Y Marks the Spot: Sans

How I Deal with These Things

ONE

The main consolation of my hectic meltdown in the last week in October was that my final grandparent barely suffered at all.  In fact, my grandmother lived on her own right up until she had the stroke which sent her to the hospital for the last few days of her life.  Until then, she could drive, and walk, and take care of herself.  Even after that point of no return, she remained more or less herself until she fell asleep on a Sunday afternoon and died shortly afterwards.  She was 87.  I can’t imagine many better ways for an 87 year old to die.

Before that finality, I hovered at the edge of the country, waiting to find out where things were headed before I made any concrete plans to return to the Midwest.  I got word of the end while in a grocery store, holding onto a box of Wheat Thins with one hand while trying to cram my phone into my ear with the other so I could decipher the sobbing voicemail that was nonetheless crystal clear.

After taking a moment in checkout to adjust to the thought of someone important permanently vanishing, my on switch flipped.  I don’t think that, over the course of the next week, it ever flipped back.

The first order of business was to let my jobs know that I was vanishing.  I’ve heard tales of the management of my crappy burger cult job being unbelievable assholes to people wanting to attend funerals, so I did my usual cult-fighting tactic and sent my boss a text, leaving no room for negotiation.  The other job was much more supportive, even if that well-meaning boss waxed the usual sympathies.  From there I got completely fleeced on a flight ticket and spent the following day wearing myself out from the hurry up and wait that comes with automated travel across the country.

It was on the midnight drive between the Minneapolis airport and La Crosse when I learned that my grandmother’s death wasn’t the only catastrophe to happen to my family that week.  I will give absolutely no details as to what happened but to say that it was something horrible, and it made a terrible week so much worse.

Further piling on the week’s mountain of blues was the shadow of my Crazy Bitch Aunt, who tried to return from family exile to insinuate herself into and take over the funeral proceedings.  The condescending shrew’s classiest sociopath tactic involved phoning my mom over and over and telling her – the person who stayed with their mother from stroke to death – to act like a grownup.  Luckily, Crazy Bitch Aunt didn’t show, but the threat of her prancing in and wreaking entitled havoc sparked apprehension in all of us at a moment when none of us needed it.

The proceedings went about as well as such things can go.  I avoided my grandma’s corpse at the wake because its makeup and smoothed face made the body look alien.  I almost disrupted the funeral when I had to fight back a violent seizure of laughter at the expense of the pastor who kept staring at the ceiling instead of at the crowd.  I’m glad my friends were sitting on each side of me to cover it up.

On the upside, I met a cousin’s brainy kids at the wake and got to dispense writerly advice to them.  I also came up with the idea for an amazing Dadcore band called The A Little Goddamn Respects at the lunch following the funeral.

But what I didn’t do much of in that hectic week was think about my grandmother.  In all the rushing around to get to all those regimented ceremonies of remembering the dead, the person being remembered kind of got lost in the shuffle.  Sure, I had a twinge of horror and revulsion at the wake, and I spent the week living in her house filled with her artifacts.  But I’m not sure if I’ve been able to be affected by the death of this person who had known me all my life.

I don’t think I do death, if that makes sense.  Though I’ve become absolutely horrified at the thought of me no longer existing, I also have this detached view in which I view the death of a person with the same sense of pain as I’d feel from the loss of all the data on a computer that hadn’t been backed up.  (When my grandpa died, I was the first person to see his corpse, and all I did was take its picture, as seen above.)  In this mindset, death is wasteful, illogical, but not agonizing, void-creating.  It’s certainly a safe rationalization.

I definitely don’t do funerals.  I don’t do outpourings of grief, and I don’t react well at all to multiple people coming up to me and feeding me the exact same clichéd lines of sympathy.  The only reason I showed up to this one was for my mom’s sake, and while I’m glad I was here for her it did nothing for me.

So here’s my memorial of my grandmother, weeks later, all cold text and white paper.

She may have been the smartest person in my family – she certainly was the most refined – but I still got her to call me a retard once.  She didn’t mean it to be funny at all, which made it incredibly funny.

