Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Letter to Those Just Out of the Nest Concerning the Iron Age

Dear fresh, unscarred faces of youth,

Ironing is a very unique experience. Of all the things in my life I've learned to do, nothing else really has held the dual nature of being so simple a concept, yet, so complicated a practice. It's all fine and good on paper. Just apply hot surface to wrinkled clothing. But, what those directions should stress is that you should apply the hot surface ONLY to wrinkled clothing. It's a subtle yet important variation of the standard ironing instructions, but, could have saved me some grief in the long run. I found that the mystical properties of dispelling wrinkles with this "magic handle" were so profound to me in the beginning, that I would forget that there are many objects and surfaces on Earth, and specifically in my home, that react quite adversely to having searing hot metal applied to them. Things like the door the ironing board is attached to, or the seat of an exercise bike, or my arm.

For some reason cotton, the result of a sharp and brittle PLANT, seemed to take the surface-of-Mercury heat in stride with no problem. But, the side of my nylon duffel bag? Shit. You'd think a tiny dragon had been held captive in it and decided its only means of escape was to make a hole in the side with its magical sulfur breath. I'm talking seconds and I'm holding the bag up, looking confusedly through a smoldering gash to the wall across the room, like I'm in a scene from Home Alone.

All I wanted to do was to iron on a patch over a part of the bag that had become frayed and weak. It wasn't until the smell hit my nostrils that I noticed the comical iron shaped hole that had been flame broiled right through the side of my favorite bag. I had a thought that was probably something like, "Christ, I've vaporized my poor yellow sack." Oh, if only the nylon had vaporized.

Deciding that the yellow plastic that had melted off my bag had, I don't know, teleported to another dimension, I guess, I tossed the bag aside and decided to iron something else. Luckily, before I pressed the iron down to my pants, I noticed where the nylon had actually got to. A golden brown film was hardening to the still hot surface of my little white bag murderer. Peeling it off was not unlike scraping the burnt cheese from a plate of nachos fresh from the microwave. That brought up a very good question that had never occurred to me in my entire life up to that point. How in the fuck to you clean an iron?

I was 22 years old. Up until a regular American male is 20, it never even really registers to him that he is going to USE an iron in his lifetime. So, with only a month or two into the journey of learning the mysteries of this strange device, now I had to figure out how to clean it up like new. I considered just buying a new one, but, I decided that the nylon bag incident was my typical M.O. when it came to being domestic, so, learning how to service and care for the tiny nuclear reactor was probably best.

I went and got a wet rag from the kitchen (the "only damp with tap water kitchen rag" being the grand champion of "cleaning shit" when you're just out of your teens) but when I got back to the iron I paused. I had just brought slightly warm water contained in cloth to clean a thing that injects "hell steam" straight through other kinds of cloth. It kind of felt like using a lead bar to clean a gun. So, I stood there, tilting my head in contemplation like my, then, young dog would tilt it's head and stare at the tree frogs on the other side of our sliding door. Probably wondering why a frog's ass feels exactly like smooth glass.

My mother was eventually called on the telephone.

"Mom, how does a mortal human clean an 'I Yurn'." I spoke as if reading "iron" off the side of the box in an attempt to subconsciously communicate to her that I was in way over my head. She politely responded that a human being can clean an iron with something called iron cleaner.

"Well, Christ," I said. "Why don't they name it something obvious?" Iron cleaner was purchased.

When I got home and opened it, I was greeted by a substance that I thought was what maybe toothpaste used to be like. In other words, it was just a beige paste. I don't know WHY I thought that it being beige meant that it was what olden times toothpaste looked like. Maybe, I just thought that everything used before I was born was sepia toned. I'm not proud of the way thoughts used to form in my brain.

So, now I had paste. But, do I slather it on the iron? Should the iron be cold? Surely, it should be cold. Although, heat is often an ingredient in cleaning things, and this thing sure gets pretty fucking hot. Maybe, I'm supposed to mix it with water first, or vinegar. Vinegar does stuff right? But, we didn't have any vinegar. Maybe, I spread it on the plate and let it set, then peel it off. Like it traps all the dirt in a crust.

Now, at this point, some of you might be thinking, "what did it say to do on the side of the tube?" Those people haven't been a 22 year old guy. Let's just say that this, what's happening above me, the process I went through years ago, if Jane Goodall had studied guys that had just gotten their first grown up job instead of chimps, there would be a chapter in her book called "Adult Males Disregard for Assistance in Simple Tasks". Some guy is standing in front of an ironing board right now, in his boxers, burnt tie in the garbage can, squirting iron cleaner out into his hands and forgetting that he hasn't unplugged it as his palm moves towards the sole plate.

Eventually, I came up with an idea that I thought was pure genius. I wouldn't put the cleaner ON the iron and scrub it with a cloth. I'd put the cleaner on a cloth, and scrub the cloth WITH the iron. I'd IRON the fucking thing clean! I squished out a heap of paste on an old towel and spread it around with my fingers a little bit. Then, I got the iron hot enough to go back in fucking time. It was full of water because I wanted lots of steam. The light went off letting me know that I had successfully preheated the device, and I pressed it into the goo on the towel.

Oh, what hissing! I jammed the button over and over again and steam filled the room as a metallic taste filled my mouth. I leaned into the iron and really scrubbed it against the towel, causing the ironing board to creak in disappointment. When I finally lifted it up, the towel was a horrid black smear, with a twinge of yellow and green to it. But, the bottom of the iron was pretty damn near cleaned. More paste squished, more hissing, more worry that I can taste pennies, but after a few rounds of that, I had a clean iron. All it cost me was one whole towel. Success!

Incidentally, this is STILL the method I use to clean irons.

Of course, all these trials an tribulations are just the natural process of young people learning how to get along in life as adults. Unfamiliarity with common household devices is going to cause some learning experiments with anyone. Especially when that device is a molten hot skillet they need to learn how to use in order to fit in with an adult world and workplace. Up until that point I had been relying on the dryer to get my clothes to a state where I might fool people into thinking I belonged in the office with them. All of those first mistakes where just that. Innocent, harmless mistakes.

It's not until that awkward period of domestication puberty passes that one really starts to realize that irons aren't just unwieldy, they're fucking evil little bastards. Tiny imps that live in your closet, waiting for you to become complacent with they're usefulness. Waiting. Until the perfect time to shatter the very fabric of your mind.

The first time I realized I had been double crossed by my little eggshell-white sadist was when I tried ironing a pair of jeans with fashionable rivets embedded in the corners of the pockets. All was five by five with the legs, as I had been ridding pant legs of wrinkles for a while by then, and I chose to go all out and iron the top as well. This is a move I would have never tried as a mere ironing beginner, but, that day I was feeling lucky and decided that my wife had been good to me over the years and she deserved crisp, flat pockets like everyone else.

There's something important to note about being burned by an iron. Half the time it isn't the iron itself doing the burning, but, the heat being transferred vicariously through an intermediary. The iron acts as a tiny godfather getting some out of luck and desperate stooge, like say a metal rivet, to do his dirty work for him so he's not directly culpable. So then when you get burned, and you WILL get burned, the surprise you experience from both the unlikely source, and the sudden intensity of the attack, will hot wire your brain so that your id and speech center, for a brief moment, are one in the same.

The usual patterns of speech that have gotten you through life as a social animal will revert into a state that will make you sound like a preschool teacher suffering from Tourette's. As soon as that freshly ironed denim decoration touched my skin the only thing I could force out of my mouth was, "son of a jelly donut cockbitchmotherfucker!"

When I looked down at my throbbing forearm I expected to see half of it missing, but instead, there was just a single, tiny, red dot. A Scarlett Letter for idiots. It felt so bad that I would have sworn the rivet was still against my flesh, branding me as property of the Levi Strauss corporation. Never did I think in a million years that the technology existed to condition a grown man to fear pants, but by golly, the iron is just that versatile. For weeks after the incident when wearing jeans I would physically cringe when I felt the metal from the pockets or buckle touch my bare skin. I was convinced that the slightest contact would cause my entire body to burst into flame, not unlike the fear a mouse holds that one of the feeder bars will give him a painful shock.

A month or so passed and I became complacent again. Convinced that the "roasting on a stick under the 30 foot flames of a thousand burning corpses in hell" style pain I experienced would subconsciously keep me from ever casually brushing a hot rivet again. I began to resume my friendly relationship with the iron. After all, he didn't burn me, the pants did. Just as he planned me to think all along. And, I wasn't that far off the mark when I thought that I'd never brush against hot metal again. That turned out to be mostly true. What I didn't take into account is that solid objects weren't the only thing these little shithead appliances can super heat.

The chosen battlefield for our next altercation was a pair of khaki cargo pants whose pockets had the tendency to get bent out of shape in the dryer. I laid the pants down on the board, delicately flattening them with the palm of my hand, and then proceeded to iron the flaps down against the pockets, like I had done a hundred times. That time one of the flaps was particularly mangled, no doubt paid to do so by little mister iron as a key element to my assassination attempt, and I had to use my index finger and thumb to hold the flap down while I ran the edge of the five thousand degree plate against it.

What the biggest bitch about this whole thing ended up being was that when I held that pocket down and started to push my Black and Decker killamajig towards my fingers, I was just SURE that I was going to be ironing a substantial part of my flesh into my pants. I just knew I was about to fuck up. But, I didn't. That part of the operation went perfect. The metal never made it to my fingers. But, the steam that built up between the folds of the pocket and then exited into my fingertips, THAT sure as hell hit its mark.

At first, I didn't even register the sensation of my hand being pressurized into vapor. I probably came around when the stump that was left of my arm thudded against the ironing board, I really can't remember. But, after a few seconds I was waving my hand like a beauty pageant winner with a head full of cocaine screaming such gems as, "Thomas Jefferson ditryhorseballhairs!" and "how to get to Sesame Street on icemothercockingdickbeards!"

