Life and Soul

In my opinion, gallows humor is not callous humor. As much as I miss my parents, I have a distinct irreverence towards their current state (dead) and their current activities (not much), so a dark joke at their lack of expense isn’t out of the question. It’s how I’m wired. Indeed, my dad used to joke with friends often that he had purchased “property in Kentucky”. When they’d ask him where, he’d mention the cemetery plot where his mortal remains currently reside. Dad was a paramedic and would sometimes come home with stories of having picked up some poor soul who eventually became a DOA on the way to the hospital. His kids, especially me with my proclined attitude towards a morbid curiosity, would often ask how this particular person died. Dad’s response was, “his heart stopped beating”.

This is all to say that my humor tends dangles in the dark, crossing from time to time into the nihilistic. In most extreme cases, there’s a distinct antinatalist. One of my favorite Bill Hicks quotes is “We’re a virus with shoes”. In the election that would doom us to the wiles of Trumpian ignorance and bombast or to the Not-Quite-As-Evil yet surely to be obstructed to tedium Clintonian neo-liberalism, I considered throwing my support towards Asteroid/Plague 2016. It’s how my mind works.

Life and soul of the party, I am.

These last few weeks have been rather stress-based. I work a job where I’m underemployed and even further underpaid. We work a rich man’s hobby and, frankly, I’m better than what I do there. Heck, all of us are, but no one wants to pay in this economy. My brain is run through with ruts trying to get out of this problem — because I am still yoked to a capitalist’s thinking. For all the railing and distrust of a system generated to keep most of us indebted and in-debt, I still have that hangover. It was like when I walked away from Judeo-Christian (ie, “religious”) beliefs. Even though I knew I was getting away from a system that was harshly authoritarian and patriarchal, I still had doubt in my doubt. Anyways, it means that I have a hard time taking step one, meanwhile, I grow bitter and resentful of working for a company that has only slightly less disregard for their clientele as they do their employees. That’s my bridge of matches to burn later, I guess.

It’s hard to stay funny in a universe in which everything is programmed to deteriorate.

Work, work, no write, some Chrimble

Yes, yes, this is your lazy writer finally checking in for a few brilliant paragraphs of wit, wisdom, and winsome prose, not to mention prodigious alliteration and laws of three.

There are two reasons why I’ve been silent. The first one was this: I went full-time at my horrible, no good, hate-it-to-bits convenience store job. I’m more than willing to admit that as, an idler and general hedonist, I’m not made for lifting large cases of Gatorade, standing on my feet for eight hours straight with neither a break or lunch (which, apparently, is legal in Ohio… ‘rah), feeling no connection to most of my customers or co-workers, and generally grumping at my total and utter underemployment. For forty hours a week, which is kind of hard on a bod like mine. As Willie Dixon preached, “I’m built for comfort; I ain’t built for speed“.

Basically, this meant that I’d walk to work, which was always a closing shift, get home around 1:30am, try to relax, sleep, get up around 2pm, and head back in around 5pm. Day in, day out. Bright side was that I was making better money but it was wrecking me, I was miserable, and no one got my jokes.

I use the past tense because the second reason is that I got a new job. A day job! A job where I can sit, have lunch breaks, not have to been busy every second of every minute of every hour. And be around doggies! Yes, I work for a pet resort and spa, and I am so beyond cool with it that. People even get my jokes and chuckle, telling me how well I fit in.

Imagine that.

So these last two weeks have been adjusting to a new sleep schedule — one that I’m thumbing my nose at right now to write this blog. As such, it’s cut my writing down to feints at poetry. Slowly, though, I’ll adjust and pick up the pace.

So all’s well. There have grocery shopping disasters, inebriated dipsomaniac adventures, jokes galore, and an appreciation for things both simple and complex — and not just in the carbohydrate sense!

Also, Xmoss is coming this weekend. Who knew? I’m engaging in my yearly tradition of reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. If you’ve never read it or even Dickens, it’s a wonderful book with which to start. It’s short, most definitely familiar given the copious adaptations, and never ceases to make me smile and appreciate life, the holidays, and the people around me. Give it a read wrapped in a blanket with a warm drink next to you.

