Irreconcilable Desires

Out of the apartment window I see down into the street, tree-lined, sun-streamed verdant, quiet. There’s a family getting into their SUV/minivan, an immigrant family from some East Asian country – abandoned the crowded oriental casbahs and sweat shops for American opportunity. The husband’s getting their 9yr old into the Volvo, new and shiny and probably capable of autonomous parking. His wife’s in the passenger seat on her smartphone, talking through the open window to her parents who are watching the youngest kids for the day, walking them down the sidewalk on tricycles and plastic foot-pedal cars. This man and his wife have Made It, and brought over their parents, and they all live together in the townhouse next-door to ours.

My wife and I live 800 miles from our families. There is no generational-continuity. We left, abandoned, ditched, forgot. Our toddler’s seen his grandparents and his aunts and uncles exactly three times. We are alone here, in this bustling city we made our frontier. Except it’s already been settled. What are we doing here? What are we doing? What am I doing? I am at my typewriter drunk at 2pm and there is nothing to produce, just wringing my heart into the bathroom sink and wash it down with Draino to make sure the waste doesn’t clog.

We are in the cheapest townhouse in an expensive suburb 10 minutes from downtown. Together the wife and I, 80 hour work weeks. And I hate our neighbors. I hate our decor and I can’t stand the New Car smell of the faux-leather in the used Mazda I just bought to replace the dead chunk of metal and oil that’d been stuck along the curb for four months. Monthly payments.

The family out the window is happy. They’ve Made It. They’ve made themselves successful and happy and when I put myself in that man’s car with my own happy kids in Nike’s and name-brand clothes I resent myself. I want what he has: a good job and a comfortable income and plenty of food and a nice big HDTV and plush furniture and a wife who doesn’t have to work every night. I want a new car my own car and clothes that match and the financial ability to take week-long vacations at the shore, and I want a smartphone and a tablet and a laptop that doesn’t freeze every time I open Google Chrome.

And I hate all of it. My heart strangles thinking of having a closet and a dresser both full of my own clothes. I cringe thinking of having a $300 razor to stylishly cultivate my facial hair and who the hell actually spends $400 on a digital watch that monitors your footsteps?

I want to be happy and comfortable. I don’t want to dread bills. I want to be able to afford a doctor because my ear (infection? pierced ear-drum?) has now throbbed for two weeks.

To attain these things I must sit in an office. I must take orders with obeisance. I must make monthly payments to an insurance corporation. I must enjoy high-tech entertainment and pride myself on the luminosity of my detailed BMW.

To be happy I must become everything I despise.

I shut the blinds and the happy Made It family disappears. I drink from the bottle because it kills me quicker and when I begin to type I am banging my forehead on the typewriter.

 

How Is The Easy-Way-Out The Hardest

Solid metal is cold. In my palm it has heft. This is, by far, the second scariest moment of my life. And I am brave enough to look this decision in its quarter-inch pupil.

The scariest moment of my life has been 22 years. Maybe 20 of them I’ve been old enough to remember; subtract a few additional years for copious substance abuse. This is okay, though, it was a coping mechanism, and every night in a dilapidated drunk was every morning decent enough to go to work.

I drive a ’95 Grand Marquis held together with after-market welds and duct-tape. It runs well enough, and the Audi’s and Lexus’s are shiny smudges every morning on my ten-minute commute on the outer-belt, capsules of brightly-reflected light that zap past me and leave wakes of space-time distortion, wondering what I am worth.

The radio station is telling me that Giant Eagle super-markets are staffed by my neighbors who know my name and are there to make my community a better place. I change the radio station. The radio is telling me, from a rewind of a similar commercial, that Giant Eagle super-markets bring neighbors together. I change the station.

Giant Eagle super-markets are providing my community with in-store pharmacies, optometrists, banking, psychiatric evaluations.

I will forever shop at farmers’ markets. I will only buy my rum from the only immigrant-owned corner-store in the county. Which just sold its liquor license to Giant Eagle.

I will only ever drink beer from the corner store every night to forget the fact that I will always be Federally recognized as poor. I will wake up every morning without remembering my nightmares and I will sweat ten hours in the August heat-stroke reseeding the lawns of 4,000 sq. ft. houses because the owners didn’t like their previous lawns. But at least I have a job.

