Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Letter to my Past Self Concerning His Future

I wanted to say a few things before this one gets going. It might seem a little weird halfway through, but, keep in mind I never stopped writing these letters, I just stopped posting them for a little while because I really wasn't happy with any of them, which just goes against the whole idea in the first place. I'm trying to get the habit back of putting them out when I write them, before I can think about them, to get that rhythm back and get them doing their job again.

I was worried that this might be a little too "woe is me." I played with the idea of making it funny or angry, or splitting it into two different letters, but, in the end I thought it had a decent flow so I'm just throwing it up as is.

It's a long one, and it's more thoughtful than outrageous, so, if you make it to the end I hope you get something out of it. I'd love to know if you did.

Dear hopeful, dedicated, focused version of myself that probably never even existed half my lifetime ago,

When I was younger, I wanted to be today’s Tom Sawyer. Now, more and more, it feels like I ended up today’s Holden Caufield. So fearful, for so long, of all the phonies after me in my day to day life, that I’ve inevitably turned that McCarthy brand magnifying glass permanently on myself. Inviting all who cross my path to gaze into it so they can see how good I am at being the genuine article. I’m Year One, I’m first print, come all ye and be amazed. But, I’m not, so they don’t.

In reality I’m a fair weather rebel. An HST wannabe with either too much sense or not enough balls to try and follow in that exciting, albeit bizarre, legacy of total freedom in the face of true American Fear. Instead I sit on my couch and drink alone, reading of his adventures. And, even that I don’t do that often anymore. I can’t, you see. I have to retain my energy, and more importantly my sobriety, so that I can face the maddening monotony of the modern economy, and workplace.

Ugh, the workplace. MY workplace, like working inside of a giant florescent bee hive. Constantly buzzing with the background drone of its many server fans, and many employees. A drone so deafening and ever-present that I couldn’t have even imagined it in younger times. Better times, when the biggest thing in my life was my own ego, and that’s exactly the way I thought it should be. Even now, as I write this, there’s the droning. To my left a human voice slurs and mumbles, never ending in its need to be expressed, keeping me from doing the same, quietly, and on paper.

A voice weaving a web of tales and ignorant opinion about honor and integrity, all in a desperate attempt to bullshit me so I won’t pay attention to the TONE of the voice speaking. The tone used when making an excuse. The tone of voice that both tries to justify actions while at the same time begging forgiveness. A tone that has come out of my lips so much in the past that I never want to hear it again. I can’t stand how thick the air is getting and now all I want to do is take a piss. I just want a quiet place to urinate and get away for a time out. But this, like most things lately, will be denied.

When I walk into the bathroom I’m greeted by the always smiling, barely-speaks-English Asian security guard that has recently come on the night shift. I walk past him to the urinal and I hear the quick and pleasant, “hello sir. Have a nice day, sir. Very good, sir.” Goddamnit, man! This is America. You don’t have to “yessuh” me when I’m standing dick in hand in front of porcelain. Where you used to live did you address your fellow pissers as “sir”? You’re free now. Run!

He looks nearly twice my age and, as he nods and salutes his way back to his post, I wonder what he did a lifetime ago. I wonder if he lived in a village. I wonder if he lived near the ocean, and rowed out to fish in that ocean every day. I wonder if he, fit and bare-chested, cast his nets out into the water and drew his family’s livelihood right out of the dark surf with his bare hands by the light of a rising sun; hand delivering the birth of each new day.

I wonder if he hated it. I wonder if he dreaded gathering his nets and going out to the boat. I wonder if he thought that was a phony way to live. I bet he did. Because he’s a god damn idiot.

I’m getting too far inside my own head so I decide to go out onto the floor of the boat. I pass him as he waves the swollen glutton of zombies though the ID check stand. “Hello, sir. Very good, sir. Good luck, sir.” I look away from him as I pass and tell myself he deserves this for abandoning what must have been a good life, over greed. Then I am swallowed by the Twin Peaks ambience that is the place I work.

A casino river boat is what airplanes would be today if the in-flight trends of airlines in the sixties had been carried on into the 21st century: a three level orgy of bad carpet patterns, lights, stale smoke, and booze. Tiny, beautiful women, stuffed into tight corsets carrying trays of cigarettes and offering drinks to dull the bright glare and loud sirens of the slot machines. A room full of drunks settling into bent chairs with old cushions, ignoring the ghosts of Christmas past and future on either side of them, pulling the levers that power this blasphemous engine, this floating house of worship, demanding constant sacrifice to every shiny calf on the face of every one armed bandit.

