D.O.C.

When Claire asked me to go down to Iowa to see her, I was instantly terrified. I’d never flown in a plane before. Never taken a trip out of state alone. And how awkward would it be? I was awkward as fuck when she visited this last summer and I’d seen her two days that were days apart. How much more uncomfortable might a whole week of being around her in a place entirely unfamiliar to me be?

The anxiety was immobilizing. The automatic thoughts were putting in overtime. I kept telling myself, I have to. I have to do this.

So I planned on asking for the vacation time. Before I got to that point — and yes, I was putting it off — I see on Facebook that she’s now in a relationship with a guy she never once mentioned to me despite the frequent texting as of late. Stranger still, I wasn’t so much angry and jealous as I was embarrassed.

Though I’d been ignoring it, the realization had been creeping up on me that she doesn’t care about me the way I care about her. So often she has vented to me via text, and I never did. Until recently. Just once. And she texted back some time later and was polite about it. I’d apologized for the venting and she said I could vent to her whenever I needed to, which again, was a nice thing for her to say, but I could feel the deception. She really didn’t care. I stopped a moment to truly question the bond I always felt we shared. All this time, has it not been that she loves me, at least not in some romantic way, but that she loves the fact that I love her?

In any case, I’ve been blind to the fact that this is one-sided. Which sort of makes sense. She never seemed to get involved with a guy that actually knew her, and that never made sense to me — and I’ve come to accept it doesn’t have to. She never seemed too interested in probing my depths as I did hers, either, and perhaps it was selfish for me to be hurt by that. It is what it is and I’ve been neglecting to see it.

So I decided it was high time to just let go. Fuck it. Stick a fork in it. Her and I? It’s simply not going to happen and I’m tired of the fucked up fairy tale I keep telling myself that eventually it will. After all, wasn’t it I who used to critique her for chasing after a fairy tale that was simply incompatible with objective reality? And here I was. Here I had been for over two decades.

This was my epic hypocrisy.

Since I met her, thoughts of her, dreams of her have been my drug of choice. I was addicted to an illusion and it was time to bear the withdrawal and just get over it.

I was never going to be what she needed. She was never going to be what I needed. Fuck, I’m still not entirely certain I know what I need. It’s more akin to a process of elimination when it comes to me. And so another one bites the dust.

I still hope the best for her and still consider her a friend, of course, though I must admist I am perplexed a bit as to why she didn’t tell me, as she’s told me some incredibly private things over the years. Maybe she thought it would hurt me or maybe she just didn’t feel it needed to be said.

Whichever. Whatever. In any case, it’s none of my fucking business.

I am glad it happened, though; I prefer being aware as opposed to being in denial or being delusional, and I do believe that was where I had been before this realization.

For a short time afterward, it was as if I were riding a high. As a friend of mine put it, it was as if I had given away my power to her and had now gotten it back. I felt calmer, more controlled. I had this boost of mental energy. The anxiety went down, my depression lifted.

Or was it coincidence? After all, I’d been trying to lay off the booze again. I’d also started taking CBD in the hopes that it might alleviate the depression and anxiety, and it did seem to be helping. So all of that may have been a factor as well.

I don’t think I’ll ever get married, as I enjoy my isolation too much, and that never works out in a relationship, or so it has been my experience. Even getting into another relationship after — what has it been? A decade and a half? — seems inconceivable, and for precisely the same reasons.

If there was any girlfriend of mine that I should have stayed with, any relationship that actually held promise, it was Anne. That was something that struck me shortly thereafter. She was intense, intelligent, responsible, incredibly sexual, knew how to make her way in the world, and I do believe that she was the only one who honestly loved me. She just concluded, much as I now have with respect to Claire, that I didn’t care for her the same way she cared for me.

Was that true? I was so hung up on Kate, another ex-girlfriend, at the time that I couldn’t even say. And when Anne and I had had a chance years earlier, I was hung up on Claire. Both Claire and Kate were Virgos from California, had tattoos of the sun, moon and stars on their body — and both obscured any hope Anne had of really reaching me. It was like a ghost taking on alternate manifestations that always stood between her and I.

Shit happens. What goes around, comes around. So it goes, I suppose.

It’s been eight years, so as shallow as it sounds, I do hope I get laid again before I shed my mortal coil, but I’m not holding my breath. But my naive hopes for the perfect and longlasting intimate relationship is all but dead in me.

