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Date Published: 4/17/1996
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Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

30 Cyber-Days in San Francisco 1.3

Red's Java House

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

Down on the San Francisco Bay along The Embarcadero, there is a place called Red's Java House. It's right across the wharf from the Jeremiah O'Brien, the last of the Liberty ships, and just down the way from a sidewalk plaque commemorating the "Lost Ghost Ship: Lydia." Lost, that is, because its remains have been buried forty feet beneath The Embarcadero, probably along with some tourists, since the last earthquake.

So it's a sunny day in California and we're sitting outside Red's Java House. The kind of place where the food is so bad and the bird shit's so heavy, it makes you want to puke. The longshoremen have fled long ago, and now it's been taken over by the khaki crowd and the Silicon set looking for a bit of True Grit. But not just techie bodies. Retro Hell's Angels are steady customers, a pickup truck for construction workers wheels in, complete with a bumper sticker that reads "Workers in the USA are best when they say Union Yes," guys with dreadlocks and Oakleys, bike messengers poured into data suits studded with digital comm-gear, ex-CEOs, from what the SoMa crowd calls "Multi-Media Gulch", slipstreaming their Chili Dogs and wondering whimsically where it all went wrong, a teal-haired woman in a blue leather US Highway 101 jacket, retired couples, and there's even some bunko artists in the corner cashing in their chips.

Red's Java House was really hopping that day: lunch-time crowd pigeon roosting, tooling Buds and vacuum-eating cheeseburgers. In the noonday sun, my body might be in San Francisco, but my thoughts are with the Germans. I'm reading Heidegger's essay on anxiety, looking, I suppose, for a philosophical encryption chip to the malaise of the hyper-media mind. And it's a curious thing. Heidegger says that anxiety is about confronting nothingness. I don't bother to think that one through, but feed Heidegger's insight directly to my stomach neurons, probably to get a quick take on what my eating intelligence has to say about the relationship between anxiety and nothingness.

Now crazy-ass seagulls, pure Clorox white, are circling in the air, cheeseburgers are being lazily chomped all around me, the Red Java crowd is at that edge of late morning tiredness and lunch-time happiness, and I know, I just know, that Heidegger is wrong. It's not nothingness that people are afraid of, at least the California crowd down on The Embarcadero, but just the opposite. What really hardwires the anxiety gene directly into the California cellular structure is not nothingness, but hyperactivity. Always having something to do like an ulcer-weight coming down heavy on your mind, and your body is rattled tight, and you can't walk except at a trot with face muscles pulled taut, and running shoes with your working clothes that you don't really want to wear, and you're on the run baby run treadmill at the high tech street level display-window gym speeding to nowhere; but time is money, appearance is everything, and you just can't afford to miss that nifty power walk up and down San Francisco Bay. Gogol's "dead souls" as 90s repressed young professionals. And not just the Silicon boys and girls either, but everybody in San Francisco has gotten into the act: the suits on Market street put on hypermedia flesh to autodoc every morning at their cyber-work stations, homeless guys along the Bay do hard-edge military style calisthenics, complete with one-arm pushups with legs suspended three-feet off the air on park fencing, the Ferry building is a fast vector blast of cyber-muscle rolling in from the night-time dreamworld of Marin county, and there's not a word spoken here that's not a paean to promotional culture with a capital P. But then again, maybe Heidegger is right. Maybe the anxious self reaches pitch velocity running from nothingness, and really loving it.

Red's Java House is about as close to Heidegger's nothingness as you're going to get on this side of God's green acre. It's the kind of place where the Bay is on your mind, the sun is in your skin, and you're sitting there with a Bud and a cheeseburger and your cool shades tucked in tight. But your thoughts have drifted away to that quiet place we all have inside us where the horizon narrows down to a beautiful circle, where life and love and worries and just plain lunch-time eating vector together into a forget-me-not kind of day. If Heidegger could have just done some writing at Red's Java House, I'm pretty sure that he'd want to rethink nothingness. And why? Because in California, the hypermedia body has already blasted through to the other side of nothingness, to that crazy edge of end-of-the continent energy cut with a little earthquake hysteria, where what's really desirable is the panic anxiety that comes from riding the abyss, just between hyper-stress and flat-ass inertia, lazy days are here again, I'm OK and so are you, as long as you're not in San Quentin. Hedonism, San Francisco style.

In California, nobody fears nothingness. It's what people eat for lunch, and in San Francisco they get it every day, for the price of a True Grit cheeseburger and a Bud at Red's Java House.


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