Go Look in the Mirror!

My heart rate increased as Mr. S approached. I averted my eyes, staring straight ahead. I was concentrating on walking ‘normal’. “HEY, come here” I thought I was home free but he called me back.

No, no, no, no. What does he want. I could barely cope but I was gonna have to.

A couple months ago my best friend Scott was asking me if I wanted to get high. “Of course not.” He had gone to the same ultra-religious schools I had. What was he doing?

Luckily Scott knew of my desire to learn and always do the right thing so he knew the tact to take. “Ken, how are you going to know what you are saying no to unless you do it?”

Pot was hard to come by at this specific school nestled in the Bad Lands of Northwest Nebraska but another Scott was able to produce. It was rolled not much bigger than pencil lead and 3 of us shared. They began giggling like morons but I got nothing. Well, it’s got to start somewhere and it just did.

We took another run at it a week later after the whole affair of being sneaky and all. Being sneaky was a must as smoking pot or ANY drug use was bad news at this particular school and the cops were called on ALL who were caught. Again, nothing.

Being the disciplined person I was, it was now a mission to find out what I used to say no to. A week later we pooled all the money we had to buy one more of these super skinny joints and this time I went into full la-la land. Nothing but a giggling mess of stupid pudding. Never in my life had nonsense moved through my system with such authority. Now that I knew what I had been saying no to, I felt a personal responsibility to never say no again. Course, as I got older I discovered an ability to be silly without having to smoke.

So here I was hiding out making sure not to get caught but I had to make my way to another dormitory. Planning my route carefully and practicing my ‘normal’ walk I headed out.

About half way there some men were exiting a building and one of them came walking my way. Oh shit, shit, shit, keep walking. Don’t look at him. No, no, no, look straight ahead. Mr. S. glanced at me as we passed. Made it! “HEY, Come here.”

“Hi Mr. S. what’s up?”

“Uh, Ken, you’re a real good student here and I feel like we can trust you. Would you like to help us with a project?”

“Um, sure. What do you need?” I was freaking out.

“We have put together a special task force with the staff and the security cadre to catch people who have been smoking pot. The thing is though, we are going to need assistance from the students. I’d sure appreciate it if you would be willing to help out. Whatcha think?”

“What do you need me to do?”

“Well, If you see anyone that has been smoking pot, I want you to come to me right away and we will catch them.”

“OK” I nodded. Of course I wasn’t gonna tell him nothin’.

He started to move on then paused. “Do you know what people look like when they’ve been smoking pot?”

I shook my head no.

“GO LOOK IN THE MIRROR!”

I can still feel the sensation in my facial muscles when I remember the horror as I looked into his eyes. I was busted.

He spun and walked away. I stood stupidly for a few seconds before zooming to my bunk to hide the rest of the night. For a few days I wondered when the shoe was gonna drop. Weeks went by before I could even look at Mr. S and then things went back to normal.

Being old now I can clearly see how much he must have enjoyed scaring the shit out of me. Hopefully I can do that to some other kid before I die.

Eugene, Lost on the River

I had a lump in my throat and was trying not to cry. Two Sheriff cars were at the pickup point and people were hollering. My eyes scanned the river. Fucking Eugene!

We were just kids but we could really instigate fun. This particular Saturday afternoon we had cajoled an adult to drive us to a jump-in spot along the North Platte River in South Central Nebraska.

When I was tiny the school had books about Boy Scouting adventures staged during WWII when the men folk were off to do business with the enemy so the Boy Scouts had to take care of themselves and the women folk. Great books by the way beings how the books were written before Boy Scouts of America sissified the club to satisfy the cravings of a miserable  bunch of weaklings to make Scouting ‘safe’. As an adult I volunteered with the Scouts but Scouting has weakened now to the point that the adults are doing everything for the kids. It ought to be called the Adult Scouts Baby Sitting Club of America.

Back then we were always wishing we had a Scout Master so we could have more fun but since we didn’t, we made due with a Pathfinder Manual which is a watered down Scout Handbook made for churches. It was good enough so off we went.