I feel like I’m at a point in my life where certain possibilities are falling away — and though it initially might seem otherwise, I’m quickly convinced that it’s not entirely a bad thing. Closing the book on particular potentialities, tying up loose ends, it’s like decluttering your life. And focusing on changing what you can, accepting what you can’t be and just letting go: it’s actually quite liberating.

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Waves of Man-Hate and Fears of Intimacy.

During work, I’d gone out into the dining room and passed by a table where the wife of one of the managers sat solemnly, head down, lost in her phone. I knew a day or two before that the family had to put down their dog, who they’d had for under a year and who had been very sick for most of the time they’d had her. As I walked passed, I said that I’d heard, and that I was sorry, and as I did so I instinctively touched her arm with my fingers. It was meant as a comforting touch and for all I know that was also how she’d interpreted it, but for the remainder of the day that moment constantly came back to me, sort of haunting me as it played over and over in my head as I worried that I’d intruded on her personal space by touching her and left her feeling violated in some way, which could only have elevated or further aggravated the suffering she was already going through.

At the same time, I realized how absurd this worrying train of thought was. Even so, you can’t be too careful anymore, as things have gotten so bloody absurd that such worrying trains of thought just might be justified.

In today’s culture, the man-hate is strong. It’s surged again lately on Facebook due to the whole heartbeat bill here in Ohio. Men want to control the bodies of women, say the memes, and some begin there and run down the list. Men have held us back, raped us, and so on.

It finally hit the peak in my mind yesterday. To the point that I can’t help throwing my fucking hat into the ring.

Look, I happen to be passionately pro-choice. I also have a penis, and know of others bearing that same kind of appendage who are also pro-choice, so no, not all men feel they have the right to control the bodies of women. I also know women who are anti-abortion, so there are also some women that want to control the bodies of all women. So the man-hate? It isn’t justified. You’re framing it wrong. You’re manipulating facts so that they fit the man-hate narrative. Just fucking stop it. Don’t alienate men who are on your side and ignore the many women who are not.

By written word, spoken word, protests, you should certainly speak out against unjust mindsets, laws, policies, behaviors, and groups of people defined by the ideas and ideals they embrace, particularly when they impose upon your rights — not by groups of people defined by their skin color, genitals, sexual persuasion or country of birth.

It’s a war of ideas, as Sam Harris has explained another issue.

It was the same thing when the #metoo movement amped up, with some loud voices damning men as a whole for being prejudiced towards women as a whole, as if they were trying to cure sexism with — well, sexism. News flash: Two wrongs don’t make a right and you don’t defeat an enemy by becoming them.

Aside from that: you’re just plain wrong.

Not all men treat women like that. Stop being so absolutist. And while we’re on the subject, stop throwing everything into the category of sexual assault. Making someone feel uncomfortable because you verbally came onto them like a naive jackass is not at all equivalent to forcably inserting your part into her hole.

And stop pretending like we should accept accusation without investigation, too — that to doubt an accusation makes one “a part of the problem.” Blind faith is never a good idea.

And by the way: men? They get raped, too.

Again, this makes me glad I’m not in the dating scene. That I’ve given up hope of so much as getting laid ever again. I was anxiety prone before all of this, terrified of approaching a girl or making a move as I might make them feel uncomfortable or violated. Today’s climate has only delivered seeming justification to what many had formerly dismissed as ridiculous paranoia on my part.

Call for a Part-Time Experiential Exchange Program.

I’ve come to accept some limitations.

After a certain point, I just don’t feel it’s healthy to watch the news anymore. I mean, I want to be informed, but I can’t stop caring about what I’m learning about in the process, and said data never ceases to be distressing.

I have the same issue with individual people: after a certain point, it just becomes too fucking much. I need to isolate, process, find my center so I can assure myself that I’m not losing myself in this maddening mess of masks. I have a bottomless bucket of fucks and donate them far too liberally, in a fashion far too reactionary.

So involuntary empathy can be a very unhealthy thing, yes — but so can the other extreme, and it seems to me most people are more oriented towards that other extreme. Even with respect to people who are in a position in life they were formerly in, which one would think would provide conditions most fertile for empathy, people have amnesia to a mind-blowing degree. And with respect to those fundamentally different from them? It seems nearly impossible.

And I hope I’m just being pessimistic. Prejudgemental.

And it’s not as if I wish people were as insanely hypersensitive as I am; I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. Other people, their emotions are chaotic and seem largely focused on themselves. Too much of that, particularly in large groups, like at work, quickly becomes intolerable.

