i will let you down, i will make you hurt

After ten years of working in a factory, I was 31 years old. I had more muscles than I ever had before, or ever had again. I don't want to exaggerate ... the muscles weren't that big, and the job usually wasn't very physically demanding. But still.

It didn't take long for all of that to go away. Once I no longer had to lift heavy shit and run around all day, I settled into the person I am today.

Funny thing is, it took much longer for my mental state to change. Even though I'd escaped, my mind still took me back to those days. Finally I got to where I can barely remember what that job was like.

The last time I taught a face-to-face class was 2002. I taught online classes for a long time after that. But when those "temp" adjunct jobs died out, I happily retired, thanks mostly to my lovely wife, who had a job that paid actual money.

Given my hermit tendencies, and the lack of reasons to go out among people on a regular basis, my real-world actions gradually shrunk to a few close friends, family gatherings, and trips to the grocery store. And sports events, where I could be surrounded by tens of thousands of people while being anonymous to all of them except the people I attended with.

When the quarantine began, I figured to be good at it, and I know there are a lot of people out there suffering far more than I am. But after awhile, I feel the social part of my being shrinking just the way my physical self shrunk when I quit working in a factory. Use it or lose it, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago, our daughter and grandson came to visit. It wasn't my idea ... I don't think we should chance it. But they have been very careful at their home, and my wife and I are careful at ours, so the visit happened.

Now the dam is busted. Yesterday, my wife went to the dentist (I had already cancelled my appointment ... no way I'm going there under the current conditions). And last weekend, my sister and brother-in-law came to breakfast. We picked up food at our local cafe (we've been doing that every Saturday since this started ... you order on the phone and do a curbside pickup ... I drive, my wife picks up, since I have more existing health conditions than she does). We met at a park near our house, and maintained social distance while eating and visiting.

I had lost count long ago, but my wife pointed out that it was the first time in three months that I had gone out to be with people (when the grandson visited, we stayed home). Let me repeat that: three months.

I don't know which is more depressing. Is it that I could go without people for three months and not even notice? Or is it that I am so fucked up, my psyche works overtime to convince myself I don't miss people. Either way, it is disturbing.

Today is my 67th birthday. And I don't know any more than I did when I was 7, or 17, or 27, or you get the idea.

breaking the quarantine

After a few months, our daughter and grandson came to visit. He's 7 1/2, and I can't say he's gotten smarter since we last visited, but he is definitely still smart. Probably smarter, to be honest.

I had an odd icon on my phone. Somehow I knew who to ask. I showed him my phone, which looked like this:


I didn't know what that circle in the icons at the top right was. He pulled down from the top of the phone to show a few icons in detail. Then he pulled down again, showing a full array of icons, including that circle, which was labeled "Data Saver". I must have turned it on by accident. I turned it off. Mystery solved, by the 7-year-old.

Then there's this. I was showing him old photos and asked him if he remembered this:

Three at game 6-30-19

Sure, he said, that was when we went to the Giants game. The game in question was at the end of last June, so almost a year ago. He proceeded to tell me that the Giants won that game, 10-4. I checked: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN201906300.shtml. He was right.

The kids these days.

fool me once

I don't often get blatantly personal around here. As the motto for the blog says, I want you to read what I thought of Irma Vep and from that learn what I am like as a person. But something happened this weekend that is worth passing along, even though I'm the butt of whatever joke might exist. I'll be vague about names.

Yesterday afternoon, I get a notification on a social media site that a young musician I like has begun following me. There is absolutely no reason for this, but 1) I am gullible, 2) I am starstruck, and 3) I didn't have anything else to do. So I followed the person in return.

I get a request to take the discussion private, and I do. Over the next half-hour plus, we have a long private chat. They thanked me for my support, and asked how long I'd been a fan. Not long, I said, just a few months. They thanked me again, and asked how they could pay me back. I replied that they should just keep making music, and they said they were working on something.

I figured that was that, and told my wife I'd had a brush with fame.

But a couple of minutes later, they started the chat up again by asking how my family was doing during the pandemic. I wasn't sure why they asked, but mostly I just thought even famous people are bored during the quarantine, and this person isn't as famous as, say, Miranda Lambert. So I answered, and to be polite, I asked how they and their family were doing.

They said things were fine in their city (naming the correct city for the artist in question). And again I assume the chat is over. Until they say they are sure I have an amazing family. I mention a friend of mine who lives in that city, and they replied "Nice".

I could go on ... the chat certainly did, for another ten minutes. Finally they said we could be friends, but better to do it in private, because they couldn't spend all their time in public with their fans. OK, I said.

