I’m a honky ass peckerwood.

OK, so you know how sometimes you’re cruising along in your life and you think. I’m doing good. Fuck it. I’m a _good_ person. Better than average! Right? We all think we’re just a biiiit better than average, which is good, that’s healthy for humans. But I went to a trivia event last night which absolutely kicked my penis right in the middle.

So round one – Mysteries of the Unknown! 85 points out of a possible 101. I didn’t realize virtues and principalities were angels but we guessed and it worked out. Creepy shit is good fun to learn about and not depressing for the most part. Good team effort all around.

Second round. Spin Off Shows – One of our team members just ruled at this. 102 points out of 102 possible. We are DESTROYING.

Third round… Black History Month. Uhhh. I’m… we’ll be fine right? Frederick Douglas. That’s a historical black guy. Dred… Scott? That’s a… thing. Bad thing? I mean as far as Black History goes it’s all basically bad things. We start.

First question! Frederick mother fucking Douglas. And I forgot to think of the white guy (Abraham Lincoln) as the other half of the answer, so that makes me a civil rights champion, I think. We move on. Which amendment abolished slavery? I forget. the 21st is about booze. We guessed and were wrong but no big deal. Amendments, schmamendments. Who remembers them other than guns and booze and the freedom to say dumb shit.

Then it’s just… sad emptiness. Not even the hope of an answer, for a very long time. Who held the civil rights movement together after MLK? Huh was it… Malcom Sharpton? Hrm. Boo Radley is not a real person. Nat Turner is and his name is definitely not Dred Scott. Those are two different people. I’m starting to feel a little bad about it and then… Right at the end… we get a question about black women.

I panic. My vision narrows. In my minds eye I see only two things.

A lithograph from my childhood history textbook of who I believe to be Harriet Tubman. But I cannot remember her name at all in the moment and label her — Jesus, Lord this is so sad; “Georgia O’Keefe?” in my brain with a confidence rating of “about two or three out of ten”. And another notable black woman whose name I cannot quite place, looking VERY upset at me. I think about the face and I try to remember the name, she’s clearly not the director of Selma but I gotta be able to figure out who this woman is right. As I try to piece it together – I slowly but surely remember to actually be…. Frida Kahlo with some kind of blackface filter my brain put on her. She is looking very terse at me indeed when I restore her skin tone to normal. Hmmm.

If I were as ignorant about white historical figures as I was about black ones I’d get laughed out of conversations. If I couldn’t think of a single modern powerful white woman’s name, NOT A ONE, if I couldn’t think of a single _HISTORICAL_ powerful white woman’s name, people would treat me as sub-normal. It’d be like if you asked me which woman was going to direct Spider Man and I answered, “Queen Emily or something of like… Belgium I guess. The cake eating lady?”.

A horrid core

I say breakdowns come and breakdowns go.
So what are you gonna do about it.
That’s what I want to know.

I can finally talk about it, as obvioused by a whole month of me bitching about my childhood. But what do I do with it. What use is it to know these things and feel bad about them now, when I packed them up so tight and emotionally dehydrated when I was a kid. You ever dissect an owl pellet in science class? Why pull em apart and wet em down with tears. Why unearth their musty remains and pick them apart. That smell, wet hair and corruption, while you squint at a tiny jaw bone. Was this a vole, perhaps. A mouse. A baby rat? We could magnify. Study the teeth. We could scrape the inside of the marrow for dna and run a full analysis. We could analyze the canines for size and relative position, count the molars. Compare it to every known type of jaw bone. But when we have it, when we know exactly what it used to be – does that change the nature of the owl? Or of the vole. What do we really learn about the life of the owl from this, that we didn’t already know. Owls eat little mice shaped shit. It stands to reason that if the herk up a wad it’s gonna be little mouse parts. The tiny jawbone is as useful to understanding “Owl-ness” the second we prise it from the regurgitate as it is when we scientifically determine its species. And no amount of analysis of that vole’s bones or of its diet or life or mineral content is going to add, meaningfully, to the understanding of owlness. The raison d’oiseau.

But right now that’s what I’m doing. I’ve done it before. I lived my entire life in denial of my emotional response to situations, for reasons both noble and foolish, so I’m no stranger to having an emotional meltdown in the wintertime. But only now, at 35, do I understand that in order to use that section of my brain I have to ACTUALLY unpack all the crap in there. I have to hawk these little mouse parts out because they’re just clogging my ability to think and act in the interest of my own life. And I promise that I’m gonna try to spend less time being overwhelmingly negative but when I dug deep down to find what I was most upset about, I found a horrid core within. A blackened stunted gnarled thing, packed on all sides with these memories I could not talk about, feelings I could not feel, and fears I dared not name. An immature, selfish, lazy little thing that Life was “happening to” in protest. The ultimate victim. I found a boy who lived his life backwards and blamed the world for the scenery going the wrong direction. And I’d found him before too. He’s a mean little thing. Cruel and crude. When you touch him he tries to break you. He spits poison and screams that you should put him back where you found him. Leave him alone forever. But you can’t, well, _you_ can. Lots of well justified folks have. But I can’t walk away and I can’t just leave him in there anymore. The only medicine for this malady is motion. I have to unpack his little shitty hole, have to make him move. Because this horrid little shadow in me that thinks it’s supposed to hold perfectly still is really supposed – not just to move, but dance. RACE. Not just to show but to SHINE. But he has gotten lazy, and I have let him. I let him jam himself down in these bad memories and ossify.

Pulling Out

I had been edging around this for a while. I had an axe to grind, well, several, but he was no stranger to this game. He had an axe to grind too, he knew an uncomfortable question was bearing on him. Since we never ever spend time together this must finally be the time.

Game on.

