Sunday, December 27, 2015

The End of a Flight

A good pilot knows when to eject.

Sometimes the plane just doesn't want to fly.  Or worse, it's over.  The plane is going down in flames and the pilot knows he's not going to make it.  Some folks just want that flight to last forever, as if the restrictions on the plane didn't exist, and the laws of physics excluded them.

But no, every flight has to end.  What comes up must come down.

And a good pilot knows when to eject.

Our pilot is contemplating this right now.

Do I eject?  Is it time to get out of this machine?

It's a final thing, pulling the EJECT lever, and launching yourself out of the aircraft you once knew so well and out into the void.  The great unknown is waiting.

A good pilot knows when the time has come.

"Take good care of your aircraft," they said.  "You'll never get another one," they said.  Bullshit.  Our pilot had flown several aircraft over the vast expanse of his career.  And from what he could remember, those flights weren't so bad.  They all ended abruptly, he recalled.  Violently, even.

The big difference was having a co-pilot on those journeys.  With a co-pilot, sitting next to you, turbulance didn't matter.  Navigation was simple and there always seemed to be a lot of blue sky. Plenty of blue sky, really.

But not this flight.  No, this flight was shit.  Tons of heavy, dense cloud cover.  Terrible communications, storm after storm, and flak from all sides.  Right from the moment of take-off, it seemed, he was taking severe damage that compromised his flight.  Instead of a scenic path over beautiful terrain, he was dodging mountain peaks because he just couldn't climb out of the dense fog.
All along his fuselage were scars.  Holes and torn sheet metal, while some bore blackened scorch marks and hydraulic fluids.  It had been a rough flight right from the moment his wheels left the tarmac.

Just an hour ago he took a massive shot from another aircraft.  It tore a gaping hole in the underbelly.  Flames shot out through the other holes left by previous attacks.  He knew it was coming.  It had to come.  That other plane was going to fire upon him, he knew it.  But he had to fly his course and keep his path because he had a line-of-sight with that plane and he thought if he could just keep that line-of-sight they could get out of this miserable cloud cover and into blue skies together.

But he knew it would fire upon him instead.  The pilot took the damage knowing it would almost destroy him.

A good pilot always knows when to eject.  An hour ago it looked like it might come to that, but he somehow managed to keep his plane in the air.  Still no blue skies, though.

It wasn't the plane's fault.  It had been a decent plane, actually.  It took damage that would have knocked other planes right out of the sky.  In a way, our pilot felt bad about ejecting.

But a good pilot knows when to eject.

He wanted those blue skies.  Once again, just once, to be above the clouds and soar high into the stratosphere.  Our pilot found blue sky once.  It was just for a few fleeting minutes, but he was there, out of the clouds.  Sunlight bathing him, warming him, nurturing him, feeding him.  Sunlight, beautiful sunlight, piercing through the thinner cirrus clouds as if they weren't even there.

But something happened.  Catastrophic failure after a series of fluke wind-sheers.  He was in a dangerous valley and his engines just didn't have the horsepower to climb high enough.  He lost all airspeed and went into a stall, then a flat spin, as he tried to correct the plane.  Eventually he got the nose down, built up airspeed, and got the plane moving again.  But he was too low.  The peak of a snow-crusted mountain tore off his Number Four Engine in a ball of fire, sparks, and smoke.  And down he went into the heavy cloud cover.

A good pilot knows when to eject and he didn't eject then.  He fought to keep the nose up.  He ignored the loss of heat in the cabin and the dense black smoke that made it hard to see.  He kept that nose up and got enough control back to avoid running into the side of a mountain.

But that was hours ago.  And while he's not in a flat spin anymore, he just can't seem to climb out of the dense clouds, storms, and fog.  Blue sky seems to be a fairy tale now.  He's gone over and over again his memories of blue sky as if they were the only minutes of the flight worth talking about.

He just wants blue skies again.  And it doesn't seem like he's going to make it.  Blue skies, he suspects, are for other planes but not his own.  His plane was never built for blue skies.  It was meant to drop down into the clouds and fly until a wind sheer or mountain peak knocked him out of the air.  This plane, this entire flight, was about him crashing into a ball of flames on the ground, where would smolder and burn until there was nothing left but ashes.

So maybe it is time to eject.  Why bother?

A good pilot knows when to eject and this might be the time.

But what would he tell them back in the hangar?

Yeah, I got sick and tired of being alone in the clouds with shit tearing my plane up so I decided fuck it, I'm out of here!

They would ask if the plane was still in the air, and he would have to tell them it was, because they'll pull the flight recorder and see if he was telling the truth.  He would have to be honest and say the plane was still flying.  

It wouldn't make for a very epic tale to be told to children, he realized.

"So children, our hero the pilot gave up on finding his blue skies and decided to jump out of a flying airplane because he just didn't think he would find blue skies again.  The end."

That wouldn't do.  Children, stupid and happy, would see right away there was a problem.  No mythological tale ends like that!  Not one.

A good pilot knows when to eject.

Our pilot looks down at the EJECT lever and knows it is always an option, but one that will have to wait, because there might be another chance.  Maybe this cloud cover will lift a bit.  Maybe these mountains will end.  Maybe he'll fix his remaining engines and get his nose up, and out, of these storms and flak.  Or maybe he'll find another plane, establish a line-of-sight, and together they'll find blue skies.

A good pilot knows when to eject and our pilot is a good pilot.  He's flown through storms of shit, taken heavy damage, gotten thrown around in hellish winds, and navigated the harshest of valleys with smoke and freezing cold flooding his cabin.  He's a damned good pilot.  Not the best, but good enough to have lasted this long.

He decides to give it another hour.  One more hour of this flight to see if somehow he can reach his blue skies, or at least find a reason to keep in the air, because right now he doesn't have one other than the simple question, "what if?"  That single question is all that is keeping him from ejecting right now.

It's not hope.  He refuses to call it hope.  Instead, its a calculation.  There is still a chance and while it grows slimmer by the minute, it's enough for right now.

And a good pilot knows when to keep flying.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I was always jealous of Ebenezer Scrooge.