And of course there’s black jack on the lower decks.

My fellow employees roam the decks having private conversations that they have to shout at each other in order to be heard over the chaos. I notice the customers’ faces as they catch halves of sentences that ought to be whispered in closed offices. Things like, “I’ll come up here and shove my shotgun up his ass,” or “sometimes I like to crawl on top of the dresser while she whips me with my own belt,” or “if only I wasn’t married to her mom, you know what I mean?” Yeah, man, we all know what you mean. You said it at the top of your lungs.

But, the customers are the lucky ones. They can pretend they didn’t hear what was just yelled practically in their face and move on to the next glittering distraction. For the rest of us, meaning me, I’m left to continue these conversations. Asked to participate in these diatribes that swing so wildly between Fox News headlines, pop psychology, episodes of Heroes I’ve never seen, and then on to what borders on brutal rape fantasies, that I almost feel physically exhausted. The pent up violence and secret carnal desires hidden from the daylight are almost palpable among the workers of the night shift.

The night shift. The grave shift. The dead shift.

Where sometimes the only thing to do is talk about who you want to kill or who you want to fuck. And, the only way to escape it is to change the subject to a bad joke, or some office gossip, or the speaker’s family. The amount of times I’ve heard conversations turn on a dime from beatings and rape to daughters’ birthdays is mind boggling. And, if that fails there’s always locking myself in my office. Cleanly separating myself from ALL contact is an absolute solution, but to do it all night is sometimes frowned upon. They say it makes IT look like weirdo loners. Well, Jesus Christ! That’s like saying you shouldn’t stay on your side of the bars at the zoo because the fucking lions will think you’re antisocial.

The bizarreness isn’t necessarily all bad. There can be a fascinating intrigue in walking around a spiritual relic of the 1970’s, the smoking being chief among the adopted traditions. And, I don’t mean a few outcasts shivering and puffing by the dumpsters. No, walking around this property is like strolling through an old ad from a Life magazine. Sinewy streamers of smoke rising from every occupied seat at a poker table, like tiny, green felt industrial districts all around the floor. An octogenarian, oxygen tank turned up as high as it will go, leaning over in his scooter to accept a lit match from a pair of breasts stuffed in a black and gold one piece with a security badge clipped to the front. His eyes hungrily staring into the cleavage of someone who could be his granddaughter.

The other day at breakfast in the cafeteria I nosily looked over at the tray of a fellow employee, an older thin woman, and saw only a plate of bacon, a pack of Dorals, and a V-8. Later I went down to the floor and noticed another woman unwittingly flicking her long ash into her own open purse. I see this and wonder if this is what it used to be like everywhere, when smoking was more common than chewing Trident. A vice taken to the extreme point of complete, abandoned ridiculousness. The picture in my head strains to recreate a time before I was born, and I wish I had been there to see it in person.

After I lose interest in the wild life there are a few things I can do to pass the time, but not many. Read, write, draw, solitaire, and, sometimes when it rains I go out on the top deck and huddle under an awning to watch the rain turn the Red River into a wide, soft band of silk being dragged across the ground. It’s surface warmly lit by the adjacent Bass Pro Shop and Hooters on the Bossier side of the river. But, even that gets old pretty fast and with my distractions exhausted, I eventually succumb to the crushing anxiety that comes with any job where you, for the most part, do nothing.

If you had told me eight years ago that I would be working here, I would have solemnly considered it, and then completely agreed with you, and for one reason. Everything about this place is the epitome of the path of least resistance, which, anyone who knows me could tell you, is my Dharma of choice. Proven, even now, with the writing of this letter.

When I was unemployed at the beginning of this year, I got it in my head that I could write a book by the time I was 26. The magnitude of that set in pretty quick so I settled on writing a book of short stories instead, as I have at least finished short stories in the past. For the time I was at home after making that decision, I endeavored with a feverish passion. Every day was writing. I’d write in the morning, write at lunch time, or even write in the parking lot of a Sonic if I felt the urge, as I often did back then.