For the most part no one cared what we did as boys as long as we didn’t piss anyone off. Three times the local paper had an ad offering a $500 reward to catch who ever had performed our mischief but that’s not bad considering how much time we had and how much we did plus that was a small price members of the community had to pay to produce such capable adults.

Anyway, we were floating, wading, and occasionally swimming down the river for a 4 hour jaunt.

I was the youngest by at least 3 years and wasn’t in high school yet but I seemed to be responsible for making most of the stuff we did happen. I also put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure things stayed OK. Keeping track of these guys was a lot like taking big dumb dogs for a walk through the grocery store. It usually produced the kind of miserable fun that gave us stories to tell to the grand kids.

About half way down the river Eugene started getting tired. He was a fair amount lower on the smart scale than Forrest Gump and had a mean disposition towards me. I liked him OK and since he wasn’t at all bright and he was awful looking most kids were mean to him. I would have been mean I suppose except I was making up for being mean to a retarded girl when I was in 2nd grade and still felt bad about it. It took a lot of convincing to get the adults to let me bring Eugene with us and now I was starting to get concerned.

He kept getting slower and further behind and the other guys were getting tired as well and they were getting interested in finding the bridge where someone was gonna pick us up. I kept hollering at Eugene to hurry up and he started telling me to fuck off. The other guys were getting way ahead and no longer had any interest in waiting for Eugene and me.

Even as a little kid I knew better than to be alone in the river with evening coming on and something primal understood that if you can’t make it, you die. I started grieving his possible demise and started busting hump to get caught up with the guy that waited the longest. I didn’t see him for a long time though. I ran in the shallows and lunged into the deep and swam with the urgency that consumes a young boy alone on the river, all along looking back and praying to God to take care of Eugene.

Finally I saw the next guy and he was heading for the South shore. Coming around the bend, the bridge came into view. “Where’s Eugene?” “He’s way back there somewhere. Why didn’t you guys wait for me?” “You guys were too slow.”

We waited and worried at the bridge and tried to figure out how to fix this mess when the pick-up car arrived about an hour late. “We can’t find Eugene!” The story was told and they waited around for about 15 minutes before heading off to find a farm-house to borrow a phone. Our ride showed back up and a half hour later a couple of Sheriff cars came skidding in. Now the story was pretty well rehearsed so they got the polished version.

Now these two Sheriff Deputies were as good as any and they yelled through the bull horn and ran the sirens in short bursts to hopefully draw in a lost boy but to no avail. I felt a lot of emotion and a few tears slipped out. This might have been the last time I ever felt this much grief about the possible suffering of another human being. It was strong.

One of the Deputies took off and I had walked up close to the remaining Sheriff car and overheard the Deputy talking with the State Patrol about Eugene’s description: We’re looking for a 16-year-old white male with a brown afro that sticks straight up. He is about 5’5″ with a pot belly and they said he is dressed in shorts and had an inner tube around his waist. From what they said he ain’t too bright. We might be looking for a body.

I went back to the rail and started looking for a body. Every emotion I knew how to have was running up and down the scales but it didn’t distract me from realizing that if Eugene was dead everyone was gonna blame me. I was done grieving Eugene and was now grieving myself. The whipping for killing Eugene was gonna be bad, not like the ones you pay extra for in Las Vegas. I was calculating how long it was gonna take to catch the Wyoming border on a bicycle.

An hour later a horn started honking and the Deputy call us over with a bullhorn. THE STATE PATROL JUST FOUND A YOUNG PERSON WITH THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTION: (He described Eugene in perfect detail) THIS PERSON WAS FOUND WALKING AGAINST TRAFFIC ON THE FREEWAY HEADING TOWARDS CHEYENNE. WE WILL HAVE TO WAIT TO CONFIRM BUT I THINK YOUR BOY IS SAFE!!!

