New Jersey Hometown

The area of New Jersey I grew up in isn’t colloquially known as The Socio-Economic Smorgasbord of the East Coast because you’ll choke trying to get the entire phrase out, but it is an accurate accolade.

I grew up in a mostly-white, middle-class Jewish neighborhood. Hassidic temple-migrations every Saturday, largely working-class, high property taxes, in the foothills of Appalachia. Ten minutes up the road and the hills are even more wooded, leaving the working-class for million dollar estates. This is also mostly-white. Go ten minutes the other direction, downtown flattens out, the lots are smaller, lower- to lower-middle class, less Jews, more Irish and Italians and Hispanics, respectively-styled eateries everywhere. Ten more minutes to the mini-urban area of Hispanic immigrants, day laborers and empanadas, World’s best Chinese food, and pizza. Another ten minutes east – massive Indian IT community. Ten minutes west – blue-collar back-hills with lots of spare truck parts and mechanical know-how.

Junior year of high school the morning announcements included the miraculous milestone of Hispanics inching out Europeans for biggest ethnic group. Walk to my locker in high school, nothing but Spanish.

There’s a pizzeria owned a Hungarian family, another by a Portuguese family, another by a Peruvian couple.

The area lost a lot of houses during the Recession. Those who had the most trouble paying property taxes were the first to go, and the people who are buying these foreclosed homes are doubling, even tripling the sizes of the homes. The poorest are being pushed out, the richer moving in. Smack in the center of New Jersey, it’s still hills and woods and blue-collar from fifty years ago when the area had nothing but mines and quarries. There’s still a rifle range in the basement of the high school.

Thanksgiving and Death

I have the standard gripes about Thanksgiving: that none of us are truly thankful, bemoaning day-after shopping-sprees and the manufactured start of the “Holiday Shopping Season”.

This year we had dinner at the duplex of another married couple we’re close with. Francine’s parents were there and so were Tyler’s. Francine’s parents emigrated from Ukraine in the 1980’s and Tyler’s parents emigrated from Kuwait when Saddam stomped over.

After we’d eaten, talk went around to world events, from the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the Greek debt crisis, to how Arab women have beautiful green eyes. Talk went to the differences between US culture and the rest of the world.

Tyler’s mother had a friend who had immigrated to Europe. This friend dated a Romanian woman, dirt poor in a simple, agrarian village. Tyler’s mother’s friend bought his Romanian girlfriend a pair of jeans and a hat. She was ecstatic, overjoyed, told everyone she knew about her boyfriend who bought her all sorts of amazing things. But all it was were bluejeans and a cheap knit hat.

Every American knows this dichotomy – the west has everything, the rest of the world has nothing. Especially here in the US, land of Thanksgiving Day Sales and Remember Poor Jesus By Buying Lots Of Crap.

We’re all aware most people in the world own clumps of dirt to our cars and houses and pools, but it doesn’t change anything, because we don’t understand the material-lacking the rest of the world is familiar with.

We know the rest of the world has very little, but we cannot understand it, because we (most of us) have never  experienced similar circumstances.

You can yell at everyone you eat dinner with: “You’re all ungrateful because immediately after stuffing your faces you’re going shopping.”

But it isn’t going to change anything. We understand the irony, the insincerity, but we cannot understand what it means to be truly grateful, because we do not understand the circumstances required to be grateful. To be grateful for a thing, you must first experience a need of that thing.

The vast majority of us Americans have never been homeless, or without reliable transportation, or without food, or running water, or clean clothes.

It is difficult to argue against these circumstances: “We shouldn’t have roofs over our heads!”????

But perhaps that’s an insincere argument. Plenty of humans get by just fine on very little, from bog villagers in Ireland to goat-herders in Tibet. They own very little, but have shelter and food. If poverty is a lack of material necessities, perhaps it is more correct to consider some of Earth’s ‘poor people’ as being frugal.

We know something is wrong with American culture. We know it isn’t right to rush out shopping after eating dinner. We know it’s ridiculous to spend the day after Thanksgiving trolling big-box stores for blenders, TVs, and gaming consoles. But we do it anyway.

We know it is ridiculous to celebrate Jesus and everything the Ancient Hippie represents, by gouging ourselves with material excess.

But it isn’t going to stop. There have been movements away from cheap, tawdry, vapid consumerism – The Lost Generation, The Beatniks, The Hippies, The Punks – but all of these movements have decayed back into the soil and new Wal-Marts have been built on the empty lots.

