Poor Us!

Do you even know what you want? Or are you a compulsive whiner, a habitual moaner and groaner who expects someone to take pity and solve your problems for you? If so, welcome to the club. We are legion, and we’re not going away any time soon.

Coddled as children, given unearned praise as teens, we arrived at adulthood soft all over. We’re sure somebody, somewhere owes us an apology for something. We’re prepared to wait as long as it takes to receive our recompense. Restitution. We’re not just going to forget about it and move on!

Our hurt feelings and self-pity are all that we have, so we won’t be surrendering them any time soon.

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The Rock’s Giant Heart of Gold

LOL! Latest Funny Celeb Pics!

Just as much as the rest of us, celebrities like to have fun, but sometime the weight of their public status weighs heavy on them. Their publicists warn them not to do anything to silly, not to have an unattractive picture go viral on social media. The stars become glum and withdrawn. Fearful of making a lasting bad impression, remaining home-bound, finally venturing forth for only the most closely-scripted media events.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson feels an obligation to his fan base. He wants to appear only in ways that would inspire and impress. His generosity is legendary, though the gentle giant has gone to great lengths to keep his acts of charity a secret. Few know that he donated one of his lungs to a child who needed one. “It’s OK, you’ve got two!” was all the Rock had to say on the matter. Doctors barely stopped him from donating both kidneys in another incident, despite his insistence to “give until it hurts.”

“I don’t mind dialysis,” said the highest-grossing movie start on the planet. “Gives me a chance to slow down and read stories to kids. Or if there’s no kid nearby, I can inhale pure oxygen to help my remaining lung do its job better.”

Indeed, the only photo of Dwayne at a dialysis center shows him with tubes inserted into his massive arms, an oxygen mask on his face, and an enraptured child in his lap, listening to a real celebrity read the antics of “Curious George.”

Fun comes in all shapes and sizes, flavors and textures, and for Dwayne Johnson, it doesn’t get any more fun than this.

Every Day is New

Even though I’m the Greeter here at Wal-Mart, my position is classified under “Security.” I tip off the store detectives if I see somebody suspicious. A lot of times the professional thieves work in pairs, one pushing a baby carriage with a blanket draped over it. The other fills the carriage as fast as she can and then they skeedaddle. You get to know that there are all kinds of thieves and perverts, and after a while, you get so you can spot them a long way off.

My name tag says “Carl” but my birth name was “Carla.” I decided to declare myself a man three years ago, and I’m glad I did. It suits me. I was always short and wide, big chested became barrel-chested when I stopped wearing a bra and strapped with down with an elastic wrap. I even have a little mustache which I accentuate with eyebrow pencil. Always had it. Grew it in eighth grade and had to shave every few weeks until a few years ago when I decided to stop trying to be someone I’m not.

I love my job. I like getting out of the apartment and having somewhere to go. On my breaks I go to the aisle that holds all the inspirational plaques. I’ve memorized them all. “God Grant Me the Serenity…” “These Colors Don’t Run” “Invention is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” Sometimes I tear up thinking about how great our country is and how lucky I am not to have been born in some shithole. I amuse myself by adding some more that aren’t there. “Gas, Grass or Ass, Nobody Rides for Free.” “I’d rather have a Free Bottle In Front of Me Than a Prefrontal Lobotomy.” I had to look that last one up to see what it meant.

I’m well aware that everything we sell is made in China. That’s why we have so many American flags on display. It’s called “overcompensation.” I might be a Wal-Mart Greeter but I’m not stupid. I know some of the Greeters are retarded. That’s OK! Doesn’t take a lot of brain power to smile and hand someone a shopping cart.

I tell you, the Walton family sure has been good to Fayetteville, Arkansas. They got a public library that would put most European cities’ to shame. Facilities for sporting events, public swimming pools…all world-class.

They’ve got Wal-Marts in different parts of the world. Mexico is full of them. You can send money from one Wal-Mart to another for almost nothing. Cheaper than Western Union.

Once you realize that we’re all in this together and everybody is just doing the best that they can, you can relax and join the human race. Nobody’s taken what’s yours, we’re all being taken care of even if we can’t realize it, and we’re all gonna die eventually so the time to start enjoying life is RIGHT NOW!

Sometimes I miss the motivational speakers of yesteryear. Paul Harvey and Zig Ziglar just had a way of making you glad to be alive right here, right now! Too bad they’ve both passed on. The rest of us still have our journey ahead of us.