I forget how far in I got. I had some questions about how they had taught me about money. I had a lot of em, but I was being extraordinarily careful. As I said in previous posts, I was engaged deeply in the kingdom of my father, and it was critical that he not quit his job. He’d threatened to do so several times, for increasingly less relevant or meaningful reasons. I had picked one thing that was bothering me, for a really long time. Since high school, when it happened. All I wanted to know was why they thought it was OK to take money out of my savings account and not tell me about it. Why my dad thought it was OK to tell me that I owed him that money for back rent. Why did he intimidate me out of ever asking about it again. Was he just scared, ashamed? Did he really still believe it was OK. Why hadn’t they ever apologized, in all the intervening years. Why didn’t they ever give the money back, directly, acknowledging what they did. It wasn’t much, for an adult. But it was a lot for a kid in high school. But he’s trumped me. As soon as I brought up money I lost.

They’re broke. Again.

The business is losing money, he announces. So help me I’ll quit my job and figure out where it’s all going! He insists, and each time I think we all held our breath. Maybe the others held their breath because they were afraid of what I would say. Maybe I held my breath because I was afraid of what I would say.

There are four television sets upstairs, one plasma and three LED. One of them is in the bedroom, so that the transition to bed happens naturally during commercial breaks. Mom can run upstairs and prepare the sleeping television while dad finishes his last snacks. Two of them are on the exercise room floor, between the unassembled professional massage table, the disused exercising machines. I can see a past due notice from the city jutting from the pile on the second step of the staircase. Sometimes the city turns the water off, and they have to juggle money around to pay off the enormous late fee and balance. If you counted outstanding bills and debt, I bet I could slap 70k before I left the third stair on the staircase – where all their business mail is dumped.

If I ran from the dinner table and just started slapping things, supermarket sweep style, I bet I could hit seventy thousand dollars before I even got to the cars. A seven hundred dollar security camera system on the staircase. A full sized carnival cotton candy machine. A table saw my dad didn’t remember purchasing. There’s a thirteen hundred dollar bicycle. A six thousand dollar sports car that last ran before Obama took office. A mini mill and an oscilloscope. A CNC laser engraving machine. A passthrough soda cooler. A full stained glass production setup. A greenhouse full of potted orchids and violets, identifiable only by their pricing tags still sticking out of the desiccated dirt. These are the ones too big to give up on. The little stuff they’ve wasted money on, that’s all at the goodwill, the real inheritors of the Walker fortune. They drive to the goodwill, drop off $1500 worth of shit in the back. Buy $75 worth of discount garbage in the front, and come home pleased with their bargains. Where is the money going? It’s a whopper of a whodunit, that only Sherlock McBathtub can solve, while he shops for Bose radios on eBay. He’s bested me. I can’t keep going and being careful. He’s enraged me so far I can no longer be delicate. All I can do now is wait until it has been a polite amount of time and leave.

I no longer live here. This isn’t my fight. The people who still depend on this idiot are both here, silent. I can see their worry lines deepening, both of them boozily pilled up to bulwark their mood against this constant storm. They gently sway in their drunken passivity.

I think back to the things he’s proclaimed from here. The king of dinner. CEO dad, at his evening press conference.

“You know what they say, you ruin your kids”

I don’t believe that is anybody’s saying about children no. Not a Doctor Spock line. I don’t think it’s an old country saying either. Nobody authoritative’s blanket opinion that all you can do is ruin children. I’ll update this later if I find out that one of the main points of “It takes a village” is that everyone ruins their kids.

“I’ve found this new financial seminar I want to take it’s called Live Rich, Die Broke!”

This is a constant theme. Dual edged. When my parents feel rich, it is important to them to know that I realize there will be no inheritance of money or estate, that they will be using this money to LIVE LIFE with capital letters and have no patience for some kind of stodgy old estate. At the same time it is important to them to always know that when they are old and infirm that me and my sister will take care of them, in the style they are accustomed to. Living life with all capital letters doesn’t leave any time for picking out elder care options or addressing your own mortality. What it DOES leave time for is spending money to go to a Get This Author Rich Quick seminar, in the hopes that the richer living you might be doing might be even richer still. INSANELY rich maybe. BEYOND ALL DREAMS.

I get into my car, and drive away. Which is all I could think to do. It’s all I can think about now. When should I have said something. When should I have said “You are a fucking asshole.”. When was my teachable moment with these guys. Why is THAT what I’m worried about still. Why is this still about what I should have done for THEM. Every fucking time. It’s about them. Their fucking wanty bullshit. One whispering into each ear, “Oh Aaron we sure wish life were different. I mean not enough to do anything, not a single anything other than unload it into your ulcer-box, but we sure do wish…”

Actually – I dunno what they wish. I no longer pretend to understand either one of them. I guess I assumed that when I turned into a “man” from the chart yesterday, I’d totally understand what these two were up to. I’d understand that what they had been up against had been so incredible that the weird stuff they did to me and to each other was totally normal. But now I’m them. I understand entirely that our situations are wildly different – I was nine years old by the time my dad was my age, but I also understand that paying the bills isn’t that hard. Paying your debts isn’t that hard. Having a job isn’t that hard. Not making your shitty, underdeveloped emotional intelligence everyone elses problem but yours, is NOT that hard. Also, pulling your dick out a lady when you’re not ready to have kids? That’s not that hard either.

Stages of Human Development

I don’t understand where things are going.

I guess that’s being old, realizing what you don’t know. And what you didn’t know even when you thought you knew it all.

And I knew that, that’s been explained literally to me before, in many forms. “Go out and fix the world now while you’re young and still know everything.”, I thought it was pretty insulting the first time somebody used it on me, but the way all the adults laughed it must have resonated so I let it sit. And eventually I even came to understand it,  I met older people and they were wiser than me. I listened to older people who maybe I didn’t think were wiser than me, and it turned out they had lives and adventures and stories too that certainly did not fit in the mold of what I expected. I read about people who thought they were wiser than everybody and how their plans for how to fix humanity went and boyee there’s a big reminder that whatever you think you know; you know jack shit about people. The results or logically derived programs were definitely not what was scientifically/logically expected. So there was something to this. More {time as human} more {knack at humanitific behavior}. It was not a science but a soft skill. But I still understood it to be a linear progression.

