Category Archives: Biographical

Slightly Embellished Story

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Someone close to one of the people who has vexed me most in later life wrote and lashed out at me with the phrase “Slightly Embellished Story,” stating that I write stories because I have a need to be a victim and relish the attention. I’ve written about this before and the ongoing likelihood that if you share your opinion and stories, even if they are completely yours to tell, people are going to use whatever tactics they can to knock you into silence. Or, worse, to question yourself.

I took some time to think about what I’d been told. While I didn’t let it pierce deeply, I did examine the implications. Only callous people disregard completely what they’ve been criticized for. We all go blind to our own foibles. I will admit that my brain glazes over when people scream or lash out in anger. I spent enough of my life around that sort of craziness. It’s almost totally absent from my day-to-day life. Those who don’t enjoy such lives simply can’t grasp how abnormal such anger is to most people living their lives.

In my case, I have grown so accustomed to this sort of manipulation that it works in reverse on me. I take a moment and consider what is really going on and what demons caused the person to write those words. In short, I’m appalled but fascinated. This sort of drama propels me to write MORE, not less.

Though the story is not mine to tell, I feel empathy for the person who wrote. They have lived a life diminished by things good people should not need to deal with, especially long term. They’ll never believe that I hoped for a long time that they’d find peace even if they had to build an entirely new life to do it. Gaslighting changes you fundamentally. Protecting secrets becomes an obligation. Ask any mental health professional about the consequences of being around addiction and pathology. We internalize what we cannot avoid.

Even as I write those words, I know I’m going to stumble and say and do stupid things. And I will also waste my remaining years making the same mistakes in the face of people who are not whole. I’ve been less than whole a few times in my own life.

One of the comments struck me as odd: “…you find a new audience to hear the same song/dance…” Which is weird as well as untrue. This blog, the one you’re reading. It’s been here since 2014. The previous blog on Blogger was there for several years before that. I imported some of the ancient ones here; some I edited and reposted later but many are in their original form. I don’t understand the criticism about my voice or stories “being new.” A decade of telling them doesn’t strike me as new.

This blog isn’t hidden. Anyone can read it. I used to allow open commenting. A couple of people with anger issues ruined that part for me.

I don’t post for secrecy. That’s a stupid argument to make. I post so that anyone interested can read what I have to say. It’s a one-way conversation. Unlike social media, no one has to even scroll past it.

Before that, I shared stories without embarrassment my entire adult life anywhere such outlets existed. Things happened to me that I didn’t choose. But I learned to embrace the hard things and talk about them.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll read that I had a lot of family members who didn’t want to hear that we had some evil behavior in our family, didn’t want to hear that I had the right to change my name, and certainly didn’t want to be reminded of our right to choose our own paths.

All families are difficult. Being in one stuffed with alcoholics and abusers made learning to be independent of them difficult. We don’t start out understanding that people are scared of honesty or that someone might discover their dark secrets. They have to realize on their own that people know, anyway. It’s why if I get arrested or miraculously get a DWI, I will be the person saying so immediately on social media. Telling the secrets before they are outed robs them of their power. Most of it, anyway.

I never said I got it all right. In fact, I’ve said the opposite. One of my first blog posts was to point out that we are often wrong. Following that, I wrote a list of warnings about the dangers of writing anything down.

But I’ve been here, plugging away for more than a decade, telling the same stories that are mine to tell.

In 2014, I wrote another post about “Revisionists.” Even then, in 2014, I went through a period in which the haters almost silenced me. Several wrote and insisted that I was making so much of my story up. Years later, after DNA and research proved that countless stories of mine were true, they stopped trying to revise my life story.

As for the rest, I am a victim of some things. I’m certainly not a victim any longer, not for the most part. I don’t live a life full of drama, addiction, and secrets. My life isn’t perfect – but I have successfully reached a point now for several years when my sanity isn’t called into question. I continue to work to avoid people who can’t escape their lives.

Having said all that, that’s how this works: I write, you read. Or not.

If I’ve said something that you know is untrue, with the exception of those I asked to leave me alone, I’ll entertain any assertion that demonstrates how wrong I am. I don’t like to be wrong but I certainly hate to pretend to be right if I am not.