He was guided on his path to redemption by three ghosts who showed him the exactly what he was supposed to do.  They cared about him.  Somebody from his past came back and helped him.

It's hard not to be jealous of something like that.  To be seen, to be known.  Scrooge was a single domino in a large Rube Goldberg device.  Scrooge was important to the system.  He needed to pay Bob Cratchit more and help keep Tiny Tim alive.  Why?  Because Tiny Tim was the heart of a family, the ever-hopeful and joyful boy who sang the praises of his Christian god to anybody who would listen.

Tiny Tim needed to live so he could keep being the mouthpiece and PR Man for Jeebus.  And in the world of Charles Dickens, that meant Scrooge needed to find redemption, so Scrooge would be the cog in the machine and do his job.  Scrooge was used and manipulated.

The other side of this was Charles Dickens himself.  Dickens was bitter about his childhood.  He was a young gentleman until the age of 12 when his father was put into prison.  Dickens had to sell all his books and possessions, then work in a factory, amongst the lowest classes of people.  In Victorian England, that's a huge slight.  In fact, he stood out so much, the other workers called him "The young gentleman."

Dickens was angry at his fall from social standing and blamed his father.  In so many ways, I sympathize with Dickens and with Scrooge.  Both men had terrible issues with their fathers.  Scrooge was sent away to a boarding school and even younger sister couldn't talk their cold, distant father into letting him come back home.

I used to really love Christmas.  It wasn't the presents, or what I was going to get, because honestly everybody always bought me clothes.  For me, it was all the other stuff.  Family I hadn't seen in a long time would come visit from all over, the lights, the way other people were nicer, the food, the colors and music.

But something changed.

As the years progressed, Christmas got worse and worse.  I began dreading the day for decorating the Christmas Tree because Dad would be drunker and more abusive.  Eventually, he sat down and just said mean things to us until he passed out.  Mom and I would do it together until my sister was old enough to help out.

The Ghost of Christmas Past in the book was a spirit that constantly changed shape into different forms.  It helped us understand why Scrooge became the miser who said "bah humbug!"  That ghost gave us the back-story we needed.

So now I suppose I have to go back.  I won't do all of that here.  But in my mind, I am going back into my years and asking myself, "why am I so miserable this time of year?"  Christmas depresses me the way nothing else does.  I feel disconnected, rejected, and undeserving.

Christmas just isn't fun for me anymore.  And I am resentful of those who do enjoy it.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is always whispering in my ear about how it used to be a wonderful time and how it slowly turned into an emotional meat-grinder when year after year painful things would happen. But instead of forgetting this, I am invited to relive these events when the holiday comes back around.

It's hard for me to shut those memories off and live more in the moment in front of me.  And that's the key to happiness all too often.  Focus more on what is in front of you and less on what was behind you and life will be grand.  But that's easier said than done.  And when I see people posting Christmas stuff in July I feel like I'm being dragged into a pit.  I resent it.

I wish the other ghosts would come visit me.  I'm sick of the Ghost of Christmas Past reminding me of all I've lost.  It would be nice if another one came out and helped me with some sort of redemption or peace.  But they don't come to guys like me.  Those sorts of things are for other people.

I always feel so sorry for Scrooge.  Nobody else seems to feel any empathy for him but his nephew Fred, who toasts him and in a way, says a prayer for him.  Nobody else gives a shit.  I'm way too broke to be like Scrooge.  And my sins are far too deep for redemption.  People like me don't get redemption.  We die alone in a small apartment full of books.  Nobody finds us for days until the smell gets bad.  It's fate.  Some things are just written into stone and cannot be changed.

Just like having three ghosts come by and screw with your head.  I'm sure if somebody in my circle of connections were important, I would be pushed and toyed with, too.

Dickens pushed a social agenda.  He was originally going to publish an essay on how the poor need to be helped.  He decided against this and instead used a story about Christmas to push his beliefs forward.  Christmas used to be known for wild orgies, drunken benders, and sodomy.  If it still were, more people today would be happy to celebrate.

Maybe this is the key to Christmas.  Maybe if Christmas were about hooking up, getting laid, finding some good drugs, and just bingeing into oblivion we'd be much happier about celebrating it.  And through my cult, The Branch Tedians Church of the Stretch Armstrong Messiah, this will be the New Christmas.  We will start new traditions and actually live life.  It will be something to look forward to!

This way, when the Ghost of Christmas Past fucks with me some more, I'll have something cool to watch.  And I can turn to it and say, "Damn, that was fun.  I hope we can do it again this year!"

Friday, December 4, 2015

Writing With My Middle Fingers

It's two o'clock in the morning and I can't sleep.  I've been reading more Hunter S. Thompson as of late and that's left me missing him more than ever.  This blog post has been needed for a while and now is as good a time as any to hammer it out.

I'm out of booze, though.  I'm out of a lot of things, really.  Poverty sucks.  Thompson's last collection of letters to have been published is basically him bitching about money.  People owed him, he needed more, he spent it way to fast, and had nothing to show for it.  He was pissed.

But at least he had booze and good drugs, which is better than the situation I'm in tonight.
Image result for hunter s. thompson quotes on self-respect
The shooting in California really set me off.  Not the shooting, exactly, but the reactions of the people afterwards.  It was as if an army of ignorant pigfuckers were waiting for another one of these massacres with giddy excitement so they could pounce with their memes and slogans before the bodies stopped twitching.

Shootings don't bother me.  I expect the worst out of humanity and am rarely disappointed.   But stupidity and the slimey capitalization on the bones of the dead with pre-made graphics and canned outrage reminds me of just how depraved and devoid of conscience the world has become.

We're so numb we don't feel the crunch of the dead under our feet while we scream about whatever single issue we're obsessed over.  Every fact is just a lie re-told and whatever side we believe in has been corrupted by the opposing side via slick marketing campaigns, fake videos, paid actors, and bots that post in forums.  Every issue has become a sock puppet show with the same hands inside and similar voices reading the scripts.

