Monday, April 30, 2012

Re-malling that time

I went to a mall today.  Rae and I went to this particular mall as Delaware offers tax-free shopping, and this location is within minutes of the shelter at which we volunteer.  We had a short list, a mission to execute, and it was a little exciting to see the inside of a mall again. 

Oh, it was quite exciting.  Actually, it was over stimulating and brought out some mild agoraphobia.  I dealt with it well, though; highly sweetened caffeine and good company have a calming effect.  Alright: mostly the good company.

Let’s start with a basic observation: In our corner of the country, the weather was beautiful today.  I don’t think any combination of free candy, hamburgers, beer, strippers, and a marching band could have made this day better – and I’m a fan of most of the above.  Strippers deeply disturb me. 

I am amused by this concept of, “It’s a beautiful day outside – let’s hang out at the mall!”  Do people not realize that means being outside for a minute, in your car for twenty, outside for two minutes, in the mall for four hours, and then back outside when it’s too damnably dark to appreciate the gorgeous day?  I mean, excuse my language, but what the fuck is wrong with these people?

I worked in a mall for nearly four years.  Despite being a larger mall than the one we visited today, I was so intensely overwhelmed by the amount of noise in this mall.  I was bowled over by noise before the wafts of unclean children and Taco Bell took over my senses.  There was music, advertising, and conversations all being managed with outdoor-voices, despite being inside.  If I saw someone standing around not screaming, they were talking to their own reflection in the bathroom mirror, as they fiddled with the water knobs, not washing their own hands. 

The presence of this sales machine was as evident as the secret service around the president.  There was no where you could go, and no way to look where it could not assault you.  Even the people there to partake of the shopping were only contributing to the low-level hysteria being pumping out.  With all the noise and chaos, I was surprised there wasn’t more going on - some singer’s appearance, Santa Clause, eastern bunny, Mongolian orgy, etc.

I did my best to grab Rae’s hand and hold on for dear life.  I felt the future of this country, and I wanted out.  I was disgusted by how easily everyone ignored it.  Most of all, I was upset with myself for having been a part of it for so long.

Now, I don’t mean I had a hissy fit in the middle of the mall.  Nor did I waste a wonderful day dwelling on it.  It was a compartmentalized thought that was acknowledged and stored.  To think that I could have contributed to this chaotic cash-grabbing assault on every sense was sickening, though.

When my employment ended, I made a claim that it is the consumer’s responsibility to hold sellers accountable.  Yet, here thousands of people have been so indoctrinated to this concept of spending a beautiful day inside, with these merchandisers seeking to take the money and time of their customers.  It’s an exemplification of the cattle upon which the corporations remain well fed, friends.  The cow never questions what a cow is supposed to do, because it is never told that it can.

Which leads me to state again: the people selling these products to you? – They think you’re a moron.  They’ve trickled down, streamlined, and over-sexed everything in order to make it look like you want something you have no clue about.  A smarter consumer would stand up, and demand a smarter product, but from the advertising, assault, and inventory I saw today, I’d say a grade-school education only need apply.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Forty Days and Nights

Forty days ago, my previous employment ended.  My way of living ended.  Rather than pick and move on, I initiated full necrosis of that person and have been itching to pick at the skin as this new one heals up.  This form is not complete, but it’s getting along nicely.

I began writing as a personal initiative.  Can’t write if you aren’t writing, and the quality of what I had written in terms of my fiction was all over the place.  So I embarked on a personal objective: 80 days of writing, 500 words a day.  Those were the only two standards.  I could select freeform subjects, requiring me to talk less during the day, and listen more.  Coming from retail, this was a challenge.

I chose 80 days, as I would like to have 80,000 words written at some point.  500 a day is my safety net – a bare minimum.  So far, I have 52,000.  I will not be including this entry in that total.

This is a status update.  I am not nearly as stressful, aggressive, or irritating as I was forty days ago.  I have gotten to know more about my wife, and what her life actually entails.  I’ve been able to spend more time at the shelter, tending to all of the wonderful animals I’d only seen an hour or two each Thursday for four or five hours a week.  I’ve been able to pick through memories I gave up as gone.  I am starting to reconnect all the pieces of myself that I wanted to lose over time – pieces that make up who I am, but I thought I didn’t need.