I remember encountering what I reckon to be my extreme opposite, which doesn’t represent the majority of the population, but the minority we call psychopaths. Or sociopaths. There is a distinction, or so I’ve heard, but I’m unclear what it us. In any case, around them I felt eerily calm. I felt little to nothing from them and it was a strange sort of relief.

I need some of what they’ve got. They need a dose of what I have. That’s all.

I guess what I’m saying is: we could use a part-time experiential exchange program.

Suicidal Zoo.

Facebook is like the cyberspace equivalent of a human zoo, only we are both the visitors and the creatures on display. Our pages are our cages and we can visit other cages like meandering ghosts, like unseen observers, or announce our presence by bleeding digital on each other’s virtual walls. And just like the disembodied entities or autonomous unconscious subpersonalities that can communicate with us via a Ouija Board, there are always vicious trolls among us that offer nothing but chaos, confusion, and unparalleled annoyances.

I’ve only unfriended three people in all the time I’ve been on the site; two because they were equivalent to trolls and a third who has absolutely nothing to offer but a ceaseless stream of cruel and stupid bullshit.

I was determined during the last presidential campaign not to unfriend anyone simply because I disagreed with their views, which it seemed to me that a great many people were doing. If we cannot tolerate opposition, we cannot grow as individuals; if we can’t discuss our different political views, or even hear them, then we are doomed to political polarization and the eventual fracturing of the Red and Blue ends of the spectrum themselves as well. Presently, the right-wing seems split between Trump supporters and those a bit more reasonable. The left? It’s more akin to the spiderweb cracking of a cell phone screen. Constant fragmentation.

I’m just done. Divorced from any allegiance to either party. I used to see the right as bloody mad, and for the most part I still do. The left I always took as being more wed with science, reason, empathy and compassion, but now, at least at the far left, they’ve embraced a madness that seems almost undistinguishable in spirit from the madness of the right. Nearly to the point that the thought keeps coming to me that, well, they’d make good allies.

The right mocks the younger generation’s participation trophies, and rightfully so (though clearly it is the older generation that cane up with thus) — but what are Confederate statues but participation trophies for a war that was lost? The left cries about being triggered and demand their safe spaces where they are shielded from percieved threats — which is just as ridiculous as the safe space the right desires to produce by erecting a wall to protect us from the percieved threat of immigration.

I think we’re hiding in our bubbles, free from objective truth and empathy with our fellow humans. I think this communication breakdown is just another sign of a declining global culture. And it honestly scares me.

Believe in Nothing. Explore Everything.

I enjoy exploring possibilities, seeing how various allegations, anecdotes or hypotheses might match up, and fleshing them out — but I’m not sure if I believe any of it. Some years ago I wrote UFOs and Recycling Souls to explore some connections I noticed in the midst of reading anecdotal reports in the UFO abduction literature that took on the quality often referred to as “high strangeness” and it was picked up by two or three sites. One of the sites mentioned that the ideas seemed crazy to them, but that I seemed to believe it — a comment I found fascinating. And kind of irritating.

The fact is: I don’t know. Since I’m going to be speculating about it anyhow, though, I might as well do it on a foundation of at least potentially relevant research and give my speculations some framework, some sort of structure. I sort of temporarily “believe in” an idea in order to explore it and then “believe out” again to explore some other aspect of it, or something else entirely. I think its related to what Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary called “reality tunnels”. By extension, it’s related to the philosophy touted by Maynard James Keenan around the time of the release of Tool’s album, Aenema. In the liner notes to the album, they suggested “Believe in nothing…” In interviews, Maynard expanded on this, saying: “Believe in nothing; explore everything.” A sort of Chaos Magick approach if you will. And that’s kind of been my approach in research and speculation. As to what I actually invest in at this point, I just don’t fucking know.

Do I think the aliens are physical, material beings like we ourselves are? About 90% of the time, yes, I think the extraterrestrial hypothesis is the most reasonable interpretation of the UFO phenomenon, even ignoring the abduction reports. Do I think abduction experiences are caused by sleep paralysis, the nocturnal release of endogenous DMT or mutated residual birth memories? No. Psychological theories don’t cover it, especially given the fact that people aren’t always asleep when this happens (and may in fact be driving, as in the Betty and Barney Hill case) and it has happened to more than one person at once often enough (Betty and Barney Hill and the Allagash four, for instance) and people are reported to be physically missing often enough.

Do I think these alien beings come from Zeta Reticuli? I have no fucking clue and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that this us not the case. We heard this supposed origin from them, after all. Nothing they say to us should be blindly accepted. I won’t accept that from religion or society, I’m not accepting that from aliens.