I don’t tell many people about my gender change. Nobody needs to know. I don’t miss having sex with men, not that I ever had much of it. He always seemed to get more out of it than me, so it’s just as well. Heck, I’m a man now, and no woman is going to throw herself at me, which is fine. Pick your battles. Most of them you can just walk away from. As Zig Ziglar said “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” For me, every day is a new start.

YOU PEOPLE

You people are what’s wrong with this country. If something could be done about you, there might be hope. Every time somebody gives you a break, or cuts your some slack, it’s an insult to the rest of us. We’re God-fearing, hard-working folks, and you all are parasites looking for a host to feed on.

Do you remember a time when America made sense? When Walter Cronkite told you the news and night and you could believe he wasn’t just making shit up? When the office of the President commanded respect? When a boy could get a rifle for Christmas and it wouldn’t cause liberal tongues to wag?

I remember that America. I was once that boy. Now, I’m heavily medicated, on permanent disability, and although my religion tells me to love the Negro and the Jew, the Muslim and the Communist, there’s almost nobody I believe or respect any more. Paul Harvey is dead. So is Earl Nightingale. They made the Boy Scouts admit queers and give them a merit badge for butt fucking. That’s the America I live in now.

I always worked, always had a job. When I was ten I was a paper boy. When I was fourteen, a bus boy. Sixteen a dishwasher. Eighteen, I worked construction. Today what do I have to show for it? Nothing more than that immigrant who showed up last week expected three square meals and a roof over his head. He’s getting what he expected, and more. Me, I got the shaft.

I rent in a one-bedroom, cookie-cutter apartment near a Mega Wal-Mart that costs almost half my monthly disability check. There’s nothing to look at but the parking lot, which is full of RV’s half the time because they let those people park for free, guessing that they’ll buy something on their way to the bathroom. Scum of the earth lurk around there. If I had a wife or daughter, I wouldn’t let them wander over there any time of day.

Even though nobody wants to admit it, America is full of bad people. Some of them are even Americans. Some of them are white. Some of them have guns. All of them have lawyers, and if push comes to shove, you’ll go to jail and they’ll get house arrest or probation. Their kids will go to good schools and rub shoulders with important people, while your kids hang around with future prison inmates. These people have each other’s backs, so there’s no easy way to bring them down. If you can get a cop drunk and get him to talk, he’ll tell you all about it.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep I go to Wal-Mart because it’s open 24/7. The aisles are mostly empty, but there are a few people walking up and down, mostly meth users, tweakers, talking to themselves. You can tell who they are because their eyes bug out. Then there are the workers, usually Nigerians or Mexicans, restocking merchandise. They do that kind of stuff at night. There’s usually only one cashier on duty. Any time of year you can go to Wal-Mart if there’s no place else open. Last time I was there I met a guy named Ken. He’s older than me, but I sort of enjoy talking with him, at least until his negativity gets to me.

Ken is one of those guys who never fits in, no matter where he lives. He’s still burned up about stuff that happened fifty years ago. The girl that went off with another guy in 1970. When I think about the prison he lives in, I vow not to get stuck in that spot. Even if I don’t know how I’m going to move on from this place I feel stuck in now, I know I’m going to do everything in my power to do so.

I used to think someone was holding me back from being all that I could be. At first I thought it was rich white people, then Jews, then black people on welfare, but at last I realize that no one has been stopping me from reaching my personal best. Once I figured that out it got easier and it also got harder. I need to get rid of the parasites in my life. Gotta call them out and name them. Stop pretending they don’t exist and they’re not sucking the life and energy out of everybody around.

Damn, you’d think a relatively good-looking guy like me from a good-enough family could have gotten somewhere by now.

Things Take Time

You don’t know me and chances are you don’t want to. Why would you want to open yourself up to that much sadness, that much delusion? The fact that I’m convinced I am the Last Messiah, the one that has come to usher in the Final Days and bring mankind home to the Promised Land only tends to alienate me from others. People think I’m bragging. I’m not blowing my own horn, rather I’m calling you home!

It’s been a frustrating journey so far. I received my calling when I was thirty-three, and now I’m fifty-eight. For twenty five years I’ve been banging my head against a wall. By now I have a permanent headache that no pill could possibly assuage. People tell me I’m deluded. I reply, “yes, but I’m much more than that! Delusion is only one of my gifts. I can also imitate many songbirds by whistling, and do a credible version of the voices of many cartoon characters, mostly in the Hannah-Barbera family. The Mel Blanc voices of the Warner Brothers cartoons are beyond me. As a mimic, I’m strictly second rate.