But it wasn't like that a few decades ago.  It used to be, men could wield a baseball bat and swing it with a typewriter.  It used to be, words penetrated.

Maybe that's why I loved Thompson so much.  I was eighteen when I first read him.  I had read a reference to him in a blurb buried deep in the Sunday Edition of a Chicago Tribune article.  The only book our local library had was Generation of Swine:  Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80's.  It was a collection of his weekly articles written for the San Francisco Examiner in the mid-80's.  Not his best work, but enough--I was hooked.

Over the course of the next month, I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell's Angels:  A Strange and Terrible Saga, and On The Campaign Trail in '72.

There were many others, but I was obsessed.  Thompson spoke to my soul and taught me a few things.  Through his work, I learned it was okay to be different, and to see the world for the ugly, festering sore it really was.  I learned to accept that I was alone and it was okay, because I knew I didn't belong, and that wasn't a bad thing.  It made me special.

I've taken two trips to Colorado.  On the first trip, I went to Boulder, where Thompson was known to sell his art at a gallery.  I found that gallery and damn near ran inside.  I asked the guy if he had any of Thompson's work but he didn't.

"There's a guy that just came in," he said while pointing to the back.  "He just got back from Thompson's where he did a photo shoot."

I walked back and in this poorly-lit room was a guy who looked like hell.  He had at least a week's growth of facial hair, his own was badly in need of a comb, and he was wearing dark sunglasses.  I asked him about Thompson and if he had any of his work.

"No," he said.  "But I just took these photos last night."  And the he proceeded to show me several 18 X 32 glossy photos signed by Hunter.  They were of him sitting in a red Caddy convertible (The great red shark itself!) and of him with an American flag wrapped around his neck.  What I hadn't realized was I was one of the first handful of people to see the photos for the dust jacket cover for Thompson's latest book, Better Than Sex.

The importance of this didn't sink in until a few years after.  

I asked the photographer what Thompson was like.  He said those shots were taken at four o'clock in the morning.  "Thompson," he said.  "Was amazing!  He would have three televisions on at once, a radio, a newspaper in his hands, and a conversation going on to the side and he'd keep up with everything with acute awareness."  

The second time I went to Colorado, I made it to Aspen.  I even made it to the Woody Creek Bar, where Thompson drank, and often wrote about.  To my dismay, they closed at nine o'clock, and it was just after that when I had arrived.  

My dream of meeting Hunter S. Thompson, like many dreams, was just not to be.  

I'll admit I tried to write like Thompson.  It's a cheap, horrible thing to do.  To be a writer and copy somebody else's style is childish.  I do what I can now to rid myself of this tendency and I have to be careful because after reading him for a few minutes, it comes out of me naturally.  Thompson's unique style is infectious.  

But he's gone now.  Thompson is gone.  He shot and killed himself.

I'm not sure if I'm sadder because he's gone or if because I don't think he could help us much anymore.  We're pretty far gone, as societies go, and some guy speaking truth would just fade into the white noise we're baptised by in a constant immersion.  We're numb--too numb to know when truth is spoken and too distracted to seek the truth out for ourselves.

But thank God Facebook never lies to us.

Maybe that's why I keep politics off my blog.  Everybody would rather read jokes about necrophilia and cannibalism recipes than read yet another fucking blog about truth.  Everybody has truth.  Deep down, we know the answers to the questions before we even ask them.  Plus, we live in a world that makes us ask questions despite already knowing the answers.

And everybody is full of shit.  There is no truth.  We're self-aware parasites on a cold rock hurling through space that is slowly being consumed until there is nothing left.  Once that happens, we'll consume each other until a handful of wicked and brutish survivors realize the stupidity of it all.  By then, everybody will be bat-shit insane and laughing hysterically because all the truth-sayers were right.

Res Ipsa Loquitor.  The the good times roll.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Epic Pumpkin Attack of 2015

Tonight I learned some valuable lessons regarding kitchen magic and pumpkins.  I'm back to tell the tale despite my horrific injuries and painful wounds because this is important information that just cannot wait.

As many of you know, I'm a ninja in the kitchen.  I get crazy stupid in the kitchen.  When people come to my apartment, and I'm giving them the tour, I point to the kitchen and say, "this is where the magic happens."

One of the many things I like to do is make something wonderful and then share it with my friends so they, too, can experience my awesomeness.  This time of year my favorite ingredient to use is pumpkin.

Rant:  There is some asshole with a couple of cooking shows on Cooking TV who refers to whatever food component he's doing that episode around as his "obedient ingredient."  I fucking hate that phrase.  I hate it!  Every time he says it I want to bash him in the face with the blunt side of my meat cleaver while shouting, "Obey this!  Obey this!  You trendy hipster wannabe, I hope you get eye-gonorrhea from tainted clams squirting at you in disgust!  Obey the back of my van!"

I've made pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pies, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin dump cakes, pumpkin pancakes and waffles.  I'm like Bubba with pumpkins.  One time I made some pumpkin-oat meal-chocolate chip cookies and brought them into work.  People called them Crack Cookies because they couldn't stop eating them.  I once made a pumpkin dump cake with an applesauce and cream cheese frosting that was so epic, people were begging me to make it again and again.  A woman proposed to me and a dude asked me to join him in the men's room.  It was scary.

A few weeks ago, I was given a pumpkin, and I knew instantly I was going to cook it and get the wonderful orange flesh out to make more pumpkin goodness.  I had seen my mother do it when I was very young and it seemed like a simple enough plan.  Cut it up, get the seeds out of the goop and guts in the middle, cut the pumpkin into chunks and bake it in a pan covered with foil.

Simple.  Even I could do it.

The rest of the plan is where the Epic Pumpkin Attack took place.  This thing wasn't going to give up the flesh all that easily.

First, I learned the hard way to never put hot pumpkin fresh out of the oven into a potato ricer.  Because the pumpkin is so watery, what you end up getting is a squirt gun that shoots hot, sticky juice into your eyes, walls, floor, ceiling, and hair.  Right from the beginning I was covered in it.

This did not deter me or cause me to re-examine what I was doing, or to see if there was a better way.


