Campfire Tales: Mr. Raccoon Has His Day

Hey Gang!

I decided to go with some friends to this beautiful campground close by last year. We drove the 30 minutes or so to the lake where our campsite was. The trek to the location was somewhat far in, about a quarter of a mile. This made it quite difficult to lug all of the equipment to the campsite. I am very much a minimalist. I enjoy having a tent, a sleeping bag, matches, a hatchet, and gumption. All of which failed me, but I will get there later.

My friend brings a multi-tool furniture contraption that is a sink, a stove, a wrack for dishes, and a waste disposal. This, as you can imagine, weighed a ton. It took us around 30 minutes to get everything set up. I put my tent together in no time, situating it near the clearing facing the water. It was beautiful and blue, shimmering with the setting sun. I wanted to watch it each morning as the yellow rays crept over the gentle ebb and flow of the water’s motion.

Chad puts his tent up rather quickly. It is a one-man tent. He has all the bells and whistles: sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, in-tent warmer, three fleece blankets, and three pillows.

“Nice hotel,” I scoffed.

I am man! I went to the woods to chop wood and fish. To scour the land and rough it. The thought of having “amenities” was deplorable. Plus, why the heck would someone need three blankets when it is 80 degrees out?

Juan was unfortunate enough to not have a tent. Chad gave Juan his spare tent, which turned out to look more like a coffin. It was only suitable for lying down. Seven feet long by 2 feet wide by 2 feet high. Perfect for sleeping or practicing being dead, your decision. He put his up with some help and we decided to wander. The day was filled with amazingly uneventfulness. The wood gathered was from a bin near the front for 10 dollars a cord. Most of the time was passed by sitting in silence as the trees swayed and the sounds of nature surrounded us. Nature is beautiful and I love being in it, however, being in a hot forest while bored is not conducive. I walked down some trails, which led to other people’s campsite. We saw each other and the immediate response was, “What the hell are you doing in my woods?” I have no idea why but it feels instinctual to stake claim in wooded areas. “This is my area, that is yours. Keep it that way!”

I eventually find some downed trees and take a stick. You guessed it! Carved wood. I tried to make a spear for fishing. It just sounded right. In the woods, I could only imagine a bigfoot coming out and killing me. Irrational, I know. I admit, I have a flair for looking into paranormal stuff and cryptozoology. Urban legends, folklore, and cyberlore are my favorites as well! (Maybe I should post a few of my favorites…) So, I became obsessed with the fear of possibly seeing a mythical beast. I mean there have been sightings in the area…in the 70s. On top of that, Chad would give little quips about “creepers.” Those people who surprise you or you catch watching you. Basically, a boogeyman in real life. I already have an overactive imagination and had just started reading stuff about the dark net. Not conducive to being in a tent alone.

Night comes and I have freaked myself out. We look up at the stars and they are amazing. Massive out in the woods. I enjoy it but I hear those sounds of the night. Wood creaking and people at campsites in the distance. Guitar carries across the water where a lantern glows. A sound cracks from behind us and we walk over to investigate. Nothing. We go back to the table and talk about nothingness. Another pop followed by thrashing of paper. We shine a light and see a raccoon as big as a medium-sized dog shredding through Juan’s tortilla chips bag. Its eyes glistened a greenish white.

“Hey! Get the hell outta there!” Chad screamed into the night and the little booger ran away. We laughed about it for a while and made sure to secure our food before heading to sleep.

(To be concluded…)

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Campfire Tales Part 2: Creepy-Crawlies and The Scream That Ended The Trip

This was the first time I had ever camped, except in my ninja turtle tent in my bedroom floor as a tot. I feel like that doesn’t count.

I know one thing, the dark is pretty terrifying. Let me clarify, what is in the dark, or the possibility thereof, is terrifying. I use this preface to go on about when our noses started to run. We had no toilet paper, tissues, or paper towels. However, in the darkened exterior of the camp, about 50 yards away, was the public restroom. Ben essentially made fun of me when I proposed we both go look for toilet paper. It didn’t bother me. At least this way, when the three-eyed beast came to eat me, I wouldn’t be alone in its stomach!

I carried my gas lantern as Ben led the way to the outhouse. It was impossibly dark only three feet away from the lantern. This made my mind go to places I didn’t know possible, which is kind of impressive for me, no?

We get to the bathroom and he opens the door. I peek around inside, slowly lifting the lantern up to illuminate the small, dark space, and notice cockroaches all over the bathroom. Ceiling, floor, and walls were covered by long, dark insects. I was blown away from disgust.

