There is a panini station at my work’s cafeteria with only one panini press. When lunch breaks at noon, people order paninis at about a 6:1 ratio to the amount of time a panini needs to be correctly pressed. And so, a group of around 6 people will patiently wait for their respective sandwiches while the sole panini operator, a middle-aged Hispanic man with large bags under his eyes and hardened patience in his throat, sort of stares through us—as if, over the years, he has accepted that we are all ghosts—without looking any of us in the eyes. We, in turn, stare fixedly at (or perhaps into) our respective virgin paninis. Today I looked up from between my loose flaps of ham and cheese and caught the panini man looking right at me. Both somewhat embarrassed and inexplicably offended by the other’s transgression, we each quickly looked away; how sad it is that sandwich maker and eater cannot facetiously smile at their joint venture. Back at my desk, I swallowed each oily knob of semi-chewed food with mild disgust mixed with dopamine-transmitted joy. “Sorry,” I seemed to have imagined saying: to the panini man I didn’t thank; to the intelligent swine hence slaughtered, smoked and sliced; and to myself, to whom I promised I would only eat half, and not the entire thing.
I had a very intense day and would like to share it. I took BART to Berkeley in order to hand deliver three months worth of mail which my parents, who had been in Shanghai, had forwarded to me, of which I had been reluctantly made chief executor, a role which entailed opening urgent mail and transcribing essential parts to them, in huge font because they can’t see well, via email. Needless to say, I was “over it” and looked forward, with some indignation, to handing them this huge pile of mail. I entered Peet’s Coffee in need of an emergency shit but was met by an equally cheek-pinching guy waiting in line for the sole restroom, and so turned around to leave. “I call you blue!” said a clearly insane woman wearing a cap with about forty buttons on it, which I admit aptly described my color palette, namely, a blue shirt and jeans. I imagined her in a concentration camp comprised of people the state deemed insane as I proceeded to the somewhat nationalistically named Great China, where my parents and I were meeting. Still in dire need to shit, I immediately went to the restroom and, as the Mens’ were occupied, entered one of the two Womens’ restrooms, fortunately a private room with one sole toilet, into which I unfortunately shat an immense volume of fairly diarrhetic waste. I flushed the toilet—sardonically thinking how perfect it would be if it clogged—and it did. Being a man in a women’s restroom is only mildly perverse, but should that man leave the toilet clogged with a murky swamp of semi-flushed invigorated diarrhea, then he might be rather embarrassed to open the door and be met with a middle-aged woman escorting her geriatric mother to the restroom. I lowered my gaze, in visceral shame, and went back to my table, only to discover that my parents were seated at another table. The hostess sighed and brought me to the correct table, at which I binged on roasted duck, its burnt out eye socket looking at me from some ominous moral ether. My mom then proceeded to “grill” me on why I wasn’t saving any money, and if I wasn’t “drinking it away,” to which I exasperatedly said mom the way teenagers do, even though I’m in my late-thirties. She poured the remaining oil from the scallops into my rice, and I felt a love I had taken for granted for so long. By the way, the now horrified woman with whom I left my diarrhea was seated across from me and would not look me in the eyes. Lunch was okay; father critiqued my salary, mother critiqued by shirt, which was not only unlaundered but on backwards. I walked them to their car and proceeded to the Berkeley BART station, one of whose fare gates didn’t tag my ticket properly, and so it wasn’t until I re-entered at Powell station—I had to buy “dress pants” at Club Monoco for a wedding, hence leaving en route to home—that the gate, thinking I was still in Berkeley, beeped and said “See Agent,” which I nervously did. In the center atrium, three homeless-looking art kids had fashioned a boat out of cardboard while they played a haunting version of “In the aeroplane over the sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, a song addressing the incipient soul of Anne Frank. One of the guys, per their boat theme, was fishing for change with a tin can tied to a stick. With waning spirit but desperate to be part of something good, I knelt down and inserted a dollar into the can, awkwardly saying “yeah!” while pathetically brandishing the heavy metal “sign of the horns” hand gesture. The singer looked at me from a place of compassion and profound understanding which in turn, for I am quite the opposite, made me feel sad. My mental wiring must have been burnt out by all the recent experiences of the day, because I suddenly started thinking about Anne Frank’s warm corpse while it still looked like an angel, and how this world wasn’t strong enough to be naïve with her, to believe in the impossibility of everyone’s kindness. I may have started crying, because the ticket agent suddenly looked at me with softened eyes, as if at that moment I shared her small miserable secret inside that glass cage: that this was life. I told her my story, about how I just wanted to get home, about how I become tired very quickly, but that I would try to be a better person, to give insane people a break, my parents a chance, and idealistic homeless kids a dollar each, forever, and that if heaven is a joke I want to laugh a little. She pressed a magic button, and the gates opened.
On my way home from work today, I passed a Volkswagen New Beetle, a reissue of the original 1938 version, which Hitler contracted in a desire for a cheap, simple, and mass-produced “people’s car” (literally “volkswagen,” in German), which incidentally — or rather, obliviously — gained immense popularity in the ’60s with the “flower child” generation, who, had they known they were driving a somewhat Nazi car, might’ve opted to walk instead. Part of its marketing campaign involves a little plastic vase at the dash designed to hold a flower, implicitly a daisy, having passed it in the account in mention, except this particular daisy was wilted and dried. I imagined our would-be feel good owner clipping the flower sometime last month, earnestly displaying it like the sole exclamation point of their week, perhaps in anticipation of a date, or a day on the beach with some friends. We define our sense of failure, not just as consumers but as people, both by the feelings we lack and are unable to summon in others. If depression is defined by how unhappy we are, or at least perceive ourselves to be, then happiness as a root concept is culpable. A flower is essentially a hermaphroditic slut, her entire purpose to draw the insect near, as an unwitting agent of his seed. The best insects fly far away from their lovers, as if in shock and fear, pollinating untraversed lands. She could get in her car and never come back, and I would wish her well.