There are two forces which tend to influence my mood in the attempt to get me to take action: the first is the result of an over-analytical mind, which has limited powers of prognostication, and the other is a sense of self-hatred which desires, above all else, that I place my head into the lion’s mouth to boldly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But, because I am a biochemical meat sack propped up by a skeleton, both forces are relegated to a painfully simple vocabulary, The result of this is that, while my gut may be shouting, “Go! Danger!”, I’ve no idea from what I should be running, to where I should escape, or, most importantly, why. And due to the fact that this communication is carried out chemically, on a subconscious level, I have no clue from whom I’m being warned.
I am a creature of habit, fearing change much as would a germophobic panhandler, and often remain in harmful situations because I’ve come to know that devil, and, for all his faults, he’s a hell of a conversationalist. In an attempt to keep me from the inevitable despair of stagnation, my Hippocamp Nostradamus will begin flooding my awareness with subtle signals of disgust and frustration, in the hope that I will lose control and either quit the scenario outright, or scorch the very earth so that the status quo cannot continue.
This has happened any number of times, and though the process has been painful, I have always landed on my feet, and even wound up coming out ahead. That’s not to say that I am grateful, for I carry the stress of my entire life upon the diminishing capacity of my shoulders, like a mistreated and forgotten Atlas. That, and the extra three stone I carry about within my gut (a nod to the fears of harder times ahead) can make it difficult at times to stand up straight, hold my head up high, and tell the world to just fuck off.
Now, my depression is another matter entirely. In the past, I jave likened it to a sensual seductress, enticing me to fail, or some rotund, alcoholic, and abusive heckler, reminding me of all my failures (including those which resulted in a net victory, but with the redemptive postscript deliberately removed). In reality, such as it is, it is no more anthropomorphic than yesterday’s underwear (if anything, slightly less). That feeling of self-worthlessness is best represented by a hand-stitched quilt (always just a tad too warm), made up of every memory of when I had failed to be the man I know I should have been (every shame, embarrassment, and lie, neatly stitched up embroidered in a dazzling display of craftsmanship), draped over my shoulders to remind me not to get above myself.
Though metaphysical in their description, these entities seem very real, especially to someone who walks the narrow line of sanity to peer into the hidden depths of insight which the human condition may provide.
Now, for the sake of carrying on, imagine these two, not as disparate enemies, one foul, the other fair, but rather, as identical twins, down to the dimple on their left cheek, Got that image firmly in your mind? Good. Now get rid of it because it’s completely wrong.
Neither foul nor fair, nor twins of DoubleMint, this pair of overactive malcontents are, in fact, one in the same. They are a double-headed coin*, tarnished a bit from all the years, yet worn smooth from countless handling. They both despise the status quo, and hate me for who I am. One side would prefer that I live up to my ideals, while the other is more interested in my baser natures. And they can both read past and present to glimpse into the future, and nudge me toward one of their preferred destinies.
This isn’t a campaign waged on a scale of weeks, or months, or years, although I’m fairly certain that they’ve both and endgame in mind for me.
No, these skirmishes within my psyche happen in the beats between the moments which eventually coalesce to become that thing that I call life.
Say “fuck this!” now, and lose out on that promotion they were about to offer, but couldn’t yet discuss because they were checking the financials, but say “fuck this!” now, and miss out on a massive clusterfuck of corporate restructuring resulting in a stagnant wage and overwork ad infinitum.
It’s all contained within the spaces between words, in that anxious moment between heartbeats, and rather than being immediately obvious and clear cut, it can often take months or years to assess the benefits of damages of any given choice.
And that’s just if I am able to decipher the rumblings and pains of my padded tummy enough to make a choice at all.
Then there are the times when it’s just gas**.
* Phew, almost wrote dildo there.
** For the sake of appearances, I’ll not mention into how may existential crises I have launched myself in a response to lactose intolerance.
There was once a man who went through life, untouched by anything around him. People who would pass him by, frequently noticed his loneliness, but he rebuffed all efforts to draw him in. He had no time, he’d say, and even if he did, he had more pressing matters on his mind. In short, he couldn’t give a shit.
His dour demeanor drove everyone away, but he found no solace within his isolation. Somewhere deep inside of him, a raging impotence was burning, but he knew that there was nothing he could do, and so he only folded it all down and back upon itself, until he very nearly convinced himself that everything was fine. He simply couldn’t give a shit.
The years began to pass, and still he drove away his fellow man, with naught but his apathy for company. He seemed in search of something, forever on a quest, but for what he’d never say, for it was known that he kept everything to himself, never even letting a nugget of himself slip away. But, of course, this is no way to live, just walking the earth, never giving even a solitary shit, and soon it was too late.
There came a day when he could finally bear his burden for not a moment longer. He fell down to his knees, doubled over in exquisite agony, and for the first time in his life, well and truly began to give a shit. But as I said, it was far too late. He had waited far too long, and as all his sediment and sentiment passed out his puckered jaws of victory, everything he’d held inside simply ripped the man apart.
The people passed him where he fell, and gazed upon what remained of him, a sadness briefly touching down upon them, but soon the feeling was gone. It wasn’t that they themselves could not give a shit: far from it. They’d their lesson all too well, having watched the suffering of this sad and bitter man. Having taken precautions to prevent such a grisly fate from befall them, they simply had no more shits left to give, and merely walked on by.
The moral of the story: Dietary Fiber for the Soul beats chicken soup every single time.
