Let me tell you the game I was playing with a kid I love. He’s almost nine and has been into tough guy myths lately. He works out, so he’s extraordinarily strong for his age and thinks he’s safe against getting attacked. So I asked him:
“A guy attacks you. What do you do?”
“You died. Try again. A guy attacks you. What do you do?”
“I defend myself!”
“You die again. A guy attacks you. What do you do?” Tears formed around his eyes.
“I wasn’t even ready! I didn’t have time to think!”
“Exactly my point. A guy attacks you, what do you do?”
“Uh, I uh…. uh…”
“Too late. You died again. Why don’t you take a minute to think and we’ll play again in a minute.” He sat there with a sour look on his face. After sixty seconds, I started again.
“A guy attacks you. What do you do?”
“I run away!”
“To a crowd or policeman.” Pretty good answer for a kid, but not good enough. At least I got him thinking about it. Now, I’m certain that this game we played will save his life someday so I don’t feel guilty about pressing his boundaries. I bought the kid an ice cream and took him back to his house… in my molester-van of course.
All joking aside, people are pretty bad at statistics and don’t realize that life is a Monte Carlo simulation (look it up geniuses)(ok, don’t): if you decide you want to live with a 1 in 118 chance of getting violently attacked each year, like in San Francisco, then you’d better have a bunch of life insurance because there’s a high statistical probability you’re going to die or at least get seriously fucked up over your lifetime. Now the crazy thing is that if you decide you’re a bad ass because you lift weights or took a self-defense class, you’re probably going to improve the odds that you’ll be murdered. You’ll, as a former friend once said to me, seek out gory glory—that is, you’ll do stupid shit in the name of some solipsistic superhero fantasy and get murdered for it. People who have never been desperate can’t imagine the depravity of the desperate. Mostpeople (to borrow from ee cummings) set their phasors on stun when their attackers are Klingons who only use the kill setting and don’t believe in a ‘fair fight.’ What I mean by Monte Carlo is that you’re disposable. You’re just one of many people just like you, who survived to read this essay. Think about that: Just. Like. You. For example, in San Francisco a few years back, a family was massacred by some gangsters in a crowded street in a case of mistaken identity. Personally, I’m in that intersection frequently enough that it could have been me that was murdered. Instead it was a dad and two out of his three sons. On the quieter side of the city, a teenage girl got prison yard rushed by a psycho with a knife and nearly killed her. It’s a known fact that gangsters hate walking up hill, so you’re usually safest at the top. But somehow some lunatic ex-con who spent too much time in the sensory deprivation chamber just happened to pass by and in a psycho-schizo-fucker-fury, stabbed her a bunch of times.
People are afraid of calculating the odds, so they pretend that odds don’t exist. I used to be one of them, but then the going got weird and I turned pro… yes, I’ve been reading Hunter S. Thompson again. In Hey Rube Thompson brutally analyzes the psychology of odds-making and explains his vicious methodology for exploiting rubes for sport and profit. In his betting methodology for football, he makes the great point that teams are often differentiated by their performances in the beginning, middle, end of the season and post-season. A team with an oppressively daunting win-loss record can fall apart in the post-season as ordinary blunders cost them the game (“Getting Braced for the Last Football Game” Hey Rube, Page 131). As a flamboyant and sloppy chess-player I am keenly aware of the way blunders shape the game’s progress. The greater an individual’s sloppiness or willingness to abdicate control to fate, the worse his or her fate is likely to be. I’m accused to being a control freak, but I have always instinctively been congruent with Dr. Thompson. People are animals and if you truly understand their casual depravity, then you know that it is essential to be intolerant of what are often characterized as a minor ‘character flaws.’ A selfish friend is your divinely designated cattle-car-on-the-way-to-the-concentration-camp assassin. Don’t worry, you’ll provide your pal with the practice s/he’ll need to survive.
Until I started reading Hey Rube I didn’t realize that I’m a natural gambler, but I don’t bet money. I think that’s stupid. No, I bet my life. Don’t ask why. I’m getting better though—I’ve stopped hanging out in dark parking lots wondering who’s going to murder me (I have danced between the glass shards of hostile 40oz bottles). In fact, more than ever, I realize the truth of what my friend, Doctor Ishmael once told me before he became a psychology professor: “You spend so much time in the alleys looking for the maniac who is going to kill you. And then one day, you realize you ARE the maniac in the alley.” Since he once chased a hippie with a machete for getting too close to his art studio shack, you know he’s a quality person—or at least you know his heart is in the right place. I have learned that by expanding one’s imagination, one can improve one’s odds of survival. To survive in modern California, this is a must. I am surrounded by con men, transients, earthquakes, crooked cops, fuckfaces, friends, Oakland, anxious billionaires and millionaires, illegal immigrants, and the stoned remains of the best minds of my generation—which, depressingly, aren’t even that good. Throw into the mix a bunch of high technology, guns and a port that connects us directly with China and I feel like I live in a low-budget Bladerunner take-off. How could I not be a degenerate gambler? Safety isn’t safety around here—highrises are where the high-casualty jobs are around here. An earthquake, an ancient power transformer blowing out in the middle of downtown San Francisco, a terrorist attack, a North Korean first strike… living here is an act of gambling. Idiots make hundreds of thousands of dollars (what normal person dares dream of millions anymore, save that single one for retirement?) while geniuses serve coffee around here—we are all gamblers, at least around here. We all believe that frantic, focused work can give us that jackpot at the end of the Castro street rainbow.
So why shouldn’t revolutionaries haunt the glass spires of downtown San Francisco? To quote a friend “I don’t do Oakland.” Why do I need to go all the way out there to get my class war on? I know I’m being unfair, but I am xenophobic, agoraphobic and claustrophobic. I prefer grinding my teeth. A phalanx of the wimpiest protesters allowed me to buzz them on the way to my office without so much as a Molotov Cocktail to make me hustle. I recalled how a mere nine years ago, I was nearly torn apart by Critical Mass during their 10th anniversary for trying to form a human chain to enforce the traffic lights. Yup! A gang of recreational bicyclists is more likely to get violent than a protest against plutocrats in America today. Don’t get me wrong, if they attacked me, they’d be attacking their own kind. When did suits become class enemies? The real wealthy don’t wear suits. If you need to wear a suit to work, you are probably not a plutocrat. Maybe you work for them, but so do the rest of you yutzes. My death-by-mob would have been totally unjust had the occupiers ran at me with shivs and speared me with their Occupy banner handles. I can imagine it now: “financial autopsy shows that a member of the fiftieth percentile was murdered by a scion of the ninety seventh percentile. The victim wore a suit, so the murderer was acquitted.” Instead, I was confronted with florescent lights and Bloomberg updates in the elevator—all presumably sucking down a lot of fossil fuel and former Soviet nukes. As I rose to heaven—my office in a building somewhere in San Francisco—I thought about how it would be just my luck to be ensconced in the center of American power and get murdered by something as trite as an office shooter. All the martial arts in the world, all the preparation, all the imagination I have at my disposal—none of it would stop me from eating a nine millimeter bullet. I drank my coffee and got to work.
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