Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Letter to Joshua Concerning Understanding

Dear WOPR,

When I was in junior high I was conscripted into a highly structured and regimented branch of French life steeped in tradition and commanded by regulation and fear.  The Junior Cotillion.  Like the Boyscouts my involvement in this was not voluntary.  Unlike the Boyscouts, though, I did not come to enjoy this new, exciting society I'd been thrust into.

It was held at a local country club.  The first one I had ever been in.  A building that reeked of the seventies with tall wooden paneling and flat, hard carpet.  Although, after spit balling the average age of the people there I would imagine the building looked like a spaceship to them.  The women seemed to be running the show for the most part and they talked with that deep Southern drawl that sounds like an old guitar announcing the winners of a cat fashion show.

I've lived in the south full time since I was 5 and have an accent that wavers between west coast television and northeast Louisianian (which is just Texan.  Get over it everyone!  We basically live in Texas.  I can almost see Texas from my house.  Accept it!), but anyone down here knows of that sickly sweet speaking pattern that these plantation era, rich old bags use to communicate with other people.  You hear that come out of someone and you have a pretty good idea where you are: surrounded by money and paintings of Jesus.

They started us out with the basics like how to set a table for serving 800 people.  Then they went on to things like the proper technique for bullwhipping your "staff", how to yell at the chefs for cooking exactly what you asked them to, and also how to properly bow.  Please, I saw Rising Son, I know how to bow, move on.

The entire thing was like a Monty Python sketch.  Boot Camp for Twits.  The severity of the execution juxtaposed starkly with the silliness of the activity.  Always place the forks in this order. ALWAYS. ALWAYS!!  Don't you DARE put that fucking fork next to that spoon!  Why is your left foot turned towards the door?  You can't use your left foot for your door foot!  Don't smile after your third drink, savage!  BUURAAAAAGHH!  That's a slight exaggeration but it captures the spirit of the truly bizarre people that ran this, this, I don't know how you'd describe it.  Let's say, cult for dish worshiping ghouls.

It wasn't all bad.  Well, no, IT was all bad, but some good things came from the experience as a result.  When I was stolen from my crib in the night and given to these perfumed, pearl wearing practitioners of the impractical, I was joined by two friends whose parents also thought that the foxtrot would bring them success and riches when they went to the Governor's court after the harvest.  With these particular two gentlemen our friendship had always been in its beginning phases, and this horrible waste of time we had to endure became a kind of bonding experience.  Tittering behind old women's backs and purposely rearranging silverware became, in a sense, a show of solidarity.  As much solidarity as boys that are all of about twelve can have with one another anyway.  It also helped me crawl out of a shell a little bit.

I had always been a shy boy around girls.  So, the Cotillion also brought something new into my life: close proximity with girls my age.  As we learned how to dance in a way as to not tread on our debutante's sword scabbard all the steps and rules did have the one thing in common which is that you had to do them WITH someone.  For a boy that hadn't so much as bumped into a girl in the hallway at school, all of a sudden I was hands-on-hips familiar with a number of pretty "young ladies."  I would guess that I cultivated up to 6 new intense crushes in the course of my service in the Junior Cotillion (which felt like years but I'm sure was all of 4 weekends in July).

I can still remember that first sensation of warmth as I felt their skin through their impossibly ruffled and pinned dresses.  I remember the same sensation of their hand on my shoulder.  I remember noticing the moisture of their breath and that stale, but not totally unpleasant smell of CO2 as they exhaled.  I could smell their mother's perfume and was close enough to see that they were wearing makeup (the dance floor was always hot and brightly lit transforming the carefully applied blush and concealer into something like a sidewalk chalk drawing in a rainstorm).  The entire dance experience had a very humanizing effect on creatures previously viewed as totally forbidden.  It was intensely pleasant.

Of course afterwards I was still extremely nervous around girls, but at least now I knew that I really liked them and WANTED to be with them, but just didn't have the balls to do anything about it, so you know, THANKS Junior Cotillion!

More important and lasting than any other result of this experience was what it reinforced in my view of the world: the suspicion that I actually new better than most people.  As we stood through lessons about where things go, what color they should be, the order in which you should use your individual teeth, and how much of a tablecloth you can let touch your leg before you are deemed "pregnant", it wasn't hard for me and my friends to look at each other and just say, "no.  This doesn't matter."  It's almost thrilling to have a realization like that when you're barely in your double digits of age, and it can be a very powerful tool for a young person to acquire.