More later.

Dreams, Aging, and Samaritans

What makes a dream? Is it a message from the other planes of existence? Are they alternate realities? Are they just our subconscious flipping through the photo albums of our brains?

I woke up this morning from my trip to Sandman City with fun souvenirs. A lot of it dealt with money, large wads of cash. This isn’t too unusual as I work in a convenience store that does money orders so I tend to handle large stacks of bills and these last two days, I held quite a few Benjamins and Ulysseseseseseseses… (help! help! I can’t stop!) in my meaty paws. These and all bills above the $20 denomination immediately get dropped into a safe for security.

In this dream, I was attempting to count stacks of dollars, but these bills were of a different class: smart money. By that, I mean legal tender with smart technology built in. However, these bills suffered from lax security that made them susceptible to malware, which meant that as I was counting them, ads for porn sites, time shares, and all manner of spammy solicitations popped up over the images of our moneyed dead white men. Did I mention that I lived in a micro-efficiency apartment as well?

One room to bide them all, and in the darkness shrined them.

It was that kind of snooze.

Last month was my birthday. I hit the big ol’ 47. That makes me three years away from 50, which is rather daunting. It means that I’m firmly implanted within middle age and assuming I live as long as my parents did (both made it to 80), my life is more than half over. Maybe it isn’t.

Anyway, I was gifted a $50 Amazon card by a very, very, exceedingly very generous friend and I used it to help purchase my first ever pair of Dr. Marten’s: Bonny Nylon Chukka boots, en noir. I’m still breaking them in and there’s no better place to do that than at work with an eight-hour shift spent entirely on my feet. It’s taking some getting used to but as far as a good pair of hiking boots, I dig them.

After work last night, I trudged the mile or so to the nearest Kroger. My cabinet’s been as bare as Old Mother Hubbard so a major purchase was required. Mostly this is vegetables, fruits, spaghetti, sauce, cheese, and hot sauce (because what’s life without endorphin rushes, right?). Having some money left over, I opted for a case of beer because I do like drinking them and I found a sampler for a reasonable. Having thoroughly depleted my bank account and loaded down with several heavy bags and said case, I trudged off into the night to catch my bus about a quarter of a mile from the shop.

Because I’m of stubborn West Side Cincinnati make, I always soldier one with my groceries by hand and foot. Although it is often tempting, I never sneak a grocery cart from the premises because 1) that’s stealing and 2) I’m a firm believer in karma, that what you put into the world gets reflected onto you.

Across from this particular Kroger is a mega church, known as Crossroads, with a Saturday evening service that was letting out as I made my way through their parking lot — because short cuts are king.

Stubborn, but not intuitive. I say this because I had to stop several times to rest my hands. And because plastic shopping bags aren’t known for their durability, I started to experience rips and tears not even halfway to my destination. The boxes of spaghetti were peaking through the double layers and the large squash I purchased was bearing down on the bottles of hot sauce and by the time I was maybe 50 yards from my bus stop, chaos ensued and a couple bags gave up the ghost.

As I tried to recoup my groceries, and dignity, let’s be honest, I hear someone call from their large white pickup: “Hey, bud. Do you need a ride?”

And that’s how I met Kevin, a worshipper from the said megachurch. Displaying great kindness, he pulled over and offered me a ride back home, to which I gratefully accepted.

My relationship with religion is troubled, at best. I tend to see it as a man-made construction and one that blocks an individual’s path to God (however they determine God to be). It’s also a reaction from a couple of my very Christian siblings who always tell me to give Jesus another chance. And while I appreciate that they are concerned about my eternal soul, I’ve not felt fulfilled by Judeo-Christian constructs. I’ve been reading Buddhism and Taoism for the last few years and I feel more aligned with these Eastern beliefs, even though they clash harshly with this crazy Western world.

