Jun 9 2014

Falling Away

I never would have guessed he was forty-two; maybe fifty-two, or sixty-two, but certainly not any younger than that.

He passed me an old canteen that’d been roughly handled and beaten for what must have been decades, and told me to take a swig. I obliged and took a pull–and immediately regretted it. He smiled wide, a big, mostly toothless grin, and his laugh crawled forward from his lungs, the sound not unlike sandpaper scratching over an old log, along with the sound of his heaving exhalation that was rasp and nearly hoarse from years of cigarettes and weed.

“JESUS CHRIST.” I gasped, still trying to catch my breath from the liquid fire I’d just ingested.

“Moonshine.” He said as he winked and then nudged me with his elbow, looking for me to pass the deviled drink back to him. I did, having no interest in taking another swig. I already felt drunk from the modest amount I’d had.

The scenery flew by at a decent speed, and I surmised that we’d left Cleveland some distance behind us.

If you’ve never ridden on a train in the middle of the night, I wholeheartedly suggest you try it at least once. And I’m not talking about Amtrak or a passenger line–go find yourself an old freight train, rusted to within an inch of its life, one that runs the old rail road lines that have existed since before cars tamed the countryside. At the head of the train, you’ll find an old engine that’ll run on diesel and chug along at a decent speed if given enough open country to do so. Toward the middle of the train–never near the front, nor the back–crawl into a boxcar that has just a single door open wide, similarly rusted and abused, and have yourself a seat against one cold and unforgiving wall.

Once the train starts moving, pull your knees to your chest, and quietly watch as the sky and the stars and the ground and the trees and the grass all become one big stretch of unending silhouetted horizon. If you’re lucky and the moon is shining, you’ll see its light reflect upon the metal roofs of shacks that were built decades before; hidden lakes nobody knew were still there will seem like glassy mirrors pointed back up at the sky, and forgotten roads will be visible, winding aimlessly and carelessly through mountains and backwoods, having been abandoned and lost to time.

We sat in silence a while, as the burning sensation in my throat and stomach slowly subsided and was eventually gone.

“Where are you headed?” He asked.

I shook my head.

“Nowhere in particular, eh?” He smiled.

“Not really.”

He nodded, smiled a sort of sad smile, and took another swig of the engine-cleaning moonshine. He offered another sip.

“… Eh, what the hell.” I said, and took a drink. I coughed and hacked as I tried to keep the alcohol down. Jesus. It must have been 180 proof.

“Don’t worry, it gets better after a while.” He said.

“I should hope so. That stuff couldn’t taste any worse.”

He shook his head, “Life, kid.” And then he took another long drink.

“Where’re you from?” He asked.

“Oregon. You?”

He shrugged and then spread his arms out wide, gesturing toward the landscape passing by in front of us.

“Oh c’mon. You must have come from somewhere.” I said.

“Nah. Ran away from home when I was fourteen. Father used to beat me, and my mom died when I was a baby…”

“Ever see your old man after you ran away?” I asked.

“No.”

“Ever want to go find him?”

“Nope. He’s probably dead. And if I ever found him, I’d make sure he was.” He laughed that same strained laugh, but it seemed like it was mostly there to hide behind.

“So–you’re not just homeless. You’re without a home.” I said.

He spread his arms wide again, as if he was taking in the landscape and the stars and the sky and everything around him.

“I’m pretty blessed.” He finally said.

We felt the train go up over a hill, and watched as an old home–built and abandoned before the start of the century–disappeared into a valley of trees.

“When are you headed back to Oregon?” He finally asked.

“Dunno. When I get bored or homesick, I guess.”

“That’s the nice thing about riding on trains.”

“What is?”

“They’re like old country roads. You never really know where they’ll take you, but they really only go two ways: closer to home…”

“…and farther away.”


