Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 7

Part 6 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is Part 7.

A work of fiction.

The ward is on lockdown. Somebody snapped and attacked an orderly. I saw the whole thing happen in front of me. He'd been pacing angrily up and down the corridors, sweaty, with an ashen face. Detox. It had only been a matter of time. What we had been observing in his behavior unnerved us, because what we saw was a human grenade with the pin pulled out.

The man slugged the orderly in the stomach without any warning, and when he doubled over in pain, the patient proceeded to taunt him. How do you like that, huh, boy? The boy reference was made in reference to the race of the man he had attacked. Someone triggered the automatic security system, which closed the doors of every room in the building and started up a high pitched, highly annoying whine.

When it comes to unexpected racist language, I return to my own past. During most of her life, my grandmother was a good Christian woman. A preacher's daughter, she was very devout, never used profanity, and always sought to be pleasant to everyone. But then Alzheimer's set in and we realized she had a full understanding and a willingness to use a vocabulary we were shocked to discover she even knew. It wasn't just curse words, it was racial slurs, too.

This kid doesn't have that kind of excuse, and after the staff called for back up he was eventually taken down, subdued, and I assume, sedated. I got caught inside an interior room for half an hour until the melee concluded, one that fortunately had a television. When the all-clear was given, I spoke with the other patients about what happened. It threw off the immaculate timing of the intensive therapy approach upon which the facility placed full reliance. Their theory was to regiment nearly every hour of our life, to ward against self-pity and boredom.

It wasn't a bad strategy, but I preferred more talking, more group therapy. I did not prefer coloring a cheap piece of balsa wood with water colors, which was curiously named occupational therapy. If this was an occupation, what kind of shitty job was this? I started to feel trapped again, wanting to escape the terrible food and weak coffee.

She's not taking my calls. It's probably over. In fairness, it had been over a long time ago. If you burn enough bridges, love departs and all you are to each other is a habit.

But this curvy, geeky girl has found me, and keeps asking me to read this book she has just finished. It looks interesting and she looks interested in me. She tells me she couldn't find me during lock-down and tells me she was worried about me. I know she means it and I know what she means. I'm intrigued. This time a woman has made the first move.

In time, I will learn she has a thing for men with curly hair like mine. I know I've blown through two or three women, women who began with some promise, in two weeks of being here, but that's typical for me. I'm trying to nurse my hurt in the form of others. I want them to be my strength. This is why I always begin relationships very well, but can never make a single one last for good. That's part of the reason I signed up for rehab. That fact is what hurts the most. I want the longevity of a forty year relationship like my own parents and I doubt it will ever come to pass for me.

Few people want to enable an alcoholic. I rarely lost my temper, rarely was deliberately mean, and never raised my hand in violence to anyone. But I was a helpless child, a baby, really. And when I drank I didn't act much like an adult. Bills went unpaid. Clothes went unwashed. The only thing that mattered was booze. Partners got tired of cleaning up my messes.

I would hang a sign around my neck if I could that says "Be Careful", especially in the presence of this women. We're not supposed to have any kind of romantic or sexual contact, but that doesn't stop the flirtation from taking part. In addition to its own sake, it's another surefire way to keep boredom from overwhelming a person. I wonder if I'll have any luck with the beginning of something new, sometimes that can be allowed to fully blossom and grow into something better.

I want to change. This woman is a ticket to my salvation, a motivational force. She's why I wake up every morning on an uncomfortable bed that hurts my back. Even though I think about running away, I came here to get better. It's the constant, stuffy confinement that throws me into a panic. It's the forced small talk and the defensive people lost in denial who don't really want to get better. They don't want to admit that they have a problem. In their minds, they were Shanghaied here and are indignant for the inconvenience.

I see a thousand reflection of who I used to be and who I hope I never will be. And then it's time for lunch again and I see her again. this new girl. In the midst of the pain, she appears. She tells me, in a roundabout way, that she doesn't mind nursing me. She has the personality of a nurse, and I wonder once again if that is what it takes for me to be successful.

Lest I forget, she's here for the same reason I am. I don't have the heart to ask her about her own story. I've already heard what seems like a thousand, some more emotionally intense than others. I don't want to ruin this spell she has over me. If I know too much, then this awkward honeymoon will subside, and she will become like everyone else here. I need someone to be pure and unsullied.

I think to myself that maybe another drunk like me is the best I can do. My expectations have grown quite low. Like most of us, I once dreamed of a lengthy marriage or at least a long-term relationship. A few failures later, I would take a year or two if they were mostly happy. This is not something I will never discuss with her, or if I do, it will be much later.