Do I think there is a conspiracy? Clearly there is, though the Greada Treaty stuff seems a bit too deep end for me. I do think they’ve recovered alien tech through incidents such as Roswell, though I doubt they’ve been capable of successfully reverse engineering and replicating it with earth-bound materials. Are abductees products of a transgenic program rather than subjects in alien experimentation? I have no idea. Maybe they subject us to catch-and-release for a host of reasons much as we catch-and-release animals.

A few things as of late have brought this to mind, which is to say what I actually believe regarding all this weirdness in my life. The first, of course, is Trump, who I feel has given conspiracy as a whole a bad name. Conspiracies are a natural product of human social groups. You can see things like this in a circle of friends, at the level of a fast food restaurant, and one can really doubt that shit like this happens in government? Wake up. And some are going to be poor conspirators and they’re going to get caught, but others — such as the intelligence community, as an easy example — are artists at keeping secrets or swaying public opinion from believing them through spreading disinformation and utilizing ridicule. So conspiracy in and if itself is not an absurd concept.

Having said that, not everything is a goddamned conspiracy, either. We went to the moon. The earth is lumpy and roundish. The recent flat earth documentary I watched called Behind the Curve and my failed attempts to watch The Joe Rogan podcast with Alex Jones have left me astounded at the kind of dogma and absolute madness obsessive-compulsive conspiratorial thinking can generate.

Stick your head into a notion. Explore an idea to the extremes, to the very edges of the earth — but pull your fucking head out when you’re done. Unless you can be at least reasonably certain, unless the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, why take the risk of investing in just another lie?

Ode to My Poopy Poetry.

Please note:
All my poetry

(subsequent to the mass
that has been written
here, in this blog,
over the enduring years,

at least
until I find
a relatively
easy way
to move all
my former poetry)

has been relegated
to another blog,

Flush of the Mindpot,

in the quite-fuckin’-likely feeble
attempt

to compartmentalize,
organize
and express
my messed-up head-space

in a more digestible
manner
to you
as well as

I.

Evergreens & California Girls.

Last time I saw her, it was at a fucking funeral.

Her mother had been having health problems and her father had neglected to take her to the hospital, so Claire, from states away, had to call a hospital nearby her parents and send an ambulance to pick her up. I can’t recall what the health issue was, but she met her end soon thereafter and Claire came down for the funeral. I hadn’t seen her in years and not to sound selfish, but this was kind of the epitome of awkward. Me in a church, for one; for another, this was a time of grief and I was happy, relieved to finally see her, and had difficulty suppressing my happiness despite the circumstances.

Her and I didn’t get to talk much, but just seeing her, it’s like my soul had been holding its breath for years and could finally exhale.

Now she was returning for her high school reunion, or at least that was her excuse for escaping Iowa to visit Ohio for a few days. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care, I just desperately wanted to see her. The day she decided to come down and bought the plane tickets she sent me several texts in a row, clearly hyped up about the trip (though her new medication undoubtedly played a role as well) and told me she wanted to see me. We planned on meeting at my parents house on a Friday, and then she wanted me to go to a party with her the following Sunday, so I immediately requested the day off.

I left Thursday after work, slept at my parent’s house (something I rarely do, but I was terrified about not waking up on time) and felt my anxiety growing the following morning as I awaited her arrival. The day was beautiful so I sat beneath a tree in the yard by the barn, sipped my java and chatted with my parents.

They had been seeing a lot of me this summer. For whatever reason, the visits there seem to improve my otherwise perpetually shitty mood. I miss my family and I miss being close to nature, close to the forest around their house. I miss the sky and all the stars you see without that blasted light pollution. It soothes my dark, twisted, tense little soul.

When she started coming down the long driveway in her rental car, I thought I was going to burst. She parked, got out and we hugged. She hugged me tightly. Like a vice. Any tighter and we would’ve melded into a singular entity. I could have happily died there.

Maybe, maybe neither one of us ever have to let go, I thought.

After that, it was as if I didn’t know my role, as if I’d forgotten my lines. As if I didn’t get the script. What am I supposed to do now?

We walked around the yard, took a look at my mother’s nursery, and Claire spoke about wanting to buy a plant from her for someone, I believe it was the friend she was staying with. Then we sat down at the table on the porch, where we drank coffee and talked.

My parents adore Claire and they always have. They liked Anne, too, and would occasionally ask about her when her and I were still speaking, but Claire always seemed to be the one on their mind. I’m sure that part of it is because they know how much she means to me, but I know it goes beyond that. They truly adore the girl.

