Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Conversations with 2016, The Death Bed.

"I see they have you on oxygen, now."

The old man wheezed and gave me the finger.

"I'm glad you still have some fight left in you," I said.  "You were a shitty one for sure."

"Fuck you," he said.  "I'm still here!"  He chuckled to himself a bit.

"You know," I said.  "For a few weeks there, I thought maybe, just--"  I had to stop.  The words got choked before they would leave.  They were strangled before they could even be spoken.

"You didn't really think it would be good," he said.  The stubble on his face was patchy in places along his craggy face.  "You didn't really think I'd allow things to be nice, did you?"

I said nothing.  I wanted to say something but the words just didn't come.  The old man laughed until a coughing fit stopped him.  His body heaved as he gasped for air.  This went on for several minutes before he collected himself.

"That's precious, kid.  I love it."

"Why?"  I didn't look at him.  I couldn't.

"Why?  I'll tell you why--hope!  Hope, kid.  You didn't have any and I didn't even have to give you any.  All I had to do was let you smell it.  Just the scent of it on the air was enough for you."

"Why did you do that to me?"

"Why?  Again with the why?  'Why this?  Why that?'   Because Fuck You, that's why!"

"You were rough on me for a lot of months, and then suddenly, it was like something was lifted."

"Yeah," he said.  "That's something special I'd been working on for you.  Everybody else just got the oppressive beatings but for you, you were expecting it."

"I didn't have any reason to expect anything different."

"My predecessors were mean, but they weren't cruel, like me.  They threw some good punches, landed a bunch, too.  But for a really good beating--the kind you can't defend against, the kind that will crush a soul, you have to have a weapon nobody sees coming."

"Hope," I whispered.

"Yes," he said with a smile.  "Hope.  And all you had to do was smell it.  Just know it was in the building.  And you let down your guard, kid.  You let down your guard.  And that's when I knew I'd created an opening as wide as the Mississippi and would be there for days and days."

"But--," I began to say something but I lost the heart needed to push the words out into the air.  I took a deep breath and looked up at the old man.

His expression changed.  The smile disappeared.

"If you ask me 'why?' one more time, I swear I'll kill your dog.  I'll wreck your car.  I'll set fire to your apartment.  I'll poison your friends.  I'll break your ice cream makers.  Ask me, I fucking dare you.  Ask me!  Do it!  Ask me 'why' one more fucking time.  Do it!  I want you to!  I want you to ask me why I did that.  Why did I kick your ass for months and suddenly pull back, give you hope, and then take it all away from you.  Ask me!"

I looked at the old man hard.

"Fine.  Why did you do this to me?"

"Because it's what I fucking do!  That's my function, kid.  That's what I'm built for.  This is what I do.  I give hope and take it away.  I stomp on dreams and destroy happiness.  Time itself is nothing more than another name for evil.  And the sooner you realize this, the better off you'll be."

"I really liked her," I said softly.

The old man slapped me across the face.  My cheek stung and I could feel it grow red.

"I did, though."

He backhanded me so hard I almost fell out of my chair.

"Kid," he said.  "You wanna know why I did that to you?  I mean, sure, I could have just kept on kicking you around like previous years.  I could have kicked you around the way I did everybody else.  But for you, I got creative.  Do you wanna know why?"

I nodded.  I tried to talk but just couldn't form the words.

"You don't belong here, kid.  How many more guys like me do you think you're gonna see?"

"What do you--"  But I stopped.  I knew.

"Yeah, see?  You're not so dumb after all, are ya?"

"Such things are not for you to decide," I said.

"Oh, but they are, kid!  They are!  And I'm tell you, it's only going to get worse.  You thought I was bad?  2017 is out back smoking and waiting for me to kick the bucket so he can come in and really do you right.  Just you wait!"

"Bullshit," I said.  "I've got--"

"--plans, right.  Sure, kid.  You've got big plans.  Good plans.  Just like you told me in January.  Just like you told that panzy 2015.  And don't get me started on that waif, 2014.  You think I was rough?  2017 scares me, kid.  I'm glad I won't be around to see what he does to you."

"I'm strong," I said.  "And I'm on a roll."

"A roll?  Don't confuse what I did to you with what you were able to do for yourself.  Just because there's a worm on the hook you bit on, it doesn't mean you got yourself a worm."

"I'm on a roll," I repeated.  "I got stuff published, my friends are behind me, and I'm starting a new job."

"I'm glad you brought that up, kid.  First, that job is just gonna be the same sort of thing you used to do.  You didn't like it then, you're not gonna like it now.  And you got two stories published and didn't get paid a single penny.  And your friends just pity you, kid.  They realize how much of a loser you are and they just feel sorry for you.  They're all in happy relationships and when they think of those less fortunate, you're the first asshole to pop in their heads."

"No," I said.  "That's not true."

"It is true and you know it.  They pity you."

"No, they don't.  Shut up!"

The old man slapped me across the face the again.

"Wake up," he roared.  "There's nothing out there for you.  Nothing.  No woman is waiting for you.  You're too old and fat for a princess.  You're too far gone for a stable relationship and every woman you meet knows this.  You'll never find a decent job and even if you did, you'd just end up losing it to wage garnishments because of your student loan.  It doesn't matter how much money you make, you'll always be poor."

"I've got my writing and my youtube channel," I said.  I tried to sound defiant but it didn't come out that way.  And it made 2016 laugh again.

When the coughing fit stopped, and he caught his breath, he wiped his mouth and looked up at me with cold, white eyes devoid of pupils.

"Your writing will never make you a single dollar and your videos look like a Fourth grader made them for a school project.  You've got nothing going at all."

I put my head down and tried to think of something to say--something to prove him wrong, but nothing was coming to mind.  He was right and he knew it.

A heavy blow against the wall from the outside made me jump.  Bits of dust fell from the ceiling.

"What the fuck was that?"

"That would be 2017 getting warmed up to come in here," said 2016.  He put his hand on my shoulder.

"Look, kid," he said.  "I know I was rough on you, but part of me admires you.  You took some ugly beatings and you pulled yourself together in a few ways, and you survived this far.  I'd hate to see you suffer more, but you gotta wake up.  It's over, kid.  It's all downhill from here.  And if 2017 doesn't finish you, 2018 certainly will.  They're already talking about him and in our world, that's a rare thing.  It's gonna get ugly for a whole lotta folks and it doesn't look to good for you."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying you need to cut your losses.  I'm saying you need to think seriously about how much more of this you can take, because this isn't something you can just outlast and endure until the clouds break, the sun comes out, and a rainbow appears.  It doesn't work like that."

"No," I said softly.

"There is nothing, kid.  If Fate was in your corner, she would have shown you a sign by now.  But she hasn't shown you shit.  Not a goddamned thing.  There is nothing.  Not for you."

The old man started coughing again.  It was a deep cough and his lungs rattled as his body was racked with spasms.  Blood was in the corners of his mouth.

There was another loud bang against the wall from the outside and a roar.  A ceiling tile fell and crashed against the floor.

"He's coming," said the old man.  "He's coming and he's not going to show you any mercy."

"None of you ever did," I said.  "And none of you ever will.  You are all a known quantity at this point."

"Get out while you can, kid.  Get out because there's nothing left for you here.  There's nobody and nothing.  You're less-than and too much.  Nobody's gonna save you.  There aren't any angels, you'll never win the lottery, and if you were able to move beyond this in your life, you would have done it by now.  Face it--you need to get out.  You need to go."

"No promises the other side is any better than this," I said.  "And I'm still in the game on this side.  I might as well play it out and see how it goes."

A nurse came into the room and whispered into the old man's ear.  A bloody smile spread across his face and he chuckled.

"Sure, she was loved by millions.  But she wasn't getting by me alive.  And there's another one you won't see coming.  Just wait for it to pop up on Facebook."

I turned to walk away and 2016 called out to me.

"Hey kid," he said.  "Don't let the smell of bait make you think you're close to finding a meal.  She was never gonna love you.  Never.  Not in the million fucking years."

"They never do, old man.  And thanks to you, that's one less thing 2017 can take away from me."

"Don't do this, kid.  Don't be cocky.  You can't win this one."

"I never could win, " I said.

"So why stick around," he asked.  "Why put yourself through all of this?"

"Morbid curiosity.  I'm sure the fucked-up shit-show of 2017 will be far more entertaining than anything you could come up with."

The old man smiled.  "You would have made a great year, kid."

"Thanks, old man.  Good night."  

Monday, December 26, 2016

When You're a Writer...

I have serious abandonment issues.  I don't do well when people are no longer in my life.  

And I will freak if a television show I happen to enjoy runs it's course and is ended.  M*A*S*H brought that to my attention when I was a child.

I just finished binge-watching the final two seasons of Burn Notice.  I held off from doing so for over a year because I didn't want to end the show.  I really loved the characters.  Plus, that show held some other special meanings for me.

