The Grind

The Grind, Repeat

Before I get back to Inger’s Finger I need to talk about something. It’s something I saw in myself and in other cab drivers when I was a yungin. We all start the same way. Young and nieve, full of energy and surety that we can slay every dragon that crosses our path. We meet dragons, slay dragons, go home with the boon, rinse, repeat, for a while until the dragons get wise to us and change the way they fight. We want to keep winning so we start the grind.

This photo of Royal Enfield Bike Tours & Rentals is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The grind is exciting at first. We have our health and it feels like we can do this forever. We can’t. 60 hours a week driving a cab builds into 120 and that early taste of easy success fades with a half-life we didn’t expect. It takes every bit of those 120 hours to chase down the money we need and even then, we fall short.

Some of us start with a familiar spot in a pew, graduated from choir boy to altar boy, on the cusp of college and a bright future. Cab driving is just a summer thing to get some extra money before heading off to college and an education in defeating really, really big dragons. Then something happens. Either bad news or good, either work. And the fall start of college fades further into the future.  We start to grind, trying to save that bright future from the scorch of a dragon’s breath.

El Camino Real al Infierno

Some start with a less admirable story and try to use the cab to grind our way up from the gutter where society tossed us. Sometimes it works and we make it to the curb. Yay. This space isn’t for the ones that make it. We are the other end of the curve, down there on a rock-strewn road through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our street address is the Road to Hades. In the gutters of it are the skeletons of those who ended their grind here.

It’s a frog in a pot thing. The heat rises in our lives, we become more frenetic, try to work harder until we collapse. Outside my cabin, on El Camino Real al Infierno, are rotting corpses of those who didn’t quit until their grind ended here. If folk are lucky the collapse gets them a ride to the hospital, jail or rehab, maybe all three. Whether their grind makes them a zombie neighbor of mine is determined by whether they stick with the truth that this is rock bottom and the way back up is life changing and very tough.

Wayne Ziegler’s moment came when he got hurt on the job as a contract welder. He was being paid under the table, had a functional addiction to cocaine, whiskey, and weed. He loved and left a long string of women who thought they could fix him up into the Daddy they never had. Women–don’t try this at home. Someone like Wayne will just break your heart. Go flirt with that guy in church you know. Much better.

Wayne’s Hell

So, Wayne came to Napoleon Taxicab with his health and a good head on his shoulders. But his knees were shot from holding still while welding for so many shifts. He had the usual middle-aged first world satellite of health problems–high cholesterol, high blood, high sugar, and chronic pain. He was used up.

But welding isn’t kind to old men like him. The big money jobs require physical stamina that he had lost. For a while the three sirens–cocaine, whisky and weed, could shout down the pain. Until they could not and he failed a piss test after getting hurt.

Cab driving was good to him while things began collapsing in. His longest girlfriend left with their daughter for a DC lawyer she met at Paper Moon. He couldn’t afford the house by himself so he moved to a no-tell motel. No job and thus, no medical insurance so his legal drug bills skyrocketed.

He started with the White Nurse. As always, it was good at first. And as always, the early good began to eat his soul. More grind. His even horizon narrowed from weeks down to days down to hours down to minutes. The addict’s choice: drugs or food, drugs or shelter, drugs or her, came down on drugs. He lost the hotel room.

The Street Doesn’t Love You

Wayne in the hospital. He couldn’t afford his drugs so his dealer said he could fight somebody for a little bit of White Nurse. Wayne, before all this, was 280 pounds of six feet eight muscle. He won bar fights when someone threw the first punch and Wayne didn’t feel it. When Wayne punched back the loser felt the punch in his toes. That was then. Now he was in the ER with a severe concussion and contusions near his kidneys. It hurt to breathe. He needed his White Nurse even more.

The ER doc called the social worker who started the intervention speech. Right, right. He was a mess but all he needed was a little taste and he’d be ok. He just wanted to get back to work in the cab. He’d be fine.

Hospitals can’t keep you if you insist on leaving. Wayne insisted. The Town Motel took sympathy on him and believed him when he said he’d have money for the room after his next shift. The taxi gods smiled on him and at 9:00 am he got a cash trip to Fredericksburg.

The street put him in the hospital and the street teased him with just enough money to get him through the next fourteen hours.

This is the end. The street doesn’t love you but it may give you what you need if you fight to stay healthy. Wayne fought to stay a step off the gutter and the street ate him. In eighteen months Wayne went from the gutter to the grave. He died from complications related to opiate addiction.

This is the Beginning

The grind is corrupt. It is evil. It wants your soul. If it takes killing you, so be it. There is a way to make the grind rock bottom. It takes discipline and strength from God. A place to start is Celebrate Recovery’s Eight Recovery Principles.

I didn’t imagine there were 1500 words on this until I met two corporate executives who were grinding at an expensive level. They worked 16-18 hours a day, flew over 200 days a year, seldom saw their families, and were shallow husks of humans. Nothing was left but the grind and it didn’t love them the way they wished it would.

400 words left. I lost my job. I am an UberX partner. It’s cab driving with better dispatch, nicer cars and shorter hours. The money is less than cab driving. I’m 58, almost 59 as I type this. I could be Wayne. No job and Medi-Share is stupid. It’s Obummer care but run by Christians, so that’s supposed to make it better. I can’t get my diabetes meds covered by Medi-Share. They don’t cover routine care. It’s only once I get sick enough to require hospitalization that they will step in. Sucks.

The right way to do cab driving or RideShare is the way the Henrico County Sherrif’s Office said they wanted to see it done. Each driver should create an LLC with its own tax id and run the money through the LLC. Do all the smart things one does to make a small business a success.

Transit Webb

So . . . out of the comforts of corporate cube rat life into the grind as a small business owner. Baugh Holding Company operates Transit Webb, which is the UberX business. In process is a second vehicle that will do Amazon Flex.

I’m too old for more cube rat life. There isn’t enough time left before I’m expected to retire to accumulate enough assets to secure my post cube rat life. Thus, I’ll go back to what I know, to the grind in a cab, with the hope that I can build a business which will pay me beyond the days when I can run 30 fares in 10 hours five days a week.

Transit Webb has been in business for only a month. There is no guaranteed outcome. I could join my festering corpse neighbors along the Royal Road to Hell. It could work and I could be fine. Time will tell.

Grind End

I’m not preaching. More will die on the Royal Road to Hell trying to fight their way off the gutter. Some will not die and be the odd success. That could be me. But, if you are my neighbor, grinding, know that if you don’t do self-care and expect the grind to take care of you it’s easy to stay in the pot too long and join the zombies outside my door. The good news? You can choose your ending. I hope you choose well.

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Inger’s Finger

You know how if you feed a stray cat it won’t go away.  I let Inger stay in my living room and obsess over the finger she found in the whip for all of Saturday. It ought to be a good thing that a SHYT is stretched out on my couch under my comforter, the extra pillows propping her up and the TV remote somewhere under all that hair and blanket. It’s not. Inger’s finger is a problem. I want this kittie to go home. I want my house back.

And now for one of my usual tangents.  There are things about Inger I have not figured out yet. Then I ran across Katie Was Here. Exactly. What was Inger doing between her freakout at the social media company and her discovery of a finger in a whip? Whelp, not what Katie was doing because Katie is IRL and Inger isn’t. But now I can steal bits of IRL from Katie’s story to fill in some gaps about Inger. Katie, if you read this, sorry. You’ll figure out soon enough that I earn my nom de plume of Chief Liar at the Liars Club. I take things IRL and twist them to suit my purpose in telling a story.

