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.

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_.