“Got it,” Ben says as he takes a roll from the bathroom.

He passes in front of me. Now, the entire time he was in there, all I saw was the left side of his body. As he passes, I see the right side of him…which is now home to about four massive cockroaches. I try to emote but it comes out in stumbles.

“Er.. You..On your back…Cockroach! Dude! Dude!”

Now, there are two versions on what happened next. Ben’s recounting and then the real story.

Ben said it freaked him out that I was yelling. That’s why he jumped.

What really happened:

He had a look of shear horror as he ran into the darkness swatting cockroaches off his back. I was dying laughing at this point. Grossed out and laughing.

He skulks as he is visibly embarrassed. We go back to the fire and blow our running, cold noses as the fire dies out. It is then the cold sets in but above us are stars; billions of stars unlike anything I had ever seen. We stood there looking upwards in the cold for quite a while.

Ben then decided he needed to go back to the truck for something. I thought, “Oh god…I have to be by myself in the dark with a broken lantern (lantern broke, I guess a breeze blew by and knocked it over. I blame karma).”

He went off and I became hyper-aware of my surroundings. My ears perked up and I could hear every insect landing on a leaf from 10 meters away. It was terrifying for no real reason. I felt like I was being watched the entire evening and now, by myself, it was amplified. He finally skulked back but the feeling never left me. We stood there growing colder but still in awe of the heavens above us for a while longer.

That was when we heard the lack of frogs croaking. It was silent. I remarked something to him for a moment, I can’t recall right now, and that is when we heard this blood-curdling scream coming from where we fished not but a few hours ago. We looked at each other in shock. The scream continued and moved up towards us as if it was coming up the hill. We were immobile. It then sounded like it went through the woods, which Ben’s back was to, and then flew over head and away. Its scream drowned out as it flew into the distance.

“So, go to sleep?” I said.

“Umm, yeah,” he quickly retorted.

We dove into the tent and set up the partition between us. We joked about the sound for a bit, calling it a witch, and then went to sleep. The next day, the boredom and monsters finally got to us. We decided to fish one last time in the main river and head home.

I guess that’s how most people camp, right? Fear and boredom?

Stay tuned for my next campfire tale: Mr. Raccoon has his day!

-Chris

The Desiderata: Part 2

Part II: Air and Beautiful Things

I knew the solution! I knew that I knew it. It came to me when I found a rumor or legend or falsity or truth about Socrates. I am sure many individuals have heard it but it was knew to me. For sake of your eyes, I will paraphrase, hopefully doing the story justice. Socrates was asked by a student what the secret to success was. So, Socrates and the man walked down to a river and waded out until they were up to their necks in water. Socrates then submerged the man and held him there until he turned blue. Then he let the man up. Socrates then asked him when he was under water, just before he broke the surface, what did he want most.

“Air,” the man said.

Socrates continued, “That is the secret to success. When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it. There is no other secret.”

So, I had it. I needed it to be more than just a want to write. I needed it to be biological. I needed it to be in my genes. It had to be part of me. I had to eat to live. Sleep to live, Write to live. I finally had success nailed down and thus I had my writing nailed down. Easy!

I grew uninspired even more than ever. I wanted it more than air. To be published. To write the greatest thing I had ever written and damn anyone who didn’t think that my short story was anything short of incredible! I began to become bland where I hated myself even more. I actually bored myself (yes, it is possible!). A few days ago I was shuffling through Barnes and Noble and I decided to go through the writer’s reference section. I ran across titles that all had the secret to becoming a great writer and get published. They knew what Socrates didn’t somehow. They cracked the code! Yet, it was all just words on pages. Until I found a title that was quiet and yet spoke volumes. No get published quick or “write the perfect sentence now!”. No, it was simple: ‘If You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland. I picked it up and I have been devouring it. It is such a beautiful book because it really is more than a “be a writer” books. It is really about looking at your creative side and then seeing how some of the greatest artists of all time were not the tortured money hungry individuals that so many of us are today. The type of creature I had become. I read it and learned of van Gogh’s impoverished lifestyle and yet how derangedly happy he was until he went insane. The beauty of the stars through his eyes must have been incredible. He painted what he saw and we are only fortunate enough to see a minutia of that. His paintings are worth millions now. However, when he was alive, his income generated by his paintings total was $109.