So, the answer? Inger hitched her way around the country ticking off places on her bucket list. She chose not to use a car. So, Inger was living outside for a while. Oh, and for the SEO bots, Inger’s finger is in evidence with the RPD. Yes, I know that one also, that if there is a gun in the first act, well . . . B.A. in English, Literature, ok.

Ginger Hairy Blanket

Movement in the area of the couch. A hairy blanket just traversed from living room to bathroom. It’s only eight feet or so. Bathroom door closed and then reopens to toss my red towel and washcloth from homeless shelter days to the hallway. To get to the kitchen I’ll have to either step on it or pick it up, “Your shit stinks,” said the hairy blanket. So sue me. That towel and washcloth get laundered infrequently. The bathroom door closed again.

I know better than to be second behind an SHYT hairy blanket for the bathroom. I’m good. I hear personal hygiene noises. Remote repossessed. Lance Watson’s Positive Power is better.

I move my towel to the hamper. The laundromat run will happen later. Time for omelets and home fries, coffee and for the hairy blanket, hand squeezed blood orange juice. Also bagels with lox schmear.

Coffee Is Never “Just Coffee

Freshly showered girl arms just embraced me from behind. No more hairy blanket. Instead, Inger/Kittie now in a camisole and fleece pajama pants, rummaging for coffee mugs and soy milk. Before setting the table Inger sees my FB post about the binary divide between parents and not parents. A flash of annoyance crosses her face before she moves the tablet to my ottoman in the living room and resumes setting the dining table with a tablecloth, utensils, plates and so on. I tend to eat and wash one bowel. I’ll drink out of a 32oz. cup from Wawa. This is way more effort into breakfast than my usual. Kittie, though, seems to enjoy this domestic moment.

Tangent 2: Guys and gals, if you menstruate and don’t have a partner there is a running annoyance you can’t avoid. Guys circle around you like dogs sniffing for a bitch in heat.  They all want to know if they have a shot at you. All the “gender is a social construct, gender is fluid, you can identify as any gender you choose” doesn’t change any of this. Maybe this explains women who dress like guys to fend off the pack and guys who dress in a way that signals they are not wondering about every woman they encounter.

B) Nearly sixty years of socialist/feminist indoctrination has not changed the nature of men. Guys still stare, look for a ring, and maybe try to hit on her. Call it what you will, name it whatever evil root cause you choose, in spite of decades of indoctrination in proper etiquette, some men are still dogs.

Nurture isn’t Always Enough

This annoyance explains for me why “going for coffee” with a woman is never as simple as that. And why there is safety in a relationship for a woman. “Keep Away” rings are a thing, just saying.

Inger just hit me. On the shoulder. Don’t go getting all cops and abuse on me. It’s not like that. We are not a thing, first of all. Second, slow down. Not every touch, every punch on the shoulder is a reason to go down the road of “she put her hands on me, officer.” Inger is a bit feral. She’s proof that being kept in a bubble and prevented from experiencing suffering to the extent that her parents could accomplish ends up being exactly opposite what was intended. Inger has no resiliency.  Duress sends her into orbit.

What Inger wants me to write is that I should not be so stiff. Gender is a social construct. Her Swarthmore professors said so. You can choose to identify yourself however you want. Wear whatever costume you choose. Yeah. So . . . girl, is pregnancy a social construct? Can you be a little pregnant? Tell me those words in hour ten of labor when you are 8cm for the last two hours.

Ok, the core truth to this story is that there was a Cadillac Escalade abandoned in front of my house last summer. It’s the first week of school as I type this. The weather in my zip code still thinks it is summer. I don’t have air-con in my house so I feel every drop of sweat, every degree of heat. Inger hasn’t said anything. Her Stewart Street house is an easy drive out of the heat. But both of us tuck into breakfast while box fans blow hot air around the house.

Loose Whips

What happened to the Escalade is simple: I called the cops, they came, red-tagged the whip, and a couple days later it was gone. That’s not enough for Inger.  There was a suitcase in the back seat. Strewn across the passenger side were the remains of a few meals from Burger King. Inger said she found a finger. I didn’t look.

This is where it gets story worthy. The cops closed the street. A CSI van showed up. Unmarked Chevy Impalas and Crown Victorias filled the available parking in front of my house.

Inger shows me a bloody gauze. Crap. She says it’s from the finger and she knows somebody in the crime lab who owes her a favor. Just what I need. My house as the command center for a civilian investigation into a whip that I just want to go away.

Dirty Dishes

Inger finishes her lox bagel and orange juice. No coffee for her. She takes a Ziploc bag from the bottom drawer and puts the bloody gauze in it. A quick peck from her and a “we are not a thing” hug before she’s out the back door waving, “byeee!” Peace and quiet. Kinda. She cleaned my bathroom. My medicine cabinet got re-organized to make room for cosmetics. This kittie doesn’t seem to want to remain a stray. Woo.

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Pascal’s Wager – Wikipedia

My cousin and I got into a thread about whether God exists. She is a disciple of science and modernism. Pushed hard, she leans toward Freud and Nietzche. It’s all about the ID and the world you can taste and see. I am of a different stripe. My world is absurd. It is full of Cheshire Cats and Jabberwocky. It makes no nevermind to me that my God is absurd. It is better to live as if God does exist and Jesus is who he said he is.

Source: Pascal’s Wager – Wikipedia

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No Pulse, Just a Finger

Charlie Boy Inside

Inger got him arrested. Her time in the Bay Area included a year at Sennin Kai. When she got back to Richmond she started over with Eric at Richmond Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Inger trains because it keeps her sane. All that boomer childhood whim indulgence and self-empowerment was worthless. It filled her with anxiety. On her first night at Sennin Kai a Tai Kwan Do blackbelt questioned one of the instructors whether Aiki Jiu-Jitsu was effective. She didn’t see what happened. She only heard the groans of the Tai Kwan Do dude as he lay on the floor trying to recover. He signed up. Shameless Yoast SEO pander: No pulse, just a finger

So, Charles (Boy) of my previous post about Inger, went to jail. Inger had a quiet year. She rented a place a couple doors down from me. The Stuart Street house? It’s still there. She still has it. It’s too bougie for her, she says. So she splits her time between East 15th Street and Stewart Street. If you ask me, Stuart Street has too many bad memories of Charley Boy.

Escalade, No Pulse, Just a Finger

All’s been well until recently. Inger knocked on my door last Saturday. She’d seen the Cadillac Escalade parked in front of my house for a couple weeks. She thought maybe it was mine. Curiosity drove her to peek inside.

That’s Not Happening

What she saw pushed her that last little bit to my door and an insistent knock, “ALAN! FUCK! ANSWER THE DOOR! There is a finger, a human finger on the back seat of that whip!” I hate answering the door in my PJ’s. She kept pounding and shouting about a finger on the back seat of the Cadillac Escalade in front of my house, “Give me a minute!” I put on some jeans and my old Eagles t-shirt.

Inger was at the front door. Two locks, open it, she blows by me and takes a horse stance next to my couch, “A fucking finger on the back seat of that whip. Oh my fucking God!

Oh yay! My Saturday routine just got disrupted. Never mind couch slugging with PBS on until mid-afternoon. Now I had Inger going on about a finger she saw on the seat of a sketchy looking Cadillac Escalade. Life in the ghetto for a WASP. Woo.