Turns out he got out of the river a few hundred yards from the bend where he would have seen us at the bridge. It was a ways through the brambles and over a few barbed-wire fences. He was barefooted and still had that stupid inner tube around his waist. Sunburnt, scratched, and totally at peace with the world as the sun was setting.

I was real happy to see him but I still waited to cancel my plans for heading for Wyoming. Nothing much came of it since the Deputies insisted to the adults that we did everything right. After that though, I was much more careful about bringing someone along ‘just to be nice’.

I wonder what ever happened to Eugene.

Post Script: This might seem like a good reason to sissify the Scouting program. Maybe, but I’d still rather die or be permanently injured being fully alive and fully human than live for eternity by someone else’s idea of safety.

Post Post Script: In case you’re wondering, no, we did not get caught for our mischief.

White Privilege

“What??? I have to pay??!! I was hoping to get money back!” Mom (my wife) handed him his tax return papers. “You guys are kidding me right? Is this a joke?” “Nope, it’s the real deal kid.”

My youngest son worked part time last year but skipped going to college and made decent money for the work type. Since he stayed with us to reduce bills while getting a car and other semi necessary items ready for this year of schooling he didn’t have the needed write-offs.

“Yeah man, but don’t worry about it. Mom and I decided to pay it for you this year.” “How much was it?” “Two bucks.” “Two bucks?” “Yup.” “God! I can’t believe I have to pay. I had plans for that money.” “Don’t we all.”

Just then his older brother popped in for a quick visit on his way home. His brother is a tax whiz. “Look at this, I have to pay this year!” His older brother looked it over and laughed. “Yeah, you gotta claim Zero or they won’t take out enough.”

“The good thing is that you are paying your share. For the rest of your life you will feel ownership in the system, your opinion matters by virtue of being one of the people who pays into it.”

He is right you know. Most of us pay pretty darned little considering the value of the system and all. You know, roads, sewer, water system, emergency systems. Government waste sucks a little but, whatever.

“You’re a man now mister.” I punched his arm. “You know the White Privilege you hear so much about? Well, this is it. Welcome to White Privilege.”

 

Tales of Darkness 1

Continued from The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Ghosts, spirits, demons, horrifying dreams. They are guardians of the gateway.

Remember the Great Story of the Garden of Eden? You must not eat of this fruit unless you desire knowledge. The knowledge of Good and Evil.

Witches and witchcraft, supernatural disasters, ordinary disasters blamed on the supernatural.

Well-meaning warnings based on ignorance and superstition abound, preventing most from becoming curious and keep the curious from searching deeper. Deeper into the meaningful.

Some of us looked…. at death…. and felt fear. And looked again, deeper. The fear fell away with understanding only to be replaced with a new fear, a different fear, or both. Eventually and often with Great Terror… look now and you’ll remember a time. You know terror now, don’t you, but one time the Great Terror fell away and …… nothing. Understanding. That fear is gone. The first time is disorienting, an anomaly. Don’t worry, it will happen again.

Don’t get to smug though, understanding doesn’t necessarily make a person any better, just different.

This happens in an evening or over a 25 year span. You don’t really keep track, but.. you do, don’t you. Some part of you. Until…. you start looking for fear, to understand. Understanding feels good. It’s addictive. You need more fear to understand more. We get some version of what we think about and the feelings of fear intensify. You begin to cycle faster, you recognize the cycle don’t you. You’ve seen it before in your life or someone else’s, until… you stop fearing fear. Or it starts driving you mad. Oh, it’s good to    Stop fearing fear.

I wish it was this quick. Nope. Like Hercules drinking from the Cup of the Giants that kept refilling itself because it was attached to a huge lake, you will face thousands of fears you don’t even know exist within you. Your moments will be swirling with depression, fear, anxiety and worry, interrupted only by sex, TV, sleep, books, and more sex and fantasies of suicide. You will get discouraged, you will give up hundreds if not thousands of times, you will walk The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Early along the way you will begin to question, maybe because it’s funny, then over time more seriously. Easy now… it will suck you in. Then maybe in anger, or genuine curiosity. Careful, those questions are dangerous. Those questions bring attention. Those questions entertain the drunk, stoned, and bored. Those who have given up the quest become uncomfortable, concerned, afraid, angry.