She started talking about being truthful. I looked at my own truth and I thought about the first thing I ever wrote as an adult. It was an episode of Smallville. It really was terrible. I laugh now. It was bizarro coming back from outer space and this conflict as he made Clark see the true side of himself. I did this for one simple reason. I was a geek. Still am, really. I wrote it for my best friend Ben, most of all. We had always loved that show and I had an idea. He encouraged me to write it because he wanted to read it. I wrote it and he read it and loved it. I decided to begin a few short stories and eventually began writing more and more screenplays. The first two screenplays I ever wrote were simply to entertain my best friend and my mom. They were really just caricatures of us but in the future and with subtle tweaks. All “what if” scenarios.

I smile now as I remember it. I think remembering our roots is a beautiful thing. This is my DE-evolution. I am going back to that idea that I am simply writing for my best friend. No more criticisms needed from critics in papers or individuals at publishing companies. I will write for my best friend and if people decide to publish it, they can. It is nice to know that my harshest critic is also my best friend.

In the end, I think Socrates was right. You do have to want “it” more than air. What I want more than air is to entertain my best friend and hopefully others will enjoy them as well. This is why this series of blogs are called the desiderata or “desired things”. I am going back to the beginning. Telling stories of my DE- evolution and all of these small, beautiful, desired things.

– Chris

Where The Stars Dwell

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Hey Gang!

I sit in my convertible as it flows down the asphalt veins of the back roads of Illinois. I bifurcate myself. Sitting in the passenger side, just outside myself, I feel the cool air whipping around the other me. Darkness is all around except for the fluorescence of the headlights and the neon glow of the odometer, speedometer, and other displays in the Solara. I see the surroundings, or the lack there of, and look up.

I notice I do not pay attention to the road ahead and swerve somewhat as I am enamored with the stars above. Out there, where there is no light pollution, where fields are random from below but from above have so much purpose, that place is where stars dwell. I see myself looking above at the massiveness of it all. The beauty of the stars and surprising absence of the moon. The stardust all around. The feeling that at the horizon is the end of the earth and beyond it is infinity.

The driver hears “Take Me To Church” by Hozier and turns the volume up as the piano keys hit hard. The passenger reflects. The passenger reflects on the past few months when he wrote papers exploring postmodernism and bystander effect. Empathy and socioeconomic status. Hyperrealism and commodification. Race and gender. So much theory and so little time.

The passenger recalls the writing and stress that kept him from writing. The work that kept him from doing those things he loved. The times when he could not recall what he had done day-to-day as time became a measure of tasks and not guided by sunrise and sunset and the time set by generations before. It had become relative. Relative to tasks accomplished and tasks needed.

The driver looks to the road as he laments a truck ahead. It spoils the emptiness that the driver enjoys cutting through in the blackness of the night.

The passenger ponders.

It is weary from lack of sleep. It breathes for the first time since January. The passenger reflects on the cookout he had just been to where one of his best friends had invited him and only him to come. He talked about life and its changes as hamburgers and hotdogs grilled and caught fire, laughing at the memory. He remembers seeing his friend’s wife and child and how exterior it all feels. Remnants of a lifetime ago and yet closer to reality. He sees them struggle with the child and how much trouble they are having financially and yet how they have a family unit. This tight cell that somehow becomes an antibody that attacks incoming diseases; money issues, illness, car trouble, time apart all of them taken down by the antibody.

“Ordinary Love” by U2 comes on in the vastness of nothing and the driver turns it up. He comes to a stoplight that seems blinding in juxtaposition to what he has just gone through. This is the first sign of civilization. The first sign of reality coming back.

The passenger looks away as the driver takes off, gravel spitting behind the vehicle. He thinks back to his friends. They were struggling, fighting to keep the cell, the antibody thriving and it was working. Where so many people would see that as miserable, they were truly happy. The passenger reflects on those around he and the driver and sees none of this. There ship is a vessel that goes through such turbulence in the sea and yet stays whole. The grand ship always reaches ports intact. However, others around him have boats that sail among, not the rocky waters of happiness, but the placid waters of content. Those waters where the boat does not bow to waves but is a steady course.

The large buildings come into view as the driver slows the steel and fiberglass horse.

The passenger realizes how his is a boat on waters so still and calm that it is not moving. The mountains high are beautiful but familiar. Just beyond the horizon he sees the large ocean of happiness as waves crash somewhere out of the cove. The passenger grabs the ores and starts to paddle away from where he sat and all of those others that float along with him.

He realizes that he is not happy but content. However, he wants to be closer. The two become one as the roar back into reality under yellow lamps overhead and trees are replaced by stone buildings that tower in the orange sky of night.