No Pulse, Just a Finger

So . . . it’s Saturday. Priorities. I made coffee, a French omelete and home fries. Inger wasn’t hungry or happy. She couldn’t stop worrying about the finger on the back seat of the Cadillac Escalade. Was it a guy’s finger, girls? How did it get there? Now with breakfast made I called the cops. They got to us in about a half-hour. And . . . closed the street.

Cops leaving East 15th Street, No Pulse, Just a FingerAwesome. My car was parked behind the Subaru. Forget going anywhere for a while. The one time I park in front of my house Inger finds no pulse, just a finger.

Inger doesn’t drink coffee. She found the loose tea I had and made herself a cup of Oolong. Wait?! What?! You pig. Taiwanese tea, asshole. OMG! Racist even.

Talk about awkward. I’ve got a SHYT in my kitchen amped up about some suitcases she found in the Escalade. Inside was powder cocaine, cash, and clothes. The front seat was strewn with bags and wrappers from a late-night drunk food binge. A couple Four Loko empties were on the floor, shotgun spot.

Party Remains

The powder cocaine was in bricks. A couple kilos. By now the cops had tape closing the street at both the Edwards and Gordon ends of the block. A CSI unit showed up. It’s not like TV. They are very methodical and slow. The clothes were early gone-to-the-club casual. Thongs, bras, jeans and oversized t-shirts. Inger didn’t see anything that looked like guy stuff. Except maybe the glimpse of surplus army boots in the way-back.

Inger knew too much. She denied going through the Escalade. She said she only stood outside and took pictures with her phone. Uh huh. In my cab-driving years, I gave rides to thousands of drunks and addicts. Many of them were  Cartel members. It was my job to make snap decisions about the likelihood of a given fare ending with payment and polite goodbyes. By dint of repetition, I got pretty good at it. Inger’s version of the events leading to her hugging a cup of Oolong tea in my kitchen did not add up.

I asked her how much cash she saw, “Not that much. Some benjamins.” Her purse was on the floor next to her. I could see at least one bundle peaking out. Inger’s family has money so it’s possible she’s walking around with 25% of my annual salary in cash. It’s possible. There is an abandoned Escalade in front of my house being scrutinized by criminologists. I’d bet there are more possibilities Inger isn’t ready to confess.

Charlie Boy

I wondered why she would risk pissing off drug dealers by helping herself to a couple bundles of Benjamins. Inger was a Daddy’s girl and her family had money. All she had to do is ask. Yet she’s in my kitchen wearing designer clothes that have the scent of a thrift store. She looks like she hasn’t slept in ages. She smelled of stale beer and sticky sex.

Charles (Boy) had been stalking her. Inger went so far as to get a restraining order. He ignored it. She was in a manic/paranoid mood of late, texting me incessantly that her laptop would power on and alert her to a tweet from someone who seemed to know exactly what she was doing right then. Inger even started taking the battery out at bed-time. No effect. Still, messages came. She could solve this just by replying to Charlie Boy, maybe joining him in Sid Meier’s Civilization for a while.

Inger bought a gun instead. She was against guns but this asshole was getting scary. Let that fucker violate the restraining order. Then Inger wondered out loud of the finger was Charlie’s. That seemed to make her smile.

Exit Out the Back

Inger and I were getting fidgety. We peaked out my back door and discovered that the cops had not closed off the alley. Good. Processing the crime scene was going to be an all-day thing. Let the cops do their job. She and I closed up the house, headed to the alley and made a right turn toward her house. This wasn’t over.

Some Housekeeping

I’ve given up on the popular conversation about Trump. I voted for him so I guess that makes me a racist, Nazi asshole who hates everybody and especially the golden children of the left–LBGTQ, brown people, and women. I am a born-again Christian, so that adds to the depth of my evil. I’m done trying to engage with those who believe with cult fever that God is on their side in this fight for the soul of our democracy.

I’m resigning my seat at the table where the task is to throw rhetorical bombs at the other side. I don’t want to talk about it. There are plenty who are talking about it. I can opt out.

I’ve said my piece on philosophy and religion. I’ve written a statement of essentials in Nutcracker Ushers. There are 277 published posts on this blog covering current events, religion, politics, and philosophy. At an average of 1500 words each, there are 416,000 ways to be pissed off at me for something I said. I think that’s enough.

I’m more interested in Inger and the other characters I’ve created in this space. So, for now, I’m going to concentrate on a serialized novel telling this story: what happened to that finger, the cocaine and clothes in that Escalade. There was no pulse, just a finger.

 

 

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Five Stars

Dotty Postage

You won’t get the reference unless you are old enough to remember Herb Caen. No worries. I’ve been trying since early April to find more to say about five stars. I got 600 words or so. So . . . like Herb I’m just going to be adhd about it and mash together a few shorter ideas into this post.

Working With a Brahmin Five Stars

First, an apology. It’s been a couple months since I posted anything in this space. I pay my bills with a job called Deskside Support. What that means in practice is that I get work because something is fucked up. Most of the fuckups are things that can be fixed in forty hours and the stakeholders are our clients. These last two months have been ass-puckering for my bosses because they got caught out covering for a couple coworkers who had patronage jobs.

I’m not used to working alongside someone who has a job because he has attributes that fit the current fashunabull identities. Nor am I used to someone who is effectively tenured because they fall into the right adjectives and are friends with someone important enough to protect them from layoffs. Until this job. Holy crap. It hasn’t happened yet. But, I swear, these two swinging dicks could be caught fucking each other on a table in the cafeteria and nothing would come of it.

I’ve had two months of late nights at work dealing with the fallout of these two princes. Self care things like working out and cooking for myself so I don’t eat crap have been ignored. Too many nights I get home, change into pajamas, and crawl under the covers to wait for dawn. I’m in a cafe writing tonight because if I don’t I’ll do something self-destructive. So . . . moving on.

Five Stars

Five Stars is a thing. The thing is, it’s gotten silly. Every place that has a presence on Yelp wants to get a five-star rating from you. So many that a five-star rating has become stupid.

I stay at the Paradise Hotel in the Valley. I have a room over the Last Chance Saloon. The Paradise Hotel has a five-star rating from TripAdvisor. We are a spring break destination because of Saito-San. Those five stars come from the cheap well-drink prices, generous happy hour and indifferent attitude of Saito-San towards bacchanal.

Pro-Tip: If you are married, married with children, this is not the hotel for you. It is a dump. The maids clean every few days. You can’t tell. The sheets are threadbare. The rooms that don’t have bedbugs stink of pesticide. Don’t drink the water. The most reliable toilet is the outhouse in the alley. You get the idea.

Not Your Paradise Hotel

The Paradise Hotel’s 5-Star Rating is a joke. The Valley is a shit-show. Saito-San has had a blood feud with the cartels for a decade. Waking up to a body in the street is a regular occurrence. You can find feces along the curbs near the hotel. The alley beside the hotel stinks of piss, shit, and puke.  Behind Saito-San’s gas station is an outhouse littered with used needles. It’s not safe here. People get hurt.

So . . . what’s up with that 5-Star rating? We are a spring break destination. People come here to get drunk and screw. One month out of the year we grow from a few hundred regulars to nearly ten-thousand. For that month we are a vibrant, pulsating mass of partying youth. Gringo prices for a room at the Paradise will run you 400 pesos a night off-season. During spring break it will be at least 1500 pesos per night. We charge the parents $250/night for room and board. Liquor is extra. For your 1500 pesos, though, we keep the Last Chance Saloon open. The hotel buffet is open 24/7. Good stuff.

