Bands; or Shit I Do to Pass Time

Yes, I have resorted to doing this kind of shit to pass the time. Anyway, these are some bands or artists that are often compared for whatever reasons and some of my thoughts on the matter.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

Without a doubt, The Rolling Stones. The Stones seem to be tied to reality a bit more than The Beatles. Something that I find very attractive. Case and point, lyrics like “let’s spend the night together” obliterate dreck like “I wanna hold your hand.” It was dorky then, and it’s dorky now. The Stones went to places the Beatles would never go. Metaphors are great and all, but The Beatles always seemed to hide behind them. The Stones would just bluntly tell you what they were thinking. For this reason, their songs are just stronger, more interesting, and are more applicable to situations, moods, and mindsets I find myself in constantly. Would you rather listen to something exploring the concept good and evil in society, the very idea of having sympathy for the devil, or a song about holdin’ hands, meter maids, and shit? I want something with teeth.

Pearl Jam or Nirvana?

The teenage me would say Nirvana, but the forty-year-old me says Pearl Jam (it’s not even close). When I look back at interviews with Nirvana, they annoy me. They spend a lot of their interviews purposely being dicks (and not even funny ones – that is what makes it unforgivable). I remember one interview where they were as annoying and unfunny as Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley combined; this takes some effort. I’m sorry. I meant as pleasant and hilarious as Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley combined. Both bands had members that were around the same age, but the differences in maturity levels were off the chart. Other than Mike McCready, I don’t think Pearl Jam had any other members with addiction issues. Even then, McCready was never fucking annoying during interviews or public appearances. Over the years, I have been around a lot of drug addicts. Yes, I understand they need help, but goddamn, they are terrible company (and will rob you blind every chance they get). I always felt like telling them that I don’t think you’ll ever meet someone with a more negative view of life than myself, and I don’t have a drug problem — so, just shut the fuck up. To be honest, I haven’t seriously listened to a Nirvana album since Cobain’s suicide. I still like a lot of their catalog (at least, I think I do), but I never actively seek their music out. Pearl Jam, on the other hand, is listened to quite frequently. I find the band’s lack of irony a much-needed thing. In short, concerning the case of Nirvana versus Pearl Jam, sincerity with raw emotion trumps absurdity with raw emotion.

U2 or R.E.M.?

This one is tough. For a certain type of Boomer or Gen Xer, these were the two important bands. I am cut from this aforementioned slab of Gen X meat. I just saw U2 last month. While their albums haven’t been great (or even good) lately — with the exception of the wonderful song “Moment of Surrender” — they still deliver live; in this setting, they are hungry — very hungry. Visually, it was the most impressive media-related thing I’ve ever seen. While Achtung Baby is still my favorite album of all time, I’m going to have to go with R.E.M in this pair up. The fact they wrote a song about the mugging of Dan Rather by time travelers (based on a true story) and turned it into a song about the communication gap among generations is an impressive feat. They were good at writing songs about subjects that are not normally written about in pop music. That’s always been my favorite thing about them. Also, they knew when to hang it up (even though that should have been sooner than it was). That being said, it’s close to a tie for me, and the outcome would be different depending on my mood on any given day.

Weezer or Pavement?

These bands have not aged well, but I grew to hate Weezer. I really did. I see them as the soundtrack for people that watch The Big Bang Theory and genuinely laugh at it. Yes, they exist. I’ve met them. They smell like soured milk and buttholes, and they wear giant-ass glasses (just like “Weezer” himself) and have tattoos of stupid shit that make people who had tattoos before people who shop at J. Crew had tattoos feel much worse than the realization that people who shop at J. Crew have tattoos. My dislike for Weezer does have something to do with fashion. Before Weezer, if you were into a certain genre of music, you wore your hair long, modified your clothing, and really stood out among the mainstreamers, making the more fragile, sensitive ones a little uncomfortable. Post-Weezer, it was giant-ass glasses, a sweater, and short hair (short hair in the ‘90s! — not cool, man), making you look like a harmless nothing and chubby, religious girl on the honor roll magnet. It was so safe. I also hate Weezer’s faux meekness. I hate songs about males being uncomfortable around women. Jesus fuckin’ Christ, this is a tired trope. Someone kill it. Like R.E.M., Pavement could write songs about subjects not normally explored in pop music. My problem with them is, the irony is so thick … so very, very thick. Also of note, Stephen Malkmus learned how to play the guitar throughout Pavement’s run. He became quite good, too.

Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen?

No snark here. I really can’t decide. It’s a question for the ages. It’s beyond my understanding.

Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp?

While Mellencamp wrote one of my favorite lines: “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone,” I’ll have to go with Springsteen. He has been much more consistent. I don’t think this one is even subjective. You could probably prove this scientifically. What I do miss is, during the ‘80s how every single these guys released was used in some clueless Republican’s political ad. That was some funny shit.

Van Halen (Roth) or Van Halen (Hagar)?

I don’t like Van Halen — not my thing, but I do kind of like “Jamie’s Crying.” Therefore, it goes to the David Lee Roth version of Van Halen.

Poison or Motley Crue?

This is like asking me if I would I rather have lung cancer or brain cancer.

Joy Division or New Order?

The voice of Ian Curtis bothers me more than most things. Seriously, it’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever heard. Moreover, I find Joy Division songs meandering, dull, and lifeless. Perhaps that’s the point, but man, it doesn’t gel with me. Also, the fact that Ian Curtis got married at nineteen and had a child very young is lame as shit. Hear me out. If you’re a regular-ass person that gets married as a teenager and then cranks out some kids before you’re off of your parent’s health insurance, you’re not cool, like, at all. Just because you’re a rock star doesn’t negate this; it makes it worse. Anyway, Curtis had to die, so New Order could live. In my opinion, no one has made better music to dance to than New Order. The clear choice, New Order.

Metallica or Megadeth?

Not really my genre, but I did experiment. Overall, I think Metallica is rather weak in the ol’ lyric department, and Megadeth really shines in comparison. Dave Mustaine actually writes songs about things that don’t involve the sandman, gripping your pillow tight, and going off to never-never land. Even though he has turned into an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorist (I’ll blame the years of alcoholism), he’s kind of like the Dylan of metal. However, I can’t really do the metal stuff. It ain’t me, babe.

Rage Against the Machine or Audioslave?

Years ago, while waiting in line at a grocery store, a guy in an Audioslave shirt started a conversation with me out of the blue. I was quite young at the time, but he was even younger and started talking about his kids, again, never a good sign. I really wanted the conversation to be over as quickly as possible, and luckily, I forgot something and had to step out of line. (I lied. I didn’t forget anything.) I’m a lefty, so it’s Rage Against the Machine for me. Audioslave just doesn’t sound like anything I would ever listen to. It’s like Rage Against the Machine without the politics, which is the only reason I can tolerate Rage Against the Machine. It’s not a musical style I’m naturally drawn to.

Porno for Pyros or Jane’s Addiction?

Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro have turned into caricatures of themselves. I don’t think either band has really stood the test of time. They have their moments, but Jane’s Addiction had better output. The only way these albums work for me now is, I really have to pretend I’m back in high school while I’m listening to them. Overall, I don’t think their lyrics really probe deep enough. It’s almost there, but not quite. Also, something just feels wrong when I really think about it. I can’t tell if it’s the music or the fact that those responsible ended up on reality shows. I think it is the latter. They tainted themselves. Also, the inclusion of Perry’s wife in everything they do now is lame. Stop! Get it?

(Update: Since writing this, I listened to Nothing’s Shocking. It was working for me, and I wasn’t even pretending to be young. I really like the album’s art and title. Nothing is shocking to me, so there’s that.)

Radiohead or Pink Floyd?

I assume this is generational. It’s Radiohead for me, but as much as I listened to them back in the day, I rarely seek them out now. I find a lot of their newer work to be tedious and boring, but I find all of Pink Floyd’s work tedious and boring. However, for both bands to make music that I find tedious and boring — yet kind of enjoy — takes some kind of space rock magic.

Michael Jackson or Prince?

Prince was far stranger than Michael Jackson. So, he gets the edge just for that. Yeah, I’m just more of a Prince person. Other than a handful of songs, I never got into Michael Jackson. Overall, I thought his lyrics were pretty sappy. He had nice melodies, arrangements, and production, however. To be fair, Prince really wasn’t all that consistent either, but when he was on, he was really on. I have a theory that back in the ‘80s you either grew up in a Prince household or a Michael Jackson one. If you were neither, you probably grew up in a joyless, religious fundamentalist household and missed out on culture in general, making you a really fucked up teenager and an even more fucked up adult (okay, perhaps Porno for Pyros is better …). I definitely grew up in a Prince household. I wonder if this holds any kind of significance in how I turned out.

Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine?

The tastemakers of the era pushed me toward this movement and these bands. While I was influenced by certain publications and people, I was enough of my own person to not go along with everything they would recommend. The swing music revival got a great big “no” from me (this crowd was far worse than the Weezer scene). However, the no wave, shoegaze shit worked. I dug it, but I can’t listen to more than three songs in a row from any of these bands. It seems to be too emotionally draining or something. I also tend to skip any song Kim Gordon has lead vocals on. Her voice is terrible (still not as bad as Ian Curtis). It’s close, but I’m going with My Bloody Valentine only because I was hit in the face by a drumstick at a Sonic Youth show; it knocked me to the ground and caused nose bleeds and headaches for hours after the incident. I’ve never forgiven the band for this. It was purposely — but randomly — thrown into the audience. Stupid. Don’t throw things into crowds at an incredible amount of speed, assholes. Surprisingly, I can still listen to this stuff from time to time.

Roxy Music (with Eno) or Roxy Music (without Eno)?

Everything is better with Eno, even Bowie.

Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson?

Alice Cooper has actually made a couple of very solid albums, and Marilyn Manson has made … things. I do like how out of shape and fat Marilyn Manson has gotten. Nothing is sadder than aging goths, pseudo-goths, or whatever the fuck he is. I witnessed this first-hand at a club in Cleveland last week. Seriously, it was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched relatives die.

KISS or a pile of shit?

Aren’t they the same thing? If not, I’ll definitely take the pile of shit.


Instruments of destruction/ Tools of foul play/ It’s a vile interruption/ Existence drifts away; or “Oh shit, what are we gonna do now!?”

On August 10, 1986, I saw Transformers: The Movie. It immediately had an impact, but over the years, judging from its position in pop culture, I think it was a more profound experience than what I remember. Here is my brief recollection.

tftm1986c

During the last week of July and the first week of August of 1986, I found myself in Florida. It was a family vacation. I was nine. I was really into certain cartoons, television shows, movies, video games, etc. Now, of course, at this age, most kids are probably into this kind of stuff, but when I say I was really into things, I was REALLY into things. If I’m into something, it’s never casual. I really try to know as much as I can about whatever it may be. This has been by M.O. ever since I can remember. Anyway, enough of this shit.

The trip took us from the Atlantic coast (to some goddamn real estate pyramid scheme thing — more on this later) to Orlando (gee, I wonder why) and, finally, to the Gulf coast. Overall, the trip was memorable. My family is pretty fucked up, but in a good way. I hear so many people say this about their families. Then, after meeting these proclaimed crazy-ass, eccentric families, I’m completely disappointed; they always come across as fairly bland and not funny in the least, much like a family that would be in one of those goddamn fake documentary sitcoms. Lame. People tend to think they are more odd, strange, and fucked up than they really are. It kind of pisses me off. Okay, once again, enough of this shit. Let’s get back on track.

We got two free nights in a hotel if my parents attended some conference about buying real estate and investing in some company. My mom and dad’s combined income was probably around $30,000 per year. They didn’t play the goddamned stock market, and they sure as hell didn’t have enough to buy a fuckin’ condo. It was a total scam anyway. My parents went to the meeting, and we got the two nights in the hotel. They weren’t falling for this shit. The Atlantic side, in my opinion, sucked. I wasn’t feeling it, and moreover,  my mind was definitely on other things to come.

The next stop was Orlando. We did the Disney World thing. I remember it as being kind of fun, but I thought the amusement parks we had back in Ohio — Cedar Point and King’s Island — were superior (way better rides). Disney World had far too many cheesy performances from various high school kids across the county. Other than the parents of those involved, no one gave a shit about any of this, and there was way too much of it. I did leave the park with a Randotti skull, so that was something. However, once again, I was preoccupied and was not fully enjoying the moment (fuck, who am I kidding — preoccupied or not, I’ve never been able to be in the moment).

The Gulf side was far better than the Atlantic. The water seemed cleaner. It was less crowded, more relaxed/laid back, and, at least, during the mid ‘80s, seemingly more working class. As a family, it was a better fit for us. We somehow got a good deal renting this hotel room that was much larger than my current apartment. A private beach was just yards away. Long walks admiring aquatic wildlife were taken, elaborate sand structures were built, blue crabs were caught, stingrays were almost stepped on, and my dad’s swimming trunks split in half and flew off into the abyss while on one those high-speed waterslides, leaving him entirely nude at some waterpark near Tampa. I enjoyed this part of the trip more than the other two, but I still couldn’t wait to get back home. Why?

Yes, that’s right. On August 8th, Transformers: The Movie was going to be released. For some reason, I was worried I was not going to be able to see it if we didn’t make it back home by that date (like they didn’t have movie theaters in Florida). I don’t understand why I thought this, but I did. My theory is, up until that point, the only movie theater I ever been to was the Wheelersburg Cinema, so for some sort of psychological comfort or something, I needed to see it there. I kept on reminding both parents that we needed to get back home. They told me not to worry. We were going to be leaving and would be back home on the 9th. In my head, I was all “fuck you, that’s not opening night” but outwardly I was all “then, we are seeing it Sunday, right?” I was assured that Sunday would be the day. I was far more excited to see this film than going to Disney World.

The trip back home was met with all kinds of complications. I-75 near Atlanta was congested and took about two hours to get through. My brother had to piss, but there were no exits for miles; he pissed into a large empty Wendy’s cup, overfilling it and causing a mess. We stayed at a motel in Cleveland, TN that had bloodstains on the sheets, and I think a human turd was found under the bed. The next day there was a three-hour delay just miles into Kentucky from Tennessee. Once returning to Ohio, I went directly to bed. Tomorrow needed to come as soon as possible.

