Here’s a kind of fucked up bougie parlor game to play with your Mid-Peninsula friends, pursuant to Wow Much maths Such beautiful None mind: How much moneys, so to speak, measurable in thousands of dollars, does it take to keep Palo Alto’s downwardly mobile failures to launch so horribly twee about everything? I’d estimate $40k, but as they say, a major guess isn’t always a high-ranking New York State Police commander. It may be less, although probably not by a long shot; for some, it’s probably more.
No, they don’t say that; I just made it up, for reasons I didn’t quite track. As much of a waste of an education as that comment may have been, it was still more becoming a native son of Palo Alto than Instagramming one’s dinner Every. Fucking. Night. Some crotchety old geezer asshole (could be all of 45, for all I know) wrote to the Palo Alto Daily News or some such a few years ago to complain about how kids these days complain about not having enough to do around town and not being thankful for their AYSO, their city-sponsored rec programming in Rinconada Park, and other enriching shit that their parents wasted on them like pearls before swine. One thing that was not wasted on me in due course of time was the memory of being coached at AYSO by noted Charles Cullen-looking creepy-ass cracker Kenneth Fitzhugh, who was later celebrated for murdering his wife in the true-crime checkout lane history Blood Will Tell. Just because it’s a dim memory peeking faintly through the sands of time doesn’t mean that I can’t milk that shit for all it’s worth. As the Vietnam-era veterans tell their VA doctors at compensation review board time, “Let me tell you about my trauma.” In that spirit, let me tell you about the SEO I just ran on your white ass. It was bottomfeeding, but as I was reminded by a cashier at the Alhambra Safeway, I live by the light rail station in Rancho, so get ready for worse than that.
That dinnertime Instagramming, though. We have a family friend who does that religiously. Her parents are two of the most thoughtful, intellectually curious people I’ve ever known, and her father is a Nobel-grade senpai sensei. Yes, Wow Very Amaze. These two have a child who takes cell phone pictures of her dinners and publishes them on the internet. Wow Very confuse None explicable. You thought downtown lesbian adultery was the saddest thing in the whole wide world, and Rod Stewart thought it was a cause for great poignant Celtic disappointment to learn that, if he did see her tonight, it would be a moot point since even Clooney wouldn’t pique her interest. This has to be sadder. The mean to which the academically adrift and unfocused children of geniuses now revert is apparently going out to P. F. Chang’s and publishing amateur photography of their meals.
General Tso wept.
Could it really just be personality? Could that be why this girl is so eerily twee about so much of life when her academic career is a decade-long shambles and she’s over a decade into a non-managerial retail career after being raised in a city where probably a quarter of adults have terminal degrees? I see that a lot with local girls on the Mid-Peninsula, and frankly I find it disturbing. Some of the dudes are like that, too. It must be the metrosexuality. The only other men around here who dress like I do are pushing seventy, so I’m obviously not down with all the hip shit. The hip tweeness, though, strikes me as particularly immature and probably dishonest. This is separate, mostly, from the tech bro shitheads who accuse me of being unemployable while I fucking feed this country. The twee young things aren’t unpleasant, but the implications of their pleasantness are. Could it just be an effort to stay in the good graces of wealthy benefactors, current or prospective, by not calling bullshit on the whole enterprise? I don’t know. Maybe, but it doesn’t seem that thoughtful. It can’t just be a generational thing: I’ve been fucked up by the Millennial zeitgeist, too, and at most these people are a decade younger than me. It’s really bizarre.
What really interests me, maybe because I’m a crass materialist by necessity, if not by temperament, is whether these kiddos have been hooked up with any of the good stuff that hasn’t quite come my way. I know that some of them are living on non-ghetto parts of the Peninsula, so there’s that. As discussed above, I live by the light rail station in Rancho. It’s my little corner of my great state: I don’t have to stay there, but I do have to live there, at least until I find some credible way to pop up eight or ten stations to the west and say, “Hello, Mr. Johnson, I’m your constituent now.” It’s kind of a shithole. I once saw a hardcore wigger nearly start a brawl at Sunrise on our way back to the Crossland with some guy he accused of selling meth to his kid sister. When he saw me, he profusely apologized, calling me “sir.” Within five minutes, he rechristened me as “man,” “boss,” and “dog,” inter alia. As it happened, he was my next-door neighbor. He told me that his father was an engineer, and that he and his baby-mamma had named their infant son King David. Pity the grandfather, I guess. Gramps was paying for the room, but that can’t have been the most burdensome cost.