We are also a 5-star missional tourism destination. We put on quite a show for the white-monkeys who show up in their chartered buses from churches like the New Pentecostal Deliverance Evangelical Bible Outreach Center. They build houses, churches, and wells we tear down after they leave. They feed the starving children. We don’t have to buy toiletries, socks or underwear. And certain of their leadership has a running tab at the Last Chance Saloon.

A Dollar a Day

Somebody asked me how the town makes money. Well . . . when you are a town that does fine on pesos it doesn’t take much to keep the lights on. When the white monkeys go home we go back to farming and barter. Off-season the regulars pretty much know each other and what everyone needs. We do for each other.

You can easily live on a couple dollars a day if you don’t try to live like a white monkey. You can live even cheaper if you can maintain a garden and some chickens. What you can’t do is keep your white monkey life. For that, we have the Paradise Hotel and we charge for that.

So, to answer the question, we earn enough over spring break to carry us through the year. We also do nicely with the missional tourism. There are also some things that Saito-san does to help manage money for the cartels. But the big thing is the stark contrast between a livable income on pesos and a similar livable income on dollars if you are a gringo. So, that’s a thing.

✤ ✤ ✤

One last thing. We seem to have settled on male attributes as normal and acceptable while reserving femininity for taboo. A woman can wear men’s clothes and be butch and not draw scolding eyes. She can wear pretty much anything she wants and it’ll be ok. A guy, though, still can’t dress in drag without attracting gossip and uncomfortable stares.

There is also this, that in Mecca, to be with the fashunabull crowd, you have to signal inclusion in some way. Guys have to be brown skinned or a bit fem or both to be accepted. It’s bad if you are a cis-hetero male WASP. That bunch, the ones that drive Subaru’s with four doors and live in cul-de-sacs with detached homes–those guys are on their face evil. This explains the pink golf shirts of some.

I’m friends someone who lives in the mecca of PUDFARB. Berkeley is the spiritual capital of PUDFARB. San Jose is its financial center. The real power of PUDFARB is in the South Bay where she lives. A thread of our conversation is gender identity. What defines a man? What defines a woman? Is it the costume? Mayhaps visible genitalia like dicks or boobs? Are surgery and cosplay enough? What of those who say they can declare a gender identity regardless of the body they reside in?

IRL my friend looks like a Scottish farm-girl who could wrestle a bull and win. A lot of what is fun to her falls into the realm of guy stuff. She’s an accomplished yacht captain and a mucho multi-rated GA pilot.

♂ ⚥ ♀

So, she’s not very girly. But she is a girl, no question. So, what defines a woman? Doing woman things—house-frau, Mary and Mary and such? The clothes? It’s not hard to walk around SJW Mecca and see a person with a beard and Adam’s apple wearing heels, stockings, a short skirt, a silk blouse and a bra. Guy or girl? More frequent is a person who clearly has hips and boobs and no Adam’s apple but is wearing a button-down Oxford, boyfriend jeans, and Converse All-Stars. Girl or guy?

I’ll give you my answer: a woman was born with the potential to make babies. She had a womb at birth. Whether she keeps it or uses it to make babies isn’t material to my definition. Conversely,  a guy is born with the potential to get a girl pregnant. The central difference for me is children.

I really don’t care who you marry. I really don’t give a shit whether you yourself have a sausage or an oyster between your legs, whether you were born with a body that might one day nurse a baby or not and who you choose to partner with. Partner with the one you love, gender identity shouldn’t enter into it.

Are You Now or Do You Plan to be a Parent?

That said, what I do care about is this: are you going to have kids? No? Go away. Do you. Just . . . please don’t shove your life in my face and demand that I love your chosen path.

And . . . please find a spiritual life of some sort. The second thing I care about is evil. If your chosen lifestyle includes darkness that bleeds into the community around you then please repent. Do what you have to do to get spiritually healthy. I happen to be Christian and believe it is the best way. The topic of ways is vast. Find a spiritual way and stick to it.

So, for me, the binary divide is between those who were born with the potential to carry a child and those who were born with the potential to initiate a pregnancy. If you were born with a uterus you are a woman. If you were born with a dick you are a dude. All the rest of it is foolishness.

✤ ✤ ✤

There was a news story this morning about the Supreme Court deciding that Ohio can purge its voter registration rolls of people who have not voted in a while and also have not responded to attempts to contact them.

This is horrendous. How are dead people supposed to vote if Ohio just deems them illegible to vote? How dare they! It’s outrageous. Dead people have rights too. Dead people matter!

What do you mean dead people can’t vote?! Who is going to vote for reasonable leaders who will do right by the people? Somebody has to make sure the welfare checks get mailed and our grandparents can still buy cat food. I mean, seriously.

Last, I find it curious that politicians who campaign on populism, on being a champion for the people, once elected, turn out to be vicious imperialists. There is a class of elites in this country who will do anything to protect their caste. Letting dead people vote is just a piece of it.

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Nutcracker Ushers

I have to get something off my chest. I met some nutcracker ushers the last time I was in the valley. One particular Baptist Church likes it when I usher while they are here. I’m the token backsliding gringo who is a reason to pray for protection. Ushering for them is a double bonus. They get to signal their hospitality to odd people while trying again to convince me that a blue suit is a better look for me.

That’s one piece. The next bit is that I’m not a nutcracker usher.  These Baptists are a Sunday best sort of church. Their ushers stand at their assigned door like nutcrackers. You approach their door, they open it to let you in, maybe hand you a bulletin and then let it close. Lord almighty if you speak to them. Never do that.

Nutcracker Usher

Though, funny thing. If a friend approaches their door, whole other thing. It’s smiles and chatty and they spend a minute catching up. I’m a damned Yankee. I walk toward a manned door and it’s like I am a leper. They open the door arms stick straight, keeping their distance from me.

  • My first sin is that I had my hands in my pockets just after greeting someone. Really? That’s the thing that makes me a bad usher? Let’s not stop with my hands. Most of the time I am in sandals, beach shorts, and a tank top. I have a closet full of Hawaiian pattern shirts. I am the epitome of boomer gringo on holiday.
  • B) Some more. I tend to have over the ear Bluetooth headphones around my neck. You can hear Jimmy Buffet leaking out of them.
  • I also kept picking up church bulletins from the careful piles for each nutcracker. Instead of sticking to the rules and only handing out from an assigned pile I took them from whichever pile was nearest. For that I am apostate. I am a bad usher needing to be scolded.
  • Still not done. I made the entire foyer of the church my turf. I greeted whoever entered, through whichever door. The nutcracker ushers stood mouths agape. This is not how it is done.

You Are Doing It Wrong

You are right. It is now how it is done. Ushers with some boogie and charm don’t fit the stiff blue suits that guard the doors to the chapel. I mean, I look like I am dancing while I flit from person to person greeting them and ensuring they are welcomed.

Let’s repeat something. Jesus is absurd. Christ chased the money changers with a whip. He broke bread with prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath. He said that the meek and poor in spirit are blessed. That bastard Nazarene carpenter told a wealthy man it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for that man to enter heaven.

Keep that in mind as I say that this country is in an imperialist/legalist mood. The answer to most problems is more and stricter law. Lately, London’s mayor has decided that the answer to a rise in murder by knife is to ban knives. He forgot about acid.