She was also responsible for my incredibly vulgar Halloween costume three years ago: the bloodsucking feminine product known as the Tampire.  I’m a lazy Halloween participant, but when I described this old joke and flippantly said I could dress up as one of these creatures, she looked at me, calm as space, and said, “I think you should do that.”  After that, I had to.

The last time I saw her alive was last Christmas, a time in my life when I had no job, no money, and was sleeping on a mattress in a flea-infested dining room.  I had Frequent Fliered my way back into town and hoboed around destitute, but when the family gathering happened, my grandma kept handing me envelopes containing fifty dollar bills which kept me afloat for a few months.  My final memory of my grandma is of her helping me out when I really needed help.  There are far worse final memories of a person that one could have.

TWO

After and before and between the ceremonies that marked the end of my grandmother, I was left to spend Halloween week wandering around a town that no longer felt like home.

La Crosse has become different.

I’m willing to admit that much of the weirdness and alienation and oddness of wandering around my hometown that week might have come from sleeping poorly, feeling rushed from one event to another, typical Autumnal depression, and of course the fact that I was there for a funeral.  It’s true that La Crosse will certainly be different without my grandma’s house serving as the family’s home base.

But it’s more than that.  I spent a lot of time wandering around old streets, smoking my grandmother’s final pack of cigarettes – artifacts which certainly contributed to how she died.  What I noticed most in these trips were the things that had disappeared, after which I noticed the things which had altered, and then the things that were new.  The bars which had closed up were the obvious signifiers that time had passed since I had left, though I’d say that balance was secured with the reopening (and far overdue repolishing) of the Casino.  I’m really, really glad that the Casino is back.

The most startling change I noticed in my time back hit me as I walked past the Second Supper office on Main Street.  Planning on dropping in and saying hello, I instead saw a For Rent sign on the front door.  I had picked up a tiny copy of the paper while walking downtown, so I had evidence (beyond my sporadic contributions) that the Supper still existed, but it wasn’t as it was.  Combined with the fact that the Supper’s website no longer reprints its issues, that gave me a feeling of dread.

My friends who still remain in La Crosse were as they always were, and that was about as much comfort as I could wring from the week.  When I wasn’t on the job in the mourning parade or sitting around my grandmother’s empty house attempting to level myself out with video games, I got to roll around town with my gang of ne’erdowells, drinking cheaply and watching beautifully awful cinema.  We went to the Ed Gein shindig that was more performance art piece than haunted house, and I rambled through the rooms loudly wondering why they weren’t playing Killdozer’s epic musical tribute to the Butcher of Plainsfield.  We lurked around the Casino, drinking Colors of the Bar and being generally glad the place had returned to the land of the living.

Still, Halloween weekend was kind of a bust.  Reverting to my usual Halloween laziness, I donned a cheap skull mask purchased in readiness for a time when the world would need a man dressed as Skeletor.  I put on the shirt and tie I wore to my grandma’s funeral and stuck a giant duct taped M on my back and a smaller one on my chest.  With a new pair of crappy skeleton gloves, a plastic sword I’d almost immediately lose, and drunkenly grabbing some of my grandmother’s old respiratory equipment, I hit the streets as a horrible pun – the Rasputin-praising German disco band, Boney M.  Har har har.

I committed no acts of drunken awesomeness, just huddled over my screwdrivers and tried to drink through a breathing tube and a mask.  My friend, more awesomely dressed as Robin, the Boy Wonder, accompanied me through Saturday’s overcrowded boredom.  We played the traditional Halloween game of “Would She Be Hot If She Wasn’t Dressed like a Stripper?” while we hid from the crowds as well as old assholes and sociopaths from our pasts.  I suppose I did learn the liberating power of wearing a mask, if anything.

I’d spend Halloween proper flying home on no sleep, raging through plane delays and long shuttle bus rides, and unloading my tweaked-out aggression on my Vegas cop friend via internet.  It was a hateful, lost little day.