I pressed on because my manliness was at stake.  This pumpkin was mocking me and I wasn't about to let it win.

By the second chunk, I was sticking to everything, and my hair was running with the hot, sappy blood of a laughing pumpkin.  This is when I realized why you always find pumpkin spice stuff but very little pumpkin stuff--like hair care products.  Pumpkin sucks for hair care!  If anybody advertises any sort of hair product that includes pumpkin, they are lying.  I might as well have poured hot maple syrup in my hair.  

This is when my Tourette's started to kick in and I found myself cursing in a high-pitched squeal as hot pumpkin juice ran down my face and into my eyes.  I saw the world though pumpkin-colored glasses.

What did that look like?  The walls melted, black rats crawled on the ceiling, my furniture began to dance to some funky 70's music like they were on Soul Train, people ran past my window with their heads on fire.  The fire wasn't really fire, it was a living creature, like a raccoon, and it was pulling at their flesh as it burned off their faces.  One of the fire coons looked over at me and saw I was looking at him.  I quickly turned around and got back to work before he got any ideas.

I now have a bowl of the juiciest pumpkin you'll ever taste.  This isn't good because now I have to cook more of the moisture out, which means more dealing with this pumpkin puree, and that scares me.

Eventually, I will return to making pumpkin dishes and sharing it with people, but if you are one of those people you should consider having sex with me.  Seriously.  I got burned and tormented so badly I'll be having nightmares tonight for sure.  I am permanently scarred over here.  And I think throwing me a piece is a perfectly acceptable trade for a slice of what most certainly will be the best thing you've put in your mouth in a long time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That First Spark

I'm coming off having the flu.  Honestly, I'm not so sure it was really the flu, though.

I'm thinking a deity of some kind decided to knock me around for shits n' giggles.  Some of those gods are mean pricks with savage senses of humor.  And being the sort of person I am, these gods have all kinds of reasons to be pissed at me, so really it was just a matter of time.

For a while I was even pondering some sort of deal.  At my lowest, with brain-fogging cramps in my guts while they gurgled like worms in a blender, I considered my options.

Do I really want to stop teaching random toddlers to shout "Hail Satan" in Walmart?  Because really, that's one of life's little enjoyments, like chocolate, or seeing pictures of your co-workers that you were never supposed to see.

But once the pain and misery started to taper off, I was once again able to think about more pleasant things, and I wanted to post something on here relevant to the season.

When I was in grade school, Jefferson Elementary in Sterling, Illinois, I found a book in the library that changed everything.  Sure, I had read The Hardy Boys, and a few others.  But none of them really captured my imagination.  Nothing jumped out at me until one day I found a book that changed it all.

Sir MacHinery by Tom McGowen.

This book sparked that first love of reading in me.  It was incredible.  My classmates loved this book, too, and we would fight and argue over who was going to read it next.  

The story is a simple, yet classic, tale of good vs. evil.  It had ghosts, grumpy Scottish WWII vets, a witch, and a robot.  It was the best thing a kid in Fourth Grade could read.  

The author, Tom E. McGowen, is an Illinois native and is still with us to this day.  I'm sure he doesn't do public appearances and copies of this book are rather expensive on Amazon, which tells me it wasn't re-printed in paperback form much.  

But this simple book is what sparked my love of reading and sparked my imagination.  It's what put me on a path that would lead to me all sorts of wonderous things.  

This is something I hope to do for others.  Not with my writing, mind you.  I'd never recommend my writing to anybody without a certain amount of emotional damage or manure in their souls.  I mean I always hope that some book I give to a kid is the one that sparks it in them.  That love of reading--that Ah-Ha Moment when a kid realizes what is inside of a book can be better than anything ever put on a television or movie screen.  

I cannot think of anything better to do for a child.  To teach a child that a whole world exists and is waiting for them to dive in is the greatest thing we can do.  This is how we make the world a better place.  This is how we ensure our species moves forward.  

This holiday season, regardless of why you are giving a gift, I hope you think critically of what you are giving and I hope you give a book.  It's not about the age of the person because everybody reads.  And it's not about what you want that person to learn or what path you want them to walk.  Instead, think of what you'll spark inside of them.  See what you can open up inside their minds so they move beyond what they think of as their world.  

I wish everybody had a Sir MacHinery in their lives.  Most of my friends do.  This sort of thing is important.  

And if the kid isn't a reading type, then read to them.  Parents should be doing this every night anyways.  Kids who read make better students and develop better life skills.  We all know this.  

With the nights getting longer and colder, this is the perfect thing to get in the habit of every night.  Read to your kids, let them see you reading, they will copy your behavior.  And once they start reading for themselves, let them find that one spark, because that's really the best thing you can do for them.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Dark Stuff

It seems like everybody around me are having babies these days.  Those who know me and where I work know all too well the water is poisoned with fertility drugs.  Simply drinking it will cause a woman to become pregnant and I've often thought they should advertise that fact when recruiting employees.

Are you trying to conceive and just not getting the results you so desperately want?  Come work at The Place Ted Works!  Over half of the females who work here for longer than six months become pregnant, with numbers even higher for women who work for more than a year.  Does your doctor pay you?  Well, we will!  Not really well, mind you, but it beats fertility drugs and the chance of having octuplets.  Instead of racking up a $20,000 medical bill, get paid to get pregnant!

Normally I have a lot of dark jokes to make about life-changing events.  You know, baptisms in goat blood, consecration of the child into the service of Satan, teaching the child lethal combat moves as soon as they learn to crawl--the usual silliness people have come to expect from me.

But I just haven't been able to bring myself to do that.  Children are serious business.  Babies are important.  And fatherhood is such a complicated issue.

My dad's birthday was November 27th.  With all the talk about fathers in recent weeks, and a few other triggers, he has been on my mind a lot.

My dad was a drunk and a fiend.  He hated me.  He hated everything about me.  When my dad looked at me, he saw himself, and took out the sum of his self-hatred upon me.  He was abusive and cruel.