When Burn Notice first started airing, I was homeless.  A friend was nice enough to let me crash at his place and eventually I became his roomie.  There was something about that show.  We sat and watched the pilot episode and the second one right after.  For me, the character had this wonderful outlook at situations, and I could apply it to my everyday life.

Nothing is a failure, it just means a detour to success.  My life had been torn apart and I had no options.  I needed to hear that message.

Saying goodbye to those characters meant putting a chapter of my own life in the past and that's not easy to do.  I'll admit I cling to the past way too strongly than is healthy.  I try not to, but I do.

Great characters aren't easy to create and keeping them around long enough for the audience to develop a relationship with them is even harder.  When I think about the books I've read with characters I really understood, and enjoyed, I can only come up with a handful.

I'll admit that I've held off reading the final few chapters of books just so I didn't have to end the story.  I wasn't ready to say goodbye.  They taught me something.  Entertainment isn't that big of a deal to me.  I'm easily entertained.

No, characters who teach me something about life, or how to be a better human being, are what matter to me.

When I was in high school, I read Once a Warrior King by David Donovan.  It was the memoirs of a US Army officer in Vietnam.  I've said before that when I was a kid, things weren't very easy for me, and I was in some deep trouble as a person.  Between the home life, school, and something darker I won't get into, I was a wreck.  I had no tools for survival.

Back in the late 80's, America was beginning to come to grips with our legacy from Vietnam.  There were a lot of books and movies out there.  I had read a few but this one really spoke to me.  I learned more about courage and about being your own person.  There were lessons in this book--ugly lessons that I took to heart.  This book got me through some tough times.

Knowing that somebody could survive situations like that, where people were trying to kill you, and still keep your humanity was important.  As a teen, I suspected my dad was trying to destroy me.  As an adult in his 40's, I'm certain of it.  There's a darkness that develops when that happens.  How could somebody want to destroy me?  What did I do?  I must have done something because people don't just randomly want to destroy you.  Donovan's book helped me wade through all of that and focus on just surviving.  

I put off reading the last couple of chapters of Donovan's book for a few weeks.  I carried it in my backpack everywhere I went.  I read a couple of other books while it sat there.  And every day I would ask myself if I was ready to finish this.

When you're a writer, you have a responsibility to leave the reader with something more than a laugh and visions of naked women or blood.  You have to leave the reader with a lesson about life.  Those lessons get wrapped up in the final chapters and the reader has to follow you all the way to the end. The final episodes, the final chapters, the final credits.  It all comes down to the end and then people you've grown accustomed to walking away.

It's a horrible feeling to have somebody walk away.  Sure, they've given you something special, but they're gone.  It almost seems mean-spirited of the writer to have done that to us.  A terrible trick on our emotions.

I'll admit I read Battlefield Earth in high school.  Frankly, I raced to finish it.  I enjoyed it, yes, but not enough to read all of those other tomes he wrote.  There just wasn't that lesson.  It was raw survival on an elemental level.

It's hard to say goodbye to the good characters but what makes them so good?  Why do they grow on us?  It's a puzzle sometimes.

I miss Hunter S. Thompson.  There are times when I feel we, as a society, need him more than ever. It wasn't the laughs, it wasn't the witty remarks, it was the razor blades of truth he used to eviscerate the deserving.  There was something incredibly human about him.  He wasn't a character, he was a man.  Just like Donovan, he was a real person, and he taught me something.

None of my characters have a Happily Ever After ending.  Life is not like that.  I feel I'm being honest to my readers and to the characters themselves but in the end, those characters leave.  I don't like doing it, but it has to be done, and in my world we follow the rules.  Even if he saved the world and rescued the little boy with cancer from the monsters, he cannot be allowed to stay, because that's just how it works.

They leave me.  They always leave.

I have real problems with Happily Ever After and when you're a writer, you have to be honest with your endings.  Life isn't all that great.  Sometimes, you get a nice ending, but Happily Ever After is a lie we tell our readers as a reward for finishing the book.

But I'm going to end this post with a Happily Ever After.

"He clicked the 'publish' button and everybody lived Happily for the next week."

That's the best I can do for now.  Sorry.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Great Disconnect

There's a lot of things in this world I don't claim to understand.  NBA basketball, for instance.  Just put the clock at two minutes, give both teams 100 points, and play from there.  It's going to end up being at that point anyways.

Or pop music.  Sure, kids listen to it because it's all new to them.  But adults?  We've heard it all before.  There is no reason for an adult to listen to pop music.  None.

And I don't understand why so many husbands treat their wives like shit.

I've had a bunch of phone calls in recent days.  A couple just tonight, even.  And men, why do you treat someone you claim to care about like shit?

I'm not an expert on women.  Far from it.  And the older I get, the less I know.  Truth be told, one of the many reasons I'm going to die alone is because I don't understand woman and I don't understand much beyond friendship.  I am removed from it all.

Tonight, a friend was upset because her husband won't say one sentence to her to make her happy.  "I love you, you're smart, and everything is going to be okay."

How do you not?  His pathetic excuse was, if you wanted him to say that, and he did, it wouldn't be genuine.  Clearly his understanding of just how little choice he really has in life is lacking.  Worse, he can't say a simple sentence to make somebody he claims to care about happy.  All she needs is to hear this from him and he can't do it.

I've spent my entire life on the sidelines watching men throw away good marriages to women I'd kill to be with.  I feel like the starving kid watching a television show full of bulimics.

Really?  You eat, then you puke it up?  Then you go and eat some more?  I'm sorry, maybe it's the lack of nourishment in my brain, but could you possibly explain this in terms that don't make me want to kill you?  

The other day, a friend called me, and she was having fights with her husband.  He didn't like her trying new recipes.  He was strictly meat and potatoes.  Nothing else.  Seriously.  And of course, she liked spices other than salt and that funky black pepper those crazy hipster kids are always using.

The poor thing was going crazy with boredom.  She wanted something different--anything.  The fights were getting serious, too.  He was throwing shit around the house and punching walls.

My suggestion was to get him a diaper and a rattle since he was throwing a tantrum.

I am baffled at how many men simply throw away marriages after a certain period of time.  But, I do understand that I just don't get it--I've never had a long-term relationship.  The longest was 18 months and I totally fucked that up and destroyed her life in the process.  Granted, that wasn't my intention, and the guilt has burned holes through me over and over again.

But no, I've never been in a position to get bored with somebody.  And maybe that's the whole problem.  From where I'm sitting, it looks like they're pissing away the best thing in their lives.

There was a television show I watched years ago where two guys were playing bumper cars with a couple of almost brand-new pick-up trucks.  Every time they bashed into each other, they did more damage than what my car was worth.  I screamed at the television, "If you want to piss that away, just give it to me!"  But that wouldn't have worked.  Sometimes, you need to see the destruction and know you did it yourself to find any kind of satisfaction.

I knew one woman married to a domineering asshole who controlled her every little choice.  I adored her and would have done anything for her.  It was heartbreaking to see how upset it made her and yet she stayed with him.  Maybe it's what she deserved, in her own mind, and it was what she wanted in the end.  I don't know.  I do know this--I walked away because I just couldn't stand to see it any longer.  I stopped answering her e-mails and eventually, she forgot all about me.

Ok, I'll be honest here.  It was one e-mail.  She sent me one e-mail, I ignored it, and she never spoke to me again because that's how much I meant to her.

This week, I've seen a lot of ugliness in relationships rise to the surface.  One woman told me her husband informed her he would no longer have sex with her because doing so was an extra chore in his day and he was already tired enough as it was.

I wondered how he would feel knowing she was having an affair.  She wasn't, of course.  She never would.  Those sorts of shitbag husbands always seem to end up with women who don't stray outside of the marriage.  But I still wondered.  Would he shrug his shoulders and simply not care?  Would he be upset?  Would it even register with him?

Many years ago, I met a woman who was stunningly beautiful.  She was in her mid-40's and was just exquisite.  Brilliant smile, blue eyes, great body, and I could hear her talk for hours.  She had this voice that made everything seem playful and interesting.  She was married to a guy who was such an extreme introvert he wouldn't talk to anybody other than her at a party.  He never danced with her. Even at their own wedding, he wouldn't dance with her.

She accepted all of this about him and said she loved him.  To me, that's a very cool aspect to human interactions.  We can be with people who leave us wanting and still be happy with them.

And even if she had not been happy with him, that would not have guaranteed anything.  One of the couples I knew in an "open relationship" had very few boundaries and I'm sure what boundaries they did have were crossed regularly.   It seemed like they had no respect for one another at all.  But they stayed together, and last I knew, it had been twenty years for them.

I've known a few couple who were swingers.  Each of them are still together.

I say this to illustrate a point--I don't get it.  I don't understand any of it.  I never did.  I never knew what made a happy couple tick and I never knew why a couple stayed together despite having so many issues.

I joke a lot about how I'm often the 3rd wheel or how I'll be the only person by myself at a group function, where everybody had a wife or girlfriend or significant other of some kind.  But there is more to it than just being on my own.  I genuinely never understood couples.