Someday I will be capable of looking back at all of this and laughing. Normally, this isn’t an impediment to getting an early start, but I’m not sure exactly what the punchline is this time. I’ve always said that failure is a better teacher than success, but I have no idea what’s going on right now, and I can’t think of anything in particular that I am doing right. Sure, I’m inflicting my words on literally tens of people on any given day, and my beard had regrown to a respectable Ewok-Wookie hybrid length, but I’m also much more massive than I was before, and I seem determined to push the limits of just how far mopiness can take me. If I were forced to commit to a metaphor to describe my life, I would have to say it feels like a fairly unfunny sitcom before the laugh track has been added. Everybody is just waiting for the laughter which they hope will come, and praying that they don’t fall flat in the moment of truth, yet knowing that script just isn’t all that funny. It would be okay if this was just a pilot, but we’ve just begun our tenth season, and it really feels like we should have worked all of this out by now.
Have you ever woken up and felt like you might have slid one dimension down while you were sleeping? It’s hardly noticeable, but there’s just that sense that something just isn’t quite right. On the good days, if you can call them that, the differences are more pronounced, and it’s easier to believe that you might be a pilgrim on his voyage through the looking-glass. But on mornings such as this, with only five hours separating the moment of slipping into slumber and final surrender to the alarm which rings out to shatter the wall of sleep around you, there’s nothing at which you can definitively point to make your case that this is not your world, beyond a nagging sensation just behind the bags beneath your eyes. It’s either that, or I read entirely too much Speculative Fiction, and have lost the ability to view the world as anything but a metaphor for my internal struggles to find my place among the stars.
I suppose that if I had gotten into Westerns, I would be prattling on about cattle rustlers and a Frontier Spirit, and if I’d somehow been caught up in Romance novels, I would be able to describe this crisis as the irreconcilable difference between the billionaire who wanted me to be his trophy wife (thereby providing for my ailing, widower father, and the son I’d had with my the love of my life who had been claimed too early by some exotic disease he’d caught from treating underprivileged patients in the third world), or my secret, burning desire for the rough, lower class day laborer who loved with a burning passion which I never could resist, but couldn’t hardly provide for himself, let alone my son and father. And if that seems mean, please keep in mind that I have been subjected to telenovelas, on a near-daily basis. I used to be able to ignore the soapy melodrama altogether, but as my Spanish has improved, my ability to just tune it out has plummeted. That doesn’t mean that I am mocking those who indulge in romantic fantasy (any man who has that many Star Trek novels is in no position to judge another’s tastes in literature), just that I find that particular genre unappealing. Now if you’ll excuse me while I reverse the polarity, adjust the Heisenberg Compensator, and make the jump to Hyperspace.
Maybe I should get to work on a telenovela; it’s not like I don’t know the formula by now. I’m just afraid that this hopeless romantic poet will fall in love with the characters he’s written (especially the villainess), and be unable to return to the real world. Leave it to me to be worried about creating not the perfect woman (who exists fully within herself and yet compliments the best things about me, so that when we join together, there is no power in the world which might stop us), but the perfect nemesis: someone perfectly crafted to dig deep within me and destroy the best parts of me. I’m sure that it speaks volumes about me, but there is nothing more alluring than woman who wants nothing more than to destroy you. Yeah, I’m guessing that I’m not nearly as well-adjusted as I thought I was, and I wasn’t really confident in even that.
Truth be told, I’d love, one day, to be the hero. Not somewhere buried in the written word, but in the life I live. I’d settle for being remembered as fair and just man, but I would love to stroll into a situation where hope had long ago been forcibly extinguished, and discover that the key to fixing everything had been forged in the crucible of my suffering, and filed down by bitterness and blindness to hope itself. My ultimate dream, of course, would be to do all of that, but somehow die in the process, thereby elevating the mundane muddling of my existence to a burning light which would withstand the bitter winds of time. Hey, to each his own.
Sadly, I have an amazing wife (who I’m fairly certain I do not deserve), a son capable of moments of sheer brilliance, a daughter so much like myself that I find it difficult to believe that we share no D.N.A., and a grandson who is so full of love that sometimes I think that I may just break down in joyful tears the next time he embraces me. And I’m about to have another grandchild. This time it’s going to be a little girl. I don’t stand a chance. I’m going to wind up beaten down by all the love around me, and, if I’m not very, very careful, wind up a happy person. Who then, I implore you, will make sure the neighbor kids know the rules regarding my lawn? A sad day, indeed. I’ve spent my life carefully cultivating misery, only to have it tossed to the wind every time I see the love in the eyes of those around me. And then I remember just how lucky I truly am, and how far I’ve come, and the anger builds again because they’ve stolen my bitter tears from swollen cheeks, and left me with laughter in their place. How am I supposed to be complete if I’m not completely inconsolable and an utter killjoy?
Sometimes I just need to psyche myself up before attending a baby shower. Like I’ve been saying, they’re not really in my wheelhouse. I mean, I have helped bring life into this world, but I’ve never been a human incubator, so I guess I’ve never felt like I really needed to be thrown a party. As a matter of fact, I’m not terribly all that into parties in the first place. I think that the only party which I’ve truly wanted to attend was one that never actually happened: For my thirty-fifth birthday, I wanted to rent a limo, and go out for a night on the town to celebrate my “Very Good Year”, but it all sort of just fell apart, and I wound up doing absolutely nothing, which to be fair, had been my backup all along. When in doubt, I always say, mope about the house.