Credit for all below images to this EXTRAORDINARILY CREEPY website.

You can also visit the subsection on Legal Risks here.

Make sure you run that past a lawyer before you start using any advice given there.

So this is human development.

stages2bof2blife

1-fetus

So basically you start off here, as a little slug thing, right and you’re basically nothing, Sorry Amanda R, when you are there you’re like a colon polyp with the ability to sense bright lights.

2-worthless

And then you turn here into like a little baby and everybody knows little babies don’t know shit. I don’t remember being a little baby so I assume I knew nothing just like everybody else. Like you know how to fart and snuggle and know what your favorite person smells like and eventually you graduate to “whoa we gotta keep this thing in a crate when we’re not paying attention” so you’re basically a weaning labradoodle, again, we can assume you know nothing aside from how to root out snacks when they’re nearby.

3-dumbanddumber

Look at these two assholes. You wouldn’t trust one of them to watch the other one right. NEXT.

4-eyyylmao

These two guys are probably who I was when I first came to this understanding, that there was wisdom in age, and I could see the difference in body hair density well enough to understand maybe I wasn’t quite there yet. This is for sure when the “fix the world while you still know it all” was used on me the first time.

5-dude

This next guy I didn’t really get because I didn’t know any of them when I was growing up and I only barely understand them now that I’m not one anymore. I do remember that this is peak “fix the world while you are still young and know it all” time, at least for me. This poor guy, he’s really in a rough part of life so we’ll leave him alone but sufficed to say, probably closer than I was when I adopted this theory of adulthood, but definitely not a “man”.

6-mens

But these next two guys right they have it all figured out. Look at how short the curve is at the end of this thing there’s not much left so, that must be understanding. You look that shape you have that smell and now you know, you’ve hit the top of the hill and you can see very far.

I now realize dawning understanding is a mite crawling out of a skin pore. Your whole world is the labyrinth of that pores peaks and valleys, the microbial wars of its folds and abscesses which once loomed so large are now unremarkable, tame, downright friendly, compared to the vast, unfriendly immensity of the world. The unending mundanity of it. And each new peak you reach simply unveils new, terrifying, confusing layers that you had never comprehended before. And by the time you have gained enough conquest in the world to return to what you wanted when you were young, the world has changed. What you wanted is worthless. The life you lived was a series of compromises and crises that spit you out grey fringed and rheumy eyed and visibly dimished.

7-ohno

But man have you had a long time to think about those compromises. And those crises. And seen others make them. And I suppose that is what we call wisdom.

Portland: 2014

I’m not calling it over per se but I’m definitely worried.

When I moved here, my dad gave me this very compelling argument, in his fashion: “You’re going to want to have moved here, and seen it, before They ruin it. In ten years this is all gonna be… different.”

You’ll not see me leap to my father’s credit a lot but the mother fucker called this one.

Even at the time there was no question of who They were, and I’ve only gotten to know what They do better in the past decade. They are the mean spirited old men of means who have not found peace or happiness in accumulation. Who now, in their reclining bitterness, revenge their youth burned in fiscal pursuit. Seeking to analyze the cool and interesting out of a place and normalize it’s output into steady revenue streams. They are the oblivious. The opportunistic. The unconsciously obnoxious. They are the hollow eyed Californiacs, having finally found treacle their sweetest sunshine, roving North, ravenous. Their pimp the Beast of Hollywood will follow, and kick down the door looking for anything it can sell, suck, or swill. Then the real monsters. The Capital They They. The Banksters, the Blue Bloods, the construction conglomerates and the developers. And the accountancy will begin, and once they have the measure of our meat the richest will decide how the Feast is to be divided.

Finally the displaced tattooed step kids of middle class middle America seethe toward the left coast in their unironically inherited station wagons —  a xanax daydream, a wistful fistful of grandma’s savings bonds and a banjolele — seeking some kind of latter day Haight, some new Brooklyn, and instead arrive to the groundbreaking of DisneyPortland: The Rainshine Experience. Our $2700 package features a condo that overlooks a locally sourced artisanal baked bicycle improv co-op™ and is digitally smell matched to your place in SoMa. For our budget minded, we have the $1500 St. Johns Super Saver. A section 8 apartment that’s just a three bus forty five minute commute to one of the most heavily serviced transit malls in the city!

But for all the rest of you, fuck off. Pools closed. The Feastors have spoken. Why don’t you guys all move out to Foster Powell or far east Sellwood, make something cool happen out there. Just take the bus east to the last stop and start walking. Maybe if you get far enough you won’t even have to watch us eat. Heh heh heh. Just make sure there’s a Whole Foods sized locally owned market for us to pillage when we get there. Then, they turn away and settle themselves, enormous and engorged, upon the city, their bodies smashing through bars and neighborhoods. They chortle and with a keening trumpet their feculent folds vibrate and belch poison. The shockwave bursts the glass on another local landmark. We’ll take care of that, they chuckle again. Don’t you worry.

(hat tip Greg Bigoni, whose It’s a Wonderful Portlandsville post on his always excellent Way Too Much Portland inspired me to write this)

The Prelude

The Prelude to Cello Suite number 1. There aren’t a ton of good solos for Cello. It’s a foundation instrument to most composers, the sweetness all goes to the violins and violas, the horns and the winds. The Cello gets the gravy, the grits. Fill in the richness and provide a contrast, rhythm. At least where I stopped playing, that’s what Cello is. You wanna be the soloist you learn violin. You want to be in a band that’s not orchestral? Learn the bass or the violin.