I may go into uncertain waters where the high tides of happiness are met with the low tides of sadness but where the highs and lows are better than the void of feeling. The highs and lows are what I crave. The void is left for the darkness in the country where the stars dwell.

–Chris

Exit Music for a Film

 

FADE IN:

EXT. TYBEE ISLAND. BEACH- DUSK

Two young men, CHRIS and NATE, are at a beach that is lively and beautiful. Wind whips around them just enough to blow tiny grains of sand around. Children run up to the cold water’s edge as it ebbs and flows to shore. They mock its to-and-fro motion.

Nate sits on a sand dune. His darkened sunglasses reflecting the ocean. Chris stands at the water’s edge. He takes his shoes and socks off; he lets the icy water flow over his feet and back out to sea. The water comes in, goes out, and with it, goes the sand beneath his feet. The gritty sand beneath his feet pulls him down with every cycle.

Chris closes his eyes and is in the moment. He hears the seagulls’ calls all around him. The sounds of the waves hitting the shore. He feels the warmth on his skin that had been lost all of these months in the long winter. He begins thinking of the past five days he had spent in Georgia during his spring break.

FADE TO MONTAGE:

-Chris and Nate playing paintball. Nate gets hit on the head. Chris gets shot multiple times in quick succession.

-Chris taking a huge bite of a Newk’s sandwich

-Chris taking pictures of Senoia, Georgia where “The Walking Dead” is shot.

-Chris and Nate shooting posters of Zombies at a shooting range.

-Chris cheering the Black and White Knight at Medieval Times.

-Chris and Nate playing games at Dave and Buster’s.

-Chris and Nate driving in the car through most of Georgia.

-Chris and Nate eating at a restaurant. (Chris watches a large ship with the letters “MOL” on the side cruise around and around the bay.)

EXT.TYBEE ISLAND. BEACH- DUSK

Chris opens his eyes.

He once again takes in the moment. He wholly revels in being ever-present. No thoughts of the future or the past, just here and now.

NATE (O.S.)

Is it cold?

CHRIS

Yeah, really cold.

Chris looks back at Nate. He looks disappointed by the revelation that it is cold.

Chris turns back to the ocean.

He looks out and feels small and large at the same time. After all of the traveling he has done, he feels like the world has become smaller. His jaunt home a few hours away. The other side of the Atlantic, but an arm stretch away. He takes pictures of the waves as they roll in.

CHRIS

You know, waves actually start out in the ocean.

Like, far out there. We only see them when they break

on shore. There are these tiny cycles on top of each other

that move the waves forward until they hit the shore and then break

up.

Chris looks back to Nate who nods his head. Chris thinks it is incredibly powerful that all of this is happening. Life has become unpaused in this moment and is happening all around. Some sort of cacophony of majesty just for him. He revels in it.

He looks at the ocean and he notices that the beauty has begun to fade. He wonders how long one can look at beauty before it fades. He asks himself, “How long is paradise, paradise? When does it become nothing?”

He decides he doesn’t want to find out. He looks back at Nate who is still sitting down. Chris walks up next to him.

NATE

I am glad we came. It was definitely worth it.

CHRIS

Yeah, it’s beautiful. I like how it was spur of the moment.

NATE

Yeah, this is a good way to end the trip.

CHRIS

For sure. I didn’t know what we were going to do.

I knew we were going to find “it”, I just didn’t know what “it” was.

NATE

That sounds like the end to a movie or something.

Wide Shot of the beach. The two look miniscule.

Begin “Exit Music (For a Film)” by Radiohead.

FADE TO BLACK

The Importance of Oatmeal

 

 

 

Hey Gang!

Long time no talk. Oh grad school and all of that. I have been working on a few papers and it has unfortunately taken up most of my time; however, I sneaked away to write this post!

I have been playing video games online with friends for quite some time. It is a brilliant way to keep in touch and I must admit that I truly enjoy playing some of those crazy games with my friends. I was gaming not too long ago with a friend and we were talking about him getting a Playstation 4, which I have, so that we could play some newer games. I told him I would give him some money to buy it and he said it was too much.

“You gave me oatmeal,” I exclaimed.

“It was just oatmeal not money,” he replied.

