Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Annual resolution post

Things I will do more of in 2014:

Blog: but that's not really that hard. I think I had like 12 posts in 2013. It just never caught on with me again and I never found time, but I'm looking at returning to creative writing and this is a good place to exercise the habit a bit.

Travel: I did travel a bit last year. I went to Michigan to a wedding and had a really enchanting time in Chicago. The drive was good for me and took some of the fear out of hitting the road. I'll do it some more in 2014.

Exercise: I do get in some exercise, but after a colleague passed away at the radio station, I took on a regular mid-morning shift. That's probably going to come to an end and I can put more consistent time in at the gym.

Look for a way to make some more money or get a different job: I love what I do, but the money isn't great. The radio gig isn't stable and I was flat-out turned down on a raise by the boss at the newspaper. You see, I got a small (tiny) raise last year. The hope was the raise would help with health care costs, but then the payroll tax happened and my small raise was devoured by that. In fact, I checked. My take home actually went down three dollars a week.

I could rant and rail about how the people I work for are short-selling their staff and themselves --or I can work on doing something about it. I'm willing to trying to earn a few bucks on the side with freelance work, if I can get it, but if the money isn't there, I'll need to go where I can find it.

A man has to eat.

Sell the house: That sort of relates to the above, but also, it's a lot of work trying to maintain this place. Mowing the lawn takes between 4 and 6 hours with a push mower and I don't see myself investing $2,000 in a riding lawn tractor that can handle the hill. Those aren't the only reasons, but I need to downsize.

It's too damned quiet here, too.

Write more: That relates to item one, but also to getting published, which relates to item 4. It's all one big circle.

Read more, watch less TV and spend less time on Facebook: I like books more than what's on Netflix right now and I like Facebook not all. Yet, I spent way too much time on the latter this year.

Spend a little more time with friends: I still haven't caught back up to speed with everybody.

Keep doing the things I already do right: A lot of resolutions are about corrections. I don't feel like I need a lot of repairs to my life. I'm a decent guy who does quite a bit with limited resources. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Bumping donuts

The lady at the donut store looked at me and said, "And then her little boy pushed a screwdriver up his nose until it bled."

Her co-worker, appalled, just shook her head in disbelief, but looked like she could believe it.

They were both young women; in their early 20s, menthol-cigarette thin and looked a little road worn. You don't get a job at the donut store if you're breaks up to this point have been good ones. I guessed one of them was in cosmetology school or a recent grad.

Her hair and makeup didn't match this type of work. She looked a little too clean and well-manicured to be slinging donuts.

They both looked out of place, like they could at least get a job at Sears, but I supposed somebody has to make donuts. Donuts must be made and this was there fate --at least for the time being.

The other woman seemed familiar. Lots of people look familiar to me now. I blame Facebook. I take pretty much everybody except obvious con-jobs (that is internet prostitutes and scam artists) and people previously distantly related to me through complex legal framework.

"How'd a two-year-old get a screwdriver?" the one I sort of recognized. "That's what I want to know. When you've got a kid, you gotta child-proof your house."

She looked at me for confirmation. I selected two French Crullers, two peanut butter iced donuts and one of the red velvet cake donuts with the white, presumably cream cheese, frosting.

"Those are real good," the woman said. "Very popular."

And it's always good to be doing what the popular people are doing. I also got an apple fritter, which was about the size of a house cat.

"She doesn't care," the woman with the expertly highlighted hair explained. "She didn't even take him to the hospital."

"But he could have punctured a sinus or something." Her face was pained.

I nodded. Yes, this was awful.

"First thing, before I even had my baby, I got all that stuff out of there. I put things up," the woman I maybe knew said.

"But she don't care. That kid can pick up a screwdriver or a wrench or a hammer anytime he likes," the other said.

I wondered how it was the kid was being raised in a garage, but then remembered all the shit my father used to keep lying around. Hell, he used to melt lead wheel weights on the kitchen stove to turn them into fishing sinkers. I have no idea what was in half of the stuff he used to make fishing bugs in the living room. It's a wonder he didn't kill us all with some of that shit.

"If it were me, I'd be calling CPS," she added finally and for a moment I wondered why she hadn't.

But I knew. If you've ever had Child Protective Services breathing down your neck, you know. That's something you invoke lightly. They're the angels of darkness. Calling upon them can bring ruin down on whoever is named and even if it doesn't, the process is agony. It's fear.

You only bring them in when there is no other option, only if you truly believe the parents are worthless fuck-ups or degenerates and the child is in actual peril.

A two-year-old poking the inside of his nostril with a misplaced screwdriver was bad, but it was more lazy than evil --and the mother in question might be a lot of things (an asshole, for instance), but when the numbers got added up at the bottom of her card both women still considered her sort of a friend.  