I didn’t pick cello randomly. I could see that I wasn’t going to get along with the kids in band class. A few cute girls went that way but also a lot of goober guys, you know, the ones who graduated from eating boogers to farting for attention, so I headed toward the orchestra room with the quiet kids. Violin was for girls. You didn’t have to be a genius to see that. It was the squeaky one, too, squeaky enough my ears hurt sometimes listening to it so I couldn’t imagine practicing it at the house, interrupting Dad’s naps, blotting out TV shows. The viola was closer, bigger, the tone was a lot more listenable. But it was obvious, again, that it was for the boys to bear the cellos. You play them splay legged, they’re heavy, they sing in the same range as men. I could imagine napping to cello song. So cello it was.

We’re in the Gammage, at the college. There are lots of adult looking people around and I feel awkward and young and I would like to go home. The last time I did this was very stressful and I had an accompanist then, somebody who was an adult who had been there with me coaching me through the entire experience. This time I am alone. I tug awkwardly at my clothes. I think I’m just wearing my metropolitan youth symphony clothes, I don’t think I have any others. Cummerbund and Cello both start with C and they go together. I’m not sure where the bow tie fits in. Somewhere beautiful music is playing but I can’t even hear it, all I can hear is my pulse and the sound my clothes make scratching against me.

Years of lessons. Private lessons. Orchestra at school. MYS. Practicing at home. Your fingers hurt, they don’t tell you really about that and you get blisters places. Your hands cramp. You’re profoundly bad at it, and everyone knows, including you. There is no bliss of ignorance with a fretless stringed instrument, there is only poor intonation and lack of practice. You have to do stuff over and over that is really annoying to listen to. No one encourages you. They tell you that your parents will but nobody does, it’s an expense and a hassle and they know you’re never gonna make a dime with this so they say all the stuff they’re required to. They tell everybody how much they support you doing it. They get excited about how the activity is gonna look on your college transcripts. But ultimately it’s just more stuff they paid for that they have to tell you to clean up. They wish you’d quit and get a hobby that didn’t cost anything, maybe one that made money.

I walk out and all I can see is the spotlight, I can feel myself sweating and I can feel my breath, fast, way too fast. Whoa did I start already I can see the bow moving and I can see my fingers going but I cannot stop… I don’t know what speed things are going and I can see the crowd and they’re embarrassed for me. Oh no. Most of them avert their eyes. It is over in… dozens of seconds. My three minute piece. When I finish I can’t even bow. The announcer isn’t prepared, I have left him speechless. I leave the stage wordlessly.

My parents can barely hold back their laughter. This is their strategy with all shame, to make it a joke and if you can’t laugh about it you are the asshole. Why aren’t you laughing, asshole.

FASTEST CELLO IN THE WEST. I wish I were dead. DID YOU EVEN BREATHE. No I did not. I didn’t and I wished I never had to breathe again. OH YOU KNOW WE ONLY TEASE YOU BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU. Yes I am aware that you say that every time and that in repetition there is truth. HAHAHA WE WILL LAUGH ABOUT IT SOME DAY. You appear to be laughing about it now.

We had some kind of shame meal on the way home, some grotesque food mistake to corporealize the emotional horror I was feeling. Greasy Tony’s? The Chuck Wagon? They joked about it. And joked about it. And joked about it. They waited what must have seemed like an appropriate amount of time and joked about it again. Finally I laughed about it, because it was obviously what they needed. They needed to know they had fixed it and that I could laugh about it. Ha ha, fixed. What a moron I looked like up there. Ha ha. Yep wow what a failure! Haha Cello failure. In front of SO MANY PEOPLE TOO ha ha man what a jape.

That is when I quit Cello. I kept playing for a while after that, but I really just waited for an excuse. I stopped practicing. Eventually my mom asked me if I wanted to keep doing private lessons, and I said I did but I didn’t.  I toyed with the idea of learning guitar, which seemed like a more modern and versatile musical instrument. Or maybe piano. Maybe even violin, see what the big deal was. And one day I was trying to do something, work on something, and I whistled a little song when I was working, and when my mom heard it, she said “You are just tonedeaf aren’t you.” and I guessed I was if she said so. Dad had once said she had perfect pitch, so she would know. So that meant I wasn’t good at music right. I practiced a lot and while I did OK I didn’t get great at it, like not famous, so the problem must be I have some dysfunction with music.  If at first you don’t succeed – maybe try a different hobby because this clearly isn’t your forte. So I quit.

Not every Thanksgiving, and not every Christmas, but enough that I’ve stopped counting, I’ve gotten to listen to that story, from my parents point of view. The story of the fastest cello in the west. They’ve told all my friends. Every girlfriend they’ve ever met. How hilarious they thought it was to watch me fail in front of my peers and adults and how obvious it was from the stage how panicked and awful I felt. Always when someone else is there, never just to me. And I’ve had to sit there again, my fork clenched in my right hand, and a rapidly dwindling beer in my left, listening to them recount the story of how they shamed me out of music in front of dozens of strangers, recalling it with the sort of glee and nostalgic wistfulness that I hope other parents use to describe the day their kids graduated college. Oh what fun we had that day. And we can still laugh about it! They laugh. They CAN still laugh about it.

I wonder why they never bring it up just to me, not that any of them talk to me individually much. But according to them it’s such a fun story, they have such fun with it I wonder why that’s never something they just talk individually to me about. Maybe because I’d have told them that it was the reason I quit music. Maybe because it’s so obvious I’m still hurt about it. Maybe they think it’s sweet of them to not poke at my wounds unless they’re working as a pack so everybody can get a taste.

But today, when my weak little adult fingers try to make a G chord on this guitar, all I can think is.

“It’s OK, Aaron. Everybody makes mistakes and you panicked. I’m sorry you feel discouraged and I’m sorry you had to get embarrassed like that in front of folks. You might feel like you failed. And you did. There are two things to remember about failure – 1. failure is a real result, that can happen even if you’ve done everything right. 2. failure is not final. Having failed does not make you a failure. How you respond to failure determines whether or not you are a failure. If you pick up and you move on, you don’t let it stop you, you will be a winner. If you fail and try again and fail and try again and fail and try again…. you will be a winner. Only if you let a single setback stop you will you truly be a failure.

