years, and they are always good parties, though lately there seems to be more old people hanging out there. And one of them is my shadow. I don't usually remember his name because it just slips my mind. The first time he was separated out from the background of the city was in a dream. There were half a dozen guys standing around a 55 Ford, and he was one of them.

I figured out the dream had to do with my moving in 1955, being uprooted from my home in the Tennessee hills and shifted to the Mexican border in Arizona. The other guys in the dream had the same kind of aimlessness that has often characterized me, and the dream was showing the origins of it. We are all writers, and drink a lot of expresso.

So this guy is a friend of Arnold's, who, with his wife, Karen, is having this party. A couple of years ago when I was looking for somebody to stay in the apartment when I am gone, and disappear when I'm coming back, this guy was suggested. He seemed okay, but the first time I came back and he'd used the place I realized he wasn't going to be welcome. He hadn't even cleaned up after himself. But what struck real fear in me was that he had changed his address to my apartment. I was disgusted with the guy and sent him on his way.

So here he is again, and I'm feeling sort of bad that I was so rude to him, and him offering me a brownie. "I don't know. Are they strong?"

"Very mild," he says.

I pop one into my mouth and it's delicious. "By the way," he says, "are you driving?"

"Yea. Of course."

"You live in the inner Sunset; do you think you could give me a ride?"

"I guess so. Where exactly?"

"Civic Center."

About an hour later I was unable to carry on a conversation, and was feeling paranoid. "The son-of-a-bitch," I muttered to Linda, who was in conversation with my buddy Jim, who went with us.

"What's wrong? Did you take something?"

"I ate a brownie."

They both laughed at me. I was feeling progressively impaired. I am not accustomed to eating brownies and didn't realize how strong grass is when it's ingested that way. Pretty soon a real estate man is showing me pictures of houses and it was like in one of those dreams where you want to scream but you cannot. "I need to leave now," I told Linda. "Can you drive?"

"I guess I have to, don't I?"

"I'm sorry about this."

There was zero moisture in my mouth and throat as I directed her through the neighborhoods and back toward what would be for her familiar territory. Jim wasn't sympathetic at all, but was making wise cracks and entertaining himself with the situation. When we got home Linda said, "I've never seen you like that before. You're always so in control." Somehow my loss of control seemed to excite her, and to tell the truth, once I was able to lay down, I felt just fine. In fact, I felt better than fine.

"Heck of a job, Brownie."

"Thanks. Weren't you supposed to give that guy a ride?"

"Well, I wasn't actually driving, was I?"

"That's a lame excuse, and after you shared food with him."

"Yea. I feel terrible about it but hey? What can I do? He's my shadow."

Posted: Tue - May 22, 2007 at 06:56 PM