If my wife hadn't been in the shower for the grand performance, I'm sure she would have thought that I was being possessed by a being of pure psychotic heat. As it worked out all she noticed was my trembling red fingers as I handed her a towel after her shower. She looked up at me and I nodded and managed to quietly whimper out the words, "god damn iron." Then she gave me a look like a park ranger gives a camper that has been feeding the bears. A look that says, "I'm sorry you got maimed, but, at the same time I'm not surprised."

Only having two major attacks on my person by the iron doesn't mean that those are the only times that that crazy bitch has made a play for my life. There have been plenty of attempted manslaughters that just weren't planned through enough by the arrow shaped fucker to be successful. There have been countless tip overs, more than a few cords wrapped around my legs, and a few times when the steam would just shut off forcing me to try different, dangerous methods of checking to make sure the fucking thing was still on.

This level of pure evil might be puzzling until you realize just what an iron is. They are devices filled with unholy incantations that some how mix elements that would normally be fatal together and make them useful. They mix water, metal, and electricity, and end up with something that's a tool instead of a trick used by someone to cause you to instantly explode when you touch it. They remove all the death part of the transaction on only leave moist heat and, on occasion, unimaginable pain.

The only reason I don't toss its sorry ass out in the garbage is that from my experiences in other homes and countless hotel rooms I've learned that all irons are the same or worse than mine. They are just spiteful, mean objects. They should sell them with a tiny riding crop and handcuffs, because, they don't only iron the pants, they make it abundantly clear that when you are using them, they are wearing the pants too.

Chiggie Von Richthofen

"This is a place where eternally
Fire is applied to the body
Teeth are extruded and bones are ground
Then baked into cakes which are passed around."
-Hell, Squirrel Nut Zippers

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Letter for Gamers Concerning the Other Letter for Gamers

Dear fellow gamers, uh, again,

I've actually written a letter about this before, about a year and a half ago, when I was having a crisis of self. It was possibly as polar opposite to the intention of this one as possible. Considering I'm actually thinking about collecting all of these together in a single volume in the future, the juxtaposition of these two within pages of each other will be particularly interesting, to me anyway. Since then, I've written other letters and thought about myself, a lot, and I think I've gained some perspective, and also realized that there are things about me that are too set in my DNA at this point to ignore or reject.

I just recently finished reading a book called Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. It was a book about successful people and how they got that way through environmental factors, good timing, family upbringing, etc. There's a lot to the book but one thing that jumped out at me while reading it was when he started talking about what makes a person a master at something, like a master pianist or professional pitcher and that kind of thing. He says that statistically there's a magic number of hours spent practicing their trade before they have truly begun to master their art. That number, apparently, is 10,000 hours. That's 10,000 hours spent trying to get better at something. That's a lot of hours.

Now, this book has caused me to think a lot about a bunch of things while I was reading it, but, this one idea really made me pause and think back on my life. What had I ever done for ten THOUSAND hours? I have dabbled with different instruments, but never enough to even remember the basics now. I've built things with my hands, worked on electronics, sewn, drawn, mixed music, but again, never for prolonged periods of time. I'm a person that kind of drifts in and out of projects as they are interesting to me, and gives up when they're not. Except for one activity. There is ONE thing that I'll do, and have done, pretty much every day, for hours a day, whether I particularly feel like it or not, whether I feel like I'm progressing or not, sometimes just to force myself to get better at it so when I do come back later I will have a better time because I've put a lot of blood and sweat into being just overall better at it: Gaming. I've easily put over ten thousand hours into gaming. At this point it would be an almost literal statement to say I've been playing video games my entire life. Gaming, fucking GAMING, is what I could be considered a master of.

At first you might think something like, damn dude, that's pretty pathetic, and you'd be right there along with my own feelings when I deduced this out on my own, with this book still on my lap talking about the Bill Gates' and Rockefellers of the world. Is this really what I've amounted to through a life's endeavor? Am I staring down the barrel of my 27th year on this Earth only to have the medal of "Master Gamer" pinned to my otherwise blank chest? Well, yes and no.

I mean, yes. Just yes. I don't have anything for the "no" part of that.

What I've decided is, yes, I'm getting the master gamer medal, but, that maybe this isn't such a ridiculous thing to have earned. No, I'm not a master guitarist, and I could have been at this point, in the way that I could have been anything with enough work. I'm not a master chef or a master carpenter or blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying I couldn't have been other things that are, socially, viewed as more accomplished. What I am saying is, I'm statistically considered a master at SOMETHING. And, something I love, at that. I can't turn back time and stop myself from becoming obsessed with Wolf 3D and Super Mario and TMNT (for the NES) so, what the hell, let's get my awards party started! Look at me, everybody, I'm a MASTER! Where's my fucking medal! Pin it on me! Pin it on and gaze in envy all you NON-masters out there!

I figure that what's done is done, and what I'm doing I'll probably keep doing for a while. So, feeling shame over a life time of achievement, just because it doesn't achieve something that people, or maybe even I, find important, is just unneeded stress on top of everything else that life crams up my ass and lights on the 4th of July. It would be, and has been, counter productive, nay, destructive to my own psyche and self esteem to regret the gaming lifestyle I've had at this point. It's too deeply ingrained, too woven into almost every major moment.

I grew up in a house miles away from the nearest kid. I couldn't ride my bike to my buddies' houses or down to a movie theater. Outside I could run around by myself or make the 2 or 3 mile hike down to a convenience store for a coke, which always involved a lot of thinking on the way there and back. It's not really surprising that video games would become a huge part of the way I spent my free time. That and a tech savvy dad that showed up less and less as I got older and older meant that gifts of the computer entertainment nature were plentiful. A 386 when I was 5, and Atari around the same time. Later an NES, then SNES, then Playstation, then N64, then XBOX, then 360. Not to mention an ever upgrading computer, Gameboy advance, GBASP, and DS. Those last eight things I mentioned being things that I actually had to work and earn money to buy myself. On top of that lets not forget the runners up. The Tiger Handhelds, the electronic pocket black jack and poker, the Lights Out, the Simon, and probably another 50 objects that want you to push buttons when lights and sound happen.

I can almost carbon date myself by the gaming accomplishments I've had. In fact, a lot of times I can't remember dates or years when I knew a certain person or was in a certain grade of school, but, I can remember what I was playing when I was doing those things.

I remember the first time I had a crush on a girl and couldn't ever find the courage to tell her. 1989? 1991? 1992? Hell, I don't know. It was Wolfenstein 3D. I honestly couldn't tell you the year unless I had a year book. But, I can tell you, for sure, that when I had a crush on her, it was Wolfenstein 3D.

Last time I hung out with my grade school friends before we all went off to middle school? Nineteen ninety-I have no fucking idea. It was Donkey Kong Country, I remember it vividly.

The first time I was beaten savagely by a bully. Outrun, arcade with moving seat.

Meeting one of my best friends, still to this day, in middle school. Virtua Fighter.

The first time I visited England since I lived there as a child. Area 51, the light gun arcade version. That one is especially vivid because I BEAT the arcade while I was there, on vacation, while my dad sat in a pub wondering what the hell the big deal was, AND, I did it using both the first and second player light guns at the same time, one in each hand, can I get a hell yes!

My first internet girlfriend that broke up with me because I wasn't religious. Quake 1.

The first time I had sex while playing a game at the same time with a much, much better girlfriend. Goldeneye 64.

Posting a front page article, on a prestigious gaming website, about that time I was savagely beaten by a bully in a skating rink. Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

In high school, while I was practicing my own take on Buddhism (otherwise known as NOT Buddhism. It was more like 3 parts sleep deprivation, 2 parts Buddhism, and 1 part watching Fight Club all the time) I got closest to feelings of pure Zen during our 2-3 day Quake 3 tournaments. The zoning out required to sustain your skill and sanity in a 5 hour long Instagib match is probably the closest I've ever felt to enlightened.

When I went to college and my friends had all moved, I met a guy there through a social club, and my mom. I was going to leave the mom part out because it makes the rest of this sound like we started dating, but, I want to be accurate so there it is. We hit it off and started hanging out, but what I think really clinched the friendship was when I asked him to come over to my house and help me beat Halo on legendary. I just needed him to stand there and follow me around, but, after I saw the secret ending we actually started playing the game together from the beginning. Fast forward to a cold November night and we're standing in front of a Gamestop together, near the apartment we shared with my girlfriend, waiting to get our midnight release copies of Halo 2. Fast forward again and it's a warmer night at a Gamestop across town, near the house he shared with me and my wife, and now we're waiting for Halo 3. Fast forward yet again and he pre-orders Halo ODST from his laptop in his apartment and I pick it up after launch from a Walmart on my lunch break because it's stupid to stand outside a store in the middle of the night. I play games with that guy pretty much every single fucking day. We've played almost every major release together since he bought and XBOX and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. He's my best friend. And, I can't help but give Halo a lot of the credit for that.

And it's not just the gift of friendship that gaming has given me over the years. There are some real moments of pride in there too. I remember things about gaming in my life that, to me, were defining moments. I remember sitting on the easy chair I used to keep in my room in high school. This chair was for watching TV, playing games, sleeping, eating, writing, listening to music, and if I had had my way with the plumbing, other things as well. So, I'm sitting in my chair, and all my friends are gathered around shooting the shit and I'm playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3. I loved this game. It was a sordid affair that I will always keep near to my heart. One of my friends even commented about how I spend a, probably, unhealthy amount of time playing a skateboarding game while my actual skateboard sits gathering dust against the wall with me barely still able to stay up right on it, on a good day.

The conversation rolls around the room among the teenage boys as those conversations do. Lots of colorful metaphors about my penis size and whether I like to use my tiny penis on men or animals. This somehow leads to one of the girls in the room (my girlfriend's best friend) jumping up and sitting down hard on my left arm, pinning it to the chair so that my fingers couldn't reach the controller. I smiled and looked up at her and put the controller on my knee, stretched my free hand out like a spider and just kept playing.