To me, it's like a biological imperative everybody else has but myself.  The bell rings and the whole crowd gets up in unison to do some task imprinted upon their consciousness since birth.  I have no clue what they're doing or why, and while it looks like fun, my brain wasn't given that imprint.

While I'm not like Uncle Fester with breadsticks up my nose, I can tell you I'm about as smooth an operator as Mr. Bill stealing cookies from Mr. Sluggo's cookie jar.

So yeah, I don't get it.  I don't understand a fucking thing and that's put me at a huge disadvantage.  I'm alone on a Friday night but my phone keeps ringing with women who need to vent about what Dipshit did or said that week.

And I swear, the next person to tell me I'm not missing anything gets shot in the dick.  Yes, I am missing something.  I'm missing something huge because I'm the one out of sorts here.  I'm the one who doesn't understand why 99.9999% of the population is doing something.  I'm the one they all look at and just nod their heads in understanding while saying, "Yeah, that's how it going to go for that guy  Huh."  

I don't have the secret mark or something.

Or worse, maybe I am marked, and everybody can see it but me.  Maybe I've got something written on my face that says I don't get it.

It says I don't belong and I never will belong.

The mark on my face says you're better off with the asshole who treats you like shit than with me because there is something really wrong with me.  Something so wrong, so awful, and so terrible, that it is downright dangerous.

No, you don't want this one.  You're better off with the guy who cheats on you and tells you he's better than you.  You're better off with the guy who posts those private pictures you took in Cancun on 4chan for horny teenagers to drool over.  You're better off with the guy who gets drunk and terrorizes your kids.  You're better off with the guy who has so little respect for you, he tells all of his friends about what happens in the bedroom.

But I know that's not the case.  I know there isn't a mark on my face.  I know there isn't some club I never got invited to.  I know the real reason these things have happened, and continue to happen, and will always happen.  It's not a big secret or some mysterious puzzle.

No, it's not a mark on my face.  It's a blog on the web.  It's a post on Facebook.  It's a comment on Twitter.  It's a late-night e-mail.  It's a comment made in the lunchroom.  It's the silence at a party.  It's the story told at a cookout.

You see, in the end, there is nothing.  And that nothingness echos so loudly it drowns out the rest of the world.


Friday, December 2, 2016

The Last of the Turkey

In the days after Thanksgiving we find creative ways to use the last of the turkey until we're truly sick of all things feathered.  As I write this, I have a scorchingly hot turkey salad cooling in my fridge that would peel paint off a battleship, and it's wonderful.  I love it.

I've even given some of it to my neighbors because they love the hot stuff, too.  I'm hoping they like it as I do.

The carcass of the turkey, as well as some bones and a wing, are boiling away in a stock pot so I can extract the last of their goodness.  It's a thing I do, as many, so nothing goes to waste.  I can't tolerate waste and the older I get, the more adamant I become about that.  It's not about money or being cheap.  I've been without.  I've had nothing.  And I know there are those out there in that shitty boat right now.  I can't feed them but I'm not going to disrespect them, either.

I've come to realize I'm a far more sensitive person than I used to allow myself to be.  I used to be some jaded, bitter asshole and over the years I've allowed myself to be a nicer man.  Maybe by the hour of my death I will be in my final form and able to tell the world I am genuine.  But until then, I'm just another human being struggling for self-definition through a long list of dysfunction.

I once knew a guy who grew up in a home much like mine.  He didn't say his family was dysfunctional.  He said it functioned exactly the way a home like that was supposed to function.  So the question is, am I dysfunctional as a person, or am I simply the logical consequence of a series of actions and situations?

There is a side to me that realizes we humans are nothing more than a series of actions, reactions, magnetically influenced genes, and geographic placement.  It depresses me horribly.

This week, I found I had friends who were watching my back.  Friends who were watching out for my best interests.  This week I learned friends were protecting me because they cared.  They warned a woman to be careful and not to hurt me because I'm a good guy.  I have never, in my entire life, ever had that happen.  Never.  It brought about a rush of emotions because I've never been the guy anybody gave a shit about.  To know somebody cares enough to want to protect me emotionally is humbling.

I'm still waiting on a check to come in from a refund.  The long story is this--I was told my debit card from work was chargeable and it wasn't.   I tried to charge it and locked up my funds in a system that is taking their sweet assed time giving me my money back.  It is frustrating beyond words.

My pot of soup is boiling away right now.  I'm reducing the stock.  Soon, I'll add some chicken stock to fortify it and add some noodles.  Simple, to the point, and good for a cold night.  There's nobody here to share this with.  I'm okay with that right now.

Also this week, a woman shut the door on my attempt to get closer to her.  She's beautiful.  But, once again, I get it.  Sadly, I get it all too well.  While I could say the usual pithy platitudes of how it's her loss, blah, blah, blah, the truth of the matter is I doubt she even cares, nor does the loss even register in her mind.  I mean really, what did she lose?  A fat guy cooking for her?  Talking about books she's never read?  Discussing films she's never seen?  She'd become bored with me within a week if not sooner.  I would be friendzoned.

Maybe that's why so many of my friends are married women.  They're closer to my age, experienced in the bullshit of life, and there's no chance of things going in the wrong direction.  I'm sure a couple have to explain to their husbands that this guy they talk to is no great catch and nothing to be jealous about.  I don't mind that.

I just spiced my soup up and it smells great in my apartment again.  Less like a dead bird being cooked and more like a dish you would want to eat.  Soon I'll throw in some Chinese noodles and when they're done, I'll be able to eat.

It's hard to cook for just one person.  I'm often giving food away to friends or women I'd like to be closer to.  It's never done me any good romantically, but it's the only way I know how to make any kind of connection.  I'm not good with the rest.  I don't know how to approach a woman and I certainly don't know how to do much else.  It's no big secret why I've lived alone for most of my life.
The harder I try to not be a simple reaction to a series of events, the more I find myself falling right into predictive behaviors.  It sucks.  I want to be that unique snowflake but in all reality I'm a series of calculations.  I'm nothing more than an algebra equation with social and psychological variables.

Solve for Ted.

Maybe that's why she shut the door on me.  She already solved for Ted and realized what she would get.  Once again, I was too much and not enough.  But that's okay, more of this great soup for me, and I can decide what to watch on Netflix while I eat it.


Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm Thankful For....

It's the time of year once again when we eat too much and everybody cooks a large bird nobody really likes to eat.  Seriously--who actually likes turkey?  The white meat is dry, the dark meat tastes gamey, and you need to put a ton of seasonings or a heavy sauce on it just to choke it down.  Turkey is just a protein canvas for other things.  This is why I prefer to smoke my turkeys and use the meat in a spicy turkey salad I used in sandwiches.

But no, on Thanksgiving we eat the shitty turkey and a whole bunch of bland, heavy foods because that's our tradition.  I mean seriously, would it kill somebody to put some jalapenos in the mashed potatoes?  Or maybe a little ghost pepper jelly in the stuffing?

Every year it's the same boring food with people who mostly piss you off while you lie about how great the past year was because if they knew the truth of it, you'd look like more of a loser than you already do.

And then there's football.  I hate Dallas and I hate Detroit.  Worse, I'm a Bears fan and they always seem to lose on Thanksgiving.

I used to hate Thanksgiving as a child.  My family would be drunk and singing old songs from the 60's I couldn't stand.  They would be shouting and laughing while us kids tried to find ways to keep from being bored.  I would always end up with a headache.

There's a scene in the film Easy Rider that perfectly depicts these family holiday gatherings from my perspective.  I can't find the clip on Youtube, but it's where they're at the commune, and everybody is off in their own little corner.  Dennis Hopper is wandering around, looking for a place to get comfortable, and just relax.  Some people are on a stage drunkenly singing a song and awkwardly grabbing him.  Another group is having a private conversation and they don't want him around to hear it.  Another group is just wasted out of their minds.  After a while, he goes to Peter Fonda and tells him he just wants to leave.  It's chaos and he doesn't belong anywhere.

That, to me, represented the family gatherings when I was a child.

Or there were the trips to Nebraska to visit my dad's mother.  Those trips were pure hell.  First, the family car back then was a 1976 Chevy Nova with the 305.  It was a horrible engine.  Plus, it was the first year GM made cars for unleaded gas only, and for some reason they put a two-barrel carburetor on it.  It didn't get good gas milage, it wasn't fast, it had slow pick-up, and it cramped.  Add to that, mom and dad were heavy smokers.  Dad would chainsmoke the whole way and the inside of the car was like Cheech & Chong's van only without the payoff.  Seriously, even Texas pitmasters at BBQ competitions would have said it was too much smoke.  It was insane!

We would drive I-80 across Iowa.  That has to be the most boring drive in the world.  The highlight was sometimes Dad would take a bypass to drive by the Iowa State Capitol so we could see the golden dome.  Worse, we would actually arrive at Grandma's, and I was too young to drink the entire time.