Otherwise, each of our lives is a Slightly Embellished Story.

Though the phrase was offered in anger, it did remind me to be wary of people. They are dangerous when wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

King of Kung Fools Rule

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The King of Kung Fools Rule: once you ask that someone leave you alone and not communicate with you, total silence is the only option. If you engage, you will be bogged down in a perpetual fight wherein you’ll be held into a perpetual account for exercising your right to be free of someone.

If you’re reading this, you should think of Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you.” It’s not. It’s about me and about the lesson I have to learn over and over.

We watch in society as people with protective orders still deal with the people tormenting them. It’s incredible it requires that. Pathology drives people to ignore the wishes of other adults.

It’s hard. Believe me, I know. I’m a fool on my best day.

Despite what people at a distance from me might think, I’m a bigger fan of snark, wit, and pithiness than you’d imagine.

I don’t care what you have to say or what motivates you. If I’ve asked you to stop communicating with me, you can be sure that you’ve done or said something (or many things) that brought me to the decision. Even if I decided on the spur of the moment, it is still my right to do so.

Even though I’ve been on both sides of this issue when I was younger, I’ve learned repeatedly that when someone says, “Leave me alone,” you should leave them alone. No matter how you’re connected, whether you’re related, past friends, or any other relationship, real or imagined, when someone says “No,” it means “no.” Regardless of your past connection, an adult has the right to say “Enough is enough,” if not, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” Forcing a conversation when it is unwelcome is aggressive and indicates that you don’t understand that each person has the right to choose who, what, when, how, and where regarding their lives. Who they permit to interact with them is entirely their choice and not subject to veto.

Manipulators and abusers insist they have a right because of __________. (Fill in the blank with the most common nonsense abusers mention.) This insistence indicates either immaturity, anger, or pathological tendencies on their part. Do not engage further. No matter what explanation you provide, it won’t be good enough. They will move the goalposts, gaslight you, or avail themselves to the tactics that all manipulators attempt. The worst will misbehave by saying or doing things to provoke a reaction. These actions will escalate to horrific levels if you acknowledge them. Being kind to them won’t work. Being mean to them won’t work. Their insistence to have access to you is a warning sign that they need help.

Have I mentioned how terribly I have failed to follow my own realizations listed above? I am an expert in falling into the holes I’ve dug for myself.

If you do engage, they’ll eventually succeed in making you respond with anger. They’ll then triumphantly screech in mock horror (and glee) that you got angry. Your anger at their stupidity is normal. It’s a superpower to be able to ignore abuse like that.

My Mother was a Kung Fool like no other.

At each stage of my life that I exerted control, she’d enlist any available family member to guilt me into reconnecting. My love for her sometimes interfered. It was a long, exhausting cycle. Not too long before she died, I finally broke the bond. I’d had enough. I mean, really enough, not the ‘enough’ of ‘maybe I’ll change my mind later’ enough. I only talked to her again because my Aunt Barbara called me and told me she had stage 4 cancer. Even then, I felt like I violated every protective mechanism I had in place. This was especially true because I had another family that convinced me he was going to kill me. In my family, that sort of thing is discounted at your own peril.

Addressing the other common refrain: you’ll be called crazy, a liar, or heartless. (Or some other word you can find it an Abusers Thesaurus.) IF the other person is correct and I am demanding to be left alone because I’m mentally ill, irrational, or simply hateful, it still doesn’t change the fact that I’ve demanded to be left alone. IF you insist on continuing the attempt anyway, you become the problem. If I’m spouting off nonsense, let me continue to do so and the truth will find me. Even Obama made famous a saying to let fools do their own talking.

If you can’t let me, you’re afraid of my message and that becomes obvious to people watching.

If you’re the abuser or troll, once the word “Stop” or its equivalent reaches you, stop. If you can’t get help, because you have control and anger issues that need to be addressed.