"That'll be $7.11," her partner said and smiled.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tabula Rasa

The neighbor next door keeps the shade drawn on her kitchen window. I think that's because she caught me taking a leak out on the lawn --a couple of times.

In my defense: It is my lawn.

In my defense: It was dark and there are trees separating our properties.

In my defense: I never did it very often. 

In my defense: I tried to be discrete.

But at three, four or five in the morning, with two dogs taking their sweet time to pinch one off (the little one is the worst), I've occasionally made for the back corner of the house and a well-placed shrubbery. There might have been a time when I didn't even make it that far, but I've always turned my back to the light.

I suspect she thinks I'm a drunk. Who else but a drunk would piss out in his front yard?

A guy with two dogs.

To be sure, there was no going to the bathroom before the dogs went outside. If you did that and you'd be sponging up a puddle from the carpet or ,just as bad, one of them would make a run for the back room and take a dump on whatever looked particularly inviting --the stone floor in front of the fireplace, the laundry stacked in a basket, the couch.

It's better now. The little dog has gained some measure of control and can now wait those important 30 seconds it takes for me to empty my bladder before going outside.

This is a small, but important victory.

There haven't been a lot of victories out here in the sticks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I find myself thinking about religion lately, but not in the sense of wondering about the existence or nature of God. It's more about how and why people come to it.

I think a lot of people pick it up because there's comfort in belief. To be certain about your role in the world, your place in a community and even what to expect from a specific set of actions is comforting. Stability, certainty are things to rely on. That might have been part of the message of that line in the Bible about Jesus building his church on a rock: this is a stable house, a reliable institution.

Actual miles may vary, of course...

Some people gravitate toward religion because of insider knowledge. They dig that --knowing what nobody else knows. It's one of the reasons why people join fraternities and secret societies, like the Masons: the promise of inside information on how it all works.

I think they're usually disappointed. I joined a fraternity while I was in college and I can promise you the least interesting aspect of that group was the club secrets. The magic words weren't particularly magical. The secret handshake didn't really make me feel like I was part of anything special. Only the costumes that went along with the ceremonies were really notable and that was only because they were fucking creepy.

Others immerse themselves in religion to make a kind of armor against thoughts and actions that repulse even them. I've heard of pedophiles, perverts and self-loathing homosexuals joining the clergy because they think that surrounding themselves with God is a way to imprison that thing in them they fear or hate.

Apparently, this doesn't work so great. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I think some people use religion to steel against their own appetites for wealth or capacity for wrath. It's easier not to be a greedy bastard if you've taken a vow of poverty. It's easier to keep your temper if you cling to a religion's message of kindness, love and charity.

They all pretty much say be nice, don't hurt other people and give what you can when you can.

The new thing, for me, is thinking about people turning to religion because maybe they're terribly shallow and kind of stupid. They pick it up because devout people are often seen as wise and they want to be taken seriously as the kinds of people they wish they were.

Preachers, priests and rabbis are assumed to live in a deeper world than the rest of us. They dwell on the nature of the soul. They plumb the depths of compassion, grief and every good and bad thing that might weigh on a human soul.

We defer to them based on this, I think. We assume they have insights we don't and grant them more credit than they deserve sometimes.

I've seen men and women, as dumb as rocks but deeply religious, who hide behind scripture rather than work out the meaning of what is in front of them. They play act and pretend to have some sort of authority on matters well beyond their very limited knowledge.

I have no idea where they come up with their shit, but they they say the craziest things, believe and spout the most outlandish lies --but they're good people. They're sweet, God-fearing/Christ-loving people.

They're just kind of shallow and stupid.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Alpha and Omega

"You're an uncle?" The nurse asked me.

I looked up from the infant, smiled and shook my head. I was just a visitor, a volunteer: a friend.

"You look so natural," she told me and I said I just blend in with folks.

Some days I hate myself for it, hate myself for feeling like I'm as common as a copper penny. Other days it's not as bad. Today, I didn't mind being mistaken for the girl's family for a little while.

The nurse resumed her rounds, went on her way, while I rock back and forth.

The girl didn't sleep, but she wasn't awake either. She lolled in and out of the twilight, her blind eyes accidentally slipping open to instinctively follow a sound, a smell, perhaps. The mystery of what these things were didn't seem to trouble her. Always, her eyes closed again and she rested, if not dreamed.

The doctors kept her drugged. It was the right thing, the humane thing to do. Without the drugs, the pain might be unspeakable or it might not. There was really no way to know. So, they kept her pretty stoned and that was fine with everyone.

It was fine with me, too.

I held the girl to give her peace, to show her there was mercy and kindness in this world she would not long inhabit. What had been done to her was cruel only in the way gods can be cruel. It was irreversible. The best I could do was keep her company. So, I whispered to her, told her about my dog and said it was pretty outside.