You made this mistake this time, but you will get over it, you’ll get past it and next time you’ll remember to breathe, and you’ll remember to count it out. Nobody does it perfect the first time, and even if they did, nobody does it perfect every time. If you see somebody who is doing something amazing that looks effortless, you need to recognize that it probably took hours and hours and weeks and months of hard work to make it look that easy. No human being knows how to do ANYTHING when they are born. Everything that people do other than piss on themselves and cry are things they’ve learned and practiced and messed up at in front of people doing, and it’s important to them to keep doing anyways. Even if Cello isn’t important enough for you to keep doing right now, you need to find what is important to you and make time for it in your life.”

Nonpologies

The subject of the essay was to be “My Hero”, and I already knew who I was going to write it about. My dad.

You see I didn’t have a lot of heroes, I wasn’t quite sure what hero meant, so when you asked me who my hero was I would instead respond with whoever I had the most raw mathematical respect for. And by that rubric there was absolutely no question who I had the most respect for at the time. Oakland Athletics left fielder and every pitcher’s nightmare baserunner Rickey Henderson, whose career now is of course one of legend, MLB hall of famer, ten years after this essay was due he would be voted into the Fan-selected MLB All Star All 20th Century team. He (along with Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire) was in the middle of taking the Athletics to their first (and last at time of this writing) World Series championship since 1974. You didn’t want to pitch against him so you walked him and as soon as you gave him a base he’d take one and a half more on average so you were basically letting him walk to shortstop and wait for one of your infielders to goof up so he could bring it home. He played hard offense, he played hard defense, climbing walls and snaggin balls with the best of them. Everyone knew he was great but he was my American League West hero, the same way Cal Ripken Jr. was my American League East hero. Players who made the difference for their teams in raw statistical, provable ways. But I knew that on the off chance my dad decided to look at my school work and saw an essay I wrote that was titled “My hero” and the subject wasn’t him, there was a very real chance he’d come home from work and sleep, from the minute he could lay down on the bed, until dinner was ready, and then generally slump around the house for the next week, waking in various stages of rage each time you had to rouse him from his slumber. That was just how things seemed to go with him. Something inexplicable would hurt his feelings and he’d just go to sleep around that hurt. Sometimes it was something that happened at work and you couldn’t account for those one or fix them, but you can certainly avoid the hero-essay problem, dummy. So get to writing.

Sorry if I’m just being morose around here after months of inexplicable absence. Basically, for the past year I’ve been thinking about the stories I’ve told here recently, turning them over in my head. Wondering what it means to know this. To have known it so young and to have not rebelled until so old. Pathetic. Where were teenaged Aarons stones. What was his problem. Why couldn’t he just call that fat sack of shit out on his bullshit, or my mother – who would depend upon me to be a one-way confessional about her problems with my father, but whenever I asked her to also keep some problem “between us” would instantly and almost gleefully turn him loose on me — to mewl and wonder why I didn’t want him to know, demanding to know what else I was keeping from him, to slake his insecurity. I know that there were no stones involved. I loved him, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Bad shit happened when Dad had hurt feelings, the household becomes unbalanced and tense, communications shut down entirely. It’s terrifying to see your mother sad and alone while your father glowers on the couch, and when you can’t even comprehend coming up with hundreds of dollars in rent EVERY MONTH much less caring for and feeding yourself, avoiding this situation becomes your full time job, until the excuse of “going to college” finally let me leave tender emotion-baby dad for mom to take care of by herself.

But then I moved back into his house again and I was 25 and I still didn’t stand up to him? That’s on me. I just let myself pretend the rules didn’t apply to me. That I didn’t have to grow up, I didn’t have to address things. I didn’t have to confront anyone. I didn’t have to do anything but wait for my chronically overweight rageoholic father to die so we can have a family meal that doesn’t revolve around fantasizing about bigger, fattier meals. And that is what I was waiting for now, I can acknowledge that. I relished every time I went over there and watched him eat himself sick on foods no human was ever meant to consume simultaneously. To hear him describe his inconstant bowel or his frequently-prognosticated adult onset diabetes. To show his waddle fat neck and compare it to photographs of his passed mother, who in her own late-starting way ate herself to death. I loved it because it proved everything I felt about him and that focus, that gleeful schadenfreude-demon and copious alcohol would let me excuse everything my mother and sister were doing to enable him, and each other. It let me pin the tail on my dad and ignore all the other jackasses in the room, myself included.

Maybe this is my midlife crisis.

It’s OK. That’s a big deal.

Most of my life stuff was not OK. It was “superfantastic” or “exceptional” and occasionally “awesome”. I’d reply with those things and people always laughed it was a good joke. People really loved superfantastic. What it meant was “I spent the whole walk from the front door to the back door analyzing stacks of wooden pallets, counting them up and trying to figure out who I could send out to the front to pick them up. At the same time I was imagining what it would be like if I were just on fire. This is important to me for some reason I must always feel as though I am right on the edge of disaster. I must prepare. When anybody got closer to me than ten feet, I imagined what I would need to do to defend myself against them, what parts of the surrounding store fixtures I would use to kill them. Who I would go for second. My heart racing and my eyes laser focused.”

“Exceptional” meant the same. “Awesome” meant all I could think about was death. The finality and hugeness of it. In its enormity I found awe. It’s little tricks you use to pretend like you’re doing OK. Sometimes I really meant it. My brain had accidentally given me all kinds of good chemicals and I really felt like nothing could touch me. I could be at the edge of chattering teeth or I could be at the edge of panicked worry. I wasn’t always sad but I was always crazy.

I wasn’t always actively crazy but at the same time… I was always crazy. Even when I occasionally relaxed and was honest and real with people, there was crazy hide-the-coffee-cans-of-money-and-burn-your-journals Aaron ready to jump out. I’m still crazy. I still hide the coffee cans and even at 35 when you tally it all up there’s more burned journalwords than saved ones. But I know I’m crazy. And I have people who will tell me when I’m acting crazy. I have people who love me enough to be honest with me all the time.