Suddenly, it wasn't about how I wouldn't be able to sexually satisfy the family dog. It was more like, "holy shit you can play that with one hand?" It took about ten seconds for them to start shouting out things like, "grind across that fence" and "do a benihana!" We weren't thinking about how this was an utterly ridiculous skill to have cultivated, we were caught up in the "mighty ducks comeback" moment that was me continuing my amazing run in the face of disability. Even I, for some reason, wasn't all that focused on how my left arm was being pinned down under the warm, young ass of a teenage girl. And, really this is just me hoping here, I don't think my girlfriend was even thinking about that whole ass firmly against my body thing either.

The point I'm trying to make is that when somebody is good at something, it's attractive to other people. We like to watch people do things that we didn't think were possible, even if the only reason it should be impossible is because no one should ever spend time getting good at it. It's that universal attraction to skill that makes me feel like this wasn't a lifetime worth of wasted energy. Gaming isn't something I chose from a list of reputable careers. Gaming was something that I fell into, and loved, and wanted to be better at. I felt good, and I still feel good, when I overcame obstacles in hard games. I feel better than other people who can't do it, and I don't have tell those of us that have been lucky enough to beat someone at something, that feeling superior than your peers is one of the best things in the world. Frankly, at this point, I've put so much time and energy into it, that if I WASN'T good at video games, THAT would be pathetic.

Reacting to artificial stimuli has been the one constant throughout my entire life. I built skills around it, created fantasies about it, built friendships based on mutual love for it, published stories about it, and all around just came to make room for it, no matter what, no matter where I ended up in my life.

I can't say it's always made sense to me, my obsession with gaming, and sometimes I get just outright depressed because I think I've wasted my life on useless frivolity. But, I don't stop. And, not like a "just one more hit man", or "I'll quit tomorrow" kind of don't stop. It's just that I never lose interest. New games always seem so fun and exciting. I find myself, over and over again, eager to be engrossed in the new puzzles and environments that other like minded people have created for me. When you boil it down, I'm just excited to explore the worlds created by others. Just the same as when someone looks forward to a new book by a favorite author, or a new movie by a favorite director.

Those being two things I ALSO do. Gaming isn't my entire life. I don't want you to get that impression. But without gaming, there wouldn't be a me, as he is now, in all his glory and studliness. I love movies, I love comics, I love books, I love TV, and I LOVE music. I used to think that the sum of those loves outweighed my love for gaming and that made me a well rounded person, but, that's a stupid way to quantify an existence. It's making justifications and excuses because I felt guilty about the video games. At the same time finding in those same games the only real sense of triumph and accomplishment I might have ever felt in my lifetime.

There's been some great times in my life. I got paid for some short stories. I got married to my high school sweetheart. I put a car in a controlled slide before I got my license. I've done unspeakable things in movie theaters. I went to Paris with my wife (ah, Paris). But things like that are few and far between in life. In real life. But, in the virtual worlds, with the buttons under my thumbs, Brothers and Sisters I can feel a small part of that excitement and pure joy every day of my waking life. I don't have to get high, I don't have to get arrested, I don't have to get a disease, I just have to play. We just have to play, and everything will be alright.

I've gone back and forth about that idea before, and I might go back and forth about it again, but I can't imagine ending up anywhere other than right back here, eventually, every time, because, as much as I want to be the kind of person that has done some really great non-gaming things, it's just not going to happen. I can't change the past. So, I might as well stick with trying to be happy with me: a person that has done some really great gaming things. I mean just an awesome guy. He really is the best.

Chiggie Von Richthofen

"It'll all click when the mortgage clears.
All our fears will disappear.
Now you got to bed, I'm staying here.
I've got another level that I want to clear."
--Cells, The Servant

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Letter to the BSA Concerning a Life Changing Outhouse

Dear army recruiters, hippies, and everyone in between,

The other night I was lifting a bag of groceries out of the car, and screamed in pain. This was unusual, because I don't make a habit of screaming in pain. I cuss in pain. I growl in pain. I'll even snarl and punch a door jam in pain, but, screaming from the mixture of surprise sensation mixed with the sorrow of my body failing me at the same time, doesn't really happen. I screamed at that moment because the plastic handle of a bag with a gallon of milk in it had slipped to rest its full weight on the side of the middle finger of my left hand, right next to the nail. The one, tiny piece of my body that, at that moment, was infected.

Now, I don't know how many of you reading this have ever had an infection on a sensitive part of your body before, but, it is pure hell on earth. Through multiple toenails, ears, a cut on the knee, and a few finger nails (like the one the bag caught) I feel like I've suffered three life times of infection pain in what, if you added up all the times between those incidents, would probably amount to maybe two months. So, when this bag slid down to my infected fingernail and stopped on it, I thought I might collapse to the ground. I held my breath (after the scream) and managed to make it inside on my feet. Then, I dropped the bags on the kitchen floor and told my wife I'd be right back.

I went into the bathroom and started producing things from under the sink. Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. I tore a wad of toilet paper from the roll. And then, I unclipped my folding knife from the inside of my right jean pocket and flicked it open. The blade, as well as my middle finger, were soaked in the alcohol, and I turned the water on, mostly just as a little distraction. Then, I leaned against the sink, used my thumb to pull the skin tight on my finger, and, well, I'll spare you the other details. I relieved the pressure.

When I came back into the kitchen a minute later with a band-aid my wife asked me what I had done. I got about ten seconds into the explanation before she had had enough. She didn't think I was crazy, but, she certainly wouldn't have ever recommended that course of action to anyone she cared about. I can see where she's coming from, but, to me, what I did was not that odd at all. In fact, I know a few people, my dad included, that would have chastised me for letting it get as bad as I did before I went into the bathroom and used my pocket knife to perform surgery on myself. It's one of the few common traits between my father's and my mother's sides of my family. That quality that someone possesses that allows them to disconnect from things that are distasteful in order to accomplish a more important goal. We're not survivalists or "tough guys". We just don't like the idea of being helpless or dependent.

But, I wasn't always like that.

I'll just come out and say it. I was a pretty wimpy kid. That's how I remember it, anyway. I remember getting beat up and picked on. I remember being scared all the time and never wanting to try new things. I tattled, I ran, and I hid. The word "p*ssy" was used on more than one occasion.

Now, not so much. Now, I seem to have a pretty good handle on my fear and pressure. If something looks dangerous, and I know I have to deal with it, I tend to just start dealing with it before my mind has a chance to overstate the risk, and if I'm lucky, I'm finished before I realize how dangerous or icky or nasty that task just was. My brain is screaming to stop, but I just keep walking or climbing or doing what I'm doing, slowly, carefully, letting my mind freak out while I remain calm.

And, when I try to trace the root of it down to the source of this change in myself, I keep coming back to the same idea. The same core concept that might have had the kind of long lasting effect that helps me every single day. I think it was because I was a boyscout.

I've always had a love affair with the military. When I was a kid I played soldier, when I was older I played Rainbow Six, when I was a little older I played paint ball, and then back to Rainbow Six, because I started smoking and didn't have any money. A lot of my free time is spent learning about, or simulating military actions. My grandfather was career Air Force; a good man and an actual hero (has the crazy stories and the purple heart to prove it). So, as a child getting to go on base and climb around in bombers was definitely fuel on the armed forces fire. I had made up my mind to join the Air Force early on, right up until the point where I met the girl that would become my wife, and even though love put a stop to the idea of enlisting, my obsession still remained.

But, believe me when I tell you that this interest and enjoyment for the armed forces has been troubling to me for a while now, because I find the idea of war distasteful to a very high degree. Since I was old enough to have a real opinion it's bothered the living shit out of me how much I love everything military, but hate everything war. Born to Kill written on my helmet with a peace button on my jacket. The duality of man, sir.

I think my brain has been working on this contradiction for a while in the background to try and understand how those two sides are linked in me. You see, I don't believe in personal internal conflict. I think outside forces can put you in a conflicting position, but when it comes to two ideas that were both born in your head, I don't believe they can be opposed to one another. I think there has to be a connection that explains everything that you just haven't found yet. I think the most important part of a person learning about themselves is figuring out all those hidden reconciliations. I'm a Reconciliationist (you just wait, that will catch on).

So, the other night I'm alone, playing a video game where I shoot people in the head, and something dawns on me. I was groomed into that lifestyle. Uniforms, order, medals, advancement, survival training, team building, chain of command. For a quarter of my current lifetime I was in the little army known as the Boy Scouts of America. Well, actually most of that was Cub Scouts, but it's the same root organization, and the same playbook. I was enrolled early, I think the first grade, and once a week or so was brought to a club house with a group of kids (a few who would become my then best friends) and taught how to prepare myself for life. Not only taught interesting things but trusted by adults to handle myself around knives and fire and axes and bows and pellet rifles and rope (if you don't think rope belongs in the dangerous category you've never been in the scouts and pissed off your friends). It was like boot camp for tots. That is my reconciliation for my hard-on for the military. I had just never really put it together before.

Probably because when I was actually in the Scouts, half the time I absolutely hated it. I didn't know why I had to give up some nights and weekends when other kids didn't to essentially go to another kind of school. I hated the school I went to that was required by law and my parents went ahead and signed me up for double duty. That teaches a kid the word "bullshit" real early in his life. I didn't know why I had to learn how to stake down a tent or build a fire or practice whittling. I lived in a house that had air conditioning. For heat we had these things called stoves and "out of control gasoline experiments".

The only thing I really loved about the Scouts was being with my friends and collecting donated canned food for the homeless. I should clear that up real quick; if you were never a scout, collecting cans was the best thing ever. You sprinted from a moving van to a house, grabbed a sack of carrots and ravioli and sprinted back, full speed, throwing them in the van and running to the next house. It was like you were robbing all the houses on the block in a single morning, we all loved the shit out of it. So, Scouts was miserable for me some of the time, and the rest of the time it was just kind of OK, until a single moment during an important time in my life.