The next morning, my parents, my brother, the neighbor kid, and myself were off to see a matinee. We weren’t a religious family, so Sundays were almost always reserved for going to the theater. Sunday mornings also seemed to be the only time my parents had the same time off of work. Anyway, I can’t recall if this was the one o’clock or three o’clock showing. I’m fairly certain it was the one o’clock screening. Why is this important? It isn’t. Not at all. Fuck it.

My brother and the neighbor kid were not into The Transformers as much as I was. They were casuals and — for the lack of a better term — normal about this kind of shit. Both of them didn’t seem to get into anything with the same fervor that I did. (Looking back, I don’t think they gave a fuck about seeing it at all.) We got our tickets. My parents went to see Top Gun, which had been playing at this theater since May. I swear that Top Gun’s run at the Wheelersburg Cinema may have been a record holder. Our screens were on the opposite sides of the theater; we parted ways.

For the next hour and a half, my mind was blown. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I just saw. It fucked me up good and proper. Death was suddenly in the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t like I never thought about before, but this forced me to think about it. Before I go there, however, I’m going to discuss some other things (it will be brief — I just don’t have the time to write these things like I used to).

The movie took chances that I don’t ever think will happen again for an IP aimed at children. Let’s start with the music; none of it was recognizable. They didn’t use any of the orchestral pieces heard in the television show. Instead, we got a bunch metal songs, two Stan Bush songs, a “Weird Al” song, and a great prog rock score from Vince DiCola. Not what I was expecting. Other than the metal version of the theme song, there wasn’t a single note that was familiar. Pretty bold.

Another thing I noticed was the quality of animation was definitely a step above the show. There were some scenes that really stood out. For example, the opening scene where Unicorn devours the planet. That looked good. Really good. However, it seemed like they were running out of money and time toward the end of the film. Some of that looked bad. Really bad. That said, I’ve always thought the G1 designs were the best. I still do.  Also, I miss hand-drawn animation so fuckin’ bad.

The voice performances were also a step above the series, particularly on the Decepticon side. Frank Welker plays Megatron as a genuine threat, a force to be reckoned with. Chris Latta gives us the definitive Starscream. Leonard Nimoy was also very good as Galvatron. These performances were definitely aided by some good writing.  I felt that was the film’s secret weapon.

The screenplay was scary good, and I’ll argue this with anyone. Ron Friedman — I believe he currently teaches screenwriting somewhere in California — wrote the script. It’s so tight. Seriously, there’s no filler. It keeps moving at a satisfying pace, hitting all of the story beats with accurate precision. If you want to learn the three-act structure of screenwriting, I think this is one of the best examples (the other being Robocop).

The movie is so bleak for a children’s film. They could have easily kept the old characters alive and simply shifted focus to the new ones, but no, they killed them off — almost all of them. The first death that really hurt was when I saw Wheeljack’s dead body for a second of two. Here was a major character that didn’t even get a death scene. He was just dead. Pretty ballsy. Again, to have death and grieving as a main theme of a children’s film in such an unapologetic way was just crazy.

The Prime/Megatron fight was handled very well. The scene really felt urgent and tense; there was a lot at stake. Having Megatron essentially win the fight by cheating was such a nice touch. It was true to the character. Also, seeing the Deceptions regroup after the fight was also great. Never unified, various loyalties begin to reach their tipping points. When Megatron begs Soundwave not to leave him, that was gold. The subsequent scene as Soundwave carries Megatron’s severely wounded body with Rumble close behind, struggling to carry Megatron’s fusion cannon was quite touching and an animation cel that I would love to own.

optimus-prime-vs-megatron-hd-transformers-the-movie-1986-youtube-19

The television spots foreshadowed Prime’s death, but I just thought it was marketing. There’s no way they would kill off Prime. Boy, was I fucking wrong? There has been a lot of good articles written about this, so I’m not going to go into it much. Instead of analyzing the scene, I’m going to be blunt and to the point: it fucked me up.  I was not alone.  Optimus Prime was a father figure for millions of kids (and no, this is not an exaggeration — just perform a Google search on the topic). Ultimately, though, the death of Optimus Prime had some positive effects. It put me in touch with the darker side of existence and helped me prepare and cope with every form of death.

About year and half later, in December of ’87, at age ten, I had a complete breakdown — a little young for such a thing. I can’t say for certain, but I think Transformers: The Movie may have had something to do with it. If it did, I’m all the better for it. It prepared me for the hard realities of things yet to come and shaped my taste in art and pop culture.  For example, in ’88, I saw Robocop for the first time, shortly followed by Taxi Driver. The darker the subject matter, the more I liked it. This continued throughout my life. As a teenager, I always thought of myself as a living, breathing Nine Inch Nails’ song (fuck, I still think of myself as this). As an adult, I live in a constant state of disappointment — a disappointment, not only concerning myself, but with the world in general. I don’t read, watch, play, or listen to things to escape real life; instead, I engage in those things hoping to learn something about real life. Even in my fantasy, I prefer a healthy dose of horribly reality.  I just can’t escape that.

I suppose the most important thing about the film is that it didn’t sugarcoat things.   People die and you have to deal with it.  My fictional dad died August 8, 1986. I wasn’t prepared for it. If fucked me up. My real dad died June 4, 1992. I was prepared for it. It fucked me up less. My grandmother (dad’s mom) died on November 29, 1985. She was arrogant, boring, creepy, shitty, bossy, sucky, actually just list every negative adjective in the English language and call it a day. It didn’t fuck me up all. I didn’t give a shit. See, I’m pretty dark, right? But, seriously, that death meant nothing to me. A cartoon robot meant more to me than my own grandmother. If that makes me a terrible human being, I’ll own it.

2598cb5979464d266cfb515b76c024a1

 


Galvatron Costume; or It Could Have and Should Have Been Better (I’ll Be Modifying in Prep for Next Year)

Galvatroncos1galv2galvful - Version 2


Self-awareness is an Asshole; or I Can Feel Myself Rot

Part I: Bugs, Blood, and Jack Klugman; or Potentially Dying Can Really Wreck a Person’s T.V. Watchin’ Schedule

The year was 1982.  I was five years old.  Brood V was emerging from the ground.  I was fascinated by this occurrence.  It left quite an impression, and even though it only lasted—at most—six weeks, because I truly lacked any knowledge and concept of time, it felt like it lasted for years.  I think about it to this day: their tymbals producing a never-ending song that quite possibly caused some of my hearing loss, the sheer sight of what seemed to be hundreds of them visible at any given time, the feeling of having one land on your bare skin, and, upon gazing down to your arm to verify the sensation as being one them, losing yourself in those beautiful, but frightening red eyes.  Yes, the cicadas were an event for me.  I loved every second of it.  Their short visit back in ’82 remains one of my most vivid and cherished childhood memories—one that’s been on a constant loop in my head ever since.

However, while an early and beloved memory, it was not my even close to my first one.  My first memory is being rushed to the emergency room in Pink Panther pajamas while presumably bleeding to death from a cut on my head, resulting from an argument with my dad about where I could hang a picture of a rabbit I had drawn (my clever idea was to hang it on the television screen since I knew it would always be seen there … you can see why this was causing problems).  While arguing, I got so mad, lost my balance, fell, and sliced my head open on an unusually sharp corner of a normally placed nightstand.  The next thing I knew, I was in a speeding car.  My brother was in the backseat, crying.  My mom was driving, running every stop sign and red light.  My dad was holding me in his arms, using a beach towel to put pressure on the wound and was constantly talking to me, making certain I was still conscious.  Me, I was profusely bleeding and scared shitless.  Like the cicadas, this is also on a constant loop in my head.

No, I’m not Dustin Hoffman. I’m motherfuckin’ Quincy, motherfucker.

What a shitty first memory … it was rather traumatic and probably explains why I can’t stand the sight of blood and become uncomfortable even discussing anything related to it (I have a strange reaction that causes me to bite my wrists whenever the topic comes up).  It may also even give an insight into my personality and outlook on life, which predominantly features hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and meaninglessness as its bedrock tenets.  (If the first thing you remember is being injured and afraid that you’re going to die, let’s see how you would do.)  It was a truly frightening and terrible event, yet I think of this one much more than my wonderfully pleasant and purely magical cicada memory.  I believe that we tend to remember the “bad” rather than the “good”; in fact, it’s been proven.  For me, however, the worst part of it was not almost dying, but the guilt I felt (and still experience) that the incident made my mom miss an episode of Quincy M.E.; she fuckin’ loved that show.

Part II: Let’s Actually Go Outside, Take Risks, and Live Our Fuckin’ Lives; or I Was a Bad Ass (When I Was Four)

Actually, I smell worse than a butthole. Smell me, I dare you.

Traumatic, near-death experience in my very early years aside, for the most part, when I was younger, I was fearless and confident that I would not be hurt in any way.  I would touch and handle everything I came across, everything I encountered.  Anytime I saw an insect, a snake, or a spider, it made it’s into my hands and up to my nose.  Yes, my nose.  I don’t know why, but I loved to discover what things smelled like.  (Lightning bugs and daddy longlegs [harvestmen] smell like fuckin’ butthole, by the way.  Really, thinking about their odors is making me gag as I write this.  It’s some foul shit.)

I wasn’t alone in my courage.  My brother and I used to catch bees with our bare hands, placing them in jars for closer examination.  We would throw balls at hornets’ nests and see who would be the last one of us that would run away from the angry swarm.  We would hunt for snakes, hoping to stumble across a rattlesnake or a copperhead; we wanted things to be dangerous and exciting.

Sometimes, it got really fucking dangerous and exciting.  We used to do shit that I wouldn’t even dream of doing now.  After a heavy rain, we would take one of those plastic wading pools (that, after a few days, would always turn into some sort of southern Ohio summer stew, made up of the following ingredients: freshly cut blades of grass, bumble bees, mosquitoes, Japanese beetles, and an occasional garter or ring-necked snake), bring it down to the rain-swollen creek behind our house, and use it to ride the rapids caused by flash flooding.  Very dangerous.  Very exciting.  Very fun.

Too young for danger and adventure? Not quite. Around this age, I recall doing anything I could to make it into kitchen cabinets that where either too high or forbidden. I would rearrange everything and even used my brother as a step stool. The payoff was typically disappointing. For example, I spent an hour trying to get some nasty-ass Hershey’s baking cocoa. What a fucking disappointment! However, there was one time I scored some matches … now, that was a good day.

Here we are at launch. This was a light rain and was not considered dangerous, which is why there is even a parent-taken photo of the event. We used to do this during flash flood warnings and while it was still storming (lightning was not going to stop us, you lame fucks); of course, this was when mom and dad were both at work.  There’s a story about one time in particular, but that’s a whole other post.

It was fucking fun, man! Look at us. You can tell we were loving it.  Now, everything blows.

Another time, while driving home from the grocery store, my brother spotted this breathtaking ice formation that was about four miles (when you’re eight and six years of age, that’s a long distance) west of our house.  We went on this long trek only armed with a camera to find and photograph this beautiful ice formation, starting with the icy creek behind our house (that fuckin’ creek got used) and using only other frozen streams we stumbled upon along the way to guide us; we had no knowledge as to how deep the water actually was or if the ice was even safe for travel, but that wouldn’t have stopped us … we didn’t care.  We were going to do what we wanted to do.  The adventure and risk of the journey were the only things occupying our minds.  We had a goal, a destination, a purpose.  We encountered many problems along the way, had scary moments, but, fuck man, we felt alive.  We had to see this fuckin’ thing before it melted.  We did.  It was well worth it.

Slush Puppie is fun in a cup (especially if filled with gasoline)!

Like all kids, we would play with fire, but I think we were a bit more extreme than the average kids.  We took it seriously; it was like a job, one that we really fuckin’ loved.  I remember on several occasions sneaking around to obtain a medium Slush Puppie cup full of kerosene or, even better, the highly coveted gasoline (as a kid, having any amount of gasoline was the equivalent of having a million bucks as an adult).  One of our experiments with gasoline ended with setting the small grove of pine trees next to our house on fire, almost catching it on fire as well.  Mom and dad worked hard putting out that fire.  They threatened to get the fire department involved, but my brother and I were very aware that doing so would get them in trouble: “Why the fuck were your kids playing with gasoline?”  We knew we were safe, but would have to endure a heated lecture about the dangers of fucking with things that shouldn’t be fucked with (it worked—we didn’t mess gasoline after that).  However, matches, knives, power saws, electric drills, fireworks, log splitters, vice grips, kerosene (hey, it’s not gasoline), and various household chemicals were still going to be fucked with … and fucked with often.  Basically, our behavior didn’t change.

For instance, there was something supremely invigorating about shooting bottle rockets at each other, which, somehow, became a family tradition for several years every Fourth of July.  My brother took it seriously and built this bottle-rocket-launching device that backfired and caught his neon pink, nylon shorts on fire, melting pieces of those shorts onto his skin.  He didn’t stop, drop, and roll.  Instead, he ran as fast as he could into the house, only making it worse.  (I don’t remember how the fire was put out; I’ll have to ask him, but I do remember him soaking in the tub for hours.)  You would think going through something like that would put an end to reckless behavior, but, just a couple of weeks later, he mixed some bleach and ammonia together; we had to air the house out for a month.  Mom and dad were really pissed about that one, more so than the potential house fire.

Our precarious nature spread throughout our neighborhood, which, since we lived in rural area where houses are yards apart, the “neighborhood” consisted of only one other  kid.   Without any effort, the three of us would always think of the most potentially deadly way to spend time.  It was amazing how many dangerous-ass things there were to do.  We would ramp our bikes off of natural formations that led to rocky ravines and, sometimes, places were people would dump garbage (the neighbor kid fucked himself good and proper on this one).  We built unsafe ramps out of whatever jagged, sharp, rusty, or rotten materials we could find.  After we got bored with that, we would set up a Slip ‘n Slide that emptied out into a creek that was full of garbage and human waste, which resulted in a lot of cuts, busted heads, and strange infections.  Man, we were fucked-up, brave little shits.

