A large chunk of Chapter 4 of my book, coming later this year.
For this chapter, I’d like to start, not from the beginning to the end chronologically as my last ‘story’ unfolded, but from most minor disappointments to the most major catastrophe I’ve faced thus far. For those wondering how I lost my hand, I’m going to make you have to read the entire book to get to that story. It’s a complicated thing and I have no intention of letting you off the hook as easy as putting it all in the same chapter.
Over the course of my life I’ve had to develop rules. They’re not in order because none of them are more important than any others, but I’d gladly recount the most important and how they shape my thought processes today. Starting with, “Do what you want, just don’t screw up anyone else’s good time.” A rule I’m pretty sure is some derivative of something I heard in Marcus Aurelius’s “Memoirs” audiobook. More importantly, someone who was a very close friend of mine established that as one of the rules we would obey while out in the big city doing stupid things with dangerous people. I found the rule would be useful later in life, as I started getting in to social media. Not everyone’s eyes are set on the same star yours is.
If I wanted to get high, fine. I could. But not if it was at someone else’s expense, and not if I was going to ruin the mood of the whole party. Not if it meant I had to put myself in a position where I needed to be rescued, although that rule was broken possibly the most often during the early developmental refining of my shadow. All in all, nobody got robbed, I never got arrested and no innocent people were harmed, although I’m pretty sure I wiped out a guard rail in my mom’s car and killed both the battery and the fuel filter… Sorry ma. Said it wouldn’t happen again. Sadly, years later, when trying to get out on to the freeway in her car driving alone, I got in another accident. -This- one was a random catastrophe. The sort that happen unavoidably in a big town full of people who can’t drive because they’re talking on their cell phones doing 10mph over the speed limit as a matter of necessity. So literally, that could be any major city anywhere. Still, insurance covered it, I paid my fine… I think…. And we moved on with life.
My father saw my constant playing of video games or running around with my friends as profitless hobbies that would net me naught but trouble. I saw things differently, and thought that his attitude was because he was some sort of randomly angry, borderline abusive, ass. This led to tensions that transcended time and, like with all things, began to corrupt our happy little home when I was growing up. Small, sparse and few arguments between mother and father, mother and son, father and son all started becoming common occurrences.
These fights changed, from trying to get everyone back on the same page, to establishing some moral or mathematical dominance over the other. It didn’t make for the best of times from about 8-13 years old. My relationship with my father became mandatory boredom and days with my mother seemed… lacking something. DON’T GET ME WRONG! Both of them spoiled me until I could barely see straight but even then I knew that some new thing had been brought in to existence.
Not a stormy path versus a calm one, but a single road, breaking off in to two, then suddenly in to hundreds. At that time I was still dealing with the nihilism of youth and the fears that come with it, before you can smooth it out with apathy and pride over time. My friends were no exception. That’s where most my ‘rules’ got their solidification. If I tried them out and applied them evenly when hanging out with my friends, and everyone had a good time, that rule was made concrete, then translated to them. Thing is, I didn’t have all the experience I needed to grasp something as large as my first rule. But my mom gave me a pretty good starting point.
Going to the beach was awesome, but Ma didn’t like climbing on the rocks, and playing in the clay, and chasing birds, and playing in the freezing cold Pacific. If I wanted company, I had to bring long friends when we were going to go to the beach. We’d all make plans, get excited about it, round up our toys and a change of clothes, and off we’d zip in the convertible.
No matter the ride, the talk once we pulled up was always the same. “We’re gonna try this once, but if you screw up, we’re never doing it again! Come when you hear the horn, and get out.” Perhaps not verbatim, but that’s about all we managed to hear before we bolted anyway. Sometimes I’d be the only one left to hear the last part of the warning. That rule let me gauge more about my decision making process than any other rule of law I’d hear for almost ten years.
When nobody was fighting, and all of us were having a good time, we could continue to play whatever game we wanted. A much more broad reaching rule than the original I laid out above, but it was applied to reach the same ends. Balance and behavior that coincided with everyone getting what they wanted. My ma got to read her book in relative peace while we kept an eye out for each other, knowing that when the car horn started going off, it was time to go home. We got to play at the beach until our fingers were blue and we couldn’t run anymore. Even when the rules were broken on one level, the fact that the other factors were all in step with each other meant that either all of us broke the rules and got in trouble, which never happened, or the Whole would correct the aberrant behavior and reign in the troublesome aspects of the One’s behavior until we had to fall in line to get anyone to play with us again. Nobody wanted to be the reason that we had to go home.
