What I thought I’d be doing by now.

Certainly not this. As a boy I had a dark sense of humor. I remember there was some art period at school, and they handed me a little dittoed prompt sheet, four squares. There was “draw yourself” whose contents are lost to memory. Probably a stick figure. “Draw your house”, where I am sure I crudely interpreted my childhood home on Toledo St. “Draw your family”, whose contents are a little hazy. Mom, dad, maybe a dog I have no real memories of called Popeye. It is unlikely my sister appears due to acute lack of conception at time of portrait. And the final panel, “draw yourself at 30″ in which I drew a tombstone.

I don’t know if the very young boy who drew that tombstone really understood suicidal depression. I don’t think he did, but I don’t remember much about being him. I don’t remember the dog. Maybe 8 year old Aaron already did. Maybe he woke up at 7am, climbed up on top of the fridge to get cereal and poured it in his bowl, and while he walks from the kitchen, through the dining room to get to the TV to watch cartoons, all he can think is “I wish I were dead.”. I can clearly remember 15 year old me acting out this scene (right down to the cereal _and_ cartoon brand for that matter), but the evidence exists — wee bitty Jarvitron had a pretty dark streak to him already.

Lets talk about 15 year old Aaron for a minute. I was having a hard time fitting in with kids who were doing normal things. I did not understand how to modulate my emotions or separate/elevate my needs and my poor socialization had made me an easy target for bullies. Actually it was the bullied who came for me. If you needed to “throw down” to make sure the rest of the students didn’t think you were a pussy, there was always Walker, big and kinda fat and perpetually scared. Anyhow, I had this fun thing around this time where I’d hit myself. 15 was probably the peak. I figured it out around maybe fourth grade, fifth, if you’re in class and you can’t stop wanting to cry or do something other than just stare laser focused at your book, you just ask if you can go to the bathroom and you make sure you go to one where nobody else is in because they will be able to hear you and then you hit yourself in the face just hard and fast, there is a technique to it because you don’t want to accidentally hit your nose and give yourself a black eye because people notice those and you don’t really want to hit your temples too hard because it makes it really hard to hear but you hit yourself and you hit yourself and sometimes you hit your head on the wall not too many times because people notice but it is a good, hard feeling, with an edge of danger and you SCREAM it in your head you scream I WISH I WERE DEAD I WISH THAT SOMEBODY WOULD COME IN HERE AND STAB ME AND THEN CRACK MY SKULL OPEN AND THEN SET ME ON FIRE AND I WISH I WERE DEAD AND THE PAIN COULD GO ON FOREVER AS LONG AS I WERE DEAD AND IT WERE JUST THAT IF I COULD LEAVE ALL THE REST AND JUST DIE AND HAVE PAIN then everything is pretty much good and red-tinged and then you go into a stall in case anybody comes in because now you’ve got that fucking warrior face on and people don’t like that, they can tell and you don’t want to be disturbed so you sit down on the toilet and wait as the adrenaline just rooocks in. It’s not pleasant and I’m not really sure I’ve ever talked about it to anyone ever. Certainly not in depth. You can sub out a shed in the back yard for the home version. And then for the rest of the day, it’s books books books. Math math math. Anything where there’s rules, simple rules that build to bigger better rules.

Fast forward to college. College was real hard and I wanted to die in earnest all the time. I’d learned in High School that people were awful, and my hopes that College would be some kind of different beast altogether were dashed in the first 72 hours on campus. I didn’t want to go back after the first semester break.  I cried a lot and went to great lengths to make sure that nobody ever saw that shit. I still hit myself, at a greatly reduced rate, and I went to great lengths to make sure nobody saw that shit either but I definitely remember headbutting the wall by the Sun Terrace Apartment payphone a few times. Cinderblock is definitely not the preferred surface for such a thing. I wonder if I could get a gun. My roommate at this time had one in his room, had I gone snooping. He’d probably have handed it to me had I asked. I had given a lot of thought to methods of suicide, and I believed (and still do) that a gun is the only way I could do it. Anyhow, when I’m busy I’m fine. When the work is overwhelming, that’s fine. When I get bored, I feel like I want to die.Whenever I cry or think about dying, I think about my mother and what it’d do to her. What she’d look like at the funeral. What it’d do to my sister. So I do my rageface thing and then back to some math. But the god damned thing about college is the free time, they give you so much of it and you’re supposed to find people and make relationships and all I wanted to do was get away. Anywhere else. Sometimes I called that place death. I could only even conceptualize sex when I was obliterated drunk, and when I did get there it was always awkward, terrified. Sooner or later I found drugs. And drugs have rules. Simple rules that build to bigger better rules.

Fast forward to 2007. I’m trying to buy a video card from somebody off Craigslist. My roommate has unexpectedly taken my car, so I am making the trip on Portland’s better-than-average-but-still-just-public-transit. I’m running about 20 minutes late, and I’ve also unexpectedly had to take a visitor from out of town (a friend of my roommates) with me to show around. We’re walking from some weird bus stop toward my house in St. Johns, along a greenway I’m not sure I could ever find again. My phone rings, and lo it is my roommate, whose friend I’m showing around. He’s calling from somewhere very very far away many clicks of my car’s odometer. Miles of tree lined Oregon road. Maybe he saw a waterfall. All I see when he talks is a gas gauge pegged on E, a hate-vision fringed with crimson and dazzling sparks. Wait what was going on here oh. He’s bartering some computer hardware I’ve upgraded away from for some industrial size bin of electronic garbage to store. And while he describes the trade in earnest, our shared family plan minutes smoldering, I see the room full of old computer stuff in my house, imagine it packed fuller. It is already a drift of carcinogenic obsolete shit, a frozen tsunami of old wires and reclaimed computer racks. And finally here is where it happens. I hang up my phone, and the Craigslist person is calling me, and I look up at this tree (which is what I do in situations where devout people might “look to heaven”) and I think, “I wish I were dead.”. I pretend I don’t hear my phone and keep heading back to the house.