It is a frame of mind that was a real core pillar of my personality.  The idea that something isn't important just because it has been labeled so.  That all things deserve to be examined, understood, and judged by us as individuals before being taken seriously.  And that's not to say that that process has to be long and drawn out.  Examination, understanding, and judgement can be very quick depending on where you are.  If I'm in the ocean and I look over and say, "that looks like a shark.  Shit that IS a shark!  Fuck that shark!" well then there's all three in the space of about half a second.  The Cotillion was one of the first big events that solidified my resistance to established ideas.

Fast forward about four or five years to the middle of high school and we settle into yet another summer where I had been recruited into an institution of learning.  This time it was a summer school where I had been charged to make up a semester of English from the school year that had just ended.  This wasn't the first time I had found myself in summer school.  That specific summer school, even.  And just like the Cotillion, again I was being taught what the majority viewed as proper and, again, I was with friends (not the same friends, but some of my closest at the time) that shared my disgust and mockery of our situation.  This was a make up class I was having to take as a result of my evaluative approach to life partly started by those classes at that weird club.  Having put public school to the test many times and found it lacking in my own personal court of law, I deemed my participation in the activity pointless to the state, and even damaging to me, so I whenever I could miss class I would.

I missed 21 days in a single semester and learned that the truancy department will send you multiple letters asking why your kids aren't in school, but never seemed to follow up after the postage was stamped.  This, of course, caused me to evaluate and subsequently dismiss the truancy department as pointless.  It was a magical time of naivete where the only things I took seriously were the things that made sense to me.

When I was told that because I hadn't lived up to the school's standards I would be going to more school, my reaction was, "fine.  It will probably be bullshit, and I'll ignore that too."  And, my god, the summer school did not disappoint.  That semester we had been required to watch and digest a movie version of West Side Story.  So, for this class, that was the task we were to repeat.  Watch a video and fill in some bubbles on a test.  That's all we had to do.  The teacher turned off the lights, popped the tape in, pushed play, and then proceeded to thumb through a magazine before the FBI warning had left the screen.

When the opening credits to Blade Runner started we spoke up pretty quickly.  It's not that we wanted to watch West Side Story, it's just that we didn't want to be tested on something we hadn't seen.  Here's where it gets good.  She had to have known that the movie on the screen, the futuristic cityscape with flaming towers, Vangelis loudly playing, and half the people speaking something closely resembling Chinese, was NOT what we were supposed to be watching.  I can't imagine a dimension where that wouldn't have been painfully obvious.

But, she was the teacher.  She was the teacher that had given up her summer to educate us, the slackers.  We were telling her she was wrong and that is NOT how it works, boys and girls.  So, she looked out at the classroom (the FULL classroom, I'd like to add).  She gazed at us: the uneducated, the impolite, the interlopers.  She looked us right in the eyes, told us WE were wrong, and sat back down.

We broke for lunch right after Deckard shot Pris in J.F. Sebastian's apartment.  I don't know if you've ever seen Blade Runner, but that scene is not quiet.  Gunshots, screaming, writhing on the floor WHILE screaming, it's a big to do.  We thought for sure that when we came back from the courtyard that the jig would be up and we'd have to go back to coloring maps of the United States with crayons (that's not a joke,  I actually did that in summer school the year before.  The coloring was pass/fail.).  But no, we were still on Earth and pride was still stronger than correctness, so on with the exciting finale of Blade Runner!

After the movie was over she started passing out tests to West Side Story.  There was some protest.  At first it looked like we were going to get the same "fuck you" style of education we had gotten when we protested the first time, but now something was different.  Now, her screw up would effect her instead of just us.  We reminded her that when we all failed that test, and we'd make sure we did, that there would be questions as to why, and we would happily inform the school officials of all the details they needed to know.

She had us hand the tests back, threw them in the garbage, and we all got A's.

This is exactly what I had wanted summer school to be.  I thought school (not education, but the institution that we call public school) was bullshit, and that means that summer school should just be summer bullshit, which is exactly what it was.  The whole thing gave me that old thrill I could remember from the Cotillion and a hundred other things before and after.  It was all reinforcement of the idea that I knew better.  That I had figured it out.  And, that everything from this point on was just going to be me reasoning my way down easy street.

But it's not like that, is it?

One of the greatest disservices I ever did to myself was how I interpreted all those events in my life where I played Russian Roulette with "the system."  I viewed them as "I was right."  What I should have done was viewed them as "they were wrong."  It's a subtle yet powerful difference that I didn't have a real firm grasp on until maybe even as little as five years ago.

I had hit on one concept that's important, which is people don't know a lot about a lot.  What I didn't consider was that I was included in that figure.  When you're smart, but not a genius, there's a tendency to rely on your natural problem solving to kick in whenever you get into a pickle.  What you don't realize as a child in a middle class family is that you never really actually had any problems to solve when you were growing up.  So, when you move out and become an actual person and an actual problem comes up like, say, we only have enough money for food OR gasoline, things go tits up.