"Fall is beautiful," I said. "Right now, the colors are just starting to come in."

She wouldn't know a word I was saying and might not even know what a color was. It didn't matter. I kept talking, told her I wished I'd brought a book to read to her, told her I wished I knew how to sing, but that I wouldn't wish me singing a bad pop song on anyone --at least, on nobody sober.

An old woman came in with a cup of coffee, sat in a chair on the other side of the room and told me she was the girl's great, great grandmother.

I doubted that, but she said, "I had my first baby when I was 13. I had 10 kids, six boys and four girls." She sipped from the paper cup. "I grew up with those kids, you know what I mean?"

I kind of did, though I came to fatherhood much later than 13.

"My kids had three or four kids a piece," she said. "There are 36 of them and after that, I lost track."

She grinned. She still had some of her teeth.

Surprisingly, not a local, the woman had come from up north and had decided to come south, following a funeral for a niece. Graveside, a granddaughter asked her if she wanted to come visit for a few weeks. She took them up on it and here she was.

"I came to see that baby," she said. "I mean to be here as long as I need to be: She's precious."

After she finished her coffee, I gave her my chair and lowered the baby into her arms. I offered to stick around in case she needed something.

The old woman told me she could buzz the nurses, if she needed to.

"I got nowhere else I want to be," she added.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Black stones

I skipped another reunion. This one was with a bunch of old college friends, most of them turned acquaintances, some of them become strangers. They'd scheduled a golf game. I don't play golf, but I was willing to ride around on a golf cart, drink beer and pretend everything was the same as it was when golf was something we only played with our fathers, if we played at all.

In the old days, you could just about always pool your money with a couple of friends for a twelve pack or maybe share a bottle of something stronger --if you weren't to particular. Golf was expensive, even when it was cheap. It required memberships and greens fees. It cost gasoline just to get to the course. You had to rent a golf cart and buy all the right gear.

The game didn't seem complete unless you had a cooler full of beer or had a few drinks after all nine holes were played.

Back then, it was just more cost effective to sit somewhere and drink.

The golf game had been scheduled on a fraternity alumni Facebook page. We'd do it on Friday, the day before homecoming at the college.

I wasn't committed at first. Travel equals money: gas and tolls and hours lost at work. But I was encouraged to go. I've become something of a draft horse, a beast of burden so used to the routine of being in a specific place to do a specific thing every day I get uncomfortable if I don't make my rounds. I'm trying to rehabilitate myself, break the habit. The trip sounded so good and I'd missed those men and the years we spent together. I'd missed those breezy friendships.

The thing was the day before the drive I noticed there were conversations going on I was only seeing (at best) half of. Jokes were made. Boys were being boys. Only, the punchlines had been obscured. From what I could tell, at least one of the people I was coming to meet had blocked me, not just unfriended me, but blocked me.

It took me a while to figure out who that was and to remember how that happened.

Social media went ape shit after the Newtown Massacre. Pro gun propoganda and anti-government spin was suddenly everywhere. I'd never seen anything like it. Every morning, when I turned on Facebook or looked in the comments section of websites and news portals, there was deliberate and calculated lie after lie. It was frightening and no worse than when I saw it crop up among the people I thought I'd known.

One, in particular, had posted some really unbelievable stuff, but stuff that was easily debunked, which I did because it seemed embarrassing to me that anyone would want to be used as a pawn. He didn't care. He thought it was interesting, even though it was complete fiction and clearly designed to promote a specific agenda. He supported what the lie was promoting. That it was a lie, just didn't matter.

Things got heated and I got unfriended and then blocked.

If it bothered me, I don't remember. I remember being appalled.

So, it turns out he was one of the people in that particular group meeting for golf and he wasn't the only one I'd had some sort of run-in with. Another had flat-out ignored me for about a year after a disagreement and it occurred to me that maybe I didn't know what I was getting into.

There is no other way to put it: Many of the guys I went to school with, we don't agree on much. We barely did back in the day and over the years, it seems to me they've become so rigid and fearful.

I went the other way. I don't know why exactly. I had plenty of reason not to.

These men I knew once are good men. Some of them are heroes who've saved lives. 

But I would not burden them with my company. They have come so far to be there and I thought it better to let them play their game together in peace. I could stay home and drink alone.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Small town Saturday night -part one

The lobby of the tattoo parlor was humming on a Saturday night. Young, wannabe strippers, thin as greyhounds, decked out in skintight, black yoga pants with cell phones stuck in the waistbands leaned against the counter, looking hollow-eyed and hungry. On the other side of the glass case, needle jockeys hovered over computer screens, working out details, details, details...

You'd have thought they worked at NASA for all the effort, but really it's hard to begrudge a tattoo artist for wanting to be thorough. What they do is going to leave a mark. You'd want to make sure it's the right mark.

