Friday, January 15, 2021


Zen Jesus: My 2020 Silicon Valley Christmas adventure

Editor's note:  This is going to be a rather long Christmas story.  You don't have to read the whole thing.  I've typed it up mainly for my own enjoyment.  A Christmas story?  Perhaps Charles Dickens will be proud of me.  Perhaps he might even say, "Hey Jane, this is a great idea for a book."  Yeah, I could do that.  I could combine this story with all those other stories about my journeys to thirteen major American cities in a time of COVID.  I could call it "2020: My Year of Living Dangerously!"  Thanks, Charlie.

December 23, 2020:  And here I am, living in a  small motel in Palo Alto for the next five (5) days.  Palo Alto is the very heartbeat of Silicon Valley.  But what am I actually going to do here?  Everything's closed.  Google, Apple, Yahoo, FaceBook and YouTube -- all located within a few miles of me, all closed down due to COVID.

     And do you know what is even more ironic about my trip to the heart of the high-tech industry?  I forgot my freaking laptop.  Say what!  I left it home, just sitting there inside my front door so that I would be sure not to forget it.


     Five days without a computer?  Or e-mail.  Or FaceBook?  "Stay away from computers," all the signs have been telling me for months now.  And apparently my subconscious mind has believed them.  "But all my important stuff is in that laptop," I whined.  How am I even going to be able to find out which freaking restaurants are going to be open on Christmas Day.

     Plus the toilet here leaks and the coffee maker doesn't work and there is no on-demand TV.  I can't even watch pay-per-view movies.  But the motel does have basic cable -- and so far I've discovered that basic cable sucks eggs.  I've surfed through 67 channels so far and Sponge Bob Square Pants is the only thing I've felt compelled to watch for over two minutes before changing channels. 

     Most of what's playing is just a hecka lot of ads for a hecka lot of cheesy stuff for sale on the shopping channels.  And people actually pay money to watch this garbage?  But, hey, Xfinity is part of the tech experience too, right?

     Tomorrow I'll go find an Apple store or a library so I can check my e-mail.  The whole Silicon Valley high-tech experience.  Living the dream.  Boo-yah.

     Maybe I'll spend the next five days learning some meditation skills.

     So.  While I enjoyed driving over the San Mateo Bridge to get here, eight long miles of beautiful shimmering winter water beneath me, it was not beautiful enough to drive all the way back to Berkeley to get my computer!  And my phone charger.  Oh well.  This is the total high-tech experience here -- that is, how much I've come to depend on electronics.

     Just as long as my little red car doesn't break down too.

     Anyway, the famous Fish Market restaurant down the street was closed due to COVID, but Chipotle was open.  Yay, tacos and quac!  Plus I met a doctor there who works at the Stanford Medical Center COVID ward while we both stood in line.  To pass the time, I told here about my various lock-down adventures -- visiting 13 major US cities since March, working the census and the elections, having an operation, etc. without even contracting the sniffles.

     She replied, "COVID is a horrible disease.  Please take care not to get it."  Her patients were older.  Some of them were put on ventilators.  I asked her if she used Ivermectin or Vitamin D procedures.  She didn't answer.  Perhaps it was because her order number was called before I could grill her further.  Or perhaps not.

     So many questions I wanted to ask her.  Too late.  She took her burritos and went back to work on the night shift.  Night shift on a COVID ward?  Grim.

     But my tacos ere excellent.  Barbacoa.  The best.  So at least I live right down the street from Chapotle.  That's a definite plus.  And does it really matter if no one can find me for five days?  The perfect meditation retreat just fell in my lap.

     No phone.

     No computer.

     Nothing on TV.

     But I'm okay.

     Sort of.

December 24, 2020:  I'm so glad that I came here -- if for no other reason than I had a fabulous sleep last night, snuggled up in my little motel room far away from my wi-fi, computer, 5G, SmartMeter, electric substation and router.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  I may have to change my life, go all Resurrection on my arse.  Like in that old Sam Sheppard film where Ellen Burstyn moves out to the desert.  I'd live on cactus and dreams.  Get cable and watch the Hallmark channel all day.