I’ve lived by a total of three sets of laws in my life. Those of childhood, those of nihilistic fearless youth, and those of the drug game. As we’ve already touched on the first one, I think it would be advantageous to the cause of this exploration to examine the other two frames of time in my life. I’m not going to be turning this in to some sort or morbid tell-all testimonial, but looking at bad decisions is often how we find the path to good ones.
In my teenage years, I was convinced that the public were cowards. I’d walk down the middle of the street, daring cars to hit me. I’d put myself in dangerous situations, because no situation I’d been in up until that point would stop me. Could stop me. Time itself and my continued dedication to breathing air proved my theories correct. How could I not be convinced of my own superiority over humanity? Cars stopped for me. Not for everyone, but for me specifically. It did horrid things to my ego. Ego meaning self-aware consciousness, not self-centered narcissism. I didn’t lose a single fight until I stepped up to my dad. Who happened to have been a boxer in the Navy during WWII. That lone event made me re-evaluate my invulnerability.
The fight I got in to with my dad was a dumb one, but I kept pushing it. So it happened. Starting in my room in the back of the apartment, he proceeded to sock me in the head with his fists, the dual hammers of righteous judgment. I’d recover from one hit just in time for the next one to snap my head back. It was like watching one of those Jet Li films, where he hits the dude like 20 times before the guy just falls over. I managed to stay on my feet, but that’s all I managed with my two years of Tae Kwon Do training. Each time I though, “Damn, he’s fast for 65..” Then, POP, another uppercut that’d rattle my soul in my body. We fought down the hall, across the kitchen, across the living room, and out the front door before he pulled a pair of handcuffs out of SOMEWHERE and cuffed me to the chain link fence outside. In the rain.
Then he went inside and smoked a bowl of weed, and drank some tea to re-hydrate, before coming back out to see if I’d calmed down or if I needed a longer shower. I was plenty calm by that point. Defeated. Lumped up. Confidence shattered to a million pieces. Soaked to the bone. But I was alive, and I learned more about controlling my temper in those few moments than at any other point in my life until years later in Job Corps. For this new, unfamiliar place I found myself I had to develop new rules. Number one became “Don’t assume all elderly are without combat experience.” Seemed like a safe enough rule to put in place. Many who were around his age or slightly younger, in fact, had actual combat experience. As opposed to my impressive fight record, they knew how to strike, where, what would come after and how to act on that to win the next volley. I knew a little.. Tae-Kwon-Do did little to establish boundaries for my behavior, but only gave hints at what I -should- do rather than could do.
“Attack until your enemy is on the ground.” One of those martial arts strategies for the young trainee. Good for setting a tempo, and focusing on a goal, but what happens when your opponent is faster than you and you can’t land a blow? What happens when all your strategies are countered or turned back on you? It didn’t give me a diverse enough strategy for not being faster or stronger than my opponent. Didn’t even prepare me to set up a good enough defense, or promote the same lessons of “bob and weave” that boxing does. I found myself in the position of many martial artists of old when confronted with western weaponry. A battle hardened Samurai with no losses wasn’t going to worry about the long range sniper rifle until the first bullet tears through his armor and embeds itself in his lungs.
Fortunately, this wasn’t a lesson taught in malice. It was a lesson taught in love. I know there’s a good deal of psychological research that would say that I caught that whuppin’ because my dad was abusive, but I don’t see a whole lot of evidence for that. It wasn’t a beating. It was a “whuppin’”. He wasn’t the model husband, and he wasn’t the best ally, but he resorted to physical violence very few times in my knowing him. It wasn’t how he settled everything, and it wasn’t like I was anything but a overweight bully throwing my weight around a home I didn’t maintain or contribute to. My action, whatever it had been, threatened to take me out of the realm of “Dutiful young student preparing for the world” and put me nearer “Full grown adult acting a fool”.
He did what any parent should, and in direct measure to the amount of behavior I was exhibiting in order to put me back on the right path. He shouldn’t have had to suffer what I had done in my young ignorance, and he didn’t. He stood up to the bundle of chaos with a strength and speed that the situation demanded in order to be brought to order. Can’t really be mad at that.