Dad was also gifted.  He was offered full-ride scholarships to major in mathematics out of high school.  Instead he used that intelligence to get inside my head.  I often compare him to Hannibal Lecter in his mind-fucking skills.  In many ways I was a puppet for him to play with.

I often think my dad's goal was to destroy me and when he realized he couldn't, for one reason or another, he opted instead to break as much of me as possible.  There were other things going on in my life back then I'm not going to get into.  But the end result was that by the time I was in high school I no longer considered myself to be human.  I was so disconnected from everybody and even myself I didn't think of myself as even being equal to the people around me.  Instead, I was something less than the rest of the world.

When you're not human, you don't deserve happiness, or even love.  It made so many things more easy for me to understand.  It was better to accept that conclusion for some reason instead of facing some darker, more painful truth.

Things got much worse for me as the years progressed.  And despite all the recovery I've done since then I still find myself having to hear a chorus of demons singing to me all of their greatest hits.  When things were finally over between myself and my family, and I knew I'd never be with my wife and daughter again, they were there in the back of my mind.  "This was God's doing," they sang.  "You're a monster and He was protecting them from you.  All of that darkness inside of you would have made you into your father.  You would have done to them what he did to you."

And for a long time, I honestly believed it.

There is comfort in the darkness.  This is why horses run back into barns that are fully engulfed in flames--the don't know comfort outside of that barn.  It's their home.  It's what they've always known. I know why the horses run back into burning barns because I do the same thing.

But I fight it.

And I've got some great tools to get out.  A couple of weeks ago, I turned 29 again.  And in all my years, I've developed some pretty strong kung-fu, and I can fight my way out of the darkness so much faster than before.  I will admit that certain pieces of me are held together with duct tape, but I'm much stronger than I could have ever imagined back then, and I've been fortunate enough to be there for others when they're dealing with their own horrid shit.

I have moved beyond mere survival.  Survival is the slowest form of suicide.  I'm now looking for happiness.  I have no idea what that is or where to search, but I'm working on that.  Maybe that is what comes next.

I'm not sure I would have made a good father.  I'd like to think I would have, but when I think about it, all that darkness swirls around me and I'm transported to that black hole all over again.  Yesterday I found myself going over and over a memory from my childhood the way your tongue can't ignore a piece of apple skin stuck between your teeth.  My brain chewed on it.

The memory is this:  The first time I beat up my dad, I was 13.  Middle School.  It was summer and Dad was in a weird drunken mood.  He wanted to roll around with me in the back yard.

It was all over in forty-five seconds.

I cracked two of his ribs, broke his nose, and sprained his ankle.  He was on the ground gasping for breath and writhing in pain.  And I was laughing at first, but then I was disappointed.  I wanted to keep going.  I wanted to keep throwing him around the back yard like a ragdoll.

I wanted to make him hurt.

That day changed everything.  Dad got darker, meaner, and more cruel.  He would mumble drunkenly before passing out about shooting me in my sleep or hitting me from behind with a baseball bat.  He had attacked me in my sleep years earlier when he would come home drunk.  I started sleeping with my eyes open again.

And then the darkness came.  I went over that memory but instead of helping him up and into the house, I kept beating him.  I broke bone after bone while venting such hatred it was like breathing fire.  And in the end, I broke him in a rage, destroying him completely.

I have gotten out of that hole and I'm able to focus more on what is in front of me.  The echos of the past have faded and I am here today and right now.  One day, I won't even drift into that hole, or run to it so I can hide.

I'm jealous of the people I know who have kids.  But I also know I wasn't ready.  I've talked before about how if we look at our lives as a Mythological Tale, the battles we fight aren't all the same, but we learn things we can pass on.  I'm hoping I can pass something on to the newest batch of parents.

Be the father you wish you had as a child.  Don't expect anything from your child.  Instead, let them surprise you.  If you are the father you wished to have for yourself, then you will experience a miracle.

I will end this with a link to a very powerful article written by Andrew Vachss that first appeared in Parade about twenty years ago.  Mr. Vachss is an advocate for the rights of children, as well as pretty damned good fiction writer, and this article hit me hard.

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self–respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"—forgiveness of yourself.
How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.
And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.

Written by Andrew Vachss, Parade Magazine, August 28, 1994.

In the end, my own Epic Mythological Tale might be dark, but judging by the work I've already done and the progress I've made, I'm thinking it will have a happy ending.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween Epilogue

I've always loved Halloween.  This is no big secret.  I keep my Halloween stuff out year round and I watch Halloween cartoons whenever I'm feeling down.

Halloween is more than just a dark holiday for me.  And I'm not just talking about my birthday.  T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month because it's full of promise and hope.  Halloween is the day of reckoning.  Halloween is the day we take stock of what we really got out of spring and summer.

Halloween is more than just looking at the harvest around us.  That harvest is also in our lives.  We reap what we sow.  And this spring and summer I didn't sow a lot but what I did plant never grew.

Thus far, anyways.

Recently I found myself learning more about shibari.  Shibari is the art of Japanese rope bondage. I'm not into bondage.  The whole BDSM scene just doesn't do it for me.  And while I'm not looking for a sub or a playmate, I have found the art of using rope tied in intricate knots to immobilize somebody fascinating.   My favorite aspect of this is the symmetry I've found in the best executed arrangements.  Knots in equal size and construct creating lines of control over the human body.

It's not a sexual thing with me.  I don't fantasize about it.  Instead, it's about the skill.

If I had practiced that art all spring and summer, what would I have come up with?  Would I have been a master?  I doubt it.  I have no desire to deal with all the other parts that come with such a fetish--like other people.  This internal conundrum of liking a fetish and wanting to practice it yet not being sexualized by it nor wanting to perform these skills with a partner must speak volumes of my psyche.

But that is the essence of The Van.  It's the tortured form of Halloween.  We celebrate death and fright, we laugh at gore and blood.  None of it makes sense.

And I'm cool with that.  I don't need to make sense of the world around me anymore.  I go with it.  There is no central truth.  There is no secret meaning for us to find.  The chaos around us is a show unto itself and all we need to do is move within it.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Cubs Are Life

I am the Chicago Cubs.