     Dream report:  I was working at a hotel.  It was the year 1850.  Each room had several trees in it.  My job was to rake up the constant supply of leaves that fell from the trees.  "But they are so charming," I said to my boss.

      "I don't care.  I hate them!  Hate to constantly rake up these leaves," she replied.  And on the ground floor of the hotel was a courthouse, ruled over by a Black judge.  She was strict but fair.  Her petitioners, dressed in morning coats and top hats, all gathered around the desk in her chambers.  Me?  I just kept raking the leaves.  End of dream.

     So.  What should I do today?  Go buy eggnog and pumpkin pie?  And whipped cream?  And Jack Daniel's!  Sounds like the perfect Christmas to me.  A Whole Foods Merry Christmas.  A gift to myself.  Big smile.  I've broken the Christmas curse!

     All those years when my father had to work in the post office from before dawn to almost midnight -- from Thanksgiving to Boxing Day.  And how my parents hated each other.  Remembering all that was like being haunted by the Ghost of Christmas past.  How could my mother hate my wonderful father that much?  She said, "He was always bossing me around."

     He said, "She never enjoyed making love."  Eeuw.  Too much information.  No wonder I ended up being a wanton sex-fiend trollop during the 1960s.  Living my parents' dream.

     Boy, this really is a meditative stay-cation.  I'm loving it here.  No reason at all to get out of bed.  Except to pee.  And eat leftover tacos from Chipotle.  And search for the remote to watch cable TV.  The Hallmark channel!

5:30 pm:  Spent the day exploring Palo Alto.  Got a phone charger at the AT&T store.  Ordered a salmon Christmas dinner for tomorrow -- with pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.  Walked by the Homer Street garage where Hewlett and Packard got their first start back in 1938.  Wow.  That makes my own HP desktop computer at home a great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of the very first HP oscillator.  Seeing that garage was like going to computer Bethlehem or something.  It's a big freaking deal for nerds.

     In the end, however, it was only a garage -- although a nice one.

     Then on to the library.  Closed.  The Apple Store?  Closed.  No computers anywhere that I could borrow even for a few minutes.  Thank you (or curse you) outrageous fate.  Probably thanks.  I needed a five-day break from 5G.

     Then on to Whole Foods where I waited in line for an hour with at least 100 other hopeful shoppers, bought grapes and saki and hot dogs and pumpkin pie.  Ate the whole pumpkin pie.  Gluten-free crust?  Meck.

     Back to the Hallmark channel.  And also sat outside a locked-up Catholic church for a while, contemplating its nativity display and thinking about Christmas Past, always painful.  But Christmas Present?  More like the Zen Jesus than the usual Consumer Jesus or the Family Feud Jesus.  Thank you, Zen Jesus.

     And thanks to the Hallmark channel too.  Sometimes a little romantic kitsch fills some primitive need.
    Then I took a walk past all those darkened restaurants with the "Closed due to COVID" signs -- except for some Chinese restaurants where the waiters stood around hoping and praying for a customer, any customer at all.  Some Chinese immigrants are used to working long and hard hours, struggling to make ends meet. 

     Most Americans are just not used to being desperate economically.  Most Silicon Valley residents surely are not.  This economic devastation has been a definite eye-opener for them -- but in a bad way.

     Then I went back to my motel and switched to the BRAVO channel.

     I'm certainly not in any way prepared for hard times.  What made me think of that?  Because there's a whole line of beat-up old camper-trucks and RVs lining about a mile of El Camino Real, the main drag running along the east side of Stanford University and across from my motel.  Hard times indeed.  Still I had to smile.  Only in Silicon Valley.  Even the homeless here are living the life, upgraded from tents.

     But that could be any one of us Americans stuck in one of those broken-down RVs and camper-trucks now that the American economy is in free-fall.

December 25, 2020:  Christmas Day.  Half of me feels embarrassed and lonely to be spending Christmas all by myself.  The other half of me, however, is dancing around my motel room and shouting "Hurray!"  I've got no strings on me, to quote Pinocchio.

     So I ate the last Christmas cookie from a gift bag that my friend Marilyn had given me a few days ago, made some hot herbal tea and snuggled back under my warm motel-room blankets.  "Merry Christmas!"  Now I'm back on the Hallmark channel.