It's time for another activity. Some of them are gender-segregated, but this one contains both men and women. For some reason, the women always cry frequently, and the men squirm uncomfortably in their seats. The moderator makes heavy use of a whiteboard, writing down pertinent phrases people bring up in their testimonials. My admirer sits deliberately next to me. I imagine her holding my hand, if that was allowed. It would make a difference.

I'm halfway through the program and so is she. We communicate more with body language and very cautious talk, so that we aren't discovered and deliberately separated. This isn't 1984, but it is a controlled environment that I doubt many people are meant to enjoy. I've heard that some people frequent psych wards when they need a break from reality, but this is not a psych ward and there is no break from reality here. Instead, all I see is reality staring me in the face. I can't escape reality, bits and pieces of me.

The 1-800 number on the billboard I called promised help, but it did not reveal what form that help took. When I found that our apartment had been stripped bare of her things, including the kids' things, I raised a white flag of surrender. The more persistent sorts would have tried to win her back, but I didn't deceive myself. I knew she was gone for good, and that I would need to start over from scratch. If I am privy to any true skill, it is the ability to eventually find other relationship partners with enough persistence.

I didn't go into rehab necessarily to find someone new, but I'd be lying if I said that the thought didn't cross my mind. And as for you romantics out there, take my advice. Don't try it yourself. No matter how you rationalize it, the deck is stacked against you. You have a serious problem and he or she does, too. No matter how well it starts out, you are bound to pull each other down eventually. If you are up, and he or she is down, you might manage it. And the same is true if he or she is up, and you are down. But if you are both down at the same time, watch out. The results are not pretty.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Family Lucre



Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous-1 Timothy 3:3

_________

You only become a Republican when you get money.

My grandmother would say this to anyone within earshot, especially to her two sons, my uncles. Like many rural southerners of her day, she was a New Deal Democrat and worshiped Franklin Roosevelt. Much recent scientific brain research has gone into determining what makes for a conservative and what makes for a liberal. But sometimes the motives aren't nearly that complex and don't need a brain scan. Environment and circumstance can be equally influential and determine voting history better than science.

The Great Depression made lifelong Democrats, certainly, but what is less known is that it also made lifelong Republicans, eventually. My uncles were raised in public housing at the beginning of their lives. This was a source of shame for the family and never to be mentioned under any circumstances. I only learned it myself a year or two ago myself. Slowly, the family business my grandparents cooked up began to break even and then turn a modest profit. The worst was over. Their own familial Great Depression had subsided.

By then, my grandparents had been able to buy a house large enough to accommodate four children. They'd found a steady supply of water wells to drill and sometimes even large and profitable contracts came their way. But while the generation of my grandparents cast straight-ticket ballots for the Democratic Party, the effect of poverty made a very different impact a generation later when the United States regained its own prosperity.

My uncles were war babies. The post-WWII boom had yet to take full flower and for a time the entire family lived in poverty. Poverty has a way of leaving an indelible impact upon those who are unfortunate enough to experience it. Fears of scarcity never subside, nor do those fears that whisper that the poorhouse is only a few bad breaks away. The attitudes of my uncles reminds me of of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.

Scarlett: As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again.

There is a dark side to this kind of thinking. The family placed a priority upon making money and being financially successful, at any cost. As we know, there are ethical ways of profit and unethical ones. Unethical conduct can be legal, but it certainly isn't moral. If you've read the book yourself, or seen the movie, Scarlett's business practices fell into this category, too.

I'm sad to say that monetary compensation was valued more than what should matter, love. That family did not feel indebted to anything like the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity or Integrity. Instead, the two of them put their mental energies into getting rich, and before long, they succeeded. But at such a cost! We can worship God or money, and they chose the latter.

Now members of the 1%, though it would be years before anyone would use that terminology, they voted for the party they felt would keep them wealthy. It was little more than craven self-interest. I try to feel sorry for them, not in a condescending sort of way, but in a very genuine sense because I know that what they experienced as children was nothing like I have ever gone through in the whole of my own life.

That said, my grandmother lived out the rest of her days from the interest of a trust fund. She continued to vote Democratic. One of my uncles dabbled in local Republican politics but got in trouble due to a conflict of interest, which effectively ended his political career before it started. My other uncle votes GOP regularly but has never shown any interest in throwing his hat into the ring. Now he is simply too old.