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for what happened the night before Halloween.  That reasonable explanation would probably contain the lack of sleep and subsequent stress that I gained through the week’s funeral proceedings.  I’m sure that I just went crazy, but the problem is that there’s this chronic doubter in me that can’t dismiss the possibility of anything, no matter how fantastic or terrifying.

I swore I was going to get some sleep that night, and my nodding off at a friend’s house seemed to confirm this hope.  But once I got back to my grandma’s house, where I planned to collapse on her unoccupied bed, I was on like a wide-eyed light.  I went between channel-surfing the internet to watching crap TV to playing video games to getting really frustrated with my life.  Soon I downloaded some really amazing albums and wandered around the pitch black neighborhood soaring to these epics.  Almost immediately after returning from this journey, I walked right back out the door and over to my friend’s house in the dead of night, where I got a copy of the delightful Fred Schneider album which I’ve always meant to get from him.  Finally I returned to the house, where I laid down in my grandma’s bed and hoped to get a few hours’ unconsciousness.

The only problem was that, every time I felt myself fading out, something would poke me.

Like I said, I’m sure there’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation – but at the time, I was all out of reason.  At first I turned on the light and stared at the ceiling, but after a few attempts at sleep that all ended with the same pulsating poking I got the hell out of my grandma’s room.  I paced around her hallways with flickers at the edge of my vision, attempting and failing to dull the encroaching madness with entertainment.  When my mom woke up in the morning and saw me sunken and beaten in my grandma’s recliner, she knew something had gone wrong.

I spent the next week back here, recovering in a foreign land and trying to get normal again.  I’m much happier here, and I’ve been able to sleep, at least – but I rarely feel very rested.

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Y Marks the Spot: The First Drunkpocalypse

 

I miss Oktoberfest in La Crosse.  I miss the rabid alcoholism, the stumbling through blocked-off streets, the police horses shitting in the middle of the street, the dudes puking in the alleys, the girls crying the mascara off their faces on the edges of the sidewalks.  I miss watching the madness unfold below me as I perch on the old Second Supper fire escape.  I miss writing crass, forbidden satire about it.  I miss the chaos, and the ridiculousness, and the block party sense of community.  And lederhosen.

The first time I looked past the curtain of plastic horns, parades, and shitty carnie games of daytime Oktoberfest, I was a year too young to enter the bars.  Nevertheless, I felt compelled to wander around downtown, mostly because the skies had decided to dump snow on the festivities for that night.  It was kind of wonderful walking sober among the inebriated, watching drunks fight and celebrate, stepping over puddles of freezing puke.  I couldn’t wait to be legal for this.

It would be years before I’d enter an Oktoberfest bar.  When I was underage, all my friends were over 21.  When I became legal, all my friends became underage, so I’d buy myself booze and slip out of my brain at home.  I didn’t really go to bars until I came back to La Crosse from my time poorly spent in California (and out there, cost, not age, was the issue).  I returned to Wisconsin like a thirsty tornado, ready to commit some serious drunken psychotherapy with my friends, all of whom were now street legal.  The plan went magnificently.

These more or less high spirits led me into my first full-fledged Oktoberfest, which ended up being pretty life-changing.  The first day began with my usual work at the time, helping to set up the new Barnes and Noble in the mall.  I had found out during my shift that a fellow employee was an old high school acquaintance who had accidentally broken my glasses once and whom I had been kind of a dimwitted dick towards from time to time.  I invited him to meet up with me at the fest, but nothing came of that.

Instead, I met up with more established friends at the Southside Beer Tent, a meeting place which would have been less pointless to me had it been a Screwdriver Tent.  I sat around on benches with my thumb in my ass, blankly looking at such clever Oktoberfest banners as “2001: A Fest Odyssey!” as my friends drank beers that were to me indigestible.  At some point I also met old high school friends whom I quickly blew off.

I escaped the festgrounds with a pair of cute girls I vaguely knew and was vaguely interested in, true Oktoberfest warriors who had been drinking since that morning.  We lurked in Yesterdays in the vague hours before the crowds began pouring in, pounding down our respective drinks with good cheer.  One of the girls vanished at some point, leaving the other one to wander the streets with me as I looked for my reassembling group of friends.