The parlor had a good crowd, but people were loitering more than they were waiting. Some of the crowd had come to get work done. Others were there strictly as moral support, but me, coming through the door, I must have looked like the worst kind of trouble on a Saturday night. The shirt was new, but the tie wasn't.

A few minutes before my date and I had been at a library fundraiser, gone to bid on baskets we had no chance of actually winning, and to soak up whatever free food and drink was available. The food was pretty good, heavy hors d'oeuvres catered by the Bridge Road Bistro. The stuffed mushrooms, in particular, were very nice. I had three.

I'd dressed up for the occasion, gone out and bought the new shirt, which had been a steal for nine bucks on the clearance table at Elder Beerman, a store I do not shop at normally. The tie had come from the hand-me-downs of a dead man, given to me as part of a lot stuffed into a grocery store shopping bag. My jacket and slacks were from Goodwill.

We'd come out on a whim. I've been talking about getting a tattoo for years now and it seemed like a good night for it. This particular establishment came highly recommended and what I wanted seemed barely more complicated than getting my ear pierced.

But it just wasn't happening.

At the fundraiser, I'd passed well enough as someone, who if not particularly moneyed, was at least dressed well enough to be allowed through the door without anyone thinking much of it. But at the tattoo parlor, people stared. The receptionist looked almost frightened, like I might pull a gun or a badge or a piece of paper saying I was an avenging angel from the county health department come to raze the place to the ground or at least issue a stern warning.

"I don't know if we can fit you in," she said quickly.

I tried to explain that what I wanted wasn't especially tricky, but she just told me everyone was booked up.

"You can wait around," she repeated. "Maybe they can squeeze you in, but..."

She doubted it to the core of her being, but let me take the book of letter fonts from her hands to examine at my leisure. It was a free country and I was welcome to have a seat.

For 15 or 20 minutes, we sat on a couch, flipping through the book, weighing the individual merits or lack thereof of the different styles. We went through the book three times. I just wanted to get the letter V etched on my left ring finger, an immensely sentimental notion, but nothing requiring a lot of artistic energy, I thought.

Across, on the other couch, a hefty couple slouched and grimly waited for the inevitable --they had an appointment. A few minutes into our wait, they were taken to the back to begin whatever work they'd hired out for. Their paperwork was done, though neither of them seemed too excited about what was going to happen.

I have no idea why they were there. A tattoo parlor sounds like just about the worst place to go if you're pissed off about something --better to take a walk or get some frozen yogurt.

As we waited, a twitchy bottle blond came into the store and went to the counter. She lingered for a second, made a call then turned around and told the girl at the desk what she wanted. A moment or two later, one of the artists came out and asked if she'd already filled out her paperwork. She hadn't, but it seemed like he decided they could take care of business later.

Not a big deal.

He took her to the back while we watched. I have no idea. Maybe she was a regular.

I took the book back to the receptionist, figuring it hardly mattered if I found something I liked or not. Nothing was getting done. They had no time or inclination to bother with us. She took the book and told us we could come back tomorrow.

"We're open from one to eight," she said. "It's usually not this busy on Sundays."

It wasn't an invitation, just a statement of fact.

So, we left and got yogurt.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Chupacabra

All of the really good things I could write about, I'm legally barred from --which is kind of hilarious. Five or six years ago, I ran my mouth on this blog, said some ugly (and honestly, not very articulate) things about someone I was once involved with. It wasn't the first time and she also resented some of the things I'd written about other people, which, I suppose, she thought reflected back on her.

That all sounds pretty vague, right? Good.

As the old story goes, we had to hash some things out with the help of a lawyer. I agreed to not write about several things, which is too bad, but I got a pretty good deal --mostly. Our agreement clarified some fuzzy points that she might have been used in a way that wasn't particularly helpful to me. Things have been better since. I lost some story fodder, but I gained a lot.

Still vague enough to be almost inscrutable? Yes, I think so.

It's funny that I should think about this now, but I was going through my desk the other day and came across something labeled, "old papers." Among these papers was the stuff from the mediation, the stuff the other party brought to the meeting, including copies of those old blog posts I agreed to delete.

It wasn't everything I lost.

To be honest, I was asked to delete more than just the offending posts. She wanted a bit more than what we'd agreed to. I had to scrub those posts that somehow touched on our shared history, that referred to her in passing (or other related topics), even if there wasn't anything negative about it.

It was a bit much, actually, and I probably should have said no, but I was trying to get along, trying to regain the peace after much conflict. I just did it and moved forward.

I looked at those old papers and the naughty things I wrote --in retrospect, they were kind of ham-fisted and not an accurate description of my feelings. I think I was trying to be vulgar for the sake of vulgarity, even though why I wanted to be vulgar was pretty straight-forward.

