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Blowing bubbles at 36

“Would you write an account of who you are and how you came to be living in a bum hotel?”

I'd sent a copy of my zine to the publisher of a small-town newspaper nearby, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and that was the reply. Hmmm. I’d never tried summing myself up in one article, but that was the assignment. 

Readers with long memories might recognize a sentence here and there from back issues of Pathetic Life, but if you can’t plagiarize yourself, who can you plagiarize?

I was one of them — a good Christian, registered voter, hard worker, young man with a promising future, sometimes a ladies’ man, always a fine boy from a traditional family.

Let me tell you about the family. They’re not crazy. They’re fairly normal, I think, and that’s what’s crazy.

My mother is a Christian, which is all you need to know about her, since that’s all she knows about herself.

My father was a hard worker like me, stubborn and smart, warmly aloof, always working extra hours at the office, so sometimes a stranger to his six kids.

Hayley, the oldest, eloped too young, and tried to kill herself during an argument with her husband a few years later. She almost succeeded, but instead of dying, she’ll never walk or talk again.

Katrina has a job she hates, takes drugs every weekend and occasionally sells the stuff. Her husband died while she was divorcing him, so she’s half a widow. Lately she’s been “living in sin” (says Mom) with her dealer.

Dick is a convicted child molester, I suspect, but who knows? Nobody is willing to say. Any time you want a family get-together to go absolutely quiet, just ask why Dick is in prison.

Clay and I were the closest, until Jesus came between us, and now he’s so Christian I don’t know him any more. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers — he looks exactly like my brother, but he’s completely changed.

Ralph is a petty thief who's not good at his job — he always gets caught. He’s been in and out of prison so many times, I’m not sure whether he’s in or out at the moment. In jail, he’s always very Christian. It helps with the parole board.

And then there’s me, the youngest, and the black sheep of our good Christian family.

When I became a man, I put away childish things, and Christianity was the first thing to go. God Almighty, what a silly concept! All around us there’s chaos and confusion and death and disease; I’ve seen a baby born without a brain, smelled gunshots on the sidewalk, known a woman whose face was covered with wart-like protrusions, watched a teenager die, and heard the music of Michael Bolton. There is no God. And if there was, He She or It should be condemned to burn in Hell, certainly not worshipped.

Later, I gave up on voting. I had always believed in democracy, worked for campaigns that seemed important, and my causes and candidates usually lost, but that’s not what disillusioned me. It’s that even when the good guys won, they were barely better than the liars and puds they'd replaced. No-one better is allowed on the ballot, though. Slowly I started to understand that there’s really no “lesser of two evils,” only evil in different forms and dosages. It hardly matters who wins and loses, because we the people always lose, and they the powerful always win. People who want to write the rules, I've decided, are exactly the people who shouldn't write the rules.

I’ve never had many friends, and eventually I noticed that fewer friends was better, so I've kept trying to drill down the number to zero. Most of my ‘friendships’ were shallow and superficial, people I went to ball games or bars with, sharing a laugh or a hamburger, but I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me and a hamburger tastes just as good alone. When the friends faded away, it was no great loss, and when only one or two friends remained, even they were getting on my nerves.

Likewise there’ve been lovers, thank you ma'am, but the legends of ‘happily ever after’ seem wildly exaggerated. “I love you,” I thought I heard her say. I said it too, and thought I knew what it meant. “Though you care about the strangest things, your politics are ass-backwards, your values are worthless, and your family is even stranger than mine, let’s get married.” With somewhat sweeter words I asked that question. We gazed deeply into each other’s eyes, saw nothing there, and walked away — a divorce without bothering with a wedding. Darling, I never knew you, and you never knew me. Rinse, lather, repeat. Presently I’m available, but not really looking.

For years I gave my job my best effort, shared bright ideas, put in extra hours, took projects home, and sincerely tried to be the employee I’d hire if I was in charge. For my dedication, I was laid off. The most brilliant workers (not me, to be clear) are ignored for promotions, while dimwitted young college kids or the boss’s son land the corner office, where they announce new policies that make the work more difficult, the company less profitable, and customers more frustrated, all while the padlock on the suggestion box slowly rusts. To survive, I’ve become the employee every company seems to want — I do what I’m told, without thinking or caring, and glance at the clock every few minutes.

One fine Sunday, after visiting my sister in the nursing home, declining the acid my other sister wanted to sell me, being nagged by my mother for not attending church that morning, and dreading the next day’s return to the office, I walked into my empty apartment and took a good look around.

I hated my life. It was time to put a bullet in my brain, or make some less fatal changes, as if my life depended on it. I began packing that night, and didn’t go to my job the next morning, or ever again. Goodbye, Seattle. I won’t miss the rain. Soon I was driving south on the freeway. Next stop, California.

Here in San Francisco, I believe in good pot at reasonable prices, though I haven’t found any lately. I believe in taking nothing seriously unless it’s impossible not to. I believe in helping others, if they need and deserve it and if I’m in a good mood. Mostly I believe in me, since I’m the only person I can count on.

It's just me, living in a dilapidated residential hotel, where I like to sit and blow bubbles out the window, onto the utterly normal people below.

Once, I was one of them — a good Christian, registered voter, hard worker, young man with a promising future, sometimes a ladies’ man, always a fine boy from a traditional family.

Now I’m none of the above. Once or twice a month, I call Mom to let her know I’m alive, but other than that I’m alone. God is only a cliché, something to holler when I hammer my thumb. I’m not registered to vote, so no matter which boobs get elected, I still feel clean. I have a few acquaintances, but no real friends. I’m having a lusty love affair with a tube of Vaseline. I have a job that sucks, same as the old job, but there’s an idea brewing that might maybe make that problem go away.

I’ve been told it’s a pathetic life, but it’s the life I’ve chosen, and it’s better than the life left behind. Sure, there’s nobody, and nothing much to believe in. No hopes and dreams, but damned few worries. These are by far the happiest days I’ve ever known. I’m enjoying it, and therein lies the meaning of life.

From Pathetic Life #8
Friday, January 20, 1995
("bonus rant")

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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5 comments:

  1. There is too much sadness here for a bright and sensitive guy, but this is a masterful piece of writing. It is well-edited but not over-edited. It is full of subtle, clever prose and simple twists of fate, and, reads from top to bottom like prose should, but rarely does.

    John

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to have a drinking problem and now I seem to have developed a comma problem. I guess the difference is that an editor can't fix a drinking problem. The bad news is that I don't have an editor.

      jtb

      Delete
    2. Retyping it, I wasn't even sure it was any good, which happens a lot, so thank you for the kind words, sir.

      Delete
    3. >Retyping it, I wasn't even sure it was any good

      My brother, you know how I feel about your writing. I've been reading it for about 27 years by now. This specific example is excellent. I'd also like to think that you know I'm not a liar.

      Delete
    4. I always want to argue with a compliment, but just this once I'll shut up now. Love you man.

      Delete

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