When I was seventeen, it was a very good year. I moved out of my mom’s place and struck out on my own. I fell in love, and lost my virginity. I got to practice being a dad, write some tunes and my best short stories, start a business, and generally play at being an adult. It was one of the few times in my life when I can remember being so wholeheartedly happy. That, of course, would all begin to crumble within the next couple of years, but I didn’t know that then, and I honestly thought that it would last forever. Also that summer was soft, and we frequently hid from lights on the village green. And the Island was still kind of a small town…
When I was twenty-one, it wasn’t that great. I had a massive nervous breakdown, and spent a week in the hospital. I broke up with my girlfriend of the past few years. I moved from place to place, dating ladies so that I could have a couch to sleep upon. Eventually I wound up crashing in the woods behind the local Safeway. I did move to the city that year, however. My friends called me up at work, and rescued me at the end of summer. But really, the only thing that resembles the song is that, when I was twenty-one, “it came undone.”
So when my thirty-fifth birthday was approaching, I wanted to do better. I was happily married (as happily as a married man can be), so there was very little chance of hooking up with blue blooded girls of independent means, unless you could interpret it to mean that my wife had her own source of income and one slightly varicose vein. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had to work with. The only thing that was missing was the limousine. Plus, it would have been an excuse to get dressed up fancy and have a night out on the town, and I’d had to buy a suit when I’d attended my friend’s wedding just a couple of weeks before. Sadly, it was not meant to be. I guess there are still a little over seven months to make it happen, but as I’m broke, and my wife doesn’t go for that sort of tomfoolery. Maybe I’ll just put on the least crappy pair of jeans I own, and we’ll have a date night down at Weinerschnitzel. Yeah, that’ll go over well.
In just a little while, everyone else will begin waking up. I had the fortune to be woken by my son, who rose before the dawn. That’s like the third or fourth night in a row that I’ve managed to wrangle less than six hours of sleep. At least I’ll have a fog about me (mental- I’ll be hopping in the shower as soon as I feel up to it) to protect my fragile psyche from the abuses of the dreaded Party Games. If I was going to be smart about it, I’d take a shower now, while everyone else is sleeping. No pounding upon doors, no waiting for my turn. Ten minutes in the bathroom is all I really need (there are benefits to being bald), and then the only thing which I would have to concern myself regarding, would be herding the Minkey toward his fancy party clothing after using a moist towelette to scrub his face and neck. But that would mean admitting that it was time to finally start doing productive things today, and I don’t know if I am ready to face that.
What I would like to do, more than anything, is to just curl back up in bed, and take a nap until the adrenaline of being late launches me forward like a juggernaut. This plan has some obvious merit. First and foremost, it means that I get to go back to sleep again. And secondly, by the time I’ve fully woken up again, I’ll have already arrived at the party, and been taking pictures for at least an hour. By then, the alcohol will have been flowing freely, and I can drown down my self-awareness with the help of my old my old friend, Tecate. That’s something that I always love about these get togethers: no matter what the occasion, there always seems to be almost enough beer to make it all a little more bearable.
So I’ll go and snap some photos, and drink a brew or five, and then before I know it, we can all go home. If I can get a good night’s sleep tonight, I’ll praise the mattress gods. I remember that this lack of sleep was one of the reasons why I quit my job. Of course, my commute is much shorter now, and it costs me significantly less.
Okay, it’s time to start getting it together. Just a few hours left before the festivities begin. If I time it just right, I can be in the shower or getting dressed when the rolling meltdowns begin.
Here’s to babies! And here’s to the people who incubate them, sacrificing form and figure to feed their unborn child!
Yeah, it’s going to be one of those days, I can already tell. You know the kind: every thought explores the depths of meaning and perception, and simple tasks unfold before you like a never-ending scroll. I’m not sure exactly what might have set this off, but I think that I’ll just try to roll with it to see where it will take me. I mean, it’s not like drowning myself in metaphor is an entirely new thing for me. Sure, I used to have assistance to reach this frame of mind, but I guess that decades of staring into the void have finally produced results all on their own. This could mean that I’m beginning to take my first steps toward enlightenment, or it could signify that I’m falling down the water slide to madness. Truth be told, I’m really not all that worried about it. I’ve spent years and years trying to keep it all together, and if this should be the day when everything unravels, so be it. It takes a lot of effort to try to appear even slightly less “eccentric” than gladly I’ve become, so why bother with normality? Let’s see what happens when we pull upon the fraying threads of this tapestry. Will the whole thing fly to pieces or will the truth become apparent, liberated at long last from the tyranny of mundane life?
I’d like to go on record here, before we start again, as declaring my sobriety from everything except the caffeinated nicotine which even now is coursing through my veins. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with a little altering of one’s perceptions, from time to time, rather that I wished to make it absolutely clear that I’m in (as much as I’ve ever been) my right mind.
“I think, therefore I am.”
And with that we have established that the reality of self. One knows that he exists because he knows that he exists. Are we just a form by which the universe has chosen to know itself? Are we living in a world which exists apart from us, and yet is one with us, or one which we create within ourselves with every breath we take? Does it extend beyond perception, or fall away to nothingness beyond what we can perceive? If I close my eyes, does it cease to exist, held in memory for it when it may be needed?
Are we agents of Free Will, or slaves to narratives which we ourselves have written long ago, and then cause ourselves upon our births to forget we’d ever done it? What if this life is merely a crucible by which to forge ourselves into the beings which we’ve chosen to become? Bereft of everything except for the very essence of who we are, we act out life or death scenarios to teach ourselves what we must learn. Might this not explain the sensation of déjà vu? What if we are simply pages we had written while we existed outside of time, or hints which we’ve allowed ourselves to keep us from despair? Is coincidence truly ever so, or are there connections all around for us to crack the code?
And what of everyone living in this world which may or may not be? I can prove my own existence, but not that of another. Can you prove that I exist, and can I prove that you do too? What if the entire world around me is just some sort of living dream, populated by the phantoms which exist only in my mind? Does everyone I meet have a piece of knowledge which I must unlock, aspects of my consciousness designed to move me forward? Am I speaking to myself through strings of written words? I am swimming through a sea of metaphors in search of solid ground.