As we rode the five or so minute trip to my house, we chit chatted. I told him I was a writer who used to work in local TV and he told me what he did. When religion did come up, I decided to let go of the usual armor I put up with family and just talk freely. He mentioned that it was probably obvious what he believed, to which I joked that he could’ve just been there the free coffee and Wi-Fi, while I spake on my studies into Buddhism, Taoism, and Existentialism. He mentioned reading some Hinduism and how he found the notion of so many gods overwhelming and that the work you needed to do to please them or find whatever salvation was too much for him. It was an incredibly friendly conversation and, though normally guarded against proselytizing and being saved (thanks to one of my sisters), I did not really feel a need to put up any walls.

He talked honestly as did I.

When we got home, he helped me get groceries on the porch and, as we said goodbyes, he asked if he could say a prayer for me. I accepted, not because he got me out of a tight spot or for selfish, but for appreciation and respect for him. As he asked God to give me the courage and confidence to continue my growth as a writer, I prayed along with him and thanked him very voraciously afterwards.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the things that divide us. I do it quite often, myself. We are shown paths that may not be what we’re interested in, are afraid of, or otherwise bristles against what makes us comfortable. This isn’t to say that all paths are equal, but that shunning them without consideration is foolish. Certainly, there are the obviously dangerous ones and there are the easy cake ones with no reward. It’s the difficult ones, the ones that do require hard work, determination, skill, compassion, empathy, perseverance, are often the most rewarding.

In the words of Terrence McKenna:

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

Amen.

The Brain Dump Journals

vernor

Ceci N’est Pas Ma Belle Vie

The heat had become unbearable for anyone but the Devil. Every room was draped in humid, torrid oppression. The upper level was a sauna, the main level not much better. The only slight respite was the stuffy, cool lower level.

In the basement on a cot with a box fan blowing slightly cooler muggy bands of relief, the writer prayed for enough relief to fall asleep. The large water bottle he had filled with ice cubes just two hours ago was already at room temperature. His skin felt sticky and dirty against the bedsheets. The contact of his own body temperature warmed the padding enough to make comfort futile. He pondered taking another cold shower, but feared that it would add just another hour to his heat-induced insomnia.

Flipping over his phone, he saw the time was 3:25AM. He would have to be up in less than two hours to work a shift at his job. He hated his job and he could feel tension rising at the thought of it. The lack of air conditioning tattered his nerves on a fractal level, each strand begetting another frayed strand, which begat another and another into infinity and he could feel anxiety and anger take over his body. He twisted again, his sweaty, bare skin burning against the warm moistness of top sheet. He kicked his legs and beat his hands in frustration, screaming into the dark. It was too much.

He sat up. The rage in him building from the frustration, heart beating faster, warm air from the fan. Enough. Getting out of bed, bare feet pounding on the steps, he burst out of the basement and into the kitchen. Flinging open the freezer door, he pulled out an ice cube tray and rubbed it all over his body.

Over a cold beer with a warm friend, the writer laid out the truth.

“I need to get out more.”

The friend nodded. “You do. You are spending way too much time cooped up in that house of yours.”

“And it’s doing fuck all for my sanity.”

“How much are you writing?”

“Not much. It’s that fucking Internet. So damned distracting.”

The friend, who had just pulled out his cell phone, sheepishly laid it down on the table.

The writer tried to think of a good line. He began writing words, any words, nonsensical words. He began jamming his fingers on the keys like a free jazz pianist, he wanted the feelings to come through his little fingers, to create to imagine the world in a different place like if women wore pants on their heads and men have to wear skirts to cover their faces. A world where lions vomited up gazelle meat to create entirely new creatures to dance among the wilds. The sort of universe where an orgasm floods a village. Ancient Egypt as the mecca of multimedia. The more he banged finger to key the more the space on the paper became littered with little word babies. He imagined the universe collapsing in on itself and then expanding again and again, like a lung. He was breathing fire now, enlivening his prose with multi-hued imaginations. Fuck spelling, he thought, I am giving a new language to the people, a language based on filth and humor and love and wonder and spite and deep, passionate embraces from a naked friend, skin on skin, rubbing together.  He realized that it had been a long time since he last had sex.