I'm less concerned with this essay to talk about political parties, but I am more interested in what motivates people to cast a ballot, regardless of what X they mark and then stick in a box. I began this essay talking about research that appears to indicate that people are predisposed to vote for conservative candidates or liberal ones. But I think the brain is much more malleable an organ than that, and intense personal experience makes a profound difference.

When I think about tolerance and resolving misunderstanding I contemplate my Republican uncles, and what went into forming their political consciousness. I will never think the same way they do, nor will they ever think the way I do. But I do sympathize with the severe financial hardship that led them to make the decisions they did. This quest for legal tender came at the expense of their families and their children, and I am less compassionate for those reasons. But I think in their minds they were fearful of having to start again with nothing, and it drove them onward until they made millions of dollars.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Quote of the Week



"I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."- Samuel Johnson

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Video




I won't let you down
I will not give you up
Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I've got

I won't let you down
So please don't give me up
Because I would really, really love to stick around

Heaven knows I was just a young boy
Didn't know what I wanted to be
I was every little hungry schoolgirl's pride and joy
And I guess it was enough for me

To win the race, a prettier face
Brand new clothes and a big fat place
On your rock and roll TV

But today the way I play the game is not the same
No way
Think I'm gonna get me some happy

I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I told you so
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone else I've got to be

Take back your picture in a frame
Take back your singing in the rain
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me

Freedom
I won't let you down
Freedom
I will not give you up

Freedom
Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I've got
You've gotta give for what you take

Freedom
I won't let you down
So please don't give me up
Because I would really really love to stick around

Freedom
You've gotta give for what you take

Heaven knows we sure had some fun, boy
What a kick, just a buddy and me
We had every big-shot good time band on the run, boy
We were living in a fantasy

We won the race
Got out of the place
I went back home got a brand new face
For the boys at MTV

But today the way I play
the game has got to change
Oh yeah
Now I'm gonna get myself happy

I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I stopped the show
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone I forgot to be

Take back your picture in a frame
Don't think that I'll be back again
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me

Freedom
I won't let you down
Freedom
I will not give you up
Freedom
Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I've got

Freedom
I won't let you down
Freedom
I will not give you up

Freedom
I won't let you down
So please don't give me up
Because I would really really love to stick around

Well it looks like the road to heaven
But it feels like the road to hell
When I knew which side my bread was buttered
I took the knife as well

Posing for another picture
Everybody's got to sell
But when you shake your ass
They notice fast
And some mistakes were build to last

That's what you get
That what you get
I say that's what you get
That's what you get for changing your mind

That's what you get

And after all this time
For changing your mind

I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me

Freedom
Oh
My freedom
You've gotta give for what you take

Freedom
Hold onto my freedom
My freedom
You've gotta give for what you take

I'll hold on to my freedom
May not be what you want from me
Just the way it's got to be
Lose the face now
I've got to live

Friday, May 22, 2015

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

William Stafford

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tales of a Rejected Juror



Unexpectedly, my last name and juror number are called in the very first pool, within an hour of arrival in the early morning. I follow a circuitous, winding, frequently halting course from room to room, sometimes pausing to rest for a few minutes here and there, only to swiftly move on elsewhere. I feel a bit like a mouse being guided through a very large maze. We are shuttled methodically from place to place in this alternate universe. Then we are seated once again, awaiting further instructions from the judge. The deadly seriousness of court proceedings initially reduce words that would ordinarily hold shock value in any other context to merely emotionless descriptions of conduct.

It is expected that lawyers and witnesses, once the trial begins, will add local color to fill in the gaps. But until that comes, those of us waiting to be oh-so-briefly interviewed by a judge and two sets of attorneys try to make sense of those abstract concepts with almost no evidence. We have only our imagination to rely upon and perhaps a previous time of service upon which to measure today's proceeding. Speculation is rampant, but kept inside, not shared with others.

Much to my surprise, the prosecution and the defense attorneys look more or less interchangeable. All are female. All are young. One is black. Three are white. Like me, they appear to be in their mid-thirties. I wonder if the defendant felt that if the prosecuting attorneys lining up against him were both young women, then maybe he ought to get two young women of his own. This is merely imagination, fictive fiction. Much I do not know about the proceedings, or at least not yet.

What follows will be a particularly intense description of accused crime. Read the charges yourself in the same way I heard them, provided aloud by the mouth of a judge, a no-nonsense, but compassionate black woman in middle age. Now read these words on a page yourself, words given voice and spoken aloud for others to hear.