Apr 9 2014

Elvis

She wasn’t anything to look at, and I assumed that that was why she’d stopped to pick me up. It’s an unspoken but commonly held misconception that a hitchhiker will fuck for a ride, but I wasn’t in the habit or the mood, least of all with such an unattractive woman.

I spilled into the passenger seat out of the rain and thanked her for stopping.

Without replying, she threw the car in gear and pulled the old Buick into traffic at brusque and alarming speed. I grabbed a hold of the colloquially named “Oh Shit” handle on the ceiling and braced for the rest of the ride as she weaved in and out of traffic like an addict on an ether binge.

“Where you headed?” She asked in a Southern drawl so thick that it could strip paint.

I shrugged. I had no idea. I didn’t even know the name of the nearest town. I was just going, just trying to keep moving. The destination didn’t matter.

“My place then?” She jokingly asked, and then cackled like a witch from an old Disney movie filled with magic and fairy tale endings that never exist in real life. Her voice sounded as if she’d smoked two packs a day for three decades.

“I’ll just go as far as you’re willing to drive.” I was imagining her being splashed by rain water and melting down to the floor of the car in a puff of acrid smoke.

We sat in silence for a while, save for the taxed and over-revved engine being pushed far beyond its limits. Even if it hadn’t been built thirty years prior, it probably would have been right on the verge of flying apart.

The headlights from the oncoming cars flew past in a dizzying frenzy of bright halos and angry looking red tail lights glinting in the rear view mirror. I sighed from my duct tape swaddled and haphazardly patched passenger seat, unsure if I was prepared to fall asleep in the car of a woman who was simultaneously driving at ninety miles per hour and ready to have sex with a stranger plucked from the side of the road.

“I hate drivin’ alone.” She drawled, and then glanced over at me for long enough that I panicked about whether or not we were going to die in a fiery crash. It was then that I noticed her fresh black eye, bruises, and missing tooth, complete with an angry splash of blood coming from the corner of her mouth.

“I hear that a lot.” I said, and it was true. I’d been picked up hundreds of times, and nearly half were people saying that they wanted company or someone to talk to and keep them awake for the rest of their drive. It’s a strangely innate human characteristic and fear of being alone.

The car splashed through a puddle, flinging water twenty feet over the guardrail like a jet stream and landing across the windshield of a passing car on the other side of the highway.

“Were you in a fight?” I finally asked. I normally had a personal policy to never ask such a potentially volatile question of a driver, but I was tired and hungry and wet from the rain, and basically just didn’t give a shit. Plus, my curiosity was getting the better of me.

“Naw, just on the receiving end of one.” She said.

The ashtray in the car was full to the point of overflowing, and there were two different brands of cigarettes stubbed out carelessly in the gaping maw of the dash. I assumed one of those brands belonged to Mr. Southern Drawl.

The wind slithered in from outside and made a high pitched whistle as we sped down the highway. Traffic was lightening up, and we were mostly staying in one lane instead of dodging other vehicles and missing them by mere inches.

“Your boyfriend?” I finally asked, assuming that the mere mention or allusion to the man that had more than likely hit her would have me dropped at the side of the road like a bag of garbage.

There was a long silence again, my question hung in the air like the smell of the old stale cigarettes that permeated throughout the vehicle and littered the floor. She seemed nearly vacant, listless, like she was no longer in the car; instead, I imagined she was stuck in the depths of her own personal hell and couldn’t seem to clamor back out.

Finally, she spoke.

“When I was a little girl,” She said, “I had the worst crush on Elvis. Do you like Elvis?”

“A little before my time.” I said, still listening.

She took a deep breath, almost as if just thinking about someone not knowing Elvis’ work was painful to her.

“Darlin’, be sure to listen to some of his stuff. He was just… amazin’.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.”

She smiled at me and nodded her approval.

“When I was nineteen, I met a man that had these long black curls in his hair, and he used to slick them back in just such a way.” She said, motioning to the top of her head.

