Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys Joins the '700 Club'

Subversive adventures have fueled Silicon Alleys columnist
A Metro columnist celebrates 700 weeks of outwitting the blinking cursor.

As of right now, this column officially joins the 700 club. That is, a total of 700 weeks have gone by since I started writing Silicon Alleys in 2005. Milestones are better than gallstones, I suppose.

The history here is two-pronged. Back when I was still sitting at Cactus Club's happy hour with the cockroaches, the washed-up strippers, the Satanists and the homeless punks, Eric Carlson was writing a Metro column called, "Notes From the Underbelly"—a major influence on me. He moved away in 2002, leaving serious shoes to fill.

By the time I came on board, Metro also featured a front-of-book column called "Biter," an irreverent dose of random alt-San Jose snark. It was a rotating column, meaning, any one of us wrote it whenever we had an idea. For my contributions, I went on the most ridiculous adventures I could find, all over the valley.

In November 2002, for example, I attended a bondage class outdoors near Leathermasters on Park Avenue. The teacher led a hands-on seminar, in broad daylight, on the grass in someone's backyard. She tied me up in front of the whole class—we all had our clothes on—and demonstrated various knots and techniques. I then wrote a Biter column comparing the experience to that of San Jose itself, how downtown had been tying itself in knots for 30 years and was undergoing yet more phases of body modification, leaving its culture on the ropes. Many creative people at the time felt tied up and strangled just having to live here.

Over the next few years, I wrote many Biter columns, embarking on similar adventures. One week I went to a pub in Campbell and entered a bachelor auction for charity, planting two women in the crowd to jack up the bidding, but the whole thing failed miserably. In other columns, I went to Los Gatos and got a spray-on tan and attended a Walmart prank at which no one showed up but the organizer. In a really dumb column, I even glorified the Asian fetishist creeps at a dubious new Vietnamese place called Sugars Coffee Bar. Thanks to my story bringing the joint above ground, the cops began shaking the place down and later closed it.

The fun didn't stop there. At the Camden Community Center, I took a class in astral projection, taught by a goofy Australian mystic. In the story, I wrote, "If I can't get my physical body the hell out of San Jose, well, at least I can get my astral body out of San Jose."

Writing those Biter columns taught me an important lesson: I had discovered a natural talent for transforming any subject into ridicule of San Jose. Not in a hostile way, but as a local scribe covering his hometown in ways no one else would possibly do. As a native, I'd grown up with all the trappings of a place that still after decades couldn't figure out if it wanted to be a big city or a suburb. At the time, every giddy feel-good project San Jose tried to implement, and the ways in which it botched every desperate scheme to achieve name recognition, only seemed to reinforce its own attention-starved identity complex. All of this was fertile ground for an overgrown snotty teenager with a killer vocabulary, so I plowed on as best I could. As a result, Metro gave me my own column, "Silicon Alleys," in 2005 and you're still reading it today.

With Silicon Alleys, the point from the beginning was to write something different every single week so the readers would never know what to expect. And I still try to uphold that strategy when feasible. "Alleys" just refers to anything off the beaten path—geographically, psychically or creatively.

Those Biter columns, as frivolous as they were, along with the first several years of writing the Silicon Alleys column, helped me find my own voice. I grew as a writer and as a person. Today, I no longer need to explode with juvenile tantrums, although it still happens every so often. Nevertheless, so long as the muse continues to show up each week, I will conjure words that hopefully resonate with someone, somewhere. Here's to another 700!