Then they gave me their cell number so I could text them. And yes, I am dumb enough that I gave them my number.

Sure enough, I get a text from them right away. The conversation moves to the phone, where it continued for another ten minutes or so. They asked for a photo, I sent one (yes, I am that dumb), they said I looked "handsome", and finally it was time for my wife and I to have dinner. So I said thanks for the chat ... earlier they had asked if my wife would mind that we were chatting, and as our conversation ended, they said they hoped after the pandemic we might meet, and they would like to meet my wife, if she'd want to.

I told my wife all of the above, and we laughed and tried to figure out why the person had followed me in the first place. Later, I began to tell the story in an email to a friend, and it was then that I finally got a clue. I went back to the original follow ... it wasn't from a verified account, but the artist had another account that was verified. I then looked up the cell number, and the area code was in an entirely differently place then they supposedly lived.

And friends, it was only then that I realized I'd been chatting to some anonymous person and not the musician.

I blocked them on social media and on my phone, and decided whatever, it was kinda fun. I also contacted the real artist to let them know someone was impersonating them online.

Yes, I fell for the above.

shelter in place: the trip that never was

Everyone has a story to tell about the virus. Ours is minor compared to most. It grows out of privilege, and we aren't suffering. 

Sometime today, we would have landed in London on the trip to Spain we would have begun last night. Oh, I'm not exactly sure about the dates. We were to be gone for four weeks, would have stayed a bit in London on the return to visit friends, but most of the time, we'd be in our favorite apartment in Nerja on "our street":

Our apartment is on the right (60 Carabeo) just past Mini Market Mena on the left just after the 4-minute mark. (We get most of our groceries at the Mini Market.) It would have been our third time staying there, our ... well, I've kinda lost track over the years of how many times we've stayed in Nerja. 2000, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2017, that seems about right.

I like to trot this out. There is a famous paella place on the Burriana Beach in Nerja. It has a long name, but everyone calls it Ayo's after the man who runs it. (He's in his 80s, I hope he's still with us.) In 2009, an Andalusian TV network, Canal Sur, visited Ayo's and the reporter took a turn helping Ayo cook. At about the 1:40 mark, someone special turns up for a few seconds.

We had already paid for all the plane fares, hotels, apartments, etc. Everyone is very nice about allowing us to postpone our visit at no extra cost, but so far, no one is actually refunding our money. Which is fine, except we were/are flying Norwegian, and we keep hearing that airline is going bankrupt, so we might want our money from them sooner rather than later.

Here is a little something I've been thinking about lately. No, I don't read French ... I've been reading this in translation for most of my life. But I thought it might be worth going with the original here.

Ecoutant, en effet, les cris d’allégresse qui montaient de la ville, Rieux se souvenait que cette allégresse était toujours menacée. Car il savait ce que cette foule en joie ignorait, et qu’on peut lire dans les livres, que le bacille de la peste ne meurt ni ne disparaît jamais, qu’il peut rester pendant des dizaines d’années endormi dans les meubles et le linge, qu’il attend patiemment dans les chambres, les caves, les malles, les mouchoirs et les paperasses, et que, peut-être, le jour viendrait où, pour le malheur et l’enseignement des hommes, la peste réveillerait ses rats et les enverrait mourir dans une cité heureuse.

Here is one of the English translations:

And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

El Pulguilla:

Seven at la pulguilla

And the view from the balcony of "our" apartment:

Nerja balcony morning

a saint without god

I wrote this in 1995 for the journal Bad Subjects. I am reprinting it here, unedited, because the Bad Subjects website has been down for what feels like years. I chose this because it includes some thoughts about my favorite book, The Plague by Albert Camus, which seems appropriate these days.

A Saint Without God

This essay is dedicated to my mother.

St. Jude

'Kiss someone you love when you get this letter and make magic. With love all things are possible.'

Thus began a chain letter I received recently. Chain letters are interesting, if scummy, examples of what might happen to us if we let faith overrule other sides of our character. Someone, often a perfect stranger but sometimes, sadly, a so-called friend, offers us a chance at riches, if we only put our faith in the person who has sent us the chain letter. All we have to do is part with some of our hard-earned money, and as long as we can find enough chumps who, like us, are stupid enough to unthinkingly put their faith in others, we will make far more money than we are giving up.

This particular chain letter, which arrived, as far as I can tell from reading it, from St. Jude himself, differed from others I have seen, though, because this one wasn't asking me for money. No, all I had to do was kiss someone, and then send the letter along to twenty other people, and everything would start going my way, because 'with love all things are possible.' 'This is no joke,' read the letter, 'Send copies to people you think need luck.' At this point, I begin wondering which of my friends was thinking of me when they saw this line; clearly someone out there thinks I 'need luck,' or I would never have gotten the letter in the first place.