And yes, I am currently homeless, living in a pile of cardboard on the perimeter of a little-used suburban park. None of this is anything to be ashamed about. My time is coming. My glory is yet to be revealed. I must admit, it’s hard to wait. I am often quite sad, but try my best to cultivate gratitude for the gifts I’ve already been given.

If not me, who? If not now, when? It would be pure arrogance for me to conclude that a cosmic error has been made. Things take time.

But I have no time to waste. I’m on an important mission, a mission from God. I depend on Him to assure my success, to handle all the details, to defeat my enemies. Who are my enemies, you ask? Let’s start with the police. Vicious thugs, all of them. Racist sadists.

The simple fact that my skin is brown opens me to their cruelty. I am a target, which is why I keep moving, because it’s harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one. I will move to a different park tomorrow, and up into the bushes of Griffith park itself next week. Birds have nests, the foxes have dens, but I have no where to lay my head.

Or, I could say that I can lay my head wherever I like, because I demand no minimum of comfort to do so. This is real freedom. To not depend on anything in order to do what you want is real freedom and power. I don’t need to feel loved to feel good about myself. I don’t need things to come without effort in order to enjoy doing them. The ease, comfort or swiftness of a journey does not dictate its value.

I travel when and where I like, and don’t expect anyone else to give me permission to do so or pay my way. I’m not on an expense account. If I decide to relocate to Alaska, I can be there in a few weeks, maybe even sooner. Fortunately, I feel no compelling need to do so, but knowing I have the ability to relocate makes staying where I am feel like a choice, rather than a sentence.

Oh, and I’m a woman. Did I forget to mention that? People don’t expect women to take charge of their own destiny. Most men get ahead by conforming to social norms and those who fail to are in prison. Most women are waiting for a man to tell them what to do or take care of them, and a great percentage of them end up in therapy. People have a hard time wrapping their minds around a female messiah. Even today, the notion of following a woman’s guidance is abhorrent to many men and women.

My tendency is to find a man to blame, and that’s every bit as unhealthy as waiting for one to give me permission or rescue me. In fact, it may even be sicker, because fault-finding can easily be disguised as being proactive when it’s really just codependency. I’ll never forget what a sweet old lady told me at my first Al Anon meeting. “Honey, keep the focus on yourself.”

Today, Donald Trump is the great distraction. How can we spare any time or thought for ourselves when he’s barging around like a bull in a china shop, wrecking everything? Maybe when this is over, there will be a zombie crisis, or a massive die off in some unfortunate place emitting streams of refugees that have to be resisted and condemned to a slow death. It could get worse. In fact, it probably will.

I’m lucky I only have to take care of myself. Thirty and forty years ago I had young children at home. Life was much more arduous. Now my biggest problem is boredom. When I’m bored I dabble in addictive behaviors. You can never get enough of what you don’t need. I have to remind myself of that five times a day.

Certain people harbor resentments for many years and find their lives twisted and deformed by them. It takes a great deal of effort for them to see their part. Far easier to see how Fate has dealt them a bad hand and blame bad luck. If only I had been recognized for my genius, I wouldn’t be this bitter old loser today.

I wouldn’t be living in this nondescript Midwestern suburb of a city that never mattered much to anyone. My windows would not open onto a view of a Wal-Mart parking lot. One of those new Wal-Marts, the enormous ones, that contain a grocery store larger than most sand-alone supermarkets.

Even here, I have managed to make a few friends.

I have a friend who might easily be described as “embittered.” He’s a former college professor who was denied tenure and forced to leave after almost a decade of teaching. By the time he thought about starting a new career, it was too late. At least that’s the conclusion he drew. Too late for him. Today he lives in a furnished room and eats his meals in church basements. Although not exactly homeless, he acts like a homeless person, and is quick to point out the sins of those who have done better than he.

Don’t get him started on higher education or politics. Instead, try to get him to talk about the arts, or travel, or the beauty of different women in different places. I would have thought he would have relocated to a third-world country and enjoyed a simple life on social security, but he’s so angry about the fact that he was forced to pay into Medicare for his entire working life and then wouldn’t be able to access that coverage if he lived abroad, that he won’t budge. He would rather nurse a grudge than risk an adventure.