You draw your gun, pull the trigger, the hammer clicks, and nothing happens.  Then you call Mom and she tells you that you need bullets.  You tell her you don't know where to get them, and she takes you to the store and shows you.  Also, she buys you a laundry hamper because you forgot that.  Also, you need detergent.  And, more clothes, for Pete's sake what have you been doing, taking a shower with them on and just driving to work with the windows down?  Yes, Mom, that's what we've been doing.  It doesn't take long to realize that the end of your childhood is just another way of saying the beginning of your life.

That's the moment that humiliation turns to humility.  I don't care if your 60 or 12, if you screw up and get called on it and put your hands up and say, "that was my fault.  I didn't even realize I was doing that," then you're a grown up in a very important way.  You realize that you can't just figure your way out of stuff and that there are going to be times when there is just no right answer, like when it's gas or food.  Or, our personal favorite from the last few years, car or house.

I've probably said stuff like this before, but I think even then it was me congratulating myself on how clever I was that I figured out another aspect of life.  This time it feels more real, more rooted in how I make decisions.  I still evaluate everything and make my best call, but now there is an often used option for admitting that I'm probably going to choose wrong a lot of the time and that my decisions, along with my dilemmas, fall under that evaluation process too.

It's a scary thought, to realize that I am probably going to make more mistakes than right choices in my life.  But, it makes me pay attention more.  It makes me back off and think about where I am.  And, in a way it can be a good thing.  I miss the thrill of knowing I'm right, but when I assume that I'm wrong, there's a calming effect to the process I hadn't known before.  There's a problem, I try solution A, it doesn't work. Before it would be instant frustration.  Why doesn't it work?  That doesn't make sense!  I figured it out ahead of time!  Now when A doesn't work, well hey, I didn't really expect it to anyway.  Let's see what I missed.

All that fuss and worry earlier in my life over achieving some kind of peace or zen, thinking that it would come from a place of understanding, that all I had to do was understand and the universe would come to me, is just moot.  Now, for the first time in my life I'm feeling the edge of that vast event horizon to some kind of calm, and it's after I've decided that part of understanding things is accepting that sometimes, or most times, I won't.

Sometimes the only winning move, really, is not to play.  I swear the older I get the more that movie speaks to me in a way that was probably never intended.

Chiggie Von Richthofen

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Letter to Our Yellow Sun Concerning My Place

Dear People in Tall Buildings or Travelling on a Locomotive,

When I was a boy, I'd say probably 7 or 8, one of the things I loved most was going to a local water park that was called Water Town USA.  As far as water parks go it was small, but when compared to a grass filled wading pool in the back yard with a hose in it, Water Town was a veritable Atlantis.  It had slides and an obstacle course and a giant wave pool that was like a second home.  I loved swimming under the waves and turning around and looking up at all the people floating on the undulating water above me as I drifted in serene calmness below.

I could drift like that, suspended in water, because when my mother found out she was pregnant she got it in her head that she never wanted a child of hers to die by drowning.  My swimming lessons started at 18 months and continued every year until I found myself drifting around in that wave pool.  I couldn't go to classes at the YMCA anymore because the only thing beyond the level I was at was life guard training and you had to be 18 to go into that.  So, I was released into Water Town with our season passes, with just enough training to feel like I had mastery over the very water itself.

No, not like Aquaman.  Someone better, like Namor.  You don't know him.  Don't worry about it, he's cool.

I spent as much time as I possibly could underwater.  When I dove I pushed the air out of my lungs to keep water from going up my nose and to keep from having to fight the extra buoyancy of a deep breath.  The water was like a cold womb.  I sat on the bottom of pools and leaned against the sides wishing I could just drift off to sleep, and when I felt that human need for oxygen I just stood and pushed myself into the heavens, soaring towards the waterline like Superman, sometimes breaking the water so fast I would come out to my waist and fall backwards into the water like a dolphin on display.  Even now, as I think about it, it fills me with a pure calming joy.

The reason I'm prattling on about how comfortable I was in the water is to give context to the last great summer at Water Town USA and how, even though I don't feel responsible for it, I know I could have prevented it.

One day when I, as I said, was about 7 or 8 (I'm awful with the particulars of my own life), I had had enough of the wave pool and decided to go fire out of the "Cannonball" a few times.  The Cannonball was a short, steep water slide with a little lip at the end.  It was all acceleration and could hurl you parallel to the Earth until wind resistance overcame you and you plunged into the deep pool.  The deep pool was deep in contrast to the shallow pool that, naturally, was shallow and had no slides.