My mom explained how she still remembered her as the skinny girl with hot pink hair who had moved down here from California. How teachers had pulled mom aside to warn her about Claire, which she found funny, as she had been to the house and seemed quite likable.

Claire spoke about her job, her three kids — one who just graduated high school and is entering college, one who is sort of a troublemaker, sneaking out, having sex, doing drugs. The middle child, he doesn’t stick out so much in my mind; he must be a sort of balance betwixt these extremes.

Thing is, Claire has led a life that is, on the surface, quite a successful one. She has a career, a house, has been a good mother to her kids, has attempted marriage more than once and survived divorce, she pays the bills and so on — and yet there’s this darkness, this dismal lack of satisfaction in her life. It’s like she’s constructed this epic costume, this wonderful mask, found her place in the game but she’s too damned intelligent to let herself be fooled by the illusion. She doesn’t see it, but beneath the illusion she is atypical in the most amazing ways.

She’s been married a few times, as I mentioned, and I remember her explaining her relationships with these men and how they don’t know her past, don’t seem to resonate with her on an emotional or mental level or even see her on that level and it always confused me. She never seemed to see it as a necessary component of a relationship, or at least that’s the impression I’ve always had. And it truly astounds me, because she is so goddamned interesting. Why wouldn’t she want to share it with someone, share her authentic self with someone she was at least planning at the time to spend the rest of her life with? Why would she want to spend her life in hiding?

I think she feels like an imposter, a fish out of water. Like wherever she goes, there she is, someplace where she doesn’t belong. Perpetually and irreversibly out of her element. And I feel the same way. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself into thinking that’s how she feels. Maybe this is just me projecting myself onto her because she means more than the fucking world to me.

Her talk with my parents solidifies my suspicion that she has indeed found what she has always sought: roots. She wanted a sense of belonginging, a sense of community, a sense that she has a place, and she has it, she’s fucking earned it, and it makes me happy for her — and depressed in ways I can never hope to properly articulate, because I am not a part of it.

And coulda-been thoughts are pointless, but had I played my cards right, I just maybe could have been a part of it. Maybe. And I have an abundance of regrets about my post high school decisions, with the two big ones being: I should have gone to school for art and I should have fought to keep Claire as a girlfriend. I could have fought to be with her that last time, struggled to make a life with her, had a starring role in her story and had her in a starring role in my own life narrative. But it took all the effort in the world just to tell her that I loved her, and I only accomplished that, after much effort and agony, right before she went into the Army.

And it blows my mind that that was nearly two fucking decades ago, and that I’ve known her for 23 years.

They say that youth is wasted on the young, implying that with age comes wisdom, but I’m not so sure we wouldn’t fuck it all up again if given another chance.

After we talk at the table awhile, my parents get up and announce that they’re leaving us, giving us some time to talk alone. The sinking suspicion I’ve been trying to ignore and overcome during the collective conversation suddenly inundates me, no longer deniable: I’m the same pent-up, anxious, unambitious, fucked-up boy she left behind two decades ago. I’ve accepted the girl as the love of my life, fantasized about seeing her again for years, and — nothing about me has changed. I’m so locked up around her, and it hits me so hard how little I’ve evolved, how far I have not come, how utterly fucking hopeless I am. I felt like a teenager again, wanting to kiss her but too shy to do so. Wanting to fuck her, the only girlfriend on my short list of girlfriends that I’ve never fucked, like crazy — and the potentiality never seemed farther away.

I just really, really don’t like myself sometimes and after seeing her again, in the midst of seeing her again, I liked myself even less. She may not be happy with her life, but she tried, she raised three kids, built a career. I’m in essentially the same place. A little hamster running madly on his dizzying wheel. Forever in motion yet never getting anywhere. Always wanting to change but forever seemingly incapable of doing so.

I remember that a friend dreamt once that I was a Christmas tree. It was an old roommate, Sandra, and at first it perplexed me. How on earth was I like an evergreen? The more I chewed on it, the more it seemed so fitting. It still does, which only furthers the point. No matter the season, I remain unchanged. Same job, same anxiety and depression, same anger issues, same incapacity to develop and nurture a meaningful relationship with a girl or even accomplish the most basic, instinctive function and get fucking laid again already.

I mean, it’s been a seven year dry spell. Wandering in the desert of circumstantial abstinence, distracting myself with pornographic mirages. Not to sound shallow, but one would think I could’ve at least gotten my dick wet by now — if I knew the first thing about approaching a girl.