“He was so tall and handsome. It was like meeting the next best thing to Elvis. He was my Elvis. And I just married him as soon as I could, I thought he was such a find…” She trailed off, the car still flying down the road at an alarming speed.

I didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. I’d seen her vacant expression, the worn face, the sunken eyes, the laundry list of injuries she’d received that would go unpunished. I knew.

We rode the rest of the way in silence; me staring out the window, and her seemingly trapped beneath the ice and unable to come up for air in the seat beside mine.

When we got to the next town over about an hour later, she pulled into a truck stop parking lot at my request and I got out of her car. As I stood there, holding the car door, I felt that I needed to say something. Anything. I couldn’t let her drive off, back into the arms of her abuser, without saying something. Something.

“You know–” I began.

“It’s okay.” She said, looking at me defeated. She’d already heard it. She’d heard it a dozen times from a dozen people.

“You’re welcome for the ride. Take care of yourself.”

I knew how this was all going to play out. I’d seen the beatings and the fighting and separations and reconciliations and the never ending cycle that only ends with violence and death and battered children and broken homes.

It wasn’t fair.

I again opened my mouth to speak, and again she shushed me and asked me to close the car door; I reluctantly nodded and obliged, feeling defeated and hopeless.

She immediately sped out of the parking lot, the tires of her old car squealing wildly as it jumped back onto the highway, engine screaming in agony, tail lights blazing bright and red just like the hand marks splashed angrily across her face.

I fucking hate Elvis.


May 31 2011

The employers go marching in two by two, hurrah, hurrah

I have a tendency to monitor the IP addresses that hit this site. An employer that I’m extremely excited and hopeful to work for has visited this site shortly after two phone interviews I had with them. I’m scheduled to go visit their office and meet their team next Wednesday, and I hope that this blog hasn’t scared them off (Hi guys!).

When I was a teenager, I kept a journal. Nothing huge or dramatic, just a collection of my thoughts. I usually wrote in it once or twice a week–mostly as an outlet for my frustration. Going back now and reading through it, it seems like I was angry and depressed all the time–it was crazy!–but not true at all. Since I was only writing at the times that something or someone had bothered me, a person could easily have come to believe that my entire teenage existence was filled with angst and super-mega-depression.

I’m saying that because, well, this blog is filled with a lot of the same types of things. Angst. Sadness. Childhood stories. Teenage stories. Stories about hitchhiking. Mayhem. Craziness. Anarchy! MORE MAYHEM! But if I sat down and wrote about all the boring stuff I’d done, my life would come across as 99.9999999999999999% boring, and 00.0000000000000001% interesting (and yes, I counted the number of zeros on that–I’m a geek).

Anyway. Just an example of what a little bit of out of context information can do.

So if you do happen to be the employer and you’re reading this, I have fantastic references from my last two jobs. People love me. Seriously. When I worked at Regence, it was like the other employees followed me around like lost puppies. It was tragic when I was laid off. People were flinging themselves from rooftops, setting cars on fire, running through the hallways stunned in grief and sorrow–some were even throwing their silk ties into paper shredders in protest. And you know it’s serious when a neck tie becomes a casualty.


May 20 2011

And I am just like an acrobat tumbling down from the wire, and I’m fragile but happily broken for what I desire

I took their money, but it wasn’t about the food or the booze or the drugs; it wasn’t about being able to afford one more luxury or one more item to survive one more night.

I played my guitar while leaning against the cracked and brittle building–a wall of brown and brick and heat in the rippling sun. Guitar case open and eyes cast downward in a hundred mile stare, patrons wandered about uninterested in me–they didn’t see a man or a poet or a musician. They saw garbage–a pile of shit that deserved neither their respect or their pity. They didn’t hear the music that I’d crafted and carefully worked during the long days and miserly nights that I’d been travelling alone and in the weather–they heard only the songs of a beggar and a fool.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t just helplessly sitting there with a sign, and it didn’t matter that I was trying to do something to stay alive–I was still just an otherwise inconsequential bump in the road.