As close as I can say it without actually apologizing, I didn't mean the things I said, particularly that part about getting a sunburn on her lady bits. I meant something else that was probably worse, but lacked the imagination to come up with something actually funny --and sometimes just saying someone is a jerk just doesn't really satisfy. If it did, we'd have never come up with cocksucker or motherfucker, let alone all the great things my old buddy Brad and I have called each other over the years just because we could.

The validity of the agreement is somewhat shaky these days. The terms were based on a certain set of conditions and I have to wonder what happens if those conditions change?

I don't know. I tend to think my obligation to abide by the treaty is crumbling, has been in decay for years, with each little alteration we've made to it, but times have changed, too.

Still, the heart of the deal was that I would not write about her: I would write no good thing and no bad thing.

I can keep that peace, I think. Let that past stay in the past.

The rest, we may test in a month or so --not that it matters. In case you hadn't heard, blogging is dead. Nobody reads this shit anymore.

Monday, March 25, 2013

There's a Spring

While working on the application for the refinance on the house, I was asked a lot of questions. Some were easy to answer. Others were tricky and a few made me think back.

One of the more interesting points brought up is I made less money last year than I did the year before. The bank wanted to know why and I had to think about it.

Here's what I came up with:

First off, I fell in love and really kind of blossomed.

In 2012, I took more time off from my weekend job to do things I liked. I went to roller derby. I took time off to be with my very awesome girlfriend. I didn't take every single extra job that came along at the radio station when someone got sick, went on vacation or left town. I didn't work every holiday that came along and I used my vacation time at the newspaper for something other than a resource that could be converted into extra cash by working at the radio station.

I did that so many times because I needed the money. I needed to make a car payment, make rent, buy groceries, whatever...

It wasn't just that I didn't need to work more, I just didn't want to.

Second, I stopped worrying about whether  "Mountain Stage" would be around for another year or not.

My relationship with the show is different than it used to be. Things changed a couple of years ago and I just don't go out and review their shows like I used to. It's barely worth the hassle. It's easier and better for everyone involved to just check in every now and again, just to see how things are, than do show after show after show.

My paychecks reflect that opinion, I think. I don't go to nearly as many shows. I pulled back on other shows, too, but I see a lot less "Mountain Stage" than I used to. 

I guess I'm thinking about that because I was at the show over the weekend --not for the show itself, but for the preparation leading up to the actual performance. I lingered backstage while the crew went about their business. I stayed out of the way of guests, the members of the band and the crew. 

I tried to be inconspicuous, get my little job done and be on my way. I stayed only as long as necessary, but I remembered when hanging around like that used to be fun. It was amazing to be on the fringe of that community, to feel like I might sort of be part of it.

That was a long time ago.

At least, two years, if you look at my W-2s.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Burning

I'd never been to a County School Board meeting, which is kind of surprising.

Growing up, my teacher parents went to them all the time. I remembered these meetings fondly; actually, the hour or so before the big show. Mom and Dad would have a couple of friends over, break out a cheeseball and drink a glass or two of relatively shitty white wine.

I might have sneaked a nip or two when nobody was looking.

Anyway, my folks would go to the meeting, leave us with sitter, and then go get pissed off at whatever the board was doing.

School boards, I came to believe, were mostly evil things, made up of chest-thumping autocrats, who slouched miserably toward boisterous incompetence. They made a lot of noise, aggravated everyone and tended to accidentally get things done. They were the third tier of politicians, the C students, the people not likable or smart enough to get elected to the town council or county commission, but willing to put up with a shit job in exchange for a petty fiefdom.

I still feel like I'm right.

An early highlight of the evening was watching one board member glower and berrate an administrator over the choice for a vice principal at a vo tech school. The member thought to do the job you needed to find a nurse, a welder, a computer programmer who had the state required masters degree in Education administration and had also completed their leadership program.

It seemed a bit on the unlikely side, like trying to find a master gardener qualified to fly the space shuttle to do a cooking show.

He went on a loopy rant about how the current vo tech programs in the state were lacking, how they weren't nearly as wonderful as what they were back in the day --though he offered little evidence of that fact. His sole anecdote seemed to be that in days past, the schools were willing to whore their students out to do construction projects for free (for experience, I suppose), which encouraged business --as slave labor tends to.

Somewhat shaken, the little man the board member bitched at, tried to explain that their schools were exemplary schools, certified by the state to be about as good as it's going to get.

He would not be mollifed, though the other four BOE members voted him down. Probably someone should have taken up the issue that he was acting like an asshole.

The big item for the night was an update on the board of education no longer being required by law to support the local library. After several years of struggle, the board won a court case that dissolved a law they helped to craft some 50 years ago, back when the board of education thought having a sustainable library was important, back when they were willing to do more than just flap their gums.