That’s it. That is where it changed for me. Not then, but in the remembering of that moment. It is so fucking ridiculous. SAD. It’s… it’s asinine. Pathetic. Every synonym of every word that has ever implied someone who is as irrational as they are immature. It wasn’t long after that, that I broke down what was happening. I had bent and bowed and “helped” and “done what I could”, and my relationship (and business entity) was still a never ending hole into which money and time and effort were pumped… from my real job, which at the time needed 60+ hours of my week. I want to be dead, Mr. Tree. Something snapped and the tree talked back. It said, You want to be dead? Because you have a shitty roommate?! Because you don’t wanna be “the bad guy” and stop supporting some other person’s half baked dream? What happened to all those other times dipshit, you wanted to die, and you felt so strongly about it you were just prepared to but you needed to find the gun, tomorrow you’d go get a gun, and you never did. By morning, that feeling was completely gone, and tomorrow morning this’ll be completely gone too. In fact it’ll probably be gone as soon as you eat a piece of fruit or take a shit. So stop tellin’ trees your sad sack bullshit and go fucking buy that video card after you EAT A MEAL. And after that THUNDERCLAP of thought… I finally felt my stomach growling. I thought about how long it had been since I’d eaten anything.

It didn’t end that day. Neither my shitty roommate situation; nor my brain’s flagrant, flippant insistence on the suicide option being tabled in all brainstorming sessions for every scale and variety of problem in my day to day life. But that’s when it started. I was able to get outside of my head, for just a moment, and see how childish that thought was when looked at realistically. I definitely don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember, as a child, saying “I wish you were dead, for a MILLION YEARS.” And while my adult ears twigged to how immature an understanding _that_ emphasis belied, for some reason it took until I was 27 years old for me to hear “I WISH I WERE DEAD” in that same babyish tone. I WISH I WERE DEAD as a replacement for I WISH I WEREN’T IN THE LINE AT A CARL’S JR., as a stand in for NOBODY KNOWS HOW TO MERGE FROM THE LEFT LANE.

And finally it is wrong of me to try to put some kind of pleasant cap on this. Like I’m dusting my hands of it. Far from it. This is a reminder, that the brain is a tricksy thing. That there will be thoughts that get stuck in the rotation, that don’t really have anything to do with what is going on. And the old tricks are always the best tricks, and for me, and for a lot of people I think, the brain’s first best trick is pretending death is a painless alternative to every passing discomfort. I hope that my last best trick is pretending enduring discomfort is the only alternative to the painful permanence of death.

Economics 151

I hate to sound like Ben Stein here especially grown-up Aaron awful, retrogressive, Ann Coulter-buddy Ben Stein but what is going on in this country. Every single time I try to spend my money, in an economy that is ostensibly struggling, I find myself face to face with the worst customer service one could imagine. I’ll give you a few examples here, feel free to remember your own last “JESUS CHRIST I AM GIVING YOU MONEY WILL YOU PLEASE JUST MAKE IT LESS UNPLEASANT TO DO SO” moment instead of reliving one of mine, because they’re all quite boring.

I am at the grocery store. We are at the grocery store. I’m going to go with we because I’m taking you, society, on a cruise with me. It’s not the royal we (it is so the royal we). Again, we are at the grocery store, waiting to check out. Because we cannot allow part time workers to live or something I forget why we’re doing it probably… recession? Anyway, we have fired all the checkers at the grocery store. We fired all the bag boys first and Lord knows that was a great idea because there were too many after school opportunities for good but less well off kids to socialize themselves and make some money. So we’re waiting for the self checks, which we have to admit are a pretty good idea when they work right and there’s not some open-gawped dick-wringer eternally waving the wrong side of their membership chit at the scanner. It also helps when there’s an attendant nearby who isn’t just facebooking on their cell phone. So we’re waiting and there’s this turdlump who is clearly not buying anything anymore just staring at their phone still and all the other registers are waiting for the attendant to clear bag-weight-jams or alcohol purchases, so we just go ahead and shove over to where this asswart is standing and push in toward the checkout.

“Excuse me, I need to get some groceries.”, we say, with a real shitty tone.

And that is when we realize… this is the attendant. This is the employee. The representative of the business whose wares I am waiting to custom…. The employee in charge of, amongst many things, both directing people to open self checks, clearing the weird errors and shit that seem to constantly happen on these machines, and or not just standing in front of one screen, with a second screen uncomfortably close to his face. He steps to the side enough for us to use the station, but does not go back to any of the other registers. He has not looked up from the phone. We are now… ultraviolet rage livid.

“Hello, customer of the store, I’m EmployeeName! Oh here’s an empty register. If you need anything I’ll be right back, there’s three people waiting for me to help them with their checkouts.”

The employee seems to dimly register that we are talking to him.

“Oh thank you that’s exactly what a great employee who was doing their job would say, you must really be on top of it.”

The employee puts their phone in their pocket and walks directly away, without comment. Without helping the other customers. Just walks away. We are now done checking out. We follow.

“Hey, where are you going. Where is your supervisor, right now.”

The employee keeps walking.

“YOU. STOP.”

The employee stops.

“Where is the person you report to. Take us to them.”

“I can’t I am on the clock.” and then the employee bolts toward the back while pointing toward the customer service counter.

Already we are dismayed. There are three differently vested employees at the counter, “Front End Manager” over “Customer Service Specialist” in plasti-gold pin badges. A dozen people wait in line. Two of the vested employees are talking to each other in angry tones. The third is filling out a Western Union form as though it were the SAT, puzzling over the answers to each line, while a woman who has probably filled out that form fifty times stares at her phone on the other side of the desk. A child’s shriek peals our eardrums and nobody else in line even reacts. We find a manager. We explain what has happened. But we know we are beaten. The manager can’t stop listening to the radio on his waist long enough to get to the end of a sentence. “The service here sucks.” we finally blurt. And the manager finally focuses.

“What?”