Consider the Vernors bottle: a vessel containing modern ingredients and additives creating the facsimile of a 150 year-old recipe, yet bold enough to proclaim that it’s the “Original Ginger Soda”. Definitely a product designed for fleecy comfort and, anecdotally, stomach problems.

I turn the bottle over in my hands. It’s made of plastic molded to resemble a barrel design, distinctive from the typical soda/cola bottles with which it shares shelf space. It is 8 ½ inches high, of which almost half is a mosaic-textured plastic, unsure what the feeling is meant to convey. Wood? Maybe?

The glossy label paper is done up in green, gold, black, white. The background is a printed wooden green barrel with distressed gold barrel rings, suggesting the concept of an aged oak barrel such as this drink’s purported beginnings were made. However, the caloric information, UPC box, and the message to “Please Recycle” belies its rustic, antique façade. The words “Naturally & Artificially Flavored” in a thin white font mere inches from a badge proclaiming “Authentic Bold Taste”. But then you get to the ingredients:

CARBONATED WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CITRIC ACID, SODIUM BENZOATE (PRESERVATIVE), CARAMEL COLOR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS,
BOTTLED UNDER THE AUTHORITY OD DR. PEPPER/SEVEN UP, INC. 5301 LEGACY DRIVE, PLANO, TX 75024 ©2016 A&W CONCENTRATE COMPANY

A celebratory banner featuring the drink’s mascot, Woody, and celebrating the 150th anniversary of “Vernors®”. The idea of a registered symbol and copyrights speak of lawyers and board rooms and shortcuts for cost effective replication of the recipe.

I must really make my own Ginger Ale at this point. I’ve found one recipe that makes a basic Ginger Ale concentrate, where you add ¼ cup of the mixture with 8 ounces of sparkling water. “Serve immediately”, the instructions suggest.

2 cups of water, 1 piece of fresh ginger, ½ lemon (rind only), 1/3 cup of honey. Boil, steep, strain, add honey, cool.

Even then, am I making authentic ginger ale? What is authenticity? Even the ale that came in that plastic bottle, preservatives and flavors natural & artificial and caramel color all, could be considered more authentic but only because it has marketing behind it..

He had forgotten what it was like to really create, to just get words out there, to write honestly, non-judgemental, no self-critique, care not if someone reads it because he would be doing it for himself.

The books that he was reading, about Crazy Wisdom, about danger, about what they did to Goddess when they found Her, non-binary. Who gets to see this shit? “Shit” is a failed anagram of “this”. He was being clever, showing off. It’s like masturbating alone: becoming aroused, pleasure friction, feeling the warmth wash over, yet no one to share the afterglow with.

You can’t dive in to Derrida no more than you can ball dance with Baudrillard, but he knew that authoritarian structures and hyperreality act as a mesh all over the land (the map is not the territory; the menu is not the meal; the meal is a facsimile of the recipe).

There is no way out of the system unless you wield supreme chaotic powers, but even then, you’re still stuck in a discourse. Even soul mates share a language, even Ying cleaves to Yang.

The candy bar. The skeleton. The immortal. The flotsam. The wake. The pencil. The window. The beard. The