Occasionally, a good Samaritan would throw a couple quarters or a dollar into my guitar case. I would raise my head, meet their gaze, and smile in the blazing sunlight beating down on my face. Sometimes they’d stay and listen a while, but most often not. Sometimes they would stay and chat after the song, but most often they didn’t care.

It wasn’t about the money.

It wasn’t about the drugs or the booze or the food that would keep me alive for another night.

All I wanted was to look someone in the eyes and have them take a long look back–maybe they’d see that I was still there, even if I was irretrievably lost.


May 3 2010

I’m standing on a pier, smiling from ear to ear, I shout but you don’t hear me at all…

Sunday morning I awoke to find a swelling sadness gnarling and mewling at the corner of my heart. I don’t know where it came from, but I know it has been there for a while now. It’s a beast. A beast that I wrestle and defeat and am defeated by. One that I bruise and batter and scream at and yet, it never seems to shy away for long. It’s stubbornness is comparable to my own, and like two exhausted boxers we pull from our respective corners and fight it out again and again and again; a stalemate with no referee.

The beast is always there. A cold reminder that I’ll never quite be normal or completely happy. I can hear him banging and burning against my brain, trying desperately to wiggle and squirm his way inside and all I can do is resist and hope that one day he’ll give up.

I can feel him. He feels like the frost laden mornings in October. The time of year when the cold hangs just a bit longer in the morning, and settles in just a little earlier in the evening. The beast is the feeling of impending winter, when the sun falls from the sky and we are left in darkness and snow and we are furthest from rescue. He finds me in the places that I go to hide and lick my wounds because he thinks that I welcome his company. He thinks that I need him. I don’t, but again and again, he comes to witness the breakdown.

Him and I are at an impasse. There will be no solution, but I still hope that some day I’ll find one. Sometimes, just sometimes, hope can be enough to see a person through winter.


Nov 17 2009

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper

Death comes for us all. One could say that, in many ways, it’s chasing us our entire lives; an ethereal reminder that our time is limited and that we need to appreciate and seize every moment, hold nothing back, and leave nothing in reserve. Absolutely nothing.

That’s an interesting consideration: Hold nothing back. How often do we refrain from saying something, either because of our perceived effect on someone else, or because we feel it’s unimportant? How often do we miss an opportunity because we think we can get around to it tomorrow or the next day? How many things does an average person put off and never actually get around to? What have you been putting off?

This morning I learned that my great-grandmother had died. It wasn’t entirely unexpected given her age and general health, but I was surprised at how deeply it affected me. I was shocked that I felt sad for someone I’d barely even known; someone who had spent her life manipulating and hurting so many people around her, someone who beat her children and was rude and boorish for so much of her life. I felt sad.I’m still sad.

The last time I saw her was a few years ago. She was an old woman in a wheelchair, barely able to hold her head up and, without a reminder, didn’t recognize me at first glance. And that’s when I realized that, despite the horrible stories I’d heard about my great-grandma, and despite the terrible things she had done to my grandmother and her siblings, it occurred to me that she’d never done a wrong to me.

She’d treated me with kindness (as much as she could fathom, as “hard” as her exterior was) every time I’d seen her, and even sitting in that wheelchair, having not seen me in years, she smiled and patted my knee as I sat next to her. We didn’t say much. There wasn’t much to say, really. It was a quiet and sullen meeting, only because we both knew it would probably be the last time we saw each other. And I’m okay with that.

The question that comes to me as I write this is simple, “Can a person be forgiven for their past, no matter how awful?” and I find myself hoping that the answer is “Yes”. For however awful we sometimes live our lives, I’d like to think that we can all be redeemed. I’d like to think that we can all move on from whatever we’ve done and become different people.

My great-grandmother may not have been a wonderful human being for most of her life. Perhaps she was the same person right up until the moment she died, but I know one thing: we all have the capacity to grow. Between that and seizing every moment, I’d say we have a lot of work to do in our lives; and I’d like to think I haven’t been thought an awful person for who I have been or who I’ve become.