The only thing which I can prove is the fact of my existence, and then, only to myself. I cannot prove that anyone or anything outside the confines of my mortal consciousness is anything more substantial than a half-remembered dream. And when I am deep within the arms of sleep, am I back in the reality from whence I came, or is it merely another nuanced level for me to figure out? I could make the case, as long as I’m only here arguing with myself, that there have been too many little things for me to just dismiss out of hand. Little tricks of numbers, or double entendre prophecies which sail right before my eyes. Sometimes I feel like I could skip ahead if I only paid attention to the clues I left myself.
Considering that I feel like this, you might wonder, I realize I’m still talking to myself, how I feel about the subject of my death. It would stand to reason that if I were the only game in town, that the very concept of an ending would, at the very least, give me pause. But there are other times when I’d just like it to be done. I’m tired of jumping through my hoops, and have a score to settle with myself. Will I even feel the same, rejoining with the eternal version who made me, or will I come to call him out for all my pain and suffering?
For an atheist, it sounds an awful lot like I have some issues unresolved with faith and spirituality. Or it could be that the backstory was laid down as yet another clue to help me work it out. If that’s the case, then I have got a lot of blood upon my hands. I realize that if no one else is real, then no harm was ever truly done, but still, it seems a bit excessive.
And then there is whisper I’ve not heeded for some time: a small divergence from the theory stated just a couple of paragraphs above. What if everyone I meet is both a version which I’ve molded to fit my narrative, and yet somehow also pulled from someone who actually exists? What if we are all shadows in the dark, muted copies of ourselves living out entire lives as someone else’s NPCs? When I meet someone, are we interacting, or is it just a message on their answering machine?
You’ve made it through, so I feel I owe you this (if I’m wrong, and you actually do exist): While the first paragraph is from my original post, the rest has been an attempt to recover what was lost when the internet abandoned me. It’s kind of like this:
I should also note that I find it… intriguing that as I was tapped into whatever force I draw from when I’m nestled in The Zone, ready to uncover the secrets of reality, my internet went down. According to Comcast, there wasn’t anything wrong. A couple of resets fixed the issue, but they couldn’t figure out why it went down in the first place. And then, having been in a rage since losing what I’d written to the deepest reaches of the ether(net), desperately trying to claw my way back to serenity, I went outside to smoke my sixth cigarette in just over an hour and a half. And what should jump right in front of me, as I was contemplating how to get myself back together? A grasshopper! Agrasshopper! I live in the city. There is no real grass in which this insect might have hopped. And yet it popped out right in front of me, like a slap to my sensibilities. And just like that, the rage began to dissipate, and I knew that I could write again. I’m still pissed off, don’t get me wrong, but at least I’ve had a chuckle.
I wasn’t sure that I would make it this time; another nine days with my son always at my side is quite a stretch of time. It’s not that I don’t love him, just that we need a little break from one another before things go too far. His sense of humor is a little twisted, and his idea of comic timing involves repeating himself over and over until I make a token acknowledgment of what he’s said, never pausing to take even a single breath. It’s not so bad in the afternoon, when I’ve had a chance to raise my shields, but as a wake-up call at seven in the morning, it’s something I can live without. During his time off, I never seem to manage to get myself to sleep before two o’clock in the morning, and, as long as he doesn’t have to go to school, he’s up in time to greet the dawn. At least we’ll be getting back to something of a more normalized arrangement this evening. And tomorrow, I have no doubt that I’ll be up with a cold shiver of dread at being late, and he will slumber like the dead. Maybe I should give him a taste of his own comedy, just to see how funny he thinks it is when it’s aimed at him. The problem is that I would most likely punch myself, as I just don’t have that kind of nonsense in me anymore, despite what he says about my jokes.
Today, he had the nerve to tell me that my jokes were “lame”, and that I, myself, was a “Lame-o”. I have no idea what he’s talking about; I gave him comedy gold. For all of you who are wondering about just how lame my jokes are, here’s exactly how it all went down:
Me: Why did the veterinarian give a lozenge to the pony?
David: I don’t know. What’s a lozenge?
Me: It’s like a cough drop.
David: Oh, okay. What’s a cough drop?
Me: Something you take when you have a sore throat… and a cough.
David: Okay. I don’t know.
Me: Fine. He gave the pony a lozenge because he was a little horse.
David: (erupts in laughter) What’s a veterinarian?
Me: (facepalm) Okay… A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “Why the long face?”
David: Why are you telling me jokes about horses?
Me: Get it? (mimes extension of face) A long face…
David: Are you done?
Me: One more. Ready?
David: (groans) Whatever, Dad.
Me: Okay. Three men walk into a bar. The fourth man ducks.
David: I don’t get it.
Me: You know, three men walk into something, and then the next guys doesn’t.
David: What’s a bar?
Me: Well, in this case, it seems like I’m talking about a tavern, but the joke is that it’s really like a pipe, or tube.
David: I still don’t get it. Your jokes are lame, Dad. You’re a Lame-o.
Me: Okay, tell me one then.
David: Knock knock.
Me: Who’s there?
Me: Orange who?
David: Orange you glad I didn’t- Wait! Wait! Knock knock.
Me: (groans) Who’s there?
Me: Doctor Who?