Every piece of a person is what makes them who they are.  I’ve gone for ages, silently sad and disappointed at the misadventures of my maligned youth.  Now, I can wear those scars with a silent dignity.  Hopefully, by the completion of this project, I will wear those burdens with a telling grace.  I will use the strength of my past to light my future.

I have a great job with amazing coworkers.  The longer I am there, the more my brain clicks off what I don’t need, and picks up what I do.  This job is also teaching me how to ask better questions.  This is good, because my brain turns these phrasings against me, and I find myself providing better answers.

Most importantly, my worldview is finally coming into focus.  What I want in life isn’t a fantastic creation of a sixteen year old kid anymore.  It’s focused, achievable, yet necessarily dynamic.  Life is full of too many wonderful variables to be static.  Not to mention, you miss so much by letting it stand still while you pass it by.

That’s the big one that I’ve been waking up to: passing life by.  The notion is that we sit down and watch the world pass us by.  The case is quite the opposite – life happens to us when we let it.  Someone else may be running in the rain screaming with laughter.  We’ll put our warm hands against the glass, watching as the heat dissipates and smudges the view.  We wonder if that’s fun; if that feels as wonderful as they make it sound.  We hesitate; the person passes, and so does our reason to go out and join them. 

The moment’s on the table waiting for us.  The question is whether or not you’re willing to seize it.  I had an opportunity present itself, and I could have just gone back to retail, playing a video game, or something else.  Instead, I put my foot down - and into a goal.  It was specific enough for results; vague enough for personalization and flexibility.  I found that while I am a singular entity, there are still a great number of people that influence me.  My life is, literally, “Not Just Cletus.”

The next time life calls, don’t get so hung up on yourself that you can’t answer.  Go dance in the rain, laughing.  If you haven’t answered any of life’s other calls, you could probably use the shower.

Wearing a Belt Upside-Down

I started wearing my belt upside down when I was still in high school.  There’s not really a long saga to it – I just couldn’t believe the number of right-handed “only” belts that were out there.  I myself am right handed, but felt this was some form of forced prejudice.  The solution was easy: put my belt on upside down.

I was doing a lot of silly fashion choices at the time.  I believe I’ve gone on about my love of wide-legged pants.  I looked like I was wearing a denim dress.  Honestly, if I had the patience now that I did then for wading through that much denim – the pants alone were twelve pounds a pair – I’d be wearing them all the time.  I would try to be fashionable about it, though: ties, vests, tightly fitted oxfords, fancy hats, sport coats; I made skater-chic “cool.”  In my own head, anyway.

I had this ideology at the time that was rather brilliant for a teenager.  Conceptually, it was something to the effect of, “I may look like some teenage rebel, but you don’t know me; you don’t know the type of person under all of this,” and with that, I would continue to be the best person I could while dressing like a damn fool.  I mean, I did bring back power clashing and all.

In my later years, I’ve found better ways of doing this with much less clothing.  Don’t panic: I still leave the house fully clothed.  Most of the time.  I’ve begun to favor body art more – tattoos and such.  Personalizes the skin I live in more than just dressing like a Mummer.  The impression people have is surprisingly – for this day and age – the same as you would expect.  Most likely think I’m some kind of violent anarchist or hellion.  Then, I smile, we exchange pleasantries, and they can look me in the eye after that.

Part of me realizes this may be a real asshole thing to do.  In essence, I am forcing people to confront their stereotypes and to challenge their preconceived notions of what someone of my aesthetic may be like.  Or, maybe I’m just a nice guy that likes to wish everyone to have as great of a day as I usually feel like having.  It really doesn’t matter to me: In my version of the world, everyone can smile.

That’s what this all boils down to.  I have this notion that there is a time to cry, to be angry, melancholic, and anxious, but there are always gaps between these emotions.  As we transition from one feeling to the next, there’s this blankness to someone’s face - such as the person in a grocery store parking lot.  Maybe if someone could spare the three seconds to catch an eye, smile while exchanging pleasantries, what does that do?