We reconvened in the infant Shooter’s, where my faint hopes of hanging out with my companion were crapped on by another girl who got a she-boner over the way my spiked hair and black clothes made me look vaguely like Robert Smith (I guess).  This new factor followed me around the bar and monopolized my time, trying to excite me by employing girl-girl antics with a neighbor of mine and trying to pull me into the fray.

Looking for any way out of this mess, I grasped onto the Bruce Springsteen song that was currently playing.  I think it was “Born in the U.S.A.”.  Pushing my neck away from Boner Girl’s clutching mouth, I shouted “You show some goddamn respect for the Boss!” and stormed off.  My absurd sense of decorum came too late, though; the girl I had come into the bar with had gone.

We ditched the Boner and wandered back to Yesterdays, but at that point I wasn’t feeling it anymore.  I was crouched on the sidewalk in front of the bar, bored with the overabundance of life unfolding around me, when an exasperated-looking girl with red hair and black boots swept past me and into the bar.  And I was back.  I followed her in.

The timeline for that weekend becomes a bit fuzzy after that, but I think it goes like this: I had a large man nearly twist off my nipples in the middle of Pearl Street at bar time, my friend and I raged about some offense in our dark living room, another roommate staggered in and begged him for pot, Red Girl had a breakdown, I told her things would be fine, and she replied that things would never be fine.  Later, she and I became friends, then we ended up in a relationship for two years, and then we became friends again.  So I was right.

May Gambrinus’ grace watch over you all, you glorious drunks.

Y Marks the Spot: Stay in Your Lane

Assholes.

 

I really like the town where I live now, but there are two aspects of Bellingham that I could do without.  The first, being the difficulty of procuring cheap liquor, is more of a Washington state issue.  The second, being an arrogant dickhead bicyclist culture, feels a bit more home grown.

Most times I notice the schmucks riding their wheels down the dead center of the city’s car lanes and I smile at the audacity.  The broad dressed like a jockey riding her old-timey steed through the left turn lane of one of Bellingham’s busiest and crappiest streets was actually kind of awesome.  Yet when I have somewhere to be in the early hours of a weekend morning and I end up turtling along in my car behind a parade of professional spandex-covered douchebags who have taken up the entire goddamn street, my blood starts to boil.  In these moments I think of a video I saw in which a car plows through a South American bike parade, and that usually gets me through long enough to veer onto a side street.  Still, I do sometimes curse America’s stringent vehicular manslaughter laws in the meantime.

However, my irritation at my new town’s bike culture run amok comes more from my being a bike rider myself.  I don’t really like driving my car, and $4 a gallon gas and expensive insurance makes my tendency to walk or bike if I can get away with it all the easier.

But I’m also an amateur student of science, and my years of armchair research in the field of bicycle studies has led me to the discovery that my bike is neither as big nor as fast as a car.  Add to this my lifelong paranoia about being run over from behind by one of those bigger, faster machines – a fear that, when I was eight, landed me in Bike Court for riding on the left side of the road, where I could at least see the cars coming.  Yes, Bike Court is something that exists.

This combination of science and dread has led to me adopting a simple rule for when I’m on my pedal horse.  If a street doesn’t have a clear, painted bike lane, I usually stay on the sidewalk.  I’m sure the true bicyclists of Bellingham, when they see me riding around in a state of such blatant cowardice, assume that I’m also a grown man who sits down to pee.  Whatever.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a few bike crusaders on the internet calling for a War on Cars, a concept that is pretty fantastically ridiculous even beyond the basic truths that cars are useful and America is a big place.  If this oh so bold stance came from a line of thinking that included (or at least mentioned) mass transit, I’d be more okay with it, but the rhetoric of the War on Cars people just makes them come off as spoiled dickhead bicyclists who think that they’re the center of the universe and think that that cars can just idle along behind their puttering asses.  According to this prejudice, these helmeted revolutionaries would take the interstates if they could.