Claire keeps telling me how comedian, actor and podcaster Marc Maron reminds her of me. At first I didn’t see it, but watching videos of him, its beginning to become apparent. He’s neurotic, hypersensitive, self-involved. He goes on tangents, he’s self-loathing, he alienates people. He likes coffee and nicotine. He lives alone.

Still, he’s successful. He gets laid. He earns money pursuing his passion.

Me? I hate my job. At work I’ve been getting that sense that I’m moving through tar. Like my feet are lead. I just feel heavy. I feel weak and low energy. It feels like such effort has to be invested just to go through the same old motions and every day seems insurmountable. It’s not. I do it. I just feel that in this job I’m dying inside, you know? I should have watched this place shrink in the rearview a decade ago, but: I’m the evergreen.

Back in 1998, when I worked at the grocery store, there was this lady I worked with. Her name was Patty. She had read some of the shit I’d written in the e-zine and seemed to hone in on Cumbersome, which was the story I had written about meeting Claire. She asked a lot of questions, the kind of questions I often imagine a successful novelist might be asked if engaging in an interview with a borderline-obsessive fan.

One day she asked me a particular question, and though I can’t be sure, I think it was this: what is the greatest compliment I could ever honesty give to Claire? I’m not sure what my answer was, but she then referenced the movie As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson and Jodi Foster. She specifically referenced a scene in which he tells her he has a compliment for her, goes on a shpeil, and then condenses the compliment down to a single sentence: “You make me want to be a better man.”

Twenty years later, I get it. I am there. She is wonderful, beautiful, all I want and need, and I am so hopelessly fucked up, and: she makes me want to be a better man.

But I am a bitter man. A lost boy. An evergreen.

We walk to the barn. Memories. Later, we leave and drive around the school, now closed down, and then to the ledges. More memories. We park and are about to go into the local diner when I realize I don’t have my wallet, and having her pay would kill me, so I remind her that my parents wanted to make us food. So we go back to my parents. When she was finally ready to leave, she asked me to walk her to her car, which I desperately wanted to do anyway. I wanted to kiss her, but I just hug her. Lost in the vice again, ready to die in those arms, and when she released, I must have had a look on my face.

“You’ll see me again,” she said.

Imagine taking a railroad spike, ramming it into my chest, and then pounding it into me with a sledgehammer.

It made me think of Kate, the second girlfriend who turned out to be a Virgo from California with tattoos of the sun, moon and stars on her body. In the midst of a short, intense relationship with promise, she left to visit her parents in California and said the same thing the last night I dropped her off — and she never came back.

Damn, I have the tendency to hang onto things.

Though skip a day, and I saw Claire again at the party she wanted me to go to with her. It was down the road from my parents house; still, it’s nonetheless amazing that I found the place without getting lost. The place itself was pretty cool. There was an awesome mural I saw on my way to the restroom and there were tigers everywhere. Not real tigers, of course. Big stone tigers. Stuffed tigers. Most of the time I spent sitting at a table in the back porch surrounded by people I hardly knew or may have only met once or twice two decades ago.

Then Claire’s cousin, Jolene, showed. I’ve always valued the lady because for the entire time in which I’ve known Claire she was the only one that she lived with who actually seemed to care for her and give her a sense of stability. She also got it into her head that I was gay, however, though I could never determine if she seriously thought that or it was just sort of a running joke. Being 39 now with no girlfriend and no kids had done nothing but reinforce the notion in her mind, I was sure, so whatever social anxiety I had been feeling only elevated when she walked onto the porch. She was nice, though, in her characteristically sarcastic, firecracker sort of way.

At some point Claire, sitting beside me, asked me if I wanted a drink, and I pretended to hesitate a moment before explaining, “yes. Yes I do.” She poured me some off-brand cola and chunks of ice in a plastic cup and poured in some whiskey, which tasted remarkably good. I wanted to get drunk, but I knew I wouldn’t. I don’t often do so in social outings anymore because I’m afraid of driving under the influence and I want to be able to leave when the mood strikes me — which is to say when I’m on sensory overload and the anxiety becomes too overwhelming. But a little social lubricant helped.

I mostly just interacted with the animals, however, which is sort of my default in social situations when the option is available, and generally-speaking, animals seem to like me. I spoke a bit with Antonio’s brother (married to Jolene) and then, once they arrived, Antonio and his girlfriend.

Claire’s father also showed. This part was unexpected.

Oh, her fucking father.