This lesson and others led to a slightly modified understanding of what I was doing. Pain is an easy thing to want to avoid, but seeing as painful experiences are what teach us the most, I couldn’t just stop taking risks that had increased chances of creating that pain.
I never thought of myself as a line stepper. Someone who ran right up to the first line he found and put a toe over just to see what would happen. I was more interested in figuring out the span of space in which no one had set boundaries, and pushing that until the line is established.
The next venture out in to the unknown of society would be my ten month stint in Job Corps. It’s not something I look at as punishment by society or reality, like most the kids I was in there with did. Job Corps taught me a lot. About society. About work. About government over-reach and red tape legislation’s fallout. Each I will speak on briefly before we wade in to the deeper waters of the adult lessons I’ve learned in life.
Societally, Job Corps is something I think everyone should have to do after high school. To start, you’re given an ID card, a check-up, a colored card that represents your ‘citizenry status’ of sorts, and a bunk in a room with 6 other humans. The introductory period lasts two weeks, and during those two weeks you have a general immunity from harsher consequences of misbehavior. We got a “green card”. During this period we were expected to learn and follow the rules as we interacted with them. After that blissful grace period, you were given some other color card, I can’t remember which… but it meant you were in with the normal populace and had similar rights and freedoms. Also restrictions. I remember the next one up from that second color, was a gold card. Everyone wanted a gold card. They got to go off campus all weekend, find work in their field in town, not have to go to the education building, graduated faster and got to eat a steak dinner with staff twice a month. The flawless models of the culture, who were often promoted to room leader, or wing leader, or dorm special attendant who got to stay up stupid late and didn’t have to do chores. The ones everyone wanted to be like but couldn’t reach the same level of because of the way the system was designed. Only time leaders changed was when people graduated, but that could be drug out quite a while if staff wanted a particular person in a particular spot under them. It had it’s shortcomings, but for that period in my life I feel it was the first time I ever tried to hold myself accountable for anything.
Mornings began around 6am. The room leader makes sure everyone is up and makes their bed first thing, throws away their trash from the night before and makes certain that the room itself is in perfect condition. Each of the others were on equal standing one step beneath the room leader. We had our responsibilities to our room first and foremost, then we would be put on various tasks around the dorm. Vacuuming the hall, cleaning toilets and showers, take out the garbage in the living room, that kind of thing. House chores, for adults, though we were spared the constant struggle to keep the kitchen in clean and functioning order. Most of the time.
One week every few months we all had to work in the kitchen for a week, which meant a total change of the schedule. You were exempt from most of the daily rituals, because your day then started at 5am. You then headed out to the kitchens and began work to help the culinary students and chefs who were the keepers of the sacred realm of food. I’m convinced we were half starved, but I was really hungry back then. The meals we ate were always savored with the utmost gratitude, even traded for at times. Mostly because people were using the culinary program to springboard in to a more advanced culinary school or right in to the work world, so the food they made tasted amazing more often than not. Getting to hang out with cooks, you get a lot more scraps, and hear all the latest gossip, and get to smoke cigarettes on your break behind the building. However, in due time, one must return to their normal grind toward a career.
For the majority of the time, it was waking up, doing my chores, and heading off either to the education building to take one of the math classes they had me taking, or off to Trade area. For me, this meant the three story plain grey with tan trim office building across the walkway from Dorm 6.
During the introductory period, I got to check out different trades. One trade for one week, until I made a final decision on what one was perfect for me to be able to get in to. I, for a perfect example, went in to Job Corps for Carpentry. Unfortunately that trade was still full for the moment, so I had to pick another one. I was just going to check out and go home, but then I found the Business/Clerical course. Indoors. Cool ‘co-workers’. Got to play on a computer all day. Yeah… being a tech junkie pretty much won over reason and logic.
I could’ve got in on the cement masonry, or building maintenance, or welding…. You know, useful things in the real world to know. Still, as I’ve said before, zero regrets. We got a 30 minute lunch, two 10 minute breaks and ‘worked’ from 9am to 4pm. We didn’t get hardly any “sick days” and when we did use them, we had to stay inside the entire day. No going to hang out with friends, no video games in the living area, no nadda. You, your sickness and your bed. Food was brought to you from the kitchens for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you always got some horrible excuse for a meal, like an orange, sandwich and a cookie with a small carton of milk. I’m not sure which was worse, actually getting sick, or having to be in lock-down.