'Don't send money,' I was told, for 'Fate has no price.' I've been thinking about that last sentence for awhile, now, and can't decide if it is extremely deep or merely obscure. But if I have faith, its meaning will be irrelevant, since I'll be rewarded with great riches, just for kissing someone and for believing that with love, all things are possible.

'This is true. Even if you are or are not superstitious.' This is faith: I believe something is true, whether or not other people believe it. If I have faith, I will be rewarded. In this case, my faith is magnanimous, it is a faith that asks only to be shared, even with non-believers. If we all at least pretend to believe, if we all keep the chain from breaking, we will all be rewarded with riches. And we don't send any money, we just kiss someone. 

'Do not ignore this letter. IT WORKS!!!!!!!' I'm an unbeliever, but I'm not going to ignore the letter. Oh, I never got around to sending it to twenty friends (although I did kiss someone I love). But I've been thinking about it off and on ever since it arrived; at this point I couldn't ignore it if I tried. Because it's about faith, it believes in something, it wants to share its good fortune with others, and it seems to leave room for an unbeliever like me. I am forced to break the chain, of course, if I am to remain true to my non-beliefs, but I'll honor the spirit of faith that drives the letter by thinking a little more about the Patron Saint of Lost Causes who sent it to me. 

We Are Bad Subjects

The more I look at the paragraph above, the more I realize I could be talking about Bad Subjects just as easily as I could about chain letters. Bad Subjects is about faith. Bad Subjects believes in something. Bad Subjects wants to share its good fortune with others, and it seems to leave room for an unbeliever like me. 

Faith requires a belief in the future, a sense that what happens tomorrow will be different from today in some critical manner. Last year at this time, Bad Subjects ran 'The Apocalypse Issue,' and for many of us writing then, the apocalypse evoked discussions of the meaning of faith. I wrote in that issue, 'At some basic level, all believers desire an apocalypse, a utopia, a definable, different, perhaps distant future where our beliefs will be proven true.' Believers have faith in that future; indeed, without such faith, action would seem irrelevant, unnecessary. It requires a leap of faith to believe a kiss and twenty sealed envelopes will lead to riches; it requires a leap of faith to believe that a critical analysis of the politics of everyday life will change the world in some central fashion, whereby our utopia will eventually be realized. It is exceedingly difficult, in fact, for any of us to work towards the future without having any real belief in that future. One could even argue that a belief in the future is a prerequisite to living itself, in that we might surely give up the ghost and waste away if we didn't have faith that the next second would be worth living. However, as I argued in these pages a year ago, our need to believe does not, in and of itself, make that which we believe 'real.' Our faith is real; the object of our faith may be real, or may be an illusion. That is to say, anyone who sends along St. Jude's chain letter is believing, at least a little, in the potential power of the letter, but the letter itself is probably only that, a letter. And anyone who works towards a better tomorrow believes in the potential power of their work ... but their work is possibly only that, work, and not necessarily guaranteed to bring about utopia, no matter how much faith we have. 

And so faith in utopia, in the future, inspires us to act in the name of that future. We believe in the future, and we apply our critical tools to the understanding of the future in which we want to believe. The present becomes merely the prelude to the future; faith allows us to sacrifice today in the name of tomorrow. 


And here I ask for the indulgence of longtime Bad readers, who may have tired long ago of my frequent contemplations of the writing of Albert Camus. Jean Tarrou is a character in Camus' great novel, The Plague, an allegory about (among other things) the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Late in the novel, Tarrou asks the hero, Doctor Rieux, if they might 'take an hour off' from their work fighting the plague that has infested their town, 'for friendship,' as Tarrou puts it. He then proceeds to tell Rieux a story of his life. Tarrou's father was a prosecutor who sent many men to their deaths, a fact which, when realized, deeply disturbed Tarrou, who decided 'to square accounts' with the criminals in the dock. He became an agitator, working against a social order 'based on the death-sentence ... by fighting the established order I'd be fighting against murder.' He understood that on occasion the people with whom he worked would themselves place a death sentence on an enemy, but Tarrou managed to live with the contradictions involved in those sentences, until he saw an enemy executed and made an explicit connection between that enemy and the criminals in the docks of his father's courtrooms. At this point, he says, 'I came to understand that I, anyhow, had had plague through all those long years in which, paradoxically enough, I'd believed with all my soul that I was fighting it.' His comrades make 'excellent arguments to justify what they do,' but for Tarrou, 'my concern was not with arguments,' but with the men in the docks. 