Maybe the other person will hold the car door for their wife.  Maybe they’ll leave a dollar instead of a quarter for Jerry’s kids.  Maybe they’ll watch a comedy after dinner instead of something dark and depressing.  Maybe they’ll give their pizza delivery guy five bucks on a twenty dollar delivery, instead of two.  I mean, he is bringing your dinner to you, for pete’s sake; pay the kid properly for your laziness.

Maybe that’s the spark they needed to be a better person for the rest of their day.  In a previous takeaway, I asked that you engage a stranger in a conversation.  Today, try to get a couple of them to simply smile, and move along.  Turn the world around - put your belt on upside-down – simply because you can.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Apology Unnaccepted

My stepfather was an asshole.  Had he not been cremated, his tombstone would have proclaimed, “Here’s lies one of the biggest anal maws on the planet.” There would even be an etched image of a rancor’s mouth out of his bum on the granite tombstone.

So that’s the foot we start on today: following up on fine parenting.  See, for all the pain and misery that I could remember the bloke for inflicting, he had three – maybe four – good points. 

One, he taught me inadvertently.  The town of Prattsburgh, NY, was rather hilly.  Not just from mile to mile, but from street to street.  He was unable to walk long distances without assistance.  I may recall someone mentioning at some point he had nerve damage from shrapnel during the Vietnam War.  We were walking home from the town’s watering hole.  He would frequently get completely hammered, while my sister and I wandered around the town’s library.  She and I would buy stacks of books for a dollar or two, all because the covers were removed.  We never bothered with a library card, because we never knew when we were going to be moving again.

I had fond memories of reading in that era of my life.  My grandmother – on my mother’s side – bought me a leather bound, gilded omnibus of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” and “Sea-Wolf”.  This was my first foray outside of happy fiction.  This was notably proceeded with my love of Michael Crichton (nothing like reading “Rising Sun” when you’re twelve), R.L. Stine’s “Superstitious” (his first “adult” horror), Jeffrey Deaver’s “Bone collector”, “Killobyte” by Piers Anthony, Sherri S. Tepper’s “Marianne” trilogy the Tom Swift novels, and even “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  I can chart the times in my life with my stepfather by the books I read; I had nothing else to track the hours and days.  I even read an illustrated bible, for lack of anything else.

So, he was hammered, and I was contentedly carrying a stack of books home.  As I pushed his wheelchair over the crest of one road, he told me to just let him navigate the hill on his own.  I didn’t wait for clarification; I gave him the needed nudge.  The first lesson I learned, was to never put yourself in a position where someone else has complete control over your life.  You never know when that son of a bitch is going to push you into oncoming traffic.

That’s why I cut my own hair; I don’t trust anyone else with scissors near my head.

He hated repeating himself.  This was something that brought about many physical altercations.  His was the de facto dictatorship by which a modicum of peace could be sustained.  So, it’s a little easier to understand point two is simply, “Do something right the first time.”

It’s actually good advice.  It may take a bit longer to do something properly the first time through, but it will ultimately take longer than doing it twice.  As a punishment one lovely, youthful summer’s afternoon, I was given every pot and pan in the kitchen, and ordered to scrub the bottoms to restore their brand-new shine.  After giving me two days for this – literal two days; my hands were cut and bleeding, with steel wool filaments jammed in the folds of skin and under nails – he decided I wasn’t doing it well enough.  Ended up with a lashing anyway. 

At least I was done with the damn dishes.

This leads me to another point that has cropped up a lot of the past seven years: there’s no amount of pity or sympathy you can throw at someone that makes them stop being an asshole.  Their being disabled or ill has no impact on the person that they are; that is, if they’re an ass, feeling sorry for them doesn’t magically make someone stop being an ass.  I can wish the sulfur emission from human being’s butts turned to delicious cupcakes, but even if I encourage and demand it of them, they’re just going to be a giant fart.

Even death doesn’t change that fact.  I tried talking to my mother again back in 2002.  It was a terse conversation that ultimately ended in my owing an additional $2,800 in taxes six months later, when my post-tax take home was less than $14,000 a year.  We haven’t spoken since.  She had separated from my stepfather nearly five years prior, but she still wore his wedding band.  I inquired during our meeting, and she told me he had died.  They sent her the ashes, but she didn’t know what to do with them.  So, she flushed them down the toilet and tossed the six-by-four-inch box he arrived in.