The rules laid out by the federal government for these institutions had it’s share of flaws where people would fall through the gaps, but over all it was a decent set of principles for successful “adulting”. Pick up after yourself, help others achieve the same, go to work, eat food, get a good deal of rest, repeat. It offered no food for the soul except in retrospect, but even now me and my best friend here in Skagway can joke about those lessons, even though we went to completely different Job Corps institutions. His was in Oregon, mine was in central Washington.
One of the particular failings of this system were the absolute rules. No one was exempt from the rules, and the most swift, uncaring carrying out of them. One day, two friends of mine were near the boundaries of the campus property by the main street. A group of older kids were running around in their car, looking for trouble. They found it in the no nonsense Hispanic personality of one of my close friends and his ‘straight out of the 60s’ hippie persona of one of my other buddies. They were over, smoking cigarettes, talking like they always did about what they were going to do when they became rich nd famous, when the car full of trouble pulled up. Cross words were exchanged, and the four guys piled out of the car with ill intentions and one wielding a pool stick. My Hispanic buddy was taking a beating. My other friend grabbed a rock, ran in to the mix, hit one of the kids in the head, grabbed his ally in combat and together they fled back to the center’s core. The next day, both were kicked out of the program for fighting without so much as an investigation in to the incident. Trade and education be damned, they were thrown out on the street with naught but the contents of their lockers. This was my first personal experience with irritation at a federal rule.
Normally I could see where laws were formed to protect people when applied correctly to every occasion. I loved that stuff. It was a firm line drawn by society that I should not cross. I have, in the past, put my toe over the line, but every time I was punished by the law and sent back out to play with the other kids again once it was done. Society became a playground that way. One that I could even play my own games in, so long as they were by the rules established for me, her, him, them and Us. This scene that unfolded as two of the coolest dudes in our dorm, if not on campus, were sent packing after a march of shame through campus, which turned in to well wishes and exchanged numbers to keep in touch.
How could a rule designed to keep us safe and operating at nominal capacity, as free range inmates, be turned so wickedly against us as to punish a hero and the one he saved from what may have been death by beating? It lit a fire in me that threatened to consume reason and turn that hatred to the executors of such a law. Then I remembered the rights I signed away upon entering the program. I re-read my entry papers, over and over. I took them apart down to the word to individually define every piece of them before putting them back together again and seeing what interpretations presented themselves. How anyone who takes technical writing seriously breaks down an agreement. It was air tight and absolute. The only way to not be at the mercy of whatever they wanted to do in these types of things, was to not be at the mercy of them. My sterling record up to that point took a decidedly negative dip. I slacked on my duties without being horribly abhorrent at them. I was better than the next guy but it would never be up to staff standards. I quit studying, started hanging out with my friends, and even enemies more. I tapped in to the energy shared between people in a dormitory, semi-military fashion. Instead of being alienated, I started becoming accepted. After that, and showing that I was still very much my own entity, people would start coming to me for advice.
Relationships, legal activities involving complicated legal jargon to be deciphered pertaining to whatever matters it was that the law was forcing on them to keep them in job corps. Some activities that were a little outside the rules, like how to stay up late, how to tell when someone was coming down the hall to make sure people were asleep at night, how to navigate around their schedules and sneak off for a drink of whatever alcohol they could get a friend to stash off campus for them.
I’d either have a satisfactory, not good, answer for them or on occasion I’d be able to talk someone out of doing something stupid. When I didn’t have said answer either way, I went to my lieutenants who did know the tidbits I didn’t. Once I was popular enough, I did what I wanted. I had my flock of 5 or 6 who were always with me. They were savages in their field. From each trade, each dorm, I had a representative. We all united over my free-form RPG I made up. Oddly enough, bonds radiated out from that. Not particularly healthy ones for development, but we were tight. We pushed each other to do better, and be more creative. We insulted each other, we argued now and then, but what were we going to do? We were all we had. Staff didn’t care about us, we had to care about ourselves. Just like when going to the beach as a kid. The staff was “ma”. Responsible for our not dying. Sitting in her car while we went to play out of sight.
