Now, this is funny. Let me catch my breath and I’ll continue. “Woot, squee!” Or is that, “Squee, woot!” Either way, I’m rolling on the floor laughing, because, what a riot.
Okay, okay. I’ll try to be serious. Life can’t always be fun and games.
Like the time a group of 6th graders got me down on the ground and beat the shit out of me. Then, in the aftermath, I was taken to the principal’s office for a spanking while they all got away scott free.
See what I mean about good times?
Then, while in fourth grade, a third grader stood next to me in the bathroom at the urinal stalls, turned, and had a nice laugh while peeing all over me. What can I say? I wasn’t exactly redshirted, know what I mean? Sadly, not all ribald tales like this one can have happy endings. Years after graduation I heard he was killed after being involved in a grisly accident where he was thrown clear and a car ended up on top of him.
One of my earliest recollections is going on a bus trip with other kids from my church. I think I would have been in the first grade. Years have faded the memories as if looking through prisms of time constructed from stained glass. I remember being excited because dad had loaned me a real camera. We visited an old Oregon town and I took pictures of a scenic and historic church. Back on the bus the kid in the next seat and I were discussing the experience. Suddenly he snatched the camera from my hands and opened the back, exposing the film. (This is a substance that, in the past, was used to capture photographs. Look it up.)
He claimed this wouldn’t hurt anything. But later back home there was a strange gap in my pictures. All of the church photos were gone. Obviously an important message from above. I learned the lesson and I learned it well.
And then there’s the strange case of Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers. Inexplicably, I owned a 45 containing this song. A 45 was a song, called a “single,” pressed onto a small vinyl disc that played at 45 rpm on a turntable. It had a song on the “b-side” but I no longer recall what it was. One day, not knowing the dangers, I loaned it to a “friend.” When he returned it a few days later, he had cleverly scratched the shit out of that thing. It never played again. Was he a future music critic? I never found out.
These are just a few important life lessons that I was fortunate to experience at an early age before the shit got too real. What are some of yours?
Admittedly there is at least one major bummer about being an atheist. It’s a pretty big one, too. Quite simply: I’m deprived of a bunch of gods. Dammit. I guess that comes with the territory. So, in self defense, I learned to pray only to the Great Airlock.
“Oh, Great Airlock, please hear my humble plea.”
“I’m sorry, Tom. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
It’s easy to see how the Great Airlock could come in handy. Alas, it never quite works out that way. The Airlock is a cruel god. But you still gotta believe, right?
I’ve pontificated about The Great Airlock in the past. In theory, He represents immutable consequences to choice and action. The origin mythology is exceedingly simple: When the button is pushed the door opens. The door cares not what is on the Other Side. The door cares not if the occupant is ready. The door opens. The results are what they are. Nothing can change that. Nothing. Not even a god.
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Where am I going
How do I get there
What should I bring along
Are people kind there
Is peace of mind there
Will I finally belong
Cause you know ships sail their courses
And heroes ride horses
They know where they belong
But I travel in circles
Quickly to nowhere
Singing my unfinished song
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself – Well… How did I get here?
Once In A Lifetime
From the moment we are born, everything conspires to fill our heads with the word “should.” Our parents, the environment, and all of the other people how come and go in our lives essentially program what we know, who we are, and even influence that which we desire.
Boys like blue and play with trucks. Girls like pink and play with dolls.
At some point, though, after enough growth, the individual can exceed the sum of their parts. They can question anything they want about their own life. Is the religion of my parents, the religion I’ve known my whole life until now, is that the religion for me?
As you get older, you want things. Perhaps you want a flashy car or you want to get pregnant and have baby and/or rush out and be married. Do you ever stop to wonder, “Why do I want these things? What is it about these particular things?” Is it truly what I want or just the predictable output of the programming I’ve experienced since the moment I was born? How much is really me and how much is just random chance because I ended up in this part of the world and with these specific people?
You may find yourself getting out of school and taking one of two common paths – Jumping right into more school or going directly to work.
Perhaps you’ll become independent and established and have your own home or apartment. You’ll populate it with possessions and begin taking on financial obligations and debt that make regular income a very important part of your life. The more you owe, the more you have to work. Unless you are one of the few to be independently wealthy, that means you’ll be working a full-time job, perhaps more. The more you own, the more you work, and the more you want, and the more you consume. You may find yourself in a cycle where it becomes very hard to break free.
At some point you may realize you aren’t doing what you want at all. You might be doing what everything but. You may have been deceived by the should.
Lately, following the death of Steve Jobs, there has been a lot of blather about being that square peg that refuses to be placed in that round hole. Be different. Be unique. Be someone who changes the rules and changes the world. Refuse to conform. Write your own destiny and never compromise, never do what they tell you.
I can’t help but wonder. How easy is that? What would that world look like? What if seven billion people collectively said, “You know what? I’m going to do what I want. I won’t let anyone else tell me what to be.”
I don’t imagine that world would have very many ditches.
