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.”


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.


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).

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.

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.

Money III

I’m sure she meant well. I know she did, she wasn’t like a monster.

As an adult, I’m pretty sure I know why she did it. She thought it would motivate me to save money.

“Well it’s like a special account you put money in to keep for later.”

Ok that part seems normal I have a piggy bank, and I have pockets, so I understand the idea of a repository for funds versus funds for immediate dispersal, that’s legit. Maybe I even had a little wallet. How cute. So I had THREE different cash equity vehicles. But SELL me on this special account, because it seems pretty far from my bedroom and the aforementioned piggy bank has the lifestyle/convenience factor on LOCK.

“So you put money in there, and they invest that money, along with the money of other people, and they pay part of what they earn with your money back to you just for letting them borrow it.”

Ho now hold up like a piggy bank that puts the money in its mouth and poops out a little bit more money than you fed it. Oh I am with this this is great. I’m ALL IN. Put my WHOLE SAVINGS in there, all thirty or forty bucks of it.

Weeks pass. Months maybe. I feel good about my imaginary remote piggy bank eating and shitting more money for me. And with that little money shit pile growing… I was basically free to spend all the money I got. I had my nest egg started, and anything I made from here on in was cream. Literally, ice cream. For my face.

Mom gives me money for something and I stuff it into my wallet (short term storage) earmarked for toy purchases and or candy.

“Hey, do you remember your savings account.”

Hell yes I do, little money pig shitting money for me. He poops more pennies than he eats and it’s magic.

“I forgot to tell you that if you don’t put any more money into it for a while, they take it.”

Whoa hold up what the fuck did you just say.

“If you don’t add money to the account on a regular basis the account is “stale” and the bank can just take possession of it.”

What. Are. You. Talking. About. This can’t be happening. My money pig is getting stale. His penny shits are strangling him and I need to give him regular doses of fresh money now this is like a fucking responsibility, I have to keep this fucking thing alive now? It was living on MY MONEY to begin with. This can’t stand.

“Can I get all my money back out of it.”

“No, that’s silly just put some new money in and it’ll be fine for another while.”

“How long.”

“It depends that’s not important it’s just that you should just think about putting more money in there sometimes.”

“So they don’t take my money.”

“Mark it stale.”

“So they don’t mark my account stale.”

She  made a face. I think she realized now that she had made some awful mistake but it is not in my parents nature to acknowledge such things.

I waited. I made a single small deposit at that time, five bucks or something. But then I saved everything else I made from then on in my piggy bank. Not in the front of the piggy bank where mom and dad can see it when they peek in there to look at how much money you have but folded up in a neat small square hidden in a little origami of paper, stuffed up in the back.

We were going to go to Kansas. For vacation, we were going to visit my Uncle and his family. They had a huge mall, something to put ours to shame. And they sold Capsela there and I was going to get one of the ones you put in the water and it floats. It is expensive but with my savings money, plus what I have hidden in the piggy bank back compartment (now a total of $88.38), I will be able to afford it, AND some passable presents for mom and dad. This is my opportunity.

In the weeks before the trip, I make my argument for withdrawl. And it is accepted. I remove $40 from my savings account, as you can only do such a thing in $20 increments, sadly abandoning the $11.25 that remained. I’m sorry that you will die of starvation money pig but I will be sailing my Capsela now and the ocean will be my home and I just can’t handle your neediness. Leaving only $77.13 for me to make my purchases. Mom’s perfume will be somewhat smaller this year I suppose. I unfold all my origami money. I array it together and see what it looks like to have such a fortune together at once.

I was so proud that I showed my friends. And told them about it at school. And word got round. And one day a new friend and his sister came home with me to play and look at my fortune and when he and his sister left I had two dollars and ten cents. His dad was a cop and my dad was scared of him so he pulled $20 out of his wallet and handed it to me like some kind of consolation price.

After that, I never talked to anybody about money if I could help it. I hid that $20 everywhere in the house over the next few weeks and never left it in the same place twice. When it was finally time to leave I was nearly in a panic because I couldn’t remember which place I’d hid it last. It had been so many places that it took me an hour to find it. When I did it was folded so tightly it was like a sugar cube.

Years later, my savings and checking accounts were still held in coffee cans, hidden deep under my headboard, with decoy savings jars with sacrificial amounts of money in them hidden in more obvious places. My parents never stole money from my cans, but neither did I ever want them to have a clear picture of how much money I had. I am crazy particular about bill facing, and had my own organizational method for keeping money in stacks assigned per expense. I’m sure it looked random when they saw it and that’s how they put it back. It only took one riffing of my stash to make me step up my security game.

Years after that, when I finally took the time to learn about how banks work in this country, at least from the consumer point of view. I felt foolish. I felt ashamed that I had been hoodwinked so long. But now, after more analysis I’m mad. Of course I believed her. She was my mom.