I grew up a Cubs fan.  Those lovable losers who couldn't win a Championship to save their lives. Doormat of the National League.

When I was a child, my dad and I would listen to their games on WGN in the summer because we didn't have cable.  Cable was expensive and hadn't even been run to some of the areas we lived in so shitty AM radio was all we had.

Often, we'd be fishing someplace like Lake Carlton at Rockwood State Park in Morrison, Illinois. We would drown worms and listen to the Cubs kick everybody's ass until the All-Star Game.  Once that game was played, it was over.  The implosion would begin and the Chicago Cubs would tail-spin into the ground.

In 1983, I was a chubby kid with a paper route.  I wore a massive set of headphones that only got a couple of AM radio stations and would go through 9V batteries every few days.  They were tight, pinched my head, and were huge.  But I wore them and listened to WLS radio and the day then Cubs Manager Lee Elia, had his famous meltdown,  Larry Lujack was the first DJ to play the edited version of it, with all the bleeps, and Les Grobstein was the Sports Reporter who did the introduction.

I think what I remember most about that rant was how Lee Elia went after the unemployed people who went to the game.  My dad was unemployed at the time.  He was laid off from the railroad.  Listening to the Cubs lose was pretty much all he did that summer aside from sitting at the kitchen table and drinking beer.  Oh, and chain-smoking.  He was smoking about four packs a day back then.

My life was shit and so were the Cubs.  We were a pair.  I understood them and felt like they reflected me.  When Dave Kingman dropped a ball and let an inside-the-park homerun happen, I got it--expect bad things to happen because they always will.

But then in 1984 I was in 3rd grade.  Miss Taylor was a huge Cubs fan and I won an Official Cubs calendar that year because I knew the most Cubs facts out of everybody in the class.  That was Our Year.

In 1984, the Cubs were the best team in the National League.  They won more games than anybody else and it looked like they were unstoppable.  My dad was called back to work.  Sure, he got drunk and left my mom for a week, but that didn't matter.  We weren't supposed to remember that.  Mom took us out for pizza and to watch Lady and the Tramp at the theater while Dad packed his shit and left so we didn't have to see it.  It was a Thursday.

But the Cubs were winning and we were all riding high.  Harry Carey used to sing, "Jody, Jody Davis!" every time he came up to bat.  This kid, Ryne Sandberg, was awesome.  He didn't let anybody hit a ball past him.

So then we lost to the San Diego Padres.  The fans in San Diego did the wave non-stop for all four games.  All we had to do was win one more--just one more!  We'd won the first three at home and only had to win once in San Diego.

But this is life.  This is the Chicago Cubs.  And happiness just wasn't in the cards.  Not for them, not for me.  It went downhill after that.  For my family, for me, for a bunch of us.  The Chicago Cubs were tied to my family like E.T. was tied to Eliot.  Our fates were shared.

I didn't think much of the 1989 season.  I was in high school and that whole summer was a blur.  The depression I was in fogged up much of my brain.  I was miserable.  When the Cubs lost, I expected it and just nodded my head as it happened.  Yup, I said to myself.  This is what life is all about.

In January, WGN played a repeat of the 1984 game against the Cardinals known as The Sandberg Game.  All we had were memories of games in seasons that failed.  And that was pretty much the story of my life.

In 2003, the Cubs did it again.  Same story, really.  Great team, great momentum, only to fail when it counted.  That year was horrible for me.  Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  I lost my family, I lost any hope of getting them back, and the only thing I could do was work 70+ hours a week at a dead-end pizza place so I wouldn't have to think about how awful my life had become.

I was a workaholic.  I worked so I didn't have to think about all the shit in my life I couldn't fix.

When the cubs lost, I partially expected it, but some part of me deep down hoped for a miracle.  But there wasn't any.  There is no God.  There is no Devil.  There is nothing.  And all we have are a few moments between ass-kickings where we may have smiled or remembered a great day in the distant past.

My cousin totally lost his shit.  He got drunk and called friends as if the Cubs were a girlfriend who kept cheating on him but he couldn't break up with her because he just loved her too much.  His heart was shattered because the fool didn't understand how pointless hope can be and how cruel it all becomes.  There is no hope with the Chicago Cubs, just as in life, so we have to be happy with those little moments we get.

As I write this, the Cubs have just lost their second game to the New York Mets.  It has already begun to happen again.  Fate has spoken.

I will cheer for the Cubs.  I will clap my hands and do whatever a fan must--but I will not hope.  They don't get that from me.  Whatever hope I had for anything has been ripped out of me, burned, and the ashes scattered into the winds.

Instead, I will watch and I will wait.  I know how this story ends.  I've always known.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Icky Romantic Stuff

Disclaimer:  This isn't really your good buddy Uncle Ted posting this week.  Nope!  You dear readers get to enjoy the musings and far more intellectual humor of his good-ish twin, Gilbert.  Yes, I realize many of you never knew he had a good-ish twin, but it's true.  I'm the good-ish one.  Uncle Ted was off with one of his latest prizes and based on how much laughing he was doing, I don't think he's going to be paying any attention to me for a while, so I decided I was going to write this week's post. What that man did to piss Uncle Ted off is unknown at this time but I'm assuming it was big--there is a fridge full of blood bags for transfusions.  That poor man is going to be down in that basement for a long, long time.   

The other day, a dear friend of mine, Heather Hart, ask me to write a blog post about what moves my heart.  Yes, she really did ask me that.

I assumed it was sarcasm.  But the proper response to sarcasm is to follow through anyways as if it weren't.  That'll show 'em!

But no, Heather is a romance writer.  She's got a number of books and stories out.  If you click on the link above it'll take you to her latest on Amazon.  She writes about love in all the various settings and themes.  And she wants me to write about what moves my heart.

And no, she wasn't talking about the jar I keep next to my bed.

Those of us who are less-than and too much like to avoid these questions because they seem like a minefield--one wrong word and that's it.  Game over.

But no, she asked me what moves my heart and now I have to figure that out.  I hadn't thought about it much.