At least my toddler eats well and I know he’ll grow up to resent me because he isn’t going to get his own car to celebrate his driving permit. He will never have his own laptop or Xbox. Because I’m going to spend that money instead buying inflation-priced produce from farmers’ markets and only food from Giant Eagle that hasn’t been basted in glyphosate and the Agent Orange chemical known only as 2,4-D.

But my wife grew up on the Disney Channel and so of course my kid is going to. Grow up watching kids living on ostentatious cruise-liners, in luxurious hotels, in NYC flats geared with the latest high-tech iterations of entertainment. All of the Disney kids gaudily dressed. What is that? A Prada dinner-jacket on a twelve-year-old?

What happened to Pete and Pete? When did Hey Arnold stop living in the inner-city with his poor working-class grandparents?

How many square feet did Clarissa live in?

My wife resents our lack of vacation-time. Why are all of the lights on in the house? Why is the AC on 61? The Kia has four extremely bald tires and monthly payments and we both know we aren’t getting anything on the tax return because I can’t afford an extra $350/month to keep paying my own health insurance.

Because I refuse to work in an office. Because I refuse to have four different bosses complaining I am not properly dressed. Because I do not pride myself on commercial success… I will always be a dead-beat.

We share a garage with the neighbors and the Grand Marquis has enough gas to idle for a few hours. But I don’t want to offend the neighbors.

This is the second scariest moment of my life.

The first scariest has been this entire existence of disorientation.

If you do not understand the direction called Up, you will forever be falling down.

It is a dread that scales your skin. Helplessness, unable to ward-off the head-long rushing familial death of unavoidable debt. There is nowhere to go.

I don’t understand why I should want a five-bedroom house with a three-car garage in a sub-division. I don’t want to wear suits. I can’t find any pride in owning a $90,000 car. I would hate my wife if she got fake tits. I can’t stand television. I don’t know what a 401k is or what dividends means or why the radio talks about ways to get the most money from Social Security.

For this I am known as weak.

What I do know is that by not understanding any of this, by not understanding why I should want annual vacations at the shore and the newest obsolescence-engineered tablet, smart-phone, laptop – I will forever be categorized as poor.

I will be the unsuccessful loser. I will not be able to save myself. Or my family. My wife spends too much time at the bar, after work, with her boss. Who owns four other Giant Eagles.

What I do know is that being strong means moving up in the world. It means climbing the corporate-cliff; success is determined by how many people are beneath you.

I do not want to be over people.

What is weak is not succeeding.

But what I don’t get is how many people can sit here and slip .45 caliber bullets into a revolver that is pointing at their skull. Show me courage.

What does it mean.

Put your thumb on the trigger. You’re looking into a small diameter and you aren’t pissing yourself.

Tell me how strong you are. I don’t own a Porsche SUV.

Show me strength.

Show me courage.

High-speed crash your Ferrari.

You don’t have the balls.

Lord over others.

Show me how strong you are.

Left is Right and Right and Right and Right is Left.

I am not unstrung.

I am capable of ending.

Show me your courage.

 

What Is Real and Not-So-Real

I am trying to find a birthday present for a girl I am in love with, and I am having a difficult time. It is difficult for me to stay in any store for more than ten minutes, tops. And forget online shopping, the constant ads and unwanted videos have forced me to find refuge in some sylvan corner of my mind.

The girl I am in love with has many problems. Tammy only had one problem at first, and it was a problem I had too, but we would go on benders together, sometimes on the weekends, sometimes for several days. I have never met someone so easily reachable, the way she shed her skin and let me know everything inside of her. It was beautiful; she was beautiful. In a disastrous way. I now know the extent of her problems, and that she sells herself on Craigslist and Tinder to support those problems; that when she spends a week living in my apartment, it is because business is lagging.

And this is why I slowly back out of Target, because I wanted maybe a stuffed animal and chocolates or the yoga mat she talks about, but I walked into Target and the first sensation to hit me was the overwhelming, profuse scent of buttery, buttery warm popcorn. There is no reason for a grocery/clothing/miscellany store to sell popcorn as soon as you walk in.

