Friday, February 25, 2005

Oh, and Thanks

To those who commented on the short story thing. I really am trying to improve, so any and all feedback helps. Muchos Thankos. Seriously.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I may have mentioned this before.

Man. Me and my pseudo-philosophies will be pushed aside today, in favor of a short story. I tried my penny-pen in a contest a month back, give or take, and I really liked the idea of the short story. So brief, with so many allusions, so many loose ends.

The problem is that I suck at it (hence, no trophies on my shelves). I am too longwinded (surprise, surprise). So I am going to practice here. Read or don't, I care not.

Rain or Shine

We knew the deal. Five bucks for the lot is what the guy told us. We just didn’t have the five bucks. And he scared me, with his flannel shirt and Wranglers. I just wanted to get out of there. I like zingers and black cats and those cherry bombs are really cool. No one has five dollars though. But Ray had the best idea for us to get it because he likes fireworks a hell of a lot more than the rest of us. Ray never has good plans though.

The Walgreens by my Mom’s place had this old lady working the registers after dark. I guess everyone else would be in the back, cleaning up or something. But she was always there, alone, ringing up all those big black guys who buy the big black condoms and orange soda. It really stinks in there. It always smells like moth balls and the vinegar we use on Easter for eggs. And the floor is always so sticky with spilled apple juice. One time, me and my cousin ran down the card section and poured milk into all the cards. My Auntie Kate saw us do it and told us to go wait in the car while she got her pregnancy pills. It was hot outside that day so we waited under a tree in the parking lot instead, picking at dried-up toads on the ground. She never said anything to us when she came out of there. I think she is really pretty, and my cousin thinks so too. Ray’s plan is to just go in there and take the register. She is really old, so it should not be hard. Last time I was in there with my grandma when she got some bananas and Tylenol it looked like there was a zillion in that register. “We’ll be poppin’ off those fireworks this weekend” he said. Ray better plan it good though.

Ray is so stupid though. One time, two years ago we caught him in the bathroom with no underwear on. He said that he forgot, but we all know better with Ray. He wore the same clothes for three days in a row this week. I bet he has not even gone home yet. He came to school one time with his head shaved after being gone for three weeks. He told us his big brothers held him down and shaved it while he was sleeping. But it was a new shave and he had been gone three weeks. So stupid. Another time he was playing on the playground in second grade, and this bigger boy walked over from outside the school to him and punched him in the stomach. Ray peed on himself right there. And he went back to class like that. He smelled like pee all day, and no one would sit near him. He is so stupid. He better plan it good though.

Friday is here now, and we have no fireworks yet. I will see Ray before school ends so he better say something with his bald head. Mom says that she needs me to come home right after school to help my little brother eat. He has the sugars really bad, Mom says. And he needs to be fed most of the time. He doesn’t talk or anything. I call him my little brother, but he’s actually like, twelve or something. But he’s still a baby compared to me. And with Dad still in The Rack, I’m the man of the house. Or so Mom says. So Ray better get this done tonight. Because I can already tell that Mom is going to have me doing things for my brother all night. Tomorrow morning too. She’s been sick lately, and he’s been real fussy, so I might not even get out on Saturday to pop them off. I will be so mad if that happens. Ray better get this done tonight. Because I can already tell that Mom is going to make me mad. I know she is going to keep me at home all night with my brother. Maybe I can just sneak out for a minute. Ray better plan it good.

Ray is not in school today and I think he did that on purpose. He knows that he has that plan to make and he just does not want to. He is so stupid. At lunch today, he would have laughed at me because my soda exploded all over my lap when I opened it. But he would have asked me for some anyway. And when that retarded kid Jerry came over and sat with us, Ray would have told him to leave because he smelled like poo. But I do not care about the poo and ate my whole lunch without sharing. Because stupid Ray never came to the table. I heard two teachers talking about him today. They kept saying something about camps and him having pubic servants or something. Whatever that stuff is. So stupid. He better be here today. He better plan it good.