However, my brother was clearly more of a thrill-seeker than any of us.  Yes, all three of us did some stupid shit, but I always felt my brother always turned it up to eleven, took things to the nth degree.  One time, he decided to have what he called a “feast” that was composed of only wildlife and other “things” he found in the same garbage and human waste invested creek mentioned above.  He would catch crawdads (crayfish), gather up some algae and fungus found alongside the creek bed, and used the refreshing water from this highly polluted creek to wash it all down.  To be fair, while he did fry up the crawdads and arranged the meal on a rock that was used as a plate, as if it were for some uppity fine dining establishment, he didn’t actually eat it, but he did drink a toy teacup full of that fucking dirty-ass water.  The next day, he was hospitalized with a viral infection that almost killed him.

We lived dangerously back then.  Sometimes, I think the reason I never got into drugs or any kind of reckless behavior as an adult or teenager was because I got it out of my system at such a young age.  Now, I’m so fucking boring that the biggest thrill for me is trying a new kind of soap or masturbating on my side and not on my back.

Anyway, things have changed.  Now, I don’t even pick up things that I should pick up and inspect: laundry, garbage, and old fruit (I just bite into it without thinking).  Now, I’m full of fear and doubt … about everything, not just what I’m currently smelling.  The sight of a spider leaves me paralyzed.  Stinging insects make me leave any room I happen to be occupying with them at the same time.  However, this is normal, right?  We have to realize that world is mostly a dangerous and cruel place. Most things are out to hurt us or, at least, fuck with us a little.  You have to realize that worst thing that could happen is probably what will happen.  As you age and gain knowledge, you should become fearful of all kinds of shit and not be so certain about your own opinions, or delusions.

Part III: Shit Ain’t Working Out; or ALF, Keep Watch and Let Me Know if Someone is Coming

Recently, I turned thirty-five.  It’s surreal to me to think that I’ve been alive for as long as I have.  Like I alluded to earlier, when you don’t understand the concept of how we measure time, it seems non-existent, passing by so slowly that every day seems like an eternity, but, once the concept is understood (which sadly happens far too early for most of us), time, for whatever reason, passes by all too quickly.  For example, when Brood V emerged from the ground in 1982, I thought they were around forever.  When they emerged in 1999, it was a blur, over in a day.

America caters to teens. Adults are to blame.

I can’t believe I’m at the start of being officially middle-aged, part of a new demographic that is no longer as relevant to advertisers or represented much in pop culture, and since we live in such a youth-based, media-saturated, consumer-driven society, my relationship with the outside world and my place in it is starting to fade.  In other words, once advertisers decide that you are no longer their target market, you don’t exist; your media representation is reduced to being background characters in shitty sitcoms.  The greatest tragedy, however, is not the end of the advertising media inflating your importance to the world and everything in it.  Instead, it’s when you start to notice your contemporaries changing their tastes about what they find “cool” or “funny,” basically embracing things that they should, by this time, be media savvy enough to know “suck,” unknowingly or knowingly becoming the same stupid fucks they were criticizing in their late teens to mid-twenties.  When people who used to listen to Nine Inch Nails start diggin’ LMFAO, when people who used to be radical in their political beliefs think Obama best represents what passes as “left” in this country, when people who used to be caustic, brutal, and edgy in regards to their humor just over a decade ago laugh out loud while watching How I Met Your Mother, you know something has gone terribly fucking wrong; it’s fuckin’ over.  It’s like they have moved backward, not forward.

I don’t get it.  I thought that as you go through life and gain all kinds of knowledge on a variety of topics and are faced with harsh realities of just trying to exist, the natural result would to become darker, sharper, smarter, and demand a certain amount of realism and insight in just about everything that you read, watch, and listen to … your entertainment should be just as smart and fucked-up as you are, as the world is.  Instead, people seem to have gone soft, have become easily offended, and some even still believe things are going to be okay, reverting to some sort of childlike, idealistic state of thinking (I don’t blame them, but the denial of reality and the desire to always want to escape can’t, in the long run, be a good thing).   I think it’s kind of sick and pathological.  You should know better.  You’re too old to buy into such bullshit.  They seem to like things that paint life as one big delusional party of never-ending happiness and not the  poverty-striken, hopeless, sad parade that it really is.

Life is fast, expensive, and redundant.  Aging, just like everything in life, kind of blows.  It seems like it was only yesterday that I was sitting on the toilet, yelling for my mom to come wipe me.  However, it’s not necessarily the aging process itself that bothers me.  It’s the years I’ve spent believing that I’ve been moving toward something worthwhile only to realize that I’ve been treading water, running in place, and tilting at windmills.  I have been paralyzed and have not been able to make any progress.  I am stuck with no directions or map to any destinations I actually care to visit.  I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of years preparing for something that’s never going to happen.  While I know that’s vague, I think you get what I’m trying to say, and many of you probably feel the same way.  I thought life was going to be different, maybe even exciting.   Instead, for me, life has just been a series of things that I don’t really want to do, but have to do in order to survive in the same life that is just a series of things that I don’t really want to do.  It’s a shitty circle of futility.  Yeah, once reaching an adult age, you have moments of joy and happiness, but seriously, are they worth it?  No … not really.  People, all the time, state that these moments are worth it beyond question or debate, but shut up.  You’re all lying to yourselves.  Years of pain for a few moments of joy.  Not cool, man … not cool.

It’s no secret that I’m miserable, but I always wasn’t this way.  It started around eighteen or nineteen—that’s when I first started to realize that just about everything I have been told by just about everyone was a complete and total lie.  I realized that I wasn’t as smart or talented as I’ve been led to believe.  I wasn’t able to be anything I wanted to be as long as worked at it, stayed focused, and believed in myself.  That was all bullshit.  Geography and economic class play a huge role in determining one’s life.  Also, how much are you willing to compromise your values and ethics is another big one.  Anyway, the last seventeen years have been spent trying to reconcile the lies of my first eighteen.  It hasn’t been easy.  It has fucked me up pretty good.

Since this realization, I’ve been in a perpetual state of profound disappointment.  I tried to remedy this by focusing my thoughts more on issues pertaining to things other than myself.  I started reading a lot of non-fiction about the global economy and politics, which have always been an interest of mine.  At first, it was working.  My thoughts and energy were focused on other people and global problems that are affecting us all.  There’s a lot of horrible shit out there and it’s good to be informed.  Quickly, however, I realized that most of us are stuck with the lives that we have.  I’m not the only one that was told that I could do anything.  Moreover, I realized that this isn’t going to change.  The worst of us will always win.  Things are set up to keep things structured a certain way, and there’s nothing we can do about it, leaving most of us stuck living lives that we really don’t have much interest in living.  This isn’t hyperbole.  The (for the lack of a better word and for the sake of being purposely vague) bad people have won.  They always have, and they always will.

I think this “profound disappointment” would have been easier to take if I desired a more normal life, but I never wanted any that shit.  My biggest problem is that I was very ambitious and really naïve: a fucking terrible combination, a recipe for disaster.  Desiring things, situations, careers, and all kinds of other shit and not being able to obtain these “things” creates misery.  Now, I know this is nothing new; Buddhism has been around a long time and kind of nails this aspect of existence.  Desire is the cause misery and suffering.  These desires don’t even have to be lofty in nature either.  They can be simple things that are considered basic needs for survival.  If you’re hungry and you don’t have any food, you’re going to be pretty fuckin’ miserable.  If you desire to have success at something that you struggle with or have no talent in whatsoever, you’re going to be miserable.

Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t have any ambition at all.  If I didn’t, I would be a lot happier and my mental health wouldn’t be so shitty.  Instead, I had to have unattainable goals and shit.  I had to want things.  I had to be ambitious.  And most damaging, I had to believe things.  Belief in anything that exists only as ideas, comfort, and emotions is, in my opinion, fucking dangerous.  My problem is that I desired things that were out my reach, means, circumstance, and ability.  Knowing that you’re never going to do things that you really want to do and, even after having this realization that they are not attainable, still having a strong desires to achieve such things is a real asshole; therefore, as the title suggests, self-awareness is an asshole.  I wish that I could be satisfied with a seemingly normal life.  However, none of that traditional shit interests me that much, and I’ve even done some of it.

Now, I don’t think that I am special by any means.  Most of us wanted our lives to turn out differently than what they have, and most of us come to these realizations with minimal damage.  Also, from my experience, most people seem to be able to accept these disappointments much better than myself.  It’s killing me.  I feel like every decision I’ve made has been the wrong one, but I don’t think I’ve made any major mistakes.  My biggest mistake, which is something that I don’t have any control over (it has always just been there), is my desire for things that I can never have, and my complete lack of interest in what I consider the consolation prizes: a job that pays the bills, but you don’t really dig; a marriage you got into because … well, that’s what you are supposed to do; a family started by denying harsh economic realities because you really wanted babies and shit; and blah blah blah … you get what I’m trying to say.  Now, many people see some those aforementioned things as wonderful, life-affirming reasons for existence, but I’ve yet to meet anyone that seems like they are happier or are actually better than before settling into to these situations.  If anything, there have been a few people who seem even more and sad and defeated than me after taking these plunges, which is saying something.  However, there are other people who actually seem content, happy, and without a care in the world by settling into a traditional life.  I’m perplexed by it all.  Yes, I make fun of it and shit, but I don’t fault them for such things.  If it works for you, it works for you. It’s just that I don’t understand it.  It wouldn’t work for me.

Sometimes, I think my problem is that I’m just fucking nuts, but when I really sit down and confront that possibility, I don’t really think I am, not even close.  I’m just not wired to for a conventional life.  I can’t help it.  Anytime I try to be a bit normal, I feel like I’m living a lie.  Eventually, the lie just mutates into dread, anxiety, and finally into a rather deep depressive state.

For example, the grind of going to work and coming home is destroying what little bit of hope I had left, and, overall, I even like my job.  None of us are really made for this kind of existence.  We are creatures of leisure and pleasure; all of us are.  Our ancestors spent their days in the shade, eating berries, having sex, and sleeping.  This whole “work thing” seems more like the aberration, not our wonderful, natural propensity for laziness.  I was always told that when you achieve a certain level of independence that my mood would change, that I would feel better. Currently, I kind of have a decent job (again, I even like it), but I feel fuckin’ worse than I’ve ever felt.  On a basic level, my needs are met, but that creates comfort, security, and to a certain extent conformity.  I feel like this is it.  I’m beginning to fall into these patterns that make my life mundane and boring.  I’ve never been this type of person.  I’ve never liked schedules or planning.  I’ve always kind of hated myself, but lately, I’m really growing to hate myself even more.  Really, the person that I am becoming is a real lame-ass.  I’m beginning to feel like I could turn into a semi-average white guy.  I don’t want that to happen at all.  The more normal my life becomes, the more my life falls in compliance with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the more I think my life sucks.  Fuck that noise!  I have to fight this, don’t I?

Let’s take a look at Abraham Maslow’s little creation.  Let’s see if it makes any sense or is just some bullshit put into writing (kind of like what you’re reading now).  I just want to state that this will not be an in-depth analysis by any means.  Instead, this is just some basic, primal reactions I had since looking at this thing for the first time since 1995.

The most basic category of this hierarchy is labeled “physical survival needs.”  According to Maslow, these include things like water, food, sleep, health, and sex.  Sex?  Trust me, you can survive without sex.  If you don’t count whackin’, I’ve been celibate for most of my life.  However, the other things listed I can’ t argue with; of course, they are needed for survival.  So, this section is pretty much accurate … not much to say here.  Other than including sex, I don’t have any criticisms with this section.

The second category is called “need for safety and security.”  This category includes: physical safety and economic security plus more abstract concepts like comfort and peace.  Okay, physical safety is a given.  Also, in our current economic system, economic security is also a must, but I don’t think many people truly have this.  Moreover, most people who believe that they do have it are probably unaware of just how fragile this illusion really is.  Losing your job is reality that many of us know all too well, which leads me to the next concepts listed in this category: comfort and peace. These two ideas seem far too abstract and subjective to be included.  Again, I have most of these basic needs met, but I don’t feel any comfort or peace.  I feel like, at any moment, I could lose my job and be out on the street.  This is a very real possibility, meaning unless a person knows that their job is a permanent situation, one they would have until their death, how the fuck could they ever feel any sense of comfort or peace?  Also, people may have different concepts of where and what constitutes these emotional states and ideas.  I feel that they are not concrete or defined enough to be included, especially  in only the second tier; these concepts seem more like top of pyramid kinds of things to me.

“Social needs” is the next category.  This is where I think this thing begins to really unravel.   Acceptance, group membership, association with a successful team, love, and affection are all listed in this category.  My biggest beef with this tier is that they don’t account that some us are lone wolves.  I’ve never really wanted to be associated with a successful team.  For me, it doesn’t matter if team is successful or not.  What matters to me is if I agree with this team’s objectives, goals, politics, and worldview.  Success, in this case, is totally irrelevant.  More importantly, I don’t think of myself as ever wanting to be on a team proper.  If, organically, a group of people come together for something, that’s one thing, but, if something pre-exists as some sort of “official” organization, I’m highly skeptical of it.  I’m not saying that all things of this nature are inherently bad.  I’m not Scott Walker attacking unions.  I’m just wanting anything that I would be a part of to be sincere and earnest … no bullshit.  I just want things to authentic.  Most people I’ve met will be part of something without fully understanding it, or just because they feel like they have to.  Bad idea.