Grandma was a horrible cook.  She was obsessed with left-overs.  If there was any leftovers, she would ran them at you two meals a day over and over until they were gone.  One Thanksgiving, she cooked the entire meal a day ahead, then deboned the turkey, covered it in a thin gravy, and re-heated it on Thanksgiving Day.

On another Thanksgiving, the same grandmother kept going behind my mom's back to alter the temperature of the oven baking the turkey, for some unknown reason.  It was horrible.  She would lurk and pounce over and over.  My mom was constantly having to re-adjust the temperature but the damage was done--it was the driest turkey ever.  The family was furious about it.  My other grandmother was furious and when she complained, the crazy one said, "I know, isn't it wonderful?"

Yes.  She loved her turkey dry as a fucking box of cat litter.  And worse, my dad said nothing to her about it.  We had about fifteen people over for dinner that day and every single one but her was furious at the ruined meal and my dad said nothing.

But the insanity eventually ended.  That Thanksgiving eventually slid into an awful Christmas.

After that, something wonderful happened--I got old enough to start my own traditions and made all new memories.  Some of them were pretty cool, too.  My first Thanksgiving in Korea was at Osan Air Base outside of Suwon.  I was with fellow Americans and it was incredible.

There were other Thanksgivings.  Some were better than others.  A couple of them I spent alone and I was okay with it, or so I told myself.  I told myself that it was okay to spend that day alone because I was tired and needed a day off.  In truth, I was lonely, and it really hurt.  That was back when I slipped into workaholism and worked a dead-end job seven days a week because it was easier to do that than try to fix my horrible life.  It was easier to work close to 70 hours a week than examine just how bad my situation was or how bad I felt.

Thanksgiving Day is a marker for us in our lives.  It's the day when we take pause, look around, and compare that day with other days from the past.  And for me, it was always a hard one for that very reason, because things weren't that great.

But things change.  I began to appreciate some of my family members.  Sure, some still piss me off, and I'd rather just avoid them.  And there's a lot fewer people at the gatherings due to age, divorce, and the grind of life.  Best of all, I became thankful for things I never would have noticed twenty years ago, because I took them for granted.

I'm lucky.  I'm one of the luckier people you'll meet.  Sure, I've never won the lottery, but it hasn't been that kind of luck.  The luck I've had has been in great people who were just the sort I needed being in my life at exactly the right times.  It didn't matter how rough the road got, there would always be a friend who just happened to have experience with those situations or had the perfect solution right there waiting for me.

You hear people talk about having an "attitude of gratitude" and while that phrase bugs me for its pithiness, the truth behind it becomes self-evident.

I'm lucky and I know it.  In recent weeks, it not only became more apparent, it came through in the form of simply feeling better.

I feel good.  Great, even.

The depression that has been eating away at me for months on end, for years, actually, has begun to lift.  I'm happier now than I've been in many years.  I won't say it's because of little things.  I don't believe in little things.

To talk about "little things" is to place a value on events in a world where small events can leave a large ripple.  There are no "little things" in the lives of people.  Everything and everybody is important.

Tonight I spent time with a cousin who is more like a little brother to me than a cousin.  I ate some good food (fucking turkey, again) and I finally got my mom some ice cream to try.  Sure, Dallas and Detroit won, but they can't lose all the time.  And I found out my car is capable of longer trips than just a few miles out of town.

Thanksgiving is about many things.  I'm thankful, yes, but probably for a long list of things that have nothing to do with this day and most likely would be ignored by others.

I'm thankful for people who read this blog.

So thank you, dear reader.  I hope you had a great time and if you go shopping on Black Friday, make sure you get a video of the chaos so we can all laugh.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Oh Crap...Change! And CUBS WIN!

As I write this, the Chicago Cubs have just won the World Series.  For you younger readers, you have no idea what that means, or how surreal it is to be able to say this.

I was born and raised a Cubs fan.  I even posted about what it was like on this blog a few times.  I have some great memories of fishing with my dad while listening to the Cubs on WGN, back when AM radio was still a thing.  My dad would have loved to have seen this.

I remember meeting Uncle Bob Collins.  My mom met him a few times, too.  My dad even called into Uncle Bob's radio show a couple of times.  Uncle Bob was WGN's top drive-time personality and eventually the top morning show in Chicago.  Uncle Bob was just as much of my memories of the Cubs as Harry Carey.

Yes, I'm a sappy sentimental, romantic person and so many guys like me tend to be Cubs fans. Maybe it's because all we had were memories while telling ourselves, "Well, there's always next year."

There was always an assumption the Cubs wouldn't win it all.  The Cubs would always be the lovable losers you cheered for but always knew they just wouldn't win it all.  It was something we just programmed into our lives.  The Cubs were the doormat of the National League and would not win.

But something happened.  Somehow, the Cubs have won the World Series.  And now everything changes.

When we talk about things that are impossible in this world, the Cubs winning the World Series was always in that list.  How many women told men, "I won't sleep with you until the Cubs win the World Series" in some mean-spirited taunt?

I have always looked at certain things in life as just part of the world we live in.  She won't go out with me.  I'll never find a better job.  Professionally, all I have to look forward to are dead-end jobs with no future.  I'll never make more money than just over minimum wage.

And now the Cubs have won the World Series and today I was offered a job working for a company in a field I'd always loved--hunting and fishing equipment.  Sure, I need to do some work to make it happen.  And everything is happening quickly.

But I want this and I need this.  And if the Cubs can win the World Series, then I can get this job.  I can get some more stories published this year.  I can get into more anthologies.  I can get my novel written and published.  I can find Her.  I can find the woman who makes me comfortable.  I can find a woman who won't press charges.

For most of the night, I've had anxiety.  I've worked for this company for eight years and I should have left a long time ago.  And now I've found myself in a position to leave and get into a company I really like for more money.  The sheer prospect of change made my head spin, my heart beat erratically, and I grew nauseous.  I'm not good with change.

It's fear.  I've been through a lot in my life.  Most of it was awful.  In the past, when I attempted to make positive changes in my life, those changes ended up with me getting hurt.  Life dropped me on my head a few too many times and I simply do not trust the potential of things.  There are no promises I believe in and there are no greener pastures out there.  If it looks green, I know for a fact it's a minefield, and there's a sniper out there just waiting for a clear shot.

For me, change has always meant opening myself up to loss and set-backs, and I have so little right now.  I cannot afford to lose what little I have worked so hard to attain.

I'm terrified of change.

You know that motivational poster that went around for a while?  The one where the person said, "But what if I fail?" and the response was, "but what if you fly?"  I hate that.  I've always hated it.  Odds and probability are more certain and the odds of me getting burned again always seem higher than the odds of moving upward and onward.

I'm terrified of change for some very good reasons.

But this job I've got right now has been like being at a party way past the end.  People have gone home, the place is a mess, there's no more booze, and everybody who is still there wants to go to bed.  I should have left this company a long time ago.  But I stayed because I was terrified of what's out there.  The harsh realities are swimming in the dark waters around me in search of unsuspecting victims.  I was determined not to let those harsh realities take more away from me.

So, I stayed.

But the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  Impossible things can happen.  The Cubs were cursed and so was I.  But what I saw tonight and into the wee hours of the morning is what is looks like when a curse is broken.  And for the first time in a very long time, I feel like I live in a world where good things can actually happen to people who get their asses kicked as part of the routine of their lives.

If the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series, then I can leave my dead-end job, and go work at a company with a future and the potential for upward mobility, dealing with products I dearly love and enjoy.

I can do this.  And do this, I shall.

Go Cubs, Go!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Birthday Notes From an Old Man

My birthday is on Halloween.  And yes, I know that makes sense.

Everything adds up now, doesn't it?

Traditionally, it's the real New Year's Eve.  It's when our ancestors used to look back on the year behind them.  I do this as well.

I'll be 45 years old and I'm going to stop lying about that because I used to say I'm 29, but I'm tired of doing that.  I'm tired of calling so much of my life something else just because it makes me feel better or to avoid the truth of it.

I've been sick these last few days so I've stayed home to binge-watch Grimm.  I didn't like it at first but after binge-watching it for a while, I got sucked in, and now I've watched the first four seasons. That means I'm out of free episodes to watch, Amazon wants to charge me to watch the fifth season, and I can't afford to do that just yet.  Also, Hulu only has the last 5 episodes of the 5th season available for some reason.

It boggles the mind.

But now my fear of abandonment is acting up.  From a tv show.  Yes, I know.  They're going to cancel Grimm after the 6th Season, and even that won't be a full season, just a 13-episode half-season.

I don't do well with people drifting out of my life.  If I get attached, then I expect them to stay there, from now on.  But that's not how life is supposed to be.  People drift in, people drift out.  Fate decides we talk to somebody when we need them and when we're done, Fate removes them from our lives.

I had a great online friend when I was in college named Cyn.  When I met her, she was in college and getting her degree to teach high school biology in Texas.  She was really into fish.  Cyn was in her mid-30's when we met.

I relied upon Cyn for a lot of things and one of them was to keep me alive while depression and psychosis tore me apart.  I was a wreck.  I was so close to the edge that when I look back, I honestly don't understand how I managed to avoid going over.

