21 Grams

Hey Gang!

It was a hot and humid day. I walked inside and sat down in the funeral parlor. People all went to visit the casket and turned away with watery eyes. People came up to me and gave me condolences for my loss.

One by one they filed through and shook my hand. These unfamiliar face who never knew me. Some even show their prejudice towards me openly as they don’t acknowledge me unless I were to shove my hand into their space. For about an hour this goes on and then I sit down in the front row of the parlor, just a few feet from the casket.

My grandfather was dead.

This means that I officially have no grandparents on either side. It only consists of uncles and aunts. That is as high as it goes.

I remember sitting there looking at the closed wooden box. The funeral parlor was packed full of people and I remember thinking, “I hope half this many people come to mine.”

The services went on. People who knew him in life spoke and cried. I paid attention to a lot of it but I couldn’t help but think about the situation period. I wasn’t saddened because I hardly knew him, unfortunately. I think that’s what did sadden me a bit, though. That feeling of a forever lost connection. Maybe we could have been friends. Maybe we could have talked. From what everyone said, he seemed like a great man but his past transgressions haunted my mother and my uncle whom remember those well.

I stared at the grain in the wood and remembered everything about the class I took on death dying and bereavement. I remembered it well. The funeral home and all the services. The business of death.

I also thought about the fact that it has been three deaths in a year and five months. It was just too much for me. Too much to carry. I felt this huge weight on myself that was suffocating. It is hard to describe. That much death kind of feels like an infection in your life. It filters into your happiest moments. You look at the shirt you wore that day or you remember something from that day.

It constantly reminds you of your own mortality. You try to talk to people about it and yet you can’t because it feels like you are bringing them down. You are burdening them with your unburdening.

This situation always reminds me of what I want after death. I remember touching the past two deaths and they were stiff and hard as oak. This makes me vocalize that I want a green burial. A shroud over me and stick me in the earth. Dust to dust kind of stuff. I reiterate this at every funeral. Three of them in a year and a half.

This weight reminds me of a story I heard in that class and it begs the question: what is the soul and what are its limitations?

I don’t like to put my personal beliefs into this blog because I feel like it is a personal thing and this blog is not about my beliefs but it has crept into this post a bit.

I do believe there is a soul or an energy within all of us. Within me. Even Einstein postulated that the body dies before the batteries do, if you will pardon the simplicity in which I used the metaphor.

There was this doctor, I believe this occurred in the late 19th or early 20th century, and this doctor wanted to find out scientifically if there was a soul. So, he took a person who was near death and then weighed him. They checked his vitals and sat near him until the moment of death and weighed him again. What they found was at that moment when the man died his body lost 21 grams of weight. This, he proclaimed, is the evidence that a soul has left the man’s body and that is the weight of the soul within a physical and tangible reality.

The soul had weight to it.

How much can a soul carry? How  much can it be burdened with?

Mine has a lot right now but I am a big guy and I think it can take more. I thought that my soul was hardened for a while but after my mother went for surgery just two days after my grandfather was placed in the earth, I cried like a little girl who skinned her knee.

So, who knows how much a soul can bare but it makes me happy that I am not a robot devoid of emotion. That my soul has room on its shoulders to carry more of this burden of emotion that plagues me lately.

It makes me happy that my body and my soul are not broken.

-Chris

An Insider’s Guide To Being Broke

Hey Gang!

So, as you know, I am a person who makes rules for himself. I showed some in a post a while back about dating rules (see My Dating Constitution).

This has been an insane year filled with ups and downs. I would say rock bottom but there certainly is a lot of green grass for that to be true but I have been writing in a word document certain things that I want to remember when as I grow older that remind me of this intensely humbling growing experience that I am currently at the tail end of. I want to put a few of my rules here as a guideline for those others who are new to the venture of being broke. At least the guidelines from my…unique standpoint.