Next, we have the “need for self-esteem.”  This includes important projects, recognition of strength, recognition of intelligence, prestige, and status.  Okay, this tier just pisses me off.  More and more, this thing sounds like it’s part of some sort of corporate conference or self-help seminar.  What exactly does it mean by “recognition of strength”?  I’ve never desired such a thing.  Of course, I’m not strong mentally or physically, but still, I don’t quite get it.  Recognition of intelligence?  What?  As crazy as this sounds, we are at a point where someone’s intelligent is another person’s stupid.  Often times, people who are pretty bright are called stupid, and people who are kind of dumb are considered brilliant.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at American politics.  Also, several times in my life I’ve come out of a movie that I thought was great, had a lot to say and was smart about saying it only to overhear an overwhelming majority of the crowd complain that didn’t understand and thought it was stupid.  While I know there are actual ways to measure intelligence (some of which I’m unsure about), this concept of intelligence is too subjective and abstract.  However, my biggest problem with this tier is the inclusion of status.  Again, I don’t think everyone desire status.  I certainly don’t.  If anything, I tend to mock those that have it, not out of jealousy either, but rather out of a lack of enlightenment to realize such pursuits are bullshit to the nth degree.  The idea of wanting to elevate yourself above others by achieving or buying things is fucking strange.  Now, you could make the argument that because I expect people to like the same movies or whatever that I considered smart is hypocrisy; however, I just want all people to be able to think critically and abstractly, which is the opposite of wanting to elevate myself above others.  I want everyone to be on relatively the same level in regards to education.  Yes, tastes and interests will be diverse, but I truly think things would be better in almost every way and maybe more people would see how fucking dumb it is to desire things like status and prestige.  It just divides us.  No time for that shit, especially when everything is falling apart.

Finally, the last category is the “need for self-actualization.”  Again, it’s moving into more abstract concepts.  Challenging projects, opportunities for innovation and creativity, and learning at a high level.  Well, I’ll get into this tier after this anecdotal story.

The strangest thing about Maslow’s Hierarchy is that I know people who don’t really have any of these things that seem to have a stronger desire to live, an enthusiasm for life, seem far more hopeful, and, in some cases, way happier than myself.  I’ve met homeless people who fall into this category.   I like to go on long-ass walks, especially in major metropolitan areas.   Of course, when you do this, you run across homeless people.  Sometimes, if one approaches me for money, I’ll offer to pay for a meal.   A few years ago on the Ohio State campus, I took a homeless guy to McDonald’s, and rather than just buying is meal, giving it to him, and running off, I sat down and ate with him.  Why?  Well, that’s the kind of motherfucker I am.  He was rather chatty, and I was in the mood to listen; we made great dinner partners.  He told me about his life, which basically boiled down to this: a very normal guy who suffered from depression and was an alcoholic, but no family or friends, which meant no support system.  He lost his job and then his apartment.  (Most people will make judgments about his depression and alcoholism being the cause of his homelessness, but hardly anyone will go into the cause as being the outsourcing of jobs overseas for cheaper labor by the capitalist class. So, they can grow even wealthier while this guy is barely making it.  Also, if you that think severe depression is nothing, obviously, you have never been severely depressed.)  He said that his depression came on as a result of not really having anything and was tired of feeling like nothing is going to change his situation (déjà vu  … see, I told you self-awareness is an asshole).  I don’t understand what keeps someone like this going.  I would have cashed in after a few weeks on the streets.  Of course, I knew what was coming.  I knew what his answer would be … and then, he said that he knows that it will get better, that ultimately God wouldn’t let him down.  Of course, I don’t believe in such things, but what kind of a dick would I have been to fucking grill him over that?  I let it slide, and we talked a little more about Columbus, life on the street, and OSU students.  It was interesting.  We parted ways, and I never saw him again, which is strange because I would roam that section of town all the time.  I got to expect certain faces when venturing out for a walk.  Who the fuck knows where he is at now?  Probably dead.

What I find interesting about this situation is, here is a man who doesn’t really have anything mentioned in Maslow’s Hierarchy, but seemed more “okay” with existing than myself: a person that, according to Maslow, has most of my needs met, yet, comparatively, I’m the more miserable one.  He was still optimistic that his situation was going to change.  Not once did this homeless man mention suicide; conversely, I fucking think about all the time.  Therefore, I don’t know how true Maslow’s Hierarchy really is.  It seems very flawed.  Also, upon doing some further reading, his research is questionable.  He only studied highly successful people, which, if true (Wikipedia was my source), distorts the results, don’t you think?

One thing that I do agree with is at the top of the pyramid: having a desire to engage in challenging projects and opportunities to create is something I long for and want very much.  However, let me modify that statement a little bit: having a desire to engage in challenging projects and opportunities to create something that actually has some sort of impact (or is even experienced by more than my family) is something I long for and want very much.  For some reason, this is a big deal to me.  I don’t know why, or from where this desire comes, but goddamn, it’s a strong desire.  Perhaps it’s at the top of this hierarchy because it’s something very few people actually achieve.  Is self-actualization even possible?  That said, while I think Maslow’s Hierarchy is flawed, I don’t think it is without merit.

Currently, I don’t feel like I have accomplished anything in my life.  I am far from being self-actualized.  Every day, I feel like I am letting myself down.  Something feels off and wrong.  I should be doing more.  So far, I haven’t done anything I feel that is worthy of doing.  With that said, if my life’s goal were to masturbate more than any person in the history of the world, shit, I achieved this the summer before fifth grade.  Of course, for whatever reason, I desired more from existence—not really content spillin’ my spermless, pre-pubescent, clear-ass seed on my ALF doll, which was strategically placed near my dong and used to obstruct the view of anyone that were to walk in on me in the event that the lock failed, or, on the rare occasion, I forgot to actually lock the door.  Luckily, ALF’s effectiveness was never put to the test, but I had to play it safe; paranoia forced me to be thorough when it came to my second favorite activity (video games first, of course).  It was a different time back then.  Kids today have the Internet.  We really had to search things out.  I remember watching The Price is Right, hoping they gave away a hot tub, boat, or some tropical vacation just to get a glimpse of one of Barker’s Beauties in a bikini.  After The Price is Right, ESPN an hour of workout shows.  BodyShaping (I had a thing for Jennifer Dempster—yes, even over Kiana Tom) was wonderful show for those of us going through puberty.  Thanks, ESPN.  The show actually did make me a bit more aware of health-related issues.  Who the fuck am I kidding?  I had no interest whatsoever in fitness or health.  This was pre-Internet, so you had to use what you had.

The most embarrassing thing about me is that I actually liked ALF.  At the time, I was old enough to realize that it sucked, but, for some reason, I liked it.  I should have known better. There’s no excuse. Actually, liking this show is the biggest shame of my life.  Yes, I’m serious.  It really bothers me.  I haven’t done anything as stupid as liking ALF.  I wish that I would have gotten to apologize to my dad for making him sit through this shit. Also, my brother’s hair seems to blend well with ALF’s fur.

Part IV: Madness; or The High Cost of Living Delusion-free

“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”

– Sigmund Freud

“To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It’s irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say. The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober.”

– Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh

We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.”

– Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna”

It’s hilarious that we need delusions and lies to make life even bearable.  If we gave them up completely, we would go utterly fucking crazy.  I have, for whatever reason and not by choice, been living without any delusions for some time now.  I have completely lost the ability to lie to myself. And fuck, let me tell you, it’s killing me.  Seriously, I feel like I am on the brink of a breakdown or breakthrough … my money is on the breakdown.

Like I mentioned earlier, I started to feel truly miserable in my late teens.  This was around the time I became depressed, started having suicidal thoughts, and gave up on my own delusions concerning the world and myself.  In other words, I started living in reality.  I felt that things were not as they seemed earlier than that, but this is when it really hit.  It hit hard, affecting my mental and physical health.  My first week of college, I had some sort of mental breakdown and had to withdrawal.  It was an explosion of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness that caused me to go limp, lose feeling in my fingers and toes, and throw up constantly (there was also some crying, but not much).  It was fucking terrible.  Since then, I have only had a handful of these attacks, but when they do happen, it’s some scary shit.  It usually happens when my ideal of something is shattered in an extreme way.  (It hasn’t happened in years because I have no more ideal left to shatter.)  I have spoken with other people about this, but no one seems to truly understand it.  Again, most people deal with the disappointment of life much better than me.

A vast majority of people still have their delusions in tact.  They have some sort of vice or something that they have deemed important and worth living for in order to get them through life.  I don’t have any of those things.  I am free of delusions.  I don’t believe in anything that isn’t knowable anymore.  I have lived in this dark place now for about seventeen years.  I’ve gotten used to it, actually.  I own my misery.  I have, on occasion, tried to change.  However, as soon as I try to break out of it, attempt to fight the odds, or take up a project, I realize that it’s just a waste of time, and, even if I achieve whatever I set out to do, nothing will come of it—fuck, I’ll probably even hate it.   Yeah, I’m stuck here, but luckily, people with this sort of mindset tend to die early.

Religion is another delusion many people have.  It’s an entire system that tells you how you should live, and if you do things correctly, you get rewarded when you die.  I’ve always thought this was one truly stupid mass delusion.  Nothing about it seems even remotely possible, and I’ve always had a seriously difficult time trying to understand why so people buy into this shit.  It really bothers me that people believe thing without proof.  Basing your entire existence on something that isn’t real is very, very dangerous.  Of course, people argue that there are some positives about it, but I don’t think lying to one’s self in order to feel better is a good way to go through life.

Another thing people use to cope and to keep one’s self in a constant state of delusion (perhaps even enhancing delusions) is alcohol and drug use.  I’ve never been a fan of either, never understood their appeal.  I’ve always found it rather boring.  Even though I kind of hate life, I like to be as lucid and as cognitive as I possibly can be.  However, I understand this much more than religion; at least, beer is actually real.  Anyway, I tried these things a handful of times, but it’s not for me.  I’m just not a drug person.

Now, I suppose that I do engage in some activities that may shield me from the harshness of reality.  I do read lot, listen to music, watch movies, and play video games to pass time, but a lot of what I like is just a constant reminder of how bad shit is.  Moreover, even when I’m enjoying myself, I realize that the moment will be over while it’s actually taking place—not since childhood, have I ever been able to enjoy or live in the moment.  Kind of sucks, but that’s me.  Self-awareness is truly an asshole.  That said, I am not an anhedonist.  There are a few things I enjoy.  Also, I laugh all the time, about how fucking terrible everything is.

This scene from Return of the Living Dead really scared the shit out of me. The thought that the state of being self-aware follows you post-death rattled me to the core. The idea that you could be aware that you are dead and feel yourself rot really fucked me up. Did this fuck anyone else up?

If I could, I would go back to braving flash floods, throwing balls at hornets’ nests, playing with gasoline, and may even drink some creek water this time around.  Back then, I believed that anything was possible and had my entire life ahead of me; now, I know that hardly anything is possible and have about forty more years left to deal with it.  Life ends at puberty.  That’s when it all starts to suck.  If I could (but for whatever reason my mind won’t allow it—I’m so self-aware that I realize when I’m lying to myself [the plus is that it makes lying to other people just as impossible]), I would go back to having all my old delusions, living a life where anything is possible, everything is going to be okay, and summers feel like lifetimes.


My Dad Died Twenty Years Ago Today; or When a Parent Dies, It Fucks You Up Good and Proper

Part I:  The Times They Were a-Changin’; or Did Jay Leno Kill My Dad?

June 3, 1992 was the penultimate day of my freshmen year of high school.  On a personal level, the first half of this school year was kind of shitty, filled with acne and about three hours of sleep per night (caused by rarely missing certain late night talk shows and, moreover, not being a morning person).  The second half, surprisingly, got a little better.  There were a couple of people I was forming some real friendships with, people with whom I genuinely felt a connection.  I was growing more comfortable with my personality (which was only truly revealed to those I liked), worldview (which was [is] very bleak), intellect (which was [is] nothing special), and sense of humor (which was [is] esoteric and somewhat mean [at the time, it was a complete reaction to being around people who didn’t dig me all that much—the feeling was mutual and hundredfold, however], but, if you somewhat understood my angle, I had some golden motherfuckin’ moments … way fucking better than Henry Cho).

Well, since I doubt anyone is laughing and there’s an eerie silence when you’re on the stage, I have a feeling it could be an audience member’s watch. Yeah, I’m pretty certain that’s what it is. (To be fair, I haven’t seen your act since you were hosting Friday Night Videos.  You seemed like a nice enough guy, but man, you were really not funny at all.  If it’s any consolation, at least, you’re not Ray Combs.)

While all this was nice, it took a couple of more years for me to become comfortable with my appearance, which was helped greatly by growing out my hair—long hair really worked for me.  If anything, it was a little protest against these lame-ass people who were supposed to be inspiring me to learn, offering me their expert guidance, and providing me their profound wisdom in order to aid me during this pivotal transition from being a teenager to becoming a young adult.  However, none of that wonderful, whimsical, inspirational shit promised to us by various movies and television shows that we were exposed since birth came to fruition: I didn’t have the “one” teacher that got it, spoke my language, understood my problems, and changed my fuckin’ life.  Overall, it was an amazingly shitty assortment of former high school sports heroes, their cheerleader counterparts, and some real sad sacks that offered no real inspiration or advice other than to go to church, major in nursing or education, (and my favorite) “Have you considered joining the Army?”, or just flat-out mocked you because you wanted something more than a job that you hate, an ugly wife, accidental and unwanted children, and the alcoholism or religious fundamentalism that result from trying to cope with having just one or all of the above.  It was a toxic environment that stole my youth, killed my idealism, and turned me into a cynic far too early (seriously, I wish I could have had, at least, a couple of years in my twenties to have had a handful of “Bono at Live Aid” moments or something … instead, I became almost Bukowski-level hardened before I took the ACT).

Conversely, the period at the end of my freshman year was different from what would become my miserable status quo: it was an oasis of idealism before the giant, happiness-destroying sandstorm in the middle of the desert known as adult life.  Really, I don’t know what it was, but there was something strangely satisfying and exciting about this time period, probably a combination of youthful energy and incredible naiveté.  I was sincerely looking forward to the summer of ‘92.  (Hey, cut me a fuckin’ break … I was fifteen and still had hopes and dreams.  Like I mentioned above, I hadn’t lost my innocence yet … it took a couple of more years of disappointment to finally destroy me, and goddamn, those years destroyed me.)

Everything during this time had a sense of newness about it.  Anything could happen.  And there were a lot of things I was planning to do that summer.  I recently discovered music and really enjoyed listening to new bands; I was buying a couple of CDs a week and 120 Minutes, which I started watching when Dave Kendall was the host, was being viewed habitually.  We had an old VHS camcorder that we used to make little improv movies and record just about everything we did.  There would be trips to the comic book store.  There were movies to be seen.  A Link to the Past was going to played over and over again.  Friday nights meant USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear, locked doors, and a very happy dong—meaning a rather relaxed and easygoing me.  I was soaking in all the pop culture I could, and if we shared the same interests and tastes, that is how I determined if I wanted to get to know you.