So, again, I don’t want to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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When I posted this story, I didn’t expect the invisible mob to approach me. It’s easy to skip over my stories if you don’t want to see them. Anyone not wanting to read what I have to say can easily avoid it. For most people, I’m a forgotten planet on the edge of the universe. If you’ve found me and continue to find me just to gnash your teeth, you should take more effort to stop looking for me.

It was amusing to see people assume they knew who I was talking about. That underscores my insistence that people only see what they want to see. Their own preconceptions mislead them into assumptions. Their defensive responses based on these errors tell me a lot about how they are wired and what goes on in their heads versus the persona they present to us.

This story is not about my siblings. It’s not about my paternal uncle. If it were, I would say so, especially now that I was attacked for people’s wrong assumptions about it. To be clear, I’ve been guilty of the same type of jumping to conclusions. It’s driven me to cause a couple of people needless harm. I tried to make up for it. While they might have forgiven my stupidity, they probably remember that I was a jerk needlessly to them.

I’ve waited a while to share it.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier. As with anything personal, there will always be people who ‘know,’ ones you interact with who are running their own truthline in their heads as they talk to you.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life. It doesn’t mean they stories are always wrong, but it does mean that their blooming interest should be cautiously examined.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them. (People don’t generally argue with clowns or people with no credibility. They should stop and think about that before they start challenging or shouting at me.)

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. And some of the beauty. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity. People don’t want to take the time to examine their lives or write about it. I understand it, whether it is laziness or fear of the consequences. We cannot tell our own stories without stepping onto the fringes of other lives. It cannot be done.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is all of your family. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence. Children will grow up and do their own research and find the things we’ve concealed. It took 25 years to find out that my family robbed me of being with a sister I would have undoubtedly appreciated more than my other sister.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight you tooth and nail for no one to do a DNA test? Precisely because they knew you’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if people knew if my own Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that my Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was. My Grandpa Cook had his own skeletons, but he loved me when he was older. I didn’t know all those stories. The love he had for me was real. Knowing the truth does not change who they were. It might change who we are, though.”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done. We have to earn a reset when we’ve realized we were wrong and offered to make amends.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when another family member told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather that people not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me. I had some great moments when I was young. I’ve never said otherwise and grow tired of people saying I do.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why anyone did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Family preached that they were superior to black people and that anyone sharing their religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad tried to kill me and never faced the consequences of the law or even of family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good a good person and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness. We have to eclipe the shadow of the people who should have known better.” I waited.

I continued.

“Some of my family looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. They told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. They let my dad lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. They let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. They told people they were better than dark people. They used their jobs to hurt people who weren’t white. They said gay people were the Devil’s children. And as always, I have to reiterate that I had family members who did stand up sometimes and they were shouted down, too. Some tried. People forget that I acknowledge those people, too.”

“Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die one day and people will piously say he was a good man. And when he’s gone, I’m still be here, writing, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when people called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. People might not have snapped my bones with their own hands but their beliefs pushed them to allow others to do so. Had they ever realized they were wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like them rarely do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to share my story where it overlaps with my family. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of our ancestors, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Befourth

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In a strange place, as dusk approached, I was alone, as if the world stood still. I heard echoes and booms. The frequency and intensity slowly intensified, much like a novice drummer tentatively using his sticks across the surface of a drum set. Peering through the window, I realized I had a front-row seat to a fireworks display at a church slightly more than a hundred yards from me. Because I was higher than the display, I had the best view in the house. It was a moment crafted just for me, though the dozens of spectators packed on the lawn and the parking lot behind the church would disagree. Before light succumbed to dusk and encroaching darkness, I could see the dozens of mismatched lawn chairs assembled in random order across the pavement.  I could see the dots of both adults and children restlessly moving around. Though they anticipated the commencement of the ceremony, I’m sure many of them realized how quickly it would come and go, much in the same manner as the days we take for granted overtake us. One of our modern curses is to be thinking about getting out easily after whatever event we’re attending is over; it is the opposite of living in the moment. “Parking prevails,” a wise man once said.

I pulled a desk chair in front of the large window and sat down to observe.

Because I continue to believe that 90% of our lives lie in the spaces between the grand moments, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I knew I would always remember this moment.