He needed to get his medicine at one point and Claire had me go with her as she took him to his house. As he sat and kept on about his bills, desperately, obviously trying to manipulate Claire, I stared at his refrigerator. It was covered in magnets, one for every state him and his late wife and, when Claire was younger and they hadn’t dumped her on this or that relative, Claire had temporarily landed in.

This is why she never felt like she had a family, why she wants stability but feels so awkward when she finds it, why she ached to develop roots. They were nomads. He destroyed her, and this cold machine in his little kitchen celebrates the journey of her destruction with souvenir magnets.

I fight my reactionary empathy, try not to fall under the spell of compassion when it comes to him.

We went back, I hung out a bit more and then it felt like it was time to leave. Claire walked me to my car. Hug again. Please crush me. Let me die. And I leave, back to being stuck in an inhale, and stop at my parents before heading home to my apartment.

They’re sitting in the front room in front of the television. We talk briefly and they offer to buy me a plane ticket to go down to Iowa and spend time with her. It’d be something to write about, my father says. Just think about it, says mom. It has to hurt feeling so connected to someone who lives so far away.

And I think to myself, Fuck. Dad, even mom, she actually seems to get it.

Sitting down, I stretch my arms, let my head fall back, trying to keep the tears I feel creeping from leaking out my eyes. Holding it in, determined not to break. Breathe. Just bloody fucking breathe, you pathetic price of shit.

“Just think about it,” mom repeats.

I drive home cursing myself.

Managing Panic on Potential Bridges.

It’s always at the cusp of something new I think I want that I get terrified and begin having second thoughts. In this case, the interview tomorrow. It’s not even a great job, but next to this, it’ll be a breath of fresh air. Or so I’ve imagined, or so has been the case until now.

What if I sleep in? What if my car breaks down? What if I’m wrong and their starting wage isn’t more than I’m making now?

What if I get the job and hate it even more than this, and it’s even worse because I don’t have that illusion of control offered by the predictability of the all-too-familiar brand of hell I am presently suffering under? What if my anxiety heightens, my depression deepens, and I don’t have the energy to get an appointment and get back on antidepressants?

Hell, what if I don’t get it? What if I have to stop smoking pot, clean out my system, and lose sleep, as if I get sufficient sleep now, and anxiety and depression attack even more just to get a job — and I never find one within the comfort zone of the roads I know anyway, can never find whatever potential place is willing to give me an interview?

It’s happened before.

What if I still don’t find a job, even then? What if I end up just wasting away in this particular shit job forever or until I get fired or die or society collapses or I loose my shit and walk out after working here for a decade and a half?

What if I never stop catastrophizing?

What if all this is in my head and ultimately it doesn’t really matter one way or the other?

But I can’t punish these thoughts and feelings and push them away, as they’ll snap back as elastic, twice as strong. And I can’t feed these thoughts and feelings, either, or they’ll grow bigger and stronger and multiply and collectively devour my weakened ass.

No, I must remain their spectator. Let them flow through me, and out.

Don’t Feed the Curmudgeon.

Never have I felt my age. It was always just a matter of the body to me, like asking the model and year of my car. Yes, I drive a 1978 Caucasian, but it has no real relevance to me, the driver. I’ve never really identified with my body all that much, but then changes start happening. Your hairline recedes. A fleshy crop circle forms at the crown of your fat, fucking head. It’s not just that the body’s breaking down, either; it’s programming goes haywire. I found a single, thick, six-inch-long hair sprouting from the lip of my left ear one morning. Not only did it not make the least bit of sense for hair to be growing there, it seemed to boldly come out of nowhere. I find it hard to imagine I could have been overlooking it. Did the fucking thing sprout overnight? Then there are the out of control nostril hairs, the aching back, the graying — nay: whitening — hair that remains.

When these changes start happening, it serves as a reminder that the trip through this life, through this fleshy tour, even if it all goes well, is roundabout halfway over now. And that, again, is if all goes well. Who knows how long this fleshy vehicle will last? At any rate, from here, it’s all downhill towards the average expiration date.

More reminders: I’m finding mothers of the various kids I work with incredibly hot only to discover that they’re either my age or, worse, that I’m even older than them.

And kids. That too. I never used to refer to my coworkers as kids. By default, I would throw all of us into the same age grouping if it crossed my mind at all, as it seemed justified: after all, maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. Being an elder doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any wiser.

If wisdom naturally comes with age, explain dementia.