“I said, the service here sucks. Your cashiers don’t care, your front end managers don’t care, and apparently you don’t care. There’s nobody running the front end of your store.”

“Can you repeat that please.”

We realize he is replying to the radio. We walk away.

The manager says something about how rude it is to walk away when you’re talking to someone. We dig our car keys into the palm of our hand, and clench our jaw so hard our eardrums start to ring. We leave.

Later we are at a hardware store. This isn’t a hardware store where you’d go to build a house, once upon a time maybe. These days you buy screws in bags of 8 in between aisles of popcorn tins and plasma TVs, but we managed to shut down all the other hardware stores by only going here so, here we are. We are trying to buy unglazed quarry tile. We tried to call on the phone to see if they had it but we kept waiting to be transferred to tile and hung up on. We needed a tin of popcorn and some beanie babies anyways so we came down to see if we could find them ourselves. We cannot. We walk to the front of the store, there’s a customer service desk.

“Hello”, we say.

The elderly clerk neither acknowledges us verbally or glances our direction.

“Excuse us,” a bit louder, “We need some help in the tile area, is anybody working there now.”

The elderly clerk turns away from us, and picks up the phone, calling on the intercom for assistance to the tile area.

“Thank you, we appreciate it,” we say.

Time passes. Several employees push past us in the aisle, none of them even pause to ask if they can help.

We walk to the back and find a different employee, this one with a radio.

“Hi do you know anything about tile.”

“No, but I know who does, let me get someone over for you.”

“Thanks.”

More time passes. We are just about to leave, and an employee walks around the corner.

“Hey yeah so sorry. I had STUFF to do like IMPORTANT THINGS but if you NEED HELP I guess I am supposed to RUN OVER HERE even though I’m in the middle of a CRISIS halfway across the…”

“UNGLAZED QUARRY TILE.”

“What? I said I was halfway across the store and so I’m sorry if it took me a MINUTE to get over here”

“UN. GLAZED. QUARRY. TILE.”

“Is that what you want or something.”

We breathe.

“Well it’s been I don’t know what year is it hah I’m losing my mind or something 2014 right so yeah it’s been like five years, or maybe like seven? At least five. Maybe it was just six. Six sounds about right, no, 2009, so five. Five years ago was the last time we stocked those. You could have called ahead.”

“I did, four times this morning. Hung up on every time.”

“The phones here are constantly disconnecting people and for years I have been telling them they need to get a good phone system and it’s not my fault that it hung up on you, I’ve been busy all morning with…”

We walk away.

“Is that ALL.”

“Yes, that’s the thing I need.”

“What you just needed help with something we don’t even HAVE and you couldn’t WAIT.”

We are walking away but the sentence bothers us, our right eye twitches involuntarily, and we turn to counter, but there’s a seam in the floor we catch with the toe of our shoe. We trip, and then we fall toward the floor, forever, through time, and space. We pass through the floor, we pass through every floor that has ever been and ever will be. We drift through gaseous clouds and past protostars, swirling toward the center, where finally the gas clears, and we breathe for a microsecond before we are blasted, each layer of flesh ionized off our bodies two cells deep. The massive pulsar in the center spins and chars and spins and chars, two layers a second, then three, then ten, the pulsar spinning faster and the whole universe burning and shrinking and pulling and tearing. First the dollars burn, then the buildings, then the companies, then the idea of companies. The idea of men, the idea of women. The idea of legs. All burn. All fall. All crumple.

And that’s my plan for how to fix the economy.

Please make checks payable to “Cash” and send them to me by facsimile or telex under my new Corporate Personhood name “Chipotle FedEx Solid State Logistics, A Non Profit Co-Op”, Cunnilingus Mills, MD.

I refuse to discuss hypotheticals

OK OK I KNOW it’s bad people. I know it isn’t great I seem to have shot myself in the groin but I have to stress this – That is no reason to put the gun down.

I repeat, I am going to just hold on to the gun for now. Who knows what kind of future situation might develop. Not me. I know this seems like the time you might drop whatever it is you are doing and call 911 but hear me out — What if I put the gun down, use my hand to dial a phone or clutch the spurting wound, and I suddenly need the gun again. Come on folks, I haven’t led us wrong yet AND YES I AM INCLUDING THE GROIN SHOT IN THE SUCCESSES COLUMN. History will judge my administration, not the hot blooded emotional yowlings of somebody with a bullet lodged in their pelvic girdle. I have a five point plan to get that bullet out, heal the wound and make me good as new, better even, possibly immune to bullets, I don’t know, I’m not a master gunsmith, like the great John Moses Browning, a business success like Mark Cuban, nor a fancy pants Canada doctor with access to a bunch of charts about bullet removal but I am the man in the room with the most experience both shooting AND GETTING SHOT and I can tell you the last thing you want to do in this situation is lose control of the gun.

BANG BANG

The real victory here is that there is a scalpel on the ground that this doctor dropped when I shot him and I think, if I aim just right, and kind of squat down near the ground, I can ricochet the scalpel into the area of the wound. This is basic trigonometry, something any high school freshman can do, we just squat and aim carefully, the shadows can, you can measure the shadows and line it up with the…

BANG

Well pats on the back all around everybody. Mission Accomplished, you could say! All three pieces of the scalpel ricocheted back up into the area of the wound, and I’ve got this chart which shows exactly where we need to shoot to get them lined back up in the right order. I understand that it’s still not going to be pointed the direction of the bullet but I think some of the cutting edge, current development shooting technology might be a total game changer when it comes to in place object ricochet reversal and repositioning. I refuse to discuss hypotheticals about how to reassemble the scalpel in the leg until we have committed to at least a two bullet plan to move the first piece of the scalpel into “subposition A-1”, with a commitment to vote on a full Position A bullet budget and shooting solution before Quarter Three earnings reports. All in favor? Approved? Excellent. We just need to shoot our way to a gun store and see if one of their professionals can help us find a discount on bullets. Maybe I can shoot down a cab or an ambulance that is headed past a gun shop or sporting goods store.