Though I’ve forgotten the majority of my incredible trip to D.C. with the band in high school, I’ll never forget the backdrop of the national fireworks display in the distance. Though we were confined inside due to rain, the moment was majestic and shared. We’d burned under the July sun earlier in the day. All of us were on an upper floor of the hotel. Perhaps the fireworks display I observed at Lake Atalanta 30 + years ago was more exciting because I was dangerously close to the firework system itself. I was within feet of it and found myself mesmerized by the colors and brilliant reflection of the charges on the shimmering surface of the lake as they exploded. As each charge fired, I could feel the heat and the tickle of the powder discharged from the nozzles.

This year, I had the best view, the best outlook and the most colorful advantage. In the background, the approaching dark skies blossomed with intermittent bolts of lightning above the horizon. Mother Nature competed against man and I was a sole witness.

It was an unplanned moment. Unplannable, really.

The subsequent booms and explosions of color ejected streams of dense smoke that floated slowly across to the west. The dark clouds behind and above seemed frozen in place, even as the lightning bolted from within. The smoke billows seemed artificially 3-D as they moved across the sky in front of me.

Across that same long horizon, I watched the dueling lights of the radio tower blink intermittently and the illumination of the coal electricity plant light up a small portion above the vista. Dotted all along the expanse were other fireworks displays, some large, some small, all equally observed by craning necks and fascinated watchers.

I could sense the anticipation of those at the church after so many confined moments and small rooms, behind masks, away from shared experiences.

This unscripted moment will not be rivaled.

Afterward, I watched the human dots and the lawn chairs as they dispersed back to their vehicles. I didn’t need to hear their private conversations to know the content. I now wonder why they didn’t remain there, congregated, and joined. Even in silence. The homes they’ve become too accustomed to in the last few months undoubtedly will echo falsely upon their return. How long will their memories of this exotic Fourth of July remain in their minds? Like the fireworks, things are moving explosively and with no preordained velocity, as if life must be packed into a single instantaneous moment that escapes our grasp. Amidst the temporary sizzle, all of us would probably agree that life is simultaneously on hold and flying past us with hurried feet.

Because you were not here to see, I’ll carve a tiny slice of my witnessed memory to share with you in the most imperfect way possible.

Now that everyone has departed, I remain at the window observing Mother Nature illuminate the dark clouds and the enveloping night with immense bolts of electricity. I feel that those attending the display should have remained to see this too. This eternal power abides restlessly and insistently, ignoring our movements with disregard. It needs no Fourth as an excuse; its power conjures a glimpse of a timeline so mammoth that it drowns out our concerns.

While I filmed both fireworks and lightning in their respective moments, I won’t share them with you. I’d like your imagination to fill in the gaps of what I witnessed, much in the same way I hope you fill in your life with as much curiosity and interest as these times permit.

The picture I used is not real, no more than the already-forgotten pictures you might have taken during the holiday. For me, the surprise and delight of experiencing fireworks spontaneously would overshadow the reality of data I could see. I stole that moment from a night otherwise absent such delight.

Premonition

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Earlier, the sky opened momentarily and dropped a few minutes of light rain. Given that the temperature was hovering at ninety, the humidity increased. Despite being fatigued from work, I stopped and picked up a few things at Lowes. Yesterday, the heavy rain prevented me from going outside. The truth is that I could barely move by the time I finished work. As I exited the store on the way home, the rain drenched me with its pendulous drops.

Today, I went out in the backyard, working on my infinite project. I painted a few stepping stones and reseated a few others. While I was on my hands and knees trying to position other heavy stones for the planter, I smelled the intense and overwhelming odor or tires that have skidded on pavement for several seconds. When I looked up at the dark sky, I heard someone shout. In my mind, I saw someone being sideswiped by another driver who had fallen asleep. The smell of burned tires persisted for another couple of seconds.

Whether I experienced a strange and momentary daydream or something else, I’m not sure. I’m not superstitious, though. I finished working outside and came inside and took a shower as cold as the water would go. When I passed through the living room, I saw my copy of the “The Stand” on the little table by the couch. For a brief second, the smell of burning tires hit me again.