David: (erupts in laughter)
While I appreciate his ability to recover, and approve of his nerdy references, I am not a Lame-o. I mean, whose go-to joke for comedic superiority is of the knock-knock variety? Although, to be fair, at least he can nail those. Most of the time. I will give him credit for trying. I just wish he was a little funnier. I don’t know. Once in a while he manages to make me chuckle, usually when he’s in trouble with his mother. And then we both manage to get in trouble for his shenanigans. And I know that he’s just trying to make me laugh as a way to win my approval. I just wish that he didn’t try so hard. I find him funniest when he’s not overdoing it. Then again, I myself have been known to beat a punchline to its death. It’s probably just something that he’ll eventually grow out of. And hey- maybe he will be able to pick up on social clues someday, and know when to bail out on a joke when it’s obviously bombing. Then again, he is my son, so probably not. I guess I’ll just have to give him a master class in sarcasm and dry, British wit when he comes of age.
I don’t know what I’ll do with all the time that I’ll be left with when I’ve dropped him off at school. Probably laundry, come to think of it. And then a rousing game of “make the apartment presentable for company.” Our nephew is flying in from Mexico this Thursday, and my wife wants to make sure that he doesn’t see what two full families living in a two-bedroom apartment actually looks like. And it is Spring, so I guess it’s time for a good cleaning. I just hope he doesn’t wonder why the throw rug is so lumpy. And at eye level. It shouldn’t be too bad, though. I’m going to meet him out at SFO, and then take him on a tour of the city. That means that between now and then, I actually have to look up where the Irish Bank is located, and build up the courage to face Pier 39 again. At least lunch is not issue. One of the benefits of knowing people who work in restaurants is that I can usually get a decent deal on food.
And this weekend, I think that the whole merry lot of us are going to be super touristy and hit up Alcatraz. I’ve already been, but Wildflower and David have not. We’ll have to see how it all goes, but I think we’re going to have a fair amount of fun this week. I just hope that David doesn’t try telling any jokes.
Mind over matter, never mind that I can barely think right now. I had been working on a piece which I may eventually finish, in the unlikely event that I ever get some sleep. But right now I am just holding on to what little threads of consciousness remain, dreading the moment when my wife comes home, for that will mean that laundry time has come. If only I hadn’t built up a tolerance to caffeine, the industrial strength Red Bull which I drank earlier might have had some sort of effect. As it stands now, however, I am locked into a battle of wills with my computer to see if I’ve got what it takes to do this thing on autopilot. That’s not to besmirch the quality of my automatic functions; I am disturbingly efficient when I cut out my higher thinking. I just hope that this makes some kind of sense to anyone who reads it, as I can make no promises about quality control. I’m pretty sure that I used to be able to function almost normally on little to no sleep, but those days have long since passed, and now I’m lucky that I don’t have to figure out how I’m going to operate heavy machinery.
I apologize if any jokes included seem a bit… deflated. I’m at the point where everything seems funny. If you were to put me in a room with my son and grandson, the epic stream of nonsense that would pour forth from that room would cast serious doubt upon my mental health. But the joke’s on you: My mental health is already suspect! Ha! It’s difficult to be amusing when you know that you can’t tell what’s funny anymore. I’m sure that I can make a couple of people chuckle, now and then, but I don’t know that I’ve inspired belly-shaking laughter, unless it involved the removal of my shirt in front of other people. That’s assuming that they don’t go blind. I’m a fairly pale-skinned individual, and as I tend towards ruddy pain when in the presence of the sun. That means that when I remove my top, it’s like staring at a hairy moon, full and reflective, capable of piercing the defenses of even the most sober of individuals. I mean, it’s dangerous enough when I remove my hat, as the glare from most light sources collects upon my noble skullet, pooling all together, exponentially reflecting outward at the speed of apathetic light.
But what really brings me down, besides my inability to grow hair upon my head, is the knowledge that I seem to be experiencing a second round of puberty. When I was younger, I never really had a pair of boobs, but over the past decade, I have grown into at least a B-cup, and as the amount of hair upon my head decreases, the size of my chest increases. I’d like to think that they are follically inflated, but the truth is that they are of a more natural composition. If I don’t do something soon, I’m going to have to go bra shopping, and I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, sure, I’ll need a certain level of support, but I’d like it if I could still look pretty too. Wow, down the rabbit hole am I. I mean, I’m not interested in dressing like a lady (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I do have a fondness for kilts, and my silk boxers do feel pretty awesome. Maybe they make pectoral support devices that come in… more masculine designs. Like something that depicts explosions or something. Yeah, no. I’m just not feeling it.
I’ve gotten to thinking that this might not be the best idea that I’ve ever had. I am just a little bit eccentric, and even I manage to take my statements out of context when it suits me. Breaking News: Tex Batmart admits to dressing up like women! You see? I don’t know. It’s hard to judge someone based upon a lack of desire to wear pants. I mean, when I was living in the PNW, pants were slightly more of a necessity. It can get a little cold up there, and I’ve an image to maintain. But I live in California, and most of the time, I only put on clothing to keep from turning into a man-sized lobster. But if I could finally feel the freedom of a kilt, I might learn to relax. Having a soothing breeze upon my nethers couldn’t hurt, either. Mind you, it’s not that I feel a strong desire to run through the world while fully on display, it’s just that I’m not really all that big a fan of pants. I do like wearing suits, though. Weird, right? Exhaustion is a heady vice.
As I was typing up that last paragraph, I noticed a couple of spiders creeping toward me to feast upon the shattered bodies of the mosquitoes which I’ve slain today. Normally, I have no problem with spiders carrying out their necessary tasks, but all I ask that they do it where I cannot see them. That’s actually my rule for all insects and “lower” beings which may make their way into my home: They have just as much right to live as me and mine, but if they stumble into sight, I will take them out. The spiders normally do alright, whereas mosquitoes, ants, and roaches creeping in from their home base in the apartment directly above us all seem to be feeling just a little down. Seeing that they’re suffering, I do my best to end their pain, but I just wish that they would find somewhere else to spend their dying moments, as it can be a little hard to bend sometimes.