We continued to play and I basically said ‘deal with it’. The game ended, we said our goodbye’s and signed off. My brain was swimming with my reaction to him saying it was just oatmeal. I believe I had mentioned it before, but I was dead broke. There were times when honey on a butter knife was the extent of lunch and ramen noodles were a regular meal. All three meals. I was having blinding migraines from hunger for a while. Post-college and without a decent job as I waited for grad school to start, I could not afford the luxury of food (for more on this, read The Best Of All Possible Worlds).

My friend was employed but only in marginally a better place financially. He saw what I was going through and he gave me all of his oatmeal. I cannot tell you how amazing that felt. I have never been that happy in my life. It was such a humbling experience to know that at any moment you could run out of food. To know that every dime you had was already spent. Some ethereal clock that ticked down until it reached zero and everything you had was gone. I ate that oatmeal like it was four-course four star meal. Strawberries and Cream, Apple Cinnamon, Dates and Raisins, and Vanilla Swirl were among the favorites of flavors. Sometimes I would only eat a bowl of beans but I knew that I had a sweet treat for dinner as well. I had oatmeal.

There is something that truly clarifies life’s meaning when you are that poor. I know there are individuals who have been worse off. There are people starving all over the world and yet, when it comes to you, you look at yourself. The world becomes so much smaller. So much simpler than it was. It is about finding your next meal and being creative. A sleeve of crackers with butter on top becomes lunch and dinner. Water no longer quenches thirst but satiates hunger for a brief amount of time. The only worry is if you are able to make it until the next time you eat.

My mother helped as much as she could but she was no better off. Part time work was scarce and temp work was mainly for industrial individuals. I only tell you this because I think it is important for myself to reflect. I have been doing so since he said it was “just oatmeal.” Now, from a place of comfort financially I look back and I must say…i miss it. Do not get me wrong, it was terrible but there was a primal simplicity to it; something deep in that chaos that gave me strength. I was able to see something in myself then that I had never seen. When you know where the bottom is, when you find your personal limit, it changes you. You are able to see how far you had fallen and recognize the true beauty of life. No more wanting. It is about being content. Then, when you have a meal or you open the fridge on those hard days and see food or look at your gas tank and see half a tank of gas, life is beautiful.

Now, I am in an okay place financially but I never stray too far from the me that existed before September. My circumstances changed but I did not. I do not regret that it happened because I was able to see myself break; literally and metaphorically. My body was pushed to limits and my mind as well. You realize that just because something breaks does not mean you are not able to mend it. I always said that my body would break before my spirit but they both eventually succumbed. When they were mended, they came back stronger.

I look at all of this around me and I am thankful. My mother is healthier, I am getting healthier, I have so much and yet I am bored. My life is on pause. I am working towards a goal but when you know your primal self, that id that speaks “food, water, sleep”, it becomes so enlightening that you miss it. The kindness of people just as down on their luck as you was beautiful. I have met individuals that are the smartest scholars I have ever met and make 100k+ but 10 of them are not worth one of the beautiful, hard-working people I met. That showed me kindness. That took a chance on helping me and kept me encouraged. That gave me oatmeal or gave me words of wisdom. These things are lessons I learned and it shaped my ideologies on what it means to live in this world and to being a human being. You realize how important money is and how loathsome is that truth.

You learn about this world.

You learn about yourself.

I would have never understood any of this; not to this degree as we were not very well off when I was younger.

I remember these things because of a friends kindness.

I remember it whenever I see a smiling Quaker on a cylindrical box.

The memory is what brings me back to the importance of oatmeal.

– Chris

Beautifully Insane

 

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Hey Gang!

 

Is it me or did it get a little dark in this blog for a while? It has been a bit of a wild ride this past year but I must admit that there is a change in the wind. A change that I hope is for the better.

Well, it is 2014 and I can not help but reflect on the past decade. I have grown immensely as a person but it was not without learning a few lessons along the way. These are a few of the lessons I have learned that I hope you may be able to integrate into your life so that you will not make the same terrible decisions as me.

 

1. DO NOT EAT THE SHELL

It was a few years ago when I was not as well off financially as I am now. I was living with my mother and our money situation was not the best, so treats were very much a luxury. You can imagine how ecstatic I was when my mother surprised me with a large bag of ranch flavored sunflower seeds. I substituted those for all of my meals. I ate the entire bag of those delicious little seeds in about four days. It was terrific and broke the monotony of Ramen noodles and rice. It was terrific right up until the point when I had not used the restroom for three days. (I will substitute “poop” with “bunny”. It just classes up this story a bit more, I believe.) So, a few days go by and I had yet to bunny. It was distressing. I could feel a hardening in my stomach and I actually could not fully stand upright because of the pain.