I didn't go in the deep pool much because it was dangerous to dive in, again, because of the high speed slides.  This area, for me, was for adrenaline boosting and not so much for the gentle embrace of Mother Ocean.  It certainly wasn't for milling around in like some of the half drunk, over sun exposed adults thought it was.  So, order of operations for the Cannonball slide was simple and to the point: climb latter, wait for "go" from lifegaurd, blast through that sumbitch like cold Schnapps through a virgin, hit the water at four million miles an hour, and beeline for the latter to get out and repeat.

About the only thing that is repeatedly noticeable when doing this process is the color of the sky and the color of the water.  Blue and blue.  You fly out and catch some rotation and it's just bright blue, dark blue, bright blue, darSPLASH.  Every time.  Blue.

So, on this day, on that series of Cannonball runs, something caught my eye.  Not extremely out of place, but a definite discrepancy.  I would come out of the slide, start to rotate, see light blue, see dark blue, see light blue, and then see greSPLASH.

I would come up for air and look down and yeah.  Green.  What's green doing here?

And not like an algae green.  There wasn't a sanitation problem.  I mean, the water practically gave you chemical burns.  By the kids eyes you'd think they'd been up all night preparing for court.  No this was another kind of green.  It showed up deep under the water.  It was bright, Nickelodeon slime green.

I didn't dwell on it a lot.  Like I said, we children had to keep the Cannonball mechanism going.  No time for hanging out on the latter and staring down at your feet.  You're on slide time, buddy, let's go.  So I shuffled on.  Again, and again, and again, each time noticing that green.  Each time trying another snap guess at what it was.  Did someone put that down there for the lifeguards to have a reference point?  Did someone drop a piece of the water vacuum?  Was it some replacement tile they had hanging around?

The water was in constant turbulence and the only thing I could ever get was the color.

Eventually the other part of the park, a shack filled with arcade machines on a sopping wet carpet, drew my attention and I decided to dry off a little with some Off-Road and a little Robocop pinball.  I got a drink, went to the bathroom, got some ice cream, and decided it was time to drift in the abyss once more.  To get to the wave pool you had to go past the deep pool with the fast slides and the near heat stroke adults.

As I rounded a corner I noticed that I wasn't getting to the wave pool any time soon as a giant crowd had formed on the path to get there.  It wasn't extremely unusual.  The park did things like this sometimes.  The X-Men cartoon was pretty popular back then so they'd have some poor guy dressed as Wolverine come by or maybe throw out t-shirts or something like that.  But these people weren't cheering.  These people weren't holding their damp arms out and jumping.  These people were completely still, and completely silent.

The only sound was the awful wailing of that woman as she held that dead boy in her arms, and rocked him back and forth in his bright neon green swim trunks.

I don't know who the boy was or where he was from.  I think I heard later that he was part of a church group on a field trip.  I'm not sure if that woman was his mother or his caretaker or what.  Maybe she was just some lady.

Some people murmured about paramedics and lifeguards.  I honestly don't know for sure if he was completely dead, but I do know that the kid was black, but he had also turned a shade of blue.  They wondered how long he had been down there.  I didn't say anything, but I had a pretty good idea of a possible time frame as I realized we had been swimming over that kid's body for at least half an hour.

Later that night when I was home something hit that's not right, I'm not going to say it like that.  A hit is sudden and decisive.  This was very, very subtle.  I wasn't horrified, really.  I didn't feel guilty.  I was sad but only as sad as you can be for a total stranger.  I just remember thinking, damn man, what was that kid, twelve feet down?  You've gone twelve feet on your own.  There was even a ladder to kick off of.  He was half your size.  It would have been easy.

You could have pulled that kid straight off the ground and flown up to the top like Superman and he might be alive now.

Again, I didn't feel guilty that I hadn't done it.  We didn't know.  Nobody knew.  I mean the lifeguards didn't grab him for Christ's sake.  It was just the dawning realization that I COULD have saved someone.  That there wasn't anything special about that act.  I had the tools.  If I had known, if it had dawned on me, I would have just gotten him.  It was almost--empowering-- to realize that the ONLY obstacle that had been in the was was KNOWING that someone was in trouble.

After that incident the water park was never the same.  They turned down the pressure on the slides.  They had stricter rules about what you could do and when and how old and how tall.  They slowed down the wave pool, and then turned it off altogether.  I knew it wasn't my fault that the park seemed to be permanently at half mast, but I also knew that there's a good chance that had I just been a little bit more aware, looked just a little closer, I could have prevented it.

Let's take a giant leap forward through time and settle on a drive home one afternoon.  I was piloting my Mother's big blue Ford conversion van.  This thing was like the C-130 of cars, but man was it comfortable.  I was coming back from picking up my sister from school.  I was in college and since my mom taught classes late, I was in charge of grabbing my sis and ferrying her home before I went back for my evening shift as a lab tech at the college.