I am still crazy. But I am blessed.

Consequences

Mom had her chance. The way that she chose to teach me to drive was by sharp inhalation of breath followed by absolutely senseless directions shouted in the heat of terror. Her right hand is braced on the dashboard. Her left is braced against my headrest. Her feet are braced against the corners of the floor as though we are about to fly off a cliff. I put the car into reverse, and her tense SCCCCCCHHHKTT of inhalation is accompanied by the vibration of my seat as her panic strengthened arm shoves it to the side. A left hand indicator click before an intersection elicits a yelp “NOOOOOO” with no explanation, the headrest creaking uneasily in its socket as she shoves it to the side. I lean further forward. We simply cannot drive together in this time. This is most ironic because when I was a boy I remember her letting me steer the car from her lap, and she even taught me to drive stick shift when I was too young to reach the pedals. (where have i lost her trust) For some reason something has changed. (she knows when I start driving I will get a job and move out and she’ll have to live with the man she married)

So Dad got to do it. This is absolutely what I didn’t want to happen. The lessons start simply enough. We get in the car and drive to a parking lot nearby. I was hoping we’d start with some normal stuff, drive to the freeway, get on, get off, learn how to handle a four way stop. So we get to the parking lot and he says, “OK now get going and then SLAM on the brakes EMERGENCY STOP.” So I roll forward and jam the brake, we jiggle to a rest. “No, you have to get up to speed so you know what its like.” So I gun it and screeech to a halt. “Now do it backwards.” This was a theme. “Drive as closely as you can around this planter.” “Now do it backwards.” It was pretty fun. Not very useful, but pretty fun in a scary way. But this is all high stakes, high anxiety fun for dad. You get to scream at your kid and make him flinch OH NO A KID WITH A BALL YOU HAVE TO SWERVE AND PANIC STOP TO MISS THEM, chide him for not responding quickly enough YOU SWERVED THE WRONG WAY. Prime Tim time. When it comes to the rest of learning how to drive, the hours of supervised behind the wheel time that make the difference between a confident and competent driver and a panicked moron, well it was a different story. When you’re starting off and you have lots of mistakes to make your parent has a lot of stuff to do and later there’s less. You pretty much just have to let the kid get confident by butting in less. So instead we turned to other emotional games.

We are going to the grocery store we turn right onto Evergreen and then left at the end of the block. Mom sucks in breath because there is a truck going in the opposite direction a quarter of a mile away.

“Oh man you do NOT want to get into an accident my boy, if you do you will pay for every dime of it.”

We pass through a four way stop sign, two intersections with other streets that stop, over two speed humps, newly installed, and approach the stop light. I signal right. This is my eighth trip to the grocery store, and I am feeling pretty good about how things are going. Mom sucks in breath because a kid in a nearby yard yelled. Mom braces her hand on Dad’s headrest.

“And lets not even TALK about tickets because there are gonna be CON SE QUENCES.”

I turn right onto the street past the mini office block. There’s a massage place upstairs. An accountancy downstairs. I turn right on the red light but there are other vehicles in the same zip code as we are, so mom sucks in breath and panic shoves his headrest. She sucks her breath in at him, and his neck tenses and he has to do something about it. He has to assure everyone that he is in control here. He slaps his hand on my neck. Mom sucks in breath every time the turn signal stalk clicks. Or when she hears a car like noise. She rocks his seat back and forth by the headrest and he seethes.

“Oh yeah if you screw up. You’ll pay for the ticket, and for the insurance, and you’ll be grounded from driving for two months, no six months.”

We go to the store and I manage to get away from them for a while. I look at pictures of guns in magazines. I manage not to cry this time, which is good, dad hates it when he sees you cry, he really really feels like he’s supposed to parent you extra hard if you’re crying. I wish we had driven to the mall, I’ve only done that once. If you go to the mall book store you can sneak a porno and look at boobs, but if you’re at the grocery store there’s just guns and cars. I remember their model numbers and names.

“And if you get a SECOND ticket you’ll be grounded from driving for a YEAR. And you’ll have to buy your OWN insurance. In fact you’ll have to get a job and take the BUS to it so you can pay off…”

There are tears in my eyes and I don’t want to look over in his direction so I don’t start crying. I turned to the window but too sharply and he noticed. Mom hates when he proves himself to her in this way but really that only incites him further. We are in Tim time. His voice has a tone of barroom provocation now. Schoolyard provocation.

“Oh are you MAD about this you think this isn’t FAIR that there are CONSEQUENCES. Well if you can’t HANDLE IT you can’t DRIVE and if you can’t DRIVE… ”

I turn into the parking lot of the water and ice and I get out of the car and I tell him I don’t want to drive anymore. If this is the price, if this will be the price for all of the next six months until I get my license then it is not worth it. I’m sobbing now. The ugly tears over my cheeks.

I got in the passenger seat and he drove home. He apologized later. Then he went over the consequences again just to make sure I was still scared of him. Still scared of what he would do to my life if I disobeyed. I could know that he loved me. As long as I was still scared.

====

Later, I enrolled in the Sears Driving school. I highly recommend their professional, results driven approach to driver education, with time tested curriculum, well established guidelines for improving skills, honing instincts, and driving defensively. Driving cars (not in traffic) is one of my favorite things to do in the entire world, a time when my entire body engages to give me feedback on every aspect of the vehicle, from state of tune to state of slide. It’s one of the great thrills of modern humanity.