     But then I finally felt guilty enough to drag my arse out of bed and go off to visit the nearby Google campus.  The Google campus is enormous.  It went on and on for at least a square mile.  Probably more.  "You can't go there," said a nice Google guard in a blue windbreaker.

     "But I brought my Christmas dinner and I want to eat it here in Google's famous Android Park!" I answered, waving my carry-out bag with the salmon dinner I'd purchased from a nice restaurant inside of an old Julia Morgan train station.  How Palo Alto is that!

     "This isn't the Park," the guard replied politely.  "It's two stoplights down and then make a right for four more blocks.  You can't miss it."

     "Thanks."  And I found it too -- giant plaster eclairs, cupcakes and gingerbread boys, sort of weathered and falling apart but still....  I sat on a bench next to the plaster cupcake and ate salmon, drank wine and toasted my Zen Jesus.

     The whole Google complex was totally deserted.  Me and the guard were the only ones there for at least 12 square blocks -- except for about 30 or 40 shabby RVs and camper-trucks.  "Why do they have campers here and not tents," I had asked the guard.  He just shrugged.  Perhaps they are Google techies working from home?  Yeah, right.  Or perhaps the good people of Palo Alto are too upper-toff posh for just tents?
     Then I turned in the wrong direction on El Camino Real and ended up driving through five miles of strip malls in Mountain View.  Then back to the motel, the Hallmark channel.  Ate the last of the salmon -- and definitely the last of the pumpkin cheesecake.  Gone in 30 seconds.
     It's still Christmas Day.

4:15 pm:  I still have time to go out and do more touristy stuff.  But what?  Drive through more high-tech campuses?  Drive past even more miles and mils of strip malls?  Drive past more shabby RVs?  Is this the future of high-tech America right here?

     No thank you.

     Maybe I should go drive around Stanford University.  But if I do that, what will be left for me to do tomorrow?  I'd go to the movies like I usually do on Christmas Day -- but no theaters are open.  I'd lose myself in FaceBook and FreeCell if I had a computer but that's not gonna happen either.  I have no life.  No Christmas Spirit to be found in Silicon Valley.  Perhaps at the Stanford Chapel?

     Twilight is the magical hour to take photos.  And Stanford is so freaking big.  The whole Google complex could fit easily inside.  I only took a windshield tour but the lighting was perfect for photos.

     Back to the Hallmark channel.

     New Resolution:  Tomorrow I will go without television also.  Why replace one addiction with another.  Computer vs. TV.  Same thing -- just passively sitting around, watching.  It's time I learned to enjoy my own freaking company.  But do books count as an addiction as well?  If so, I'm gonna mainline some books tomorrow.

     Damn it, I'm such an ordinary person.  So freaking ordinary.

December 26, 2020:  Now I get it.  Now I can see what my secret mission to Silicon Valley is all about.  Cabin fever!  I'm suddenly experiencing for five days what most Americans have been suffering from for the last 289 days.

     The Lock-down!  Existential crisis, existential angst.  And this experience truly sucks eggs.  Scientific researcher Andrew Huberman says that neuroplasticity is a result of action, action preceding thought.  And I am so inactive right now.  America is losing its neuroplasticity.  Damn.  And so am I. 

     Screw the lock-down.  I need some neuroplasticity!  So I called a friend of mine who lives in Palo Alto and she googled the location of the local Goodwill store for me.  Score!  And I also found Dr. Huberman's phone number.  And I also wrote a new article entitled "Existential crisis: My low-tech lock-down in Silicon Valley".  This won't be a wasted day after all.  Now if I can only find some low-tech pumpkin pie....

     Then things got a little bit more interesting when I bought a used 1953 Mercedes-Benz -- at the the Goodwill store.  It was a toy, sure, but I've always wanted to own a Mercedes.  "No you didn't," says my conscience.  Okay.  So I lied.  Lie to my own subconscious?  That's cold.

     Left a message on Dr. Huberman's answering machine.  "How has the lock-down affected America's neuroplasticity?"  He never called back.  But popped over to Stanford University anyway.  The visitor's center was closed.  Of course it was.  Hoover Tower next.  That road was blocked off.