Failing Better

Fail better next time.

There are a lot of things going on in that sentence, and while it starts with the word “fail”, I believe it’s the most optimistic sentence possible. Sure it doesn’t glitter like “If you aim for the Moon and miss at least you will end up among the stars”, but what it lacks in grandiosity I feel it makes up for in gumption. I like to think of it as Camus’s fascination with Sysyphus as a hero — the eternal optimist for whom knowing success is unlikely; even impossible; cannot dissuade or deter his efforts — distilled into a handy throw away piece of advice.

I recommend against throwing it away. As I get older I realize there are no unmitigated, inarguable victories. That is now how life works. Each thing, when you are done with it, has failed you in some way, or you have failed it. Even in masterworks a virtuoso artist can see their own mistakes, second guess themselves: even if a thousand thousand people love every detail, there will be one thing you notice about your creation that you wish you could un-notice. A failure you wish could be blotted from the record, an edit you wish you could make in time. But you can’t. It’s madness to think you can. The only thing you can do is accept your failure, and make note of that mistake for next time. You’ll fuck up again, of course. But you’ll fail better.

Knowings hard won…

Leo Tolstoy says all happy families are alike, but that each unhappy one is unhappy in its own way. It’s an old saw but generally considered a good one, but after much meditation I consider it dishonest at it’s core. Each unhappy family is unhappy in _exactly_ the same way. They are stuck. Sure, every day things happen (fresh failures, new atrocities, reopened wounds) but from sun up to sun down, there’s something big that everyone knows shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be happening. It’s anathema to even imagine, but there it is, happily happening despite its wrongness, and nobody knows how to fix it, so everyone is miserable. Each happy family has these stuck things too, but they’re smaller, and sometimes they move around, and everybody can deal with that. That is all the difference in the world. But for the truly profoundly unhappy, the stuck thing is so stuck they can’t even conceive of it moving. Every act of the day is, in fact, conceived and develops from the stuck things fundamental motionlessness. It is the uneven rock which reality is built from. Self, direction, love, emotional awareness, logic, reason, humor, happiness, all of those sacred core concepts of human-being — Minimized, mocked, and twisted with malnourishment because of the energy required to keep this stuck thing stuck. Each member of the family may have a different stuck thing they’ve built their daily religion around, but rest assured it is there and Holiest of Holy in their minds, conscious or not. They have a mad master they must obey, and obiescence is first and foremost lack of acknowledgement. Horrific, systemic, in-human and in-humane inaction codified, crystallized and concentrated. They have created a shrine to this horror in their head, and their oblations to it are their own misery; their attention and energy drawn and dismembered by the galloping horses of ego and shame, their hours imprisoned in permanent panicked inaction by the twinned tethers of ignorance and inattention.

An unhappy family may have happy family members in it, as a happy family may have unhappy members, but the unhappiness that stems from an unhappy family life is deep, it has roots and runners that pervade each segment of the individual’s life. It is as if a kidney or liver or some other vital purgation and sanitation organ has shut down, and the natural waste management process has completely fallen apart, allowing misery to pile up in every deep nook in your head, inflaming minor slights and infecting sources of potential positivity with the fetid stagnant pus of doubt. This persistent negativity is of course incompatible with a happy life; just as soil too alkaline or acid twists and blights the plants that grow in it, any seed of happiness that germinates in this mire grows scorched, strange, and fragile. And of course with this fragility comes increased worry, insecurity. How can one dare rely upon their happiness when it is so wretched and withered, better to simply find another emotion to fix your life around, one you can count on to be there each day: shame, anger, sadness, regret. And how best to protect fragile happiness but by making sure that there are no big changes to upset your sense of order. And so begins a self sustaining cycle of excuse and ignorance based on a series of little white lies and logical dodges, all seemingly harmless. And again you are stuck, the crystalline nature of your central conceit; wordless powerlessness to an unsolvable wrongness; ties down each limb that could help you get perspective, develop self, or ask for help.

Getting perspective is first on that list for a reason. Nobody has ever asked for help who didn’t have a least a little bit of outside perspective about their problems. Nobody can really develop a sense of individuality without first understanding themselves as they understand others. Being able to understand how people perceive you from the outside, without the shading, depth and color of your internal monologue blaring over it, excusing and aggrandizing the entire time. Being able to sit with yourself and your actions and know that while in the moment and from the drivers seat they felt inevitable, righteous and intentional, out of their temporal emotional context, those same actions can be interpreted by others as erratic, irrational, even monstrous. Those same small, “inconsequential” but fundamentally ill-intentioned things done repeatedly in the name of protecting some shred of comfort amass to a war on happiness, both inside you and inside those around you. You have to accept that while you might have had the best intentions the whole time that the black weight of the whole is significantly greater, and altogether darker, than the sum of its parts. You have to accept those foibles and mechanisms as elements of self, and not excuse them, not logic them away. You have to acknowledge them. Apologize for them. Address them. Redress them. Redeem yourself for them. And most importantly, you must swear to never leave a thing unaddressed again. These fundamental “stuck” things make you feel awful for a reason, the answer is almost never to keep feeling awful.

I don’t know much. But I know this.

What I’ve Been Up To

Holding my tongue. For a very long time.

When people ask me about my family I talk about how nice they are, and how smart, and kind. Creative and giving and thoughtful.

But if they ask me if they should do business with my family, I have to make a face. It’s not that I don’t think that my family should do business. They should! But I cannot participate in any of it, and I cannot recommend that anybody sane do it with them.