I sat down to watch television when my stomach let out a god awful roar and I knew I had to bunny. I got up and ran to the restroom. What then happened was easily top ten of the most painful moments of my life. Passing that bunny was a combination of giving birth to a demon mixed with watching the television show “Ghost Hunters’. It was a terrible experience. As I sweat and cried, I wondered what had happened. I then realized what it was: the seeds. I had eaten the seeds with the shell on and they did not dissolve. So, my bunny was basically like shrapnel coming through my intestines. The next few days were filled with shrapnel being passed and fears of some sort of intestinal damage. I thought, “This would easily be the most embarrassing way to die. I will end up on that show “1000 ways to die” and that will be my legacy.” Luckily, this was not the case; however, I still cringe and pucker every time I see a bag of unshelled sunflower seeds.

 

2. SOME JOKES ARE ON YOU

I truly enjoyed playing jokes on people. I loved to prank individuals all of the time, specifically those who were very….deserving. Some sort of karmic equality by distress. I pulled on of my favorite pranks when I was about 18 years old and it was on my aunt. She is a goofy woman. A bit high strung and also a bit strange. She is very into being at home and spatially oriented. He property is her property. That being said, she is also hilarious. She is one of those people that are accidentally hilarious. She would go on tirades about one thing or another. Blame the president for problems with her water. Blame her allergies on the people next door’s cooking. Yell the “F” word every time she forgets something. Forgetting something small. Like, forgetting to get the channel changer a few seconds earlier when she had gotten up. Just hilarious. I must admit, as a youngster, I may or may not have enjoyed to exacerbate her insane rants.

This all came to a head when I had a girlfriend around that time and she found out. She teased me for hours about it. She was very explicit. This was beyond ribbing and I was very embarrassed. So, a prank came to mind a few days later.

My best friends and I were out and about. We would drive around and smoke cigars and usually find some trouble to get into. This was one of those times. Nate would often unroll condoms and place them on random cars’ antennae. This was hilarious for some juvenile reason. This night I asked him for the last condom. I then went in to Walmart and bought a travel size bottom of unscented lotion. I think you can see the dots connecting. We drove up to her house and stopped at her drive way. I filled the condom to almost the brim with thick white lotion, rolled the window down and flung it onto the cement. It splattered and white goo went everywhere. We took off and I went home soon after. A few days later I came downstairs and sat down with a bowl of cereal. My mother was crocheting and we made idle chat but then she said, “Oh my gosh, Aunt … called and you know how she has been having trouble with her neighbors? Well, they must have had sex and thrown a condom at her house or something. She found a big ol’ nasty condom filled with sperm the other day.” I burst into laughter.

“I think that is gross,” my mother said.

I then divulged the entire story. She looked at me for a moment with her mouth agape. I thought her reaction would be anger but it turned into a chuckle which turned into a laugh. I asked how she cleaned it up and my mother said, “A rake. It made the condom rip and it went all over.”

We both died laughing. A decade later and I still hear her ranting and complaining about the worst neighbors she has ever had and the nasty surprise they left her.

 

3. PARTNERS IN CRIME IN TIME

As you know, I have been best friends with two individuals for about 14 years. In that time we have done some of the dumbest stuff that I can think about. Ben and I threw Molotov cocktails on the back roads at night. Lit pumpkins on fire and ran from the farmers that chased us away. Nate and I have gotten into more drunken adventures than I can recall and been in more strange circumstances than I care to think about. The three of us created what should be an Olympic sport which we entitled “Asphalt Skiing”. One is able to do this by having a truck or car with a spoiler. Then have a person drive around a parking lot while another hangs on to the back and skis on the asphalt. In case you were wondering, yes I did film this. It was hilarious. However, the friction caused the treads on their shoes to melt away. For months we told people about this sport. We were truly proud of it. Most thought we were insane. Maybe we were but does insane recognize insane?

These crazy things that we did seem like a lifetime ago. In a way, they are. We are all doing so much more than we dreamed. We are a bit tamer now and those things were done by three young men who were trying to figure the world. Now, I look back on it all. I look at when we broke into a skate park and then had to hide from the police patrolling the area. It was crazy. All of this seems crazy but I was never alone in it. Fast forward a decade and we are still best friends. I look at it all and I see we were partners in crime but somewhere down the randomness of time we became brothers and it has been a pleasure.