After a while, it got boring. My antics reached a point where I started lighting my afro on fire and people would light their cigarettes off it. Fifty cents a light, Seventy-Five cents to a dollar a cigarette. Say what you will about the sustainability or safety, it was a horribly entertaining gimmick when I had ten inches of hair standing straight up off my head in all directions like an over-fed Chia pet.
As is easily foreseeable, something went wrong once. I had just put this hair gel stuff in my afro to make it all shiney. Ignorant, not a very smart me thought, “It says it doesn’t have alcohol in it, and I know alcohol burns, so that must mean it can’t burn!” So, I bet my buddy Twenty bucks the flame would just go out if I tried to light my hair on fire. Twenty dollars is what it takes to make a reasonably intelligent teen do something absolutely ignorant. Like… recognize the danger, analyze the danger, cut your own safety cord and leap in to a pongee pit, ignorant.
So we went outside, I took the lighter out of my pocket and lit my own cigarette, then tried to light the edge of my hair on fire. At first, it was exactly as I said. The gel was too wet and dense and wouldn’t light just just the passing heat of a lighter’s small flame when weighed against the winter conditions of central Washington desert air.
Then I heard a sizzle of stuff burning. A small flame, so I batted at it with my hands. Which both promptly caught fire as my hair turned in to a ball of napalm on top my head, burning it’s way to my scalp like a fuse while what was then three feet of fire leapt in to the air off the top of my head.
First instinct, programmed from youth. Stop, drop and roll! Only when I dropped, it was to my immediate right. Where there had a concrete picnic table. My head bounced up after head-butting the concrete with my full force, flames dipping down after the recoil to burn all the hair off the left side of my face and out of my nose, my eyelashes and goatee. Wityh both hands on fire from the hair stuff burning off, my head ringing like a church bell and the impending doom of a chemically fueled fire reaching my scalp, I finally slid off in to the snow bank behind me. In the most shallow spot. Then my two buddies came over and kicked snow on me, while my ‘second in command’ ran over and sat on my head. Not the most flattering moment of my life. Through the fiasco of trying to put myself out, my pants had fallen down just enough to show off my butt crack, and much to my surprise, as I finally stood, 80% of the dorm was there, laughing their asses off. I mean, live at the Apollo laughing. Like they had never seen something funny before that moment laughing. I couldn’t blame them. I felt like an idiot for doing that to myself, but at the same time, it was the most epic thing that had happened to anyone outside stories. They were laughing at the slapstick value. I was laughing because I had cheated death and managed to shave half my face with fire and at the end of it all, I still had two or three inches of hair in places. Relief on all our parts, nobody wanted to see me dead. Unfortunately, that was about the time Staff came out and drug me in to their office.
Being government property, they were honestly debating pressing federal charges against me for destruction of government property. I was flabbergasted. Here I was, still reeking of burnt hair and hair product, blood on my forehead from bouncing off the table, shirt ripped a little from the tussle with gravity and fire… And they were talking about charging me with a crime.
I think it was that moment that broke me from caring about their program anymore. I was like 86% complete with my trade, completely tested out of their school stuff except a math course, and so they gave me the option. Either I wrap up my remaining training in 3 weeks and graduate early, or they ship me off and press charges. I’d done 9 months up to that point, I was ready to be gone. Mostly, I was eager to be out with that $750 payout you get when you complete your course. Out from under oppressive rule and richer than I’d ever been, free to do what I want? Yes… small price to pay for setting my hair on fire, in my eyes.
Once out of Job Corps, however, I had to integrate these lessons in to my life out in the free world. Where I was subject to the swaying forces of social influence and trying to establish myself as “the cool kid” again. My ma set me up in my childhood home, a two story, 5 bedroom house in a secluded part of town that was also close to the main strip. Three-Hundred Fifty dollars per month for rent, plus utilities. It was a sweet gig that I was certain would be able to be maintained with little effort. Especially after I moved my two friends in, so they would contribute to the overhead. Doing such essentially deprogrammed me from my ten months of schooling.
I didn’t go to work because no banks, hospitals or offices wanted to hire an 18 year old to handle their clerical tasks, even if I may have been able to add some value. I could have looked at it as “racist” if I wanted to, but I knew better. Almost everyone in my home town was happy for me, but even those who weren’t aren’t racist. They just knew what they were looking for in an employee and I wasn’t it.