There were several impassioned speeches. A few people came out to say, "Please, don't kill my library." The meeting room was full. Not much got accomplished, except some hearts got broken.

The ruling doesn't prevent the board from providing money for the library. In fact, the BOE is one of three places the library is supposed to go to for funding and other school boards do so voluntarily. However, the noises the local board are making don't much sound like they intend to continue to fund voluntarily. Mostly, it's "We'd love to help, but we're broke."

And they are.

Even before the state supreme court ruling, the board of education was in financial trouble. They were coming up on a three million dollar deficit brought on by a mixture of bad luck and bad planning on their part. Being unshackled from the library for the BOE was like a parent being told they were no longer responsible for feeding and clothing one of their small children, which was convenient because Mom and Dad didn't do so hot playing the market.

When the board ceases providing funds to the public library in a few months, the results will be devastating. It will close six branches and kill off the roving bookmobile. Hours will be reduced at the remaining locations, services will suffer and dozens of people will lose their jobs. The community at-large will become much poorer.

And I believe this with my whole heart.

If the court ruling had gone the other way, the board of education would be facing serious cuts. They'd have had to cut programs throughout the school system, spread the load. School extras, undoubtedly, would have been hit; athletics, for sure. The BOE would have been forced to cancel contracts and probably lay off some staff.

It would have hurt, but the damage could have been spread out and they probably wouldn't be talking about buying new concrete bleachers or discussing whether the new vice principal at the vo tech was qualified to act as the principal's hatchet man and enforcer because she'd never spent time grinding metal in a machine shop.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rambling Man

I get a little disappointed by what happened to the local blogosphere. People moved on. They gave it up. They went and got lost in Facebook (myself, included), which is an easy thing to do.Only a few people hung in there and most of them are bloggers I don't read.

It's funny to get nostalgic about something that started around a decade ago and only existed for only a few years.This blog, of course, started in 2005, following the cancellation of my first blog through the newspaper.

My editor at the time, Doug, filled my head with ideas that blogging was the way of the future. It was the chance to reach a huge audience, become a tastemaker, an influential voice in the new electronic media. He assured me the world was hungry for fresh voices with a wry spin that connected the broader universe to the smaller local regions.

Doug says a lot of the same things about Twitter now. He probably said them about Facebook, LinkedIn and even Youtube and while I think he means what he says, I don't think he's right anymore. Even if he is, I don't think I care.

Anyway, the first blog didn't catch on. I could argue it wasn't promoted by the paper, which would be true, but nobody knew anything about me. They had no reason to invest their time in reading anything I wrote. The only thing I had going for me was I was still kind of on the fringe of media with my work with Graffiti and those three or four other basically alt-media outlets I did stuff for. It was a kind of street cred, though not much.

The first blog just wasn't very good and when Doug told me he wanted to cancel me in favor of starting a food blog (where I accidentally learned the secret identities of local blogging legends, Raging Red and Hippie Killer), I just went with it and started something on my own.

It's been hit or miss, I know. I deleted a massive number of posts, good posts some have said, because I hurt the feelings of my then wife and I really hadn't intended to do that. She told me I didn't have to do that, but I felt bad.

I dumped a bunch of posts a bit later after a legal squabble with someone else. I lost the battle in that case, but really won the war. It's impossible to explain, unfortunately --per the mediation agreement.

The blog has been good to me and I like that a few people got to know me as a writer more for the shit I wrote here than for the umpteenth music interview I did. There's more of me here than almost anywhere else and that's probably always going to be that way. The newspaper has zero interest in giving me a column and yes, the subject has been broached occasionally, but I'm not old enough, mature enough or considered interesting or bland enough to give them what they want.

I have no idea. I ask every now and again and they keep shooting me down.

What I miss about the blogosphere were the different voices. I liked the diversity. It was a way to get to know people and largely, the people I read were decent people with something to say, a thought or experience to share.

I can still find most of the same people on Facebook, if I want, but they don't say the same things. They're not as brave. In a couple of cases, I barely recognize who they are now versus who I thought I knew --which is funny. Most everybody ran around under pen names and assumed identities (I was one of the exceptions, though occasionally I signed on comments as Emo McSourpuss, a name given to me by another blogger for my often sour contributions to political discussions), but I thought the bloggers were being pretty real. I thought they spoke from their hearts (sort of). Elsewhere, using their real names, surrounded by high school friends and co-workers, most people I think pull their punches and leave a lot out.

I miss the old neighborhood. I do. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In God we trust, all others pay cash.

You know, for a house I didn't especially want in the first place, it's been a hell of an ordeal to get the thing put in my name. I agreed to do that during the divorce: take the house on when I could. For the last year, that really didn't seem viable. Closing costs run about $3500.