But I am Death, the Destroyer, and I shall not be stopped. I like to think that they have made up legends about me, and live in fear of the day that the other shoe will drop, as is prophesied in their holy texts. Perhaps I am tempting fate, and summoning a shoe much greater than myself which will come to fall upon me as retribution for my hubris. But what can I do? I’ve laid out the rules quite clearly for them, and if they choose to violate the Neutral Zone, their deaths rest solely upon themselves, not me. For I must defend the boundaries of my own sovereignty, and all which lies within. I guess that I’ve finally found some common ground with my family after all. Of course, I’m talking about bugs, and they’re talking about dirty foreigners, so maybe not. All I know is that one day I will be featured on the local news as that crazy dude running around in a skirt and bra, chasing after tiny creatures and smashing them with my shoe. I just hope that my tan lines aren’t obvious, or I’ll never live it down.
I am not a good teacher of things. I lack both the patience and willingness to use it to be an effective educator, at least when it comes to the fundamentals. This is a downside of how my intelligence works. I tend to pick things up through osmosis, give them a go (in private, where no one can see me fail), and then pretend that it wasn’t all that difficult to begin with. The only things whose difficulty I intentionally emphasize are the things which I have absolutely no interest in being asked to do again. Just ask my wife on laundry day. She has a very specific set of standards on how she feels that clothing must be folded, and is in no way impressed by my technique, which involves a quick doubling of said textile, with no regard to whether they will appear to be septuagenarian leggings. Unfortunately, my wife has known me long enough that she has figured out my game plan. So now I have to fold the laundry correctly. I did earn a small concession, however: I do not have to fold her blouses, as even she has admitted that they do not conform to the laws of physics, and would rather that I didn’t tear a hole in the space-time continuum whilst attempting to neatly and geometrically fold them. But she does expect me to attend to the rest of our clothing in the manner which she has taught me.
She is a good teacher, you see. Flor will keep going over the basics, and even answer my patently ridiculous queries as to why it’s actually important do it in a certain way. I could never teach another person how to do their laundry. I mean, I could explain how to use the machines, and the describe why detergent is important, and when not to use chlorine bleach, but their clothing would remain forever wrinkled, and they, like me, would have not the slightest inkling of what fabric softener actually is, or why a person should even bother using it, or how to use it in the first place. But that’s regarding something which I am incapable of caring less about. What about when someone needs to know how to do something that I’m actually half decent at?
One of the things which always drove me crazy when I was working in restaurants, was having to train other people how to do things so that they wouldn’t remain completely useless. I’m crap when it comes to laying down the fundamentals, as any of my former employees would most likely tell you. There are certain basic concepts about how one does his job, and if you cannot understand them from the get-go, then I grow irritated, and probably counterproductive. That’s why I most often just farmed the first couple of shifts worth of training to my new employees out to someone who only did that particular job day in and day out. The owners usually wanted the newbies under direct management supervision, but I felt it was better to get new hires started under the tutelage of someone who wasn’t me. I didn’t want to waste my time talking someone through the basics of how to use a register, or how to do the busy work that comes before one is allowed to actually touch the food. I’d watch for those couple of days, jumping in to make a correction now and then, and finally, when it looked like the rookie had finally achieved mastery over the basics, I would step in to finalize their education.
You see, I’m all about the nuance, at least when it comes to work. I want to know why things work so that I can figure out the best way to make them happen, and then pass that on to my employees. Take register monkeys, for example. There are three stages that most cashiers will go through: Inept, Proficient, and Stellar (there is also a secret, fourth stage: Burnout, but that is usually reserved for those employees who no longer need this f’ing job).
Inept covers the first few shifts, and I like to think of it as Training Wheels. Sure, on the surface it appears that they can ride the bike, but there is no real confidence or speed, and if it weren’t for the extra help to prop them up, they would probably fall over. After cashiers have finally found their balance, they are upgraded to Proficient. There are several subcategories here, but the main defining quality of Proficiency is that I, as the manager, will not be called up every couple of minutes to answer a question that might just as easily be addressed by reading a menu board. Most cashiers tend to stay at this level until they find other employment, as they will not get their shift preferences until they achieve a Stellar ranking. Proficient cashiers are still not my problem, but I have been known to give advice or point out little shortcuts to those I think are on the rise. Think of a Proficient cashier as running the secondary register on a busy night.
And now we get to my favorite type of employee: Stellar. These are the people who take work seriously, and are always looking out for how to do their own jobs better. These are the people who get preferential scheduling (although they never seem to get to have a weekend to spend with friends or family anymore), and keep their hours when the restaurant hits the slower times of year. These are the people who have noticed that there is a difference between being good, and being great, and are no longer satisfied with remaining among the former. I love this class of employee, and will gladly teach them what I know regarding how to streamline customer interactions and generally rock it like a professional. How does one move their line faster when it’s slammed? Limit what you say, and don’t ask open-ended questions: If someone wants something to drink that isn’t Coca-Cola, they’ll correct you immediately. If you ask them what they’d like to drink, you might as well take a seat while they decide. Stellar cashiers will know the POS and menu shortcuts, know what’s in each menu item, and know how to make proper change. These are the people whom I am indebted to for making my job easier, and I will do everything within my power to keep them happy at their life-draining, soul-crushing place of employment.