     There was a sign near the blocked-off road that read, "COVID-19 testing.  Park here."  What else could I do?  Disobey a direct command?  I parked my car, went into some kind of converted gymnasium structure and got tested.  "Your results will be ready in five days."  But it wasn't the results I was interested in.  It was the process.  "This is only a mid-nose swabbing," said the nurse.  "It's not going to hurt."  She lied.  Humph.  It hurt a lot.

     They had a whole production line going -- mainly geared up for students and the Stanford Medical Center's pre-op patients.  There were five or six intake stations and five or six testing stations set up.  Twenty victims waited patiently in line to take the PCR test -- which has been found to have up to 94% false-positive results.  Does PCR stand for "Propaganda Controls Reality?"  I didn't dare ask.

     "I got my first vaccine shot yesterday," said my nurse.

     "Any reaction?"

     "My arm swelled a bit and I got a headache.  That was about it." 

     I didn't tell her about the latest wasting-away-disease research.  Who needs to know that their so-called "vaccine" shot can now make them susceptible to future cases of cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimers or MS within the next decade as their newly-fine-tuned autoimmune system revs out of control and starts bumping off cells like some crazy serial killer -- and that Pfizer has no legal liability either so if anything happens to them because of this experimental drug, there will be no one but themselves to pay their medical bills.  You don't tell people that, even though it's true.  People will stop liking you if you do.  I kept my mouth shut.

     Then I drove off to Town & Country Village to buy wine and eggnog at Trader Joe's.  And fresh spinach, Swiss cheese and tamales.  Now I'm all set to lock down for the night.  Another well-spent day in Silicon Valley.  I go home tomorrow.  Job well done.

     Back to the Hallmark channel.

December 27, 2020:  What the freak happened last night?  I only got four hours' sleep at the most.  Just stared at the ceiling through my eyelids for eight hours.  Maybe only six hours.  But it felt like ten.  Probably just too much eggnog.  I'd polished off half a quart.  Boo-yah!

     Dream report:  When I finally did get to sleep, I dreamed that me and my friend Vonetta had entered a rap-music songwriting contest.  My lyrics were excellent.  We won!

     Today's Silicon Valley project?  To get out to East Palo Alto, what used to be the other side of the Silicon Valley coin -- prejudice and poverty and police and housing projects.  I wonder what it is like now?  Gentrification and Google and Genentech and GlobalCap?  MREs gone wild?  Morally Repugnant Elites?  Nah.  They all live up in ten-million-dollar estates in the Atherton hills, their summer homes after Manhattan and Paris and Montana -- and Davos.

     Time to pack up my little red car and leave my motel, my sweet lock-down home in Silicon Valley.  Off to East Palo Alto -- and just in time too.  As I was driving around there, guess what I saw?  A Catholic church!  Holding Mass on the sidewalk!  Tires screeched and brakes hissed as I jerked my car into the parking lot, slammed open the door and literally ran to the liturgy.

     Sitting through the Mass.  Tears running down my cheeks.  "Churches are essential businesses too," read a big sign on the rectory fence.  "Free the Mass!"  There were no communion wafers involved and no shaking of hands -- but so what.  "God, I missed this!" I said to an altar boy in the parking lot afterward.

      On the drive home, I had planned to stop by the graveyard where my parents are buried but there was too much traffic on Highway 92 in the direction of Skylawn.  But that was okay.  I was close enough to their graves (about five miles) to express my intentions and pour out my heart to them anyway, to tell Mom and Pop what I've been up to during this past year or so.   I assume that no one up in Heaven knows what is going on down here with regard to COVID -- but perhaps they do.

     Then for the rest of the 70-mile drive home, I invented a really fun game.  I kept my electromagnetic field meter on and every time it beeped loudly and flashed red, I'd try to spot the 5G cell tower that was causing the EMF meter to go bananas.  90% of the time I could find it.

     And now I'm home, back to wasting my time on the computer.  And none of my internet buddies even noticed I was gone.  And in some sick masochistic way, I miss the Hallmark channel.


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