We all have a right to redemption. So long great-grandma.

Here’s a link to her obituary.


Oct 27 2009

A reason to be sinful

I often wonder what kind of religion birds have developed to explain the strange behavior of humans, specifically when we’re driving our vehicles. The next time you’re heading on down the highway, pay attention to the ravens, crows, and other little birds that stay just to the side of the road as they peck and forage for their next meal.

You’ll notice that, without fail, most of them will jump just to the other side of the white line as a car is coming. They won’t go any further because, as far as they’re concerned, the white line is a sacred boundary that the evil cars are unable to cross.

It doesn’t even matter if a car is driving outside the white line and would hit a bird standing just on the other side of it. The birds seem to expect that they’ll be protected by that strip of paint, regardless if it’s true or not.

I’m curious if they have some sort of savior, a bird that once died for them so that they may have that white line. Maybe it’s big bird from Sesame street, or maybe they’ve attached some kind of cosmic significance to hawks and their ability to scope out the scurrying field mice out in the pasture. I don’t know. I don’t speak bird.

But anything that is sufficiently mystifying will be explained by magic by those that don’t have the capacity to understand anything that is beyond superstition. I would assume that birds don’t have an overwhelming intellect rolling around in their tiny little craniums, but they’ve at least figured out cause and effect. That’s a start.

Perhaps some day they will build huge nests in trees and every Monday (when traffic is the worst), they will gather together and squawk and sing praises to the white line in all of its mercy and understanding. And when one of the birds is killed, even after following the rules and jumping across the line toward its promised protection, the other birds will say that the white line works in mysterious ways, and that it has a plan for which bird must stay, and which must go.

Then there will be an entire sect of birds that believe in the yellow line, and not the white. They’ll be yellow separatists and will violently oppose the ones who claim that their white line belief is the one true belief. Each side believes their religion is right, and know that anyone who would believe in anything different is going to die. And they deserve it, of course, since they’re worshiping the wrong line.

Soon, radical birds will start dropping rocks on the nests of other birds. Their only difference will be which line they worship. Every similarity is thrown out the door, and every difference is simply summed up by which line they like to hide behind. Thousands, perhaps millions of eggs, children, will be carelessly murdered for a choice they never even had a chance to make.

All because one bird stood up and said, “Hey, I think I’ve figured this out.”


Oct 22 2009

They go from kindergarten to killing sprees, They go from heartache to inner peace

Some of the most common arrivals to my website come from people who are searching for answers to unanswerable questions. A small cursory view through the statistics for this site, and I can see the hundreds of users who have arrived by loading up google, typing a depressing and equally relevant query such as “Why does god hate me?” or “Why must I take a beating?”, and they send their question our into the ether that is the Internet.

And my site is what comes back.

For those that come seeking greater truths, I’m not entirely sure what to tell you on those ideological and lifelong thoughts. I don’t know why life is so hard and, most importantly, I don’t know why it seems to get even harder when it doesn’t seem possible. It just happens.

Einstein had a wonderful and somewhat charismatic view about God and the universe. He didn’t believe in the idea of an intergalactic super nanny that lived in the sky looking down on us. He saw that the universe was a place of chaos and disorder, and that the only thing that seemingly held it all together were the laws that explained the beautiful and miraculous way in which it all seemed to stay together, as if by magic.

Many people find solace and comfort in knowing that someone, somewhere, is watching over them. I take solace in knowing that there isn’t someone out there that isn’t paying any attention to me. Religion of almost all denomination and belief tell us that we should be kind to one another because we are cosmically significant. I believe that we should learn to hold on to each other, to be kind to each other, not because we’re significant, but precisely because we are the only allies we will ever know. There is no one coming to save us from ourselves.