They share the two most horrible and damning traits that you can have, in business – they presume, and they assume. They are bad communicators, post-negotiation deal changers, sweat-box sales pitchers, and immune to good advice. They will automatically presume _all_ the best case scenarios AND intentions when analyzing things, and never analyze the worst cases or possibilities out of fear. They are susceptible to advertising, seasonal affective disorder, political rhetoric, and are at the mercy of a mad, and maddening, ego. This I know by years of hard lessons in doing business with them — Things start off feeling good, spending money always does, but soon they feel too rushed, unplanned, and desperate, then communication breaks down, things start getting hidden, early assumptions become exposed to the acid-test of reality, everyone’s hidden agendas emerge, and soon the whole thing is a boondoggle. Too expensive to be a non-starter, too incomplete to be a failure, just an expensive and semirandom hoarding, purchased on credit, based on the satisfaction felt in a daydream. It’s just not fun, and _everybody_ loses.

So when my sister came to me to ask if she should go into business with my parents, I had to make a face. Actually, I made a plea. I felt like I was arguing for her life or something, and we had a very long talk about what it would mean to take our parents money and engage in business with them. But I should have known it was already in the bag, I’d seen that look before. Like my parents, she was already cozy inside her perfect future in her head, and I was yelling at her from an uncomfortable past. A grumpy ghost she could barely hear, giving her more good advice she’d ignore.

Now lets talk about help. I am a giver. A caring nurturer, you may say, maybe too clingy, but I will give you all the help you ask for and a LOT you don’t. But I can’t give help I don’t know is needed and I can’t give help ongoing without a known terminus. I can watch your dog for two weeks. I can’t know you think I’m gay and secretly in love with you and have been signalling that love by not ever ever putting my penis anywhere near you or talking about it or looking at you with lust in my eye. I can give you a hand with replacing your clutch. I can’t know that you only purchased the car because of the presumption that I’d be your fleet mechanic until you got tired of it. And all the help in the world, after the fact, can’t fix a truly fucking idiotic decision. There’s no bandaid to reattach a big toe. But I’m digressing here.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a car guy. I talk about it a bit from time to time and my house is adrift with tools and car shit. And this business plan involved the purchase of a bus, or trailer, to house the business. Since I had given my advice to not go into business with mom and dad and it was ignored, and no more help was asked, I butted out. I could sense the implied wish that I’d take the wheel, or at least want details. I didn’t want too many details, I was as supportive as possible without volunteering work, as had been my biggest regret in other business dealings with family. I was going with the flow. This wasn’t my mistake to make and it wasn’t mine to counteract, right? So when they told me they were looking for a bus I didn’t volunteer to look. I tried to stop my automatic helper-brain from searching craigslist for trailers and busses, I didn’t say I’d check it out or help. And one day it arrived, honk honk, in a cool blue paint scheme. Neat! A Micro Bird bus, 6.2 diesel, ready to go (be converted completely from a bus into a business maybe somewhere other than my front yard? No, no OK, in the front yard then.). They pulled it up in front of my house, and parked it, ready to start in earnest.

Now I’m not sure how many work sessions actually took place on the bus. I didn’t do anything I wasn’t asked to. I saw it was in sad shape, but ran well without smoke smell or drip. I didn’t offer any opinion. I might have helped lift one of the heavy pieces down. But what I do know is not much happened past the stripping of the seats before the first ticket. Turns out you can’t just street park a bus and start stripping it in the gutter! And it’s not a cheap ticket either. I don’t remember if I was asked or if I just volunteered, but I said they could put it in the driveway while they figured out what to do.

I pulled my car out of the driveway, and onto the street. And that was the last time in three years that I’ve been able to get in and out of my garage without shimmying sideways. In fact, for the first six months I couldn’t even do that! There was so little room between the bus and the house that you couldn’t pass a twelve pack of beer through the gap, but more about that later in the rant.

I don’t remember the order of events well after that, I don’t know the internal politics of the situation over at my parents house, but I assume it came down to a fight over spending money. My father likely reached into the “buy some happiness” jar and found there wasn’t enough joy bucks in it for whatever monumentally large television he needed. My sister had revealed some real deep doubts about the project, already thousands of dollars and practically two months old by now. I held my tongue. And while I was off dealing with some other part of my life, it died. Rest in peace, business, stillborn in my driveway. Wouldn’t have liked to have been a fly on the wall of that dinner conversation — if it even happened. With my family, it is sometimes safer to assume no conversation has happened at all, letting the huge rift sit heavy across the rest of time, even when something as large and physical as a bus is involved.

The bus became kinda part time storage, and evolved into a full time bummer. Then it languished. And languished. And became an eyesore. And began to break back down into the elements from which it was created. And still it languished, inches from my garage. Until finally one day I needed to get into my garage. I just had to. I was moving something into the house that just would be inconvenient to bring in to the front, so I tried to start it, and that’s when I noticed it wasn’t running anymore. Since it had long stopped being a potential business, devolving into a particularly ugly shed, I felt at liberty to see what was going on. I hooked it up to my charger, a no-go, the battery was past the point of saving, so I spent a hundred and seventy bucks or so on a battery, and brought it back, spent about an hour of googling “how to get a 6.2 diesel running that has been sitting way too long”, and I got it started. It labored to life, coughing black smoke everywhere, and when I depressed the brake pedal to put it into gear, brake fluid would actually spray out of something over the rear axle area. But the front brakes still worked enough for me to creep it forward out of my garage. Just four feet forward, two feet to the right, and four feet back toward the house that me and the bank own. The sickening sensation of piloting a six ton vehicle whose brakes drop to the floor and only provide marginal slowing, even at idle, is exhilarating, but not worth a repeat, and I recommend the only direction you drive one is _away_ from your house.

That’s the end of the story of the bus, basically. It sits, unstartable, where I last left it. That was two years ago that I got it running again. The last time I was under it, attempting to pull some of the heavy moss which mortars its sagging tires to the driveway, pieces of rusted metal fell from a leafspring mount to the ground, and I reached up in horror and put my finger through what should have been a quarter inch of metal, but was instead a candy blue paint shell over a delicate rust cannoli. I haven’t gone under it since.