But I can’t blame Target for getting their money’s worth, but I still can’t do it, because the warm popcorn gets me settled and comfortable and I want to browse without worry and I only think about Tammy and how she called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. Tammy was absolutely perfect until she stopped living in my apartment, sleeping at her own, calling me middle of the night sobbing needing me and I run over there and she won’t let me in. Is someone else here? No, it’s the TV, I think I’m going straight to bed to sleep this off, thanks for checking on me.

It’s even difficult to go grocery shopping because I’m told constantly told the entire grocery chain is somehow my community made up of my neighbors who share my concerns and know my name and my house and who my parents are, and I have no clue how the Albertson Corporation considers itself such a wonderful place for neighbors to congregate, but I always buy my food from their grocery stores, and when I finally get out finding myself ramming the grocery cart into the nicest car nearby.

Because I also don’t understand how a Prius can turn me into an adventurous pioneer of the American West when I absolutely have no time because of work to pay the lease on the stupid car that has difficulty getting over speedbumps. But I do understand why Tammy spent exactly 53 days living in my apartment and going out of her way to connect with me and make me happy and make love to me because I was the sort of man she’d been desperately searching for her entire 23 years of life….

I drive between stores and malls in silence with the radio off, because the moment a billion-dollar-profit, public university hospital tells me they’re dedicated to improving lives through advanced research and spectacular customer-service I want to plow my car into the store-front windows of a McDonald’s, aiming for the fucking Ronald clown and his crew of child-luring diabetic fuzzy-things.

And if I’m hurt or vulnerable or sad I know I can knock on Tammy’s door and she’ll let me in. She’ll hold me and stroke my hair, and tell me she loves me needs me It’s Okay, Sweety, and we’ll blow molly and she’ll let me make love to her, sad, pathetic, desperate, self-deceiving love. And then I’ll call her everyday for the next week but she’s always too busy to get lunch because she currently has a forty-year-old father of two who’s paying her rent this month.

I haven’t voted in the election because of Tammy. What am I supposed to do? What am I to make of President and VP photo-op jogging in solidarity with obesity? For Christ’s fucking sake, what am I to think of Bush reading to kindergartners the morning Manhattan went to billowing clouds of Trade Center rubble?

This is what Tammy has done to me, 53 days of painting herself with my dreams, opening every inch of herself to me, selflessly, seemingly, dedicating herself to my needs and fears a complete manipulation of my perceptions and opinions; furtive, psychological, emotional deception, manipulation of what I thought was real, honest, true and she does this to dozens of men, all the time, she is currently staying with me because she’s been evicted.

I give up and go to Walmart, just resignation, laughing to myself, and my laughing echoes out of me at the autistic woman making $8.50/hr to greet people at Walmart, the big plaque on the wall commemorating  Walmart’s on-going dedication to whatever they gave a million dollars to. I buy Tammy a baseball bat and seven livers from the meat department; I schedule her an appointment to see Walmart’s optometrist (she has 20/20); she’s going to love the fucking shit out of these Fourth of July lawn decorations and the pallet of Pepsi One that has only ONE CALORIE per can and absolutely nothing else. And I’m paying for all of this, even the three random Bridgestone tires and the cart of pool toys, all on my credit card, the one I have from JP Morgan Chase that says Freedom on the front in big, clear, satisfying letters.

 

The Real Shit of Capitalism

I can go grocery shopping, and while at the same super-market I can do my banking, get a medical check-up, buy drugs, drink at a bar, eat a rotisserie dinner, drop my kid off at daycare, go Christmas shopping, sit at a cafe, and listen to a live band.

I can buy a 2-liter of Pepsi, or a bottle of water, or stop to eat KFC or Taco Bell and I’d be giving my five dollars to the same small group of investors. I can buy contact-solution, soap, toothpaste, hair-dye, deodorant, or tampons, and I’m giving money to the same CEO.

What extremely sucks about this society of advanced capitalism is how few people are capable of owning so much. Whether or not consolidation is the inevitable, natural outcome of capitalism is debatable – humanity’s only tried it once – but I do like listening to Adam Smith of all people, as he decries, “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

We all know the Walmart Effect: Walmart opens, and several businesses close their doors. A super-market opens, and several grocers go under, and the bakery, the butcher, the pharmacist, cafe, optometrist….

