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Where Ideas Come From

Art by Paul Rios


Where do ideas come from? I always thought it was a funny question because I was always taught that ideas don’t come from anywhere. Think of them in the same terms as matter. They’re always there in some atomic form, waiting to coalesce into something bigger, something solid, liquid or gaseous. Ideas remain in a constant state of waiting to be real. Before an idea matures into some tangible form, it’s just a particle of some other idea. The slow disintegration of one idea gives rise to another. And when an idea runs its course, it becomes subject to the same entropic forces that helped birth it.

If I told you I thought this while waiting at a Taco Bell drive-thru, you’d probably think I’m full of shit. Sad, but true. As a person of Hispanic heritage, I’m offended that Taco Bell is allowed to continue to call itself Taco Bell. But there’s something about the sheer audacity of the food, the utter inauthenticity of this food, that I find remarkable in perverse way. Maybe I harbor secret self-loathing, so I subject myself to small tortures of soy lecithin, maltodextrin, caramel color, cocoa powder and silicon dioxide. We all have vices.

But I do my best thinking while waiting. I can only achieve deep thought once the yammering of inner dialogue stops. And the only way to bring that to a halt is to relax. Lines relax me. Order relaxes me. I love watching people as they wait in line. Waiting makes most people anxious. Observe the gentleman in the 4Runner, three cars ahead, choogling to the sweet music stylings of Train. His fingers flick against the rim of car door, tapping to the music , intent on tapping away the feeling that every second he ever spent in line was somehow a net loss to his life, which, if recovered, could transform him into the man he should have been. Time returned, time enough to bring back his ex-wife who took the kids, the house and the first 4Runner, a 2003 with a faulty tail light that he always refused to let the mechanic replace. The silhouette of his head bobbles back and forth. He’s had too much coffee, and his viscera probably won’t forgive him for introducing some salted pseudo-beef product into the mix.

Imagine for a moment, that you are the pimpled post-high school grad slinging me these nachos. Put yourself in her shoes, show some empathy. You may have been there. You may still be there. In this economy, maybe you want to be there. You tie your thick black hair back in a ponytail, compressed under the infinite weight of a tragicomic uniform hat. Fair-skinned and thin, you wear a minimalist silver ring on your right index finger. Girl, have you ever stopped to contemplate the Taco Bell logo? Have you ever seen the original Taco Bell logo?

It looks like an inflamed liver wearing a sombrero.

Nobody remembers these things. You have to find them on the Internet because nobody remembers these things. There are no more cataloguers of runes, no archivists of the Gods. I’m waiting at the drive-thru, and I’m no longer trying to be patient because patience is for squares, man, patience will only get you so far. Somewhere, in a concrete canal where a stream used to run, a frog croaks a soft harmony with an unfamiliar sound. The girl with the silver ring hands me my change, her metal grazes the hair on my knuckles and I drive away, through the parking lot, past Harbor Street, along the railroad tracks that bring commuters from Mill Valley and Walnut Creek. It’s midday now though, and the train is full of grandmothers riding the express into city to see a grandson that never calls, never writes.

The sun is out and it should be much warmer today, and I think maybe the sun pulls farther and farther away each year (it most surely does by fractions) and the thought reminds me of a Twilight Zone plot, which in turn reminds me of Rod Serling’s narrow lapels and thin ties. And then I’m back at my desk, and I can’t keep the ideas together. They’re all in the wrong tense, and the sentences don’t fit. I let them free. They weren’t mine to keep.

And from the windows in my office, you can see clear across the valley, out to the ocean. And in the other direction, mountains, and plains, cornfields and cities and oceans. I could take the elevator to the sixteenth floor, to the rooftop and shout something:

“But where do the ideas come from?”

And the words would come back to me in a language I don’t speak:

“From futures you don’t know.”


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