What would become one of the happiest memories of my life was near the end of my tenure as a Boy Scout when we went up to a big hunk of woods and mountains called Camp Orr Adventure Base in Arkansas right on the Buffalo River. I had a pretty rough start, being a p*ssy and all. I had gotten to the point as a kid where I liked the idea of camping and cutting firewood and generally living outdoors. Over the years I had slowly drunk all the kool-aid and was now pretty much on board with what we were doing and that being prepared and helping my fellow man was exactly what I should be doing all the time. That is, until I realized that we were going to have to crap in a hole in the ground. A hole with a seat built on it and walls around it, but a hole nonetheless, and all that whimpering, lip-quivering, "I hate this and want to go home" bullshit came back like a flash flood. This time accompanied by some serious intestinal cramping.

Nevertheless, I refused to use the latrine.

Let me tell you about refusing to use the bathroom for two days straight even though you had to in the car even before you got up to the camp but thought your royal butt cheeks were too good for the McDonald's 4 miles back. Don't do that. Just don't ever do that. I was sick as a dog. I felt like I was going to die, and even then, I decided my dignity and privacy were more important than not having poop in me. So, in my tent I lay, my heart almost as heavy as the lower half of my body. And then nature took over. My brain, deciding that I was not fit for duty, relieved me of my command and I found myself, totally against my better judgment, sprinting through the woods in a race with the devil. 1.5 seconds later ass was on ply wood and I was feeling ten pounds lighter.


That was the last part of me left that thought it deserved the air conditioning. That was the last part of me that wanted to call my mom and tell her to talk to someone and get me out of this place. That was the last part of me that thought it was bullshit that I had to be a scout when other kids didn't. Some people describe defining moments in their life as a weight being lifted or a part of themselves shedding off. Well, that particular life changing moment of mine was crapped into a six foot hole in the woods near Jasper, Arkansas.

I wouldn't be in the Scouts for much longer after that, maybe a year, and I left for personal reasons having to do with an overbearing, abusive mother of one of the other guys that refused NOT to come to meetings. I decided that I didn't sign up to listen to her bitch for a few hours a week, so, seeing that the Troop leaders weren't going to do anything about her, I left. But, I was sad about it. Or, at least I'm sad now. Sometimes it's hard to remember what you felt then versus how you think you should have felt about it now.

Later in life, as a "rebellious" teenager, I would brag that I had been kicked out of the Boy Scouts, but that was mostly just to make people laugh. It was part of an image, the irony of which was while I was telling them how the Scouts just didn't want me, I would still never leave the house without a pocket knife, change for a pay phone, something to eat, and some band-aids. I had already been programmed and no amount of saying "fuck you narcs" after the fact would wash the lessons out of me.

And now, as an adult, I find myself always drawn back, over and over, to the lives of military personal and survivalists. I love learning all about life as a soldier or life out in the wilderness. I'm attracted to those lifestyles with a magnetic force. And now I think it's because I was trained as a child to be that kind of person. It's not that the Scouts took a soft week boy and made a man out of him. It's just that they laid all the ground work and training that an adult can fall back on when things get bad later on in life. That's what you hear all the time from soldiers and police and rescue personnel. Things get fucked up and their training takes over. I think the same thing happens to me, but I think there's something inside of my that feels incomplete, because I walked away from it. I think I am so seduced by the military or law enforcement because they feel like the continuation of that life style that, in hindsight, really helped me become the kind of person I am.

I know the BSA has its bad sides. Overly religious and homophobic leaders have taken a dump on what is, at its core, a wonderful way for children to learn very important lessons about life and the world. Yes, we were part of an organization that was made up almost entirely of white, heterosexual males. Yes, if I was to look at a group photo of us now it might look like a Nazi Youth Rally. But, we didn't know that. We were just spending time with our friends and camping. The military doesn't exactly have a bright and shining record either, and like I said, I hate the idea of war as a concept. But, I'm not signing a petition or running for office over this stuff.

I just miss the pureness of those experiences. I miss how everything we did had a purpose, and everything we were taught had a distinct and immediate point. We were taught to handle ourselves and to help each other. We were taught when to rely on others, and when to rely on only ourselves. We were taught how to keep living and help others do the same.

That's why I live out fantasies on the TV of being in the special forces or Top Gun. That's why I am so fascinated with the military while loathing the point of their existence. That's why I love the tools but hate the job. That's also why I cut my finger open in my bathroom sink a few days ago. It's all healed now and feels better than new. All thanks to me, which is all thanks to them.

Born to kill with a peace button. Nicely tied together by the Boy Scouts of America. Ah, sweet reconciliation, the world makes a little bit more sense than it did yesterday.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
If the chance remains to see those better days, I'd cut those cannons down
My ears are blown to bits from all the rifle hits, but still I crave that sound

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Letter to a Past Experiment Concerning the Failure of its Success

Dear psychotic bastard,

I was in my bedroom the other day. I had gone in there as an escape from something unpleasant happening in the living room. In the course of a civil conversation, where disagreements had been made, something arose in me. Something old and reliably horrid, boiling up from my gut like a crock pot recipe out of Macbeth (they're printed in the back). I walked into the dim room and I stood in front of my door-less closet and I started to take a deep breath. Then I reached in and picked up an empty hanger, tore it in half, threw one half against the wall, shattering it, and then stormed into the kitchen, and disintegrated the rest of it with pure rage. Something, anything, had to die at that moment. It had to die, be destroyed, rendered into the past, to give the poison in my veins, soaked into my muscles, satisfaction. Sacrifice had to make the world right with me again.

The rage drank deep from the preciousness of the poisonous exodus of that moment of my life. Something inside me squealed in delight as the plastic pieces clattered and shattered and battered the walls. And, as my heart slowed, and the light of the fire dimmed so that I could see again, it cackled and ran down the long hall of my mind before slamming the tall, tall door shut with a lingering thunder. After that there was silence. The silence of the dark hall is the awkward situation that always follows the fire. The only thing that hangs in the air is the dust of the impending mending of that tear in time.

I've always been kind of an angry person of sorts. One of those "sleeping giant" kind of angry people that is described by most he knows as "level headed" and "easy going". I'm sure you've met at least one person like me in your life. Someone who seems almost at peace most of the time only to seemingly fly off the handle when certain things come up. A person who can smile in the face of someone screaming at them at the top of their lungs, but, when they drop a fork on the floor while trying to load the dishwasher they start a 30 minute rant about how the entire world is against them.

This phenomenon is most evident if you look back through some of these letters. The early ones were explosions of anger, but, if you look at the subject matter it was always outright asinine. People that don't make more coffee after drinking the last of it. People that can't order off of menus. Poorly manufactured pants. All subjects worthy of my vitriol, apparently. The meaningful things in my life I've always been able to approach calmly and objectively. Debt, unemployment, conflict, loss. These are things that I process on a mental level, rather then an emotional one, and I had always thought that that was a fair trade. Being a drama queen about people getting my order wrong at McDonald's always seemed like a small price to pay for the ability to be cool in the face of real life.

That's not meant to excuse my anger at McDonald's. I mean, I get REALLY angry at them. I scream and rant and toss dishes and slam doors. I curse god and the devil and everything in between, and over what? Mustard? Yeah, pretty much. But, even this anger, this emotional overload that was almost an everyday occurrence, was, in a way, controlled.

Ever since I can remember there's been a point in every mundane frustration of mine where I, inevitably, become enraged, but it was controlled; directed. The rage was extreme, but, I was always aware of how bad it was getting, and where it was pointed. It was like being the pilot of a craft where the accelerator was stuck wide open, but the steering mechanisms still worked. I couldn't control the intensity of the flight, but I could control the trajectory of it. I could avoid deadly obstacles and angle myself away from impact with the things I cared about. I could put the craft on a course towards open space and just let the engines burn on afterburner until I ran out of fuel. In other words, I could feel the rage hit, and rant about how there aren't any right angles in our house, or how they only have strawberry yogurt at the cafeteria at work. I mean, seriously, is this a business or a concentration camp? Americans want banana in their strawberry yogurt, Heir Bossman. The point is that I could keep the rage, for the most part, from burning out of control in areas of my life where it could do some real damage.

Lately, though, this has not been the case. The anger has gotten worse, and even though I think I've been slightly successful in decreasing the amount of times I get angry, the intensity of the anger has increased with each outburst on an ever increasing scale. It starts out familiar. I can feel the heat, I can feel the pressure, I know the engines are stuck on, and I try to ride it out, like I always have. I accept that, at worst, I'm probably about to have to replace a glass or do some minor sheet rock repair in the near future. I'm going to have to buy my wife some chocolate and be on good behavior for a little while. It's not fun to admit that I have to have these cycles in my life, but, I'm realistic, so I know it's coming. But, half way through these routine angry fits lately, something has been kicking in, hard.

I'm in the cockpit, I'm trying to steer with the engines wide open, and suddenly there's a loud crack, and I'm pressed against the seat. First back, then to the side. My vision starts to black, then red out. I reach for the stick, but it's too far, and I can't move. I can't breath. Outside the world is in a dizzying swirl as I roll and spin out of control. I can hear the metal bending with the heat of the engine. I can see the steam in the cockpit from my own sweat. I can smell the flesh on my back cooking as the firewall behind me gives way. Mentally, I over load and fly apart.

In reality, I completely lose my fucking shit. I actually lose all control of what I'm saying. I can't control the speed or volume or content of my speech. It's full of wild and accusatory declarations. It's cynical and suspicious. It's unreasonable and hurtful. Most of all, it's scary. It's scary for everyone involved, including me. When I come down off of these rages, I almost collapse to the ground. I'm exhausted and bewildered. I used to get panic attacks sometimes which, in my case, made me feel like the stress and tension in my muscles were curling my body into a tight death ball. The aftermath of these rages is the opposite. I feel like I'm made of soft rubber afterwards. I feel empty and weak. Not to mention I've just scared the living shit out of my wife and made an already bad situation ten times worse.