What is the point of all of this? Well first off I have to bitch about it because it has been depressing me for four years. This entire thing was a ready made bummer that had ZERO days of fun optimism. I’ve felt like I can’t talk about it because at first I didn’t want to jinx it, and then I didn’t want to think about it, and then I just maybe didn’t want to hurt my little sister’s feelings. And the compounded mistakes, bad communications and insane assumptions of my entire family has come to rest as a decaying school bus on my decomposing driveway. And how did I get here? By being a member of my family. I was immune to the good advice I’d received in the years since it showed up — about how I needed to get the bus out of here, about how I should have reacted when the bus became a problem, about living with family members in general. I failed to communicate my logistical concerns AND MY EMOTIONAL NEEDS in a timely manner. And finally I was at the whims of my mad ego, telling me that there was some way that I could better the situation without having to announce my needs. And I feel a lot of shame about that. I feel ashamed that I let this, and some other recent fights with “family”, either adopted or biological, keep me from writing. I feel ashamed that I let their attention distract me from my voice and from my INDEPENDENCE, because over the past week I’ve gone over my blog archive and read back through it, and while I’m certainly no genius, I love the work I’ve done. I love my voice. And I love to write. And in a pathetic and self defeating cycle, I was “protecting” my family from my words by stuffing them down into my mouth, because everything else I tried wasn’t working, and the option of being the bad guy was just off the table. I just got quieter and sadder and less personal. Bland project logs and things nobody can feel bad about, printed gaskets and LED lamps.

That’s some Clark Kent shit isn’t it. That’s a Superman problem, to have to be good and protect everyone while not crossing any lines or getting anything smudged. Superman is a boring comic, and Clark Kent is a boring man, who hides his fantasticness under a damp woolen blanket of blandness.

But, I’m Batman, bitches. I’m not the hero you want, I’m the fucking hero you deserve. And it doesn’t matter if you’re on board or not, I’m gonna go find some truth and justice in the dark corners of my head.

Comments off, forever. Write your own blog post if you want a place to run your mouth too (I highly recommend it).

Loss

It’s not quick, there’s the immediate oddness of something out of place, but then you figure out what it is. It’s gone. Well, maybe not gone but it’s not where you left it. That’s the one thing you know for sure. Not where it ought to be. You doubt yourself at first, “well it didn’t just walk off”. You look in all the normal places. Maybe it got washed. Or… maybe it got put away, or stashed here? Finally you are looking in the abnormal places. Every cabinet, every drawer. You check and recheck because, obviously… things don’t just grow legs. Maybe it fell down back here.

So you look under stuff. Around stuff. On top of things. Inside containers. You look in unexpected places, places it would make no sense to find the lost item. But you are hoping now because you don’t want to accept that it has happened again. The feeling starts to creep into the bottom of your stomach, and you double search everything you already searched. You start creating elaborate secret areas maybe you haven’t checked. Maybe you should check the trash bag in the can, see if it fell in there. Maybe you should check the bags of trash outside to make sure it didn’t go out before you noticed. Maybe you should wash the muck from your hands and check all the drawers again.

Accepting that someone stole something from you is sickening. It is not the happenstance of a car change tray theft, the suddenness of a pickpocketing, or the abstractness of an identity theft; a burglarization in the place you sleep. While you were away from your house, somebody perused at leisure, coveted, and finally took their choice of your possessions. Just up and decided it was theirs. They deserved it more than you did, or need it more, or just wanted it more, or maybe just fuck you for not being here to stop them. Whatever the reason, it was theirs now and not yours. It has been taken.

It does not end. Ever. You wonder after that thing you lost every time you lose something new to theft. You add it to the tally. Things that people thought I did not deserve. Things people believed I could live without but they could not, charitably.

My home was burglarized twice when I was a child, once when I was too young to remember and once that I discovered, a bicycle stolen and recovered, a car stolen once, recovered months later after I had moved to another state and left for the state to deal with, and a significant sum (to the person who was losing it) of money stolen twice, and my dignity stolen, once very publicly.

These thefts uniformly happened while I slept or was at play. Each time it is a fresh shame, and one without recompense. There is no assailant to fight back against and the chances of the police finding who did it or what they took is about the same as the thieves growing some kind of moral fiber and returning the item themselves. Each time upon realizing what had happened, my stomach upturned, my adrenaline dumped, and I found myself utterly without outlet for my rage or my sadness. Today I simply shuddered in my kitchen, shifting my weight from foot to foot, sweating that piss on hot metal smell through the armpits of my shirt and clenching my fists. Without outlet.

In each case, there was nobody who cared as much as me and nobody to ask to repay. Since my first experience with the parlor trick of contacting the police to report a burglary, naively calling the station for an update a week later, a month, I have been disabused of the notion that there is a step two. There is only the maddening, sometimes-still-wondering-what-else-was-stolen-but-went-unnoticed stomach clenching shame of it.

I spent years letting these accumulated losses, my tally, turn me into a nobody, a person who stayed at home all the time, to protect his things. I had decided the decadence of letting my guard down for a moment must be a sin, because surely I was punished. It must be that the world saw my weakness and exploited it. I spent years turning into a nobody, with no friends to trust too far. With nobody to love so nobody could break my heart. A nobody with nothing worth having so nobody else would be tempted to steal it. A person so paranoid of the ill intentions of anybody not family, not kin, that I alienated everyone around me for a decade, clinging to a thief and manipulator I had adopted as kin, who helped keep me isolated and empty. Barren. And I thought that was freedom. It is a kind of freedom. The low down freedom of having nothing. Nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.

But now I have things. I always have, really, but I know it now. The shining light of my romantic partnership, the empowering and enriching nature of meditation and prayer, and my burgeoning understanding of what good friends do for one another has scoured my shitty myopic vision of freedom and liberty clear. It has scorched into my forebrain the meaning of words, beyond their literary definition. The meanings of worth, and of self-worth. Of protection and of sanctity. And of theft. What it truly is, which is disrespect made real. And the only thing you can really do in this life to make sure your precious things are not taken is to keep _them_ away from people who don’t respect _you_.