If my parlance has gone downmarket, if I have degentrified from certain precious bourgeois norms, maybe that’s why. That’s just one vignette of the recurrent chaos that intrudes into my midst. I have twice come within inches of being battered by prisonworthy wiggers in Orange County alone. One of these guys was so belligerent that he probably crossed the threshold of assault under the Penal Code. I had to call the police on those dudes in Red Bluff a few months ago because it sounded like one of them had just gotten his head bashed into the wall between our rooms. The place where I stayed in Fresno the other night, the Parkway Inn, didn’t have a bathmat or a landline telephone, the latter being a serious threat to guest safety in the event of an emergency. The next night, after I met my dad in Fairfield, we stayed at an Embassy Suites. Two nights earlier, I had slept in my car.
This Twilight Zone scenario sometimes runs the other way. It may be embarrassing to others if I come to Palo Alto and curse like I’m from Rancho, but if I go to Rancho and act like a sheltered naïf from Palo Alto, my physical safety may be in danger. I’m not kidding about this or exaggerating it in the slightest. I’ve run into some dangerous people. But for the grace of God, I haven’t come to any real harm at their hands, but I’ve come far too close for comfort. I can’t hug that margin of error an inch closer than I’ve been walking it. If there’s a clash between Rancho Cordova norms and Palo Alto norms, I have to err on the side of Rancho. My safety may depend on it.
Some of these wonders of Mid-Peninsula tweeness don’t get out much into the ugly parts of our country. It’s all Beautiful Cookbook, all the time for them. Just being around Joe Dirtbag has probably coarsened my speech. My parents can’t bring themselves to admit that he’s one coarse bastard. They haven’t heard the most unctuously shitty things I’ve heard pass his lips, but they should have some sense of his coarseness by now. They know about Pot-o-Shit friend. In the Bay Area, you have to be cold homeless to do a thing like that, and it doesn’t hurt to be psychotic. My parents believe in middle-class values, but they won’t punish Joe Dirtbag–not financially, not socially, not with police or legal action in the extreme cases–for the crudest, most brazen, most fuck-you violations of basic middle-class norms.
Where do these people think I live? In a hologram of the Stanford Quad? Sometimes I price out lodging for the night and then hear a Capital Public Radio news bulletin about a homicide earlier that afternoon at one of the places I’m considering booking. Maybe not, then. As Captain Obvious would put it, you probably don’t want to stay there tonight. At least twice I’ve had that or something like that happen to my lodging market in South Lake Tahoe. South Lake is classy by my standards. Nodody has ever tried to jump me there.
Speaking of lightning that strikes twice, this is the second time I’ve been in a Palo Alto Starbucks where someone must have shit on the floor. This time the only bathroom in the store has been blocked off so that a liberal spray of disinfectant can be aired out. Charles C. Johnson, I told you to go to Arby’s! I’d normally be ashamed to think such a thing, but there are locals around here who deserve to discover that pile of shit. Maybe the circle can be unbroken until someone shits on the police chief’s car, the chief shits on the mayor’s desk, and the mayor finally gets the city council to approve housing first and an immediate end to arresting the warm homeless for sleeping in their cars. When the best and the brightest of Dirty Jerz shit on their neighbor’s grand piano and leave used tampons on the stoop, there is no civic purpose to any of it, but this doesn’t mean that Palo Alto can’t transcend the civic vacuity of the Haddonfield Special.
Yes, that’s nasty. But I’ve spent most of my work life under the supervision of a relative who keeps around the sort of tenants who shit into trash cans, and he isn’t mortified to be tainted by this filth.
These people don’t live as I live. They’d be alarmed to hear that just this week I stayed in a neighborhood swarming with streetwalkers. Me, I was greatly encouraged. I don’t seek to go among these women as Christ’s representative and invite them to repentance, but to go among them as some white boy from Palo Alto and and induce them to rumpy-pumpy. What, me minister? In fairness, Palo Altans aren’t really in on the sex trafficking panic or anything else vaguely related to perversions of Christianity. That’s why I have to be the religious one and the whoremonger around here. Eh, whatever. Staying on the Parkway is worse than cruising the Parkway. That ain’t Benjamin Franklin’s Parkway, homeskillet, although he’d have enjoyed it a great deal more than the one they named after him. Dirty Uncle Ben totally would have tapped mad ass in Eastwick, and maybe even in Strawberry Mansion.
Menlo Park: Where Taylor isn’t the only one who’s failing Life Skills.