There were also some game-changing personal decisions that were going to be made that summer.  I was considering cussing for the first time (it’s strange to think there was a point in my life when I didn’t cuss—even stranger, some of my peers were already fuckin’ and suckin’ and pokin’ and proddin’ each other while I was having a needlessly intense internal debate about saying “shit” … Jesus, I was fucking lame).  In addition to finally allowing myself to utter the word “motherfucker,” I decided to be totally open with my thoughts, ambitions, political beliefs and atheism to anyone that seemed interested or asked.  I decided, for better or worse, to be myself.  No hiding.  No pretending.  No alarms.  No surprises.  There I was now, entertain me.  Yes, indeed, things were lookin’ up.  The teen years weren’t going to be a troubling time for me.  It all seemed like it was going to be a great—I was shittin’ kittens … everything was coming up roses.  However, there was some dark and heavy shit coming down the pike that changed the course of that summer and my entire goddamn life.

Mom, when you’re done shopping, I’ll be playing TMNT: The Arcade Game. Could you give me about 50 bucks?

After coming home from my second to last day of school that beautiful June afternoon, I went with my mom to Big Bear Plus (perhaps it was still Hart’s at the time).  She had to do some grocery shopping and pick up my dad’s medication.  Mom was in a somber mood that day; I could tell things were stressing her out, so I gave her some time alone.  I think she liked to get out and do the shopping because it was a brief escape from whatever was going on at home.  Leaving her in the grocery section, I made my way over to the department store side of the grocery/department store combo and browsed through the CDs.

After being intrigued by his performance on Late Night with David Letterman’s 10th Anniversary Special, I bought my first Bob Dylan album that night: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.  On the trip home, I popped it into my portable CD player, skipped to the song I was familiar with, listened intently, and instantly became a huge fan.  I learned more from one listen to that album—of all things, a greatest hits compilation—than I learned in four years of high school.  I didn’t know it at the time (or perhaps I did), but I needed Dylan desperately at that moment.  I needed something that was realistic, idealistic, a little mean, a little hopeful, and smart.  If I would have discovered Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave that evening as well, I may have stopped seeking out new music altogether.

We arrived home and noticed my brother and grandma were at my dad’s side, who had spent the last couple of weeks in a hospital bed set up in our living room.  The entire scene was grim.  The look on my brother’s face gave the situation away.  My dad’s life would be coming to an end very soon.

I helped put the groceries away, and I immediately jetted off to my room.  Whenever I could, I tried to avoid going into the living room.  I couldn’t stand seeing my dad—or anyone—in that condition. Knowing the death of one half of the team that was responsible for giving you life was imminent puts you in a fucked-up state of mind, and I don’t even like life that much.  I had been mentally preparing for this for some time now, but still, the reality of it was quite jarring.  I put myself into my interests to keep sane: there was a lot of music being listened to, video games being played, and television being watched.  Luckily for me, a new interest—better stated, the “ultimate” interest and an entirely new way to live—was on the horizon.  That night, my life would be changed forever.

It was a Wednesday and a friend of mine invited me to an evening service at his church.  I was reluctant to go (I was not in any way a believer), but it would get me out of the house.  So I jumped at the chance.  The service started in rather standard way, but then it turned into a rousing lecture about death and what happens when you die.  It was good to hear these things.  Hearing about heaven sounded great.  I wanted my dad to be there when he dies.  I felt warmth and understanding from everyone at the service, which typically I’m creeped out by these types, but this was different … I finally understood what I’ve been avoiding and mocking all this time.  The positive energy there was overwhelming.   It felt great.  For the first time in my life, I knew that I was part of something bigger than myself.

The need to return home overtook my spirit and body with great urgency; I was in His hands now.  I told my friend that I needed to leave.  He understood.  The church was within walking distance, so getting back was not going to be a problem.  I ran home, and, to this day, it was the fastest I had ever moved in my life.  I was on mission: to make certain that my dad would go to heaven.  I busted through the door, ran to his bedside, and asked, “Dad, have you been saved?”  He only looked at me.  He had been unable to speak for the past few days.  “Have you?” I inquired again.  He slowly shook his head.  I had to work fast.  I wasn’t going lose his soul to the devil.  “Do you accept Jesus?”  He was losing consciousness.  I raised my voice, “Do you accept Him as your savior?”  He was slipping.  My dad was dying right before my eyes.  There was no time left.  I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he quickly regained consciousness and spoke with more, lucidity, clarity and power than I ever heard him speak throughout his life.  In a loud, confident, and powerful voice, he said, “Yes!”  With that, he was gone, but I knew he was at a better place with God.  The last two paragraphs have been total fucking bullshit.  Let’s get back to what really happened.

Since I was really into movies and shit, I was excited that Tim Burton (at the time, I was really into him) was going to be on Later with Bob Costas for two nights in a row promoting Batman Returns.  I had the VCR set to record and was also planning on watching at its regular broadcast time.  (Again, school or not, I have always stayed up as late as I could.)  The show ended at 2:05 a.m.  I pondered the interview, which was pretty good, and called it a night.

Things were far from okay, but I had my little media rituals to keep me in check, to keep me sane. Fuck, I needed something to take the edge off.  My dad’s condition was dire.  In early April of ’92, his cancer was diagnosed as terminal.  He was initially diagnosed with colon cancer just two years previous, which had now spread to every vital organ in his body.  In two years, none of the treatments or experimental procedures had worked.  He was going to die, and I had a front row seat.

The back story of how we got to this point is interesting to know.  His initial diagnosis was a misdiagnosis.  During the summer of 1990, he had been complaining of stomach pains and went to the doctor.  The doctor thought that he had just pulled a muscle and advised him not to engage in any strenuous activities for a month.  This made sense because my dad was always working (his regular job, around the house, for other people), and it almost always included lifting heavy shit.  One night, however, the pain was so severe that he was doubled over in the bathroom, begging my mom to drive him to the emergency room, and in keeping the theme of school playing a role in this saga by providing significant dates of major occurrences, this happened on the first day of school my eighth grade year.  That evening he and my mom were told the shitty news.  However, I didn’t find out the news until that Friday.  I found out that my dad had cancer at a Walmart parking lot.  My grandma (who wasn’t supposed to tell us that day) took my brother and me to buy the first Final Fantasy (I’m still not too crazy about this game) and let the sick cat out of the bag.  “Your dad has got ‘the’ cancer,” she said, not making any eye contact with my brother and me, but directly looking at a Kentucky Fried Chicken yards away.  “It doesn’t sound good.  He might die.  You guys hungry?”  What the fuck do you say to that?

From late-August 1990 until his death, he spent about ten months, off and on, of his final two years in a hospital bed at Ohio State’s James Cancer Center.  There, he was basically a guinea pig.  The cancer was already in its late stages, so, as he said, it only made sense to donate his living body to science.  Once he left there, he returned to work at the water treatment plant, where he worked until a couple of months before he died.

May 1992 started out fine; he was cognitive, lucid, present, and could hold a conversation.  Actually, one of the last conversations we had was around this time (I’ll get to this later).   Then, on May 22, 1992, he began to falter.  His speech was becoming difficult to understand.  He was having trouble writing his name.  He was heavily medicated and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  His mind and body were breaking down.  May 22, 1922 was also Johnny Carson’s last Tonight Show and was the last time I heard my dad’s voice.

On June 4, 1992, a little over a week after the Leno takeover, my mom at around 5:30 or 6 in the morning awakened me.  She was sitting on the edge of my bed, quietly calling my name, “Shane … Shane …”  This already felt dreamlike, and I knew what she was going to say.  “What?” I said in a voice more quiet than a whisper.  “Your dad is dead, honey.  He died last night in his sleep.”  Like I mentioned earlier, I had been preparing for this moment since his initial diagnosis two years prior.  I nodded and the word “okay” made its way out of my mouth; for some reason, it made the most sense for me to say only that.  What else could I say?

Maybe after a week of watching Leno host the Tonight Show, he decided that life isn’t worth it … maybe it finally broke him … maybe he lost his will to live.  I doubt it.  Not even Jay Leno would make my dad want to die.  He was that strong.  My dad really wanted to live.  I’ve always been amazed by this, for I don’t share his enthusiasm for life.

Part II: It’s My Dad’s Funeral, and I’ll Grieve How I Want to; or Why Does that Man Always Dress the Same?

“Are you okay?” asked my mom.

“Yeah,” I replied in a soft voice.

“Do you want to go up and see him?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

The last thing I wanted to do is see my dad’s lifeless body.  The previous night he motioned for my mom to help him upstairs to their room.  He knew that his time was up and wanted to die in his regular-ass bed and not in the one supplied by hospice.  I didn’t want to see him in that bed, a bed I used to fall asleep in watching television with the entire family.  I wanted the last memory of my dad in our house to be him reading the newspaper on the couch, bitchin’ about Republicans.

“Okay,” mom said in an understanding tone.

“Would it be okay if I went to school today?”

“If you want to, you can.”

“Yeah, I think I will.”

I knew that there would be all kinds of people in and out of the house that day.  Most of these people would try to try talk with me and console me.  I suppose this was nice and to be expected, but I didn’t want an earful of religious bullshit, which I knew I would get from several of these people.  The other thing that I didn’t want is to deal with are people who would give me their stupid life advice.  I didn’t want to hear shit like: “Stay strong.  You’re the man of the house now.  Your dad would want it this way.”  I just turned fucking fifteen.  I’m not going to be responsible for the house and shit.  What the fuck did they expect me to do?  What the fuck did this even mean?  Moreover, I’ve never really bought into roles that people think they should fall into simply because of tradition.  In short, I needed to get out of the house to avoid being around people who I didn’t really like that much.  So, it made sense to go to school.  Being the last day, I knew that there would barely be anyone there.  It would be quiet and somewhat relaxing.  For the most part, I was left alone.  The only fucked-up thing of the day was when an announcement was made for dead-dad-flower-money, singling me out by name.  However, when that announcement was made, I was in study hall with people who had no fucking idea who the hell I was.  Regardless, it was just surreal to hear that announced over the PA system by our awkward principal.  It’s such an odd detail, but it left an impression.

I remember getting off the bus that day and running straight to my room.  Again, other than my mom, I didn’t want to be around anyone.  My mom must have been sharing some of my emotions.  I found out that she had left for a good chunk of that day, too.  She went to get clothes for us to wear to the funeral.  My mom would buy things way too big for my brother and me.  In high school, I was 6’ 1” and 115 pounds.  She bought me extra-large and, sometimes, extra-extra-large shirts, but always the correct size in pants—I was 28” around the waist, which I still am, by the way.  Her reasoning behind the shirts was that, eventually, we would grow into them.  My brother and I did not grow into them.  I have remained a small since the age of fifteen.  And while my brother did gain some weight, he hasn’t gained that much weight.  Mom expected us to physically turn into our father.

My dad’s ass.

My dad was as blue-collar worker as you could get (for all I knew, it could have been his ass on the Born in the U.S.A. album cover).  Physically, he was built like a tank: 5’ 11” and about 255 pounds (only about 140 when he died, however).  He wore his blue work shirt and his name tag 90% of the time; it didn’t matter if we were at McDonald’s or a more uppity restaurant (which hardly ever happened).  He also wore an orange toboggan that advertised some chainsaw company about 80% of time.  He had either a regular-ass mustache or a horseshoe mustache living on his face (I preferred the more eccentric horseshoe).  Also, I don’t know if he had terrible taste in eyeglasses, was limited to the choices of the time period, of just didn’t give a fuck (most likely), but he always wore oversized, plastic-rimmed glasses (which seeing him in those frames is one the main reasons I become a contact wearer).  My friends would ask me if he ever changed his clothes and why he wore the same outfit all the time. My dad’s look was locally and arcanely iconic. Even if you didn’t fucking know him, you were aware of his presence.  At about $20,000 a year, he knew what socio-economic class he belonged to and was perfectly okay presenting himself  everywhere as its unofficial ambassador (at the time, maybe a little embarrassing, but knowing what I know now, totally fuckin’ bad ass).  The work shirt was always on.  It was pretty bitchin’.  My mom debated whether or not to bury him in his work shirt, name tag, and orange toboggan.  Looking back, she should have.  It would have been a fitting tribute.  Plus, I know my dad would have liked the money that it saved.

Fuck Fonzie’s jacket and that Indiana Jones shit! This stuff belongs in the Smithsonian.

My dad is on the left.

I was dreading the funeral, for reasons that I already mentioned (ya know, the whole “being around people” thing).  Also, I really hate ceremonies and traditions.  They have always felt forced and silly to me—anyone been to a wedding?  I talked to my mom about skipping out on both the showing and the funeral.  At first, she was against the idea, but she slowly reconsidered and gave me the option to choose one or the other.  I chose the showing because it was less formal.  There would also be more opportunities to hide at the showing.  And, of course, there were.  And, of course, I took advantage of them.  At the time, I remember my mom facing some criticism for allowing me to skip out on the funeral.  In her defense, she knows me more than any of those that criticized her.  She knows how I deal with things.  I got more out of grieving alone than being around people who only knew me because we were related, or because they knew my dad.  Moreover, when I reflect upon that decision, I don’t feel any regret.  I’m still very comfortable with not attending and would make the same decision if we fired up the DeLorean and went back.

