A wise man once said, “why change the world when you can just pretend you did?” That wise man was my boss, Arthur Fishburne. We were sitting in a dive bar in the Mission District not far from the 24th St. BART Plaza. He was the CMO of the startup I used to work at: ourearth.io. We made NFTs of trees. No, not digital art — we placed ownership of trees on the blockchain and sold the tokens as certificates of ownership to people. We said their ownership would prevent the tree from being logged. We sold digital rights to trees all over the world. We arbitrarily numbered the trees and provided a location to the real tree with a Google earth coordinance. We had no way of preventing a tree from being cut down, but our users felt good giving us their money, and who were we to stop them from saving the world?
“You know, if there’s a Hell, we’re all going,” he said. “Black, white; rich, poor; male, female and all the they-thems in between, if God exists, he’s probably gonna fuck us up.”
“Or maybe God’s bored and the cancers we create are his entertainment.”
“What cancers in particular?”
“Capitalism, communism; anything that claims to have an answer, pretty much..”
“Fair enough, but how do you know God’s a man?”
“Women aren’t this mean,” I replied. We both laughed. And then silence. We knew that the company at best had a year left in it before it was exposed as a scam. Someone was going to go to jail. Not the CMO, he can feign ignorance. Chief Marketing Officers are the morons of the C-Suite. They really don’t know anything about the product, at least they don’t have to. They outsource most of the work to ad agencies and then run reports on how effective the campaign was in a spreadsheet. The rest of their duties are a series of zoom calls where they sit quietly and pretend to otherwise be busy. We reached a lul in the conversation. We sipped our beer and allowed our minds to wander aimlessly.
The bartender was wiping down the counter; pretending not to eavesdrop. He was old. Not incredibly old, but an aging punk. His body was covered in tattoos — symbols of youthful rebellion, but his eyes were filled with an old man’s regret. There were the only two types of people in San Francisco: the businessmen robbing the world under the guise of progress and the true believers who eventually realize they’re wasting their lives chasing a dream that didn’t exist. They say “eat the rich,” but they never do. They just drink and slowly die. Then they’re replaced by someone else who loved a song and hated a system. But then I wonder, is it better to have your heart broken or submit like I did without ever finding out if it could beat? That question wasn’t limited to San Francisco, it is applicable to every living thing that has ever been burdened with the ability to breathe.
Arthur reached in his jacket pocket and poured a tiny pile of cocaine into his closed fist. He snorted it so fast, I didn’t think the bartender would notice, but he did.
“Hey, have you heard of the fuckin’ bathroom?” The bartender asked with audible aggression
“What?” Arthur replied followed by a short sniffle.
“No drugs in my bar. If you want to do drugs, go someplace else.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about. If you do it again, you’re out of here.”
“Don’t worry, there won’t be another time,” Arthur muttered as he slammed a twenty dollar bill on the counter and stormed off.
“The fuck’s wrong with your friend?’ The bartender asked as he took the twenty and placed it in the cash register. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I decided that an attempt at levity was best.
“What isn’t wrong with him is a better question.”
The bartender laughed, but I didn’t feel better. I just sat there nursing my drink. I didn’t want to leave the bar, but I didn’t want to be there either. I was perpetually glued to the stool. There was a tension in the air and I had very little fight in me. San Francisco can turn even the most dogmatic among us into postmodernists. If everything means nothing and nothing means everything — what’s the point of a fight? Whether World War 3 kicks off and nukes fall on Silicon Valley — or some startup genius lives up to the mythos of the Great Man Theory by fully embracing tech-driven altruism, the sun will still explode all the same.
“Why does cocaine bother you?” I asked.
“It all bothers me. The alcohol bothers me too.”
“Then why be a bartender?”
“Because I look like this. You know why I look like this? Because I did a bunch of drugs and drank a bunch of booze. Every permanent decision in my life was made by an altered mind. I came to San Francisco with my band. There were four of us, I’m the only one left.”
“Did they move?”
“Yeah, to the afterlife.”
“Was it drugs?”
“It was drugs in combination with everything else. I’ve been clean for five years, but this is pretty much all I know how to do. Plus, if someone gets too out of line here, I can punch them. You can’t do that at your office.”
“I think I know why drugs kill.”
“Because they’re poison.”
“It’s not that. It’s something else. It’s an evolutionary adjustment. Drugs kill due to natural selection.”
“Like I said, I can punch people here.”
“I’m not saying your friends deserved to die. I’m saying everyone has a reward system programmed into them and it activates when we accomplish something. Drugs fuck this up.”
“They fuck everything up.”
“They do, but they do for a reason. Drugs offer the euphoria of accomplishment without accomplishing. That’s why they kill you. Nature can’t stand it.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means if drugs didn’t kill some of us, all of us would die. We accomplish because it feels good to. The harder something is, the better we feel when we figure it out. But drugs do this without us having to do anything. If everyone could do drugs without the individual consequences, no one would do shit. We wouldn’t progress. Our species would die out. That’s why they kill some of us — to save all of us.”
“It’s shit like this that makes people drink.”
“I know. Which brings me to my next question: Can I get a whiskey sour?”
“Is Jameson okay?”