Getting Old on the Internet

I used to press hard for my friends and family to get on the internet, I early adopted and I beta tested and glassy eyed friends who just wanted to go for a bike ride half listened to my technodrone about this squawking little terminal window that was gonna change their lives. The meatspace crowd did not understand for the most part, and despite getting laughed at a lot but I made a few electronic friends in those greyscale days I still treasure, and had some experiences which changed the way I thought about LIFE. I was in love with the internet, nah, more like infatuated. Like only a virgin boy can be with something he doesn’t understand but wishes he could just embed his entire essence in. I knew this internet was the Next Big Thing but I had no idea what 15 years would mean in Internet terms. I still called it the web, so noob. We didn’t even have noobs then.

I don’t even know if we have noobs anymore.

But it’s fifteen years on now if it’s a day. I’m getting old on the internet, and slow. I am not angry enough to be right all the time anymore. I don’t have the vigilance. Or the time. But the internet is getting old too, and just like the living, breathing objects of my youthful affection, has only become more complex and incredible as time has gone on. A scar for every scam. A white hair for ever scandal. A wrinkle for every story. Each story a stitch in our co-created digital history. And when those stories turn out to be false or unreliable, the shame rends a huge nasty seam through our shared delusion of a more perfect society. And we have had so many seams rip.

And of course now the monsters have moved in. The same penny-ante publishers and media owners and wanters and thieves with the same money found out they could price truth out of my digital conclave just as easily as they could price it out of meatworld. It is easy to confuse people by offering them new lies in place of old truth. People are very easily confused. It is very easy to conflate word and deed when there’s nobody to tell you about the facts of the deeds, just a press conference in which the right word is massaged into the frontal lobe to make you ignore every press release about it in the future. A blessing of ignorance or a baptism of wrongthink that simultaneously excuses you from followup and frees you from worry.

I find myself studying the past now because I think we’re doomed to repeat it. And I think I might be doomed to hate the internet. Or maybe I’m doomed to hate people. But as soon as I feel like we’re doomed I hear another thing that makes me think maybe this communication stuff is OK. Maybe we reach too far and make too many compromises along the way. Maybe there isn’t a satisfactory ending to that cycle.

I used to press hard for my friends and family to join me on a platform I was clearly more adept at than they were, and now I’m having to go backwards. To learn how to move my world to the meat world, to make the problems there my problems, the people there my tribe. Because those are the important things, out there, to be right about. And to fret about when you’ve chosen wrong.

Jeep Goldblum: A Love Story

The AMC Cherokee is a fantastic design. There’s no denying it, the longevity of the platform and the cultish following it has developed in the forums and aftermarket are testament to the Mighty XJ. And while the Liberty may have finally gained an aftermarket for serious offroaders, the Cherokee lefts a preposterously big shoe to fill. Which is why I’m kind of in love with mine right now, I feel like an initiate to a boys club. The Pow Pow Powerwheel feel of driving it (oh, balljoints in solid axles, you are the worst.) is such a relief from the borrowed 98 Civic I’ve been schlepping (thank you Samantha Boogie! You are the best.) that I don’t even mind its various problems, which I have spent the last few weeks assessing and addressing.

I already talked about the dragging brake caliper, which is apparently common, research into which revealed some kind of simmering Jeep forum furor over steel pistons versus composite pistons. The condition of fluid and overall thickness of the pads told me the front brakes had been done recently, but they just reused the original calipers. I went with some Duralast/Cardone remans (composite – it’s what they had in stock) and new pads. Despite the dragging the rotors looked great, though the wheel unit bearings and front U joints all look petrified. I shot everything underneath with PB Blaster and crossed myself.

Even with free spinning wheels, it gets ludicrously bad gas mileage. I don’t drive a lot so it’s not a major problem but wowee can that sumbitch drink. I’ve been through a few air cleaners so far (see CCV below) but I finally went Wix. I’m trying to learn how to drive with a lighter foot (tough again because it’s so fun to romp on)

The 4.0 Continuous Crankcase Ventilation system is fully reverse-polish threaded and I fixed it with some other Jeep parts. Works perfectly so far, no valve cover trimming. I just went to the parts counter and got the PCV off a 1983 Jeep Wrangler with a 258, the grommet for it, and two feet of ⅜” fuel vapor hose. I already had a quick-connect air cool nipple which threaded perfectly into the intake manifold, though I could have just gone to the hardware store and gotten a nice brass one just as easily. Crammed the grommet right in the rear valve cover hole, where it deformed around the locking tabs and sealed “good enough”. If I buy a new valve cover to clean up and paint I’ll trim it for the Wrangler PCV. Maybe. Sealing up the leaking hoses dropped my idle about 300 rpm, and hopefully it’ll stop dumping oil mist on the air box, and PCV it into the fucking intake like it’s supposed to. The main problem with the very small hole the CCV system uses is that it just clogs instantly with crap and then the engine burps go through the only tube with vacuum, the front air tube to the filter box. The entire intake manifold of my jeep is slimed, as is the air box, the throttle body has a sort of oil varnish on it, and I can only hope that a few cans of carb cleaner will eventually erode that down into the motor to be consumed.

Did an oil change, pretty normal looking old ass pitch black dinosaur juice and an off size plain white filter that I was able to squeeze in like an old beer can. I switched over to some Mobil 1 5w30 and a Mobil 1 Gold filter. I’m gonna do about a thousand miles on this filter and do another change to a Wix. We’ll see how that, working PCV, and a good air cleaner affects the gas mileage. I was hesitant about switching to synthetic 5w30, but lots of people swear by it so I’m giving it a try. The hot oil pressure is definitely lower than with whatever goop was in there, but it never dips too low at idle even when driven/hot. I am still too afeared to see what it would be like with 0w30 in it, all I see in my mind is it leaking directly through the block like a filthy piston sieve.

