The Machine

The very word “machine” nostalgically conjures a curious alchemy of metal, rubber, gears, grease and wiring that, when working, grinds and spins towards awaiting obsolescence. A machine isn’t a technology, it’s an artifact. The machine that I’m thinking of is already obsolete, driven there by its own inner workings. And this internal operating system, desperate to show that it actually does something, only spits out reams and reams of paper instead of doing what it’s been assigned. It wants to work, but it doesn’t want to go anywhere. And now, it has dug a ditch so deep with its ponderous, aimless activity that this pit is the only home it remembers. If this machine were a car with its own navigation system, it wouldn’t look for open road and wouldn’t crave its attendant rush of hot wind under a cooling sun. Instead it would constantly look for walls to crash into. This machine loves pain. Is addicted to it. Or maybe its just numb.

In a downtown museum, a massive steel machine full of blackened, dust-filled openings that nobody can identify sits in dank storage. Glazed onto its dark surfaces is a sweet, unknown history. It sits dumbly on a wooden floor looking for all the world like a bronze sculpture of a forgotten soldier crouching in a foreign ruin, trying to take a crap.


San Jose, CA, 1997

San Jose, CA, 1997 – Gilroy is roughly south of here. You can’t miss it, she said of the outlet mall. Of course we wouldn’t – architecture around here is built for the car. Walking is a novelty, an experience. The mall designed to feel like the downtown of an interesting city. But we didn’t make it to Gilroy. For some reason, El Camino Real was insistent and we drove north on that until it turned dark. It was spring time, which meant that it was somewhat like winter and fall.

The day was longer and so we didn’t get to the mall until 8:30, a half hour before closing. We passed Hillsdale Mall and a couple of others in favor of Tanforan in San Bruno – maybe that was a mistake. Tanforan’s logo consisted of galloping horses and the mall sits across the street from a World War II veterans’ graveyard. But who would really want to dig deep into the origins of that logo or consider why the war dead are buried precisely there? The mall is a landscape of smooth, polished floors, thick glass railings, music that’s only heard when you try to listen, and color-coded directories of stores sorted by type and alphabet. Near the escalators next to Foot Locker, a group of people around our age, but a different kind of people, ones we would never associate with, walk past us, oblivious to us, oblivious that this is Tanforan and that there’s graveyard across the street.

Now that I think about it, I don’t know what the end of El Camino looks like. I didn’t care to know back then. But if it continued North from San Bruno in a straight line, like the train does, we would be in San Francisco. That’s The City though, so that wouldn’t be in the plan, if there was one. So we head back, this time taking the 101 highway, not the more scenic 280. After all, it’s night time – what is there to see? And anyway, the 101 is straighter and flatter.

We follow the red lights of the cars ahead of us and in 45 minutes, we can see the exit for the San Jose airport. And we know that we’ll be exiting very soon. At a red light blocks from home, a group of people around our age, but a different kind of people, ones we would never associate with, walk across the street, oblivious to the night, oblivious that this is San Jose.