Cyn yelled at me when I needed it, offered advice and experience, but most of all she was somebody who knew how screwed up I was and yet she was still there for me without flinching.  She didn't run away.  And when you're human wreckage, limping, barely alive, and reaching out for somebody's hand, that lack of flinching means everything.

Cyn was the first person I went to when I had my epiphany about myself.  The moment I realized I was indeed a human being was powerful for me.  For years I thought I was something less than, something different, discarded and worthless.  When I realized I was a human being, it meant something to me.  And when I told her, her response was perfect, "Maybe now you'll give yourself a break and be good to yourself."

Sometimes I wonder what a comic book representation of myself would look like, with all my demons, ghosts, and issues.  What would I look like to an outsider?  Would I be a large infant screaming about a paper cut?  Would I be a spoiled man-child raging for more entitlement?  Or would I be a man being devoured alive by an unknown parasite that whispers in my ear how everything is just fine?  Whatever Cyn saw, she didn't run away, and for that I will always be grateful.

I lost contact with her when I lived in Korea.  I tried to keep up but my life over there went turbo. And once again, she offered me advice I should have taken, because she was right.  Cyn was always right.

People drift in and out of our lives, but family always remains.  I think that's part of the whole reason we're supposed to pair up, make children, and settle down.  It gives us a reason to wake up every morning as we grow older.  In our early years, we live for ourselves, but as we grow older, we live for those we love and who love us.  We live because somebody is counting on us.  We're raising children, or we're in a close relationship with somebody who loves us, and accepts our love for them.

As I said before, I've been sick these past few days.  IBS.  My system's gone schizophrenic and if I eat different foods too often, it locks down, and freaks out.   It's painful, I can't sleep, and it eventually causes a fever along with the dry-heaving and everything else.  After two days of this, I was pretty strung out.

My mom sent me a birthday care package.  Included were some nice Halloween trinkets, some Halloween decorations, a book from my cousin, and a card with a check inside.  The book my cousin sent me was amazing--Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1918 edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and it was in wonderful condition.  A true gem, really.  I called her to say thanks and ended up breaking down.  I had no warning, it just came.

It was the kindness that got me.  I wasn't expecting it even though it was my own mother who loves me and wants the best for me.  While I'm always expecting her to be disappointed in me for some reason, she never is, and sometimes just that alone is powerful enough cut me to the bone.

This month has been rough on me.  She's heard it in my voice during my weekly calls to her and now she thinks I'm at the end of my rope.  This is not what I wanted to convey.  I'm not at the end of my rope.  But I'm finding out a lot of people are worried about me, not just Mom and a few friends.

The problem is, I don't see this as depression.  I see this as a realistic appraisal of my life.  It's all very rational to me.

I'm going to be 45 years old and I have nothing to show for it.  Most folks by now have children, some kind of significant other in their lives, a halfway decent car, and maybe even a house.  I have none of those things.  Just insurmountable debt and a dead-end job I'm pissing away while I physically deteriorate from neglect.  I'm currently at my heaviest, slowest, weakest, I've ever been.  All the warning signs are there for serious health problems coming down the line unless I do something radical and soon.

What I find myself doing now is looking at my life critically and scrutinizing the merits of continued effort with a cost-effective paradigm.  Is it really worth it to continue beating my head against the wall?  What's in it for me?  Best-case scenario--what's the best I could hope for?  What are the realistic outcomes possible based on past performance and current trends?

I'm almost treating myself like a mutual fund and trying to decide if I need to keep riding this wave or if it's time to cut my losses and cash out.  And right now, I cannot find a reason to invest any kind of effort today into a better tomorrow.  The patterns I have seen, and past performance, all indicate there is absolutely no reason for me to even bother.  It's been shit up to this point, and they were supposed to be the best years, so why would I want to invest any kind of time or effort into the downhill slide?

And no, this isn't one of those moments where you need to get on the phone and call somebody to get over here.  It's not like that.  I'm just re-evaluating.

Earlier, I've been framing my life more in terms of mythology.  I've posted a few times about this and if you're curious what I wrote, feel free to check it out here.  The movie Mythic Journeys changed my life.  It forced me to look at my life and what I've been doing in a totally different light.  Instead of what I've accrued, it taught me to look at what I've learned, and how I've been able to use those lessons in my life.

The lessons I learned in the past year were harsh and I haven't implemented much at all.  I have stubbornly refused to change and as a result, I am every bit in the same mess I've been in.  This is all on me, too.  I can't blame poverty or stress.  

I haven't done what I've needed to do because I have no faith the future will be any better regardless of the effort I put in improving it.  I've had all kinds of people tell me that we never know what the future will hold but that's bullshit.  We know exactly what to expect because life just doesn't suddenly improve.  

But here is what I've decided:  I'm going to move forward and work on improvements.  I have begun being more active.  I've been writing again, and last night I found out I've got a short story accepted, plus my brain is coming up with plot bunnies once more.  I'm getting out and about to actually talk to people face-to-face.  

My reasons for doing this are simple:  I want to know at the hour of my death that I didn't give up, that I at least tried, and I didn't leave anything on the table.  Maybe there is somebody out there for me.  Plus, I'm enjoying my ice cream hobby.  I love making ice cream for people.  I sell it sometimes so I can afford to keep making ice cream.  

I've even been making videos about making ice cream.  Weird, I know.  

But no, this journey isn't done yet.  And after the October I've had, it is with morbid curiosity I continue to stick around, because Satan only knows what's gonna happen next.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Woes of a Supernatural Fan.

I dearly love how we can now binge-watch shows.  I remember back in the old days when this was something we just never got a chance to do.  Maybe, if you were lucky, somebody had the series you liked on VHS and they let you borrow it.  You could sit down and watch all the shows at once, if you were lucky enough to have them.

It was a rare thing.  Most of the time, there were shows missing.  Or they weren't in order.  The VHS quality was crap and you often missed entire scenes.  Sometimes there were other shows recorded on top of that tape.

I didn't have Star Trek:  The Next Generation when it first came out.  I was living in the country and the channel that carried it just didn't come on our TV.  Luckily, a friend of mine, Don, had some of the episodes for me to watch.  They were in no particular order, but I devoured them, and that's how I started watching ST:TNG.

It was like that for a few shows.  I wasn't able to finally binge-watch Twin Peaks until I was in Korea and found the whole series it in some hole-in-the-wall video rental store.  I would watch each episode in the dark of a classroom after everybody was gone, freezing my ass off because there wasn't any heat.  It would get downright creepy as the Killer Bob scenes became more and more menacing and I would be alone in that floor of the building.

The first time I was able to binge-watch a show online it was a glorious moment in personal entertainment.  Maybe it was Netflix, maybe it was some pirate site, it doesn't really matter.  What matter is that now we don't have to wait for the next episode or fret over some cliffhanger.  We can just sit down and watch the fucking thing.  It's nice.

Right now, a fellow horror writer and blogger, Rhoda Nightmare, has started binge-watching one of my favorite shows--Supernatural.

I count myself as one of the few people to have actually seen the pilot episode when it first aired all of those years ago.  It was so long ago, I was living with my aunt temporarily.  I had a rare night off from all of the jobs I was working, and I got to watch a show that looked interesting.

I'll admit I liked Supernatural right from the beginning.  My life got weird after that and I wasn't able to keep up with the show.  In fact, I thought it had been cancelled because it was on one of those newer networks full of shows nobody really liked.  Plus, I have this thing where I just assume if I happen to like the show then the networks are going to cancel it.

Supernatural is like a good pizza crust.  It is topped with a wide variety of stories, homages to various monsters, movies, books, short stories, comic books, cartoons, and even songs.  Some of these episodes are Monsters of the Week.  Once in a while, it's not even a monster, it's a really bad human.  And sure, there's the story that runs through the whole season, giving it that soap opera feeling.

I love 4th wall moments and Supernatural has a bunch of those.  It laughs at itself a lot.  One of my favorites was when Sam and Dean were put into a parallel dimension where they were the actors who played themselves.  Hence, they were Jared Padelecki and Jensen Ackles.  It was hilarious.  They made fun of themselves, their trailers, and Jared's wife, who played Ruby on the show at one point.  Genevieve Cortese even played herself, which was funny as hell, while Dean made fun of Sam for marrying a demon.

The point is, the show has some very creative writing sometimes.  Some of the best in-jokes are slipped in here and there.  But then, sometimes, the episodes are gut-punch deep.  One of those is an episode called "Heart" from the 2nd Season.

What makes this episode so difficult is by now we've really begun to feel for the brothers.  We know how rough their lives have been and how hard the consequences are for their actions.  By the 2nd Season, the show began to be an emotional meat grinder for the brothers and "Heart" cranks that up.

The simple version is this:  Sam falls in love with a woman bitten and infected by a werewolf.  She's changing into a werewolf at night and hurting people.   She doesn't want to live like that, she can't be cured, so she asks Sam to kill her.  And despite how badly this hurts, he does.