With the normal rages I can censure myself. I get angry and I yell, but so does she, so WE yell. It kind of levels the playing field. And, with the regular rages, even though I'm angry, I'm still thinking about what I'm saying. There might be a "bitch" or a "tart" thrown in there for flavor, but like I said, I've gotten good at apologizing. I never used to just unleash this crazed exorcist-style torrent at her. I'm not yelling about which way the hangers are facing, I'm spewing out some real heinous shit about her as a person. Things I would never say if I could help it. And, I used to be able to help it. Something changed.

I think I've been extremely sleep deprived lately. I had a schedule for about a month that caused me to work for three days in the afternoon, over the weekend, and then switch to working nights on Monday and Tuesday. This caused me to have to switch my sleep schedule from days to nights and back again each week. This wreaked havoc on my mind. I never new what time it was or what day it was. I was staying up from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday night just to squeeze a little bit more time out of a week where I only had one day off.

I recently "negotiated" a slightly better schedule (meaning I told my manager I was officially burnt out), but sometimes I think the damage is already done. I still have a week where I have to work during the day some days and at night others. But, so far, I'm holding the mental dam in place. Feeling the cold, dead weight of the water behind it. I never imagined I would be like this, mentally. Making conscious efforts everyday to keep my sanity together, instead of just letting the dam break, like I thought I had been doing my whole life up to this point.

When I was younger, a teenager, I wanted to become insane. The idea of it was one that seemed to fit me just fine. I was different, smart, creative, so insanity seemed like the next logical step. So, I started trying to break myself. I would stay up for days (my record was 72 hours with a one hour nap each day) so that I could bring about auditory and visual hallucinations. I would go into the bathroom and turn the lights off at night, and submerse myself in the tub, my head underwater with just a straw to breath through, to try and deprive myself of stimuli. I would just listen to my breathing. I would put myself into painful scenarios, like, ice water on my hot skin or put the end of a knife in a lighter and then touch it to my arm, and try to convince myself that it didn't hurt. In other words I tried a cocktail of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, and pain to try and irrevocably crack the foundation of my conscious mind.

I thought of my mind as a wall that needed to be torn down so I could have all the precious, pure, unfiltered thought behind it. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted the world that lived and breathed behind the one that I perceived as real. I thought if I could get there, and bring it back with me, I would have something new and wonderful that not many people get to experience. A life without false, self imposed limits.

Needless to say, my attempts failed. I ended up completing a grocery list of crazy shit, but without actually being crazy, which, I guess just makes me an idiot. And, to extend that ignorance even further, I determined through my reckless experimenting that I could not, in fact, go insane. I decided that I was too smart, but also too practical, to lose my mind, so I stopped trying.

Fast forward ten years. I'm standing on my front porch, taking a long, long time trying to decide why I was out there. I remember I was going to get the mail, then I forget again, so I stand some more and try to remember. At some point I take a step, which stirs up some of the pollen that has coated everything in the entire city. The pollen makes a cloud at my feet and starts to drift up, and from the cloud, I see (I SEE) the wisps of yellow powder twist into little flying bugs. They rise in the direction the cloud was going, and spread across my vision. There must have been hundreds. Swarming up from my foot.

I know the bugs were real. And, I know that they were in the grass of my yard, and the same step that caused the cloud of pollen disturbed them and they took off. I know that, now. But, at the time, there was a moment, when, I don't know. The cause and the effect seemed perfectly logical to me. I had kicked some dust and it had turned into bugs and they had flown away. It didn't seem strange to me, just like the logical conclusion I came to later doesn't seem strange to me. There was no shock, no wonder, no question, that the pollen had turned into bugs. I had seen it so I just accepted it. I didn't even watch them that long. I just stood there, trying to remember why I had come outside.

This is after, more than once, on those days where I'd try to stay up for sometimes 30+ hours on a stretch to get personal things done, even if those things were having lunch with my wife or watching my little sister go horseback riding, saying wild things to my wife at night. Things like telling her it wasn't right that she was breaking into people's houses to administer polio vaccines with bent paper clips, or something a little more vague like asking her if she had gotten everyone on her list, because it was important that people be on her list. You know what I mean? That's what crazy is right? Believing something that was fabricated by your mind and acting accordingly. The fact that these quick episodes were temporary doesn't make it any less worrisome.

To make a bad joke, I've slept since then. But, the memories of how I've been lately are still fresh. I was acting like a crazy person, and I'm not so sure that it's totally in the past. Something is different inside me. It's like something has been torn and I can't sew it back up. I just have to try and move carefully so that I don't end up tearing it more. I had always thought of my sane state of mind as a wall made of rock and cement, and maybe that's how it used to be. Maybe, the act of trying to break through it strengthened it to be that wall. That the more I hammered the harder it became to break. And, so, maybe now, after so much time has passed without hammering, maybe now it's just a thin sheet. Maybe all it took was one bad storm too many to tear it open, and now I can't figure out how to mend it.

Ten years ago I would have welcomed the tear. I would have ripped the sheet to the ground and jumped, head first, into whatever the hell it was holding back. But now, now I need the sheet. I need to keep my head together. I need to get a hold of my shit. But, the only point of reference I have for complete mental stability, was the very time in my life that I was trying to become insane.

Is that what I have to do, again? Do I have to start testing the boundaries; rattling the cage I'm in? What if I'm wrong, and it does the opposite? What if I'm right and just staying the course takes me right off the edge of the world? Either way I have to make a decision. Or, I guess I had to, I should say. I've already made it. I've become too accustomed to my own mental health. I need to start questioning it again. Questioning everything, again.

I'll start small, but I'll still start. I'll take all that rage and fear and confusion that has been building up inside of me, and I throw it all into whatever is still keeping me rooted in reality. If I'm right, I'll reflexively fortify myself against losing my mind. If I'm wrong, well, shit, I've always wanted to be insane anyway, right?

Chiggie Von Richthofen
Walking down the street shooting people that I meet with my rubber tommy water gun

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Letter to The Child in My Head Concerning the Origin of Art

Dear tiny voice,

I was sitting at home, on a day off, watching American Splendor, and suddenly all I wanted to do was write about toast. I had warmed up some jambalaya my mother made a few days ago and brought to me, and I decided to have the only other food in the house to go with it. I went into my kitchen, directly connected to my TV room (as is dictated by American law), and I grabbed what was left of our loaf of wheat bread. Then, I pressed two slices into the toaster my wife and I have had since we were in college.

So, I'm waiting for the bread to transmogrify into toast, the whole time kind of standing next to my fridge so I can see the TV and the toaster at the same time. And, all of a sudden in my head, I just start to rave at the tiny white appliance.

How the fuck long could it possibly take to make bread hot in the 21st century? I mean, this is essentially duplicating a technology that was the key to man's supremacy on the Earth. You'd think we'd have it down by now, but no. This little Target-bought piece of shit seems to need to spend two or three hours getting itself ready for one single act, like an aging porn star stressed out about a money shot. At this point I should just invest in a solar powered toaster, meaning, I should just leave the bread on a plate in front of a window until it gets stale.

Come on you fucking asshole! Toast! You have ONE job! One! I would kill for your work day. Oh hello, sir, would you like something hot? Very good! Would you like that really hot, or kind of hot? Fuck. At this point, it would be faster to wait for God to knock my wife up and hope one of the wise men brings a slightly singed baggette. I should just smash you with a hammer and use the oven, instead. At least he oh, there it goes. Thanks toaster.

All in all it took about 45 seconds to make my toast, but, I mean, we all know that 45 seconds in front of a toaster is basically what purgatory is going to be like.

So, my tiny diatribe over with, I started to wonder about WHY I felt compelled to write it down. It was like it was imperative that I get that ridiculous outburst on paper. People NEEDED to know about my impatience over my, in all honesty, adequate toaster. I wondered what makes something like the toaster word worthy to me, but not other little things in my day. It got me thinking about how bizarre the nature of art and creation and expression is.

My little rant was about my life, and my habits, but, in a way it was kind of inspired by American Splendor. It being a movie, made from a comic, based on the mundane details of a man's life. Being entertained by that kind of justified the idea of being entertained by the toaster.

Of course, American Splendor, or the basis of it, was inspired be a burgeoning underground comic movement at the time that was making real life more of a focus of expression. That, of course was inspired by, you know, something else before it (what am I, a history, uh, guy?), which was inspired by something else, and so on, and so on.

It feel like all of art is like a giant, human imagination driven, fission reactor. Particles of expression slamming into a person, shattering them into knew high energy particles of expression of their own. Then those hurl off into the void until they collide with others the same way.

Life, inspires art, inspires life, inspires art. If that's even the order that's supposed to go. I'm not really sure what is supposed to come first, or even what came first for me. It makes me wish I had an infallible memory. Maybe, if I could remember the first time I ever created something in the hopes of expressing an internal idea, I could try to figure out what inspired it. Try to trace the origin of my own alpha expression. Find out what it was, where it came from, what inspired it, and it, and it, and it.

I want to trace my creative heritage. Find my expressive roots. Was it a Golden Book? Was it a stencil on a wall? Was it, Beethoven, Sesame Street, Richard Scary, The Who? It might not mean too much to you whether your life of the mind began with Elmo or Townshend, but for me, it's kind of important, and I think I've worked out why.

Lately, I've developed a passing fascination with the children in my family. I don't have kids, and odds are pretty high I never will, and I'm fine with that. But, my cousins, all female, have bowed to their biological imperatives to go forth and multiply. Nothing ridiculous, just average sized families all around.

These kids, as babies, didn't hold a whole lot of my attention. It was kind of like having tiny monkeys around, which wasn't unpleasant, but wasn't huge news either. But now, as the oldest is getting to the point of being a tiny person, I find myself worrying about their education. Not school and standardized, state mandated, testing, but the good stuff. I wonder what kind of life she's going to fall into, and what kind of experiences that's going to force through her personality and psyche, like scalding hot water through a coffee filter.