 

 

 

So, three small life lessons that I have found helpful. More than stories. They are applicable, I believe. The stupidity of past acts that come back on us. The bonding over a joke and karma. The stupidity of the past that becomes the fond memories of the present. These are just a snapshot of the crazy things that have happened in my life but there is so much more. It builds a foundation on which I build my life and I realize I am one lucky person. I have a lot of fond memories and I am excited for the future as I try and live in the moment more and more.

The thing I know more than anything is that I am weird gentleman. I love doing weird things, having a weird sense of humor and meeting weird people.

Weird may not recognize weird but it sure does attract it and I am okay with that.

Happy New Year, my weird and beautiful friends!

 

-Chris

And Sweetest in the Gale, Part Two: I Thought I Saw a Cape

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the on less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– “The Road Not Taken”, Robert Frost

Hey Gang!

Round Two! Ding, Ding!

So, I spoke about a hero of mine. My cousin. He died but is not dead. He was but still is. The man he was is not the man he is. Time and addiction are corrosive to our very being. It is the erosion of our foundation by hit after bump after tablet after drink until we are the husk of what it was that we were. Shadows cast larger than our frame show the greatness that these small bodies once held.

I tell this tale objectively as I am able. This is but an observation. It began a few days after the incident of part one. I was looking forward to meeting with him as it had been months since I had seen him last. It was a beautiful day. The sun shone bright through the skeleton-like trees and a bit of nip in the air was present as he walked up our sidewalk with his mother. This man that is before me looks like my hero. Take a photo and compare them a few years ago and it seems like it is him but I know the truth.

They come in and sit down. He begins to talk about government conspiracies and hacking groups that are monitoring him. He discusses legal issues. You never have a discussion with him when he is like this. You sit back and hold on. You try to keep up with him as his mind unleashes these thoughts and streams of consciousness that are inconsistent. Expletives fly as there is an idealization of crime and objectification of women along with the paranoia of government involvement. Reason is not there any longer and I must admit that I do not shatter this narrative fantasy in which he lives. I listen and try to accommodate. I try to be part of the reality that mental illness and prolonged drug use has helped him construct. Why do I do this? What would happen when the reality you escape to is better than it is and what would happen if that was shattered? I would rather not know.

This time to pretend is sobering to me. How did this happen? The man I looked up to, saw as a father figure in lieu of my own is now a  memory. Our lives are too similar for this disparity.

He is five years older than me and our mothers are the oldest, my mother, and the youngest girl, his mother. We were inseperable as kids. they would come over and we would play for hours. Well, he would play and I would try but I did not “play right’. So, I would watch him play with my G.I. Joes in the Ghostbuster house and watch him unfold these elaborate tales. When they left i would do the same.

Beneath his collar, I thought I saw a cape.

A tragedy happened and they came to live with us for a year or so. He taught me about everything. We talked about girls, video games, and music. He is the reason I got into music. We would lay next to one another on the floor of my small apartment and watch MTV. Hours and Hours of music television. We would sing along to it and began talking about the beauty of Nirvana. The genius of Blues Traveler. The insight of Weird Al Yankovic. The poignant nature of Garbage. These beautiful realities we discussed. He told me facts about the bands and he knew so much more than me about science and math. I would go to school and tell my teachers facts that he taught to me. They would be shocked that I knew such “advanced” things. Five years advanced, maybe?

At the tale of his shirt, I thought I saw a cape.

We got older and he began getting in trouble. So, he moved in with my grandmother and helped her. We would go out and visited them every weekend. It was the highlight of every week. He eventually got to be in high school and should have been too cool to hang out with his 13-year-old cousin, but he did not. We still were close. He began drawing these incredibly elaborate pictures. Beautifully detailed. Talent that was natural. He had the detail that artists study at specialty schools for but he never had a lesson. They were dark and comical, much like our humor. However, cracks began to show. He eventually began getting in even more trouble and decided to extract himself by going into the Navy. I cried as he left the train station. My best friend was leaving.

Beneath his white, long sleeved uniform with a flag on it, I thought I saw a cape.

Years pass and we grow apart as distance filled the gap. I talked with my aunt the whole time but I went into a phase where I started putting distance between myself and my family. I grew up. I started drawing. Music was life. I was training to go into the Navy. I made friends and we started hanging out. My cousin stayed in the Navy. He became a man. I think I began to do the same. He leaves the Navy and eventually marries. They move away and our lives begin to go different ways. I went to college where as he tried to be the family man. He tried.

I see him again, I did not see a cape.