Baptism’s dark side is similarly stiff and authoritarian. Many Baptists cannot hear the loving voice of Christ over the shouting they internalize–they are not good enough, every exhale is a backslide, every inhale another ingestion of worldly decadence. The answer is to insist that people must know Jesus because that would solve it.

Nutcracker Ushers in the Valley

Those nutcracker ushers are not in the Valley to show us the Mercy of Mother Mary. They are here to save us from the depravity they see all around them. They see us and there is too much of the world in us. Yep. We just toast them and tell the band to crank it up.

Jesus came to fulfill the law. The whole miracle is wrapped up in how he fulfilled the law. Hillel’s summary of the Torah, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.” Christ flipped the script, Mat 7:12So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” All this bickering over things like whether it is proper for an usher to have his hands in his pockets is a trifle needing charity. Yet there are Baptists who can spend hours arguing over this and whether intinction is proper.

Meldenius, “Necessariis unitas, quae necessaria libertatis et caritatis cetera.” I get annoyed at those who would judge my fielty to Christ by my manner of dress, the placement of my hands, and the music leaking out of my headphones. It’s not very far from that to judging someone by bloodline or skin color. I have a hard time believing my stated sin of having my hands in my pockets is a necessary concern requiring unity. But . . . I’m Presbyterian and we decided to punt when challenged on whether fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman is a requirement for our clergy, so there you go.

Let’s Eat Hummus and Revolution

We are a Middle Eastern religion born out of a rebellion against the church and Rome. Our truest nature is that of malcontents. We are odd. Once we stop being outliers we dim the lamp of the Holy Spirit. Ours is a traditional way of life with rules that are essential and thus, require unity. I wonder, though, if the man who praised a woman for pouring nard on him and turned water into wine would obsess over the position of the hands on an usher.

As to fundementalism, I like what Shane Claiborne said. Since we are dissident Jews our fundamentals ought to be Arab and Israeli. I am amused at the thought of a rabbi giving a homily in a ‘merican church. It would be an uncomfortable few hours for the nutcracker ushers.

Here are some of my essentials: I find myself hungering for service to everyone regardless of their rung on Jacob’s Ladder. I am alive because of God’s Amazing Grace. It is out of gratitude for His grace that I keep saying we should lead with grace. Jesus said a lot in the short time he was here. Some of my favorites are the Beatitudes, Acts Chapter 2 and Romans 12.

I repeated the Meldenius quote above. Asked to boil my essentials down to a paragraph I would say we are to love our enemies and neighbors as ourselves, treat others as we wish to be treated, diligently seek to perform small acts of kindness with great love, pray, worship, tithe, and read scripture.

The Good Fight

If there is anything that is characteristic of us it is this: we never stopped arguing about what we believe.  It is why I love Meldenius’ words. We all have to pick our essentials that are not up for debate. After that the rest is fungible.

I know the nutcracker usher who chided me for having my hands in my pockets. His faith is fluid. He fights that first step, admitting we have a problem we are powerless against. Like many, when sober he is brilliant. His inner child became an overachiever because that way his parents would be safer. There is safety in law for him. If there were a law and we would comply it would be so much better.

So he comes to the valley to tilt at our absurdities. We need to come correct so he can be ok. If we knew Jesus and all that. I suppose Fr. Thomas doesn’t know Jesus. The nutcracker usher has been to confession. He found it troubling and attractive.

I’ve crossed paths with him at the cathedral. He’s been at the club when I walk through to my flat upstairs. I think I get where the thing about my hands comes from. It’s easier to fight for kings and law to solve our problems. Christ is tough. His way is absurd. Rather than lift a sword he died and lived. Bickering over hands buried in pockets is a lot safer.

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Father Thomas

Father Thomas starts on the Yucatan Peninsula. Yah, yah, I read Koontz’ Odd Thomas novels. Literary coinkidink. Thomas Chan was born to Mayan parents in the Hospital General in 1983. He is average height and build for the Mestizaje. Tommy was born with a cleft palate that explains two things: falla exógena para prosperar and a nagging suspicion that he is a symptom of generations deep curse on his parents.

It is fashionable to tag a fate as immutable and thus, Fr. Thomas ought to be pitiable. He also ought not to improve his position beyond the photo of him at age 3 staring up at a gringo photographer. The cleft palate repair was remarkably good. He was adopted by an American family when he was four. Bit by bit, all of the medical problems he had at adoption were treated and cured. He was a favored child in his Southern Baptist Church. One thing I’ve learned from Fr. Thomas is that priests don’t talk about their studies unless pressed. Protestants are in love with credentials. We would use a Doctor of Divinity as a marker of authority. Priests sing the Psalms end to end every week. Fr. Thomas, like his church, has that quiet authority that comes from a history that goes back to the cross.

Poor Father Thomas

More than a few missionaries have arrived in the village sure that they can bring us to Cheeezus and a first world paradise. They think he is one of the villagers needing Cheezus. Then the missionaries ask Father Thomas if he is saved and the fun starts.

Here is the thing. Some of this first world largess makes a mess of things in the third world. Missionary tourists have expectations of us. The village in our valley is small. No traffic lights, one gas station, the club where I stay when I am there, and a smattering of squatters huts. When missionaries show up to build a church it’s a huge deal. It costs us a lot. As much as the missionaries bring they eat us out of house and home. Then they build a church that we can’t keep open because there is no way to pay for the water, sewer, heat, and electricity for it. The last group’s church is a depot for the village’s trash.

Which explains why Fr. Thomas isn’t at the head of the line to greet another group of Evangelicals who think we need a church. He leaves that to Saito-san. Saito-san gets saved every week in the summer by one more group of missional tourists. It’s something to see. Saito-san does a great job getting healed by the spirit.

The Only Correct Bible is the King James

One adamant missionary from a beautiful non-denominational mega-church asked Fr. Thomas if he was saved, citing John 3:16. “Si. ‘Porque tanto amó Dios al mundo que dio a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo el que cree en él no se pierda, sino que tenga vida eterna‘. ¿Recuerdas 1 Corintios 13: 4: El amor es paciente, es bondadoso. El amor no es envidioso ni jactancioso ni orgulloso. No se comporta con rudeza, no es egoísta, no se enoja fácilmente, no guarda rencor. El amor no se deleita en la maldad, sino que se regocija con la verdad. Todo lo disculpa, todo lo cree, todo lo espera, todo lo soporta‘?“, asked Fr. Thomas.

The adamant missionary knew Leviticus by heart. He’d heard Matthew 28:19 as an accusation that he not done enough. Fr. Thomas got accused of being evil. To which Fr. Thomas agreed. He is evil to those whose literary eyes never drift from the KJV and whose soul cowers at the slightest whiff of dissonance as a sure sign of the devil.

The next day that missionary boy spent the day in the cathedral learning about the stations of the cross. The boy who would save us began to learn that his small life in Christ obsessed with coming correct was a tiny lamp nearly out of oil. The light of Christ given off by the whole church was brilliant. He who would save us began learning how much he didn’t know about Jesus. It shook him.

 

The Other Odd Thomas

Fr. Thomas is odd. He left the valley and learned to live in the light. The blood of the cross transfused his valley water. He hurt as he surrendered to the blood of the lamb. The pilgrimage out of the valley started with Baptist missionaries who adopted him.

Tommy’s gringo parents flipped through a couple different New Age utopian communities a year. They hungered for simple living and self-reliance. Mayhaps not the fault of the communities they chose, but of those Eros was king of the gods. They came to Cheezus in a small town, Southern Baptist Church with a preacher who was sure every day was the day of rapture.