Those who have read about people who question try to analyze and declare your mental illness, and, failing that, they will try to find others like you that they can study to make themselves famous for ‘discovering’ a new ‘illness’. These weaklings NEED you to be a victim to help them feel strong. They feel the pull of the darkness. They want it but they feel afraid so they send you. They judge you for your uncertainty while stoned on their delusions of shared echo-chamber smartness that is lewd, reckless, and stupid backed up by a degree.

Careful… don’t look into the dark. What you find might remove your fear forever. Or, maybe you will choose instead to give up, keep your fears, and instead travel church to church as a paid guest speaker, calling upon all to heed your warning, STAY AWAY FROM WHAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! Maybe you’ll become a therapist longing for the bravery of the souls who come to you for answers. You don’t have answers though do you, so you ask “how does that make you feel?” and “Are you taking your medication?”

But then, you meet a person here and there who has been here and there. They understand, they encourage. You’ve finally found someone that sees your world. And maybe you are THEIR someone who understands.

It gets lonely as only the most drunk or the most stoned are interesting or interested.

I would encourage you to look away, if that makes you happy. Sure, why not? I always cringe when I see some poor soul circling the drain like a washrag in the toilet. They’ve got a shit storm ahead of them. They’re not likely to make it. There’s no clear map. They’ll eventually become more insistent in their search for answers and for help. All will try to drag them away from their dark obsessions or medicate them. If properly medicated a soul will lose its highs and lows. Try to be a ‘good boy or girl’. Get back to work and STAY MEDICATED.

I can only wish an early death for that poor soul caught forever in human purgatory.

However…. for the few who make it all the way….. you will NEVER be the same again. Life is just like it was before, but YOU’RE NOT. Napoleon Hill suggested that most men who do anything extraordinary with their lives don’t get started until 45-55 years of age. It takes about that long to clear the misunderstandings developed in early training, to clear your head of superstition and ignorance. If you are going for it, keep one foot nailed to the floor of sanity so that you are free to look at truth.

But.. talk as little and to as few as possible about the strains of truth you find. All except few will try to convince you that you are wrong, that you are crazy. Well maybe, but only until you’re not. If what you find is true and you seek truth, you’ll know. Keep at it and you will emerge unflappable, unsinkable. People with the greatest education will come to you for advice. You’ll have none but your best understanding of the compilations of shards of truth that you will package and offer with humble hope that it will lighten their load.

As I tell this long story I hope you look away and read something light-hearted and fanciful instead. If you read this you will see the path ahead, the path you’re on, the path behind you, or if you aren’t out frolicking with new-found freedom, you might read about the path you have successfully traveled and finished. Out the other side.

My question today is: When you emerge (an unlikely IF) will you help others? Oh, who gives a shit. The next entry of this series will get the train a-rollin’.

What the hell?!! Oh, the cat is wearing a green ribbon while leaping after a feather. It must be Saint Patrick’s Day.

Erin Go Bragh

Or as my Father-In-Law always would say ~ Erin Go Bra-Less….

 

 

 

Retirement Planning

My wife’s jaw was set, lips thinning, arms crossing, and foot beginning to tap. I was too far in now to stop or back out. I had a plan.

We had a mess of guys working for us doing interesting things that were mostly intentional but not often profitable. Somehow in the process I noticed that not only did I overpay them most of the time but Uncle Sam seemed to believe he ought to overpay them as well.

I don’t always know how I managed the time necessary to do my part but my wife was popping out kids like a commercial for the Salad Shooter. Between doing that and work, it was harder and harder to dodge the extortionist that the Department of Labor and Industries was sending after me.

“How the hell do you do it?” I asked one of the guys. “God-dang, I pay you a lot but not THAT much! “Oh, we’re on welfare” “Does it pay pretty good?” “Yeah. It’s great Boss. You should go apply.”

