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.