Sure, I absolutely support the creation of bike lanes everywhere, though the established structures of cities makes universal application impossible.  I’d like to be able to bike wherever I need to go.  I’d like to not be hit by a car, and I’d like to not run over a pedestrian (side note: how many pedestrians are calling for a War on Bikes?).  The thing is that these ideals don’t have to put bicyclists at cross purposes with car drivers.  Calling for a war on competing forms of transportation is both silly and dramatic – unless the form of transportation is a Segway, in which case it’s totally justified.

It’s been an increasingly accepted idea that streets are meant to be shared between cars and bikes, and I agree.  But when I’m driving to work on a bleak Saturday morning and I have to drive 15 miles an hour behind a four-wide bike parade, well, they’re the ones who aren’t sharing.  I have the prejudice that more than a few bike snobs are the sort of people who think that the average car driver is this spoiled and loud creature who could care less about the rest of the world so long as he’s comfortable.  To those fulfilled bike snob stereotypes, I ask this: when your small, slow asses take up the entire street when they could easily and comfortably fit in a much smaller space, are you any different?

Y Marks the Spot: Turd Ferguson

My new neighborhood is very cat friendly, to the point where gangs of the mild mannered beasts roam its narrow streets with impunity.  They sit around on the sidewalks, gazing at human pedestrians, and if you walk up to one of these furry loiterers, it won’t mind a gentle scratch on the neck.

So I wasn’t surprised when, a few weeks back, I noticed a cat slinking into my secluded backyard, making its way into my moss-covered and dilapidated shed where it made camp and stared at me through my back room window.  The unusual part happened when the cat stuck around.

It was a bit too easy to befriend this animal, even for our neighborhood.  The first time my girlfriend went outside and held out her hand, the cat ran right over and they were instantly friends.  Seconds later, I made my first formal acquaintance with the creature, and we were all pals.

We named the cat Ferguson, because it was, while a handsome creature, also a matted-fur longhair with turds hanging off its ass.  This led to a lot of awkward dodgings when the cat did what normal cats do and obsessively tried to rub itself against our legs.

But the desperation in the animal was radioactive.  From the point of introduction, Ferguson slept in our backyard under a far off tree at the corner of our fence, and it didn’t leave.  Any time he saw motion in our back room and any time we went outside, he would rush out from the shadows and rasp at us for attention until his voice grew hoarse.  Ferguson sounded like a cross between a chain-smoker and the annoying fairy from Ocarina of Time.  Hey!  Hey!  Listen!

Ferguson wanted in our house because it was obviously a housecat that had been abandoned.  The facts that he was declawed and extremely comfortable with humans as well as his refusal to leave our backyard once he set up base were strong proof that Ferguson once had an owner who didn’t deserve him, and he wanted us to fill that space.

If my girlfriend and I didn’t already have two spoiled, absurdist kittens, we’d have taken Ferguson in following the quickest of groomings.  But that wouldn’t have been fair to the beasts we were already responsible for.  After we brought them to our new sanctuary they were just as shell-shocked over the new solitude as we were.  A new cat would have wrecked them, so that wasn’t going to happen.

We did what we could to help him out: scooping food out onto the grass, filling up a can with drinking water, coming out to be around this sweet, neglected creature.  But we couldn’t give him what he wanted, and there was a lot of guilt that followed each time we went back inside and shut the door on him, leaving him to stare through our blinds at an impossible safety.

We wouldn’t have let this situation stand under normal circumstances, but being that the weather was getting colder we decided that we had to find Ferguson a home as soon as possible.  I put up a few feeble posts on Facebook to little avail, but my girlfriend had better luck.  A coworker of hers was an established adopter and rehabilitator of strays, and she was looking for a second cat.  After a few text conversations, the coworker walked into our backyard with her family and was immediately love-mugged by our feline hobo.

And that was that.  The family returned the next day and took Ferguson off to the vet, after which he was taken to a home where I’m told he’s very comfortable and happy.