This makes it impossible for Tarrou to work with those comrades, of course. 'Once I'd definitely refused to kill, I doomed myself to an exile that can never end. I leave it to others to 'make history'.' 

What Tarrou decides is that he can no longer sacrifice the present in the name of the future, can no longer do that which he hates in the name of a faith in what might come. He recognizes the limitations this places on the ultimate usefulness of his actions, but he opts against ultimate usefulness in favor of living as properly as possible in the present. 'I have realized that we all have plague, and I have lost my peace,' he tells Rieux, 'And today I am still trying to find it.' Tarrou's life becomes purposely smaller in its scope, for he has moved outside the bounds of 'making history.' Now his life is simpler, if no closer to utopia: 'All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.' 

Faith and Propaganda

Tarrou's comrades had faith. They believed in their vision of the future, believed with enough certainty that they could justify behavior which mirrored that of their enemies. They were revolutionaries, believers in a cause, dedicated to making history. Tarrou answers their faith with only a recognition that we all have plague, and a desire to, 'so far as possible,' refuse pestilent forces. 

Recently, the Bad Subjects Mailing List has featured a fevered thread on the contemporary issue of affirmative action. Bad Subjects, being critical in the past of some of multiculturalism's flaws, and the Bad Mailing List, where like-minded people (and some not-so-like-minded people) hang out to critique the politics of everyday life, are enlightening places to analyze the complicated issue of affirmative action in the mid-1990s. Some of us have faith. We believe in our vision of the future. That vision, informed in part by a ruthless criticism of everything existing, leads us to question the very roots of affirmative action and the multicultural movement. Our faith in the verity of Marx' challenge to be ruthless led many on the Bad List to construct effective, well-stated objections to affirmative action, objections that in their intelligence did much to advance the debate on the topic, at least among list members. 

But in the meantime, it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences. To quote Doctor Rieux in The Plague (as I have done far too often in my short life), 'For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing. Later on, perhaps, they'll think things over; and so shall I. But what's wanted now is to make them well.' Let others with more faith take care of making history. Later on, we will all benefit from their faithful efforts to remake the world in the image of the believed-in utopia. But for the moment, the forces of pestilence are upon us, they have the upper hand ... and sick people need curing now. 

And so some on the Bad List suggested that this was not a time when we have the luxury of ruthless criticism of everything. The plague is upon us now; faith in the future won't do much good for those who are the targets of our enemies in 1995. Faith, to paraphrase, is the opiate of us all; it deadens our ability to feel what is happening right now, allows us to become what we hate in the name of the future. Faith is a luxury we can't always afford, even though it seems most appealing at just the moment when we need to reject it most violently. 

And so, with Tarrou, I move outside the bounds of making history and concentrate on curing the sick in the here and now. For me, in the fall of 1995, this means that I fight against those who would destroy affirmative action. 

A Saint Without God

'Do not ignore this letter. IT WORKS!!!!!!!' 

How ironic that my chain letter 'came from' St. Jude. How exactly does it work, being the patron saint of lost causes? If they are lost, what can a saint do? 'Can one be a saint without God?' Tarrou said to Rieux. 'That's the problem, in fact the only problem, I'm up against today.' 

A saint without God. Living without faith. Somehow reconciling the desire to cure the sick, with the crushing knowledge that we all have plague. When you've got a lost cause, you can always pray to St. Jude. Have faith, and no cause is lost. With love all things are possible. Do not ignore this letter. It works!!!!!!!

Copyright © 1995, 2020 by Steven Rubio. All rights reserved.

long tales

Sometimes I wish I had gotten into Star Trek when I was a teenager. I've never had anything against the show, the various permutations that have followed, or their fans. Jealous of those fans, actually. I never watched any of the series. I saw a couple of movies. Like most people, I know who Kirk and Picard and Spock are. I just never watched.

Marvel is another example. I read a few comics back in the day, most specifically the original Dr. Strange series (I was a wannabe hippie, what can I say). And my wife watches the movies, so I've seen some of them. But I'm never quite sure who does what.

Doctor Who, Star Wars ... I know little (Doctor Who) or some (Star Wars), but I am no fanatic, and I don't get tingly when a new Star Wars movie turns up. Again, I don't hate them or their fans, I'm just not a part of that.

My jealousy comes from wishing I was a part of it. Star Trek especially ... there are so many series and movies that I could binge the rest of my life and not catch up with all of it. That sounds appealing ... not the binging, just the part where there is so much and you are part of it.