Speaking of sealings and gaskets – I’m a huge believer in the gasket improvements the american auto industry made post 1996 ODBII or so, if there’s an updated gasket design for your motor, you should switch to it. I no longer dick around with cork valley end seals or any cork gasket, it’s sensor safe RTV over a paper gasket, regular old silicone for larger gaps, and anywhere I can just buy a fancy dry-install printed or steel core/mls gasket, that way all I need to do is make sure my mating surface is brake cleaner clean and it’s good to go. They’re reusable as long as you don’t dork them up, and cheap at twice the price vs errant boogers of RTV killing your car.

In that spirit, I switched to Lube Locker brand gaskets for my 8.25 (yes, I lucked out and got the good rear end again – that’s two for two) and it worked perfect. The gear oil was old, smelly, and had a little bit of water in it but it was otherwise as expected for old gear oil. The rear end had normal open gears, marked 3_5, which I assume is 3.55. Didn’t do the front end gear oil yet because the RTV looks recent and I’m trying to decide if I want to buy a whole front axle to clean up and swap in (see below). Seems like lockers for these go for a few hundred per axle, if I feel like I really need one (kinda going with no).

Also, due to some weirdness about how AMC/Jeep/Renault was doing when the Cherokee was being designed, it has a GM tilt steering column and the automatic is a Ford AW4. All the way to the end, GM tilt steering column. So they all take completely standard GM tilt steering column parts. But since Chrysler bought Jeep, they wanted to make a 4×4 that was all Chrysler, mating the 4.0 to the 46RH auto they had in their trucks (the ZJ Grand Cherokee), in the 93 model year, collapsing the line to just the ZJ in 96 (purely speculation but the sales numbers for the XJ spike in 97, which to me indicates that the 95 and 96 sales were supply strangled and not demand-maxed). Part of this desire was to get back to the standard Mopar parts-supply chain, so in 1994 they reclassified all their part numbers from the “standard” GM parts to Mopar parts numbers. For this reason, when you look up steering column parts or some other oddball soft lines for 94 and 95 XJ Cherokees, you get no part available, even though the store will clearly have a GM tilt column turn signal switch , just because the computer says that the 94 uses a thrice-restructured Mopar ultra obsolete part number 50503029243858182-D and lists no interchange. Annoying, but a good reminder that a smart person behind the parts counter or doing some research before you hit the counter will save you a lot of time.

I’ve still got a transmission flush, a transfer case drain and fill, and a bunch of universal joints and bearings to go through but they’re fairly cheap, just time consuming. Since it also needs ball joints (My philosophy on ball joints is if you didn’t do them and they’re not _clearly_ brand new? They could stand to come out.) and basically the whole steering, combined with a steady supply of <$100 D30 axles out on Craigslist it is tempting to just go buy one to clean up while I drive around on my old one. It’s not like it’s a boneshaker now, it’s just got a little lateral jostle when you hit something at speed. It’d also let me paint the axle and replace all bushings in it, even up to the steering pitman if I wanted – then just swap it in all freshly painted and clean looking. Other candidates for replacement? The rear leaf pack is totally flat, the front springs sag to the passenger side and all the shocks are cheap and/or shot. And if I’m doing springs shouldn’t I do a lift? It’s a bit dumpy in the butt now and I’d rather it had a bit of stance. Seems like two inches isn’t even really noticeable if you go up to 30 inch tires, but I’m forever afeared of vibrations and unhappy handling. Everything seems to indicate as long as you replace all your soft parts and steering ends, two inches doesn’t require anything other than longer bump stops and longer shocks, if you feel like it. I certainly don’t want a skyjakker look or anything.

The leaf pack is something I’m trying to figure out. I can get some name brand HD (HD in the truck world seems to mean 1.5” lift) replacements for ~$300 ($260 on the internet) or some cheese dick (stock height) replacements for $200 ($180 on the internet). I could go bust my hump in a junk yard pulling an S10 pack so I could make a bastard/rat/boost pack, figure if I want to just swap it in instead of pulling/fabbing/pulling, I am gonna spend a hundo in springs (four leaf springs @ $25) then $10 in center pins and $5 in cutoff wheels, $.15 worth of ibuprophen, $20 worth of bushings and clips, $72 to the swear jar, $10 in farmer dildos olde time lubricating spring paint, $10 in gas to get to a place that will sell me farmer dildos olde time lubricating spring paint. Even after we amortize back out the $72 and pay it forward into the reverse revenue cycle economy I operate on around here, you can understand why I am leaning toward having Amazon Prime me some fuckin’ Ranchos. Plus with the Ranchos I won’t have to wait around for one of my fingernails to grow back in after I smash it off with a hammer.

Oh and after watching the temp gauge top out around 150 and dip on some longer freeway stretches I bought a new thermostat because it clearly doesn’t have one in it now. And for some reason the low fuel light is always on. It’s actually not a bad thing because it reminds you every time you are driving to look at that gas gauge… suckin’ it down.

Interlude: BMC Edition

His soft round face and the white, tight cropped ring of hair around his head made him look a little like a worn-out Q-tip. Chubby, broadcloth over sansabelts. A nobody. He showed up while I was post coitally napping to buy some old MG parts I never used on my Datsun.

-You don’t like these much, I take it.

I don’t get his meaning. He points to my ancient motorcycle pile. I blush and stammer a bit. He laughs warmly and his middle waves.

-When I was young, I had a Bridgestone, if you know what those are. The twin. And one day I was doing a seat stand.

It’s hard to imagine this man young. And this old fat man in front of me could no more do a seat stand than I could breathe fire but there was a glimmer in his eye that said this was real. The mist of memory. He gestures to an unnoticeable spot on his finger and I bend forward to pretend to look.

-The whole bike landed on my finger there, and flipped over me. The triple tree on those was stamped so when I stood up I just grabbed the front wheel in between my knees and twisted it back straight again. Kicked it and drove off. Nothing injured but my pride.

And his pinky finger. I laughed and laughed and cut him a good deal on the parts. He said he’s gonna put it on this weekend and part of me hopes he’ll drives past, his little british car farting noisily through its new headers.