I woke up later and later, ignoring basic stuff that would have allowed me to maintain discipline. Instead, I spent my time throwing parties, wrestling in the living room, playing baseball with phone books using my new sword I bought with my exit money from the Corps. Every weekend we had epic drinking parties and most of us who lived in my house were too busy playing on Web TV to care about doing the responsible things. This ended as one would expect it to. Unpaid bills, untold amounts of damage indoors and out, and a general sense of disarray to the whole living situation. Eventually reality came knocking in the form of police, and the landlord who had been out of town.
The landlord (ma) came back to quite the find. A house in ruins and neighbors outraged. I, being the tactical coward that I was when it came to facing the combined realities of an angry mother and likely police charges, immediately moved to Eugene. Oddly enough, that singular transition is responsible for a rather destructive rule I made for myself. Any problem, no matter how big, could be ran from. I blamed it on a wanderlust for a good deal of years. It left me with more questions than answers though. All of which I tried to solve on my own with none but the most worldly of guidance.
My travels soon led me to bad environments. Places where the drugs were cheap if not free, and the people lived not by society’s rules but their own. Selfishness and nihilism were the only virtues honored by their code. I hesitated before I began my journey in to the darkness. I wondered how these folks could thrive so long doing so much wrong. I was curious, not about the addictions, but why they chose to go through the same process over and over. It was odd, the dedication to self destruction and pushing boundaries. I had nothing. They had it all. One of us was wrong. Seeing as I was young and stupid, I thought owning it all was the objective of the game. I was pretty decent at Monopoly, why not transition in to a world where I was just as observant as the proficient criminals? So, with experimentation and discovery in mind, I set out to figure out why.
I won’t go in to this much save to say that I learned the rules of the game. Do what you want so long as you don’t mess with anyone else’s good time. Watch the crowd, because it turns ugly real fast. Believe nothing anyone says, and doubly watch what they do. Mistakes were punishable by death. Always have an exit “strategery” (credit: George W. Bush). Know the people you do business with. Cash on the barrel head, for everything from a car, to tech, to drugs, to a toothbrush.
These are lessons that cannot be developed as fast through normal methods. When dealing with people who either want to stab you in the back, rob you, or see you suffer while they thrive, keen senses and instincts must be developed. One may be able to figure out some on their own, without having to risk the obscure death of a less than legitimate path more often taken, but it won’t be with the same speed. It’ll be plenty possible to develop these guidelines in the world of business, for example. While making a mis-step in the business world will cost you, and could cost you all of your work, it will seldom result in anonymous addicts kicking in your door at 3am and shooting anyone that moves. The threats of failure, or even success, make any activity important related to that type of life. A glance or a gesture might be the last thing you see if you’re not on the top of your game, and by the end of my eight year experiment, few were as masterful at it as I.
I’d leave parties before drama caused fights to break out. I could time my conversations and exuberant stories so that people could appreciate the humor in them despite the content which I presented. I could raise strong objections without hurting feelings. Most importantly, perhaps, I learned when to shut up because nobody was listening. My half brother is the only reason I survived the busiest of those years. It’s not to say that the man is a saint, but he knew how to play the game so well, even the bigger names were wary around him. As a team, we went a lot of places, and did a lot of stupid things. But we never really hurt anyone. Outside of hurt feelings, and borrowed things. Mostly things that were owed where I was involved. From acquaintances who have moved on from it as good as, if not better, than we have ourselves. All wiser for the trouble. All in pursuit of figuring out society’s limitations for tolerance while daring death to interfere.
Over time, existence in the real world did start to interfere. People went to jail, and people died. One of my friends died sitting up in her bedroom, playing on her phone and PC at the same time. Another committed suicide. Old friends from my home town were starting to keel over or suffer long term issues with their hearts or complications with diabetus. My best friend collapsed while walking with his dad, unable to breathe because his oxygen machine ran out on him. He didn’t make it. Another is going through physical therapy and other lifestyle changes after he had a heart attack. In his 30s. It boggles my mind to think back now on all the times I dodged the death bullet. Or even serious injury or disease. I’m not the model of health now, mind you, but I’m a lot healthier than I was, mentally and physically, back then. Lessons learned is how I see those times. Thankfully, I was past my angry youth stage. Thankfully, I wasn’t permanently scarred on the outside by those cleaves of reality that left me broken inside.