No Ray all day long. Mom has me at home and my brother is fussing. She is sleeping in her room with a fever, so I can watch all the TV I want. Whenever my brother gets too upset I just put a hand on his chest or on his forehead and he calms down so that is okay with me. I was watching Chips when Ray started banging on the window. He looked like he was crying, but it was dark, so I did not get a good look. He told me to meet him at the parking lot behind the KFC near Walgreens in an hour. I am not sure about all of this now. He was supposed to have a plan. But there is no plan. He just wants me to go. And I think he was crying. Plus my brother is really fussy tonight and I never get to watch TV this late. Ray looked much older than he normally does. Like my Dad does. Like my Dad did before he went to The Rack. I think it makes me sad. But my brother won’t shut up and I never get to watch TV this late. I bet that flannel guy is not even there any more. So stupid. There is no plan. Ray never has a good plan. Never.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Inner Peace and the Outside Push to Mediocrity

About three years ago I went to Houston to visit with my parents for a couple of days. It was the usual set of events that played out: I dropped my bags off at their house, and headed to my friends’ places for the evening and never made it home before the following afternoon. The nights were always a buckshot experience of caution-free boozery, sprinkled with almost-fights, late-night spring rolls at Mai’s, and lots and lots of double-parking. I would spend my early afternoons in conversation with my parents, still under the influence of the previous evening, and waiting with anticipation for the coming attractions of the evening. The more damage: the better. And that’s how I liked it. I was 27ish with no direction, lots of energy, and enough smarts to keep me afloat. Coming off of some absolutely mind-blowing mid-twenties, it was MY time to be lazy and blow off steam. I was all about myself, and had no intention of taking in the negative perspective of anyone else who may be looking in on the disaster that was: me. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, right? Right.

So, the Saturday evening of my visit, my parents and I are sitting around the dinner table, after a meat-and-potatoes meal, chatting. I was so hung over from the previous night that I really had no appetite or desire to speak, so the conversation was mainly between my parents. Whatever comments I tried to interject were received in much the same way that an errant cow tooth is received when biting into a taco. A mixture of curiosity and dismay. I have no doubt that I looked rather unimpressive: a grown man with a mid-level professional job who reeked of whiskey at seven o’clock at night, dozing off mid-sentence and practically sleeping in the green beans on his plate. Err… No one’s perfect, right? Yes. So in an effort to try and push me in a direction they thought helpful, my parents decided to discuss what it means to actually achieve SOMETHING in life. What it means to do SOMETHING important with your limited minutes on this planet. They rattled off a bunch of hoo-ha about the importance of finding a life-partner, of maintaining familial ties, and of preserving some sort of family tradition. Or something along those lines anyhow. I was probably still drunk, so I don’t have a real firm grasp on whatever they were babbling about. And that continued on for thirty minutes or so, which did little to keep my drooping eyes from hovering inches above my green beans. Just as I was about to completely zone out of the discussion completely, they turned it on me, specifically.

Here, to the best of memory, is what was said to me by my father while my mother nodded her head in complete agreement.

“The thing is, Craig, is that in life, we don’t always get to do anything great. Some of us, Craig, are simply not meant to achieve anything like that. Some people are lucky to be able to have children, and then maybe the children will be great. But not you. Not the parent. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it is just as noble.”

If you can read that, and not feel any level of disturbance running through your neural pathways, then the comment was meant for you, not me. Nails on a chalkboard over here. While it only makes sense that someone has to occupy the uncontested spaces in the mediocre lot (in fact, by definition, the majority does), I don’t believe resignation to it is the best means to me finding my inner peace. I mean, to “settle” on mediocrity is to compromise one’s self. There’s nothing wrong with mediocrity, true, as long as it is the product of effort to avoid it. At least there was a fight drawn against it. At least there was a notion of possibility, a search, an adventure into brilliance in there somewhere. What the fuck is up with the resignation bullshit? Why MUST I resign myself to it?

I was speechless. And hung over. And angry, sad, disillusioned, disappointed, suddenly alienated. And feeling somewhat deserving of this complete lack of support. I felt almost guilty for it. I took it like an indictment. An indictment of mediocrity. My parents were pushing me into the mediocre department. It felt like they had lost faith in my abilities.

But that got me to thinking, as I felt sure that my parents were not intentionally trying to knock me down. I desperately tried to imagine their point-of-view, searching for some sort of explanation for the cruel tone, since I was convinced that their intentions were kind. The only thing I could come up with was their fear of seeing me fall again. They had watched me wage a war against myself and everyone else for 27 years, and the last 4 of those were the most destructive. They had seen me touch the sky, at almost the peak of performance and success, only to watch everything crash to the ground. They had to watch me clamor back up to my feet, and set off again in a similarly violent fashion, in yet another risky direction, which also ended in utter destruction. I am speaking in riddles here, because these events were very complicated, and would require a great deal of explanation. Suffice to say, my parents had been stressed enough by what probably appeared to them as pointlessly reckless behavior. And it was scary to them. They just wanted me to calm down and stop fighting my position. As if to say, “please, just settle down. You’re fighting for something you were never equipped to have. You are aiming too far beyond your capabilities, and it hurts us to have to watch you fail, over and over again. Just stop it. Stop doing this to yourself, to us.”