I wonder if she's going to discover cigarettes before she discovers boys. Or, if in this new century, she'd discover cigarettes at all. I wonder if she's going to raid her mother's liquor cabinet, or not so much if, but when. I wonder if she's going to be a nerd, or if she'll give up the path of learning to follow something more superficial. But most of all, I wonder if she's going to have a healthy obsession with music. And, if she does, if it's going to be with another Justin Timberlake, or if her generation will have a Kurt Cobain, or a Dave Grohl, or that other guy. And, if she doesn't, and I see her getting to that age, will I be able to sneak her a used copy of In Utero? Will her mom scold her for listening to it? Will she have to find a hiding place for it? Will she wait until everyone has gone to sleep, and sneak the headphones on to absorb the odd words and rhythms into her skin? Will she have a secret?

I get excited about all the potential futures she has before her, and I worry if that excitement opens me up for a horrific let down. The possibility that the wonders of tobacco, alcohol, and her choice of progressive, garage, or punk rock won't be something that she is being deprived of, but, something she actively avoids. That, in the future, she'd be presented with the riches of personal and mental growth, and that she'd turn her head away and close her eyes. Resistant to my pleas and declarations. Am I destined to build up a version of her in my head, only to have her let me down in every way without her even knowing it? Will I try to fight it? I think I would.

First, I think I would be practical. The Rolling Stones, maybe. No? Fine.

Then, I would be creative. Beck, perhaps, start with Loser and go from there. No? Fine.

Then, I would be stern. Pearl Jam, there has to be something here that...No? Fine.

Perhaps, then, I would be compassionate. Bob Dylan. Raspy poetry to timeless melodies. NO? NO?

I would be angry. White Zombie! I'll burn it into your skin, you little shit! NO?! OK. Fine.

I would breath. I would be reasonable. Queens of the Stone Age. They're new. Well, new-ER anyway. I would sigh.

I would be desperate. Led Zeppelin. My shoulders would slump. And then she would let me die, in front of her, unimpressed with my offerings.

In the end it wouldn't be about whether she grew up musical, or artistic, or even creative. There are people who can change their entire persona like the wind changes direction, just from the influence of a good lyric or a hue of paint or a movement of a well trained figure. There are those of us that only feel truly awake and alive when we are being acted upon by the creations of others, and when we are creating ourselves. And, there are others who don't. Not worse people, just OTHER people. "Squares", you could say, but not necessarily bad people. I just don't want her to be one of them.

I guess, in a way, I'm lonely, but, it's a new loneliness so it stings more. The loneliness one gets after something new excites them, and then the reality of it's flaws sinks in. It had never occurred to me before that there'd be another person in my family that could be like me. In a family you always think of yourself as the youngest because that's the way you perceive it. You're born, and you meet your family, and you're the baby. You grow up with everyone already there, or, only a little younger than you, so they are on the same level as you.

Then my cousin, someone from my generation, has a kid. Not an earth shattering event. Women make little humans, that's just biology. But, then that kid learned to speak, and read, and write, and process, and learn. Then the thought started to creep in. The thought that she's the age I was when it all started really snowballing out of control for me. When all I wanted to do was sketch and write and listen and watch. When I wanted my days filled with absorption and recitation. The first time I memorized the words to a Pink Floyd song.

She's right there on the cusp. She's smart enough; smarter than she should be. The potential is there, but it feels like something is missing. It feels like there needs to be some kind of push. It could be small. A song or a book or a picture. Something that connects two wires in her brain and causes a spark that starts a chain reaction of creativity that sustains itself the entirety of her life from that point forward. A life long explosion that rages over the dissenting opinions and judgmental laughter. A fire that consumes everything in front of her and turns it into piles of ash inside her mind that she can rake into any shape she desires.

But, I'm not talking about her anymore at this point. I can't be. She goes to school, goes to church, reads books on occasion, and likes Shrek. To tell the truth I barely interact with her. She's become a voice in my head. An idea that I can imprint my values on as maybe a way of filtering out what's important to me. I want her to be with me, with all the others like me, huddling in the dark and making our own fires outside of the barbarian city walls. But, more than that, maybe I just want some justification for being the way I am. For being different.

Not so much different from society, mind you. There are tons of people like me. Artistically inclined, music loving, slackers? The only thing we're lacking as far as public recognition is government subsidies. But, as far as my family goes, there's me, in some ways my mother, and that's it.

So, it's not that I think my way is better, but it's a way, and one that I feel has been fulfilling, even when it's been a curse. And, it'd be nice to have someone there with me for the long walk. Someone that would look to me for guidance. Someone I'd have answers for in the trivialities of becoming a fan of the world. So, I keep searching, inside, for the spark that ignited me, in hopes that it will work again on her.

I know, deep down, that this idea is both arrogant and selfish. I've never been that influential a force on anyone I can think of. So, to think that some small push by the Great Me would change the direction of her life is probably ultimately foolish. Not to mention reckless. Even if it does work, and something does start rolling in her mind, there's no way to really tell where it's going to go. Our potential might be very similar, but our lives surely are not. At least not her compared to me at that age. I had an empty house and space alien sister to deal with. I had to be creative so that I could keep sane. She, on the other hand, seems to have her sanity well in hand without having to tend it like a dying garden.

So, what would the spark do? Inspire? Harm? Nothing whatsoever? Who knows? So, it seems almost irresponsible to do anything at all. But, I still feel like I should. Maybe something small, just as a test, and if she's not interested, back off. Or, if her mother protests, don't push it. Let it be more natural. Something that won't shock the system in unintended ways. For fuck's sake, she might want to aspire to be a writer. I'd never forgive myself. I want her to ask me how Keith Moon died, not condemn her to my own personal piece of hell. And, following that thought, I have to admit that my love for music and film and everything around and in between hasn't exactly catapulted me into success. I have a little bit I can be proud of in the realm of expression, but as far as making it as a person, I don't think it had a huge part to do with it, other than making the bad times more tolerable so I could keep going. Now that I think about it, maybe that is a big part. Either way, I can't get passed the thought that she, and everyone really, needs those pieces in their make up as a person.

It all boils down to a very important question about what I can get away with exposing her to. What kind of magic spell to use. And, if you got that reference and cringed a little, I apologize. I'm thinking maybe The Cranberries as her gateway drug. Zombie, Ode to my Family, Dreams. That seems like a good way to introduce a good foundation of music, but have a deeper meaning that can soak in over time. Also, it has that strong, but very feminine, lead singer, which seems good for a young girl to identify with. Yeah, that seems just right. For now.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
But if you wanna leave, take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there's a lot of bad and beware

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Letter to My Uncle Concerning His Death

Dear Nathan,

I spend so much time trying to parse the phenomenon of death. I research, analyze, ponder, and philosophize about it constantly. I look at pictures, watch movies, even listen to recordings of the event to try and desensitize myself to the idea; to boil it down to the pure logical truth of it.

The result of all this work? When you died last April, I felt nothing. Nothing that I would associate with any kind of appropriate feelings anyway. I did feel incredibly sad, but, that was really just for everyone else that was so upset because they DO feel loss.

Frankly, for me, the funeral was mostly just surreal. To be surrounded in so much pain, and not to be able to be a part of it was bewildering to me. Even my wife teared up. You could count the number of times you two spoke to one another on one hand, but she made the connection. She felt that sense of loss. I just felt like a horse's ass through the whole ceremony.

And that's the feeling that stays with me. That feeling of complete guilt and inhumanity. Feelings of being a statue, or a troll. All of them completely internal, and unbelievably selfish.

Everything about your death just frightened me, terribly. The suddenness of it was almost comical. After all of my own self preparations, all that flinching for the inevitable. After I've braced myself for impact, you're the one who dies. You who, although wasn't oblivious to the idea of oblivion, couldn't have been putting the same time and effort into obsessing over it, as I was. I flinched, but you got hit. Like when Elmer Fudd points his gun at Bugs Bunny, but Daffy Duck is the one who gets shot.

I try to go back mentally. Back before the funeral. Back to some memory of you before I started my long, slow attempt to purge myself of my preoccupation with death. Some time when I might have felt something for that final, bitter end of a member of my blood family. The best I can do right now is just examine it.

I remember you being the one that taught me to take a step and lean into swinging a baseball bat, almost the same as when I pitched, to get the distance I was looking for with our wiffle ball set. I remember one Christmas, after I had already recoiled my personality from my family, that you bought me a Star Wars Xbox game, and I was blown away with how spot on appropriate it was. I remember you showing me how to carve a turkey. I remember how I always felt a weird connection with you because you grew up with three sisters, and I grew up with a sister and four female cousins. And now Luke, your grandson, is growing up with a sister and four female cousins. You made it seem OK to enjoy being surrounded by women. To keep it from being emasculating. Sometimes even turning it into the exact opposite.

I think about how you died. I replay the few details I got from my mother over and over again in my head. Contract handyman. Bad economy. Foreclosure. Moving furniture all day. Heart attack from the stress. I repeat them in my head like a mantra. Good man. Bad luck. Severe consequence. Attempt to move on. Final, undeserved cost. Everything, all the facts, are completely understood, but, the sorrow, the important part, is completely absent.

I tell myself the regular things, like, it hasn't sunk in yet (even though it's been, what, a year now?). Or, I tell myself that I just hadn't kept up with you as I became an adult. You didn't live near me, so, I hadn't seen you a lot for the last few years. But, I saw you more than some other people in my family. My dad being an example. But that logic leads to even worse lines of thinking.

Late at night these excuses for a lack of basic human empathy just spawn more thoughts that prove that lack, and deepen my shame. Things like, "why SHOULD I even feel anything? It's not like my mom died, or someone that was real close." Thoughts like that don't exactly bring up the sorrow I crave to feel, but they do shock and depress me, and make me nauseated at myself. And, that's the closest I can get to grief, so I hold onto them. Deciding that SOME kind of horror, even as a result of my own cruel nature, should be attached to this event that should evoke horror in me. I decide that I need to keep that horror. I use it as a perverse place holder made up of some generic, bargain brand "sad" until I can save up enough to get the real thing.