The route I chose to take home was not one that was approved of by my mother.  She preferred a lone highway that had no lights or traffic.  I preferred the more direct way home that was lined with little shops.  This would later be a contentious point between us because of what happened next.

I was driving along, going the speed limit (which was rare) when I saw a long, white sedan fly out of a beauty parlor parking lot.  Right. At me.  I jerked the wheel to the left.  I was in the far right lane and all my fields of view were clear so I went for it.  I got into the left lane, she kept coming, I got into the turn lane, she kept coming.  I considered pushing into oncoming and boom.  Captain Nemo sank another one of Her Majesty's Ships.

I got a jolt to the right and my view was filled with beads of glass as our lower case "L" turned into a capital "C". The impact of the broadside was so great that the side of the van actually caught her car like a baseball glove, but we were still going forward so it then just tore the front of her car right off.  The hood and front tires spun off into the side of the road and she was left with her car ending at the windshield like a Laurel and Hardy sketch.

The van stuttered to a halt and I put everything into park and brake and off.  It hadn't occurred to me that this was pointless as the van wasn't ever going to go anywhere on it's own again.  I know, because I asked later, that I checked on my sister.  She liked sitting in the very back bench, and I was in the front seat, so the car slammed into us the only place a person WASN'T.  Dumb luck.  But I asked later and she told me that I had made sure she was ok.  I had to ask because I didn't remember.

What I do remember is sprinting back across the road towards half a car.  I saw red all over the road and smoke filling the interior.  A man that had seen it happen got there at the same time.  We wrenched the door open and pulled the terrified teenage girl out of the car, carried her a away from the wreckage, and sat her down gently on the grass so she could shake and weep.

The man bent down to comfort her and I turned to look at the car.  Blood and smoke was replaced with transmission fluid and a white cloud from the airbag deploying.  She wasn't ever in any real danger, just bruised.  I had rushed over to save a perfectly healthy teenage girl from her benignly disabled Nissan Altima.  Big fuckin' hero.


"Shit!" was all I remember saying to the pirate that had attempted to board me as I sprinted, again, back into the road and ran to our bashed van.  I brushed the glass away and climbed into the passengers side.  I helped her climb out as she cried.  I was the only one not crying, but in my defense, this had been the FOURTH time I had been in a car totalling wreck.  I apologized for running off and she said it was OK, even though I could kind of tell it wasn't.  She was pretty shaken up.  Again, big fuckin' hero, right?

Later the police said there was nothing I could have done.  She came out of that parking lot at something like 35 miles an hour.  She never even saw me.  My mother asked me why I didn't honk and I tried to explain that the horn wasn't a device that was in charge of escaping from a cruise missile so it hadn't dawned on me to deploy it.

A couple weeks after that we got a letter asking if we wanted to sue the girl for damages.  I took it from my mother and tore it up.

Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason I jumped out of my smashed van and ran across traffic was because of that kid at Water Town.  I don't feel like there is a direct correlation.  It's not like I looked over at the smashed car and had a pool flash back.  There wasn't any thought process at all, painfully evident by me running into traffic.

There was one thing that was common between the two incidents, though.  After all was said and done, and I was sitting at home thinking about that wreck, somewhere I knew that even though the situation hadn't been dangerous and I had, at best, fumbled through the act of walking a stranger across 10 feet of grass, I knew that I had seen what I thought was a burning car and I had run TOWARDS it.  I had sprinted, without thinking, on mechanical reflex towards someone that I thought was in trouble.

Did I help at all?  Debatable.  Probably not.  But all the proper protocols came online at the right time.  And just like how I had felt empowered by the idea that I COULD save someone when I wondered about the drowned boy, I felt that same empowerment at the fact that I TRIED to save someone when I got in that wreck.  It made me feel less useless and less helpless.

I think most people have a nagging question inside of them.  If something goes wrong, really wrong, will the fear grip me?  Will the indecision paralyze me?  Will I be the reason someone is hurt?

In Vietnam my grandfather was the tail gunner of a B-52.  The gunner back then was also the bombardier.  One day they went on an 18 hour bombing run and their landing gear malfunctioned.  He climbed down to where the gear was, in flight, and manually deployed it.  He volunteered to do it.  He probably saved his fellow crewmen from some injuries and he certainly saved that plane.  Fear grips that man about as well as a greased pig.  He doesn't have to worry about what will happen in one of the big pinches.

I know I still do.  But, through the water park and the car wreck and many more incidents like them throughout a lifetime of accidents and mistakes, I feel a little more confident in myself and a little more sure of where I stand.