Tommy ran away at age 13 to ricochette from jail to church to street to the beaches of Vietnam to Antifa to a bar in Merida seeking purpose and vision or at least something to numb the chronic angst. He only knew that he did not want the gestalt bestowed on him by his barely present adoptive parents.

Weaponized Feel

One of the deep lessons he learned is that feelings were weapons. He had to be perfect for his parents because a backslide would devolve into hours of cray-cray prayer where even asking for water was a sign of the devil. So, Tommy became an overachiever. The devil can be incredibly motivating while he eats your soul.

The Baptists have a trope they ache for. The one where someone in the pews is overcome with spirit and makes a public prayer of acceptance. It doesn’t always happen that way. Jesus is, if anything, an absurd, thick-necked and stubborn revolutionary. It would be out of character for him to stick to a Baptist trope in every case.

I argued with God for decades. He won. For a while I needed my questions answered. Over time, Christ’s love and mercy leaked into my valley water and turned it into wine. For the last decade, I have been slowly letting Jesus fill me with the blood of the cross. It hurts much of the time. Things that are not of the cross die. I won’t have it any other way.

Right Between the Knockers

Tommy’s altar call happened at station Twelve of the Cross. The Southern Baptism of his adoptive parents just never felt right. It could not be that the only way to view the world was as a table offering souls to eat. Death had to have a meaning beyond the threatened fire and damnation burned into him if he did not come correct. He was in Merida during the Festival of the Dead, staying with a Mayan family as an exchange student, and went to a cathedral out of curiosity. There was a monk in a pew near the Twelfth Station.

My love of Christ has been a slow surrender. Tommy’s turn came in a nervous breakdown. One moment he was taking selfies of with the icon of Christ’s death and the next he was in on a bed in the priory. Sometimes Jesus kicks you in the nuts. Tommy became Fr. Thomas after such a kick.

Tommy returned to the US hungry for the body of Christ. His new love of Catholicism and taco de pescado got him shunned by his adoptive parents. He could not go home again so he made is way back to Merida and the twelfth station. It began as a novice. The journey continues as Fr. Thomas serves as clergy for the valley. We keep him busy.

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The Liars Club’s Flaming Pants Night

So . . . I made a meetup. I’ve called the group, “The Liars Club”. The event is called Flaming Pants Night. It is every Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Urban Farmhouse in Richmond’s Scotts Addition. I have two ideas for this night. One is a storytelling and writers meet and greet. I hope people bring works of short fiction that they would like to read and have critiqued.

Pants on Fire NightLet’s talk about vision & purpose for this thing. I’ve met with three different groups of writers in RVA. All three have adopted the current progressive orthodoxy regarding diversity and inclusion. And all three are predictably intolerant of outliers who won’t adhere to their orthodoxy. Also, I haven’t found anyone (yet) whose blog is a mix of commentary and fiction like mine.

Thus . . . The Liars Club’s Flaming Pants Night. I hope I get wonderful lies from the members. Not just little white lies. Big, flaming, pants on fire lies. Her Gropenfuhrer had sex with a porn star? Meh. Cheeto Satan made a gangbang video with 100 women? That’s more like it. With a little luck, this will grow into a live show where performers compete to tell outrageous stories.

Flaming Pants Night and Microaggressions

Politics, religion and such. I am about the story. Polemic speeches to persuade an audience to agree with you, regardless of oratorical skill, are a problem. It’s better if you can tell a story with a point of view. I’ll listen to the story. Chanting the slogan of the day or ranting about Doorknob Trundlefuck‘s latest crime against humanity? Shut up.

Now, this is the sort of thing that can devolve into a mess. Thus, some rules.

  • Narrative only. The other prose forms: persuasion, informative, descriptive, process and comparison contrast are not allowed.  Tell a story. Even better, tell an outrageous story where the character embodies what you admire/hate.
  • No crosstalk. Meaning you can comment on someone’s work and address your comments to the group. What you can’t do is cut the rest of us off by engaging in a back & forth with one person.  Don’t. Stick to talking about the work.
  • Be fearless in choosing work to present and in sharing your opinion about the work presented.
  • Have fun!
  • We are not a meat market. Yah, attractive people and all. Sure. But . . . we are here to encourage each other to write better fiction and tell better stories. Stay focused.

It Happened Last Night

I was at the Urban Farmhouse in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition last night at 6:31 pm. Nobody else showed up. I had two other people say they were going and didn’t go. So, there are now two lies recorded about Flaming Pants Night. One, those that said they would show up can now say they told the first lie in the Liars Club. Two, my own lie that I would stay the whole two hours. I left a little after 7:00 pm.

It’s night two of Flaming Pants Night as I make this edit. A few tables from me is a social worker and his friends gathered to talk about non-fiction writing. I hear bits of their conversation. Most of it is about the process. What’s the plan? How do we feel about the plan? They are deeply in the weeds on the best means of facilitating good non-fiction writing. It makes my head hurt.

The people I like around me are nuts. There is no plan. We operate in this sequence, “FIRE! Oh, uhm, yeah, forgot . . . ready? ok, AIM! Right, sorry, I’ll wait while you load more bullets.” We are the fools that will give up the markers of the normal first world life for a shopping cart if it means we can keep doing our thing. Flaming Pants Night, once it is more than me, isn’t going to waste much time on exactly how we will organize a bunch of malcontented outliers with a story to tell. We’ll tell the tale and then figure it out.

Out of the Mess

How do you become a writer? Start writing. Write at least a page a day every day. Well, ok, for six days. Sabbath is a thing.

The next task is to find readers. The difference between a diary and a book is an audience. A diary is read by a very limited audience. A book is a hope that lots of people will read what is contained within. Sometimes we get lucky and the book makes money. A couple notes, though. First, if your purpose is to gain fame and wealth from creative work and not the work itself? Stop.

You will never put in the effort needed to get good at the work. There will always be a piece of you wondering if this is the thing that will blow up and achieve the wealth and attention you hunger for. Choosing art, regardless of media, is a choice to be miserable. There are decades of work that goes unnoticed. Odds are no one will ever give a shit. Your brilliance will end up collecting dust on the floor of a closet.

Because You Can’t Not Do it

Choose to create, to make, because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Choose to do what you do because not doing it feels like choosing death. It’s gonna cost you everything. But . . . if you are willing to sacrifice for your work, it may pay off in the end. It may not.

Art is born out of the mess. To find the good work you have to allow a little cray-cray. Too much analysis just kills it. The Liars Club is a reflection of its founder and my own comfort with not knowing the plan or the usual method for getting something done. I’m the only one here for the second week. Nothing good ever comes easy. Besides, sitting here nursing a coffee has added 600 words to this piece about my hopes for the Liars Club’s Flaming Pants Night.

For next time and each time after this I am bringing my laptop and intend to spend the two hours at the Urban Farmhouse writing. Though this is the Liars Club so I might be full of shit. There is a chance I’ll buy a bottle of wine to share. You can find out the truth of this by showing up April 6th at 6:30 pm.

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Misery in the Valley

A Pastoral Peace

It’s been a quiet week on the farm. Spring is a few months away. There is still winter misery in the valley. Over the winter Ray tore down the 9N and rebuilt it. The chicken coop needs an overhaul, including two tires. It’s been a couple years since the bearings have been changed. Father Thomas’ homily touched on Lamentations. Guys complain about their honey-do lists. Guys that live in 3500 sq ft homes at the end of a cul-de-sac. Men who would shut their mouth after a day of chores on the farm. My Dad offered to help Ray and got to a lawn chair in the barn before he had to sit a spell.

