Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bad News, Bad News, Good News.

I start almost every morning by drinking copious amounts of coffee while I sit with my wife in our living room. On most days, we can open the window, and enjoy the fresh morning air. it’s one of the best parts of my day. But everyday, at some rotten point, I decide to ask Alexa to play is the NPR news briefing, and everything falls to shit.

“Man rescues family of kittens stuck up a tree, becomes neighborhood hero” is not, nor will ever be, a story that we hear. I don’t think that good news is even a form of reporting that anyone is comfortable with these. In fact, each briefing follows roughly the same outline:

Trump did some fucking shit today
A bunch of people died because of some awful dirtbag scum
Other people died because of this weather thing
Trump also did this fucking thing

Today was worse than normal. The “fucking shit” that Trump did today was actually two fucking shits. 

That evil shyster Pence cast a tie breaking vote to begin the process of “Repeal and Replace” in regards to Obamacare. A special thank you goes out to John McCain, who, just back from life-saving surgery, swooped in just in time to vote against keeping 22 million people insured. Well thank god for that piece of garbage. I don’t even know where to begin with healthcare in this country, so I’ll just leave that for now. 

The other little tidbit of news that Trump decided to tweet early this morning was that he’s decided that transgender people are now no longer fit to serve in the military. Some gibberish about medical costs. Clearly a bullshit reason, as the armed forces spends more on viagra than it does on health care for trans people. 

I took to Facebook to try and make sense of this argument, but the only “reason” for this that I was able to discern from the uneducated twits re-spewing this hateful rhetoric was that trans people (and women too, for the record) shouldn’t be allowed into the military because they would distract the men. That’s right - we shouldn’t let capable Americans fight for this country because some scurvy honky bastard from Mississippi can’t cope with having a woman, or worse yet, a transgendered person (GASP), fighting by their side. When will we, as a country, grow up?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the world that I am bringing a child in to. 

But it’s that fact that actually pulls me up from the depression that is brought on by the current state of evil in this world. I am bringing a person into the world. A person that I will get to teach. A person that I will guide. A person that I will love, and will show how to love others. And it’s exactly these things that we need right now, trying to fight this war of ignorance and hate. We need to teach the next generation of people that there is no room for hate and bigotry anymore.

So I give thanks that this little unborn person is actually saving me from the sadness that this world can create, and giving me the energy and courage to stand up for those that can’t, and leave a better world for those that follow. 

And maybe it’s time I take a day or two off from those damn NPR news briefings.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fuck Bullies

When I was in sixth grade, I was bullied and beat up by almost every juvenile delinquent bastard (friend and foe alike) that I crossed paths with to the point where I was forced to change schools and never look back, thus forever effecting my ability to socialize and trust the human population in general. 

How’s that for a goddam thesis statement?

I feel the need to disclose right off the bat that it took a giant glass of whiskey on ice just to get the courage to write this piece. And so now I sit here, listening to Jefferson Airplane, sipping on The Good Stuff, and preparing to share the story of the worst and most hideously poignant year of my life.

Ok, I may have come off kind of strong in those initial paragraphs. But in fairness, it wasn’t an exaggeration; instead it feels good to know that I’m finally putting out in public something that has become a part of who I am, something that has shaped and carried me in one way or another every day of my life. 

My parents put me in French Immersion when I was in kindergarten. (For my American readers out there, it means that all my classes were in french: history, math, even gym). It was a wonderful experience, and I made some friends that I am still connected with to this day (thanks, Facebook). It’s an experience that I hope I can extend to my child(ren), even if most of that french has slipped from my brain. I keep telling myself that it’s still in there somewhere, and if I ever travel to Bordeaux or Burgundy or the rotten slums of dirty Quebec that it will come roaring back with a vengeance, and I’ll remember my bilingual geniusness (Geniusity? Geniusissity?). For now though, I’m content to remember that “camion” means “truck”, and “pamplemousse” means “pineapple”. (FUCK - it means grapefruit! Time, you evil bastard, you’ve even taken away pamplemousse… “Pineapple” is actually “ananas”, which I always felt would be a better word for “banana”, but now I’ve lost even a basic sense of direction or point to this story…).