Maybe I need to stay out of the heat or perhaps I should stop drinking so much diet tonic water. Whatever the daydream or hallucination was, it is thankfully receding, like a dream that won’t let go.

 

Shamway

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While I worked at Cargill, one of my white coworkers approached me with his pitch. He was enthusiastic in his approach. What he didn’t know is that I saw him coming from a mile away and was already calculating how best to both amuse myself and learn something from him in the process. Being poor granted me the ability to avoid spending all my money foolishly; most of mine went for rent, pico de gallo, and an acre of french fries.

I’ve been thinking about some of my shenanigans due to the Showtime show, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” starring Kirsten Dunst. It takes a darkly comedic view of MLMs.

I invited my coworker Mitch (not his real name) to come to my residence. At the time I lived with a co-worker from Cargill. He owned a trailer in a park in Johnson. This is the trailer that would later give me the opportunity to say, “A plane crashed on my house.”

Mitch left his car running in the driveway, a common tactic used by converts to the scheme. As I listened, my roommate Ray shook his head in wonderment. He lived for years in California. As a result, his exposure to MLMs was vast. Later, he shared some of the stories of friends who had ruined themselves with such endeavors. I let Mitch do his pitch without being too problematic. It almost killed me. At the end of the first phase of his pitch, he asked me if I was interested. “Yes, but I’m more interested in how this ends for you, in three months or a year because it is going to end. Badly.” Because he’d spent a great deal of time with someone in his upline, he had a pat answer to redirect my point. I then said, “One thing I noticed is that you didn’t identify your company by name at any point. That’s one of the key warning signs for a pitch.” Mitch became nervous. I stood up and shook his hand and told him I wished him the best of luck. “Think of this as a training exercise. I’ll make a list of things that caught my attention.”

Ray stood up and told him, “Your pitch is pretty good, Mitch. I’ve heard a lot of them. But I recommend you quit now and start your own business or do your own thing before you spend a lot of money to make $10.”

Later, I gave Mitch a list of critiques. I made my comedic recommendations alongside my serious ones. He took the list. He stuck with the program for several more months, although after a couple of months, he began to drastically talk about it less. He quit Cargill without notice. Months later, someone told me he lost several thousand dollars buying his merchandise before quitting the MLM.

Over the next few years, I went to several pitches to see how much creativity might be involved. As you would guess, not very much.

Later, as people approached me with new opportunities to own my own company, be my own boss, I varied my responses from amused to indignant to gauge how it affected them. They couldn’t understand that I’d already peeked behind the MLM curtain. I asked them all, “Name one person you know who made the kind of money you claim. I want to talk to them.” No one ever gave me such a name, at least not a reasonable one. “I’ll follow up with you in a year. I hope you strike it rich. I’m rooting for you. And you should feel free to tell me ‘I told you so’ when you do!” No one ever did.

The same was true with timeshares and other similar high-pressure sales. One of the best I ever witnessed was in Mexico during vacation. The presenter was incredibly adept at countering every conceivable question or insight. Discovering that I spoke Spanish, he tried the ‘divide and conquer’ method. I switched to ‘batsh!t crazy’ mode and completely destroyed any means he tried to get back to normal. I ran down the clock and many of the other participants/victims joined me in ruining any chance we’d be stupid enough to buy a timeshare. Despite the free souvenir blankets, ponchos, bottles of tequila, and free meals, I finally got him to admit that each session paid for itself with only ONE person or family signing up. His usual success rate was 1 in 5, much higher than the average. This interaction was one of many that reminded me that when a person argues after the first “No,” you’re being manipulated and it is best to flee by any means necessary.

I learned long ago that you can’t convince a person in the cult of an MLM to listen to reason; they must finish the fatigue and finish line of their own accord, often after weakening countless friendships and connections.

One MLM currently going the rounds had to disclose that less than 2% make more than minimum wage doing it, and very rarely can someone live on the income generated. Most quit after losing more than they ever earned. Having a family member or close friend involved in any MLM is exactly like having a used car salesman living with you.