Someone opens a fast-food restaurant. Okay, great. Have at it you producer of fine burgers and fries. And then they open 500 more. 10 other people do something similar. Now, if you’d like to own a burger joint in America, your only option is to work for one of these 10 other people – either you franchise one of their stores, or you open a rogue burger-and-fry joint and go out of business because you can’t compete with a national dollar menu.

Same if you’d like to open a hardware store, a barber shop, a pizzeria, a bar and grill, a cafe, a toy-store, etc. Want to make sinks or small-engines? Kohler will destroy you.

This consolidation into massive chains and conglomerations and corporations could very well be the natural, inevitable outcome of a free-market. But we had free-markets before we had capitalism, and we had free-markets long before we had mass-chains, conglomerations, and doctors’ office in grocery stores: we should be able to have a free-market and mom-and-pop toy stores, at the same time.

A market dominated by a handful of people isn’t free. An economy, or a country, where you can’t own your own business, or produce your own product, where you cannot survive unless you ‘earn a living’ as part of a massive corporate beehive, isn’t a free market, or a free country.

I believe in free-markets, but nobody’s free if they need $20 million in capital and a nationwide supply-chain if they’d like to own their own hardware store: our only option is to choose a corporate beehive, and await our bi-weekly allotments of honey. In America, we have no self-sufficiency, no independence or liberty.

“Hey Marty, long-time no see. What beehive are you earning a living from these days?”

 

Bullshit American Exceptionalism

America is exceptional, we’re told. We’re the best at everything. We’re supposed to lead the world at everything. The point of America is that we’re supposed to have the best economy, the best technology, the best schools, the best military, the best stock market, the best standard of living.

That’s what America’s about, that’s what the role of government is. Obviously, because those are the things politicians and the media refer to as American Exceptionalism.

America isn’t supposed to be exceptional because of Democracy and Liberty. Forget about those things, will you? The whole world has those. America is only exceptional if we have the best economy and the best military. Health insurance, that’s what we’re really supposed to be great at. We lead the world, yeah of course we do, because we police the world. Availability of student loans, that’s what makes us exceptional. How many pairs of shoes did you buy last year? 5? Yeah, because you’re an American, you’re exceptional, man.

We used to be piss-and-vinegar and defiant, anti-authority cowboys and hippies and beats and congregation members, democratic ideals and a love of serving community. We used to pride ourselves on Liberty.

We all want our children to be educated, we all want medical care, economic stability; roads and electricity and neighbors that aren’t shivering starved. These aren’t mutually-exclusive to Democracy and Liberty – Democracy and Liberty allow us to create these. But by placing these needs above Democracy and Liberty, by changing the meaning of American Exceptionalism, Democracy and Liberty have been degraded and our schools suck, we can’t provide medical care, our roads are crumbling, and we’re always at war.

What happened? When did American Exceptionalism mean valuing goals other than Democracy and Liberty? those two ideals that had made us exceptional in the world?

We’ve allowed politicians and the media to redefine American Exceptionalism. I doubt this was an accident.

“You should be worried about terrorists and college tuition because this is how we make America Exceptional again.”

America isn’t about Liberty and Democracy, it’s about policing the world and making sure everyone makes monthly payments to insurance corporations.

Rational Global Warming Skepticism and How Liberals and Conservatives Are Doing Everything Wrong

I have no valid reason to trust the US Federal Government. It is run by two demonstrably corrupt political parties and has deceived us into multiple wars, spied on us while denying it, conspired against us, destroyed college and health care (yes, I’m speaking about subsidies and loans, there are much better, non-market solutions); the War on Drugs, imperialism, free-trade acts – I have no valid reason to trust the Federal Government, and no valid reason to trust the political parties and bureaucrats who control it.

I have no reason to trust the media.

I have no reason to suspect that, in 50 years, scientific consensus will be that human activity has had a negligible effect on the Earth’s climate and that global temperatures are rising because we’re still emerging from the last big ice-age; or because the sun’s heating up; or because atmospheres on rocky planets are inherently unstable (Hey there, Venus and Mars). Scientific paradigms shift.