Gulf War Syndrome

It is hot, and I am tired. I’m at the end of an office trailer that itself is like a space station module attached to another office trailer, which serves as the main hub for this collection of mobile homes. Dorothy’s place. My roommate is sleeping on the bed behind me, his gentle fluttering snore, even and low. Robert woke me up with his shit smell again. I heard him stir in the small hours with a start. Uh oh, he says. That’s never good. I hear him shuffle his walker unevenly over to the elevated bedpan. Even the heavy blanket I have to use to keep the air conditioner from freezing me (it aims more or less directly at my head, and the only way for cool air to circulate through to the end of the office trailer, where the computer I’m sitting at resides, is for it to blow through a huge hole that sits just slightly above my pillow) has failed to keep the rancid, sweet and biting odor of his fecal ordeal from choking me so I’m awake. I make no eye contact with Robert while he shits, this does not bear noting or even acknowledging. This is just another morning. Robert, now unburdened, will be as usual using his extra morning time masturbating in the bathroom. Masturbating is worth wandering down the hall for, but when you gotta shit you just pull up the shit bucket. Anyhow I sneak down from the place in which I live to plug into the internet. I sign into google chat. In a rare occurrence, what a treat I thought, dad was signed in. We’ve had our rough times but ever since I pretty much agreed to the terms of our relationship, which were that I ceded all battles to him on every subject, things had been pleasant. We often discussed the fun times we had as a kid and I didn’t correct him about the awful times we had in between and sometimes, just sometimes, my dad is as right as rain. He’s as right as a person can be. He’ll just drop a fucking… infinite wisdom bomb. And he’s such a good study of character, or student of the character of man I suppose, that it can be fun to get his opinions on stuff.

The first Gulf War (Desert Shield and Desert Storm) had been quite a schism for us. While he quite enjoyed watching bunker busters rain into chimney shafts and talking a pretty good game about freedom and the responsibility of the able to defend the unable from injustice. I just saw a pretty clear line between defense spending and government waste, and (still believe that) white intervention in the middle east has directly or indirectly caused every major conflict in the eastern european bloc, indoasian zone, and is directly responsible for every terrorist attack on US, Western European, Eastern Asian soil that relates to radical islam. You can’t keep going back into the middle east, training the kids to be soldiers for you and then abandoning them to fight wars — wars you don’t understand that have existed longer than humans have been shitting in clay pots — and expecting anything other than adolescent religious chaos to issue forth once the smoke clears. After a while the survivors only remember white faces giving them guns and encouragement.

So when the events of September 11th, 2001 unfolded, I knew it would be a tough thing for us to discuss. I knew further that he would HAVE to discuss it with me, that being right over me about this would be important to him. I wasn’t sure why it was so important on this issue for me to not let him win. Probably because I was right, still feel like I’m right. Anyhow the time for analysis is over and we are clearly going to invade Afghanistan. The discussion is on. He has broken the discussion gambit with shock and awe-plomb, this is also quite typical.

“Some towel heads are gonna have a hard time sleeping tonight!”

He only uses racial epithets with me, and only to arouse my anger and shut down my ability to discuss things with him. He is usually quite pleased when one of these zingers shuts me down completely. Memorably, in those endless car-parenting sessions where your forced proximity means that it is a perfect time to apply parenting techniques that usually end in room-storming-out-of arguments, this is “tim time” when he does his endzone celebration. He spits an epithet, I get red faced mad and turn toward the window and he taunts me. Hey what’s the matter, can’t handle a little joke. I redden. When remembering this I clutch my hands so hard they hurt afterward. If he did it to me today I’d break his face. Just smash it in my hands.

“Once a couple sandy shithole villages get turned into flat glass disks they’ll learn that’s what you get for blowing up buildings that people work at, Jihadis.”

I remember that we both had our very severe doubts about the efficacy, necessity, and moral righteousness of the Vietnam war. In an outrageous appeal, I asked him to analyze the run up to the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts to the run up to Desert Storm, which was certainly not the discussion he wanted to have.

“What I didn’t understand at the time, and what you don’t understand right now is that your attitude about this conflict will lose us this war. And if you want us to lose us this war you’re on the side of religious zealots.”

His bad attitude about Vietnam singlehandedly lost that war, and my bad attitude was gonna lose us this one.

“Do you understand what I’m saying.” This is how he endzone dances. If I have no response other than yes I understand, it means, yes you have won. If I have an angry response, it means I don’t understand what he is saying, which means “I have lost”. If I engage him on it it will just mean a further escalation of the terms from here, dad negotiates UP with me. Only with me, and with no other men in the world. You say I’ve won? Well I say I’ve won AND I’ve beaten you. AND more to the point that you lost! You need to acknowledge each of those in turn now — I decided I had enough. I was done. This time, he had no hold over me. It was hot and I was tired and this was a shithole but it was mine and he could take credit for none of it. So I let him have it, I forget what it was even. But he signed off chat and that was the last time I talked to my family for a year. Maybe more. Just as I knew it would be. This has always been the price of disobedience; ex-communication. The definition of disobedience is the only thing that changes. Always negotiated up.

=======

After we are back in communication, we haven’t been speaking for more than two or three weeks, when I try to mention Aaron McGruder’s then-contemporary commentary on the war in his excellent comic strip The Boondocks, my father retorts,

“Oh isn’t that the nigger who decided that sand niggers were his soul brothers and we should all just hold hands with them while they rape women and kill children.”

And stares, challengingly, back at me in the mirror.

He has me. I’ve taken a big favor from him and I’m living in his house again. I look away. My face reddens, and my hands clench. We have a long day to get through and I can’t let him get me mad this early.

Later my mother takes me aside, only me, and says, “I’m so proud of you both for letting that go.”

I can’t make eye contact with her either because I’ve long learned to translate her words too.

“I’m so glad you didn’t make him angry, he would have made the whole day uncomfortable.”

If I had only known. From that gulp of what bitter dregs remained of my pride, ten years passed, and in that decade I ceded every argument to him. I let it all go, I let him win, every time. When he demanded I yield completely I did so. I did it so I could stay in contact with my family. I did it so I could say we were a family.