Money II

They bought OUR bank. It was a hostile takeover. I was scared. Mom was scared, I could see it. Dad had a plan it was simple. We’d just get our money out of the ATMs, you can only get a couple hundred at a time but you can visit a bunch of ATMs right. We drove to the Ugly Teller and I stayed in the car. The first ATM barfed forward a stack of crisp bills. Old ATMs needed really really perfectly flat money so the cash coming out was always PERFECT. FDDDTTTTTDDD it spits the bills forward and they hit the inside of the cash bucket. I can hear it now. Relief. Those bastards won’t have us THIS time.

I play with the radio controls, they have a pretty good feel with they snick off. I’m not even sure what car we’re in here. The Fox? The big yellow truck? I forget. They’re all just knobs and handles to me. American knobs with their fat, wobbling on/off break point and the smooth, logarithmic volume ramp. We’re pre-japanese cars here, none of that perfect snick on/gritty but even volume control. Dragging my fingerprint across the  sharp edge where the chrome ends on the rough casting of the door pulls creates an extraordinarily satisfying tiny chirrup of noise you can feel in your knucklebones. I know how to program the pushbuttons on the radio, and I’ve learned that if I tune buttons 1 and 5 to opposite ends of the dial, I can push between them and make the dial dance back and forth in the middle as long as I didn’t let it get too close to either end. Maybe it was buttons one and four, I forget.

There’s a problem outside. I’ve been dial dancing too long and missed it. Mom’s punching in the pin again. I can’t remember that pin anymore. They all fade together in time. The card comes sliding out. They’re hooked together that’s the problem they pile back in. Which one was closest, we’re at the Basha’s branch now. There’s the one by… I forget where they were. There was one in Tempe, by the mall. That was too far to go for this, wasn’t it? Back to the chrome flakes. If you’re not careful you chip it off and sometimes you cut yourself a little but mostly the problem is you start losing little flakes to rub your finger against and then the doorhandle is just a doorhandle for getting in and out of the car with. We go to another branch, closer. No money. It’s a run on the bank. Our savings, all our money gone. I panic. I imagine the stack of money that my parents managed to salvage out of the first atm, that pathetic stack. That’s all we have left. I can feel my heart racing in my chest but now is not the time to add stress to this situation. They got us. They got it all. Fucking daily ATM limits. IF ONLY WE HAD MORE TIME. MORE DAYS TO WITHDRAW.

We were broke.


Of course if anybody had ever taken even a minute to listen to a news report or read to the end of a newspaper article about this bank closure they’d know that all the money was fine. The FDIC guarantees all that money and the branch opened as normal the next morning as far as I remember. And it wasn’t like this hostile takeover was some fly by night organization, this was Bank of America. But I clearly remember driving around like goons, in the night. Desperate and afraid that all our money was gone because we’d put it into a bank.

Just a night at Wal-Mart

I hate Bike Builder Skip. He hates me, or maybe he hates everybody, but I hate that this place hasn’t gotten to him. Somehow he’s worked here for years and it just hasn’t broken him. He needs the money too bad to quit but they can’t get anybody else to do as much in a shift as he can so they don’t fire him. His six foot by eight foot bay is packed, he has to climb in under diaper storage or over the ten foot high pile of unassembled bikes to get at the mishmash toolbox and broken display model stereo he had cribbed out of claims. He loves this time of year because I can’t fuck with him, he smiles widely at me and scrabbles over the pile with an energy drink in his hand to go play some kind of race anthem speedmetal and turn out some bikes.

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving. Every rack and bin is stuffed. The steel, enormous warehouse racks, are jammed with with poorly stacked pallets of cheap chinese shit. And one of the most space consuming and time consuming to make ready for sale items in the store is bikes. This is crunch time. I’m trying to pull down a load of diapers that has half fallen off its pallet fourteen feet up in the air with the electric lifter. It’s a huge pain in the ass and maaaybe a safety violation to take the lifter across the floor to main receiving so we try to only do it once a night, so I am in a rush to get everything on the floor so I can go finish unloading the fifth and sixth truck and pull the pallets from the steel on that side too. I’m gonna have to climb up this stupid thing and get the boxes back on the pallet.

I set the forks on the top steel and begin climbing up the cage. You’re not supposed to do this but there is usually just no other way. There’s two or three leaners up here I might try to tape while I’m up here. I wedge myself between the diapers and a drop display of shampoo and legpress the diapers back onto the pallet so I can get them down. Now I just need to get behind that leaning tower of dogfood and maybe I can…

“Aaron we have a safety situation here.”

Shit. I look down to see the guy who stocks shoes is looking more morose than usual over two huge cardboard boxes that skip has ejected from his area overhand, pointing at two corners which fall over the tape line on the floor. Christ on the cross Dale it is two weeks to blitz and you’re fucking whining about two boxes at ten pm.

“Give me a minute Dale, I’ll be down and I will fix that.”