Do I have $3500?

No, I do not have $3500.

According to my latest bank statement, I have about $13 until payday. I have a few bucks in savings: enough to buy an OK television or have a fair weekend in Dollywood, but nowhere near enough to clear a refinance.
Of course, that was until I heard about an FHA streamline, which is supposed to be a magic bullet for people like me. Put together as a way for people to lower their interest rate with little or no money for closing costs, it can also be used to modify an existing mortgage --in this case, amend who owns the property in question.
After several months of periodically bringing up this with the guy who wrote the first mortgage and being mostly blown off, he finally decided it was in the bank's best interests or his best interests or someone's best interests to go ahead and start that up.

Honestly, I got no traction until I said, "Either you can help me or I'll just find somebody else who's willing to try."

Finally, he said, "I can get you $700 a month with no money for closing."

That was his first offer.

Then a thousand to two thousand dollar closing cost fee appeared. Then it disappeared. Then returned as around a thousand dollars, but a monthly of $675.

I have no clue what it will be tomorrow.

The whole process gets crazier and crazier all the time, which in my mind explains why the banking industry tanked a few years ago. They're all fucking high on something.

Currently, I'm halfway approved, but there's a list of things the underwriter's need, which today includes documents from a consumer creditor counseling service I used for about five years and dropped seven or eight years ago. It was kind of a scam, actually. The company was supposed to be able to clear up my debts, but that's not really how that played out. They paid themselves very well and every month put a little  money on my debts.

The only thing they managed to do was keep people from calling my house, bitching about how much I owed them.

I got a loan from my mom that turned into a gift to just pay off my creditors. After that, I very pointedly left the counseling program, talked to a nice man who seemed to think that was just swell, what I was doing. It was and I was glad to be out from under those people.

Why the bank thinks I need permission from these people now to streamline my mortgage in order to remove my ex-wife's name from it sounds insane. I'm about ten minutes from just telling them to go fuck themselves and just put the house on the market.

Selling the place would solve getting my ex's name off the mortgage.

I've been thinking about that more and more lately. I like living here, mostly. I like feeling like something is mine. I like having a garden and like not having to worry about the damned neighbors hearing me if I snore or laugh at the stupid television, but I don't like feeling like the place owns me.

I'm not sure I'm cut out to be middle class and a homeowner. I'm not even sure if I'm cut out to be a local anymore. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Re: Re

I think about friendship and the people in my life more these days than I used to. I started thinking more about it after my mother's stroke. People came out for her --work colleagues, friends from the neighborhood, from the women's club --all kinds of people.

People came out for me, too --A few were those I'd known since I'd first come to Charleston, a couple from work, a few college friends, one or two others from High School and most amazingly, my two dearest, childhood friends.

It was in comparison a paltry few, but my mother was a teacher for 35 years, the president of the women's club and even considered once as a potential candidate for the local school board (she turned it down). The number of people I see or work with is small and many of my work relationships are at least a little adversarial. I probably wouldn't be doing my job properly if the folks at Mountain Stage loved me, but they don't and it's not tragic that they don't.

The stroke made me start looking at Facebook differently or maybe it just made me look at it again. It seems like the more people I know on Facebook, the fewer people I know in real life, the fewer real friends I have. The presidential election sort of fine tuned that. People weren't looking for conversation on Facebook. They were looking for converts to a particular way of thinking.

It got worse after the Newtown massacre. Out came the gun lobby supporters, the conspiracy theorists and the folks still ramped up from the election noise machine. The things they posted disturbed me to my core and I spent a lot of time trying not to convince them what they believed was wrong, just that the proof they were using for they believed was wrong.

It was foolish and didn't make a difference.

I had an old fraternity brother kick me to the curb after I pointed out that by posting these things he was posting, without any sort of disclaimer he was endorsing them. I showed him evidence that discredited what he was echoing and said that if he was comfortable propagating lies and distortions for political gain it was morally reprehensible.

I deserved being dropped.

Since the new year, I've been trying to cut back on my usage. It's not easy, but of course, not a lot of people were coming around to find me with the service. They just stopped in for a laugh when I was being funny or maybe to read something I posted that I wrote if it happened to be something they were into. Not a lot of people were checking on how I was doing; you know, "Since your mother had that stroke?" or "After that divorce?" or "Since you started seeing that hot librarian?"

Actually, only two and I can't really say I've been following the real lives of anyone I know either. So what's the fucking point of participating in the social network if it's not really social?

So I'm slowing and hoping to stop.

Meanwhile, I'm learning to stop thinking of everybody I work with as a friend. Some of the people I work with do not want what is in my best interests, but rather have interests of their own they want to serve. Relying too much on the people you work with for your community, for your circle, your tribe, is ultimately self-defeating. 