Society will not willingly move away from consumerism. Society will not willingly accept frugality. The only way consumerism will end, the only way material excess and decadence (yes, this is an era of Decadence) will cease, is if they are ripped from us.

For us to be sincerely grateful, Death must resume its daily rap on each of our windows.

Journal Entry, Ten Years From Now

Dated, 4/16/25

I don’t know why I continue to bother any longer. My wife resents me, I’m suspicious my son does as well, and all I get is a burning frustration that every story I’ve written has been written poorly. This has always been my greatest fear, that I find myself old and beyond my prime, looking back at everything I’ve sacrificed and wondering if I have squandered dozens of opportunities to find success at something other than fiction. I still believe I’m smart, intelligent, knowledgeable, but I realize now, only now, that for years I’ve lost faith in the belief that propelled me, with excitement, as a youth – that existence is a course of possibilities and that by focus and dedication, by constant struggle, the will can pull its desired possibility into reality. And now when I think of this I see only failed attempts, mired in inability to try hard enough, constant distractions I allowed myself to be strayed by. My wife is cold and spiteful, my son distant, closed off, and the worst sinking feeling is the thought that I too resent them for having come between me and my dream. All I see are mistakes, jobs I should’ve quit to spend ten hours daily typing, misguided priorities putting a pretty house and furnishings before the dedication I knew I needed to put into my writing.

I’m going to leave. For the first time in 20 years I am going to abandon everyone who loves me, everything I know, all of my comforts and everything I resent. I am going to hitchhike, I am going to blog the road. I am finally going to let myself drown in misery, drink, and the dream which has always haunted me.

Favorite Art

I don’t have a favorite work of art. I enjoy Salvador Dali, but my extent of art-world knowledge is canvas-thin. Moreover, I don’t think a person can have a favorite of anything artistic, be it paint, music, or literature.

Salvador Dali Painting

Art is something that acts on the person in such a way as to remove the person from their self, and because a person is not a stagnant creature but constantly being crafted by experience, what 20yr old Bill considers the apex of musical accomplishment will be different than the music a 40yr old Bill finds artistic value in.

My self as I currently am, I find a lot of artistic value in Dali because his surrealism evokes in me a feeling of truth, that reality is much deeper than our perceptions convey. 10 years from now I may find myself looking at a Cezanne, mesmerized by the simple beauty of a landscape. I expect I will always value Dali because his work has reached through to me, and so I will always have the experience of his art-value in me, much in the way CS Lewis’ novels brought me elsewhere as an adolescent, or Papa Roach, taking me beyond myself though never again to be experienced with such outer-awareness, the way I currently value Pynchon, or Jhumpa Lahiri, or HoundMouth.

War With ISIS?

I don’t want to spend posts casting opinions on politics and current events, but the ISIS quagmire can be my exception. There’s a lot of interesting angles.

Reasons to, as Trump put it, “Bomb the shit out of ISIS”, or to send troops back to Iraq? The simplest: ISIS is a black plague. There was the Stalin regime, the Nazis, Pol Pot, Suharto, and now ISIS. ISIS may have only massacred a few thousand, they aren’t yet a Pol Pot or Nazi regime, but it seems to be similar to what they’re after. (ISIS, on a Wikipedia genocide page.)

“Where’s her burqa? Death to the whole village!”

isis

But what happens if we begin to escalate? We have advisers over there, we’re bombing them, and then — the same pattern took two million US troops into Vietnam. We dumped trillions into Iraq and Afghanistan. Are we willing to spend another trillion to lead an invasion against the caliphate? Are we able to handle another a large war?

We’ve been in a constant state of war since at least 1941. We’re an empire, and we’re always at war. Sure, policing the world. But every empire crumbles when it over exerts itself. It’s what collapsed the British Empire, the USSR, and the Romans. $18 trillion in debt, a pivot to the Pacific to focus on China – after 70 years of war and empire, are we going to spread ourselves too thin?

Say we do invade the caliphate and we win. We send 100,000 troops into Iraq and Syria and ISIS gets eaten by scorpions and Hellfires. At what point have we spread ourselves too thin? At what point does the empire begin to collapse? If we’re lucky, we have a slow draw-back similar to the British Empire. If we’re unlucky, we collapse like the USSR.

The world has never been so flat and interconnected. When we had our Great Recession, it rippled right around the globe because our economy is a massive driver of the world economy, and world politics, and world everything-else. If our empire collapses, the collapse is likely to drag much of the world with it.