Do you eat Ramen noodles for lunch and dinner? Do you fantasize about eating food that hasn’t been freeze dried? Whenever you hear someone say they make $30,000 a year, do you wonder how they are not driving a gold Cadillac? Is Coinstar the closest thing you have had for a paycheck in months?

If so….

CONGRATULATIONS!

you’re broke.

Never fear fellow broke aficionado, there are some guidelines that will help you through this process.

First, a few lessons about your status. You may feel as if you are alone. No one understands the fact that gas is a commodity like you.

As of June 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor put out unemployment statistics. These stats had a participation rating of 75.6 from the labor force of 49,466. This is the demographic that had at least a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The unemployment level there is 3.9. This is relatively low when looking at other demographics.

So, putting this in different terms, you are broke. You have a degree but can’t get a decent paying job in your area and you don’t know why. Statistically, you have a tad bit more unemployment rating in your bracket than they did in 1929. This is just before the beginning of the Great Crash. The next year would show an average unemployment rating of 8.9% in this country. As of  June 2013, Those without a high school diploma have a rating of 10.7% of unemployment, High School and no college is at 7.6% and Some college or associate degree is at 6.4%.

According to a recent study by Georgetown University on recent graduates and unemployment, unless you are in the fields dealing with the creation of new technology, education, engineering or health and science, then your unemployment rate will be higher. A recent architect is looking at a 12.8% unemployment rate even as the housing problems in America are fading. Individuals who are non-technical majors can expect higher percentages as well. Those in the arts can see an average of 9.8% and those in law and public policy can expect 9.2%. Then there is the 14.7% rate for recent graduates where their degree is concentrated in clerical functions.

What does this all mean?

You are not alone.

Now then, I hope these few rules that I have lived and learned help you on your quest to understand, appreciate and attain that green paper that is the key to so many doors that are closed to you right now….unfortunately.

RULE #1

Do Whatever It Takes

-As you begin this epic quest of unepic proportions, you may say to yourself a few things that you REFUSE to do. You may think that that degree you just earned is going to make you too good for flipping a burger. This is not true. You are broke. You may have money in the bank but it will be gone. You need to put more in there. It’s as simple as what my grandmother told me about her old well. You can’t keep taking from the well when you hit mud. Don’t let pride get in your way because of a piece of paper and four years of your life. You need money for small things in life. This will get you by until the next part. That next chapter but until then, you must do it.

RULE #2

Don’t Sell Yourself Short….or Tall

-If you are in this situation, you have probably peppered the internet with your resume. You have written how stellar you are and you have received nothing but silence and “Thank You for applying at (Place Employer Here) but…”. This shouldn’t deter you. Start applying for jobs that you would want as a dream job. You may not be completely qualified but if you get an interview and knock it out of the park, you are in. Keep trying! BUT! Remember rule #1? Yeah, still applies, buster. When you go in for that interview at McDonald’s or Hardees or even a temp agency (AHEM…me…AHEM) never go in with the attitude that you are too good for your position. You must accept the fact that you are now a statistic but only you can change that.

RULE #3

Remember Your Love Life? Yeah, Me Neither!

-You think about that pretty girl or handsome guy you see here or there often. The video rental store. The coffee shop. She works at your favorite restaurant. He does his workouts on Mondays and Fridays at your gym. This is a tactical error to think that because you are broke, everything will be fine. If they don’t like me for me, then they can go eat a large bowl of eff off. No-No, dear reader. As adults, we want to be able to go out and enjoy ourselves but it’s hard when you only have the ability to choose from the dollar menu. Men, in the evolutionary theory of attraction, it is commonly spoken that women want security above all. You may look like an Adonis but you can’t provide that security and unfortunately it can be an issue. If not her issue, then yours. You may count yourself out but don’t. Just know that it is hard now but it will get better. Righting the course is never easy. For women, some people would say that most women would just have men pay for them but hey, I got a secret…IT ISN’T 1954! Women are more independent now than they have been in history. Their values are sound and more and more couples now believe on sharing the bill after the first date or two. So, my suggestion is to work on you.