I didn't enroll in the police academy, I didn't become a fireman or a soldier or join the Coast Guard.  But, I think that I try to do right, and I feel like for maybe every 99 parts Clark Kent I might have at least 1 part Superman.  And, if that confidence is enough for me to do whatever I have to do to keep myself and my family safe, and to help my friends or anyone else that I have the ability to help, then I think I'm at least where I should be as far as being a human being.

Chiggie Von Richthofen

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Letter to the Willfully Ignorant Concerning Their Hindrance of Progress

Dear those of you that have checked out,

This is a coupon for a free ice cream cone from any restaurant, ever, but you have to read it out loud at the place or they won't honor it.

I've never really enjoyed being called smart.  As a child I heard it all the time, and I'll admit it, I was a smart kid.  We moved around a little bit when I was very young and at the age of 4 I found myself enrolled in school in Norfolk, England.  I started my education in the country of my Father.  While, as a 4 year old, I was in school I remember doing arithmetic. I remember changing every day for gym, out of my sweater, button up shirt, and tie, and into little red shorts and a t-shirt.  I remember not only reading and writing but getting graded on handwriting.  I even remember my teacher showing my mother how my handwriting was improving (something that would never be uttered by a teacher again).

Then when I was 5 we moved again.  We moved back to my Mother's (and now my own) country: The United States.  Specifically, Northern Louisiana.  When we came home my mother, of course, wanted to keep my education as uninterrupted as possible so she tried to enroll me in public school.  She was denied.  The reason was that I was too young to be in school (the minimum for Kindergarten at that time was 6) and that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the other children.  I'm going to skip the part where she gave them evidence as to why that reasoning was idiotic and go right into how the first three years of school were so incredibly boring that I still get a pit in my stomach to this day when I think about it.

But, this isn't what you might think.  This isn't a story about how I was so bored because the American education system is so upside down.  I mean it is, but I don't want to talk about it.  No, I was bored for another reason.  I was bored because I absolutely love to learn new things.  It really gets my coffee brewing, and it always has.  Learning something brand new and then learning how that relates to the things I already know about is an actual physical rush for me.  I grin like an idiot and want to tell everyone the great news.  And, after a lot of thought I think that's why I hated school so much.  It's because I don't think a lot of people actually love to learn things like that.  I don't think the majority of people get that intense burst inside of them when they understand something new, no matter what it is.

I was in a system that wanted me to KNOW things, but really didn't care if I LEARNED things, and even at a very young age I decided that just knowing things was for assholes.  I didn't want to know that the gears turned I wanted to know WHY they turned and WHEN they turned and WHAT they did when you turned them.  It's a passion I still carry with me today, probably because of some kind of gently screwed wiring in my brain (family history of weird brain stuff, we'll talk later), and it's a passion/crippling obsession that serves me well in my job.  Being a guy in a small IT shop for a very big place means that I need to know, as well as possible, how everything fits together and it just so happens, total coinkydink, that I LOVE knowing how everything fits together.

That's not to say everything comes naturally.  When I was very young I thought that learning was a piece of cake, or maybe I was some kind of genius because everything seemed to make sense instantly.  This is NOT an ability that has followed me into adulthood.  Yes, if I know SOMETHING about a system then understanding the rest of it isn't a huge deal, but learning something new kind can take a lot of work for me.  I hate to use this word, I mean I really hate it, but a good amount of my free time as an adult is spent, well, studying.  And, I don't mean watching a History Channel special, I mean actual study like reading multiple articles about a subject, making notes, writing tiny little conclusions about what I've learned like miniature research papers.  I check sources and seek out dissenting opinions to balance the conclusions.  I work harder on gaining knowledge now then I did in all my years at any kind of school.  But it's all work.  I read Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feinman a little while back and it wasn't like a casual Sunday.  It was weeks of me reading and re-reading and making notes and talking to my much smarter friends to confirm my suspicions, and I'd like to think that by the end I understood most of it.  And, with that understanding came a kind of satisfaction.

The bizarre part is that there's no rhyme or reason to the subject matter I work on.  One week it might be the circulatory system, the next month it could be physics, after that I'll want to know about colonial politics, maybe something about dinosaurs will catch my eye, and how DO they make marshmallows, and where ARE memories stored, and on, and on, hurtling randomly through the internet and, now, multiple magazine subscriptions.

My only hang up with the whole process is that there isn't really any end goal.  My job doesn't get easier with most of this new knowledge.  My finances aren't sparkling.  My dog can't drive a car or mend my clothes.  I mean other than the knowledge itself I really have nothing to show for it.  The line I feed myself to justify it is that as I understand ANYTHING better I understand EVERYTHING better, but that was something I came up with when I was a Buddhist.  I have since LEARNED that I am most certainly not a Buddhist, although I do still like some of the ideas.  Nowadays I've just accepted that this is something I want to do.  Just like some people love to play tennis or play bingo.  It's not FOR anything, it's just what they like.  I like to learn about stuff, and now that I'm an adult and don't have to attend classes, I can learn all I want.