So what is your life path plan? Besides finishing high school and going to college and/or getting a job, what are these other paths? I see kids these days dropping out of high school and not getting jobs. They just sort of flounder, either living off mom and dad or bouncing from place to place, using it up, then landing somewhere else.
I don’t imagine they put a lot of thought into their future or any sort of planning on where they want to go. They just sort of exist. But what if they tried? They are actively rejecting the traditional life paths that most of us took, so what are their options to go forth and be different?
In the movie Into The Wild (based on true story) a young man graduates from college as a top student, gives away his possessions, donates $24,000 to charity and then hitchhikes to Alaska. Now that is a person decisively making a choice and deciding what they want. True, in the end, it didn’t work out quite so well, but the boldness of the choice is breathtaking. Could I do something like that? I highly doubt it.
Another year has passed me by
Still I look a myself and cry
What kind of man have I become?
All of the years I’ve spent in search of myself
And I’m still in the dark
‘Cause I can’t seem to find the light alone
Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness
I’m a lonely soldier off to war
Sent away to die – never quite knowing why
Sometimes it makes no sense at all
I can understand that some kids may want to reject traditional dogma and decide their own fates. But how many possible life paths are out there? What is it they can really do to achieve what they want? If they reject the traditional 9 to 5 what will they be doing instead?
I can respect a non-traditional choice as long as it is conscious, not drug-induced, and makes sense on some damn level.
I really want to know.
Mom had loaded a plate on his behalf, thoughtfully passing on spicier fare. His nachos consisted of nothing more exciting than chips, cheese and some beans. The plate was rather overloaded for a youngster slightly older than three. Mom’s eyes must have been bigger than his stomach.
On the floor, under the boy’s chair, it looked like a chip-bomb had exploded. That would be the floor I had vacuumed just hours before.
Mom glanced over at the kid and with an annoyed look on her face and said, “Don’t eat just the chip. Eat some beans and cheese, too.”
The kid watched mom divert back to her adult conversation. He half-heartedly nibbled at the same damn chip but only long enough to sell the ruse. No rice. No beans.
He pushed his plate away and asked to be excused. Mom said fine.
Later he enjoyed all the dessert he ever wanted. The boy was being taught well. And he was intelligent enough to glean the lesson.
There was an interview on the radio tonight. A young singer (in college) had written a fairly haunting song and the interviewer was asking him about one of the lyrics. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the singer or the lyrics. Google search fail.
The line was a self-deprecating one, and the singer spoke pointedly about how we get more jaded and disillusioned as we get older. Or something like that.
It got me to thinking.
Were you a better you when you were younger? Are you on the decline and would that singer’s message resonate with you? Are you on your way down?
Or, are you better now than you were back then? Are you on your way up?
In all honesty, I think I’m currently the best me I’ve ever been. I frequently refer to myself as “State of the art Tom.” In fact, this question, which should be all hard and introspective and stuff, is a bit of a let down. There was a time when I was younger I did things I’m not very proud of. I don’t do a lot those things anymore. Case closed, right?
Oh sure, I still have my moments of weakness. And I beat myself up for them pretty damn well. But somewhere down the line, and I’m still not sure how, I got some stuff right. Not the kind of stuff that will ever line my pockets with silver, mind you, but stuff I can be proud of just the same.
It’s about a four-hour drive to the small town where I grew up. I don’t like to visit there too much. I get all maudlin and feeling funny about the past. I still know a lot of the places and buildings, but seemingly everyone I ever knew is gone. My old high school is now an elementary school. And the grocery store across the street is now a church.
There is a Chinese restaurant on the edge of town that holds an especially vivid memory for me. It’s one of the moments of my life that have been frozen in crystal clear memory. I was just a wee youngster at the time. Our little family unit of four – mother, father, sister and myself – had just had a little dinner. I even remember we had lobster with black bean sauce.
After dinner we walked out to the car. Parked next to us was a pickup truck. My dad peered into the back of that truck and saw a power tool of some sort. I don’t exactly remember what it was. But I remember as clear as day what happened next. My dad reached into that truck and took that tool for himself. Apparently he needed one of those things.
Not the best life lesson to pick up from the old man, I’m afraid. And for a while there, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
Somehow, though, between then and now, I turned out different and took a different path. I still don’t know why. I like to think of it as a road less traveled. Very less traveled. After successfully climbing my own slippery slope, I paused on higher ground to look down upon a species that I now feel like I view from above, oh so proud of my ethics and morals and honesty and all that. I don’t how the hell I got here. And it sort of scares the shit out of me.
It’s been a few years since I visited my home town. Coincidentally enough, the very last time I passed through was literally the day I attended my father’s funeral. We stayed the night there just because it was my home town. But looking at the phone in our motel room made me sad, because it was my home town and I couldn’t think of a single damn person to call.
Then, on our way out of town, there it was. The Chinese restaurant. Right out of my memory and right where I left it. In my mind I can even imagine I know the precise parking spot I still see with such clarity in my mind. Somehow I find it fitting that the place is now dingy and ramshackle. I don’t bother to slow down as we passed, but I did take a moment to feel grateful for how I turned out.
So, my question to you is simply this: Are you on your way up or your way down?