RULE #4

Ballin’ On A Budget

-You just got done working at a temp agency/at your “burger flipping” job/giving plasma. You need release and all of your friends are going out. You haven’t been out in a long time but you have bills coming up and are tight on money. What do you do, hotshot? You ball on a budget! It can be embarrassing to be broke when everyone around you is drinking IBC’s that costs ten dollars a pint but you have to move past that. It is important during this time to socialize. Being broke can be an alienating experience but if you know your limits and budget in  some fun, you will call rock bottom home for a while without any bruising on your bottom from the fall. My suggestion? Pregame..Pregame…Pregame. Get a little buzz going before hand. Look up the specials on websites of what’s going on downtown. Who has cover and who doesn’t? Here, the internet is your best friend and if you can’t afford internet, then the library is your best friend! Just remember to leave the debit card at home and don’t drive drunk. I mean if you are broke, how can you afford the bail money from a DUI?!

RULE #5

Watch Your Words

– You may find that your friends ask you what’s wrong. A bit too often. Reply in a manner that is befits your character, “No worries, mate!” You have to keep that sunny disposition. You have to keep hope in there. When you do, you see it from a different perspective but you have to be careful. You may see the funny side in how creative you get with adding things to your Beef Ramen to keep it new but your friends may find it a bit well, sad. Know when you have gone too far with a joke about being broke. No one wants a sad sack around complaining in a funny manner. It brings people down and it infects your life. You start joking but it turns serious. Before you know it you talk about it all the time. To your friends, your parents, your pet parakeet, Julius Cesar….you write a lengthy blog about it AHEM!

RULE #6

Watch Your Step

-If you are this broke and past the age of 26, you probably don’t have insurance. According to the 2011 census, 48.6 million Americans are without insurance. Jigga What?! You are looking at bills unlike you have ever seen if you damage any part of yourself. Talking thousands. Tens of thousands, even. Then you have to worry if you develop a long-term illness, then when you do get covered, it won’t be covered by the new insurance company because it was a preexisting condition. So, before you take a step off the curb or debate to wash your hands before a meal, think really hard.

RULE #7

Never Compromise Your Integrity

-You are broke, not broken. Through the hard times grows a large chip on your shoulder that blinds you to the past. Chip away at it. Remember who you are and where you came from. You have values and morals. There will come a time when it seems bleak and it may truly be bleak but you have to look beyond the rock and remember yourself. At this point, you know what separates you from a street criminal? Will. Your will to not use fear and criminality to get money. There is no such thing as easy money. Keep that part of yourself at the forefront. Being broke seems like an ailment at times, “Hi, I’m Jim and I’m broke”,  EVERYONE: “HI JIM!”, it isn’t. Remember that degree or that training you had. Remember that High School Diploma or remember the reasons why you had to drop out. Let those drive you. In the end, you will be better than you were.

RULE #8

A New You

-At the end of this, when you sit drinking tea with a lovely person, remember the price of the meal. When you hear someone speak about money as if it is meaningless. Think about this very moment. When you read a blog or when you got that job. Remember what it was like when you were stripped down to your own bare bones. Remember what it was like when you saw the real you. Then think to yourself, “What would the old me, think of the new?”

***

Well, I hope you enjoyed the few rules I posted among many more that were more specific to my situation. I made light of it all but there is truth in it. Unemployment is a problem here. It is a problem that is pervasive worldwide. There are so many people worse off than most of us on the worst day of our lives. Our own universes are so small we can’t see into the cosmos of others. Our friends, neighbors or the janitors as your local thrift store. Hang your head for your situation for a moment but then hold your head up and remember that being a victim is not the way out.

I hope this helped you in some way or at least made you smile once or twice.

-Chris

The Day John Henry Died

Image

 

Hey Gang!