School had always been an enjoyable place for me. Then, in grade four, (three? nah, pretty sure four) we had a student transfer in from somewhere else. His name was Brian, and he was Cool. He had the newest Reebok Pumps, he listened to 2 Live Crew, and He Didn’t Care About The Establishment, Man… (Ok, none of us had a goddam clue what The Establishment was at that time, but you get the drift.)

And for some reason, he liked me. We became friends. There were four of us (as memory serves, although as pamplemousse has already illustrated, my memory isn’t always the most accurate source of evidence…), and we always hung out. At school, after school, sleepovers, sports teams, we were best friends, whatever that means in grades four and five. 

Brian was always the rebel. He got in trouble at school. He didn’t listen to his dad. He even wore his hat sideways in our baseball team photo. Somehow, he also convinced me to do the same, and man, did I get in trouble for that… Because shit, I’m really regretting that choice now, whenever I look back on that photo. I definitely don’t wear my hat sideways anymore, and I obviously look at that photo every night before bed. But you see what I’m getting at, he was what we all aspired to be; cool.

And all this was great. We graduated from fifth grade and that meant that we were off to a new school; a school that was only for grades six, seven, and eight. 

Now, maybe I was naive, maybe I was simple, or maybe I just unconsciously turned a blind eye to Brian in the earlier years, but I don’t remember him ever being a bully. This in no way is to say that he wasn't one, but it’s just that I don’t remember him being one. But here’s there reality of a social hierarchy; if there is a top, then there is a middle, and there is a bottom. 

Grade six started like any other year at a new school. We made new friends in homeroom, we got acclimated to new teachers, and we went through the typical orientation that any student goes through. Brian and I didn’t have many classes together, but I figured that we would just hang out after school like we always did, and we would join whatever sports teams the school had. Little did I know that was the last normal thought I would have for a very long time.

Now, Brian had always been the cool kid. The rest of us hanging around with Brian were Cool By Proximity, but on our own we were just normal kids. Brian was the one that we all orbited around, and we knew he’d be cool no matter who was around him. What we didn’t know was how.

As I mentioned, a social hierarchy required people to play their part, and what I didn’t see coming, what I didn’t think was ever a possibility, was that in order for Brian to maintain his status at a new school (especially when you’re in the bottom grade), he had to establish dominance over someone. Who that person was probably made no difference to the fucknut dingbats that ruled over grades seven and eight, but they needed to know that Brian was Not To Be Fucked With. 

And so who better to terrorize than me.

I don’t remember how it started, but I do remember it was awful. My best friend transformed instantly to the person on this planet that I feared the most. There would be physical beatings, where he would hit me and push me around and knock me down. And then there were the mental and emotional beatings, that in most ways were worse. I walked around in a state of shock, fear, and paranoia; how did this happen?

And getting down to the nitty gritty of this goddam awful scene, nobody else wants to be the target of a bully either. And what’s the best way to find yourself in their sights? Align yourself with the victim. So one by one, my friends stepped away. Some did so silently, and some did so aggressively; they would also torment me, not wanting to be thought of, even for a second, as a Friend Of Daniel’s. This hurt probably as much, if not more, than the initial bullying. 

As an aside, I feel it is important to say that I bear no ill-will to those that turned on me as a result of not wanting to be in Brian’s sights; when you're 11 years old, you do what you have to do for self-preservation. It’s hard to Take The Moral Highground… I would not wish upon anyone the horrors of what I was forced to go through, and my friends did what they had to do. I have had many of them apologize to me years later; something that has meant the world to me.

By the end of grade six, the decision to flee the school permanently came easily. There was no reason for me to stay. The few friends that I did have were practically urging me to leave. They knew the pain that I was going through daily; they knew I had to go. 

The next few years of school were much better. I had other friends at a different school, and making the transition wasn’t difficult. Daily life became enjoyable again. I picked up new hobbies and passions, and life moved on. I rarely even thought of that fateful year.