All of us have experienced the agony of a social media friend getting started in an MLM. The cringe factor is immense. Many of us have learned that it is impossible to tell them they are making a mistake.

MLMs are like religion; those involved want to do all the talking and seldom wish to hear your input.

All of us universally cringe when someone gets snagged by the tendrils of the promise of easy money.

As with some religious views, don’t make the mistake of trying to get people to see reason. They have to discover it for themselves.

Whether it is skincare products, essential oils, nutrition drinks, or clothing, it is never worth it. I am still waiting to get to know one person who has made a living from it. I certainly know a lot of people who have lost their social media friends by abusing their connections with these ‘business opportunities.’

For just an hour a day and $43,543, I’ll teach you how to do the same.

Goodbye, Dear Rug

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I have some unusual habits. For instance, I’m not a fan of a rug outside of the shower. Few people have good ones and others tend to smell odd. I’d rather clean the floor. Since the only product I use in the shower is a bar of soap, I don’t have the usual array of issues most people have in their bathrooms.

A few years ago, however, I spent a good deal of time making a personalized rug with dozens of pictures of people I know on it. It did cost a bit, but I wanted something personal and colorful. Once it arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to place it outside the shower, so I put in front of my bathroom sink.

A couple of people seemed unhappy that their faces were on a rug.  I promptly ignored them. If they couldn’t see the honor in having their faces emblazoned on a bathroom rug, I had nothing to say to them.

After years of faithful service, the rug has succumbed to hazy, indistinct detail. For that reason, I’m going to discard it.

I considered leaving it someplace, perhaps on a neighbor’s porch. It would be a great story if said neighbor recognized someone featured on the rug.

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I modified the famous bathroom scene from “Dumb and Dumber.” It’s on a 16X20 wood panel I had custom made. People are surprised when they use my bathroom and discover that it’s real. (See below for shower curtain explanation on the right…)

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This is my infamous Jesus/ Zach Galifianakis wood panel outside my bathroom. People often notice that something isn’t quite right about it but struggle to figure out exactly what.

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The above picture is the one I designed to be my shower curtain. It’s huge. I paid a bit for it to get it correctly sized. I still wonder what the tech who made it wondered as it was fabricated. I forget how odd it looks to be people who’ve never seen it. As with most of my other decorations, a lot of people think I’m joking about how I have things decorated.

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The above chalkboard is outside my bathroom. As you can see, it currently holds a drawing of my cat Güino my wife made. I added a Trump fart to the cat. That seems to be the only relevant news lately.

 

 

 

My Condition

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Not all my posts make me look good. Here’s one…

I was driving on Crossover, on my way to Lowes to purchase completely pointless items, not too far from the marijuana farm. Some people call it “The Botanical Gardens,” but that is EXACTLY the type of fake name a weed farm would use, isn’t it?

I suddenly had to brake harshly to avoid hitting someone who failed to stop while approaching the main road. Because I was unsure I wouldn’t hit them as they entered the road without stopping, I veered to the left slightly. I don’t always do the ‘veer’ thing if I’m in my Ford Focus. It’s led to meeting some interesting people. It’s hard to say “Hello” when the air is filled with screeching brakes and shouting drivers.

A honk startled me. A white van had swerved to the further left to avoid hitting me from behind. I slowed and pulled over for a second. The white van with an interesting business logo on the side pulled ahead in front of me on the shoulder. I was expecting a giant, angry redneck to emerge. Instead, a woman about my age exited the van and stood about ten feet away from the front of my car. People don’t exit their vehicles unless they are very angry, have bees chasing them, or are in the vehicle with more than one teenager.

“What’s wrong with you?” She asked.

Given that she probably didn’t connect the car running through a stop sign and entering the road in front of me to my swerve, I knew it was pointless. I assumed she was crazy, anyway.

“I have a medical condition! You should be ashamed of yourself” I shouted at her.

“Oh! I’m sorry. What’s wrong with you?”

“Stupidity!” I yelled back at her.

Expecting a tirade or curse, I was surprised when she turned and went back to her van, got in, and drove away. She didn’t even give me a laugh.

I was proud of my impromptu answer.