 

What is strength?

Is strength something that comes from within you? Some sort of primal trait we have hidden within us that bursts forth in times of need. Is it something summoned willingly? What is its potential? Where is it coming from? What is strength?

There is this really great old story that I love. It’s the tall tale of John Henry. An American legend who was up there with the tall tales of Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickock. In folk lore, John Henry was a steel-driver who would hammer spikes into the ground and then a drill setter would come behind him and drill the hole to finish it out. This was the process a couple hundred years ago to begin clearing the way for railroad tracks. John Henry was the best at what he did and the hero of his peers. One day a salesman came through with a machine that was said to be able to be any man at steel-driving. John Henry challenged that notion and was pitted against the machine. They both hammered and drove and drilled for an entire night before the machine stopped, in some stories it broke. John Henry had won by at least 6 feet but, in the end, the amount of strength and prowess he showed killed him. He and his two twenty pound hammers fell to the ground but no one forgot about John Henry.

 

I was out with my friend a few weeks ago. We hadn’t been downtown together in a long time and even longer since we’d been to the downtown back home. So, we bar hopped and it seemed like we were the only ones there. We drank in so many different bars that I can’t quite remember them all. We came to a bar that was firefighter themed and I decided that naturally I would put my head into the lamp shades fashioned from old firefighter helmets. We roamed around to more bars and became too intoxicated to drive. He wanted to take a cab but I wanted to get money from the ATM. As we stumbled there and I put in my card in, he overheard a girl say to her friend, “I would not fu** either of those guys.”

This offended him so much that he said to me, “Did you hear that? She said she wouldn’t have sex with either of us.”

“What? No way. We were the least hood fabulous guys in there,” I said as I drunkenly tried to use the ATM.

The rest of the night was filled with me trying to get cash from ATMs and us stumbling through the city. We screamed at the top of our lungs things like, “Why are we so ugly!” or “There is no way they were talking to us, we have master’s degrees!”

He even suggested we begin wearing signs around our necks that had our college education credentials on them. I liked the idea at the time.

We eventually get a cab and go to Steak n Shake where I proceed to ask some young ladies on a scale of one to “elephant man” we lay. I don’t remember if they answered and I remember not really caring as my delicious sandwich arrived soon after.

We walked back to my apartment, or stumbled back I should say, as we still lamented about how we need to go to the gym and start doing crunches, we cried out, “why were so hideous!” I began to realize that the sun was rising and it had been an incredibly long, fun and ego-crushing night.

The next day we arose from our blackout slumber and I took him to his car. Then I remembered what the girls were talking about. The one girl was being hit on by two very thugalicious gentlemen. They followed her all over the bar and she even had her friends boyfriend act like her boyfriend to get away from them. The first part of the convo that he didn’t hear was her friend asking why she didn’t hook up with one of those guys at the bar. So, my ego wasn’t quite as fractured as before but it made for a memorable last night out for he and I. We may have thought we were ugly for a bit but we were ugly together, damn it!

You see, my friend will be moving hundreds of miles away soon and my other best friend is out west. We have all been friends for almost twelve years. Hard to believe.

When I think about how much strength John Henry had that day, I admire him but I also feel bad for him. I don’t summon all of my strength from within nor do I have some primal switch that flips. I gather my strength from two guys whom I met in high school. One guy hated me at first but now we have each other on Facebook as ‘brother’ and the other I was jealous of because he got to sleep in class with his hoodie up.

If not for them, I wouldn’t be where I am. They inspired me to lose weight and realize what a healthy lifestyle really meant. Not just losing weight but the amount of happiness you gather from that weight loss. Confidence, resilience and so much more.

If not for my friends, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t be writing. My friends have been my biggest fans, even when I wasn’t.

I have my own strength but I know that if it weren’t for those two, my hopes and my dreams and my life as I know it would be right beside John Henry and his hammers.

For all this, to Skober and The Jett, I just want to say, thanks.