But the scars that were left from the experience have reappeared in ways throughout life that I never expected at the time. I came to learn that trusting anyone was a monumental task. I was always convinced deep down that anyone that I was close with would eventually turn on me and make my life a living hell. It has been extremely difficult for me to maintain male friendships in general, and any relationship that I have been in has always suffered toto my inability to trust that they weren’t really out to hurt me in the long run. I have spoken to therapists and psychologists, and it has helped, but I feel that this is something that I will carry with me until the day that I die. It has improved throughout the years and decades, don’t get me wrong, but it will always be inside, jabbing me every now and then, wishing me nothing but fear and loathing.

I have tried to find Brian on Facebook every now and then, but with no luck. A few years ago one of the guys that was in our little Group Of Four back in junior school came to visit NYC, and we got to talking about those days. After apologizing, he told me that last he had heard of Brian was that he was some coke addict dope-fiend in Toronto, living a pretty shitty life. And in some ways this brought me some vindication; in others, I felt bad for him. 

Because I have no idea what was happening to him in his home life, or what caused him to do the things he did to me. I know his parents were divorced. I know that his older brother bullied him. I know that he had his own issues that he was dealing with, albeit very poorly. And so while he caused me the greatest pain I’ve ever known, I still can’t wish him a life of misery.


Ultimately, there is no point to this story, I suppose. Except to say that as I move towards this new stage of my life, being the parent of this soon-to-be-born little boy, the thing that scares me more than anything is that there is a possibility that he will have to go through the same pain and suffering that I did. And more to the point, that there’s really nothing I can do about it, just as there was really nothing my parents could do about mine (try as they might, and they sure as hell did try). All I can do is encourage him (and all people) to be good to one another, and to speak up when you see bad things happening. 

But I will say this; being bullied does not mean you are weak, nor does it make you weak. I wish I had learned that much earlier. I felt for years that the reason that this happened was because I was weak. I felt that if I had been stronger, than he wouldn’t have chosen me. But I’ve come to realize that that’s not the case. He needed someone to hate. He needed someone to destroy. If anything, he chose me because I was strong.

So don’t let the dope fiends and wackos and ruffians in your life win. Stay strong, in any way that you can. Love each other, trust each other, and lift each other up. Stay strong in the face of adversity, and never be silent when you know something is wrong. These are the lessons that I will teach my son, these are the lessons that I pray he learns and practices every single goddam day of his life. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Delayed Reality

Tomorrow my unborn kiddo will have been a thing for five months. Five months of just hanging out in the womb and growing and kicking my wife at rather inopportune times. My wife’s life has been rapidly changing for those five months, and the reality of this situation has really sunk in for her. Her body has changed, her diet has changed, she can no longer drink alcohol, and hormonally, she is almost a completely different person. I, on the other hand, have not gone through one goddam change, and it’s starting to make me wonder when this whole kid-thing will really sink in.

I mean, logically, I know it's happening. I know that we have a tiny crib and a tiny dresser and tiny hangers and tiny outfits and tiny books. I know that I will be a father by the end of this year. But at the same time, it doesn’t actually feel like it’s happening to me.

A baby versus my baby. Semantics? Maybe. But for me, this is the crux of this entire undertaking; this is my disconnect. 

I know that this crib and dresser and all these clothes are for a baby. I think I even realize they’re for a baby that will be living here. But what I don’t understand is that all these things are for my baby. If you’ve never gone through a pregnancy before, you’re probably wondering if I ate some of my leftover Percocet and chased it with a Budweiser before beginning this article; I know it sounds crazy. But those of you that have been here know exactly what I'm talking about.

Or maybe not? Maybe all you dads and dads-to-be out there have already connected with this gig in ways that I refuse to understand, at least at this point in time. But I don’t think so; I think that realizing this new reality just takes longer for a lot of us. 

I’ve spoken to a few people close to me that have had kids very recently, and the overall consensus is that it doesn’t hit you, really, until the kid has been home for a couple of weeks. Which is absolutely insane, when you think about it. Mom undergoes physical and mental changes for a year in preparation of this monumental life-changing event, and dad is left to read a book or two, in hopes that he is as prepared. I mean, Jesus, talk about starting the game from behind. 

I don’t bring all this up to complain; instead I offer it up as a topic that seems to be rarely discussed in the realm of new parenthood. For the first few months of this pregnancy, I felt like I was doing something wrong, or was somehow not allowing myself to really feel the emotions necessary to make it real. But it was only after speaking with friends that I realized that it wasn’t my fault, hell, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Fathers and mothers are just on different pages for a while.