I never lived in a cul-de-sac. My Dad’s house is in a tree covered suburb of Philly. When I headed west in a Trailways bus out of Cherry Hill I was dazzled by the bright lights of the City 3,000 miles distant. The City by the Bay called to me and I answered with a bus ticket. I stopped on the east side of San Francisco Bay at my grandmother’s house in Albany, CA. My Dad said I’d never last living in the city.

It’s been forty years in the city. My Dad has a few chairs on the farm in Merida. One is in the living room with a shoe-box full of remote controls. He commands the entertainment from that chair. Another is an Amish made cane rocking chair with a commanding porch view of the farm. He used to take visitors and talk to the farm hands. Lately, he sleeps in that chair most of the day.

Shall I Stay With Misery in the Valley?

Sixteen years ago the reasons to stay in the East Bay disappeared. The Empress flew to Taiwan with my son. I lost another temp job. My landlord declared that he was converting the entire complex to Section 8 housing. Every tenant had to either move out or qualify for Section 8. Then and still the wait list for Section 8 is decades long. I make too much money so that left moving out.

Choices. Stay on the correct coast where my Dad’s family can trace their California story back through the San Bernadino Mormons or leave the golden state. Then there is the Mayan option—to live with my grandfather’s family on their farm in Yucatan. I chose the third option. I moved from Richmond, CA to Richmond, VA in 2002.

Even when I am in Yucatan I stay in Merida at a hotel. All those years watching the world pass by my taxi-cab windshield make the bustle & noise of the city feel right. Also, I’ve seldom lived in “good” places.  Home has been cars, friend’s couches, hotels and beggar shelters. The house in Richmond is the longest stint of stable living I’ve had since separating from the Empress. My Dad was wrong about me. I did last living in the city.

Tuning to Twilight

It’s twilight. Dinner service is wrapping up and the band is tuning up. I’ve got my Mccauley’s neat and a plate of barbacoa. The weatherman is telling the gringos that this monsoon season will be bad. The train of storms starting in Nigeria is strong. Already they have named 8 storms that have wandered near and then away from Merida.  The 9th, Ian, generated warnings to evacuate. I took another sip of my bourbon.

This is the wrong side of the tracks. It is populated by the bottom third of the bell curve. The normies and good folk fear this valley. They see the shadow of death over us and nod with complicity to their preacher who tells them that we are their fate if they don’t behave. We are good with that.

When I am not in Richmond, Philly or Merida I am here in the bar or in my flat upstairs. The flat used to be warehouse space for the bar. No amount of Pinesol is enough to erase the mix of old bourbon, piss, puke, stale beer, illicit sex, and cigarettes. It has two rooms, a former office in the back with a thrift store sourced kitchen.  Someone before me put a  cheap fiberglass shower with copper pipes green with age into the former office. I’ve tried to clean the toilet but even straight bleach won’t remove the years of beery piss and tossed smokes. The sink stinks of smoked heroin. The big room in front used to store liquor and also has thrift store furniture. It offers no escape from the stench of mortal sins.

Yes I Do

More than a few have climbed the stairs to my loft and exclaimed, “you like living here?!” I do. The noise of the bar plays a melody grounded by the sub-woofer beat of freight trains that pass by every couple hours. They hurry on to feed the hungry maw of the collected mass of normies who worry about me. Let them be scared.

Normie kids come to the bar to get their freak on. This place is exciting. Stuff happens. Girls show up ready to dance, drink and mayhaps give some. The music is awesome. The food is good, even better after a few drinks. People come here to play and then we send them home a little worse for it.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. We don’t want to be less dangerous. It’s a long drive over the hills on two-lane gravel roads to get here. An hour out of town is a gas station inhabited by a shotgun-toting old man with a bad attitude. His nose for outsiders is unfailing. He’s put buckshot into the doors of more than a few who seemed like they were lost and ought to be headed back out of the valley.

Gasoline and Buckshot

Old man Saito does sell gas. You have to get past the initial curmudgeonly greeting. You can’t be in a hurry. Most of the normie kids out for a weekend in town know enough to either tank up before they cross the pass or invest a few hours in drinking rice wine (50 proof!) with him.  Those in the know bring a fifth of Makers Mark with them. He searches their car for contraband and finds it, upon which his attitude improves considerably. Also, let him find a carton of Marlboro Red 100’s. Sometimes the old bribes are still the best currency to buy some freedom.

There is freedom here you can’t find on the other side of the pass under the bright lights of the city. Somebody came to a twelve-step meeting and was nervous that they might be found out as a gender-queer psychiatry patient with a thick jacket of mental ward admittance and city jail time. We were not impressed. We are small enough to not need a recognizable municipal government.

The closest we have is Saito’s son, who can be seen drifting through the streets picking the trash for aluminum cans. He’s out on parole after collecting federal time for punching a US Marshall. Oh, it doesn’t stop there. Once inside a fellow inmate threatened to rape him so Ren killed him barehanded. You have to do better than liking both sausages and clams to be interesting here.

Hard Living

It’s a hard life here. We don’t have public schools, public health services, or a social safety net. There are Ren Saito’s friends and there are those who either die or leave because they pissed off Ren. Those that stay figure out a truce with Ren. To survive here you either need your own money or a way to earn a living. Ren found The last guy to try standing on a corner with a sign asking for money in a dumpster at the back of the bar badly bloodied. He was offered two choices: clean the bar after it closes or leave town. He stayed and is the first to greet fellow beggars with a warning.

You know this one, that when you hit bottom the only direction is up. Our townies leave here stronger, clean & sober. We do for each other. The reason we don’t have a lot of municipal services is that we are small, we know each other, and we don’t hesitate to do the needful for each other. It’s how a lot of small-town America works.

I’ve seen the world from the 31st floor of 101 California Street in San Francisco. My suits from back then cost me what I make in three months. I had a family, a two-bedroom condo with designer furniture and two cars. My travel mug costs a month’s wages for those who don’t live under the city lights. That was then. Things are better now.

Father Thomas

Last thing. The church is here. Father Thomas is a Cherokee, a Gulf War Vet, with a bronze twelve-step chip. He was accused by a parishioner of raping boys. Before all that he was convicted of tax evasion for selling moonshine. The county ADA could never find enough evidence to charge him with rape. The church offered to send him to Brazil. He left instead.

He went back to Seminary and was ordained in the Anglican Church. The rumblings of some that the church was out of sync with the times regarding abortion and standards of fidelity or chastity in marriage drove him to set out on his own. He planted a small monastic order in the valley. His order runs a local school, missions and mercy programs, as well as the usual services of a local parish.

Many have underestimated Father Thomas. One seeker accosted him, wanting to know if he used the KJV, “I do not.” Which one, then? “My own.” Your own copy of the KJV? “No, my own translation.” Oh. You will find the NABRE in the pews of the order’s chapel. The order lives under a modified Benedictine Rule.

Westboro Baptist showed up one weekend and sought out Father Thomas. They expected tv cameras and protestors. They got a church picnic in full swing. Father Thomas approached them with plates. The Westboro Baptist kids were hungry. It was a great time for all.