I don’t know what the breaking-point of our Empire is, and I don’t think anybody can know. But every major military engagement we enter, we’re stepping ourselves closer to collapse.

Maybe it’s worth mentioning the lack of war enthusiasm of previous generations. The US didn’t want to get involved in WW1, and it took Pearl Harbor to get us into WW2. We watched our European allies get slaughtered and we still held out.

The longer ISIS is around, the more likely it is ISIS will blow up people here, in the US. But if we march back in, and spend a few trillion, and the empire can no longer sustain itself, then democracy and liberty suffer a major blow. The world’s bastion of democracy and liberty, a crumbling state.

Is the risk of terrorism and the black-plague that is ISIS, worth risking democracy and liberty? Or am I exaggerating the potential costs?

If we do send troops to butcher ISIS, how would it play out? Easy enough to push ISIS out of Iraq, and in Iraq we wouldn’t have to nation-build and put together a new government. Though we would probably have to pressure the Iraqi government to include more Sunnis. If we kill ISIS in Iraq, we would still have to deal with ISIS in Syria, which is a larger quagmire.

If we send troops into Syria, what is the risk of going to war against the Assad regime? We’ve been backing the Syrian rebels, and will continue to do so; I doubt Assad would clear the highways for our battalions. If we send troops into Syria, where we’re allied with the rebels, we’re essentially at war against Assad, who is backed by Russia. To send troops after ISIS in Syria would require a truce between Assad, Russia, the US, and the rebels. Maybe that’s a possibility. Or maybe we have to spend another trillion and a long decade, rebuilding and restructuring Syria after we remove Assad.

For now, I’m a fan of Obama’s “light-touch” policy. I don’t like Obama, and I think his whole foreign policy agenda is disingenuous, preaching restraint while pivoting our power to combat China…. Regardless, the next Republican President is likely to send troops to Syria (Yes, I’m already calling the 2016 election, though not out of any partisan-partiality). But for now, the bombing-runs, I would think, are our best bet. France and Russia are pretty pissed at ISIS, and England’s about to join the fray, so maybe UAV’s and Hellfires are the way for the US to go.

 

Do I Stand Up To Injustice?

Outside of a larger obsession that evil people are destroying the world, I cannot think of a single example of myself speaking-up for another person. I can’t even put together a moment where I saw an injustice taking place, let alone an injustice where I even briefly considered standing up for the person(s) being abused. I can’t rule out, either, an intentional forgetting of idleness in the face of injustice. It may be that I’ve silently stood by several times as people were treated like shit, and have subconsciously erased these moments from my mind to protect a self-image that values its virtuous masculinity.

I can at the least say I’ve stood by while kids were picked-on by my friends, who usually even picked-on one another, but I was a quiet, unassuming kid. I still maintain aversions to confrontation, just out of cowardice towards personal trauma, though I do believe I’ve lost some this to nihilism – there’s no real detriment to anyone or anything if you get your skull bruised.

A few years back at a volunteer fire station, a friend called the younger black volunteer a nigger. The young black man was over 6″ and at least 250lbs of bulk, and could have easily stood up for himself – that, plus not knowing what the usual dynamic between them was, gave me enough justification to ignore the affront. I sometimes think about this in tandem with another incident involving the same individual. We were on the same school bus, and after he’d gotten off, someone else had spit out the bus window at him, saying a similar racial slur. 

For your general offenses against society, such as destruction of property, antagonizing authorities, property theft – for these injustices, I’m easily coaxed to participate.

Lazy Day

After a week of work, forty-plus hours caring for lawns plus the additional hours typing at night, the general lack of sleep and physical and mental deep-fatigue, when Saturday comes around I never wake up. I’ll get out of bed, but then after eating breakfast it’s another nap. I’ll drag myself to my typewriter, maybe ‘work’ for a half-hour, but then my head is again sleep-fogged. So I’ll read a few pages, and fall back asleep. I’ll spend time with wife and child, then wife’s off to work, and any time to type becomes secondary to the care of child. Lazy, without a drive to write, I’m prone to long hours on news-site comment boards, to watch TV, to remain on the couch, and when the baby’s in bed and I’m thoroughly disgusted at having spent the entire day not typing, I’ll masturbate and then see what alcohol’s in the house. I’ll watch more TV, debate more online, feel tired the entire time, and go to bed feeling disgusted with my squandered life.

I hate my lazy days because I take full got-damned advantage of them even though I have so much I want to be doing.