If that was indeed the message, then I could stomach it with more ease. It was not an indictment necessarily, but more of distress signal. Even though it still pissed me off, I could accept where they were coming from, and remain satisfied that their intent was never malicious. I labored over and under their comment for quite some time. I could not shake the feeling that they were looking at me the same way a parent would look at a son who ran for class president every year and lost, while the parent knew that their child had a severe learning disability which would preclude them from ever holding the office. Eventually, the parent would cringe instead of support when election time would come around again. Eventually, the parent would be compelled to sit their child down and have “that talk” in order to help shelter them from (yet another) sure-fire failure. And I am sure “that talk” would be loaded with resignation, much as my parents’ discussion with me.

It made me physically ill to consider that my parents might view me the same way. That they might feel the overwhelming urge to step in to offer me protection against my own inability to see how pointless the struggle is for me, specifically. My other siblings never received this talk, or any advice remotely similar. I felt patronized. I felt relegated. I felt compartmentalized as inferior.

I felt like a cheap Mr. Coffee coffee maker, returned to Target because it was “missing pieces from the factory”, and would never function as designed. For the first time in my life, I felt the feeling that no one had any faith in my abilities, and it mattered to me. Before that moment, I really never gave much thought to whether or not I had any support for my endeavors. And that was probably because it was always there, before, so there was no reason to question it. I began to spin in an awful cycle of self-doubt, which lasted at least a year, where I questioned my own abilities, my own judgment. I started to take others’ advice above my own constitution, and deferred to others’ opinions and directions whenever available as a preferred selection to my own. The results were not particularly bad, but they were a rather stark contrast to what I might have done. If I could have kept that up, then it would never have been a problem. If the charade were strong enough to continue, I would never notice my underlying discontent.

But that could never last. I am too difficult a person to follow the lead of others for too long. Especially if the end result is mediocrity for the sake of security. I collapsed under the weight of frustration, and the intense feelings of asphyxiation resulting from the pressure to “keep things safe”. My internal dialog had been more of an argument for quite some time, and was then turning into an all-out revolution. For all my parents’ good intentions, and my well-meaning attempt to “tow the line”, the plan was falling apart in front of me, inside me, in my mind.

Once again, I was at war with myself, and with what was expected of me. Once again, I was forced to pit who I am against who I expect myself to be (which I had not done in a while), along with a new contender: who I am expected (by others) to be. The third contender was quickly disposed of, as he truly is a waste of good character. But more importantly, he was disposed of because there was absolutely no positive tissue match there. My mind and motivations tried, but could not accept that version of self. It was wholly rejected, killed off, and easily disposed of.

So here I am. Back from the fires. Renewing the squabble between who I am and who I expect “me” to be. Even though I know that the results appear self-destructive, and that it can make me more difficult to get along with. I realize that my lack of acceptance of where I am makes me impatient, and my refusal to resign myself to mindless line-towing makes me appear unstable.

But I would take that instability over the resignation to mediocrity any day. Because, for me, it appears, by process of elimination, that my particular inner peace (if I am afforded any at all) is somewhere on the other side of my internal struggle. Somewhere in the dust of the climax. It has to be. Because it sure as hell isn’t buried within the acceptance of life on medium heat. I believe that fact is evident in that everyone wants everyone else to accept mediocrity. No one is honestly championing it for themselves. If you aren’t meant to dwell there, then it feels like a prison sentence instead of the vacation spot you got sold on. Never accept mediocrity. Never tow the line “just because”. And never let your questions be answered with “well, that’s just how things are”, because that is complete and utter rubbish. You deserve more from yourself, and there is nothing unhealthy about self-challenge. Resign yourself to nothing. Fall down, get back up with a grin, and give it another go, slapping off the hands of those who try to hold you back “for your own benefit”. Why not? What have you really got to lose? Mediocrity? Why would you care if that got lost? I would take brief and phenomenal failure over painfully long, soul-wrenching mediocrity any day. Any. Day.

So, to my parents and friends, I apologize before hand for being impetuous at times. For being obnoxious, or difficult, or too “cup is goddamn half-empty”. That’s just how I roll. That’s how I get things done. That’s how I understand things to be. And that’s how I will continue to make my way.

Because one day, I will be class president. Bet.

Motherfuck yeah.