My sanctuary from avoiding the crowd was short-lived that Saturday.  Slowly, people started arriving at our house after the funeral for some sort of post-funeral gathering.  A friend of mine, that I was drifting apart from—due to me letting my freak flag fly high and his increasingly obvious well-adjusted, normalcy, came into my room to see how I was doing.  The conversation was fine.  We really didn’t discuss the elephant in the room, which, of course, was a dead fuckin’ dad.  Instead, we just behaved normally, but with a sense of “things aren’t going to be the same” or “we are losing our innocence” kind of feeling looming over us.  On the television, MTV was playing Unplugged performances.  Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” was a big fuckin’ deal that summer.  I remember uncomfortably sitting through that, which was followed by Mariah Carey’s cover of “I’ll be There.”  I remember saying, “I don’t like this.”  “I think it’s good,” my friend replied.  “No, it’s schmaltzy and trying too hard,” I quickly countered.  I then turned the channel, and something caught my eye on TNN: Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart”—an even bigger fuckin’ deal that summer.  Upon seeing and hearing the video and song, a wave of cynicism far stronger than my current state of grief came over my body.  It was a turning point because I was beginning to understood “why ” and “how” things suck.  I was picking up on just how overall shitty our culture was (is).  Yes, things were not going to be same, and I was losing my innocence.  It was a catchy song, though … I’ll give it that.

Part III: It Just Ends, and You Don’t Get Goddamn Parade; or It’s R.E.M. not REO …

While most other kids were doing normal teenage things: hanging out with friends, talking on the phone, going on dates, getting drunk, smoking cigarettes and weed, huffing paint thinner, popping pills, snorting coke, shooting heroin, developing a gambling problem, stealing from their grandparents, beating their mothers senseless, kissing, fucking, participating in orgies, and having babies, I was at home watching my dad slowly die of cancer.  I really missed out on a lot.  I wish I could have gotten to do some—or all—of those things.  I would have loved to have had a kid when I was in high school.  That would have been a lot of fun.  Instead, I was relegated to my room, alone with my thoughts, television, magazines, comic books, Super Nintendo, and CDs.  Honestly, though, it wasn’t that bad at all.  I was lucky enough to meet a few other people who were living in less than ideal circumstances.  Divorce, poverty, right-wing extremist or religious fundamentalist (typically, one in the same) parents, and just general fucked-upness were just some of the conditions that brought us together.  Comedian Marc Maron dubbed it “trauma-bonding,” which is a more than apt description for this cultural phenomenon.  (I know that this is an actual psychological term, but the way Maron described it really fits here.  Let me have it, please.)  Having the knowledge that life is fucking painful is probably one of the best conditions for a good friendship.  I could never stand being around people who were either too dumb to understand how shitty things were, or were too cowardly to admit it.  Miserable people are always more interesting, and, yes, more fun to hang out with.  Seriously, name me a truly happy person that is genuinely funny.

My father’s death changed me, but in ways I’ll never know.  I don’t know how my life would have different if he didn’t die, survived cancer, or was never diagnosed to from the get-go.  I only know that it would, in fact, be different, just not “how” it would be different.  Sometimes, I wonder if we would even get along.  I think that we would.  I know that our politics would line up, and that’s a big one (both sides of the family seemed to be left-leaning, which ranged from your standard, boring-ass Democrats to radical, but ineffectual socialists).  So, at least, our basic worldviews would line up enough not to cause me to be kicked out or disowned.  Having that in common means that communication about anything would be more effective.  I’ve seen kids with differing basic beliefs than their parents, and it’s fucking awful.

Would my interests be any different?  For example, would I be into fishing, beer, and know how to work on cars?  Fuck no, I wouldn’t.  Regardless if he were alive, I still wouldn’t have any concern for that shit.  No amount of bonding or love could make me be interested in something I had zero interest in and can’t stand doing to begin with.  Also, I’m not good at pretending to like things just to make the workflow run more smoothly.  So, no, I wouldn’t be hanging out in the garage just to spend time with him or something.  I would be inside playing video games and masturbating.  However, while situations involving cars, fish, and beer were not going to lead to meaningful, bittersweet father/son moments filled with fucking life lesson after life lesson, we would have shared other things.  We both had a strong dislike of sports and the culture surrounding it.  We both had similar tastes in movies and music, and I know we both thought Lynda Carter in her Wonder Woman outfit and Elvira were sights to behold (I’m eventually going to dedicate an entire blog about Wonder Woman, Elvira, and some key “others” being responsible for my sexual awakening.)

Here’s another one. Why? Do you even have to ask?

However, I don’t know if he would appreciate my negativity and depressive nature.  One thing my dad was not was a negative person.  He wasn’t some lighthearted, stupidly optimistic fool either.  Instead, he was a pragmatic idealist, if such a thing is possible.  My dad was more the tortoise than the hare.  He was methodical and deliberate.  Things could be falling apart around him, but he remained calm.  He thought in the long-term.  Every decision was well thought out and executed.   I have only some of that in me.  I tend to over think everything and never make a decision at all.  Overall, other than some controlling aspects regarding my mom (which are duly noted), he was a pretty good guy.  There are two major things that I know I inherited from my dad: his resigned, passive, but intense personality (which I will explain in greater detail) and his sense of humor.

Yes, another one …

Let’s start with his personality; for better of worse, it was transferred to me.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a good nor bad thing.  Personalities are complicated and can change according to what situation you are in and what company is kept.   For instance, if you know someone really well, you are going to behave differently than you would around a total fucking stranger.  My dad’s default personality was stoic, stubborn, and quiet.  That’s how most people saw him.  When he would enter a room, he would size it up, try to figure out what people were like simply by observing them.  He wasn’t the type of person that comes in and talks to everyone like they have known you for years—a trait that I can’t stand, along with people that feel the need to touch you when they don’t know who the fuck you are, like the people that hug “hello.”  If my dad, for whatever reason, decided that he didn’t like you or that there wasn’t enough common ground, he would completely shut down, not say a word.  Even if he found himself in a group of people that he overall liked, if there was just one person that he didn’t gel with or ruined the group dynamic, he would hardly speak.  (For those that know me well, doesn’t this sound familiar?)  On the other hand, if he liked you and felt comfortable around you, he could be very warm and chatty.  I think behavior like this is wrongly categorized as shyness.  It isn’t really shyness.  I always thought it was about not wasting anyone’s time.  I look for kindred spirits and real connections, so did he.  If there isn’t a connection, the conversation will be like pulling teeth.  Really, it’s just being self-aware enough to know if you’re going to like someone or not, which, in my opinion, is much, much different from shyness.

Last one … I promise.

The second thing I know I inherited from my dad was his sense of humor.  My dad was funny, but an acquired taste (of course, everything’s subjective).  He definitely wasn’t that fucking Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler type of bullshit: making faces, talking in “funny” voices, and trying way too hard.  That schtick gets old quick.  Have you ever been around someone who is an aspiring comedian and this type of humor is their style of choice?  It’s unbearable.  Really, it’s one of the worst things to have to be around; as if their comedy stylings aren’t bad enough, it’s only made worse because they believe everything that comes out of their mouths, every contorted face, and every over-the-top gesture is a comedy gem.  Fuck ‘em.  It’s so draining to be around.  Anyway, I’ve digressed enough.  Let’s bet back on track.

My dad would come home from work around midnight.  From the earliest I can remember until about the age of twelve, I would be in the living room, waiting for his arrival.  As soon as he came in the door, he immediately found his way to the couch.  I would go sit beside him.  Then, he would take his big hand and stick it down my pants, gently rubbing my penis.  (No, I’m just fuckin’ with you.)  I would remain in the floor with a blanket and pillow.  He was parked on the couch.  For the next two to four hours, we would be glued to the television.  Both of us were night people (actually, my entire immediate family was nocturnal), and luckily for us, local stations used to play b-movies all night.  WBNS in Columbus had Nite Owl Theater.  WOWK out of Huntington, West Virginia had Elvira’s syndicated show.  Also, since my mom worked at a video store, movies were brought home every night; we always had something new to watch.  Everyone in my family appreciated great filmmaking, but my dad and I recognized that most mainstream movies were so mediocre that they weren’t worth the trouble watching.  For every Taxi Driver, you would get several cheesy romantic comedies or bland, trying-too-hard-to-be-great-would-be masterpieces.  We preferred low-budget, fucked-up, and strange.  If it had monsters, aliens, beautiful women, and looked like they had just a week to make the fucking thing, the more we liked it.

As we would watch whatever bottom of the barrel opus rolling through the VCR on any given night, my dad would begin commenting on the movie Mystery Science Theater-style, but way fucking edgier and better.  His quick wit and impressive knowledge of a variety of things ranging from an obscure Rolling Stone’s song to the Sandinista National Liberation Front was impressive; the man knew his stuff.  He may have not have had a college degree and the high income and status typically (and wrongly) associated with jumping through those hoops, but the motherfucker was bright.  (Actually, a friend of mine’s dad that made a shitload more money and has a couple of degrees believes that dinosaurs are a lie and evolution isn’t real because it contradicts the Bible; my dad knew better than that shit, and he only went to high school.)  He was able to weave highbrow and lowbrow together, which I’ve always felt creates the best anything.  He could be lighthearted, whimsical, but still dangerous and menacing.  He could go to some very dark places: no subject was off the table.  Most importantly, he could provoke thought in an entertaining and funny way.  He was a good “dad” to have around.  Other dads were just dicks.  Seriously, some people’s dad’s I knew were mean as shit.  Not fun, man … not fun.

I watched Nite Owl Theater every night with my dad. The Gamera movies were some of our favorites.

My dad had a real edge to him, a “hipness” and “awareness” that other dad’s seemed to lack.  I remember going to friends’ houses and would be shocked by how dull their parents were.  I couldn’t believe people came from such joyless and humorless homes.  Most dads were not funny at all let alone edgy and dark.  My friends’ fathers seemed like men that were already dead, but just didn’t know it yet.  Seriously, they all seemed so boring, lifeless, mean (without humor), and shitty.  It bothered me.  I hated going to certain kid’s houses.  I would always want people to visit my house.  At my house, we could be ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong.  There were rules, but they weren’t stupid, arbitrary ones that just seemed pulled of someone’s ass to keep their children from having any type of fun.  The rules laid down by my parents seemed more rooted in safety and health rather than pissing off God by some crazy interpretation of a fucking commandment.  In other words, if your parents were super-religious, it wasn’t fun to go to your house … it was just fuckin’ creepy: kids that had alcoholic parents were more fun to be around than that shit.

I hope it’s obvious that my dad’s sense of humor was passed on to me; it’s the one aspect of my dad that I remember most fondly.  I liked that he didn’t stop himself from thinking or discussing certain things.  I liked that he didn’t pander to whoever was in the room.  I liked that he rattled some cages.  I liked that he would go after people that he thought were terrible human beings; I liked that, sometimes, he would be just has hard, even harder, on himself for lesser things than those he was criticizing.  For the both of us, no subject is taboo.  We will go anywhere, now matter how fucked-up or offensive it potentially is to others. I like how serious, intense, and dark he could go, not only with his humor, but in his thoughts in general.  However, my dad was able to come out of the darkness.  I can’t seem to do that.  My lighthearted and whimsical days are, for the most part, dead and gone.

Being dark, hopeless, depressive, pensive, and brooding are all components of my default mode.  For me, suicidal thoughts are just like breathing or my heartbeat, totally involuntary.  I don’t know how he was able to crawl out of this pit, but he did.  He could drop some pessimistic gem of comedic misanthropy and then go back to enjoying the sunset.  What the fuck, man?  How the fuck, man?  His ability to never allow himself to be truly depressed for a significant amount of time, even though he could go to these dark places, is the major difference in our personalities.  He had the ability to think and grasp the futilities and meaninglessness of existence, but was able to not dwell on them.  I can’t do this.  I think this is something that I got from my mom.  She can dwell on things for quite some time; however, she’s even able to eventually let go.  Me, on the other hand, I’m somewhat enjoy the misery and darkness.  I stay there, all the time.

My dad, when faced with terminal cancer, wanted to live.  He was fighting for his life every single day.  I was always amazed by his desire to live.  I remember looking downstairs once while mom was helping him eat.  I just watched the two of them.  It was so difficult for him to even chew, but he was doing whatever he could, trying his hardest.  When the day comes that I am diagnosed with terminal cancer (which could be any day now), I know myself well enough to know that I won’t have that “fight” in me.  I won’t try to beat death.  If anything, I could see myself trying to speed up the process.  Again, this is the biggest difference between my dad and me: he was a glass-is-half-full-kind-of-guy, and I’m a glass-is-completely-empty-and-has-a-crack-in-it-kind-of-guy.

A few weeks before my dad got so bad that he couldn’t even speak, he came into my room for a talk.  This was the last time I spoke with him in any significant way.  I was in the floor watching television.  Typically, I would remember such a stupid detail of what I was watching (I’m like that), but, for some reason, I don’t any idea what it was—don’t remember at all.  All I know is that I didn’t even bother to turn it off.  We were both aware that this was going to be one the last times we would speak to each other, and I didn’t even bother turning off the television.  However, I don’t think he gave a fuck.  He really didn’t come in to teach me any profound lessons or share some secrets of life.  He just came in to have a casual conversation, as if he didn’t have terminal cancer and everything was normal, and perhaps he didn’t share these things because they don’t exist.  I know there are people out there that believe in such things, that think you can follow certain rules and your life will turn out just peachy, but I am not one of those people.  To me, life seems very random and unfair, and despite what self-help books, daytime television, various religions, and the . salient exemplars of allegorical myths that tell you that you can do anything under capitalism, it is.  Life is pretty shitty.  Don’t buy into that fairytale ending bullshit.  Things don’t really work out.  Being good doesn’t lead to a great life.  Bad people are not punished.  Seriously, we have very little control over anything.  You don’t live life … life lives you.  Illness and death are perfect examples of that.

It’s been twenty years since my dad has died.  I think about him constantly.  Like I said, my life would probably be rather different had he not died.  I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents, but after my dad’s death, the bond between my mom and me has grown very strong.  I wonder if that was a direct result of his death or something that just would have happened with age.  Therefore, I wonder how close we would have become.  It would be nice to have another person around that knows you really well, just to simply have long conversations about things that more well-adjusted people wouldn’t dare discuss.  My family has always been a little fucked-up and edgy in this way.  It hasn’t been the complete “family” experience without him.  It’s kind of tragic, really. I feel like I really missed out on something that could have made life more interesting, entertaining, and possibly even bearable.