I have no valid reason to trust the politicians, bureaucrats, media, or scientists who tell me humans are heating the planet. But just because I am suspicious of motives and skeptical of current paradigms, doesn’t mean I can’t be concerned about the very real possibility that humans are heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

You can be skeptical of human-driven global warming and still be concerned about it. Human-driven global warming is a valid possibility and a valid concern. Just because you distrust Democrats and the Federal Government, doesn’t mean you can’t be concerned about global warming.

Hypothetical Scenario: An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth. Scientific consensus says this is bad for children and all living things, because the asteroid will decimate the planet. The dissenting opinion is that Yeah, hey, there’s totally an asteroid, but fat chance in hell it’ll actually hit us.

Not worth chancing hell. It’s valid to be skeptical of the asteroid-decimation paradigm, but irrational not to act on the very real chance that it’s true.

Why should I trust the Democratic Party’s motives behind climate change? Why is The Obama opening Alaska up for more drilling? Why is The Obama’s darling free-trade bill going to send more of our manufacturing to developing nations? Why did The Clinton’s free-trade deals export all our manufacturing? Don’t people understand the US has much stricter environmental laws than China and Taiwan? and that in the name of reducing emissions we should be keeping manufacturing here, in the US, where we can limit these emissions?

Oh, right, but Corporate America can reap ludicrous profit by exporting manufacturing…

… reasons to distrust the powerful, and to distrust their motives.

I am concerned that Earth’s dominant hegemonic power will use global warming to justify the expansion of its own power, both foreign and domestic. Never let a good crisis go to waste. I have little reason to assume the ruling class wants more power for anything but their own benefit.

I want the Federal Government to do as little as possible. I do not want the Federal Government to regulate power-plant emissions, automobile MPG’s, or lightbulbs, and every time a Liberal argues for more Federal regulation, I want to pull my hair. We need to regulate these things, and we should be regulating them at the state level.

(Manufacturing emissions should remain Federally-regulated, because in manufacturing there is a real risk of the Race To The Bottom phenomenon. If NJ tightens power-plant and car emission regulations, power-plants and car salesmen aren’t going to flee to Alabama, because NJ is still going to need cars and lights. If there is no risk of Race To The Bottom, the responsibility must remain with the states.)

Liberals have to understand that a large percentage of the US population distrusts the US Federal Government for valid (and wise) reasons, and that environmental regulations can develop much quicker at state and local levels, at least because democracy is more nimble in smaller groups.

Now for Conservatives: It doesn’t matter if you disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus, human-driven global warming is a valid theory and a valid concern because it has yet to be disproved (if it ever will be). If there is a chance we’re destroying our atmosphere, for the sake of the entire freaking human population, you do not prevent human-species-saving actions.

Conservatives are not going to prevent environmental regulations from tightening because a large portion of our population wants tighter environmental regulations. By refusing environmental regulations at the state level, Conservatives are forcing Liberals to Federally regulate.

Conservatives, by refusing environmental regulations at the state level, are contributing to the growth of the Federal Government. Want to downsize the Federal Government? Then you need to give people the regulations they want at the state level.

Los Angeles? Where?

If Liberals would stop trying to Federally strong-arm the entire freaking country and shift their voices into passing state legislation, and if Conservatives would stop refusing environmental legislation at the state level and stop sucking-face with coal, then we could stop heating the Earth’s atmosphere without having the Federal Hegemony assume more power.

What the Federal Government Should Do:

  1. End Free-trade agreements
  2. Regulate Manufacturing Emissions
  3. Pour Billions into public research. Don’t subsidize green companies. Use that money (and a whole lot more money) to develop the technologies we need to be sustainable – solar power storage, graphene production methods, energy efficient housing, electric and self-driving cars, and of course, how to transmit energy to Earth from orbiting solar-arrays.

What States Should Do:

  1. Everything Else.
  2. And nuclear power.

What We All Should Do:

  1. Stop Consuming So Much! Everything you purchase has a CO2 cost. Value frugality over consumerism. In fact, kill consumerism. Instead of purchasing more crap whenever something breaks, use your human brain to figure out how to repair your dishwasher, your blender, your furniture, your laptop, your clothing.
  2. Buy locally. Shit that ain’t shipped from China doesn’t need oil to cross an ocean.

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.