Once all the turds were snipped away, Ferguson ended up being a girl.

Y Marks the Spot: I’m Lying. Honest.

There was something I recently read that depressed the shit out of me.  I found this treasure of doublespeak in the customer service section (go figure) of the Burger World supervisor study guide which I am currently ignoring in my inertia toward the illusion of power.  It made me want to ram my head through a wall.

The line is exact, (with the exception of the fact that only Beavis and Butt-head work at Burger World): “The person working the register should always greet the customer in a non mechanical greeting, such as ‘Hi, welcome to Burger World’”.

Do you see how a reasonably sentient creature such as myself might have a problem with this?  The statement red-handedly contradicts itself.  It advocates individuality, so long as it’s the company’s individuality.  It tells you to use your own words and then feeds you an acceptable line.  The line encourages acting mechanical; it just expects you to be good at faking enthusiasm.  Like a stripper.

I get that a person unfortunate enough to have a job involving customer service is like a housewife with a thousand different husbands, living in terror that any one of them will stumble home drunk and beat the shit out of her and then she’ll be blamed by the neighborhood for being a bitch who doesn’t listen.  I hate that thought, as well as the thought that the rules of customer service are written by assholes who don’t have to live with them.  But I think there’s a greater problem suggested by that logic-raping symptom statement, and that is that maybe people don’t really want honesty.  Maybe we’d rather be comfortable.  If that squares with the truth, so much the better.  If not, comfort is the trump.

You don’t see many people telling the rampaging idiots in their lives what they really think of them, do you?  I don’t do it.  I’m too polite, which translates into realspeak as cowardly.

I’ve most noticed my own lapse between ideals and action in friendship and romance, in which “tell me the truth” quickly devolves into “you son of a bitch.”  (The Burger World words of wisdom were referenced in one of my most recent mutual explosions.)  I’m usually a pretty blunt person when I’m visible (for the idiots, I vanish), and my growing disillusionment with the sacred power of truth hasn’t turned me into a pathological liar.  (If anything, I’ll be an in the moment hypocrite, the truth of now contradicting all my prior in the moment convictions.  I’m completely fine with this.)  But I have learned to tell when a person doesn’t really want the truth one howls for, and so with silence and misdirection I’ll sometimes keep that person safe.  I’ve gotten somewhat good at this.

There’s another example in my current life that further illustrates my skepticism of truth.  Once again, it involves my wonderful work.  While it’s a better job than McDonald’s or my late, lamented Old Country Buffet, Burger World is a world in perpetual crisis, and as all the smoke blown up my ass has led me to believe, only I can save the day.  What I’m saying, in so many words, is that I get called in a lot.

In the past I’ve compared my time at Burger World to my best friend’s misadventures within a creepy Christian youth group he went to in order to hook up with a devout teenage girl whom we both liked.  As he told it, the congregation got in full recruitment mode whenever he’d arrive, staring at him in unison and praying for his immortal soul in the hope that he’d join their team and reinforce their existences.  (Thankfully, he got over the girl and married a well-adjusted brainiac whom we both liked.)  Now I feel like I’m in the youth group, and the further up the ladder I’m lured, the further into the trap I go.

It’s been an absolute bitch to beat back my clutching, disastrous source of income into its proper place in my life.  My job is a stupid, tentacled beast that doesn’t think twice about scheduling me six days a week and then trying to call me in on my day off.  It doesn’t blink when it tries to tack on an additional four hours to my shift for no good reason.  It could care less that it’s only one of many things I do, including this and including the occasional day off to relax like a normal person.  And working ten hours on Labor Day was also fun.

But how to tell such a stupid creature, when it grasps for the miles beyond its given inches, the selfish truth?  You can’t.  It’ll just cry until you give in to shut it up.  So I lie, just a little bit.  Inflate the truth.  Make myself seem a hair busier than I actually am.  Just like I did yesterday, a day off the creature tried to steal back with emergencies and sweet nothings whispered into my voicemail (I’ve long since learned to silence my phone on days off).  I didn’t answer, sending a noncommittal text to my boss saying that I had to get my newspaper work done and that it would take all evening.  It only took a few hours, but you can’t give the creature any leeway at all, not if you want your own life.  And I do.