But that sometimes doesn’t work, and this Stellar individual begins to fray around the edges. They are starting to Burn Out. Maybe it’s because they are so good that the restaurant cannot really run without them, which means that weekends are for other people. Maybe it’s because the owner hasn’t approved their raise, because it’s been forever since he’s had to worry about the personal cost of basic things, despite his constant moaning about just how broke he is. Maybe it’s because the truly talented people realize that they are simply too good to be wasted on a cashier gig, and that there’s more to life than being mistreated by the general public. I’ve seen it happen so many times, and have felt its seductive call, myself. And it’s hard to argue effectively against, because it is so obviously true. Despite knowing all of this, it still broke my heart to witness one of my Superstars decide to throw the towel in, and turn down the Burnout path.
At this stage, the once-Stellar employee begins to let things go. He begins to drop his standards and perform, at best, as a high-functioning Proficient. If there is line running out the door, he can still kick it into high gear, but usually that’s just a vestigial reaction back from when he still gave a crap. At this point he is looking for another job, or has made the other job that he already has, his main priority. He will change around his availability so that you can no longer schedule him during the really busy times, and he knows that he’ll still get as many hours as he wants because he’s still the best cashier you have. You can tell a Burnout from the hatred barely, if at all, concealed behind his eyes. He doesn’t care anymore, and doesn’t mind sharing that knowledge with you.
At some point he will either become insubordinate to the detriment of everyone around him, or else he will simply not show up for shifts (usually on the busiest days), and management will have to let him go. I tried to view this as a mercy killing, but I always took it personally. I only befriended the good employees, the best employees, but it was most frequently the members of this very group who wound up breaking my heart. I’ve since wished them the best, and have taken solace in their happiness, at least to their faces, but it still hurts that they couldn’t stick around to help me get through my own purgatorial days.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to deal with newbies. I don’t want to invest myself in personal interactions with people who aren’t going to make it through their first week. Or maybe it’s because, after decades of living with Bi-Polar, it’s simply easier for me to point out how someone is failing, as opposed to setting them up from the very beginning with a chance at legitimate success. I have tried to learn from the managers that I respect the most, though they seemed to Burn Out just as easily as I did, in the end. It’s hard to balance both the ledger and your humanity. But I thank them, all the same, for showing me the importance of retaining my humanity in an industry which seems to encourage its dismissal. In my mind, they shall always remain Stellar examples of how to do things the right way. And I hope that (if I don’t win the lottery this week) when I get back into the industry which has become the harshest of mistresses, I can face it all with courage and humanity until the very end.
It’s been kind of an exciting week for me here. I succumbed to the narcissistic pressure within me, and submitted a few columns to reddit.com, figuring that I had gotten more or less back into form, and was ready for a truly global audience. I wasn’t prepared for the result. Amazingly, my column about Star Trek took right off, and has, to date, gotten more views this week by itself, than almost double the total amount of views I’d had in my best week prior to this one. Of course, reddit is a fickle mistress, and large numbers of people reading me there didn’t translate into much voting, in either direction. After spending almost a week in the r/startrek subreddit, I’ve gotten five votes, two-thirds positive, which have garnered me a total score of… 1 imaginary internet point! I’m trying not to get too hung up on that, as redditors can be unforgiving assholes (I should know), but it still kind of hurts that over two hundred people took the time to read what I had written, and only five had rated it positively. Still, I’ve said from Day One that my main goal in all of this was to give people a chance to read my stuff. I wasn’t expecting everyone to love it, but I had kind of imagined that it might have had more of an effect. Still, though, it’s kind of amazing. People with whom I have absolutely no connections in the real world have stopped and read the words and thoughts which have exited my head, and that, to me, is incredible.
The numbers have gone back to normal now, as I made a decision on Wednesday morning not to drink from that particular well anymore, at least not for a while. I wanted to see how many new readers I could maintain, and now, sadly, I know. It’s kind of wild to see just how this week has skewed the numbers, and I know that April is probably going to be the first month since I’ve started where I don’t increase my readership versus the month which came before it. To be honest, the temptation is there to head back to reddit sometime next month, just so I can try to avoid such a dubious distinction. Or I could try to make my stuff better, I suppose. I’m honestly just please with how easily the words are coming, compared to when I started, and how I can just jump in, even if it’s seven in the evening, and pound out words which, at the very least, make some sort of sense. I mean, I’m not really any closer to my larger goal of writing something that I can sell, but I’ve found my groove, and have built the courage to try out several different things over the past few months. And something that will please my wife: I’ve discovered that I can still write in the mornings, and that I can usually pound out an average column in an hour and a half. That basically means that I can now go looking for a job, free from the worry that it will cause my words to suffer.
The downside is that I now have to come to terms with my fear of everybody, and deal with easing myself back into the Food Service Industry, but luckily, I’ve had almost fifteen years of restaurant experience, with a decade of that spent in management. I know what I am doing when it comes to rocking in the kitchen, and the only thing which has held me back has been my exhaustion at the very notion of returning. It’s not the owners, it’s not the employees, and it’s definitely not the distributors; the component which worries me the most is having to deal with a brand-new set of customers. Well, that and doing interviews, but the latter is more a reflection of my personal bi-polarizing issues, so ultimately, it’s sort of just on me to get myself through that process. But when it comes to the customer experience, I think back to every single customer I’ve had the pleasure of not serving these past four months, and I’m reluctant to go back. But restaurants are generally always hiring, and are usually in need of competent management. And the only way that I can pay off all my bills at this point, is to jump into the deep end, and become Mr. Manager once more.