We meet for coffee in the park, having bought take out coffee from a fast-food restaurant that gives a senior discount. I’d rather not find myself cooped up in a coffee shop with him for I know what he thinks of younger people, men with man buns hunched over their laptops, tattooed women on their cellphones. He scowls so hard it’s almost audible, even when he’s not saying anything.

One pleasant autumn afternoon we were sitting on a park bench. Children were playing nearby, and I found the sound of their voices soothing. Ken, that’s his name, said their laughter and shouts made his skin crawl.

“Aren’t those kids supposed to be in school?” he asked.

“They’re too young. That’s a playground.”

“If it’s not whinos playing chess and peeing in the bushes, it’s these damn toddlers crying for mama.”

“I mostly hear laughter.”

“You’re filtering out the essential ugliness around you. That’s smart. Adaptation. Some of us aren’t so good at adapting.”

“Ken, you’re not the grump you pretend to be. You’re just tired and discouraged, and that’s understandable. You’ve got to find some way to rejoin the human race in order to snap out of this funk.”

“I was trying to remember the last time I was full of hope. I think it was a spring morning in 1970. I was interested in this girl and she seemed interested in me. School would be ending soon and I had the whole summer to look forward to.”

“So then what happened?”

“She went back where she came from and married her boyfriend. I got a summer job washing dishes at Howard Johnson’s. Got drunk every night and was sick every morning.”

“Things didn’t work out the way you had hoped.”

“Back then I didn’t waste a lot of time hoping for anything. I guess I sort of expected things would come together for me, but I didn’t have much in the way of plans. I couldn’t help any of my dreams to come true, because I didn’t have a clue about what to do most of the time. Most of the time I was in a fog.”

“And now?”

“Now it’s all of the time.” He sucked hard on his cigarette. Ken is the last person I know who still smokes. When it comes to tobacco, he’s not toying around. “Wonder whatever happened to that girl. Her name was Sandy. Sandy something. Education major. Maybe she married well and never had to teach.”

Eventually, I was able to steer our conversation around to something more upbeat, but I realized that this was probably indicative of the way things were going for him and for our friendship. Eventually, I would reach a point where I would conclude that it was no longer worth it to expose myself to so much negativity.

Back when I was still employed, I had workplace associates who were a mixed lot. Some bright, some dull beyond belief. What set them apart from people like Ken and the other people I say hello to on the street is that these people had somewhere to go every day. They had a reasonable expectation that life was not steady decline. Now that I’m retired, or self-employed, or whatever I want to call it, the people I routinely encounter have nothing to do and nowhere to do it. They are simply hanging out.

The circumstances in which I find myself are created by me. If I want more friends with which I will possibly have more in common, then I have to take action to make them. If I don’t, I’ll have a convenient excuse which I can use to deny my responsibility in my own happiness, but I’m no longer that easily fooled. My problems don’t come from outside myself. They never did, but I wasn’t hip to that fact until recently.

I just wish I had something of offer that other people were willing to pay for. Something to sell. A talent, a craft, some sort of knowledge that would set me apart.

URBAN WART

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I have found a place in the heart of this decayed city that is quiet, full of promise, wide-open and all mine. Well, I don’t actually own the property deed, but I live here free of charge. Even though I’m surrounded by ruined buildings and debris-strewn vacant lots, they simply serve as a fence to maintain my privacy.

The last inhabitants of the remaining buildings were heroin addicts, junkies looking for some place to shoot up. Their plastic syringes and rusted needles remain. Stained mattresses that have been soaked in bodily fluids and now sprout fresh blooms of black and green mold which are punctured by shards of glass. Vandals have broken all the windows. There is nothing of value in those places to be salvaged.

I have built my own home, a shack made from lumber I have dragged from the periphery. Because my little half-acre fronts onto no road, I am never troubled by visitors. Sometimes a dog will venture onto my homestead, but once he sees there is no one here, he turns back to civilization. My shack is very small and I spend as little time in there as possible. I don’t keep food, so there’s no reason for any creature to break in.

It turns out I don’t need to wash my clothes, because the world is overflowing with used clothing that is given away for free at certain sites. Charities are overwhelmed with the vast amount of cheap clothing tossed away by Americans every week. Rather than label and sort it, they either give it away locally or pack it into huge bales of compressed and highly wrinkled clothing which they put on cargo ships and take overseas. There it is sold for low prices to the poor.