The fourth point is one that I think is the most useful for being a good human, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry: don’t do it again.”  An apology is simple enough to phrase, but entirely different in execution.  Words are just that – black and white smudges strung together which may, or may not, mean what they’re written to be.  If the action behind the apology has no intention of being apologetic, then it’s all just words.

That last one has been a guiding force in my life.  I’ll forgive anyone that’s willing to ask; if you think I’m going to forget, you’re delusional.  I’ll place my trust in you based on the actions you take to amend the situation. You should take an apology for what it’s worth – even in a greeting card. 

Know what’s funny about those written apologies? – They’re worth less than when the paper was blank.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Seven Hundred Army

When children learn to devalue others, they can devalue anyone - including their parents.”  I pulled this from another Star Trek episode.  I love going back and digging into all this stuff that I missed as a kid.  This particular gem is from an episode a friend recommended.  There’s political posturing, war games, and torture.

The torturing’s really the crux of the whole thing.  There’s a grand imbroglio around the ability to brainwash someone using physical torture.  Doing all of this, that lovely quote is tossed out, and echoes around the room like a foghorn in the Grand Canyon.  Most startling of all, is how true it can be.

Generations of children raised during the entitlement era are living proof of this.  Some of the practices include parents no longer being authority figures, but friends – even called by their first names.  Every single child is a winner, even if they finished last in a marathon 5,000 deep.  I could go on, but the synopsis of this concept is to make children feel “better” as they grow up.

I believe the intent was to start by raising children that could capably be independent.  The action was doing so with a heavy reliance on a supervisory figure to enable such action.  This effect has caused the reality of this plan to be much different from the ideal.  I used to try and hire these kids, you know.  A whole pack of self-entitled douchebags, that couldn’t understand why “their” way of doing something wasn’t the “right” way.  One requested Monday’s and Wednesday’s off just for World of Warcraft raids.  Another was so forthcoming that I was made explicitly aware she would not be coming to work because it was a heavy flow day.  I mean, really?! 

Basic civility is just an old hat-trick at this point.  I’ve yet to see anyone under twenty spontaneously hold doors open for little old ladies anymore.  Conversational courtesy is out the window (although, you can blame any number of rising technological influences for that).

On the news, politicos are touting the schools are at blame for “failing our youth.”  Bullshit.  The parents are failing our youth.  If you can take the time to actually raise your own child like a good human, the chain would keep going.  The schools are just responding to taxpayers, and the loudest voices tend to be the laziest.  Some amazing scientific principle how the lack of momentum and initiative inherently makes the larynx more audible… I don’t know.

I was raised around humans that treated others as garbage.  Some were emotionally abusive and physically violent people.  The type of person who would look at a kindergarten macaroni picture, and tell you to do better next time, while throwing it in the trash can for a lark.  Other people who felt best to hit someone with a car while in a drunken stupor in order to impede the ability to walk away from an argument.  Fine folks that would take a child, and lock them in a bedroom for an entire summer, thinking that’s rational.

So yes, the potential to think less of people exists.  There also exists some miracle that has kept me from going into a mall chainsaw in one hand, flame thrower in the other, wielding both as I manically run from one end and back.  The scrawny arms, mostly, but there had to be some divine intervention. 

Or, maybe I just chose to always have a little more heart for people than they’d give me.  I give a little patience; they give me some better manners.  It’s an interesting take on equivalent exchange – my contributing an item of varied mass, as it’s karmically being reciprocated by another force of equal value, but not necessarily identical.

Then next time you look in the mirror, blame the collapse of society on someone.  Go on – just try it.  Look yourself in the eyes, and if you believe yourself, you’re all set.  Move along; there’s nothing else for you here.  You are, in fact, just better than everyone else; your parents’ objectives for your upbringing have been accomplished.  Go have some cake.

If you look in that mirror, though, and can’t even stare yourself in the eyes as you go off on some thing or other, then congratulations.  You’re human.  You’ve passed the test; now we’ll never sever.  The solution is only the beginning, though.  The next step is to see what you’re doing to change this mindset in the world.  It’s always easy for someone to have a great idea, but executing it – and executing it well – is a lot harder.