You can't imagine the frustration of sitting in bed, staring at my dresser for, some nights, hours trying to identify ANY kind of grief and sorrow as I contemplate your passing. I sit there, and eventually just realize that the only thing that bubbles to the surface is that you DID die. That someone, anyone, died. That we all die, and that means me too. In the dark, alone, I try to feel sorry for you, and I only end up feeling sorry for myself.

Well, I take that back. There is another thing that bubbles up. An odd feeling of dread and responsibility for what happened to you. You see, I like to come up with stories that hover around death. Stories you never got to read or even knew I wrote, but, they're there. The only problem is I always felt like kind of a fraud, writing about something that I essentially didn't know about. The stories were just big coping mechanisms for an unknown fear. I always wished I knew more about what I was talking about; be more experienced so it would feel more genuine. It was hard to sit at the funeral, surrounded by so much hurt, and not think that I had had a part in your demise.

I don't believe in fate. I don't believe in karma, as a supernatural force. I don't believe in granted wishes. But when you think something, something specific, and awful, and then it happens, it's hard not to feel like you hit the cue ball on that one. I leaned back in a pew, my arm around whoever happened to be crying at the time, and thought, "good job, asshole."

So, sorry for that, if it turns out all that magic shit exists. But, if it does, then you might be fine anyway. Either way, it's probably not worth giving it any more thought than I already have. Of course that won't really stop me.

No, the only thing that will stop the irrational guilt, or rational, depending, is time and just forgetting about it. Just letting the bad feelings get diluted with the passage of the seasons and the years piling up between your funeral and where I am at that moment. But, of course that means letting the good memories dilute too. The baseballs, the turkeys, the Christmases, the home improvement advice, the debates about military aircraft. It will all go away, because there's nothing I can do about it. Even if I tried hard to solidify them, eventually they'll all be shut off by the same end as yours.

So, guilty or not, shit head or not, cosmically responsible or not, it's still a shitty situation, but not for the reasons I wished it was. It's just my inability to care, again. My philosophy designed to lessen the pains of the world worked too well, and now I'm just standing here, kind of a shell. The worst part is I didn't even learn anything. I didn't even get the jolt of experience I had wished for. It's like my horse came in but I lost my betting slip.

Jesus, maybe I should just start putting change in a jar when I think of shit like that.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Letter to Greasers Concerning Growing Up

Dear past and future rebels with or without various causes,

When I was a kid, a child, I used to get bullied, which isn't exactly an uncommon experience for a lot of children, but when it's happening to you, you tend not to care so much about how statistically likely it is. It wasn't all the time, and it wasn't always a worst case scenario, but it could be at times. Sometimes it was just teasing, sometimes a shove or a snatched bag or eaten food. Later it was tripping and slamming into lockers. The worst it ever got was being outright kicked and beaten while I lay on the ground in a fetal position at a local skating rink.

It wasn't the same bully throughout the years, either. Nothing like a nemesis. It just seemed like I attracted excitable, jealous, and sometimes, violent people. It wasn't that surprising to me. I was a smart kid; I was creative, and most things, including school, just came very easily to me. Worksheets and tests were filled out in a couple minutes and then pushed aside to allow me to get back to making little paper people or spinning my ruler on my pencil while others were still struggling through the first page.

That natural aptitude for learning, coupled with the fact that my mom raised me a pacifist, created a perfect storm for getting picked on. I was a kid that daydreamed through life, and who was guaranteed not to fight back, just run crying and stuttering to the nearest adult to tattle, which, although got the current bully in some trouble, ultimately just escalated the frequency and severity of future attacks. So, eventually I didn't even tattle. I just cried and took it. Took the insults, and punches, and thefts. For some reason the thefts made me cry the most.

The worst time for it all was grade school, but it did follow me, in a form, into junior high. Junior high wasn't so much filled with school yard bullies, as it was filled with assholes and shit heads. Kids that seemed twice as greedy, twice as violent, and half as smart. Suddenly the bullying wasn't just upsetting, it was getting dangerous. Real bodily harm was now a threat, and I became even more reclusive than I already was.

Not to say I didn't have friends, I wasn't a loner. I just didn't go out a lot, to parties or gatherings. I didn't talk back to loud, angry people. I didn't push issues against violent idiots. I kind of just lived scared and frustrated. I guess I convinced myself that if I just laid low, just kept off the radar, in my room making sketches and writing in notebooks, that eventually I would make it to a place where I wouldn't be hassled.

And, I might have even been right, but, my patience for getting pushed around and fucked with eventually hit a point where a lifetime of being taught to turn the other cheek and tell on people just collapsed under the weight of all that hatred and anger. My personality snapped back like a rubber band, having been pulled way past the point of being treated decent, it recoiled way passed the point of standing up for myself, and stretched out from the force to the point that I just turned mean, and preemptive, and with absolutely zero tolerance.

It started with a few uncontrolled outbursts. Yelling in a kid's face in the middle of the courtyard to "fuck off." Taking a swing at another kid trying to intentionally annoy the piss out of me and catching him in the neck with my fist. Lunging at a short little asshole in the gym locker room and having to have the entire gym class pry us apart, for what insult, I don't even remember. The anger was overflowing, unfocused, and unleashed with a force that almost turned my vision into tunnels of red.

It wasn't until toward the end of middle school that I realized that despite my new found mental sword of vengeance, I still wasn't inflicting the kind of pain on assholes that they once inflicted on me. Punches would connect and barely rattle opponents, I was still getting thrown back by shoves, and I couldn't even catch the ones who fled. My personality had turn 180, but my body was the same, soft, uncoordinated, powerless vessel of a comic nerd it had always been.

Our junior high was near a YMCA, and my mom always had to work late. So, my friends and I all started making daily pilgrimages to the gym; sneaking into the free weight room and pushing ourselves dangerously beyond our still growing body's limits. I was 13 when we started.

The workouts started taking affect, and the release of exercise cooled my temper. I went every day, starting on nautilus to warm up, and moving to free weights. Rotating the workouts to try and even out my build and not over strain any part of my body. I had to sneak in everyday, which wasn't too hard really, because the minimum age for the weights was 18. The sore knees and shaky elbows I have today are a direct result of that disregard of the rules in my adolescence, but, I figure it was all worth it in the long run. When I was 14 going on 15 I weighed 165 and could bench over that. For the first time in my life I had impressive biceps and definition to my chest. My shoulders felt like rocks, and, frankly, so did my ass. (I miss my ass)

But, I wasn't satisfied. I had been tied too long to the whipping post, and I didn't want to leave a vulnerable spot, anywhere. I decided that image was the Yin to my new muscle's Yang. I had made myself tough, and so I needed to make myself LOOK tough as well. I started allowing myself to indulge in the style that I had always found appealing. Black jeans, long hair, the beginnings of a goatee. Later, around 16, when I really started to sink into the lifestyle of acting like a bad ass, I grew out a decent beard (I started shaving when I was 11 or 12), started donning a bandanna, and wearing chrome buckled Harley boots. I started smoking and would light the matches off the buckle. Later, when the inconvenience of carrying strike anywhere matches became too much, I started carrying a Zippo and learned the white trash art form of opening and lighting it in every way I could conceive.

I was smoking like a chimney, and drinking all the time. My pockets, outside of school, became a walking arsenal of blades, and rolls of quarters sealed up with electrical tape. I was never without a knife, which was actually an old habit from the Boy Scouts. Growing up going from tiger cub to webelos to boy scout, especially in the south, hammers the idea of knife ownership into you like religious mantra. But what I was carrying in high school wasn't my old Swiss made multi-tool. They were concealed and quick opening, and usually I had more like 3 or 4 of them on me, around my jeans and in my boots, at a time. The most outrageous being a five inch tanto bladed knuckle knife that I kept in a shoulder holster that looked like the ones you see in old detective movies for their guns.

I got away with the holster because it was hidden under a black denim vest I wore every single day, even to bed. A vest usually with a pack of Lucky Strikes tucked into a pocket, and that became increasingly covered with different patches and a few holes.

What had started out as a way to repel grown up bullies and thieves, was starting to evolve into what eventually became my personality. Acting tough became being tough, and it wasn't something I could just turn off and forget about. At first, I figured I could act like a bad ass, have some fun, live a fantasy for a few years and then go back to the apathy and the pacifism after I graduated. Eventually, I fell in love with it, and the act WAS me. An accidental life altering experiment.

I had always idolized the dime store hood characters in movies and books. I admired Ace Merrill and Two-Bit Mathews and Rusty James. Even John Bender was a big influence. Characters my age. Characters that refused to be fucked with, even if that meant being fuckers themselves. Characters whose attitudes and style could be very easily and cheaply adopted. I started to live that American Graffiti era rebel lifestyle, and it was everything I had hoped and dreamed it could be.

I was living a cliche', several at once actually, but it was a cliche' that was fun, and more importantly, kept me safe. I learned that the same things that made me afraid of people when I was a child, I could use to make people stay away from me as a teenager. The kind of people I didn't want around, anyway. But, it was behavior that also attracted new friends. People like a guy who is confident and carefree and a little unpredictable.

I fell in love with that life, and I never wanted to change.

The problem is that that life is the life of a punk teenager. That life isn't self sustaining. That life isn't even legal at times. But, trying to change a life romanticized by the one living it is like trying to pry a walnut out of the middle of your skull. Before college started I tried to slough off the no longer relevant lifestyle I had become accustomed to. I had been doing some warehouse work, driving a fork lift, and spent most of my free time talking to my girlfriend on the phone or having a couple beers with dinner and falling asleep in front of the Braves. Usually in the 6th or 7th inning.