It is quiet here most of the day and all of the night. Sometimes I like to imagine that I am at Ground Zero after an atomic blast. Large portions of Detroit and most of East St. Louis resemble this. There are hundreds of square blocks in Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis that come close. Instead of a nuclear weapon, they were brought down by racism. The problem is very real, but nobody wants to admit to be racist themselves, and when asked to attribute such urban decay to simple racial discrimination, most would rather obfuscate, stating that it’s a complex problem with multiple sources and therefore multiple solutions.

This city, and I’m not really sure of which city it is, for it’s just another urban/suburban fungus that once showed promise it could not keep. The main feature of my neighborhood is a giant Wal-Mart, one of those new ones that seems like a tumor growing out of an enormous parking lot. A few bland apartment complexes lurk nearby, but other than these developments, there is nothing to call a place. No place at all.

But it’s racism, pure and simple that reduced large parts of our cities to rubble. However, when you have no neighbors, it’s hard to imagine racism playing such a big part. I feel more like Robinson Crusoe than James Baldwin. When I’m not sitting in a coffee shop pecking away at my laptop, or cruising church basements look for a free lunch, I’m weeding my garden, which is too big to tend. All this free land got me going crazy with my hoe. My rows are thirty meters long! Carrots, beets and lettuce. I’ve got plans for green beans, but have to come up with a trellis. Don’t want to attract too much attention in case anyone is looking behind the ruined houses and through the vacant lots.

Beans are actually quite lovely and flower at some point in their growth cycle. Maybe I’ll find something ugly to place in front of them, so that no one will become charmed by their beauty. First they’ll come around to look at my beans, next thing I know they’ll be robbing me of the little I have. I don’t have much, but I’d rather not have them take it. My drawing supplies. My sketchbook. It’s hard enough to keep it dry in my haphazard shack with the sometimes leaky roof.

I keep the little money I have on me at all times. I no longer have a phone, computer or camera. Everyone else has those things and they’re constantly using them, so the world is not suffering for my lack of selfies or social media posts. It took me a while to wean myself off that illusion of connection, and now that I’m free of it, I’m not tempted to go back.

Am I lonely living alone in a vacant lot? Not in the least. If I want companionship, all I have to do is walk a few blocks. Even in inner-city America we have coffee shops. Of course, if you’re black they may ask you to leave after a few minutes, because even up North, it’s still America.

I’m white. People don’t lock they’re car doors when I approach stopped traffic. I noticed that when a black man my age and size did the same, you could hear the car door locks pop shut like popcorn. Pop pop pop! I’m told I sometimes could pass for a hobo. Something about my clothes, hair, the way I seem to have just crawled out from bed. I could also pass as a college professor from a liberal arts school where they let you create your own major field of study. Lesbian pottery.

I remember what it was like to try to pretend to be someone I’m not. For years I sought to fit in to places that didn’t want me and where I would have been miserable if they’d made the mistake of hiring me. Thank God those days are behind me.

Newly Scrupulous

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If everything came easy, life would be pretty boring. Fortunately, there’s always plenty that doesn’t simply fall in our laps. In fact, if you’re pushing yourself even a tiny bit, you’ll soon come to a wall. You’ll have to stop and regroup. You’ll have to read that paragraph again and maybe even once more, just to understand it.

Leonardo daVinci carried his Mona Lisa painting around with him and worked on it when he found the time. It’s not a big painting, and he wasn’t a great artist, but he put in the time and it paid off. He’s still famous to this day, and his painting is the star attraction at the museum in which it’s displayed. He wasn’t in a hurry to finish it. If I weren’t always in such a hurry, I’d probably end up doing more quality work, but I’m always trying to win some sort of imaginary race with myself.

Now that I’m aware of my slapdash tendencies, I can decide to control them. I can decide to slow down and become careful. “Scrupulous” has never been my strong suit, but maybe now I can veer in that direction. I just bought a new software program to process audio recordings for I plan to narrate books, as there is a booming demand for audio version of text. I set about asking advice from people who were already doing this job and at least mildly succeeding.

Like everything nowadays, it’s a home-based activity. As an actor, you don’t get to walk into a recording studio anymore and have a professional audio engineer take care of you. You are the engineer. You buy the microphone. You build the booth to house it from echo and extraneous noise. You master the final recording and send it off to the client.

This is democracy in the marketplace, but like most innovations the transition has not been smooth. There are no more editors and proofreaders that come with electronic publishing. You could hire them, but the expense would be yours, not the publishers. Many of the books I audition for are written more poorly than many high school essays I’ve had the pleasure to grade. So far, there is no gate and no gatekeeper. It’s up to the marketplace to decide.