That's what Supernatural has always been about.  The brothers do what has to be done no matter what.  It's the hallmark of their Code.  It's also what has made the show incredibly gritty at times.  They joke around, they might play, the bad guys have some of the best lines on television, but there are episodes where Sam and Dean Winchester do what needs to be done no matter what the cost to their souls.  And it's probably why the fans have kept this show on the air for so long.

I think how Sam and Dean Winchester are written is almost a case study in how to have to characters commit acts of violence and still be sympathetic.  We see the toll their lives take on them and yet they keep going.

I'm still watching the show into Season Twelve, which says something, because usually those shows jump the shark in half that time.  But no, not Supernatural.  Supernatural hasn't jumped the shark just yet.  But even if they did, I'd still keep watching.  I know me--I'm a fan.  And being a fan means we watch until it's all done and the final credits roll.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Tonight the classic cartoon It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown was on television.  In my mind, this is a stamp of legitimacy on the season, and that means it's okay to have Halloween decorations up. As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and somebody who leaves their Halloween decorations out all year is seasonally appropriate for a few weeks out of the year.

I keep my Halloween stuff out all the time.  I like the colors and I like the symbolism, the art, and the decorations.  It's just who I am.

But the holiday of Halloween itself is something far different.  The day, the season, the time of year, has a lot of memories for me.

Halloween is when the depression comes.  It's when the melancholy seems to manifest like a heavy fog over everything.  I used to be really excited about Halloween.  I would have this special giddy feeling when I saw those first Halloween decorations and candy displays.  But in recent years I just haven't felt that way.

Instead, I get this feeling of dread.  I know what's coming.  I know the real horrors that will spring from behind the bushes.  No amount of candy will fix that.  Believe me, I've tried.  Have you seen my pictures?  I've tried to eat away a lot of things in my life and it's never worked.  I mean sure, for a short time, that's why I keep doing it.

Or maybe I don't know a better way.

I've been pro-active about a lot of things this year.  I've faced some very ugly truths and some incredibly dark memories.  I want to enjoy life again.

In the back of my mind, I've seen the final chapter of my life, and I know how this story ends.  So much of my life has been Fate kicking my ass from one corner to the next, never letting me get settled, never allowing me to simply relax when things are good.  And if I get attached, then it gets taken away.  There are rules Fate has set down.

I'm trying to avoid that final chapter I've seen.  Being pro-active has part of those efforts.  I'm not sure what to do about this Halloween's melancholy, but I'm working on a few things.

October has always been about the Pagan interpretation for me.  It's when I take inventory of myself and what I've done right and wrong.  It when I allow myself to be proud of accomplishments.  The new goal I've recently added is to not beat myself up for the things I did wrong or wasn't able to get done.  No more of that.

In a few hours, I'm going to call a guy about a job.  That's how serious I am about change and October is the perfect month for it.

In a weird sort of way, I'm feeling positive.  Sure, it's almost 4:30am and I can't sleep, but it's okay, because in a few hours I'm going to do something to push things forward, and that always feels good.  And really, that's what Halloween is all about--something dies, something is born, and somewhere along the line there's candy.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Legend of the Russian Beer

I guess it's time to write this story and be done with it.

But I'll never be done with it--not really.  Some shit haunts you.  It's like a skidmark that never washes out in our lives and it's just there.  It says we've lived.  We've done something and we were able to make it back and tell others about the journey.

So yeah, it's time to tell this story.  It's not a pretty one.  Most of my stories aren't pretty anyways.  My life has never been pretty.  I've had moments.  Beautiful moments where people have come into my world and brightened it beyond anything I could achieve on my own.  Those are the moments I cherish and keep safely stored in my head.  I re-visit them only on special days so somehow the memory never changes or is corrupted by time.

But this story isn't one of those memories.

Sadly, it's one of those stories that is so ugly, it left that aforementioned skidmark on my brain and maybe even down to my soul.

That day didn't start off like that.  They never do, though, right?

My friend Nickus and I were on an adventure in Madison.  Our adventures always included restaurants we'd never been to, cuisine we'd never experienced, stores we'd never shopped in, and anything else we'd never done before.  Back then, the people at the Asian markets would follow us around the store and wonder just what in the hell these two freaks were doing.

Now, when we show up, the old Asian ladies look up at us and mutter, "Oh, it's these two assholes again."  And then they wait for the durian products to be placed on their checkout counter.  But that's a different story for a different day.

We weren't there for the spectacle of it all.  We didn't go isle to isle and make fun of the food we found.  The cans of freshwater dace, the bags of star anise, the dried mushrooms.  No, we showed respect and a certain degree of knowledge.

We ate that stuff when we could get it, and on some level, knew what we were doing.  Nick had been overseas, too.  He wasn't a stranger to new things and foreign cuisine.  And we were always looking for something new.

Part of our adventures included eating at a restaurant we'd never heard of or seen before.  And the more obscure, the better.  Our last trip included a stop at a dirty hole in the wall I'd never take anybody else to because it was so grimy.  The food was damned good, though.  He and I might visit again, but that was for us, and not somebody afraid of adventures.

This is probably how we got our asses in trouble in the first place--seeking adventure.

Finding world-class booze isn't easy in the Midwest.  You have to go to Chicago for the good stuff.  But we couldn't afford that and didn't have the time, so were in Madison at Woodman's grocery.   That was the closest we had to finding foreign beers, ales, and liquors.  Sure, we could go to some snooty wine boutique but that's not our style.  We listen to Amon Amarth and we don't wear skinny jeans.

Woodman's is decent.  It's employee-owned and the one in Madison carried all kinds of European beers.  Madison is a college town full of enlightened (read:  yuppy/trendy/hipster) people who enjoy variety or were well-traveled and wanted what they found in their journeys.

Nick had spent time in Europe and knew the Europeans beers very well.  I usually relied on his advice because he knows I hate IPAs.  Seriously, beer shouldn't taste like fucking dirt or smell like my grandmother's perfume.  What the fuck is wrong with these hipsters?  How could anybody drink something like that, much less call it "artisanal" or "crafted?"  Crap is crap.

On that trip, I was able to capture some Chimay Blue, a Belgian trappist ale that was super-expensive but well worth the price.  I found it to be heavenly and to this day is my favorite ale of all-time.

The conversations we always had were asking each other back and forth if the other had tried this or that.  Nick's tried a much larger variety of beers than I have so I'm usually asking him about various labels.  And it was in that beer section where we found our poison--the Russian beer.

Woodman's was running a special.  Plastic 40-oz bottles of Russian beer were stacked in the center of the isle.  It was hard not to bump into the two islands of beer and knock over bottles.  There were a couple of varieties, but they were all in Russian, and Nick and I can't read Russian.

But giant bottles Russian beer for $1.99 a bottle?   According the rules of our adventuring, that fits every criteria of being a Great Find.  We struck gold.

So obviously we loaded up and were happy to do so.  Neither of us had tried Russian beer before, nor have we even heard of Russian beer.  Obviously we knew they made the shit, but we'd never found it anywhere, and we were so very curious.

By the way, if you've ever spent time reading horror or watching horror movies, you'll notice a long list of tropes.  Blissfully ignorant indulgence, lack of logical thought, absence of critical thinking.

Nick and I had become the two college girls who took their shirts off in the dark forest for no apparent fuckng reason.  And we were going to pay for it.  You know that's coming, right?  Just wait.

True to any horror trope, there was a final opportunity for us to turn back.  Of all the luck, our checkout girl was Russian.  She was pretty, too.  Blonde hair, blue eyes.  I liked her right off the bat.  She even had a thick accent.  She was so Russian she seemed completely uncomfortable just being alive.

And of course, we asked her about what we were buying because we didn't have a clue.  She even pronounced the names for us even though they were too difficult to remember.  And that's when she said, "This's not so good, I think."  She shook her head slightly as she bagged our bottles.

But did we listen?  No, of course not.  Why would we?  We were having a great day.  We hit the Asian grocery stores and had these massive burritos at a Mexican hole in the wall called La Bamba's. We were away from work, and we were having an adventure.

Oh, what cruel mechanisms our universe has in place for such arrogance!

We got home with our goodies.  Chinese noodles, Korean kimchi, some frozen Indian food from an Indian grocery store that had just opened up.  And our beer.

I dropped Nickus off at his place and went back to mine.  I put the beer in the fridge to cool and a few hours later, I opened up my first bottle.

It didn't smell so good.  It had the faint aroma of battery acid and metallic flakes.   But that's okay, I said to myself.  Let's give it a try.  I'm adventurous, right?  I love new things, right?  This is the backdoor to Hell nobody ever talks about.  In fact, I'm sure right now, at this moment, there is some asshole burning in hell who is pleading with a demon, "But I just wanted to try the Russian beer so I could tell my trendy asshole friends I was more hipster than them!"

It tasted like shit.