I guess primary and above anything else is Emotional Trust.  What's that?  Emotional trust is when you know the other person isn't going to shit on you, deliberately hurt you, and is going to take into account your feelings when they do something.  I need to know I can trust you.

That doesn't mean we tip-toe and sugar-coat bullshit.  It certainly doesn't mean walking on eggshells. It means, I don't yell and scream.  It means I respect you intellectually so if I need to tell you something I can do it rationally and not play on your emotions.  Emotional Respect means I don't try to slip something past you using emotional triggers.  It means you don't turn on the waterworks when you need something from me.

It's rare to find somebody who understands this.  Emotional Respect is really hard to find.  It's even harder to find a woman who accepts it and realizes that just because you're not screaming or ranting that doesn't mean you don't care.  The emotions are there, you're just not weaponizing them.

Another thing that moves my heart (and oh how I wish she'd phrased this differently.  Damned romance writers!) is fearlessness.  And maybe that's not the right word for it.  I'll try to explain.

When you're a creepy van guy and you write fucked up shit online, plus really insane fiction, people treat you differently.  I look like an ax murderer.  The purple hair only does so much.  When women meet me they automatically assume I'm dangerous in that uncool sort of way.  Not in that motorcycle-riding, break-the-rules, cliche.  More like dangerous in that fight-or-flight response way.

It is tiresome to see a woman slowly back-pedaling while you're talking to her about some TV show she likes or asking what band she saw last weekend.

No, sweetie, I'm not going to duct tape your mouth shut and string you up by your heels in my cabin in the woods.  You're just not that deserving.  Don't flatter yourself.

Women who don't treat me like a monster with ulterior motives without knowing me always get my attention.

The final thing I can think of is this:  let me get to know you before you bring sex into it.  I realize that's a contradiction and for most men, it is.  But for me it's just how it works.  I cannot control this.

Most women thing they need sexual allure to get a man's attention.  I promise you, if I'm talking to you and getting to know you better, then I am sexually attracted to you.  Or at least I will be when those emotional chevrons stop turning and click into place like some stargate.

In my head, that's exactly what's happening, too.  A big dial with weird symbols known only to me is spinning and once the right combination has been found, a big gate opens, and you get everything.

I know that sounds weird, but it's just how my brain works.  I have a list of things even my conscious mind isn't aware of and once those aspects to a person have been found, the emotions begin.

Yes, it takes time.  We're not talking about idle physical attraction here.  Emotions aren't something that just float in the wind.  I'm a Scorpio.  I'm a water sign and we tend to reserve attachment until there is really something there and then the flood begins.

The last person I was attracted to rightly shot me down because there was something missing from the equation.  I'm not sure what but there was certainly something lacking.  It royally sucked, too.  But it wasn't right.  All the chevrons hadn't clicked.  That didn't mean they wouldn't click.  It takes time for me to get to that point.  But they hadn't all clicked then.

Love is so special!  Love is....

Disclaimer:  I came upstairs to get a beer and to take a break while the asshole in the basement dwells upon his misdeeds.  When he regains consciousness we'll get back to my motivational speech about how not to be an asshole on the phone.  I've told him that once I release him back into the world I will fully expect him to be a better person and to not piss me off further with his bullshit.  But when have I ever released somebody, huh?  I'm sure he's thinking about what he'll do when I let him go and if that gives him hope, then so be it.  The hope of a desperate man is the eggshell under my boot.  

But about this emo crap my good-ish twin Gilbert decided to write.  Seriously, man?  Go write some poetry or something.  

What moves my heart?  

1.  Be worthy of my respect.  Don't live in the gutter.  

2.  A woman who wants to go on a killing spree with me will become my queen.  I will watch you slash and stab your way through your enemies and gladly hide the bodies and clean up the DNA evidence behind you.  Your demons and my demons will get along just fine.  

3.  Show me shadows I haven't seen before and don't run screaming from the ones I show you.  

4.  A woman whose comfort zone is in the darkness and will pull me in close so we can be together in that darkness will always find herself deep inside of me.  

5.  Morticia wasn't the awe of every man because of her curves, it was because she stood in the path of Gomez's love for her and never flinched.  She never demeaned or tried to tame it.  She knew her name was written on the tsunami and she claimed what was rightfully hers.  Don't run from the icky feels.  If you don't feel them, too, then so be it.  If you don't want them, then say so.  But never insult them because love is just hatred with a fistful of roses.  

And now I can hear the asshole downstairs trying to escape.  Good.  Now I'm going to begin Chapter Two in my motivation speech.  I will motivate him to not be such a sack of shit on the phone when he talks to somebody he hasn't met.  Maybe later I'll play my favorite game--Pinata.  That's when I hang him from his ankles and beat him until the candy falls out.  

Have a good night, folks.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters

I held off on reviewing this for one simple reason:  I really loved it and I wanted to get this right. When you come across something as powerful as this, that resonates as it has within you after you've read it, and the voices are still there months later you tend to want to slow down a bit.  It's important.

I've loved Damien's work for years.  And when she announced almost two years ago this was going to be coming out I squeed like any grown man would.  Her voice is something that sticks with you and every short story written by her that I have read has reminded me of M.R. James with feminine attention and texture.

So yeah, I got this at Midnight on the day it was released.  Dove right into it, too.  I didn't care if I had to be at work the next day--I had plans.  This shit's important and we do it right around here.

But there was something different about this collection.  This wasn't the tapestries of horror told in fantastic worlds I had expected.  Sing Me Your Scars is on a higher plane.  This is the fine wine those snooty people on television are always tasting and sniffing.  It's something to be savored and pondered.  There is much more going on here than just stories, my friends.

The best way I can describe it is each and every short story is the searing pain that courses through a human soul.  But instead of being screamed out in dramatic quotes, each story is a portrait delicately put on canvas with oils by the masters from the Dutch Golden Age, with blood mixed into the pigments to get that proper oxidation.

This ain't your high school English teacher's required reading, Bubba.  These stories look like a bloody feather but hit like a sledge hammer finely tooled by Elves and swung by a juiced-up Sammy Sosa.  There is power here.  Real power, too.