I won’t say that battling addiction is easy, because it’s not. I moved thousands of miles away from anyone I knew. I gave up dreams of being a data forensics expert helping the FBI crack in to people’s cell phones and plant spy-ware on their laptops. I gave up my hopes of graduating from college with my temporary friends at school. I gave up the comfort of knowing that a free handout was just a phone call away. I gave up everything. Games, clothes, connections both good and bad, security. Then I moved to the most extreme environment I had at my disposal. Alaska. Rural Alaska. Somewhere I could let these lessons I’ve learned in life guide me to a new future, whatever that future would be.
Here, in Skagway, is where I was given an opportunity by reality to shine. Through the color of my skin, through the coarseness of my surface, through the damaged human being that I presented because it was all I had. I could stay on the right side of the law. There were only about 6 cops and they all knew me. As a result I didn’t have to hide. I wasn’t doing anything bad. They were worried more about making sure nobody was driving drunk from the bar.
2011 was a wild year, but the winter was where I hit my stride, walking in the biggest snow storm I’d ever seen in my life, against the biting temperatures of the north wind without adequate protection, to and from work at the other end of town.
Skagway introduced a new set of rules. But it allowed me to be the freest I believe I’ve ever been. I have discovered things about myself since living here that I never knew before, both good and bad. I’ve stopped being stupid, and wasting myself. I try to feed my soul more often than feed my attention.
The rules I live by now are as strong as diamond. Give selflessly, but don’t let people drain you to the point you can’t be happy. Offer aid whenever it looks like you might actually be able to help, but don’t let people get used to you taking on the whole project. Play a part, even if it’s in the background, even if you never get the spotlight. When you “lend” someone something, don’t count on it being paid back monetarily or through work, but be glad that something productive was able to come by your giving. If it’s returned to you in whatever form or fashion you lent it, be grateful for that too.
Keep your eyes on the ground but your heart on god. Say what you will about faith, the lessons laid out in the bible can guide us to a greater form of living than just not dying. We can find strength to continue when all our strength is gone. We can find thanks in a reality that doesn’t care if we exist or not. We can, peacefully, carve a path through any problem and not only fix ourselves but even help inspire the people around us to fix themselves.
Human beings are creatures of imitation. We copy what we see if what we see appeals to us. Some of us do it without realizing it. Some can guide that within themselves and become stoic artists of craftsmanship. Some can recognize it and guide it within society itself and become popular trend setters and leaders.
There is guidance in stories and so long as the bible is used as a tool to inspire, seldom will it produce suffering. But when it’s weaponized rather than dismissed, it becomes a power all it’s own. Then instead of quaint little societies like Skagway, you get Jonestown. A community of people entirely pushing for the will of one man who is seen for more than he is. A people wholly reliant on rulers, rather than themselves.
I feel that I’ve broken out of the boundaries placed on me. I don’t know that I was ever really in those boundaries. When I was young I did what was expected. When I was a teen I did whatever I had to, as most of us think of having to do things. As an adult, I do what I want. Thankfully, over the course of my life, “What I Want” is now just for everyone to be able to do what they want. Not what they’re told they have to do. Not what benefits them at the cost of someone else. Just… get along, and have fun.
Anything that stands in the way of that, be it a bully or a politician, needs to be heavily analyzed to discover it’s “why”. The “Why” of a thing will tell you more about the whole than any words uttered or gestures made. Motivations can move you toward something, or take you away from something, but you’ll never fully be able to grasp the reason behind it until you understand which is which in order to deduce the purpose, or “why”. Instinct, tradition, religion, science, statistics and want are all very good excuses for doing something without fully understanding why a thing is being done. Why takes time, and an impartiality that’s hard to hold in the moment of things happening. But it can offer an insight that can keep you calm and focused through tragedy, to be able to see what might be done to improve any situation at any time.
Sometimes the best things we can do is sit down and shut up. Pay attention. Focus on what’s happening everywhere, not just right in front of us. Sometimes that requires us to stand up and walk out. Sometimes it means we have to open our mouths and not be silent, because to not do so is worse than if we remain silent. At this point in my life I believe there is nothing so important as to be able to find the “why” of a thing. Who thinks like that? Maybe it’s just that I’m crazy. But if that were the case, I don’t think things would be going as well for me as they are.