 

-Chris

Bloodletting

bloodletting

Hey Gang!

I guess this is kind of my finale in the family series of blogs that I have been doing. The topic of my opinion on family and my journey to understand the meaning of the word. In this final post on the topic I must look back. In a year I have dealt with the death of two close family members and the fallout from their deaths. Dealing with these people, these family members, has been enlightening to say the least.

Ask me to define the word Family and all I can say is what books say. What I have read on Wikipedia and saw on “The Brady Bunch”. Those ideologies of Atomic Families are such an after thought these days. Some sort of thing we all try to achieve but most find it far from our grasp but that is what I thought…until recently.

Have you ever heard of bloodletting?

I like the older practice of it. Today’s common illness symptoms were misinterpreted and viewed as your humors being out of wack and so, as in common practice, leeches would be attached to a person and blood would be sucked out of the ailing individual. This bloodletting was thought to help rid the body of toxins and other misconceptions of common illnesses.

I watched the body of my family crumble due to some of these creatures that were in the midst and now I look at what is left. Fractures lay in our foundation and I believe they are unable to be repaired. I saw the squabbling of people over money and I came to detest it. When asked what I wanted, I declined everything except a brown blanket that my grandmother made years ago. It was because of all this that I reevaluated it all. I couldn’t watch as all of these people sneered at one another. I watched some show their grief in front of others on a grandiose scale and then act like nothing was wrong behind closed doors. I understand grief is different for everyone but this was not grief. This was a performance.

So, I stepped out of the picture. My mother filled people in on what was going on in my life but I wanted to get a wider view of it all.

Statistically, the most common family in America is the blended family. That family in which individuals bring in children from past relationships and get married.

I needed to get out of town a week or so ago. I went up north and visited my brother, who is now my roommate. I will move back in a little less than a month but he was alone; I knew it would be a good time to just hang out. We saw “World War Z” and decided that “Man of Steel” should be on the table as well but there was a two hour gap between the two. To kill time, we went and grabbed dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. It was funny. We sat there and devoured our burritos, mine being vegetarian and his being hamburger. This was the first time in a long time where there was no television or video games on. It was he and I and a couple massive burritos. We talked for a while about how great the movie was and about how excited we were for “Man of Steel”.

Then we played a game called, “Top 5”. We talked about the top 5 things that we loved. Movies, songs and the like.

This was a lot of fun because it was hilarious to hear each others’ “guilty pleasure” movies. His was “Maid In Manhattan” and mine was “Little Shop of Horrors” (the musical starring Rick Moranis). Laugh, but it is still a great film!

We saw the movie and took the bus home but it stuck with me. As well as my father’s visit to bring him an air conditioner. I had never seen him so jovial and animated…and surprisingly funny!

I came home and was happy because I finally got it. I finally understood the definition of Family.

It’s subjective.

Here’s mine: Your family is the one you choose.

Even though you may have blood coursing through your veins that has a genetic code similar to another does not mean they are family. I was in that funeral parlor and looked around at these people and I felt no connection to them. They were just people. They weren’t family at all. My brother is my brother and I love the little dude but we don’t know each other that well. That’s why I loved that mini-vacation, because we got closer. We talked about a lot of things in our past. We got talked about how our lives diverted before now; before this convergence.

Family.

My family are my two best friends from high school. They are my brothers. My mother. My best friend from where I worked before, my sister. They are the people whom I feel closer to than most of my relatives and, in the end, family isn’t about blood. It’s about closeness. It’s about being in another person’s gravity and feeling like it is home. Say anything and they don’t care. Family are the people whom you can truly be yourself around and accept you.

With this last post on my family, or at least my recent revelations about them, I let go. I let go of the anger that held on to me tighter than any embrace. I let go of all of those other feelings that corrupted my trust in people’s motivations.

I have been bled and watch the leeches fall.

My time of bloodletting is done.

-Chris