I do realize that part of this most likely stems from the loss of baby #1 last year. Losing it has caused my defenses to remain high, as my brain is tries to protect me from pain by keeping this new reality at an arms length. It’s amazing how much effect one event can have on your emotions for years to come; but I’m hoping that even just being aware of this fact is a good sign. 

But maybe this isn’t a big deal at all; maybe when I hold that child in my arms on the day he is born, I will experience nine months of emotional growth instantly, and this entire post will become inconsequential. But for now, I will just continue on reading books, buying baby clothes, and setting up the nursery. Because no matter how I feel now, there will be a baby in that room in four months. And if I play my cards right, it might even be my baby.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Reversal of Ritual

So I received three books in the mail yesterday. And there was a decent amount of excitement surrounding the delivery of these books, even though these would be books that would not take me more than a minute to read at most, nor would these be intellectually stimulating pieces of prose or political commentary.

I used to get excited when I found a used first edition hardcover of one of Hunter Thompson’s books. And then I would wait (usually for weeks, because those bastards at the used bookstore in Valparaiso, IN. where I finally found a copy of the book, don’t feel the same sense of urgency that we do as God Damned New Yorkers, and so while Hubert would eventually get his lazy ass in gear to package up my order and ship it, it certainly didn't make the top of his rotten To Do List for at least a week or two…).

But the book would eventually arrive, in all its withered glory, and I would read it, and just appreciate his wisdom and acumen, enhanced by the book’s creases and tears and stains. These books had personality. And I’ve read almost every word that Hunter, in all his psychedelic brilliance, has ever written. I even have some twisted and misguided sense of ritual surrounding the reading of his books, which generally involves pouring myself a tall glass of whiskey on ice, turning on Cream or The Grateful Dead at unreasonable levels, and really trying to put myself into his story. Truth be told, that's still one of my favorite ways to unwind. Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72 is the only thing that got me through the dreaded election of 2016, and The Great Shark Hunt and Hell’s Angels are my only refuge from the terrible times that this country seems to be currently weathering. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is something I can read day or night, and it makes me feel home. “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid…”

So yesterday, when ‘Is Your Mama A Llama’, ‘Close Your Eyes’, and ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ arrived in the mail, I was surprised at how giddy I was for these new arrivals. There would be no whiskey ritual surrounding these titles, no, this was a different trip altogether. 

Yesterday, I started reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the millionth time, which opens with, “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” And today, I will be sitting next to my pregnant wife, slowly sipping a tall glass of kombucha (with no ice), and will speak to her belly, “‘Is your mama a Llama’, I asked my friend Dave. ‘No she is not’, is the answer Dave gave”.

I have traded in Thompson for board books, whiskey for kombucha, and going to bed at midnight to going to bed at 9pm (because what drug0addled dope-fiend of a person has the energy to stay up past 9pm anyway, I mean Jesus, the sun is down, people, go to bed). And here’s the handle; I love it.

It wasn’t a change that I felt would happen, or at least happen this quickly. I thought there would be some crazy adjustment period, where I would slowly let go of my childless hobbies, but it really flips fast. I spend my time looking at what new tech tools new dads should buy first. How many apps can I download onto my phone to make this parenting thing as easy as possible? And how on earth do we choose a name for this little creature? 

This is not to say that I have abandoned my old passions; I’ve read countless books on becoming a new dad, and one of the common themes throughout all of these scribblings is that as a dad, You Shouldn’t Lose Who You Are As A Person. And so I will let myself hold on to some of these more atavistic rituals that I have enjoyed throughout the years. There will still be whiskey, but I’ll probably just opt for a smaller glass. And on a Sunday afternoon, I may crack open Generation Of Swine for an hour and just relax.

But man oh man, when that Llama finally finds his mama, I can’t help but feel that same sense of relief that Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke felt when they finally left Vegas for good; things really are going to be just fine. 

I’m going to be a fucking dad.

Back at it again, and the news still isn't good

Well, they say when you can't write, the best thing to do is just write anyway. Which sounds like gibberish, but it's worth a shot. ...