However, one of the most tragic things about his death was a miscommunication during one of our last conversations.  He noticed that I had been buying a lot of CDs and wanted to know some of the bands I was into.  I mentioned some of them.  When I said R.E.M., he stopped me.  “You like REO Speedwagon?” he said with a tinge of shock and disappointment.  He was weak, going through chemo, and it just didn’t feel right to correct him.  I said nothing.  “No.  No.  You like what you like.  You are what you are.  They have a couple of songs that are okay … I guess,” he told me as he was leaving my room.  I’ve been carrying the weight around that my dad died believing I was a huge REO Speedwagon (a band that I don’t have a strong opinion about either way, but isn’t really my style).  Also, the last movie he saw in the theater was Lethal Weapon 3.  Not a good way to go out.

Yes.

Not really.

No.

I remember being at the funeral home and looking down at his lifeless body, thinking how about surreal and dreamlike this entire thing was.  I then retreated to the back of the funeral home, away from everyone.  I noticed a room where no one was going, and I claimed it as my own.  After seeing my brother breakdown, which—to this day—was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen, and the fact I don’t like to be around people, I found refuge in this empty room.  Slowly, however, a few people began to trickle in, but they mainly left me alone.  I think they knew not to fuck with me.  They could tell I was deep in thought, probably even looked comatose.  I was just sitting there, thinking about how a person’s existence can be totally wiped out, and, other than a handful of people, really close family members and friends, no one really cares … and even among these people, emotions quickly fade and you become a name of a person in craft services in the end credits of a movie no one even bothered to see.  They go on with their lives, whatever the fuck “life” is, and that’s it.  Minutes turned into an hour, I was still sitting in that fuckin’ room, just one room away from my father’s lifeless body, thinking about how pointless it is.  In death, your life isn’t really celebrated.  You don’t get any parade.  You just get people off of work a day or two.  You don’t exist anymore.  You’re dead, and the most tragic thing about it is that it fucks up the people who were the closest to you, forever and in huge ways. One hour then turned into four, the showing was almost over, and I was still just sitting there in introspection, pondering the meaninglessness of life, the various personal and financial problems on the horizon, and if we were able to even keep our house.  I was fucking scared.  Twenty years later, I still am … more so of life, not so much of death.

This one’s for you, dad.


People with Meek, Shitty Voices Shouldn’t Date Each Other; or Hell is Listening to These Two Talk

Image


Demon’s Souls as a Metaphor for Life; or The Reason I Play Video Games is Because They Are More Fair Than Reality

Part I: It’s Either This or Suicide; or Since We Can’t Solve the World’s Problems, Let’s Not Even Try

As hard as this game is, it’s still easier than shitty-ass real life.

You know what I’m sick of?  People that make fun of or bitch about people who play video games, proclaiming those that play video games as “not having a life” or as “not being productive members of society.”  Seriously, what the fuck do you people do that’s so goddamn great?  I don’t rip you new ones for keepin’ up with Kardashians or thinking that Chuck Lorre-produced sitcoms are actually fuckin’ funny?  Okay, I do, but video games are way fucking better.  Also, what do you assholes mean by “not having a life” and  “not productive members society” anyway?  If “not having a life” means not having sex or not going out to bars and shit like that (typically, those making such claims seem to be implying as much), then, fuck it, I’m sticking to video games.  Also, saving Princess Zelda and catching all the Pokemon is being productive because in video games, unlike real life, there’s actually a goal that can be reached: there’s a point; there’s meaning.  Anything that I really want (or wanted to do) in my real life isn’t even fuckin’ possible, so if my real life goals are impossible, I may as well achieve some virtual ones that are.  (However, MMOs are a different beast.  They never really end, so they are more like real life.  For example, I played DC Universe Online, but after a month, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I needed a nice ending cutscene to let me know I did something.  They are too much like real life—long, pointless, and not at all that satisfying.)

Anyway, if you are one of these people who have a problem with video games, then, on behalf of the millions of people who play them, fuck you!  I’ve met several of these “serious” social critics over the course of my disappointing life.  Typically, these are some of the most weird-ass, uninformed people you’ll ever have the misfortune of being around.  In their delusional eyes, video games are the new rock music—the new Marilyn Manson causing Columbine—responsible for all of society’s problems.  Man, I would love to live in a world in which such serious, complicated problems have such fucking simple, illogical solutions.  For example, convicted money launderer and former Republican Party House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, actually blamed Columbine on the teaching of evolution in public schools … see, very logical, makes perfect sense.  Case closed.  Man, what the fuck happened to us as a species?

It must be nice to be kind of dumb.  Really, I’m serious.  These people seem just as happy and content as they are angry and stupid.  Fuck, at least, they still feel something.  Increasingly, I’m so overwhelmed and aware of the world’s problems that I’m beginning to absorb all of its negativity, making me only feel an overall general disconnect and a sick numbness to my own condition and situation (which is pretty fucking bleak), but hypersensitive to everything else (which is also pretty fucking bleak).  I’m like John Coffey.  Seriously, here are some of his lines: “Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.  I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day.  There’s too much of it.  It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time.  Can you understand?”   Hell yes, I can understand.  That’s I how feel all of the time, too.  However, I’m fuckin’ useless.  I don’t heal anyone; I just make everyone around me just as depressed and miserable as I am.  Also, I don’t have the option of being executed to remove myself from the unbearable heaviness of being.  Of course, there’s always suicide, but c’mon, that takes real courage and commitment.  I don’t have such qualities.

I have a feeling these people are kind of dumb, but they’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit. Also, look at those fucking teeth!  Fake-ass teeth, fake-ass people, fake-ass world. Why can’t these people feel suicidal? Oh, that’s right, you have to live in reality to actually understand just how terrible and hopeless things really are.

Society really needs to stop calling people who kill themselves cowards—nothing is further from the truth.  It takes a person of great conviction to complete the act, real “go-getters” and “risk-takers” that—if it weren’t for them being such good, decent, and sensitive people (I sense this about many that commit suicide) that see through corporate bullshit—would make great business executives because they have what is known as “follow-through,” which is essential for the driving entrepreneurial spirit that our great nation was founded upon (sadly, there are people that actually believe this shit).  As for myself, I don’t even have it in me to change my underwear on daily basis, so suicide is definitely out of the question (see, it really does take commitment, planning, and dedication).  When you realize that your life is truly insignificant and you don’t really have anything to look forward to, you don’t bother with such things.  For instance, you don’t give a fuck if your room is clean and orderly.  It’s not on the fucking radar.  It’s not fucking important.

A person that shall remain nameless once said to me, “When you’re not as messy and more organized, you’ll feel better about everything.”  I quickly replied, “No, that makes your ass feel better, not mine.  Besides, I’ve tried that, and it didn’t make anything any better.  All it did was create the following scenario: my life is still shitty, meaningless, and hard … the entire world is falling apart, but goddamn, this room is spotless!”  Really, if something as trivial as having a clean room can make you happy, well … to me, that’s kind of fucking sad.  Those of you that are “truly” miserable understand this, but those that are not miserable or the type of assholes that try to relate by passing off your “mild disappointment” as major depression or those really bizarre people who think that life is just a party, well … I don’t know what to say.  I’ve never really been in that frame of mind, so I’m not even going to pretend I know what that’s like.  How the fuck do you get there, to that plane of existence?  Let me know, so I can join you and ruin that, too.  But, seriously, how do we sleep while our beds are burning?  I’m surprised so many people go through life without giving serious problems much thought.  Again, it must be nice to be kind of dumb.

Part II: Hey Mom, You’ll Find Me In Closet Thinking About Some Deep Shit; or Merry Fuckin’ Christmas, You Idealistic Fuck

You were better than most people.

Video games entered into my life in late 1987.  Looking back, at ten-years-old, I was the perfect age for Nintendo’s first console.  I really needed something that I could actively participate in that didn’t involve sports (I was [and still am] a tiny person—plus, I never looked up to professional athletes or the more athletic kids in my class, always seemed like real cocksuckers to me), school (up until high school, I was an “A” student [like that even fucking matters], but regardless of doing well, I hated it), church (never went, but was constantly invited—the last place I wanted to be was with Christians, always found them scary as fuck), or anything that involved being around most other kids (they bored, annoyed, and didn’t understand me).  I preferred (and still do) solitary activities (for example, I would rather masturbate than partake in an orgy—I’ve turned down a couple of invitations to orgies thus far in my life, just not my thing).  It wasn’t like I didn’t try to participate in a few things, but communication was way off—I couldn’t talk to my peers worth a shit, had nothing in common with any of them.  They just didn’t seem know anything; they couldn’t talk about anything with any detail, passion, or depth, so fuck ‘em.  I was on my own.  Anyway, I needed something challenging that also provided some amount of fun.  Therefore, video games and my personality were a great fit.  They were the friends that I just didn’t have.  Now, did video games change my life?  I don’t know if I would go that far, but they certainly left quite an impact (actually, they seem to be more important to me now than then, but I’ll get to that later … okay, upon thinking about, they did change my life).

For the Christmas of ’87 (it feels strange to admit that I even celebrated Christmas—I was never religious, however), I asked for the NES and The Legend of Zelda, and that was it.  If I got these two things, everything would be okay in the twilight years of my childhood (sadly, just a couple of years later, I started growing hair around my dong—and, trust me, it all went downhill from there).  Like most kids on Christmas mornings, my brother and I always got up really fucking early.  This particular year was no exception; I can’t speak for my brother, but this was the most exciting Christmas that I could remember, better than the year we got all the Constructicons and Areialbots.

It was a tradition in my family for my parents to put the presents under the tree while my brother and I were sleeping (never bought the concept of Santa, but I went along with it because, for some reason, I liked it … it was kind of fun, made things more exciting).  It was always a great feeling to look at the tree on Christmas Eve with nothing underneath it and go to bed only to wake up to an explosion of color caused by the wrapped gifts and the decorated tree itself.   (If I’m honest with myself, nothing has rivaled that “Christmas morning” feeling thus far in my adult life.  These memories will be on loop as I approach death.)

Anyway, I did, in fact, get the two items I requested, but it turned out to be a disaster.  Why?  Well, the console itself didn’t work.  Something was horribly wrong, and we couldn’t even get the goddamn thing turned on; it was dead … no power, no red light, no Mario, no Zelda, no happiness.  I begged both my mom and dad, throughout the morning, for assistance, but they were too busy getting ready to make the rounds of various family gatherings, bracing themselves for the upcoming sad parade of alcoholics, drug addicts, chronic gamblers, mental patients, and suspected child molesters (and all of those things just described “one” fuckin’ guy on my dad’s side).  I didn’t want to deal with that shit; of course, they didn’t either.

… and featuring Karl Marx as Santa.

Somehow, I convinced them to let me stay at home and try to remedy this problem … fix this broken machine, which, at that point in my life, was the greatest personal tragedy I had faced.  I was a tenacious little fuck.  I was doing anything and everything that I could to get that motherfucker to work.  I almost asked for a Christmas miracle from a “God” I didn’t believe in, and if that didn’t work, I was going sell my soul to Satan, which, of course, I didn’t believe in either.  Obviously, when you start thinking things like this, you’re pretty fuckin’ desperate, but I wanted this to work more than anything.  This combination of desperation and desire was rather distinct; I remember it to this day, for it is kind of what I feel like all the fucking time.

Anyway, nothing I did worked.  The thing was broken.  I was devastated.  For the remainder of the Christmas break, I spent all of my time in my closet.  Now, this wasn’t entirely unusual for me.  I used to sleep in my closet.  For some reason, I really liked (and still do) small, confined spaces; I slept much better in the floor of my closet than I did in my bed.  Plus, subconsciously, I was just getting myself used to less-than-ideal and uncomfortable situations, prepping for myself for my inevitable homelessness.  In my closet, there was this area underneath a shelf where I would curl up into a ball and cry.  At first, my crying spells were based on truly petty circumstances: my fucking NES didn’t work and I couldn’t play The Legend of Zelda.  However, within a couple of days of being in that closet, something happened: I began to realize just how terrible life is going to be.  I started thinking about my parents and my brother, about how, one day, they were going to die.  I started thinking about how no matter how much progress we make as a species, no matter how much knowledge we gain, the sun is going to go supernova and everything human beings have accomplished will be wiped out (of course, we are well on our way to destroying ourselves before that even happens, which I thought about, too).  Basically, I came to terms that our lives are meaningless.  The Christmas of ’87 fucked me up good and proper.  I’ve never been the same since.  December 25, 1987 was the official end of my innocence.

That’s right. Nothing really matters. You can create your own meaning in life, but self-awareness makes you realize that you are assigning meaning to the meaningless, thereby rendering your self-created meaning to the meaninglessness meaningless. You are all just lying to make yourselves feel better. I dare you to stop.

Part III:  Well, I’ve Got About Fifty More Years of This Shit; or Playin’ the Existential Blues on the Ocarina with the Other Skull Kids

Since the meaninglessness was (is) inevitable, I decided that video games were my distraction of choice.  From 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, most of my free time was occupied with video games.  I loved them.  I truly loved them.  The more difficult the game, the more I liked it.  I was fucking good at them, too.  My explanation as to why is because, at the time, video games were solitary endeavors.  I didn’t have to be part of a group or a team.  It was just myself on my own time trying to get through these damn things.  As I said before, this suited my personality.  It was a great relationship, better than most marriages.  It was a wonderful way to end  childhood and a pretty good way to start adolescence.

During this period, Nintendo was king (I was a Nintendo loyalist until this current generation).  The NES paved the way for the Super Nintendo with the Game Boy acting as a buffer between them.  I owned them all.  I loved them all.  Then, something strange happened, I was buying fewer and fewer games and started to become interested in other things: film and music.  I always had an interest in film, but how could I actively participate in it?  Well, I couldn’t, so that left music.  Guitars were affordable and assessable, so it only made sense to go in this direction.  The next decade of my life (late high school until the end of college) was wasted doing things related to music.  Unlike video games, I rather sucked at music.  I was a horrible lyricist and had a terrible singing voice.  I wish someone had set me down, told me pawn my guitar, and go pick the controller back up.