I know that I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way.  Most of my friends have this same instant attraction to fresh ideas, even if it's completely useless to them.  So, I'm thinking maybe I'm just going through a regular routine that lots of us go through.  The best I can figure it, I'm currently on stage 3 of a system I call the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Timeline of Personal Growth.

First, there is the adolescent/young adult.  I call this the Michelangelo stage of growth.  He is impulsive, carefree, fun seeking.  To him nothing really matters and consequences are few and far between, and he knows that if he ever does get into trouble that there is a support system there ready to catch him.  He is a party dude.

Second, there is the newly independent individual.  This would be the Raphael stage of growth.  He has started to realize that all actions have a reaction and that most of the time that reaction is negative.  He realizes that a lot of the decisions and opportunities that were available to him when he was young and dumb are not gone as a result of his actions and the only thing left to do is be angry about it.  His rage is fueled be entry level jobs and bills and flaky, young friends that might still be Michelangelos themselves.  Either way he's pissed, a lot.  You could say he's cool but rude.

Third, and where I think I am currently, we have the full adult.  This is the Donatello stage of growth.  At this point the individual realizes that life isn't just about lost opportunities and slights against him, real or imagined.  His life is a life of discovery.  A life of trying new things and making sure that what he's working for really matters.  It's a time when problems require solutions instead of sulking and realizing the best way to solve a problem is to get in there and figure out how to fix it himself.  He also "does machines."

Fourth, and what I think I'm heading towards, is the seasoned adult.  The Leonardo stage of Growth.  He leads.  This is the time in a man's life when he's been through a lot, and he knows how to deal with it, and everyone thinks he is a complete tool for it.  In an alternate list I'm making this is also called "Cyclopsing".  I can already feel myself starting to drift into this stage.  I've had a few Leonardo moments with younger people (I'm only 28 for Pete's sake, but it's happening).  I hear myself saying things like, "you need to pay attention, I already know how to do this so this lesson isn't for my benefit," or, "fine, don't take my advice.  It should only take you about 3 hours longer to do it that way."  This is where knowledge ends up at the end: freely available to people that don't want it.  I think those of us that are eager to learn are also eager to dispense but there doesn't seem to be a real interest in it.

I'm becoming a young Leonardo in a crowd of adult Michalangelos.

Lately, the people around me at work or on the street or in the shops have been, well, let's just say one shamble away from just being stupid zombies.  And, I'm not talking about undead zombies, I'm talking like Dahmer zombies.  Someone has injected acid into these peoples' brains and they have just completely lost the ability to use their words.  I know that everyone has IT stories and oh look how dumb so and so is not realizing that you can't get on the network if you TCP/IP stack is corrupted, blah blah.  This isn't it.  This shit is mind boggling.

The other day someone asked me if he needed to capitalize the numbers in his password.  I told him no and he asked me if I was sure.  I told him yes, because you can't capitalize numbers.  He let me know that you in fact can because it would just be the large version of the numbers.  I asked him how he would go about doing that and he said just hit shift and the number, just like with the letters.  I then asked him how he makes parenthesis.  He died.

It's been happening all over.  A lady called me and told me that the computer was making a funny noise.  I asked her what kind of noise and she said, "I don't know."  You don't know?  You don't know what it sounds like?  You called me!  You called me because it made a sound that you KNEW wasn't a computer sound.  Something in your head classified that noise, I'm just asking you to do it again.  In fact, I'm pretty sure you're still doing it, what with that being an involuntary brain function and you just don't want to take on the titanic responsibility of telling me whether something is going beep like a microwave or buzzing like a bee!

What about the temperature.  Is it hot?  You don't know?  How can you not know?  Did you forget what warm feels like?  Let's try it another way.  Touch the computer for me.  OK, now how do you feel about the computer?  Do you trust it?  Because if you do then you should probably shut it off and let it sit for a while.

Even that joke required an effort of personal education on my part.

People are rebelling in some sort of odd, destructive way against having to know anything.  They refuse to learn even the smallest bit of new information and I can only imagine it's because they're afraid of what all information inevitably does, which is change something.  Information is the power to repair or redirect with facts and logic.  Information can heal the sick and defeat evil.  It is truly a source of power, but what with you all being fucking terrified of any kind of responsibility outside of a job a robot DOG could do, that's just not something you're going to pursue.