I think you if you want to be part of the world you have to go farther than the keyboard on your computer, farther even than the farthest cubicle at the edge of the room. You have to leave your home, leave your yard, leave even the mailbox at the end of your drive and find your way on some road somewhere.

There are no digital shortcuts an few professional pathways. You've got to find your own way to each new person you add in your life and usually one leads to another leads to another and so on. It's funny. There was a time when I knew this already, but I'd just forgotten.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013: Living and breathing

Shortly after the divorce, I lost my health insurance.

After over a decade of being fully insured through the state, I was suddenly faced with having to decide whether I wanted to go forward with picking up the newspaper's usually demonized insurance or going without. I was still limping through the first year of paying a mortgage on my own and a car payment I hadn't expected. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to continue feeding myself. Taking on insurance seemed like a burden I just couldn't handle --not yet.

Instead, I opted for a health club membership, figuring preventative care was probably better in the long run. A little swimming, some running and lots of free weights matched with (mostly) healthy eating seemed like a more economical approach to a safety net --plus it seemed like a more positive step.

But I still wanted the insurance.

The last time I was without insurance for an extended period of time, all kinds of bad shit happened. I had a really bad cold that turned into walking pneumonia, but the worst of it was a bout of strep throat, which cost me a couple of hundred bucks and went away right after I took my second prescribed antibiotic pill.

A few years ago, I was really amazed at how easy it was to fix things when you had insurance. I had a issue with my blood pressure, brought on by a bad diet, too much weight, a smoking habit I was sure I could kick whenever I wanted, and a lot of stress. I was doing a piece on a plasma center for Graffiti and the nurse told me my blood pressure was way off. I was sick. The doctor I went to confirmed it, put me on some blood pressure medicine and advised me to quit smoking, lose weight and learn to relax.

A few months later, I'd more or less done two of the three and my pressure was normal. I didn't need the medicine, but the whole experience taught me to pay attention a lot better. I check my blood pressure periodically and can tell when it's creeping up. It goes up with my weight and I start having more headaches.

The thing is, without the assurance of insurance, I probably wouldn't have gone to the doctor. I'd have self-diagnosed, treated myself as I saw fit and hoped for the best. That might have worked out fine, but maybe it wouldn't have. Either way, I certainly wouldn't have had access to blood pressure reducing medicine, which I'm sure made it easier to take care of the rest.

That old issue with my blood pressure became more meaningful after a friend's father had a stroke a few months ago, right after my mother had hers. Mom, who is struggling to regain her mobility, recovered her mind. I don't know if she'll ever be able to walk again, but regardless, things have turned out much better for her than they did for him.

After lingering for a couple of weeks, my friend's father died. He was only a year older than me and like me, had a certain built in reluctance to going to the doctor when he wasn't feeling well.   

Anyway, it's looking like I'll have one less reason to not get a checkup. Apparently, I might just be able to swing health insurance after all.

It's like the best news.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back in black

It's been a while since I've taken to blogging. The ebb and flow of my life has been kind of odd lately --and I've gotten out of the habit, but here I am, again affirming that this here blog is not dead, nor shall it rest.

As has become an almost yearly tradition, I'm attacking the new year with a set of resolutions. Some of these will look familiar. It often find myself in the same place as I started.

First and foremost... I'm finishing up that novel. I'm about a third of the way through the most recent re-write. I'm trying to put an hour on it every day, with the intention to work up to two hours and with a little luck... will begin sending it out to agents/publishers again. There is no specific time table, but the sooner the better.

Second, as usual, a few pounds crept up on me over the last six months. I can feel the weight on me and don't like it. I began a diet today and this morning was my first trip back to the gym in almost three weeks (the holidays, man. Not my fault).

Third. After book one is out, I'll work on that second one that ended up going nowhere. I need to find a better ending, but that should get me into the summer. Try to finish it and have it going to publishers and agents for consideration by Halloween.

Fourth. The West Virginia Writers is holding another writing contest. I resolve to submit a couple of short stories this year.

Fifth. Trips. I don't think you can really grow as a person if your only window to the world is a series of  flat screens. This year, I'll be taking some trips and maybe a valid vacation. It's going to happen. Maybe Planes, probably trains and definitely automobiles.

Sixth. The garden comes back and with it my ongoing war with the beasts of creation, which seem to want to eat things that don't belong to them. My garden will be bigger this year --but only because I get tired of mowing the lawn.

Seventh. Do a better job being me and take better care of the people I care about. Also a correlation with this: do less for the people who don't really give a shit about me. This may mean less baking. Maybe. Probably.

Eighth. Take good advice and avoid bad advice.

Ninth. More blogging. Less Facebook.

Ten. Buy a motorcycle. Learn to ride the damned thing.