Then I realized, there is one area where I participate that is similar to what Trekkers enjoy: sports. You follow something over the years, as history builds up and each season brings a freshness you don't find anywhere else. The Giants are in Spring Training, and Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are back, and they are "Good Giants" and I think of the past when I see them in the present. Johnny Antonelli died the other day, and he was a Giants ace pitcher the first few years after they came to San Francisco. I relate to the Giants the way Trekkers relate to Star Trek: a continuing story that I take part it, year after year, drawing enjoyment not just from the present, but from the present's connection to the past.

I've never held it against people who are "fair weather fans", who show up at Giants games when they are winning World Series but are absent the rest of the time. Why shouldn't they get in on the enjoyment? But when the Giants won the Series in 2010, it was especially sweet for those of us who remember 1958 and had been waiting our whole lives for that moment. Same thing with the Warriors ... I remember when they were NBA champs in the mid-70s, but I also remember decades of underachievement, and so their revival in recent years was particularly cool.

Maybe we all need long tales to help us survive.

music friday: valentine's day

I'm driving a big lazy car rushin' up the highway in the dark
I got one hand steady on the wheel and one hand's tremblin' over my heart
It's pounding baby like it's gonna bust right on through
And it ain't gonna stop till I'm alone again with you
A friend of mine became a father last night
When we spoke in his voice I could hear the light
Of the skies and the rivers the timberwolf in the pines
And that great jukebox out on Route 39
They say he travels fastest who travels alone
But tonight I miss my girl mister tonight I miss my home
Is it the sound of the leaves
Left blown by the wayside
That's got me out here on this spooky old highway tonight
Is it the cry of the river
With the moonlight shining through
That ain't what scares me baby
What scares me is losing you
They say if you die in your dreams you really die in your bed
But honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled straight back in my head
And God's light came shinin' on through
I woke up in the darkness scared and breathin' and born anew
It wasn't the cold river bottom I felt rushing over me
It wasn't the bitterness of a dream that didn't come true
It wasn't the wind in the grey fields I felt rushing through my arms
No no baby it was you

So hold me close honey say you're forever mine
And tell me you'll be my lonely valentine

are we having fun yet? happy birthday, steven rubio's online life

Today, this blog turns 18. Man, that number is both delightful and bizarre. Back in 2002, it was on Blogger. I apparently moved to TypePad because Blogger's site was always down in those days. (I think I moved in late 2003.)

Here is an excerpt from what I wrote on Online Life's 14th birthday:

This blog began 14 years ago today.

Who the hell does anything for fourteen years?

There is something old-fashioned about persisting in a format that has long been overtaken by other forms of online presentation.

And there is something odd about continuing to write for the smallest of audiences.

But think of this: my blog has never had advertising. I’ve never made any money from it, unless you count published writing that had its root here (i.e. I was “discovered” via my blog writing ... of course, much of my published writing has been unpaid/academic). This allows me to pretend my writing is “pure”.

Changes have occurred over time. I used to write about a broader area. I hesitate now to write about things where I know people who can do better jobs, so I rarely write about politics, and I write less about sports than I did in the past. The blog has become an arts site, where I write about TV, movies, and music ... and admittedly, when someone has asked me to write for publication, it’s those areas that come up.

I know there is some good writing buried in the past fourteen years, pieces where I happen to read them by accident and don’t always know they are mine until I’m finished, and I think, “I am good enough”. The published stuff, which doesn’t appear here, is of varying quality ... I think my piece on punk cinema for Nick Rombes was good, ditto for my Bugs Bunny Meets Picasso essay for Michael Berube. My Battlestar Galactica and King Kong essays might be the best of my Smart Pop work. Point is, the form is shorter, but I occasionally reach those heights on this blog. Maybe for 2016 I should find a way to foreground Past Classics.

What I hope to avoid as much as possible is the type of naked confessional I am far too capable of indulging in. It’s worth repeating every once in awhile the motto for this blog, Kael’s “I’m frequently asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.”

Here is the #1 song on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart for January 6, 2002:


Some things last forever. I don't know if I'd say that about this blog, but it would seem that Nickelback will never die. Here is a Saturday Night Live skit from 2018 (!):

creative nourishment

My daughter has begun a new enterprise that is fascinating to me, for its combination of modern-day smarts and an almost 60s approach to the land. It's called Creative Nourishment. As she says on the website, "As a design guide, I am here to support you in defining your ideal landscape and creating a step-by-step action plan towards your long-terms goals. I look forward to Co-Creating and guiding you towards your vision of how you spend time in your space! I use a Permaculture design framework as well as Rescape California principles to create a balance between beauty and function."

In many ways, this project has been a long time coming ... she has worked with Permaculture forever. Check it out!

Creative nourishment