I started college with new, comfortable, practical clothes, a Braves cap, and my notebooks. Notebooks that had been mostly neglected during my real life reenactment of "Rebel Without a Cause." I was ready to just mellow out, and enjoy myself. And for a little while it worked.

But, the changes had been made. The protocols had been laid into place. The reflexive habits were dug in deep. My smoking habit flickered on and off like a light bulb that wouldn't quite burn out. I tried quitting nine times before I got it right. The boots got put away, and the vest was closeted. I tried just not being that guy anymore. I thought I could just kill the me that belonged in "The Body", and start something new.

I was convinced it could be that way, until one night I found myself pointing a substantial combat folder (an Applegate-Fairbairn knock off if you're interested) in the face of a man, no, a boy really, I had known for a day, because I thought he had made too many jokes at the expense of my girlfriend. You don't fuck with a man's Cherry Valance, you know? This one sided, knife point argument took place in an IHOP in a busy part of town at dinner, with more than a few people I knew in there at the time.

I looked around quickly, then packed it up and got the hell out of there. I stood outside waiting for my girl, afraid to see her cold, completely justified, stare as she walked out. It was probably the most embarrassing moment of my life. One that still haunts me to this day. But, it served an important function. It let me know that once you set something in motion in your own mental make up, you're responsible for it. You can't just decide you don't want certain parts of your personality on a whim and hope that they just never come up again.

These were parts of myself designed specifically to handle high stress, high emotion, high fear situations. They were SUPPOSED to kick in on reflex. They can't just be ignored because I don't have anything to replace them with. Not all of them anyway. Not yet. So, for now I almost try to indulge that part of me that still wants to be tough and brave like the heroes and anti-heroes, and outright bastards, I idolized. I try to be aware of those odd reflexes a scared and fed up kid built into himself to keep the assholes at bay.

It's kind of a monkey on my back. I never leave the house unarmed. I just can't make myself do it. Usually something clipped to a pocket and one in my boot. I'd like to think it's just my inner Boy Scout being practical, but I know better in my heart. It's not the ridiculous arsenal of the past, I only carry legal length, one hand opening pocket knives now. And, even though I'm extremely comfortable and very handy with a knife (again, go BSA) at best I know that carrying them is only going to be good for getting out of non-confrontational jams, like if I'm caught in a net or something. But, they're still on me, still very accessible, for peace of mind, mostly.

The other side of the coin, the part that makes the monkey tolerable, is that I have found that if you are the kind of person that WOULD use a knife on an attacker, whether it's body language or something in the eye contact, you just DON'T get approached by most fuck-nut punkasses roaming around. Shreveport is a plenty rough place in parts, and everyone under the age of 21 wants to think they're some hot shit thug that has to get in your face, but, I really just don't get bothered. Ever. So, in a way, I guess it's really mission accomplished.

I'm the result of a targeted effort, by a frightened boy that felt like he was out of passive options, to turn fantasy into reality. To write my way out of a shitty rut I was in. Not really realizing at the time that I was trading one rut for another.

I don't completely regret the change I edited into my own personality. Obviously it saved me beating and humiliation in a time in my life when that kind of thing can really fuck with my head. It gave me more confidence in myself, made me more extroverted, and allowed me to not second guess myself into a stationary position. At least, more than I was when I was 12.

I still have a fondness for tough things. My adult fashion sense is driven by practicality and durability. Denim work jackets, steel toed boots, that kind of thing. But, it still feels like I'm the preteen wuss that's looking for protection. Like I said, practical and durable: safe.

It didn't really hit me full on until the other night when I was out with my wife (the same Cherry Valance from the IHOP). We were in a shoe store and I looked over and saw some sneakers I liked. I've kind of had sneakers on the brain the last couple months. Steal toed boots, good ones, are plenty comfortable for your feet, but, they have drawbacks. Leather and metal and rubber are heavy. Boots like that start to work on your knees and weaken your ankles. When I stopped wearing boots after high school and switched to some New Balance walking shoes, I felt like I had fucking springs in my heels. I'd just like to feel that again.

So, I go over and start looking through them. I was over there for all of ten minutes when I looked down and saw the scuffed and scarred leather on my own footwear, and, decided that sneakers would be a mistake. I put them down and just banished the thought of them from my mind. They were forbidden.

Do you see what I'm talking about? This wasn't some wild extravagance. This was a 40 dollar pair of Converses. It's not like I'd have to throw my boots away or anything. I only have one pair of shoes right now, but that's not a government mandate, that's just a personal choice. I just wanted a light pair of shoes for walking around the city. But, I couldn't do it.

Well, to hell with that. I started this ridiculous act, and I'm going to stop it. Balance is what's missing from this situation, and there's no one but me keeping it that way. I'm going back to that fucking store, or some store, and I'm buying those sneakers. A single step to start a new thousand mile journey.

I like to hang at home and listen to Bowie albums. I like to watch TV with my wife and eat pizza. I like to get drunk and play video games with my friends. I work in IT. I'm not a bad ass. I just play one in real life. And, frankly, I'm over it. I'm not the same kid taking a kick to the back at the skating rink. I can be firm, I can talk over an asshole, I can make myself heard. Yes, the charade-turned-personality was greatly responsible for that, but, it's time to take the training wheels off. Right? Because the puffed up chest act isn't going to help me in a real pinch anyway. For that, I just have to trust what I've got on the inside. The stuff that's real. Sloughing the tough stuff isn't going to make me weak. It will just make me stronger where it counts. And, that's what we all ultimately want to accomplish isn't it?

I'm still going to carry a knife, though.

I'm not stupid.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
...the film is a saddening bore, cause I've wrote it ten times or more.
It's about to be writ again...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Letter to My Home Concerning My Home

Dear Little Forgotten Anna,

I was conceived on a hot, star filled night in the grass and the dirt on the edge of some backwoods bayou in the steam cooker of a state I would later learn to call my home. I was born out of the murky sludge that rages beneath our bridges and bends around our toe. I learned to crawl in the sand that wandered up my way every here and there. I was raised on a diet that was stalked, caught, fried, and fried. And, even though at times I want no part of the part of me that would never depart, I always come back, with my jeans tucked in my boots and my sleeves rolled down against the hawk’s prey.

Although I never pray. Even though most do down here, or up here for them that are down further than what would appear, to you, to be the bottom.

I always come back, where the rain back slides and slides down, and causes slides. Where the cups runneth over, over and over again. Where there is plenty for plenty and plenty come for it. Where there are rich and there are poor, but everybody sweats on a hot day. Because there is heat, my friends and travelers. Oh, how there is heat. Heat that boils the air you breath and smears the skin on your face when you fight the trees. Or fight the vines. Or fight the grass. Or fight all between, above, and below.

And you will fight, brothers and sisters. When you decide that you’re here, and that you will be here, you will fight. Because everybody fights from calf to heel. You don’t clear, you fight. You don’t plant, you fight. You don’t dig, you fight. Our home defends itself well. And when the red clay runs in your sweat down the splintered handle of your shovel, you’ll know what it is to bleed from battle.

But, I always come back, even though I never leave. My mind leaves. Not that the leaves mind, on the days when the wind coaxes the trees out to sing. My mind leaves to where I’ve been before and after this. Going where the water sparkles in sterile virginity. Where the fields don’t devour you as you break their stalks. Where mother nature accepts us for who we are. Where we aren't driven from the place we love by the place we love.

But that’s not here is it? I don’t know where that is. Maybe I don’t want to know. This womb is hot, and wet, and when the levee breaks, I cry, just to breath. Knee deep in a constant, pointless baptism that washes away my sin with mud and filth. Surrounded by wood sprouted up from the knee deep, grown into a confessional, forgotten when time for forgiveness. Cold from a lack of compassion, and judgment.

Oh, and it does also get cold. Cold in the morning, cold in the night. Cold that freezes that life giving vapor right in our breath, only to have it carried back through our shirts, and into our bones. 'Cause the time don't pass here as it should, and when it's not froze, it's just frozen. Frozen solid over everything that wasn't here before, and then everything that was. Frozen into a wall so bitter and rigid as if to keep him by name The Devil at bay, while we try to keep the children warm under Her cotton.

But, the Devil eventually gives up, or maybe just hides, and the bitter clear wall around us subsides. And, we all venture out into the sun, or the moon. Poke out through our tiny holes by the river and start to croak at the still air. Croak for croak, to see who survived the hibernum. To see who gets to go fishing again, and who gets to go drinking instead.

Oh and there is drinking. Drinking 'till the faces match the mudbugs in the pot on a day when the wind visits from up north or down south, and brings us the gift of fulfilled dreams. The dreams aren't big down here much, 'cause the dreamers know better, and no better. They just want the breeze to blow the grill smoke their way to taste, and then blow it away again, so they can remember it.

She's in my blood. I've been with others, but nothing compared to the amount I've stepped on her feet. Kissed her neck. Or, left her crying on the steps, but always shuffled back the next morning. I can't ever leave, you see. She's got a piece of my soul. Up canned in a mason jar, lost in her attic, cause she can't lose it in her cellar. And, she doesn't look for it, 'cause she don't want it found. She just wants me turned, and homeward bound.

She doesn't talk much. Sleeps during the day, and at night, when there's a wake, she's just rowdy. But I can't blame her. Nowadays she's too lonely to hate. Abused and forgotten not just yesterday, and now the man comes crawling back. Brings her flowers, tells her how pretty she is. Ain't no ring but she guess's it will do. I see her for what she is. The sad eyed lady of the lowlife. And, the lowlands too, if you prefer. She can be both. At times she is.

And, frankly, some of us aren't impressed by his flowers. We don't want him in our kitchen. We'd rather see the house an inferno before he decides to leave his boots outside the door. This is my home. It's old, and it's bad, and it's rotten with crawling and gnawing. But, that never made no matter did it?

Come on, Mama. Forget this man. Let's go steal some gasoline.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
we'll build a fire an' light a match and watch the whole thing burn