Bottom Third

Down here on the bottom third of the curve, with places to lay my head in Richmond, the Valley, Philly, and Merida I am happier than I was when I chased status and money. I am free. I may not be successful in building my personal brand such that I collect accolades from the normies. My virtue signal is noisy and dissonant. I’m good with it.

The band started up. Lighting Hopkins stuff. My floor is swaying to the music. It’s a good night for the normies downstairs chasing the light fantastic. I’ll sleep well tonight.

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Aye Tonya Evil Bad

Maybe my first paid post. My buddy asked me to go see I, Tonya. Did that. I had a couple thoughts. First, the obligatory nod to Yoast SEO, aye tonya evil bad. Next, I tried talking to Felina about them. It did not go well. The first thing she said was, “chingada puta.” I thought she meant me. Tonya Harding was the puta.

I’m not ready to talk about the movie yet. So I’ll talk about Felina first. She’s in Puerto Rico helping the family rebuild. The little street market her Dad started grew into an office supply business selling to medical supply manufacturers. Her family’s building was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Their house was buried under several feet of mud. It took her Mom a couple weeks to find cell phone reception and call Felina. Felina was already planning to go home. When her Mom called a quick convo with Inger and a few clicks on a travel site settled the plans.

Bad Bae

All good, no? No. Bae, it seems, claimed that Felina was neither a good Madonna nor a bad Mary. This was a problem. Felina’s resistance to Bae’s ‘spose to’s caused their strife. Worst of all Felina put her family in Puerto Rico ahead of Bae. He wouldn’t leave Richmond with her. She wasn’t understanding. She wasn’t listening. She’s a character on this blog so . . . yeah.

Aye Tonya Evil BadFor Felina’s part, that Bae was deep into Call of Duty WWII, hadn’t helped pay a bill in six months, and his one job application hadn’t moved from the coffee table, was a reason his culo podrido should be peeled from its couch cocoon and put outside. She’d be good with an hour of weeding. He waved her off and went back to COD.

In the lobby of the theater when I walked out to pee the two of them were arguing about laundry. Bae claimed that she wasn’t doing it right and btw, had let it go too long. Felina figured, “él es capaz de llevar su trasero de mierda y su ropa putrefacta a la lavandería automática“. Beside’s if she loved him she’d love doing his laundry. Yeah, that . . . didn’t go well.

Aye Tonya Evil Bad

Ok, “I, Tonya.” First, it’s an awesome movie. Go spend the double sawbuck it costs to see it popcorn in hand. This is a movie about what Hollywood fears most. It is also a movie about abusive relationships. Last, it shows how deeply seductive and evil random reward systems are. It touches me because I’ve been both abused and an abuser. I feel Tonya’s pain.

Next, Hollywood wants you to have empathy for Tonya Harding. She’s the victim in this, so it goes. Her asshat husband and his crazy friends conspired to break the knee of Nancy Kerrigan. Tonya survived her Mom’s abuse and in turn, her husband’s abuse. Felina didn’t like the movie. For her, it made Tonya seem like a 19th-century waif suffering from a chronic case of the vapors. Felina wanted a little street justice for marido gilipollas y su amigo.

Felina and Bae were outside the auditorium bickering, “If you understood you wouldn’t leave me for Puerto Rico.” “Pene estúpido,” she swung and missed. He swung back and connected. Theater security saw him connect and that was it.

Triumphant Tonya

I’m good with Tonya as a survivor. She had it bad coming up. I get that. I have no truck with Tonya Harding, who triumphed over adversity and came close to Olympic gold. Hollywood . . . tho. The best villain is a white woman? Really? And men are stupid violent pigs on their face? Thanks, ‘preciate that.

Felina saw this draft. I got a 3am text from her, “las mujeres le temen a otras mujeres mucho más de lo que le temen a los hombres.” I never expected that. Most of my baddies are men. Men commit the majority of the domestic violence in this country. “Las mujeres saben cómo manejar a los hombres. Los hombres luchan con armas y puños. Las mujeres usan chismes y ataques a la reputación. Derrotar armas y puños es más fácil que pelear palabras.”

Ok . . . so the mom as the evilest fits Felina’s claim that women are more dangerous than men. Noted. I cheered for Tonya, cried with her and felt that catharsis possible with a good tragedy. Laments work best when you stay dark, stay in the misery, kill the hero at the end. I, Tonya is almost a good tragedy. It fails because Hollywood can’t stomach a deeply evil baddie, especially a woman. Baddies are just misunderstood.

Let’s Talk About Abuse

Aye Tonya Evil BadI, Tonya” shows us the victim’s side of the cycle. In case you forgot, it goes explosive event, apology, honeymoon, quiet period, tension builds and rinse repeat. The general trend is toward more violent and destructive acts of abuse. It seldom moves toward a healthier relationship. You see that in Tonya’s relationship with her husband. This won’t be news to us who are abusers/victims. Something deep gets rooted in us from abusive parents. We come to trust bitterness as normal. We can’t breathe in relationships that are healthy.

Bitterness tastes sweet to us. So much so that we hunger for it. Tonya Harding had that hunger for bitterness as a gift from her Mom. The hunger is powerful and even though we swear that the last thing we want is more bitter relationships there is something spiritual in us that attracts others who are also addicted to bitterness. We tend to find broken partners that reinforce our own lust for bitterness. I saw that in Tonya’s story.

Felina is an asshat magnet. She has “amo a los chicos malos” emblazoned on her soul. It frustrates her that every time she finds a guy he seems to come around to abuse after the initial heat dies down.  Felina went so far toward couch slug In choosing Bae that she picked someone who wore his sloth as an extra dick.  She found his tipping point once she started to fight with him about doing something more than consuming large bags of Cheetos and leveling up in COD. He’s done. The movie theater thing happened. Then the restraining order, criminal charges and such. The real test comes once he gets out and it’s, “baby I am sorry.”

Reward Systems

The last thing, “I, Tonya” is a stellar example of a powerful reward system—random. The devil knows that he doesn’t have to pay off on every promise. He just has to pay off on enough promises that his subjects remain dedicated to him. Random reward systems drive us to continue a behavior in the hopes that this is the iteration that will pay off. We know if we keep doing the behavior the reward will come. Because the payoff is random we can’t predict when we will be rewarded.

We know that Satan pays sometimes. We believe that we can influence the outcome and be rewarded with a higher payout rate than simply random payouts. So we will do anything to get a hint of the promised reward. The characters in “I, Tonya” were willing to do what it took to get the prize.

Tonya’s most desperate wish was for her Mom to love her unconditionally. This hunger for unconditional love is what her Mom used to get Tonya to work so hard at figure skating. Consciously or not, her Mom’s praise came randomly. Tonya Harding was raised under a random reward system. This instilled a desperate need for bitterness sweetened by the occasional reward of her Mom’s praise. This ache gave her husband the hook that let him keep her in spite of his abusive ways.

Don’t, Just . . . Don’t.

Before I wrap this up I have a plea. Being evil works. You can get people to do things they would never do in the cold light of day. We have enough of that. Please be light and salt.

Random reward systems, abusive people, women as the more frightening baddie, and Felina’s bae moving to the city jail. This is the end. Felina’s reaction to Tonya Harding is that she would have beat the shit out of both the boyfriend and the Mom. Maybe a bit of bravado. We don’t really know what we would do until evil has us in its teeth. With Felina, though, I kind of believe her.

Props to Allison Janney for being as evil as Hollywood allowed. Major, major, epic props to Margot Robbie for a stellar performance. It’s a movie worth the double sawbuck price to see it in a theater.

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