I mean, it didn't really taste like beer.  No, I would say it tasted more like the fizzy version of the fluid they use to clean the gunk off of parts in a machine shop.  Somebody carbonated it for better effect, and eventually bottled it, and some jokester asshole thought it would be funny to call it beer.

But I kept drinking.  I got half a glass choked down and something happened--my stomach began to protest.

Let me review really quick here--I'm an adventerous eater, I like spicy food, I've eaten all kinds of weird crap, and this Russian beer was causing a problem.  Not the Korean food.  Not the large burrito.  No, those were all good.  But this Russian beer?  This was kicking my ass.

But I didn't care.  I was adventurous.  And I'm not a sinner who throws away alcohol.  So I kept choking it down.

By the time half a glass was gone, I was sweating.  My stomach was making so much noise I could hear it over the heavy metal music I was listening to.  And it wasn't the "I'm gonna puke" noises or the "Hey, this doesn't match" sounds.  No, it wasn't even the "let's just get through this, shall we?" noises some of the hotter foods I've eaten will cause.

The noises my stomach was making seemed to be saying, "Holy shit on a stick!  What the fuck did this asshole just do to me?  This isn't even food!  Goddammit!  And wait..what's that smell?  Can you smell that?  What the fuck makes a smell like that?  What am I supposed to do with this?  He can't expect me to actually digest this shit, can he?"

I curled into a ball on my bed for a moment but the pain was so excruciating I had to get right back up.  And that's when I realized I needed to warn Nickus.  He couldn't drink this beer--somebody had to stop him.

I dialed his number and a very unhappy Nick picked up the other end.

"Are okay?"

"No, man.  I think this Russian beer doesn't like me."

"That's because it's not Russian beer, Nick--it's wastewater from Chernobyl."

"That makes sense.  I've only had a glass of it and I don't think I can handle any more."

"Me, either.  We're gonna have to share this stuff with our friends."

It's at this time I feel I need to make a note in our defense because Nick and I generally aren't the murderous sort and we certainly don't feel our friends deserve to be executed by Russian beer.  But this Russian beer produced a reaction from our bodies that could never be believed and we needed to share this wonderful sensation with the people we care about most.

Sharing is caring.

Our next trip to Woodman's was to find the Russian clerk.  We weren't mad at her, but we had forgotten how Russians are a group of hardcore motherfuckers who understate terrible things.

This beautiful woman might have said, "This beer, I's not so good."   But what she really meant was, "Holy shit, this is poison from a crashed Soviet nuclear submarine and because NATO has been up our asses over every little thing we do, we had the great idea of putting this toxic brew in plastic bottles, calling it beer, and sending it off to a college town with a cheap sticker price in order to get rid of it while poisoning some of the best and brightest of an entire generation."

But we had forgotten that important bit of international diplomacy.

The shake of her head could best be translated into, "I hope you fuckers don't plan on having children because if by some miracle you survive ingesting this, your genetics will be permanently fucked up and the best you can hope for would be a six-legged, three-headed monstrosity with the strength of a silverback gorilla on a twenty-day meth binge and the intelligence of a four year-old child."

But she wasn't around any longer.  Our best guess was she was only there for a few days as part of her KBG assignment to ensure deployment of this terrible NBC weapon from the diabolical minds of the darkest Soviet laboratories.

What we also noticed was how all of the grass around Woodman's was dead.  Obviously, a bottle must have broken outside somehow and that was the end result.  We figured one bottle took care of at least the three-acre parking lot and with the amount leftover, that was used by the City of Madison on their eyesore homes before being demolished.

But we had to share this with our friends.  We just had to.

Nick's birthday is April 20th.  At his birthday party, we made sure we had a bottle of this toxic brew to share with everybody.  I kept the bottle in my trunk because I didn't want to risk it breaking open in the driver's area or getting on any of my passengers.  I figured if the accident was bad enough to open the trunk and then that bottle, a swift death would be merciful.

Nick had small cups passed out to everybody and all were given just a bit.  About twenty people each had in their hands a small cup of this Russian "beer" and the countdown started.  Then, everybody drank this "beer" in unison while a picture was taken of their reactions.

Nick and I had a great laugh about the whole thing.  And while that day was a few years ago, we all remember it well.  A few of the people present have begun to talk to us again once their ability to speak had come back.  The human body is an amazing thing and it truly is incredible what we can endure.

In retrospect, I'm not angry.  I'm proud.  I feel like I survived something very few people have attempted and lived to talk about.  I'm still looking for that Russian woman who worked at the checkout counter at Woodman's.  If you do happen to see her, approach with caution, as she is far more dangerous than Chuck Norris.  But when you do finally get close enough to speak to her, please tell her I miss her, and would do anything to see her again.  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Stupid? You're Soaking in It!

I deal with stupid people every day.  It's a painful part of my job.

I deal with idiots who really shouldn't have been allowed to reproduce and judging by the spread of stupidity in our society, they are taking over, and soon we'll be swimming in a sea of idiots.

The shallow end of the gene pool is a tsunami washing away our sanity.

I've always been a fan of eugenics just because I don't give a shit about some idiot's right to reproduce.  When I'm paying higher taxes and more money for basic things to cover the costs of stupidity my humanity goes out the window.

Oh, I can hear people with their rustled jimmies whining about human rights and blah, blah, blah.

Fuck human rights!

Humans are just ugly bags of mostly water anyways.  Reproducing is a privilege and it should be reserved for those who are smart so future generations actually move forward instead of the regression we're seeing now.

It used to be, shitheads would do something stupid and kill themselves before they had a chance to breed, removing themselves from our gene pool.  Self-flushing turds, really.  Everybody knew Gums the Village Idiot would get kicked in the head by a mule before he reached the age of adulthood.  Or he would somehow dive head-first into the sawmill.  It was just a given, really.  And Gums did us all a favor by doing that.

The education system should make it clear that you're not there for just an education but also to prove yourself.  Besides, it's a joke now anyways.  No, the system should make it clear to kids they are working to earn the right to breed.  If they fail, then no future generations from them would be allowed.

Some bloodlines should have ended decades ago anyways.

But no, the same assholes who think we should pay for these idiots are the same assholes who couldn't imagine a society actually doing something to control the spread of stupidity.

Stupidity is a disease and it is destroying us.

But that doesn't mean we can't shame stupid people publically.  Stupid Shaming needs to be a thing. If for no other reason than to make stupid people realize they're stupid and if they kept their mouths shut, fewer people would realize just how stupid they really are.  It would be like somebody hiding in a crowd, like a stoned person in church, keeping their head down and not making eye-contact with the priest to avoid being busted.

It's time to call stupid people out.  Especially in public service jobs where you have to deal with stupid people all the time.  Their money isn't nearly as valuable as the social benefit of removing them from our community.  It's time we post pictures of stupid people online and a detailed accounting of their crimes.

Enough of this shit!

I've done call center work for more years than I care to admit.  In those years, I have dealt with some of the dumbest motherfuckers on the planet and the worst are the ones who think that somehow they know what they're talking about.  They might be angry but they're only angry because they don't understand something simple.

I've started using the phrase, "I know, it's complicated."  I say it with a very patronizing tone, like I'm talking to a child.

I wish I could post recordings of my calls online.  I would have a commentary going along with the recording so you would know what's going on and why they're so fucking stupid.

What bugs me the most about stupid people is that we allow them to get away with their stupidity because somehow we're supposed to be nice to them.   Usually, they are encountered in some kind of business setting, like in a store.  How many times in our workplace have we encountered stupidity? For people like myself, it is an hourly occurrence.  But because of the setting, I have to be nice.

That's the whole problem with our country right now--capitalism breeds stupidity because we kiss the asses of idiots for their dollars.  We are way too nice to stupid people because we want their money. Corporate America has made the acceptance of stupidity commonplace.  

You might think the clerk at the gas station who says, "thank you, come again," somehow means it but I promise you they don't.  They're saying it because they have to and they know their company has secret shoppers who come around to check on them and make sure they say it.

Nobody fucking cares if you come back to that shitty gas station.  Either you will or you won't. Having some shitbird behind the register tell you they appreciate your business doesn't make a goddamned bit of difference.  It's not his store, it's not his company, and we all know he's making minimum wage and for that shitty paycheck, he's forced to say things he doesn't mean.

I've worked at gas stations and it's a miserable job where stupid people come in and make your life worse by the nature of their breathing.  Their parents should have never been allowed to reproduce.

It's time we brought Eugenics back on the table.  It's time we discussed it as a means of saving our species from ruin.  It's time to clean the gene pool because there are too many turds floating in it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Beginning of The End

This week I discovered hope.

I cannot remember having this feeling of genuine hope and optimism about the future.  It's new to me.  I feel as if I'm on the right path and doing the right things, and they will actually work out and blossom into something wonderful.

In recent weeks, my OCD tick of making ice cream went into over-drive.  Normally OCD things are bad, but in this case, it has been wonderful.  I have made some of the most incredible ice cream anybody has eaten.  White chocolate raspberry that was so rich and decadent people will crave it for years to come.  Brown sugar banana with walnuts that tasted like creamy banana bread.