Older African-American male accused of sexual assault, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon. The accused, his former girlfriend, Caucasian, a woman who was much younger than he. Prior to the violence, the two were lovers and had consensual sex. We are told these details as fact. Later we will be asked if any of those facts bother us, or might sway our decision.

I expect to be sworn in individually, but we are collectively sworn in as a group. Because I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) I do not swear that I will tell the truth, rather I affirm it. I am not to swear oaths of any kind. One of the attorneys, I think a prosecuting attorney, hears the discrepancy among the voices and flashes a shocked look in my direction.

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. -Matthew 5:37

I'm not sure if her response is because I've said something different she can't place, or whether she worries about something she can't understand. I suppose if it bothers her enough there's always a way to ask me directly. As it turns out, that question will never be asked.

Because I was not part of the final jury of my peers assembled for the purpose of hearing this case, my version of the story mostly ends here. But what little I have heard is more than gruesome enough for me. These are serious charges. They point to outcomes I do not want confirmed as complete truth, then denied as complete fiction, then mine to make a week hence.

She, the accuser, did not even bother to show up today. We saw him, at least, each of us peering intently to see if he fit the profile of a man who kidnaps, who assaults sexually, who injures his former lover with a deadly weapon. If first impressions prove anything, he looks pretty normal to me.

My father used to be in law enforcement. No matter how much I might feel that I want to be on this jury, I have to truthfully answer the questions provided me. My father was a state trooper fresh out of high school because he felt that being part of the system might make him less likely to be sent to Vietnam. Then he was integrated and promoted even further within the criminal justice system and became a prison warden. Back then he was far younger than I am today, younger even than the four young attorneys overseeing this case.

He enjoyed the job, but my mother did not. She raised a fit, stating in no uncertain terms that none of her children would be raised next to a prison. We would have also had to move every two to three years, and Mom was opposed to that, too. Dad went into business, instead, and made a ton of money in the 1980's. Lots of people in business made a ton of money in the 1980's.

Dad left law enforcement, but question 4, as expected, asked that same familiar inquiry. I doubt it is ever not posed to potential jurors. After waiting for several minutes inside of a jury deliberation room with a conveniently located men's room and ladies' room, I was called before a judge and both sets of attorneys. I stated my situation with deliberate haste and three minutes later I headed back to the appropriately named deliberation room. No matter how I answer the question, the result is still the same. I honestly state that this fact does not and will not affect my decision, but it always matters to them.

They make me sweat it out first. The defense and then the prosecution eliminate, replace, eliminate, and then replace again. I wait for thirty minutes for my juror number to be called. A pool initially interviewed yesterday goes first. They are seated on the left hand side of where I am seated, but to the right hand side of the judge, the stenographer, and everyone else of any consequence. More elimination. More replacement. One by one, people stand up, then sit in the jury box. Now they reach my side.

I was not told to sit in seat number seven, recently vacated by a young black woman. Nor was I told to sit in seat number one, directly on the end, recently vacated by an older white man who appeared to be in his sixties. When it was my turn, I was deliberately pushed aside from the rest of the pool with an energetic hand gesture, asked to sit across the aisle with the first pool of jurors. I knew instantly what the gesture meant. Rejection. Not under consideration.

I will never know any of the answers of the questions to follow. Would I have even wanted to serve on this jury? Nothing about it would have been easy. The fellow jurors in my pool were not immediately friendly, but they could have been seeking to make sense of a serious situation much as I was myself. Did I want to see pictures of bruised and bloody body parts? Kidnapping is a serious charge and so is assault with a deadly weapon.

How did consensual sexual conduct change to non-consensual? What were the circumstances of the alleged kidnapping? How did they meet? Does the age difference really matter to anyone? It must have mattered to someone because we were asked if it would sway our votes come decision time. I don't care about age differences. Some of my own partners were much older than me, though I never was accused of physically attacking them.

But as I leave the courtroom, I am not sad, not really. I do not really want that kind of responsibility, do not want a week's worth of deliberation, do not want a mere $34 per day, and secretly despise any absence from my routine. Though I would have served, if called, I did the right thing in being truthful. I flee the courtroom at 3 pm, like I flew the coop somehow, like leaving school every day of my childhood, running outside into the warm, bright sunlight. Free.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Delays May Be Inevitable

I'm slated for jury duty on Wednesday, which is May 20. Either I will sit in a room for most of eight hours and go home, or I'll be selected to serve on a jury. In any case, if I am selected for jury duty, my absence from here may be as long as a week or two.