I’ve sort of gotten used to living this life of carefree indolence, and loathe to imagine the day when it must come to an end. But all good things must do so, if we are to truly appreciate them. I could be wrong, of course, and the only thing that stands between myself and happiness is my inability to accept myself for who I truly am: someone for whom putting on pants is the moment when he knows that his day will never stand a chance of recovering. If I was single, I suppose that I could travel the country on the backs of couches, seeking out just Wi-Fi, nicotine, and the occasional full belly. But the fact is that I would have never made it this far without the love of my dearest wife, and should the day come when she’s had enough of my shenanigans, I don’t imagine that I’ll be able to really handle anything in the manner expected of an adult. There will be crying, floor-pounding temper tantrums, and snot running down my face like a river flowing freely from my nose. And then I’ll slip back into habits better off forgotten, seeking solace in my liberation from overwhelming pain, and before I know it, I’ll wake up in Billings, Montana with a tattoo of Crying Rose, and naked, save for a strategically placed necktie. Poor Bad Leon Suave, I’m sure that he doesn’t entirely deserve that.
See? Watching the worst case (and yet, strangely entertaining) scenarios play out inside my head is still more comforting than the knowledge that I’m going to have to get (another) job! I’m not sure what that says about me, but I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading all about it. I’d say that I am now heading off to bed, but I think that I’ll do some pity-voting back on reddit.
I am enjoying a surge in readership, which has led me to believe that an hour’s worth of writing cannot possibly justify twelve hours of obsessing over the site stats. I figured that I would be more at ease seeing that I was reaching a wider audience, but it turns out that I only fall deeper down the rabbit hole. Suddenly, what would have been inconceivable just a couple of weeks ago, has become commonplace, and as I breeze past milestone after milestone, it becomes not about the people whom I have just reached, but rather, how much further I can watch the numbers climb. I’d like to say that the game is over now, and that I’m back to writing as if no one else was listening, but somewhere there is a Site Stats page open which I am constantly refreshing. It’s really been fun, these past couple of days, reaching people all across the world, but now the time has come for me to sit back down and work on something different. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read what I have written, and I hope that you continue to come back on your future journeys through the interwebs.
Now back to real life and reality (for once, not mutually exclusive!). Today my new stove is coming (I’m assuming that means the entire oven, but you never know), and I’m excited that I will once again be able to cook with ease. We’ve been dealing with the limitations of cooking with only one functional burner, and it has forced me to a level of efficiency that feels entirely unwholesome and unnatural. I’m the type of cook who likes to time everything just right, and use up several pots and pans, as each recipe demands. With only one working burner, I’ve had to plan things out so that I can run it like a timeshare and, to my credit, it hasn’t been a complete disaster. But now I get to play with a full set for the time in months, and it disturbs me just how much I want to whip something up just so that I can be the first to break in each and every element. That probably speaks volumes about me, but I don’t care. I get to be lazy as a cook again!
Now if only parenting were easier. My son’s counselor thinks that it is great that I am reflecting on my past, using my prior points of view to come up with strategies on how to be a better parent. I keep trying to tell her that I’m not sure, exactly, what good it’s supposed to do, as no one figured out how to be an effective parent once I became the embodiment of rebellion. The only thing that I have going for me is that I am at least as stubborn as my precious child, and I’ve had decades more experience to guide me. I knew that teaching David to question everything would come back to bite me, but I never imagined that I’d see the gapped teeth marks (as he’s been losing baby teeth) so soon. I swear, the only things he’s really lacking are discipline and time. He’s got a raw intelligence that makes me nervous on my best days, and a matching lack of anything resembling even the barest hint of common sense. It looks like my mother is getting her revenge, after all. I think that when the time comes, I’ll send myself off to boarding school, and let him stay at home. Sometimes it’s just easier to move house than it is to face cleaning up your messes.
Shannon Buxton, a friend and mentor, said recently, in response to what I wrote about the Teen Center, “I stand by my belief that teens are not broken and therefore do not need to be fixed.” I know that this is true, but it takes an amazing amount of patience to guide them through their formative years, and I look forward to sending the Minkey up to spend a summer (or several) with his Auntie Shannon who has so graciously volunteered to not fix him. That was a bit tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but I do hope that I can have him spend a little time with her when he is older, as she is able to interact with kids as if they were actually people, and I think that sometimes parents get so caught up in trying to make sure that their kids don’t wind up serial killers that we forget that (eventually) our kids might have something they can teach us, if we’re only willing to stop and listen. That’s easier said than done, of course. There’s only so many times that I can listen to stories about a video game that I was watching my son play before I starting twitching uncontrollably.
I feel like my son and I will wind up like Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and not just because I am bald (and the first impression I ever did was of Mr. Connery), and David is afraid of snakes. Maybe it’s something that all fathers and sons go through which I missed out on because I didn’t get to know my dad. I just feel like by the time he grows into his own skin, and is capable of thought which isn’t directly influenced by raging hormones (or, as they are currently: sugar), it will be time for him to go out into the world, and I will find that I miss him more than I had thought possible. I think I’ll have to look back at this in a decade or so, and see if knowing what would happen made it any easier to live through. If his childhood is any indication, I do not think it will.
UPDATE: The new oven is here, but cannot be connected, as the wall outlet is for a dryer, apparently, and this new oven will not plug in correctly. Instead of replacing the outlet, the owner has told me that he’s just going to replace the power cord, thereby voiding the warranty. I don’t know. I’m not an owner, nor am I a licensed electrician, but I feel like it would just be easier to replace the outlet than perform surgery on a perfectly functional appliance. The downside to all of this is that we have been reduced to microwaving everything we wish to eat at temperature warmer than the room in which we’re sitting. Good thing Flor bought a couple more boxes of cereal yesterday!