After a few day of thinking I went down and did some digging and a plan started to emerge.

If I got a divorce and kept the house, my wife could get on welfare and rent the house for free using Section 8. Heating assistance, free medical and dental, free phone, food stamps, special food bank privileges, and public transportation were all on the table. BUT WAIT FOR IT!!!!! I could live with her as her dead-beat boyfriend!

I could get a part-time job for only 45-50 hour a week and we could be rich! This was my big break. This was WAY more money than this bumpkin was used to and we wouldn’t have ANY BILLS!

I was so stoked and practiced the plan in my head all the way home. I finally made it. Finally hit the big time.

She was curious about the excitement then started looking like Tucker Carlson on Fox News when he’s trying to understand his interviewees. I was telling her all the great stuff we were going to do with this enormous wind-fall including all the time off.

She was wiggling around like she had something important to tell me but her expression didn’t mirror any appreciation for genius.

“Well? Wadda you think?!”

“If you want a divorce, You can go FUCK yourself.”

“Oh”

 

 

 

Silent Death: The Drowning Girl

“HEY, HEY!”   I was shouting at my son. “Help that little girl!” The mighty Columbia River was silently culling it’s prey.

Water has always had a piece of my soul. The first time I found myself floundering was in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Head tipped back and toes barely touching the bottom as the next kid went down the slide, swam past me, and then another. Finally, gasping and knowing that I’d had a close one, my hands grasp the rough concrete edge of the pool.

The reservoir North of Casper also made several passes at me. Each time, trembling from exertion, wanting to cry, I promised myself not to go so far next time. Before I turned twelve, 2 of my friends met the Grim Reaper in that very water.

Turtle Creek reservoir in Kansas wanted young meat for the larger fish to nibble on in the depths under the frozen surface of winter and it drew me seductively past my abilities. Again, I made it passed death’s grasp.

Strangely and in my own mind I wondered how no one ever seemed to notice, no one seemed to care. Every single time was a little boy’s silent battle for life. Each close call caused a deep internal sobbing, less now from proximity to death and more that no one seemed to care. As a young child I became comfortably close to death in my casual thoughts. Dreams of death from falling was as common as any child but drowning haunted my dreams. Pictures of water, no mater how peaceful, gave fuel to a mind determined to slip thoughts of a slowly sinking victim giving their soul to Davey Jones.

It is the silence that haunted me the most. Was I wanting to die? Was I too lazy to call out? My dreams of drowning were so common that eventually I found myself enjoying the call. Drowning… what a nice way to die.

Later in life while canoeing I’d find myself half halfheartedly enjoying the capsize, wondering if this was my final ride. Smiling to myself sitting on the shore I’d talk quietly to the river. “Not this time my friend.”

Enter the Reader’s Digest. They had an article about drowning and how the drowning person falls silent, conserving energy and drowns passively among the other swimmers rather than the thrashing and screaming seen in movies. Yup, it’s just like that I thought. With pictures and description, the Reader’s Digest laid the most private of my near drowning experiences convincingly bare to the reader.

Some years later I was walking with the family along the river where families were splashing in the water and lounging on the grassy slope designed by U.S. Corp of Engineers. I walked out onto the dock with my wife and the dog and was coaxing the dog to jump off the dock to retrieve a stick.

Thank God for the Reader’s Digest! My eye spotted and brought my attention to the girl. I paused for a few seconds to confirm. I felt her posture, quiet then loud as the waves from passing boats covered her ears then off. “HEY, HEY!! Help her! I pointed directly at the girl. While my son was trying to comprehend my yelling, her dad lunged into the water and grabbed her up, pulling her out.

“What happened” he was asking. She collapsed crying into his arms and began the panic-relief sobbing that follows near death from drowning.

She was slowly and torturously drowning surrounded by friends and family. I wonder if she occasionally questions that no one seemed to care, why didn’t anyone notice? Well, maybe not. Someone did notice.

We walked on, her memory burned into my mind. I’ve had no drowning dreams since.