Sing Me Your Scars is what wordsmithing is supposed to look like.

In the vast spectrum of human existence we endure all that is unleashed upon our souls by the cruelty and depravity of our enemies, the ones we love, and even ourselves.  What Damien has done in each of these stories has woven a tapestry out of words and spice that illustrate the depth of those painful moments but also the strength of our species.

These stories will stick with you.  They have staying power long after you've put the book down and you'll remember them for a while, or maybe always.

Buy this book.  Go out, or click the link, and get it.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Unplugger

I came home to find my neighbors were having very loud sex.  It wasn't the first time I've had to deal with it, either.

So I got on youtube and found the most obnoxious Baptist preacher I could find spouting off about fornication, pulled up the video and played it at the loudest volume I could, then left my apartment for the bar around the corner.

Serves those two right, too.  They need to get right with Jeebus!

It's just not right to be having sex that loudly.  They need to either get right with Jeebus, do that at his place, or invite me over to join in.

And judging from the sounds she was making, she's a huge freak, and he wasn't all that into it.  I'm not sure what the details were but I'm certainly prepared to do my part.

Her:  Oh!

Me:  Yeah!  Now call me Uncle Ted *slap!*

Her:  Yeah, Uncl--wait.  What?  Eww!

Me:  Just say it, wench!  *slap!*

Her:  Oh.  My.  God.  That is so creepy!

Me:  Oh yeah!

I only mention this because I'm thinking of starting a new business.  What got me thinking about this was how today at work, I was so miserable, and angry.  I really hate my job.

I've said it before, I'll say it again:  If I ever got a chance to make a deal with The Devil, it would be so I could reach through the phone lines and strangle motherfuckers.  Seriously.  Some people need to be throttled because they don't know how to act on the phone.

So I thought about starting my own business.  All the good ideas are taken, or are illegal, or are really fun but don't pay any money.  It got me to thinking.

What's one of the hardest choices somebody will ever have to make?  More to the point, what is one of the most difficult tasks somebody will ever have to do?

I thought about this a lot at work between talking to assholes and the idea suddenly came to me--most people cannot face having to take a loved one off life support.  The very act of pulling the plug on somebody dear to you isn't easy.  That's why you should hire me to do it.

Uncle Ted's Unplugging Service.

Yes, that's right!  For a modest fee, I will come to the hospital and pull the plug on dear old Dad or Mom for you so you don't have to do it.

Feeling squeamish?  I don't.

Are you afraid of killing somebody?  I'm not.  I'll unplug anybody, anytime, anywhere.  For a modest fee, of course.

I'll even dress for the occasion.  I can put on a suit and look like a professional.  Or I can wear a black robe and hood while carrying a scythe.  And if you pay a bit more, I'll dress up like a cowboy and sing Happy Trails while I pull that plug.

Uncle Ted's Unplugging Service will even have a special package for poetry readings, Biblical Quotes, Vince Lombardi motivational speeches, and Captain Kirk's Eulogy for Mr. Spock from Star Trek IV.

Uncle Ted's Unplugging Service will even play We're Off To See The Wizard on an ocarina if you so choose.  One never knows what a family wants for these special moments.  But with Uncle Ted's Unplugging Service, you can rest assured, that moment will be one to remember!

Call Uncle Ted's Unplugging Service today and let us pull that plug for you!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Are You There, Lucifer? It's Me, Ted.

I'm so bored.  Really.

I've been so bored lately even watching Japanese balloon porn hasn't been fun--and I tried for hours but just couldn't get into it.  Endless videos of Japanese women in cartoonishly large shoes stomping on balloons and not a minute of it was interesting.

Nope.  I'm bored.

Life is boring, really.  It has gotten so predictable I no longer feel the urge to see how far I can push somebody before they report me to HR or call the cops.  I already know where the lines are and it bugs the shit out of me.

Sometimes I write about monsters.  Mostly, I don't.  Mostly I write about humans and all the fucked up shit we do to each other.  That's easy to write.  When there is a monster, it's usually a better soul than all the humans it has to suffer through.  That says a lot about how my opinions of humanity.

I've often said humanity was a parasite hurling through the void of cold space on a planet nobody cares about.  At least Charlie Sheen is having fun.  I'm jealous of him, actually.  He turns 50 this week and I wish I had his life.

But no, I'm bored.

In fact, my biggest wish isn't for being able to party like Charlie Sheen.  My biggest wish is for all the monsters I do write about to be real.  Every single one of them.

I would love to look up in the sky and see some ancient god everybody had forgotten about stomping his way to a metropolis.  Cloverfield was a boring.  He should have gone rampant on New York and ignored the tiny people.  Destroy the city, you destroy the people.  Nobody survives demolishing an entire city.

But that monster was stupid.

I would love to live in a world where magic was real, werewolves really howled at night, vampires lurked in the shadows, witches really did want to eat our kids, and evil scientists were looking at ways to take over the world.

I would have become a Sith.

And why can't we find at least one talking spider anywhere?  We need something real.  I need something real.

I'm so bored!

We need evil clowns in our sewers.  We need possessed cars running people over in the streets.

I firmly believe that if we had such evils walking the Earth the rest of humanity would rise up and be more than what we are and act with more kindness towards others.  It would be how we defined ourselves.  We could say, "at least I'm not a monster like that thing in the newspapers!"

Humanity would be worthy of living on this planet if somebody built a robot army to take over the world.  Humanity would show itself to be noble if flying monkeys attacked us in our cars when we drove through the dark, wooded areas at night.  And humanity would be a lot more fun to be around if it knew how easily they could all die.

Granted, I'd be on the darker side of things.  I've always thought I'd make a nice warlock or sorcerer.  Maybe I'd get into some necromancy and make a name for myself through curses and hexes.  I'd be good at it.

But no, I'm living a nightmare here.  Really, this boring existence is killing me.  Between the soul-crushing job and constant rejection from editors, I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to make it.  Something needs to happen and it needs to happen soon.

Spontaneous combustion or exploding goats, dogs with venom, cats that really transform into beautiful women.  Something!