I’m not on top of the societal food chain by any means. As I write this, I’ve got zero jobs lined up. I got laid off from my job at the grocery store that I was so graciously given a second shot at, and my savings have been exhausted to the point I’m applying for food stamps and government medical coverage. My social circle has shrunk considerably due the fact that our schedules are no longer simpatico, and the lockdowns.
I don’t go to the bar because I don’t believe in paying ten times the cost of a drink to catch a buzz around folks who turn off the second I begin talking about anything complicated that I’m trying to work through in my head. I’m just not a bar guy. So when I go I sit and listen, and wait for an opportunity to add to the occasion, but those opportunities are few and far between. I feel like the more social I try to be the more fake it is. I enjoy my audio books, and video games, and thinking deep thoughts about existence and this life we’re all trying to live at the same time.
I understand the appeal of being drunk, I just refuse to pay an arm and a leg to get there. Then there’s always someone who’s happy to see me, and since I’m not buying a drink they’ll offer to get me one, and I don’t like turning down charity, but I also don’t like being the guy who always goes to the bar but never buys his own drinks. Just lurking in the corner like some vulture in a crown. Waiting to be fed treats. Alright, maybe I’m a little crazy. But honestly, it’s not a bad crazy.
When invited, if the cost isn’t too high financially or emotionally, I gladly show up for whatever occasion. Be it splitting wood or going shooting, running the trucks around in the mud or hiking to get out of the house, going camping.. Those kinds of things I’m always happy to do. Birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings, Christmas, Thanksgiving and other wholesome celebrations are good for the soul I think. A time for people to get together in celebration of life and particularly for one individual who happily embraces the attention without malevolence or ill intent nor judgment of offering presented.
I try to be happy. If not happy, at least not depressing. It’s hard for me to see the world like everyone else does. Where a lot of people draw firm lines, I’m more apt to push what’s normal until the oddity of “normal” is blazingly obvious. It’s “normal” for someone to get stabbed over a chicken sandwich in the wrong neighborhood. It’s “Normal” to believe that “snitches get stitches” rather than standing up for justice and calling the police on shady crack shacks is a better pattern of behavior. Normal has become the pathetic standard set by sub par human beings too afraid to stand up for what’s theirs. So when conversations start leaning toward “systemic racism” and “How eeeevil” our government is, I quickly lose interest in being nice, let alone happy. I lost track of how many times I’ve been told I have to be the victim of an unfair system. My new “strategery” is to point out that I agree: So long as pedophiles are doing less time than small time and first time drug offenders, the system as a whole is broken. This argument spares me the virtue signaling of ‘sympathizers’ and the like trying to make it seem like all of american history is nothing but slavery and tyranny.
My “safe space” has become the entire planet. Nothing offends me so much that I won’t have an opinion on it, and no threat is so serious that I won’t speak my mind. This is also why I haven’t traveled to many places outside the US. I’m not so ignorant as to believe other nations hold the same importance for such liberties as free speech and the right to defend myself, physically or legally, against unfair treatment. Last thing I need to do is get thrown in to a mexican prison for telling some a-hole cop that he’s breaking the law and he’s likely dirty. That’s not to say that’s how I act, however!
I find that whenever a situation demands a set of rules that aren’t my own, I can conform to those if it’s worth it. To go somewhere I’ve never been, to see things I’ve never seen, I do gladly modify myself for the duration or until I am cozy enough to be me again. A polite me is rather adaptable, especially when people are being cordial, or simply ignoring me. Yes, I’m six-foot five inches tall. I get that I stand out pretty much everywhere I go. But for that to be normalized is to get to experience a thing unmodified by something standing out. Now that I have one hand, it’s essentially turned in to a waiting game for one of the big questions that are always asked.
The times I enjoy are when we are carrying on a conversation about some hobby of mine, or an interest that they share, and they’ll ask me something along the lines of “How’d it happen”? Naturally, being new to the amputee game, I usually reply to the question as if they’d have asked it about the previous topic, rather than my hand. “We just hooked on to the thing with a tow strap and threw the truck in four-high…” about that time I realize the tow strap capacity in my story was much stronger than the tow strap of my conversation, because the rift happens.