Deceit is a tool, just like any other tool.  Just like truth.  All that matters is how, and why, you use it.

Y Marks the Spot: The Big, Terrible Silence

A whole lot of awesome nothing.

I don’t adapt quickly, but I do adapt brilliantly.  I act with the speed of an ice age.  My process of learning involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of intellectual probing and catastrophic screwing up before I figure out the scheme, and then, poof, I’m a half-assed expert.  I come into the game with everyone around me convinced that I’m the dumbest creature to ever evolve thumbs, but when I’ve hit my stride I suddenly become a sullen, sarcastic, shambling shade of gold.

So it’s not surprising to me that, one month to the day since I traded in extreme social claustrophobia for wonderful, titanic freedom, I still haven’t adjusted.

The night that I moved into my new place and joined Clarence Clemons’ band, I was too overwhelmed to think.  I paced around the planks of my big, beautiful, empty rooms, amazed that things had worked out so wonderfully.  But I couldn’t sit down.  I couldn’t stop thinking about things I wanted to get for the place and how I wanted to arrange the furniture.  The past year of living in paranoia without any sort of permanent, sealable sanctuary had wound me up to the point where, once a place of silence finally swooped in and presented itself, I reacted with something resembling horror, becoming a poster boy for antisocial shell shock.

The plan on that first night was that my girlfriend and I would eat pizza and get drunk on screwdrivers – a luxury that I now, in all my total heavenly glory, can once more afford.  Only the food happened, and then we sat, both stunned by the new, scary quiet.  Sleep – another luxury that I can once again afford – happened, eventually, but we did not ride in triumph to it like Wagnerian Valkyries.  Instead, we slithered into it like sluggish mud men.  Anticipation, as usual, disappointed.

A month later, I still feel like I’m living in a state of shock.  The big spaces are being filled out; the place feels less like a void and more like a nouveau riche dwelling of some insipid Ikea socialite or Wal-Martian dignitary.  I live like a normal person.  I have the den I’ve always wanted, my folding card table desk and lawn chair recliner ready to accommodate my every bargain basement philosopher-king whim.  Yet I feel like I’m still waiting for some big fireworks display to happen before I crank the bolt off the fire hydrant in my brain and let the brain-kids dance around in its street corner flood.  There’s still terror, and indecision, and intimidation, and solitary agoraphobia.  I’m still waiting, and the time for waiting has passed.

In the meantime, I’ve been junkie-devouring all the meager distractions that I’ve brought into this Spartan villa.  There’s no more cable TV.  No internet.  No friends.  We watch cartoons on my girlfriend’s computer and, on a future day when we’re not too burned out from and/or pissed off about our respective jobs, we have a mountain of board games to fulfill our senses of communal distraction.  But, in the meantime, I’ve used some of my new disposable income to acquire and consume – in my usual hyper-obsessive style – a few video games for my portable systems.  They’re games consciously chosen, instead of like back when I used to have one night stands with any random stimuli with 16 bits and a boner, but it still adds up to time that could be better spent.  It still adds up to more waiting.

Yet I also feel like there are cracks in the old wall.  Evidence?  Well, this, kind of.  In my last place, and even back when I lived alone in La Crosse’s Stately Y Manor, I’d get so freaked out – in my usual hyper-obsessive style – over the minutiae of every sentence of even the most inconsequential things I’d ever written that it would take me a day to creak out something that could have taken an hour’s time.  Which is how long this has taken, thus far.  Thanks, improv.

But this column is something structured, something needed from me, requested from an external source, an editor needing material to fill a newspaper.  The true test of success in my new, voided ecosystem is whether I start writing things unasked for, works that nobody but me has any vested interest in the completion of.  I have a bizarrely reliable work ethic, despite my tendencies to despise the expectations of others.  I do what’s needed.  The problem is that, for all my narcissism and megalomania, I haven’t yet adapted to the idea that it’s even more important for me to be brilliant when I’m the person who needs something from me.  Instead, my earth-shattering ambitions remain optional.  That is bullshit.  That must change.