(Now, to be honest, I didn’t entirely give up on video games; they just weren’t the primary focus of my life anymore.  There were certain IPs that I could never resist: Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, etc.  So, yes, I did own a Nintendo 64.  And I don’t want to downplay the experience of playing through Ocarina of Time; it was bitchin’, but for some reason, at the time, I was attempting to be less solitary.  What the fuck was I thinking?)

After I graduated from college, I thought things would fall into place: a decent job would be obtained or something unusual or exciting would happen.  But, nothing at all happened.  I found myself working in fast food, telemarketing, and retail.  I was (am) miserable.  Fuck, nothing in life was working out.  Most people who reach this point deal with it by getting married and (accidentally) having children (which, in my opinion, is a terrible idea—“hey, our lives are kind of shitty; let’s make some more people” … I’m not feelin’ it) or by heavy drinking, popping pills, and that kind of shit.  I’ve never been a drug person.  After even trying some of it, I’m still not a drug person.  I don’t get it.  Perhaps I haven’t hit rock bottom yet or don’t have the personality for it; regardless, for whatever reason, I don’t like that shit.  It’s boring.  However, I needed something to take the edge off of the drag of being alive.  So, what the fuck did I do?  I dealt with the misery the same way I did when I was less miserable and still  I had the hopes and dreams of my youth: I played video games

Fuck man, I have to go a job I hate for the rest of shitty life!

In order to alleviate the utter demoralization that most people experience, with even the slightest amount of dignity and self-awareness, after of working just an hour of a shitty job, I bought Nintendo’s latest console, the GameCube.  Almost overnight, I was back into video games in a huge way.  So, once again, just as in my ass-end of childhood, video games monopolized all my free time.  While many panned the GameCube, I felt it was a pretty solid console.  It had two The Legend of Zelda games, two Metroid Prime games, a Metal Gear Solid remake, and a couple of Resident Evil exclusives.  Its controller remains one my favorite designs in gaming history, and I’ve always loved the color purple.  Honestly, it felt good to be back into gaming.  It was the happiest I had been in quite some time.  Really, some of the best moments of my life have been experiencing certain moments in games for the first time.  Yes, some of them are that fuckin’ good.

Eventually, after one of my shitty jobs came to an end, I found myself being revitalized.  For some stupid-ass reason, I started believing that I could actually do something with my life again, so I gave up on gaming for a second time.  I had some money saved and moved around the country, hoping that something—fucking anything—would happen.  Of course, nothing did, and this just cemented what I always believed:  I’m never going to escape my class or economic situation.  I’m motherfuckin’ stuck.  So, once again, I just wasted more time.  Completely out of money, I moved back home, where my GameCube was waiting on me, wanting to be played.  It’s been far too long, but, fuck yes, the relationship was back on.  She took me back.  I was in love again.

Desperate, I returned to school for a graduate degree in a field that I thought was practical, but had no real interest in at all.  During this period, the new generation of consoles was released.  It was time for an upgrade, but my loyalty to Nintendo was in question.  I played the Wii at my friend’s house and was completely disappointed, worst thing Nintendo has ever created (however, it became their biggest seller).  After 22 years of buying their products, I decided to part ways with the company, not even a new Zelda game could make me stay; I hated it that much.  I have never really been impressed with Microsoft and the Xbox.  Plus, after reading about all the problems they were having with the “red ring of death,” I decided to pass.  That left Sony and their Playstation 3.  However, I was still hesitant about making such a large purchase, but from what I’ve read, the PS3 seemed to be more my kind of machine and their exclusives were more to my tastes.  Then, I read about a game called Demon’s Souls.  That sealed the deal.  I was buying a PS3.

Demon’s Souls appealed to me because it seemed to be a blend of old-school difficulty (over the years, games, on the whole, have gotten a bit too easy) and more modern mechanics, design, and features.  Also, I was really craving a hardcore RPG, something that I could invest a lot of time into and not a game that I could finish after a few evenings of play.  Moreover, the screenshots just looked cool.  The art style looked very mature, serious, atmospheric, and foreboding, but with its own style (the armor, weapon and enemy designs were crazy bitchin’).  Again, I just had a desire to play a game that wasn’t typical of its era, something that was a bit out of the mainstream.  After simply finishing the tutorial, I knew that I made a great purchase.  This game wasn’t for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

Since it’s really a hardcore, underground title, it’s no surprise that Demon’s Souls is a truly unusual game.  There’s a constant feeling of loneliness as you play.  You meet some bizarre NPCs that remind you just how bleak the situation at hand really is.  One guy loses his will to live and fades away into nothing.  There’s no Hollywood-inspired action set pieces or a theatrical orchestral score.  Instead, it features intricate level design, methodical and challenging enemies and bosses.  Also, it has an intimate score that doesn’t drive the action, but colors it; the score seems like a sonic introspection of the game’s situations more than an extraverted exercise in being loud, epic and over-the-top (I’m looking at you God of War).  Honestly, it’s amazing this game was even made, let alone a success.  This is a special game, one that will be remembered for some time.

In my opinion, the Human Centipede isn’t as scary as the Man Centipede. Seriously, one is just defenseless humans sewed together mouth-to-anus, and the other is this fucking thing. Which would rather have chasing after your ass?

The game has some truly fucked up and genuinely frightening moments.  For example, world 3-1 of the Tower of Latria is scary as shit.  It takes place in a prison.  You constantly hear the moans and screams of the prisoners.  Sometimes, when you open up a cell, you see the prisoners trapped in iron maidens, slowly bleeding to death.  You see bodies strewn all over the floor.  Every few minutes, you hear a voice cry out “help me!” in extreme agony.  However, you don’t know who the fuck it is, where the fuck it’s coming from, or how, or even if, you’re supposed to rescue this person.  All the while, you’re in narrow passageways that are being patrolled by enemies called Mind Flayers.  These humanoid octopus-looking things walk around with lanterns and cast powerful magic spells.  There’s a real sense of dread seeing their lights in the distance and then hearing their chimes (or something) as you get closer to them.  Then, in 3-2, there are enemies known as Man Centipedes.  I found them just awful to look at.  I hated knowing that they were out there, and that I may have to encounter them.  It fucked me up.  Maybe it doesn’t sound that bad, but, trust me, reading my description and playing the game are two different things.  The first time through it was scary, but it still wasn’t as bad as the Resident Evil remake for the GameCube—that one scared me so much that, while playing at night, I was afraid to leave my room, causing me to piss in jars and empty them in the morning after a night of playing.

Demon’s Souls also features my most hated level in the history of gaming, world 5-2 of the Valley of Defilement.  It fuckin’ blows.  Ask anyone that has played the game and I’m certain they will say the same thing.  The level is a total pain in the ass.  The water or sludge or whatever the fuck it is that makes up probably 80% of the level is poisonous, so you constantly have to heal yourself (and healing items are not in abundance).  Also, while in the water, you can’t roll away from enemy attacks, which sucks because this level features Giant Depraved Ones, enemies that are hard hitters and very aggressive that you typically encounter on tiny islands with no room to fight.  I have been one-hit killed by these assholes several times during my first playthrough.  Also, the water slows your movements down so much that you’ll think that the frame rate has taken a dive.  Visibility also sucks in this level.  Really, all you can see is a lot black with some faint glows of purple.   5-2 is excruciating, painful, and difficult, but I was determined to keep moving forward.  When a game is hard, but you still want to keep on playing, well, I think you know that you are playing a great game.

Part IV: I Pressed a Button and Did Something Cool; or I Graduated, Got a Job, and Can’t Do Anything at All

Now, how is Demon’s Souls a metaphor for life?  Well, there are several reasons for this, and I’m going to try to tackle some of them right now—however, there’s a twist.  For most of us, life is pretty fuckin’ hard, yet we keep going, much like how we do when we play any video game, not only Demon’s Souls.  In life, our plights feel (and often are) hopeless.  In life, there are no answers, no set paths, and no guarantees.  In life, we are constantly searching for something to help us through tough circumstances; we are just out here guessing and feeling our way through various shitty situations.  At first glance, the exact same thing could be said about video games.  We battle through tough predicaments.  We overcome obstacles.  We search for useful items.  However, in a game, no matter how hard it may be, it’s always possible—it may take some time, but it’s always possible.  In life, this isn’t the case.  You may never find that item you need.  You are unable to level up.  You probably won’t ever earn enough money to afford something you need in order to overcome a challenge (healthcare comes to mind).

Eventually, two years after I bought the game, I finally earned my platinum trophy for Demon’s Souls, which is another way that the game is better than real life.  Now, when you accomplish something in a game (thanks to the trophy and achievement systems), you have something to show for it.  When you do something in real life, often times, you have nothing to show for it.  Yeah, you finish college and get that piece of paper, but it doesn’t mean shit.  It doesn’t lead to a job.  If anything, unlike the reward you get in a video game, in real life, you are penalized with debt and uncertainty.  You can’t enter up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start and get thirty chances at this motherfucker.  You only get one chance.  In real life, you’re probably not going to get very far: you’re fucking stuck.  Video games are nice enough to provide you all the items you need to complete your journey (again, some of these things may be hard to find, but they’re there).  In real life, for the most part, you’re on your own, and with the austerity measures being implemented on a global level, it’s going to be even worse.  The powers that be (mainly financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank) are going to make an already shitty situation even shittier.  And really, since forces out of our control determine so much of our lives, how can we be held accountable for anything that goes wrong in our lives?

If I am the result of the strongest sperm fertilizing the egg, that was the shittiest batch of sperm ever!

Luck has a lot to do with life, maybe everything to do with life.  No one likes to admit it, but it does.  The more realistic, honest, and enlightened will freely admit to such a notion.  Where you were born, to whom you were born, if were you born with any major mental or physical defects are all factors that determine how your life will turn out, far more than hard work and persistence.  For example, much has been written about the crushing difficulty of Demon’s Souls.  Yes, the game is hard, but, once again, it’s not impossible.  The game rewards planning and careful play, which is in contrast to most games currently on the market, so, unlike real life, the game rewards persistence and hard work (a myth that needs to be debunked).

Also, while Demon’s Souls implements luck in your character stats, it’s not much of a factor in the overall game; however, in real life, luck is the determining factor of your entire life.  If you are born in a low-income situation, you will probably remain there, most likely move down in economic class.  Who your parents are, the night they decided to have sex, the strongest sperm reaching the egg out of that particular ejaculate, and the specific egg that was fertilized are all totally fucking random events that are out of our control.  If you’re physically attractive, it’s fucking luck.  If you were born without any a debilitating defects, it’s fucking luck.  Again, if you were born to rich parents, it’s fucking luck.  All of these things are out of our control.  Unlike video games, it’s almost impossible to “level up” to and become strong enough to overcome our situations.  Upward social mobility is almost impossible in this country as writer Dan Froomkin describes in his article “Social Immobility: Climbing the Economic Ladder Is Harder In The U.S. Than In Most European Countries” :

Is America the “land of opportunity”? Not so much.

A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) finds that social mobility between generations is dramatically lower in the U.S. than in many other developed countries.

So if you want your children to climb the socioeconomic ladder higher than you did, move to Canada.

The report finds the U.S. ranking well below Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain in terms of how freely citizens move up or down the social ladder. Only in Italy and Great Britain is the intensity of the relationship between individual and parental earnings even greater.

For instance, according to the OECD, 47 percent of the economic advantage that high-earning fathers in the United States have over low-earning fathers is transmitted to their sons, compare to, say, 17 percent in Australia and 19 percent in Canada.

Recent economic events may be increasing social mobility in the U.S. — but only of the downward variety. Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, for example, argues that America’s middle class had been eroding for 30 years even before the massive blows caused by the financial crisis. And with unemployment currently at astronomical levels, if there are no jobs for young people leaving school, the result could be long-term underemployment and, effectively, a lost generation.

My life is totally stagnant.  I’m part of this “lost generation.”  Nothing is working out.  One thing people need to stop doing is blaming themselves for their misery.  There are far too many people who are fucked and are in the same situation—so many that it would delusional or a complete denial of reality to blame them individually.  The problem is systemic in nature.  For a lot of us, the most you can hope for is 38 hours a week at Walmart wages, but you can’t really live a comfortable life working such a job.  It’s no wonder America has one the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse and violent crime.  When you’re backed into a corner, you’re going to react.  Some will lash out at other people, and some will torture and numb themselves with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  Me, I have video games.

I am anxiously awaiting the release of Dark Souls, a spiritual successor (not a direct sequel) to Demon’s Souls.  Early reports claim that it’s even more difficult than Demon’s Souls, which is fitting because my life is only becoming more and more difficult with every passing second.  I’m about $100,000 in debt from college.  I have no prospects for any “good” job.  I’m 34, unemployed, and live with my mom.  After months of sending out hundreds of resumes and getting no responses, I don’t see much point.  I’m done.  It’s over.  I’m never going to do anything that I wanted to do in my life, even the mundane,  uninteresting shit doesn’t even seem to be a possibility at this point.  I majored in something that I have no interest in because I thought it seemed like a somewhat practical decision, which has now shown itself to be a complete bust.  I’m fucked.

No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I compromise, I’m not winning this game called life.  Fuck, I can’t even get through the first level.  However, what keeps me going is that I know with some serious effort and diligence, I’ll probably be able to get somewhere in Dark Souls, most likely finish it or, if I give it my all, even platinum the game—no matter how difficult it is.  In real life, however, a vast majority of us are stuck, even with occasional access to walkthroughs (help from friends and family).  Eventually, we grow so tired of playing that we decide not even to play anymore.  It’s not worth it.  We aren’t getting anywhere.  It’s broken.  Life is the shittiest game ever.

In video games, there are answers and solutions to problems.  In life, there’s nothing but problems; you’ll hardly ever find solutions to them, and, even if you do, more problems will arise, making existence just a series of meaningless conflicts.  Life, like Demon’s Souls, goes on, and both only get progressively more difficult with each day, each playthrough, but, at least, Demon’s Souls is fucking fair.

This blue asshole lost his will to live in the game. I have lost my will to live in real life.

“What, you again?  The disciples and the magicians in the Nexus despise one another.  Did you notice they never sit in sight of each other?  The fools.  What good comes of childish rivalries?  We are all prisoners here.” – Crestfallen Warrior (the blue asshole)