And for those looking for answers to the meaning of life, to the idea of God, or our purpose, I am sorry to say that I have more questions than answers. All I can tell you is that for now, the people around you are all you will ever have. The beauty in the world, the universe, and the complex dance of every moon and star are simply notes played to a song we cannot hear.

I remain inconsolable and unmoved by texts and superstitions and spells from thousands of years ago. Instead I will remember that life, for all of its imperfections and difficulties, is all I have.

I believe in myself and those I love, and I have no problem waiting for god to believe in me. It’ll be then that him and I will have something to talk about.


Sep 28 2009

From the swinging of the axe to swaying of the hips

“Sorry man, we’re all just poor musicians.” Sean-Michael said, gesturing to the other band members standing around him.

“Oh, is that right?” The homeless man asked, glancing down at the clothes that we were wearing. He wasn’t upset; he’d just heard excuses a thousand different times from a thousand different people. We were no different, even though I wanted to be.

“Well, have a good night.” He said as he stood there. His skin was blistered from exposure, sunburned and cracked from his forehead all the way down to his neck. On his back was a familiar sight: a duffel bag stuffed with miscellaneous clothes, trinkets, and the tiny little items that most people would have thrown away without a second thought; but not him. To him, these were not trinkets. They were memories of a life long gone, but never forgotten. They were lifelines to sanity.

He gave a last look at the six of us, and wandered aimlessly back in to the heat and shelter of his small camp beneath the freeway overpass.

We continued gathering up photo equipment, all of us wearing suits that easily cost several hundred dollars a piece. In my wallet I had a couple of bucks that I could have handed the man; he said that all he wanted was a meal, but I didn’t believe him. None of us did. And more than likely, nobody else that he would run in to that night was going to believe him either.

If he really was hungry, he was going to stay that way.

We began walking toward the location that we’d chosen for our band photo shoot, but I was no longer trudging along listening to the inane banter between my band mates. I was reliving a moment in time, five years previous, when I was homeless and living beneath a bridge. I remembered the hunger and the pain of sleeping on hard concrete, and the way I gasped in horror each time I looked in the mirror.

There was never a time in my life that prepared me better for human nature, adversity, and the ugliness of the human condition than when I was homeless. I remember the lies people would tell me, or the way they looked down on me as if I wasn’t quite human. People would spit on me, kick me in my sleep, or beat me up for no other reason than nobody would care what happened to a homeless guy.

I glanced back to see that the man had laid back down in the shade of the overpass. I felt for him. I felt guilty for denying him the possibility of a little bit of comfort before lying down for the night. But in the back of my mind, there always lies that suspicion that whatever money I give him will go to something that I had not intended: drugs or alcohol.

But something that’s easy to forget is that part of being human, part of giving, and part of helping out your fellow man, is giving him the benefit of the doubt regardless of what the outcome is. If I were to hand that gentleman $5, it is not my responsibility if he buys a bottle of vodka with it. My intentions, regardless of the outcome, were good. My intentions were to help, and that should be what’s most important.

Or if I put it in a different way, what if a homeless person wandered by and I refused to give him money. Because of that, he’s unable to buy a $5 bottle of vodka and he suffers horribly from hallucinations and DT’s because of his ongoing alcohol addiction. In the midst of his crash, he becomes violently delusional and ends up killing a 12 year old child.

It could be just as equally argued that he will go buy his vodka, become violently drunk, and hurt someone as well. But no matter how you spin it, the better outcome, the better chances, the more possibilities for a happy ending all come from doing good and giving.

What’s sad is, for the most part, any person that has ever said, “No” to a homeless person has never been told “No” in the same situation. I have been on both sides of that coin. It’s difficult regardless of which side you’re on.


Sep 14 2009

He’s bolting doors and getting stoned, locked and loaded and losing hope

In response to the blog entry that I wrote below, I wanted to share my absolute favorite piece of writing ever done by Carl Sagan. It’s pretty well known, but this video does it a decent amount of justice.


Here’s the transcript, minus a part of the introduction:

That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.