Well fuck you.  Fuck you for REFUSING to assimilate ANYTHING.  Because as much as you like to bitch to the rafters when you have to learn something super hard like a color or someone's name, you sure as hell expect me to know about 10x the volume of that in the form of complex technical knowledge.  Where do you think that comes from?  How do you think I came to know the things that I learned?

It's not like I gleaned them from the special crystals in my shuttle craft as I escaped from my exploding home planet as a baby.  Although, I can see in your faces that you aren't ready to completely rule that out yet.  No, I read books, I found examples, I did the work, and now I am learn'ed.  No one came by and stabbed me in the back of the head with a rod and then all of a sudden I knew kung fu.  Although, to be fair, if I am ever actually stabbed in the back of the head then it will probably be because I don't know kung fu.  And if you think that this makes me view myself as better than you, my thirst for knowledge and my drive to understand the systems of the world, well you damn well better believe that it does.  Because you know what?  If I, as a human being, at least TRY to understand something then I am working towards the overall betterment of what we are as a species, and you could do that too, with so little effort, but you just don't.  You're all just sitting on the boat while the scary man lets you know that there's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going.  All because you're fine with being stupid.

I hate the word stupid.  I hate it, because it's always ascribed to those that do NOT deserve it.  When someone wants to learn and they try and it doesn't work, but they keep that fire inside them of WANTING to know the why's and the how's well then they will never be stupid.  It's impossible.  Stupid is an end result and they are forever in the process of learning.

No.  You.  You people are stupid.  The people that give up or decide that knowledge is a burden that you have to sit through as a child and with the freedom of adulthood comes the freedom from learning anything ever again.  You are the people that I can not stand to be around.  The people that shrug.  The people that say, "Iontknow."  The people that just roll their eyes and shut off when they even THINK that something new is coming their way.  They say we use 10% of our brains, but you guys must have a hefty cluster of neurons in your ass because I'm not seeing any lights on in the penthouse.

You are, in the purest sense I can mean it, degenerates.

I want to be clear that this isn't just a work rant, this is a life rant.  I understand that the country is in the toilet, but I'm in the toilet too and I can not fathom how "remain an idiot" makes it to the tops of peoples' "to do" lists.  Animals don't even do this.  I'm a squirrel, there's a noise, was it a predator, Iontnkow.  EATEN.

This looking at your shoes and shrugging bullshit has got to stop, at least in my immediate area if you can help it.  For fuck's sake it's like being surrounded by the "bad kids" in every after school special, ever.  Hey you want to go to the library?  No way man, I stole half a cigarette and I'm totally going to smoke it while listening to a walkman.

Yeah, well, OK Judd Nelson.  You go ahead and do that.  The rest of us will be over here trying not to contribute negatively to the global wide fuck up that is the 21st century.

I don't really like to ever say I believe in anything because one thing that stuck with me from that pesky Buddha was that people who attach themselves to an idea are then destined to suffer through the failures of that idea.  But, one idea I'll say I'm quite fond of is the idea that the ability to learn about the world and ourselves is a privilege and a responsibility.  Knowing more than other people can be a point of pride, it can be a basis for competition, hell it can even be a turn on, but one thing it always is is a duty to everyone with the ability to learn.

One of the things that makes me feel truly happy in this world is when my wife asks me a question.  I know that might not be the most sane thing a husband has ever said but hear me out.  It's not just that she's asking me but it's the way that she asks me.  When she asks me a question it is blunt, spur of the moment, and can be about absolutely anything in existence.  It's the way a kid asks a parent a question, with that complete trust that they will get an answer.

She doesn't think about what I like or where I've been or who I've met.  There's no check, there's no filter.  It's just BAM what determines when it rains, BAM what temperature does water boil in Celsius, BAM how many guys are on a hockey team.  She asks me questions like she asks Google questions, and I have to tell you that I am absolutely honored by that, every time.  Not because I always have the answer and I get to show off.  My average for being able to tell her what she's asking for would be awesome, if I were on a baseball card.  It's just that she knows that I like to poke around in everything and no matter what she wants to know about there's a chance that I've learned a little bit about it.

I try to extend this honor to my friends I was talking about before.  The ones that would drill my ass into the dirt in a "who knows more about stuff" competition.  I hope that they also feel that warmth of being that one can get when one is recognized as a source of information.

That's a warmth you'll probably never know.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  You can change at any time in any way.  If for nothing else than selfish hubris, learn something knew.  Even if it's to lord it over your fellow troglodytes, just do it.  Maybe the rest of us will get lucky and something inside of you will start to wake up and I won't have to scream at you anymore because you can't figure out that your username on your profile is just your name.

It's just your name!  Just type your fucking name in!  I hate you so much!

Chiggie Von Richthofen

P.S.  I lied, this isn't actually a coupon.  I just didn't think you'd read it otherwise.