It is possible to live 20 years without coming up with a rapid-fire quip that both delights and defuses the situation.

A Faded Sky

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After a dehumanizing day at work today, I made my escape. I’d delve into the niceties of what made this day of work particularly dehumanizing but not only would it fail to help me even as a catharsis, but would probably rekindle the rebuke that formed in my mind earlier. Covid-19 has amplified some of the worst tendencies of some employers – and enabled cracks along fault lines of equality to grow larger.

It was slightly before 11 when I decided to stop and pick up a couple of things.

I stopped at a little store, one common to most communities. Outside, a gentleman was using twine to re-affix a mattress to the roof of his beaten-up car. I was going to offer to help him but noted that he had double-tucked the twine like he was a master of the Mattress Haul. It was quite the work of art. I would be terrified to attempt it but I could tell the mattress was not going to fly off into the sunset after being tied down so efficiently, even if twine was all that was available.

As I entered, I saw a phalanx of men about twenty feet inside the door. With one of the men was a boy about 10 years old. One of the men was an employee of the store; the other was a vendor with a couple of shallow inventory bins.

This story is entirely true, even if I get the words a bit wrong. The quotes are from the men who stood there.

“I’m not a violent person, but when I saw that (offensive word for Latino) waving that flag, I would have ripped it out of his hands and killed him with it. I was going to literally hit him but my wife was with me. Anyone with a flag that isn’t American should be shot. We literally should be able to kill them.” The other gentlemen agreed. “I don’t want to hear no Mexican talk when I’m in public. A fist in the mouth will cut their ability to talk that nonsense around me and my family. We might need them to do our dirty work but they should know their place.”

“I’m proud we have a president who can speak the truth. We don’t need any blacks, fa%S, or sp@cs here. I don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. Trump needs to have the Supreme Court shot, as well as every BLM member. Those cops? The only thing they did wrong was not kill a bunch more of them.” A hearty round of approval. “He (Trump) needs to shut down all media except Fox. People who aren’t guilty of crimes don’t get hurt by the police.”

“Yeah, I’m going to see Trump in Tulsa next week. The tickets? They are free. I want to shake his hand and tell him that we’ll help him kick anyone that isn’t one of us out of this country. Those p@ssy liberals are going to get lynched like the rest of them. We are not going to put up with it anymore.” The man took out his phone and read a couple of lines of propaganda from the event notification. Whatever he was saying, I can state with certainty that none of his words were going to make America great again. His words certainly weren’t helping improve the store any.

I stood less than 10 feet away, albeit with a tall shelf of cookies and snacks towering between us. I simply stood where I was, listening, wondering how far they’d go.

The store employee bragged that he had his Glock on him as he tapped his hip. He bragged about having a 50-round clip if the gun clip was out. He added that he didn’t believe in a reload. If he was going to kill someone, he wasn’t going to stop with a bullet. The vendor jumped in and gave a list of his guns, clips, and ammo, legal and otherwise.

“We’re going to need them. If they steal the election in November, I’m going to shoot some people. Trump is the best president this country’s ever had. If that monkey before him hadn’t stolen an election, we wouldn’t be in this mess with this hoax virus.” I bit my tongue to avoid reminding him that Obama had somehow stolen 2 elections, not just 1.

Note: none of the gentlemen talking had masks on, including the store employee. The 10-year-old with them didn’t either.

I walked around the next shelf the long way and walked within a foot of the men. None seemed perturbed by me being there. I winked at the 10-year-old and made eye contact.  “How are you,” I asked, ignoring the people engaged in the ignorant and hateful talk. “Good,” he said. The men stopped talking long enough to make eye contact with me. I kept walking and went another shelf over. A female employee was stocking. She could hear them talking but didn’t intervene. I pretended to look at the salsas while I listened a bit longer to the talk going on.

As hard as it is to believe, the talk continued on from one hateful topic to another. I won’t recount more of it here.

The tone and content reminded me of many conversations I overheard when I was growing up in a family with racists in every rafter.

When I neared the register, the employee who’d actively participated in the hate speech walked around to ring up my purchases.