We’ll see how that goes.  I did buy a lamp for my den tonight.  Perhaps it will illuminate something.

Y Marks the Spot: The Staged Chaos

I can’t say that in the past year I’ve spent nigh-homeless – sleeping on an air mattress in a flea-ridden house on the verge of collapse, getting rejected for jobs I’m grossly overqualified for, and counting my comatose life by the week instead of by the day – I’ve never considered moving back to La Crosse.  Sure, I would have been really unhappy and felt really defeated, but every so often it felt like defeat, at the very least, would bring a little stability and familiarity.  As much as I find a great deal of fault with it, La Crosse is my home.

Yet there was one point which I reminded myself of every time these regressive thoughts crept into my depressed brain.  It pretty much became the last line of defense that kept me out here in Washington even in my most frustrated lows.

La Crosse doesn’t have improv.  So I can’t go back.

I found improv on the day after I arrived in Bellingham, though it would be a month before its importance to me took shape.  On the second day, my new roommates showed me around my new city’s fantastic downtown, where I wandered around a bit wide-eyed.  We drifted into a small coffee shop, and everyone else in my group ordered things.  Since I don’t drink coffee and don’t care about measly café food, I lingered off near the wall, thumbs in pockets, and I stared at the giant block of fliers upon it.

There was one poster which I gravitated toward, a mockery of Pulp Fiction’s cover art in which Uma Thurman’s hip sneer replaced by another girl’s silly smirk.  Clearly the show it was hyping seemed like something that I’d be into (especially if they brought out the Gimp), but as I was still overwhelmed from crossing half the country it flew over my head.  We left the café and wandered across the street to a record store, where I found a Wesley Willis album for sale – a clear and time-honored indication that good things were in store for me.

A few weeks later, the poster and I would again cross paths.  One thing I’ve long wanted to start doing is performing stand-up comedy, but I hadn’t been able to find a consistent open mic in La Crosse to work on it.  One of my goals in coming to Washington was to find a comedy venue and start performing, and a quick Google search in this pursuit brought me to the place advertised by Fake Uma.  This would turn out to be the best Google search I’ve ever done.

Discovering improv at the Upfront Theatre was the same sort of lightning bolt to the brain that happened to me when I started writing these sorts of things and seeing them in print in the Second Supper.  Like, Jesus, I didn’t have my entire life and the rest of the world figured out after college, and there were still plenty of amazing things about myself and said world to find.  I found one such game changer during the Upfront show on the Thursday before my improv education began.  The hour and a half of people on stage, just making shit up, was both hilarious and a serious revelation.

I’ve described the way I felt watching that show the same way to a few people, and a year into improv hasn’t dulled the feeling at all.  It felt as though I had found my tribe.

I’m big into chaos and goofing off and making things and the eastern religion stripes of nihilism, and improv satisfies all of these sensibilities.  It’s something that I both knew from the start I’d be great at, and it’s a process which has made me get over myself and work really hard to get better.  Improv has made me proud of failure.  It makes me less paranoid and insular and frustrated.  It makes me a far better writer (when I stop being lazy or depressed and actually write).  It taught me to get over my own agendas.  It has made me far more brilliant.

Improv has been the one consistently good thing I’ve had going in the past year.  Sometimes, it was the only good thing.

After a year of classes, I now perform about once every other week in the Upfront’s student portion of its Thursday shows.  A group of six of us will go out, get about a half hour of time, and go berserk making shit up.  Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we’ll say horrible things that derail the scenes, but mostly we destroy the crowd.  After just about every show I leave feeling as though I’ve helped to accomplish something amazing.  I feel like an architect who makes skyscrapers out of the sky.

This is something I want to keep doing.  I don’t care how, or where, or with whom.  The Staged Chaos is in my blood and in my future, and that alone has made my adventure worth it.