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.

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