As he finished and I pulled my debit card from the kiosk, I told him, “You know I’m white right?”

He looked at me confusedly. “Yes, I’d say you’re white.”

“There’s no such thing as white. It’s all in your head. Our day is over. You should be careful who you voice your opinion around. Liberals are everywhere.” I shrugged. I left him, confused. He couldn’t tell whether I was a liberal or someone who agreed with his hate.

I smiled and went outside. I looked at the mattress on the old car by the door, then up to the blue sky.

I don’t know what my point is.

I can’t wrap this one up neatly in a bow.

This is America.

That 10-year-old boy in the store is going to grow up with a choice: echo his ancestors or recognize hate and ignorance as live animals, ones which must be starved into extinction.

X

 

P.S. This post isn’t anti-Trump, even though I can’t think of anything redeeming to say about him as a person or President. It’s telling that those who tend toward the most violent viewpoints tend to be his most ardent supporters. Those stuck in the middle get painted with the same brush, though, fair or otherwise.

 

Two Gloves For Rosen

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As I neared the last corner on the way home, I saw my Marshallese neighbor in the lateral sideyard playing ball with his son. They were using a tennis ball and running across the yard, laughing. Unlike some of the neighbors, they were careful. It was a great late morning for such games, with a temperature in the upper 70s, a light breeze washing over them, and a sun uncharacteristically cool.

Seeing them frolic made me realize that I found a home for another of my keepsakes.

I drove past the few remaining houses to mine and parked in the driveway. I backed my wife’s car out of the garage and then used the drop-down attic staircase to go up. I shifted the bins around until I found the one with my two baseball gloves and a special baseball. A few years ago, I reconditioned both gloves and sealed them. It surprised me that I had not found a good home for the gloves before today.

When I was younger, I learned to catch using whatever glove was available. For most lefties like me, especially poor ones, I either used my bare hands or learned to rapidly remove my glove and throw the ball. The positive result of this was that I could catch perfectly well with either hand and bat right-handed.

Until today, I’ve waited to find a new home for my gloves. I didn’t want to give them to someone who wouldn’t appreciate them. Having them unused in the attic bothered me a bit, though. I’m violently opposed to owning such things without using them. Gloves are meant to be used. As terrible as a sports fan that I am, the simplicity of playing catch, hotbox, or hitting balls in the summer sun is something that I loved doing when I was young. Like most boys, I participated in versions of baseball anywhere that we could manage, from dormant municipal baseball fields to cow patches where large apartments now tower above the land.

I walked down to the corner. Rosen, the younger Marshallese owner of the house, walked up to meet me. His young son stood on the lawn, wondering what I was up to. Another smaller boy sat on the chair under the small covered porch on the front of the house.

“Hey, do you remember me? I’m the one who gave you the weedeater and spoke Spanish to you?”

Rosen nodded yes, and then said, “I know you have a strange name, but I can’t remember what it is.”

I showed him my work badge and told him, “X.” Seeing it written out sometimes gives people the right context to understand what I’m saying.

“Rosen, I want you to have my gloves. One if for lefties, and the other is for those who use the wrong hand to catch. And the baseball is a special one I’ve kept for many years. I want you to keep them and enjoy them.” The look on Rosen’s face told me that I had once again surprised him. When I moved to the new house a few years ago, I walked down and gave him a new weedeater. He was shocked then and surprised now.

“Wow, thanks X. We’ll definitely go to a ball field and play. We’ll use the tennis ball right now.”

I laughed. “Okay, but if you really want to repay me, you’ll break out a couple of windows of that neighbor’s house.” I turned and pointed to a house across the street, a house that is well on its way to becoming a version of Boo Radley’s house.

The residents of that infamous house are using every page of the ‘Asshole Neighbor’s Playbook.’ If the human underarm could become a house, it would be that one.

Rosen laughed, too.

He might not know the significance of that ball or what it meant to me, but if he uses it even for a single shared afternoon with his son, the honor will have been paid in equal measure.

I walked away and heard one of the boys say, “Dad, who was that nice man?”

I smiled, wondering what ripple effects I had unknowingly set in motion by my gift.