I’ve seen young kids who are more mature, intelligent, responsible and polite than some of the fossils that frequent this shit restaurant. Still, recently I’ve had the feat that I’ve been morphing into that cartoonish curmudgeon whining about “those goddamned kids.” And those damned kids, they keep feeding this curmudgeon more, unnecessary fuel.

A few examples come to mind.

The first is the back room, the stock room, where it’s my job to arrange stock, cut off the box tops, and sweep and mop every day. For years now, it’s been routine: I come in the same time every day, gather trash, take it out, and then start working in the stockroom. The shelves are on rollers and bound to tracks, which means that if someone’s in one isle no one can gain access to any of the others. If I’m back there doing my job, in other words, no one can do stock. Yet I remind you, this is routine: same time, more or less, five days out of the week. Despite this, every day someone comes back, trying to gather stock for up front as I’m cutting box tops. Every day I have to tell them they can’t do it now.

Every. Fucking. Day.

What I used to hate about the sitcoms we’d watch when I was a kid, what I used to hate about every argument and subsequent talk between my mother and I as a child, were the continuity errors, the lack of consistency. Lessons learned or developments made in one episode were irrelevant to all others. A fart in the fucking wind. It was like every day ended with amnesia. Wash, rinse, repeat the same bullshit. Dance to the skipping record. That talk mom and I had? Like it never happened. That talk me and so many have every day when they enter the stockroom ready to gather sauces, cups, whatever? Imagine Doc Brown from back to the future:

“Erased. From existence.”

When it comes to the door at the end of the night, the circumstance becomes even more dire. At the end of the night I have my last smoke and on the way in I lock the door. You can go out, but can’t come back in — in theory. In actuality, the door won’t latch and so won’t lock unless you slam it closed. They never slam it closed. Every time someone leaves after ten o’clock I have to stop what I’m doing and slam the door. If I miss a person leaving, the door doesn’t lock, and some customer strolls in.

“Sorry, we’re closed.”

“But, but: the door was open.”

I tell them collectively to slam it. I tell them individually to slam it. I might as well be speaking in tongues or screaming at the deaf. Just slam the door. Slam it when you leave or the latch won’t catch and it won’t lock. This shouldn’t be akin to a physicist explaining String Theory to a fucking goldfish, but it increasingly feels that way. I ask them nicely. I threaten death. I scream it. Still, they just walk out the door, never looking back.

Just as a kid was leaving one night about a week ago, I told him to slam the door. He nodded. Acknowledgement. And then he turns and walks out the door — without slamming it. Another kid did the same thing, and I chased her out the door and screamed at her in a controlled fashion. Another kid, I did the same thing.

Are people just getting lazier, less empathic and increasingly stupid, or is is just that I’ve become a goddamned curmudgeon? I’ve never been a particularly optimistic fellow, this is true, but it’s gotten pretty bad. Am I just resentful that my youth is gone despite having never really “grown up”? Maybe, but I’m not sure that’s a factor here.

It got me thinking: I don’t think I could hack it, being a parent. If I asked a kid to slam the door like that and they kept failing to do so, I’d be afraid I’d turn into Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. Going ape shit in the halls. Grabbing the axe.

“Heeeere’s Johnny!”

The same goes with when I mop the floor and they stroll across it not because they have to, but because fucking up someone else’s work ranks so low on their list of concerns. Even worse is when they’re like that one, mousey-looking kid who chronically wanders around on my mopped floor like a dog seeking out the perfect place to take a dump.

Dude, just sit down. Crouch down, strain and jiggle out the turd and just go. And slam the fucking door on your way out.

I used to answer the question, “Do you like kids?” with “Do you like adults?” just to hammer in the apparent absurdity of the question.

Now I’m feeling that my answer to both questions is: nope.

Stay Out of my Dreams, Lady.

“Give me the biggest sandwich you’ve got,” the customer told Alesha at the register.

“I’m sorry, that’s not available on the app,” she explained.

Apparently, this is how the conversation went down, or so Alesha told me at the fryer vats right before I went on break.

“Just tell her to save time and have us inject the lard directly into her ass,” was my mean-spirited response to the story. Curious, I looked at the counter, and it turns out the customer was the vile-looking woman from the dream. I tried not to make eye contact as I washed my hands at got my medium coffee for break, but she spoke to me anyway. Seemed to kind of go out of her way to.

“How goes it, boss?” It was something like that. I was too uncomfortable to hear clearly.

Stay the fuck out of my dreams, lady. And never park near me.

“Surviving,” I answered, and with my coffee, I clocked out and went out the back door, so she couldn’t see me, and into the comfort of my car.