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.