=======

A little over a year ago I visited my dad on an emergency room hospital bed. He was hooked up to wires and they were monitoring him. He’d been shitting blood all day. Well all night. Then still at work. So he went to the emergency room because he was you know bleeding from his rectum. He would say “I am eating myself to diabetes” at the table and we’d all agree. And then he’d say “Pass the steak plate I’m having seconds” and we’d all agree. “I’m just gonna have a snack before bed” and we’d agree.

He’s on the bed where he’s laying because his asshole has been leaking blood the essential syrup of life and he’s asking me which dim sum is good. Have I tried Ocean City. I hear HKCafe is good. Maybe some place will have good har gao. “I look just like my mom.” he’d say and we’d all agree, the broad waddle which had long eaten his neck and taken its home hung from his chin was unmistakably ‘her’. “Remember Dantes” it was a rib place that they haunted before I moved here and I don’t remember it well, no. But I remember he’d eat ribs and wake up shitting in the night. I know because I’d be up too, doubled over in pain. I can’t look him in the face. “The doctor says I have borderline diabetes” I cede it to him. I walk away.

He’s on the bed because of the blood in his shit and he’s got a house. It’s Grandma’s house and it’s in Arizona and they should have sold it or something, but for some reason he can’t let it go or refuses to deal with it. He’s shitting blood and there’s this house in Arizona he doesn’t get any rent on. He says he’ll fly down there and deal with it. I tell him that a call to a lawyer is free. He says he’ll fly down. Maybe this summer. I’m 21 again and I have no place to live and I’m back in Arizona and they still own the house there. The payment on the mortgage is less than an apartment. But they can’t sell to me. I’m not mature enough. This man, this stranger who lives in my grandmothers house he pays rent whenever my parents goad one another into asking for it. Five months, six, and they’ll get two months payment, a partial… and promises of more. I’ve seen the google maps view the pool is black with ichor, the yard overgrown with weeds. I’m 25 again and he’s trying to convince me to buy a house I can’t afford so that I can take care of his mother in the house next door to his. The terms have changed again and there’s already been an offer made and oh god no I cannot afford this and I cannot stop this, I’m fucked now, we’ve negotiated up way out of my price range. The only reason I manage to dodge this bullet is that Grandma dies. And now the house she died in is occupied by strangers who keep a murky lagoon where my grandfather swam his fat round laps. I cannot ask him about it because that is the bargain.

One day I tell him about it.

One day I tell him about everything. About the house and about his stomach and about everything. Everything I have ceded. It is cold and I am tired. I’m tired of them not talking and I’m tired of the threat that they won’t talk to me. I’m tired of the game and I’m tired of ceding ground. I am finally not in his house. I don’t owe him. And I tell him everything.

And that was over a year ago.

And that is it. The rest of my family has accepted my father’s bargain – that in order to have his love, you must not speak to me or about me. You must cede the topic of me. And they have, as each time, done so. Without fight or apology.

When I was little… my father was the Shoguns decapitator

I dreamed of building a car. I knew that the two vehicles I was most intimately familiar with were unsuited to the sort of thing I wanted to do in this vehicle. I had a little drawing which I’m sure is either in a box at my parents house or a landfill somewhere and I’d sooner go dig in the landfill so I’ll attempt to recreate it here. Tank?

Keep in mind despite the fact that the concept itself is from when I was quite young, that drawing is from TODAY, that is as good as my handwriting, drafting and portraiture skills remain to this day. OK, back to the car. I did not give my vehicles names, this was simply to be… the car. The vehicle I would use until I died.

I knew that weight would be key, and while I clearly had tank-inspirations, my goal with this vehicle was not onslaught but stealth (the katana and suppressed Steyr AUG are also clues to my overall goals), I want you to note the supine position I’m in, as well as the periscope, which I assumed would be important to maintain visibility since I would be laying with my feet in front of me. In fact the design criteria of “ninja like stealth” was one of the cons to a treaded design, along with “don’t know how to build” and “what uses treads”. So I settled on a 2×6 or 2×8 design using riding lawnmower tires or Honda ATV tires, depending on cost. I couldn’t quite suss out multiaxle drive so I figured I’d start with a single axle and work from there. I did not imagine the need for suspension articulation, but I had already selected potential hatch latch/lock mechanisms and sources for the plastic I’d need for the windows. Arizona is very hot, so I took inspiration from the teepee and swamp cooling, calling boldly for the body of my tank to be built from a 2×2 stick frame with canvas cloth stretched over it, in a stealthy flat black. The canvas would shade me from the harsh sun while I slept (Did I mention this is a live in car, and it took me a long time to understand why I loved the GMC Motorhome and the curvier Winnebagos so much).
gmcmotorhome

And the loose weave cloth would still allow air to flow through the vehicle. I’d use a mister system to keep myself cool if it got worse than that.

I wasn’t sure what power source I’d use. Electric had serious potential, since it was so quiet. Golf carts were electric and they’re pretty stealthy even though they’re not even designed for ninja assault tactics. But I’d have to source batteries and charge them somehow. Arizona had a lot of sun so I assumed I could go solar-only but the panels were quite expensive and it was pretty tough to figure out what all the fuss was about range and maximum amperage draw and voltage sag. Fuses? Confusing.

Lawnmowers were pretty stealthy, and cars use alternators to charge batteries, and it’s just connected with a V belt. The alternator was held with its pulley horizontally and I wasn’t sure if that was important. I didn’t want to mess with success. I had not conceived of horizontal drive motors so I simply imagined a very elaborate system to change the direction of drive from a lawnmower motor to horizontal with, again, evaporative cooler/swamp cooler parts. That way I could use my battery to do my stealth work, then when I need to charge it, and the enemy is gone, I can fire up the motor to charge the battery and I’m back to creepy crawling. Maybe I could even tap that output directly and have a battery-free “loud cruise” mode. Hybrid assault tank. That’s some forward think.

These days my tastes are MUCH different.
delica

Probably with a drop point hunting knife and a 30/30 lever action in the place of the katana and the AUG. Those are really impractical weapons. So childish.