We come back to the present. His talks about conspiracy and delusions of grandeur. I look hard for my hero. His cape fell somewhere far down the line. My hero died sometime ago. I miss him. The person who always took a step up the mountain of life just ahead of me. Now, the only steps I have are my own and it frightens me. He tells me he may go to the local community college. he tells me he wants to get his degree in information technology. I do not know if he is being truthful or if it will come to fruition but for a moment, I thought I saw a glimpse of an old, tattered cape.

When he came back, we hung out quite a bit. He would regale me with all of his life stories. Tall tales that were not tall to me. He looked at me one day as he exhaled smoke from his lungs and said, “Chris, I want to write a book one day. I’m going to tell you stuff and you write it down. Like my biography. You can be my ghostwriter.”

So, with this post, I am no ghostwriter. I have written about a ghost.

-Chris

The D.C. Diaries

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The DC Diaries

Day 1- November 21, 3:30 a.m.

              Sleep evades me. It is so quiet and still here on the lounge deck where people lay on the ground, sprawling out wherever they can. I spelt for a few moments but it was not nearly enough. Every blink of the eye feels as if sand is within it. I can’t help but remember the events of today. It was actually somewhat unremarkable. We got on the train to go to the conference in DC at around noon. My telling partner and I met a woman who was very wise and calculated when she spoke about the past in a voice that signified years of smoking. I enjoyed speaking with her right up until we got on the train. It was much more cramped than I expected but still enjoyable as my friend and I talked aimlessly. Joked about coworkers and girls. Things of that simple nature.

              We got to Union Station at about 3 pm and we waited in a terminal gate for our next train that would come at around 640.

As you know, I love people watching and this did not disappoint. There were Pennsylvania Dutch men and women that sat not too far away. Their black clothing with just hints of color beneath were interesting. I saw women with blue hair and piercing in their dimples which was actually kind of attractive if I do say so. I loved seeing individuals and meeting people just for a few sentences or a complete conversation. That one moment shared is a treasure to me. How lucky am I to share a few words with this random person, out of everyone in the world I am among a few.

              We finally board and I remember the hilarious saying that a woman said at the tiny convenience shop on the main hall: I will put two pieces of bread around her hate and make a sandwich. It cracked me up.

              The train is a monolithic superfine and I ascend the small spiral staircase to my seat. This would be home for the next 17 hours.

              Time. Time is a terrible thing when you dode over it. Which is what I have done, what I do. I nodded off for an hour or so but that was all. Now I am in that awkward twilight phase when I am not sure if sleep is worth it. Maybe I should just read and wait until the sun rises in an hour or two.

Only time will tell.

DAY 3 November 24, Midnight

My trip comes to an end as I sit here on this train with all of these sleeping bodies around me. The weekend was full of panels of people saying the mosþ interesting things. I was fascinated by the research thaþ is out there and how illuminating it was. There was something I realized though, I am not a creature that likes to mingle. I love having long conversations with friends and enjoying talks about existentialism, women, and other things of lesserorgreaterimportance. However, there are those conversations in a room full of people, static voices around you that drown out your own thoughts, this place is where you are supposed to go up to people and begin inane chatter about this or that and then move on to the next person when you realize you just don’t have much in common. I stood there with my friends in that room full of people and the two nights prior had caught up to me. Nights soaked in alcohol and beer, laughing and dancing; it was beautiful and perfect and exhausting. I drank the rest of my 7 dollar bottle of Sam Adam’s Boston Lager and made leave. I did not say good bye to everyone because, honestly, I knew I would see them soon. I went down the large escalator and out into the cold night.

I used my phone as a GPS and decided to walk back to the hotel. The sky was beautiful and clear that night. Stardust was visible as I began the three mile hike that put an end to my trip. The buildings towered over me. Monoliths lit up in the darkened sky by orange city loghts and car headlights that made their shadows move as if by themselves.

It was quiet for the first time in days. I walked over the bridge where stone lions guarded the entry way and I noticed clouds began rolling in. I walked beneath large scaffolding and when I came out, I came to a stoplight where I waited for the orange hand to turn into the white walking man. Then, I felt something cold hit my face, a speck of icy coolness. I looked up and it had begun to snow. It was somewhat refreshing to know that these white specks falling down signaled the end of the fall.

We left the next day and I must admit that I grew from the experience where my naïve nature was put to the test. I learned of the holocaust and those that suffered, I learned of good beer, better friends, and the simple, yawning quiet that befalls a city at night, even if for a moment.

-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