Observations From The Perspective of a Convenience Store Clerk

  1. People will literally throw money at you.
    This isn’t hyperbole. I work at a busy convenience store with a gas station and it’s not uncommon for someone to come in and throw at $20 bill across the counter and mutter a pump number. Some will even cut in front of others to throw dollars at you. Because, y’know, they’re important or some shit.
    Another favorite is the person who will, as you’re scanning items, just hold out their credit card or dollars towards you like they’re feeding a rabid goat.
  2. People will buy piddly little shit with $50 or $100 bills.
    A pack of sunflower seeds? A candy bar and a soda? Anything that comes to $2 or less? Why not pay it with the largest bill possible. I mean, heck, it’s only money, right? Never mind that, because of security, we can only keep a small amount of change in the drawer. But seriously, go ahead and buy those Tic Tacs with a Benjamin.
  3. A robot can do my job.
    Automation is the current watchword for a lot of places. I worked for one company in the past that spent beaucoup bucks to update their master control and control room, only to have another company “merge” with them and run master control ops out of another facility. And I’m sure the day will come when our convenience stores will be implacable kiosks, vending machines, and fluorescent lights. As it is, the general clientele for where I work are confounded enough by paying at the pumps so it looks as if my job is safe for the time being!
  4. Yes, we have no public restrooms. Sorry. We didn’t build this place.
    Trust me, I get this. I’ve been the “Whaddya Mean No Public Bathrooms?” guy. And I know it makes our convenience store less convenient. Yeah, there’s a bathroom for employees but to let you use it would be a security issue and one of us would have to sit outside the door while you spend a penny. And since our bosses are cheap and usually only schedule two or three people on shift (and we are a busy place), it makes it nigh impossible to do that for everyone. While I have a lot of sympathy and can direct you to other places that do have facilities, lecturing me or my coworkers on how irretrievably stupid it is that we don’t have public bathrooms won’t make one spontaneously appear.
    Also, yes, it would be helpful to have signs that say NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. I’ve been told that printing decals for our doors is cost prohibitive and that making a sign in Word to tape on the door is tacky.
  5. If we seem surly, it’s for a reason.
    Very few wake up and pursue convenience store work as their ultimate goal. While yes, it’s important to bring passion to a job, much of our enthusiasm is rung out because we have to put up with piddly, nonsensical rules thought up by the corporation. We also stand for up to 8 hours a shift and — in my state — are not allowed breaks. The majority of our training is done on the job and it’s piecemeal at best. We also get paid very little and most of my co-workers are on food stamps, even the ones that work 40+ hours a week.
  6. Being rude is no excuse.
    The corporation will always insist that the way to handle bad customers is to kill them with kindness. I prefer to use a blunt object, myself. Y’see, they only say that because they care only that you spend at their convenience store. In that sense, you are more important only because of the money you have in your pocket/bank account/food stamp card/etc. So if you’re being a shithead asshole to us because we have a hard time finding your obscure brand of cigarettes on our Wall of Tobacco and we lose our cool at you, be satisfied in knowing that we’ll get written up for it. Because assholes win, apparently, and we’re all at-will employees.
  7. …but we do try to be friendly.
    At least, those of us that don’t have that dead-eye look. I believe in giving good customer service, so I tend to be as cuddly and upbeat as I can because I often see people, as Charles Dickens put it in A Christmas Carol, to be “fellow-passenger to the grave.”
  8. We get tired of cleaning up after you.
    Our store has several trash cans, some located right next to the roller grill and coffee machines. It’s a little frustrating that you can’t be arsed to throw away your straw wrappers or plastic wraps, or even be bothered to wipe up spilled coffee or sugar. While a messy store does leave a bad impression on the customer, the fact that customers treat the place like a walking garbage dump just makes us resent you more.
  9. Yes, I did say resent.
    As the tagline for Clerks put it, “Just Because They Serve You… Doesn’t Mean They Like You.” Now, you may look down on us because, to you, we’re just cash register jockeys maxing out our low skills. For some of us, this is a first job. For others, we’ve been through college and have had a bad set of luck. We also have to deal with co-workers who don’t want to do their job and a corporation that expects a store to run smoothly on skeleton crews. Most of us have a bit of a chip on our shoulder already. When you treat us like shit, we’re probably not going to think very favorably of you. I know empathy and compassion is hard in this day-to-day reality that we’re all stuck with but maybe try not to be an asshole to the folks who have to work weekends and holidays so you can get that 24-pack of pisswater beer. But we’ll still try to out-friendly the fuck out of you because that’s what the corporation wants.
  10. It’s just a job.
    As my therapist would tell me, “A job is a job is a job.” For many of us, job stands for “Just Over Broke.” As I said in #5, no one wants to be a convenience store worker. Some of us may be stuck there for a long time, others may see the job as a temporary landing pad to other things. And look, no one wants to be in a crappy convenience store in a slightly undesirable neighborhood, so let’s just take shit easy and no one has to get hurt.