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Silicon Alleys

Hitting Rock Bottom


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OCCASIONALLY FOLKS get into a Mayberry-style tizzy-fit when they interpret something I write or say as "disrespectful to San Jose." It doesn't matter what the topic is. With the phlegm-spittle of a rabid gopher, they usually wind up saying, "Well, if you hate San Jose so much, then why don't you just leave?"

My answer is that "hatred" has nothing to do with it. Instead, it's frustration. There are many of us—many more than this town realizes—who really wish it could become more than a sleepy suburb. Perhaps, maybe in some fantasy utopian future, a place with a thriving counterculture, several live music clubs, street pranks, world famous neighborhoods, historical landmarks that people under 70 actually care about, skyscrapers, a functional public transportation system, killer Russian delis, 100 art galleries, a million different things to do past midnight and cops who don't act like power-hungry meatheads who couldn't make the football team in high school.

If that makes me a dreamer, then so be it. Like John Lennon said, "I'm not the only one." I just want my hometown to be something I'm not embarrassed about.

But, alas, I've finally come to grips with my denial in this matter, and as much as I want to pretend this is not one more ridiculous "I wish we were San Francisco" complex, it is. I will now admit to having the same identity complex about San Jose that I ridicule everyone else for having. Instead of SJICA standing for the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the acronym should instead stand for an association called San Jose Identity Complexers Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous. I've hit rock bottom and I need to get clean.

The main frustrating thing is that there do exist a lot of interesting bizarre characters in this valley to converse with—whether in scientific think tanks or dive bars. But unlike San Francisco, you have to go search them out. It's not as obvious here. There's a phrase I use elsewhere in this week's issue—"nauseating boredom"—to describe what it was like growing up here if you were someone beyond the pale. It fits. To use a milk carton metaphor, this city is long past its sell-by date and even they know it.

Whenever someone accuses me of "hating San Jose," Henry Miller's novel Nexus comes to mind immediately. During one exchange, a woman was accusing him of a being a dreamer. Miller's answer was that we're all dreamers but few of us wake up long enough to put it down in words. She then said Miller was someone trying to live a thousand lives in one—someone eternally dissatisfied with life and with everything, including himself.

"You're a Mongol," she told him. "You belong on the steppes of Central Asia."

As was the case when I first read this passage years ago, I was vicariously right there with the author. So allow me to quote in full the rest of that passage because it sounds disturbingly similar to a conversation I just had a few days ago. But I'll substitute "San Jose" for "America" and "Gary" for "Henry." Here we go—this is Henry Miller writing in the first person:

"You know," I said, getting worked up now, "one of the reasons why I feel so disjointed is that there's a little bit of everything in me. I can put myself in any period and feel at home in it. When I read about the Renaissance I feel like a man of the Renaissance; when I read about one of the Chinese dynasties I feel exactly like a Chinese of that epoch. Whatever the race, the period, the people, Egyptian, Aztec, Hindu or Chaldean, I'm thoroughly in it, and it's always a rich, tapestried world whose wonders are inexhaustible. That's what I crave—a humanly created world, a world responsive to man's thoughts, man's dreams, man's desires. What gets me about this life of ours, this San Jose life, is that we kill everything we touch. Talk of the Mongols and the Huns—they were cavaliers compared to us. This is a hideous, empty, desolate land. I see my compatriots through the eyes of my ancestors. I see clean through them—and they're hollow, worm-eaten ..."

I took the bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin and refilled the glasses. There was enough for one good swallow.

"To Napoleon!" I said. "A man who lived life to the fullest."

"Gary, you frighten me sometimes, the way you speak about San Jose. Do you really hate it that much?"

"Maybe it's love," I said. "Inverted love. I don't know."

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From the September 7-13, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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