I even made a white chocolate strawberry with Bischoff's cookie butter that was so rich I could only eat it a few spoonfuls at a time.

And I've shared with friends.  In fact, I make it and get rid of it, because I want the room in my freezer for the next batch.  Friends and neighbors have been enjoying the best ice cream available.

People who are special to me have been well taken care of.  The toughest part has been being so far geographically from those who are close to my heart because I would love to fill their freezers with what I've been making.  I cook for those I care about.  

Pretty soon, I'll be selling ice cream locally to a small circle of people.  Proceeds from those sales will go towards buying equipment so I can start my Youtube channel about making ice cream.  I'm incredibly excited about that and I can't wait to make it happen.

Writing has been going well, too.  In fact, once I get this posted, I'm going to get back to editing a short story because my goal for this week is to get two stories submitted to two different places.  And I'm excited to get back to work.

I can't wait to get working these goals and move forward towards having more of my fiction published. More importantly, to the goal of having more finished, because finishing is more important than starting.

I haven't felt this good in a long time.  Despite the insomnia and not being able to get a decent night of sleep, I feel great.  I feel like life isn't so bad and maybe I could hang around for a while longer.   I have not felt that sense of hopelessness or being trapped.  I have not felt as lonely or as depressed as I had been.

This is where the darkness comes in.

I haven't said much about my previous landlord but the sad story, in a short version, is that he was an old man who was dying of colon cancer.  Before he knew he had cancer, he was dealing with all kinds of ghost problems.

He was tormented most of his life by ghosts and spiritual warfare.  I'm not sure why or what he did, but he was always mentioning it and it really upset him.  I got the impression his family had as well and it was something he experienced as far back as he could remember.

I rented the basement apartment from him.  In his final years, the level of activity was hard not to notice.  I would constantly see them out of the corner of my eye.  Faces would be looking in my window, dozens of them, clamoring over each other in a large pack.  They would move through my apartment only occasionally, being respectful of who I am, and what I'm capable of doing.

The activity built and built until the day he killed himself.  The pain from his cancer was too much so he shot himself in the head.  And the rest was silence.

I never saw or heard a single entity once he died.  They were there for him and they knew what was happening.  They knew the end was coming and they were waiting for it.

They were waiting for him.  The harbingers were growing stronger as the final moment came.  And once it did, they were gone.

This week, in my own apartment, the level of activity has increased.   In fact, before this week, I only had one visitor.  It was just after I'd moved in and he seemed just as surprised to see me as I was to see him.  I never saw him, or anything else, again.

The other night, my dehumidifier kicked on and ran for a minute.  It was unplugged.

I am hearing voices.  Conversations and muffled outbursts.  I'm hearing things get moved around.

Books are being shuffled, pots are being moved, and I can sometimes hear breathing.  Last night, I heard a bottle of vitamins move with enough force I could hear the pills inside shuffle.

The night before, something knocked into my bed while I was on it.  It wasn't a hard knock but it was enough to shake the bed noticeably while I was trying in vain to sleep.

I'm not alone anymore and they want me to know it.

And I realize now who they are and why they're here.  They are harbingers and now it is my turn. They are here for me.

The end has begun.

I have been ignoring health issues for a while.  It's not something that can be easily fixed.  More to the point--I don't want to know.  That tickle in my throat tonight felt different than the usual sinus issues.  And there were a couple of other issues I won't get into here.

It makes sense.  It really does.

The last time I was happy, I was sitting on a nice warm floor holding my daughter and talking to my wife about how lucky we were.  We were talking about how grateful I felt for having so much and how happy I was to have them in my life.  And then things changed and they were taken from me.  It was a slow, ripping process.  It was a death I couldn't walk away from.  In many ways, it killed parts of me and I have felt partially dead ever since.

But I was happy once, goddammit.  I was happy.  And it was all taken from me.

I'm feeling happy again.  I'm feeling grateful for what I've been given.  I'm sorting out problems and dealing with demons.  I'm climbing out of pits and walking away from despair.   I'm putting to bed memories that hurt and I'm forgiving those who hurt me.  I am working towards happiness because happiness has to be earned.

So it makes sense that the end would come now.

I have always felt my fate wasn't to be happy.  Maybe I don't deserve it.  Maybe my karma from past lives is just too strong and maybe I hurt too many people.  Maybe I'm in so much trouble for the crimes my soul committed in those lives I will never be allowed to be happy again.

I tell you--it is no coincidence that just as I begin to find happiness, and the path to genuine future peace, harbingers arrive.  There are no coincidences.

This will all be taken from me.  The Powers That Be have decided it is time to once again come into my life.  I will be given a taste of what everybody else has and it will be stripped from me.

I'm the kid building a sandcastle at the beach who gets it knocked over by bullies every time.

And I'm ready.  Bring it.  I just don't care anymore.

I will continue my path.  I will continue towards happiness.  I will make as much ice cream as I can. I will make the best ice cream my friends and people I care about will ever have in their lifetimes.  I will write short stories that make people laugh and cringe.  I will stay with you in your hearts and minds.

You will remember me.

But when the time comes, so be it.  Fuck these harbingers and fuck The Powers That Be.

I don't know how much time I have left.  All I know for certain is the countdown has begun and there isn't a lot of time.  And maybe now that I've seen them and let everybody know I've seen them, the fuckers will let me sleep at night.  There was a time in my past when I would have tried to talk with them but right now all my communicating shall be done with one finger.

I am going to continue working towards being happy.  Making ice cream and getting it to people brings me peace.  Writing a story that is worthy of being published gives me a sense of satisfaction nothing else can offer.

The other day, a friend finally read a short story I had published two years ago.  She had avoided my work because she was afraid it was too scary, gory, or vile.  After convincing her it was a humor story, she gave it a try, and really enjoyed it.  Her enjoyment meant more to me than I can fully articulate and I carried that joy with me for a long time after.

The harbingers might think they're planning on taking everything away from me but they can't take my memories.  They can't unmake ice cream and they can't erase the published word.  I'm not afraid like my landlord was.

My only worry is not getting enough ice cream to the people I care about on my way out.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Just Shoot Me

I often tell my friends to shoot me.

There's usually a qualifier beforehand, though.

"If I end up in coma, just shoot me."

"If I'm brain-dead, just shoot me."

"If I have a severe brain injury and I'm not the same old Ted, just shoot me."

My friends are all surprisingly eager to go along with it, too.  Worse, I think there's going to be a race to see who can get to me first.

Right now I work a job that is positively soul-crushing.  All day long I talk to people who are angry, bitter, old, dying, or the family members of somebody who is terminal or has already died.  I talk to people who cannot get their medications because of red tape, idiot doctors, and high costs. Sometimes, I can help them, sometimes I can't do shit.

It sucks.

And most of these calls involve them telling me about all their medical problems and how horrible it is to have those ailments.

So my list has grown.  On a daily basis, I'm telling friends, "Hey, man...if I ever have ________, please shoot me."

Right now the list is rather long and I'm afraid they'll end up shooting me for a hangnail soon.

One of these days I'll tell them I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night and it really hurts.

"I'll be right over!"

One thing is very clear--I have no reason to grow old.  None.  And I cannot see a single benefit to being old.  I don't have a reason to wake up tomorrow.  I can't imagine being at the point where it hurts to pee and I'm having heart attacks and strokes.

I grew up with a grandfather in a wheelchair.  Half of his body was paralyzed.  I thought everybody in a wheelchair was grandpa when I was little.  My memories of my grandpa are of an old man in a wheelchair, mumbling because he couldn't talk well due to the paralysis, unless he cussed.  And all he would say was, "goddamned son of a bitch!"  At family gatherings, he would often be on the sidelines while the large family did their things.  He could cry because he was in so much pain.  I didn't realize the stoke messed up his emotions as well.  And I wanted to help, I really did, but there was nothing I could do and when I told my mom about it, she just downplayed everything.  The adults understood but I didn't.

There is no reason in the world to keep me around in that state.  None.

If I had money, I'd make a game of it.  I'd give a lawyer some cash and the condition was, whomever put me out of my misery would get that cash, and a letter from myself to the jury about how this was my idea.

But I'm broke as fuck so I have nothing to offer but my thanks and maybe my cookbooks or 21 year-old car.

I should post a list on here so everybody knows when to shoot me and when to let me deal with it.  I'd hate to get shot because I've got the shits but not shot because I have to wear a diaper.

Tonight I ate pizza with a homemade pesto sauce, cheese and mushrooms.  I'm not watching anything I eat and my ass has been planted in front of my computer all day.  I'm taunting The Powers That Be and I don't care.  But I'm sure they won't let me out of here that easily.

And with my luck, the dipshit with a .22 pistol and bad aim will be the first one to find me, and I'll end up with a few scars and a constant headache.  So bring something big and shoot to win, because if I limp away from this, you'll end up the back of the van on a one-way trip to a deserted barn in the middle of nowhere.

Good luck.