Now, with 5 days to go until my birthday (as of the time I posted this) I have five unfinished short stories, two poems, and a big rambling screenplay, all filed away in a black box with a handle on it. And, what am I working on instead? Another letter. A self indulgent, stream of consciousness essay, thinly veiled as some kind of correspondence. Because, you see, letters are fast, and essays are easy. They are bolts of thought that leap from the mind without need for plot or spin or continuity. They are the literary path of least resistance, and the only things this pathetic Bodhisattva of “get the easy stuff done first” can bring himself to pen down anymore.

I tell myself it’s this place. This job where the false hope and too-little-too-late desperation spreads onto me so thick that sometimes I just have to walk outside and shake it out of my hair, like a dog shaking off a heavy rain. I’ll tell myself that it’s the stress, when a day comes a long where everything goes wrong at once. Or, I’ll tell myself it’s the monotony when it’s so quiet at night for ten hours straight that the job feels like one big detention hall. But it’s not. “It’s my job,” was the excuse I used to use at the last place I worked when I couldn’t get anything done, but that was the most productive I had been since college, and the most successful I’d been, well, ever. As far as writing was concerned, that is. I WAS eventually let go from the actual, you know, JOB part of it.

No, more than the job, it feels like my mind is starting to cave in on itself. Whatever that means. And, that these letters, although nor “real” writing, are the only motivated expression I can produce anymore. Scratched wildly into Moleskins between all the ridiculous drama and unprecedented tragedy and extraneous for hyperbole. They are the squeaks of a bat in a dark cave, sent out in hopes of a return echo to let me know I’m still going in the right direction.

They’ve become an odd chronicle of an ongoing quarter-life crisis. And I feel like I have to keep writing them, even if more make it into the trash than the public like lately, because if I stop then I’m agreeing to be completely swallowed up by the rushing rapids of responsible life. I’d be deciding to stop hovering above the boat, stop peering into the windows and recording my observations of the natives, and admitting that I’ve become just as much a part of the machinery as they have. As much a part of this place as the light and the air conditioning, and worth about as much attention.

The letters are expression, but they are also a stall. With each one completed I feel like I’ve reset a death clock. But more and more it feels like time’s running out. I’ve got my ankles locked around the cot in my cell, licking the plate my last meal came on, protesting that there’s still a little gravy left as they drag me down the hall to the gas chamber. Fuck you, pigs! What do you have against gravy? Call the governor! Tell him about the gravy! Listen to me you GOD damn Gestapo meat heads!

The flagrant arrogance of what I’m doing isn’t lost on me either. Posting two thousand word essays in the forums of a site that already has a full writing staff is the equivalent of standing next to a newsstand and handing out free multi-colored, Kinko-copied newsletters to the passersby. Shoving the single canary yellow or salmon pink sheet into their hands and making sure they hear the rattle of my cup before they walk off.

Maniacal Monthly! (Now in print!!! Donations welcome!!!)

It’s, at best, juvenile, and, at worst, delusional, but right now I think it’s the best I can do. After I got my new job everything inside just seemed to shut down, except this. This, right here, right now, seems to be the only thing that made it through with all the moving parts. For better or worse.

Maybe this still works because in some way writing what I want, when I want, for free, still feels rebellious. Maybe it still feels like art. Or, maybe, it just doesn’t carry that flash of a car payment or mortgage note going out the window when an editor frowns at my print. Or, that WOULD happen if I sent anything to anyone anymore. The last time I was even rejected for something I was cursing the obnoxious summer heat.

It’s probably simpler than all of that. It’s probably just easier to say “fuck you, forum guy,” than it is to say “fuck you, Tin House.” And, in a time in my life when easy is a rare, precious commodity, I can see the appeal.

If you’ve made it this far and are reaching for a point to all this rambling, I’ll bring it home for you. Think of this letter as an apology. An apology to a thirteen year old version of me that expected to be working for Image comics when he was my age. A note sent back in time, to apologize in advance, after it’s already way too late.

I’m sorry, Stephen. Maybe in another 13 years we’ll be better at this. But, we’re probably just fucked.

But, of course.

You always suspected anyway, right?

Oh, and happy birthday, shit for brains. Kiss your girlfriend for me next year.

Chiggie von Richthofen
The sun is the same in a relative way, but I’m older

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