Skip is building bikes at a frantic pace and using that as an excuse to leave an enormous mound of cardboard boxes on the floor in front of shoes storage racks. This, sad and small as it sounds, is a political event, as I am technically in charge of safety in this area, according to the “warehouse manager” sticker on my badge, and the occasionally blooping walkie talkie hanging from my ass. Shoes is a shit department but for reasons nobody can explain to me they have clout. And they have the line, the yellow and black asphalt tape that home office installed as the “designated footpath”. You can’t have cardboard on the footpath, that’s a safety violation. Which you report to your nearest manager. And in the warehouse, you report it to your nearest warehouse manager. And despite the fact that he can be a pain in my ass Dale is a sweet old man that nobody really hates. Except Skip. Skip hates that shoes has clout. He may not understand that but it is true. Skips department, a department of one, butts up against shoes storage, and since shoes storage area had unique bins, and since there was no other place for bikes to build, they gotta beef. And when they beef I get to clean it up.

I climb down and set the boxes up on end. Dale looks unsatisfied, so I yell over the pile of bikes to put all empties on a pallet. Skip does not respond, except to turn up the speed metal he is playing on his cobbled together sound system, but that is all the time I have to soothe Dale’s ego today. I shrug at him and pull nine hundred pounds of canned cat food down and set it next to the diapers.

“Macaroni, do you need help with that cardboard?”

He snuck up on me from the grocery side door. What the fuck was he doing over there.

“Yeah, Thomas can you go bale those guys.”

He’s high as hell. I can just tell with Thomas now. Smoked some meth out in the parking lot. Probably chugged one of those beers he stashes out there too. I sorta want to go grab one of mine but I have too much to do.

“Macaroni may I have one of those pieces of gum.”

Thomas is very chivalrous when he’s tweaking, at least to me. I fish in my apron for the gum and hand it to him, after reflexively checking my cigarettes and lighter were still in my pocket.

He jams the gum into his mouth and squeezes past me and the lifter, throws the wrapper into the trash can in a chubbily graceful jumpshot, grabs a double armload of bike boxes and bounces toward the shoe department doors.

“Where are you working tonight, Thomas Tudbury?”

“Assistant Manager Joel (always full titles when he’s tweaked) speaks perfect Spanish, Macaroni. I heard him talking to an old mexican woman out front.”

“Oh yeah what did he say?”

“I don’t know I don’t speak that shit.”

And he’s gone. Skip throws another bike box over and it hits Dale on the foot. Dale gives me a look and heads for the breakroom. The walkie squawks.

“Anybody seen Thomas, I need him to bust out Housewares for me tonight.”

“Headed toward main receiving with a load of cardboard for me.”

“Speaking of main receiving where is that lifter Walker are you making a career out of that back room? We got a full truck over here.”

“Six more things to get out of the steel then I’m on my way.”

“Unload the truck first.”

Shit. Shit shit. I stuff the lifter under the steel between the racks and jog over to main receiving. Robert hands me the invoices, he’s sweaty, they’ve been working since four. Despite what Assistant Manager Doug says we have three full trucks, the, fifth, sixth, and seventh of the night. Each one is a semirandom jumble of crap. It’s not even christmas crap anymore, we have to be ready, the NIGHT after Black Friday, to go in and reset half the store to New Years/Storage Totes (always binge purchases then BIN purchases heh heh oh no I have jokes about this place I’ve been here too long).

“Nah you go man, you need a break.”

“Fuck it yeah OK.” Robert walks off. He’s too old to be doing this kind of work, it’s still a hundred degrees in the back of this truck. All you can smell is human effort. Mario the stud is throwing. Conan is outside throwing up. He does it for attention. Roberto sees me coming.

“Pelon.” (bald guy)

“You want me to throw or stack.”

“We need somebody on 7-8, diapers, man we got so many diapers.”

God damn it I just pulled down diapers. Well, everything I pulled down was Huggies this is all house brand, it’ll be fine (oh god I know the inventory I’ve been here too long too long). Stacking sucks. You use a lot of tape and stretch wrap and you swear a lot. You put a lot of unsafe stacks of shit on pallets and pull them out to the floor at unsafe speeds. You knock a lot of endcaps down. It’s pretty fun. Stacking diapers sucks a LOT because every size has a different sized shipping box so they never stack well. It’s annoying and repetitive. This is why Conan is outside throwing up, so he can avoid stacking diapers. Jesus christ.

Half a truck of diapers. What in the hell was going on with that order. Mexican Maria and Indian Debbie are both back telling me to stop sending out diapers because they don’t even have room to work in their department.

Joel flips me off and tells me to suck his dick in his deaf pantomime way. Then he laughs and pretends to be Indian Debbie bitching me out, and gestures at the diapers. I make a circular hand gesture and point to layaway. He gives me a thumbs up and runs off. He’s the hardest worker at the entire store. Conan comes in and tries to explain himself to me. Despite the fact that he works for Robert, he seems to only acknowledge caucasian superiors, and I am the closest thing he can find to an authority figure. I wish he’d stop talking to me with his barfy breath. I walk into the truck and tell Mario the stud to go get a drink. I take off my shirt and start throwing in the hot dark.

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.