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.