As I've been told, being called for jury duty is proof that you vote, because they use voting records to make their determinations. I'll have to reschedule a million things if I do end up serving, but I'll try to make the most of it.

While I'm thinking about it, I'm going to a Quaker young adult conference that runs from June 5-June 10, so I will be totally off the grid for the whole of that time. I'm glad I have the opportunity to take this much time off. Many participants don't have that luxury and have to leave halfway through. I can manage one or two of these a year, but I couldn't afford the time or the money to go to more than I do already.

Podcast Quackery and False Masculinity



One of the benefits of owning an iPod is the ability to peruse iTunes and its extensive collection of free podcasts. I'm a relative newcomer to the podcast genre, though I do see their appeal. If I had witty repartee to share with the public and the ability to ramble skillfully for half an hour, I might put my own together. My performing skills are mostly musical even though I have been known at times to speak in monologues. After all, my original life goal was to be a college professor.

Several podcasts are geared specifically for men, spouting the same familiar platitudes like maximizing your potential, often titled with bad puns. Podcasts designed for an exclusively female audience are not without their own faults, and tend to reinforce the same sloppy logic and gender norms in different ways. In these, women are often schooled in fashion and makeup.

Inspirational, motivational podcasts for men make similarly over-simplistic, overreaching assumptions that a man's most basic, most deserved masculinity is lacking somehow. Naturally, the creator, designer, and ringleader has the correct answer, the antidote to anxious masculinity.

I know this because morbid curiosity had me download one. After a two-minute, testosterone-drenched introduction that would not have been out of place advertising a monster truck rally, the podcast was underway. Its author was a self-professed life coach who made a living telling other men essentially how to be better, more efficient men. It was as if men came from a factory somewhere and only needed a fresh coat of paint or new tires to be secure in who they were.

A satisfied client, as we were told, was introduced. He rambled painfully from one unfocused topic to another. Like many people undergoing a bit of an identity crisis, he felt that he needed to take on some great personal challenge to regain his focus and his happiness. This man kept talking about writing a book as though it would be a curative, restorative experience. In reality, unless you have the patience and the focus necessary, writing a book is bound to be unsatisfying work. But it is a particularly persistent straw grasp at by those grasping at straws.

This man was lost, but, have no fear, the life coach had answers. It was here that my attention began to drift. Citing specific examples would be needlessly inflammatory, but I think that the faintest suggestion will demonstrate what I mean. Suffice it to say, what followed could have been called "A Dude Bro's Guide to Life." And a confused, self-doubting man hung on every word, every suggestion.

It occurs to me that I may need to define what a Dude Bro is. In that case, I will defer to writer Jill Filipovic.
What is a dude-bro, and how is he different from a standard dude? Answers vary, but the dude-bro seems fairly synonymous with the douche (an insult I remain strongly in favor of). He's Guy Fieri. He's the Abercrombie-wearing frat boy pumping his fist and screaming "USA! USA!" at the concert you're attending.
He's walking through the Burger King drive-in drunk at 3 am and calling the cashier a fag. He's probably wearing some variety of khaki short and maybe a baseball hat. He's probably white, probably fairly affluent, probably was in a fraternity and definitely refers to his male friends as his "bros."
I get tired seeing men gender police other men for being too soft or not being self-sufficient enough. As I have written about before, this might partially be a result of never being able to fit neatly into those boxes myself. The difference between myself and the interview subject is that I no longer worry as I once did about being man enough or masculine enough. Or, if I do, what resurfaces are the parts hardwired into me from birth, these notions which I now calmly examine rationally and then dismiss.

Part of this, if not outright rejection of masculinity, is a desire to see it on my own terms for a change. Being queer, depending on the definition, will always mean that gender is by turns transgressive, asymmetrical, and not easily defined or pigeonholed. I'd like to see a podcast telling gay men how to live up to their potential, to their truest form of male identity. But you don't see those sorts of topics out there, even though these are the sorts of men most likely to be the most confused, the most scattered, the most anxious. They might never talk about their fears openly, but the pain is there and it is real.

The Cult of Masculinity reminds me of the worst of organized religion. It preys upon those seeking an easy label to embrace that will somehow make them whole. It relies upon hucksters and swindlers seeking a quick buck as they dispense garbage advice. My women friends talk about their own inadequacies at being female. If it was socially acceptable, my male friends would say the same was true for them. Men aren't quite there yet and women in many ways have only just begun.