Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eight Numbers and a Dash of Progress

 (Phone in Arcola, Illinois)

“Work your fingers to the bone - whadda ya get?
( Whoo-whoo ) Boney Fingers - Boney Fing-gers.”
--Hoyt Axton ‘Bony Fingers’

“...and everything is going to the beat - It's the beat generation, it be-at, it's the beat to keep, it's the beat of the heart, it's being beat and down in the world and like oldtime lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat...””
--Jack Kerouac

I can only seem to be able to write in the fall, when the colors change bright, when the city appreciates itself just a little bit more, when the thermometer is unpredictable -- yet just right.   I love to type with a political vigor while the incense floats out the open windows as the cool heavy air breathes life back into the dingy stale apartment atmosphere.    But today is a flash back of summer, and I’m hot, miserable, and just wishing things would be as they ought to.   Whatever ought to, ought to be? 

I watch myself in the reflection off of the TV screen in front of me.  It’s a ghastly sight of a beaten down man on the edge of losing it all. I’m doing everything I can to not look myself in the eyes man to man, avoiding a needed inner monologue,  as I twirl my hair which has grown much longer then I like it.  I usually keep my hair short to avoid this terrible habit of hair twirling, because a shrink when I was a kid warned me against it; but honestly I haven’t felt much like a hair cut lately. The twirling is a result of my mind battling boredom and sadness and is usually a precursor to a bad night which can usually be avoided by writing.  So I open the window, light the incense, and turn the air conditioner on to manufacture a feeling of what is supposed to be the ordinary.  Manufacturing the ordinary, sadly has become the ordinar,y in my uncommon common life.  

Kerouac considered the beat generation a group of youth who were beaten down by the system around them -- which was unforgiving and cold.  They were beaten down time and time again and whipped like a slave to conform until the only comfort left was the rhythmic sound of the whips crack.  I feel like that is actually where we are now.  It’s next to impossible to find a job with security regardless of education or work ethic.  The corporations have taken advantage of an over abundance of workers who they use and burn out until the worker collapses or demands more money. The options are bleak usually 38 hour weeks with no overtime or benefits, or 60 hour weeks of heavy lifting and mental torture.  The most valuable player in any company now-a-days is the trainer/task master.

I like many was laid off about two years ago as company’s started to scale back fearing the worse.  I lived for a year back at home off of Government aid and I’m not embarrassed to say so.  It wasn’t for a lack of motivation it was because of a lack of quality employment; as the worker has very few options.  I didn’t mind losing my job, as much as I minded being without insurance and having that safety net.  Sure enough I fell, as a pain in my side turned into a 70,000 dollar hospital stay, as I had a sloppy gallbladder surgery that almost killed me.  But I’m a resilient fucker and I survived physically all the while dying financially. 

I needed a job, and I needed a job fast, so one month out of the hospital with a nasty tube still draining fluids from my insides (Au Jus as I called it)  I took the first job that offered me insurance.  It was grim.  In a cemetery.  Selling grave plots and arranging final trips to the last resting places of sad Greeks and well spent hard living gypsies.   I was thirty and still dealing with the suicide of my own mother, something I had to deal with unexpectedly after almost ten years out of work sitting alone in a dark room with nothing but my thoughts -- and welfare – and sad country songs.  Now here I was, forced everyday to watch all those broken faces, as they watched their loved one slowly lowered into eternity while I was just trying to earn a living while slowly dying just like all the rest of us.  But in three months I would have insurance and that mattered a lot to me, and all the struggle and strife would be worth it for the peace of mind I was looking for.  Peace of mind is a hard piece of the pie to achieve in our current cake culture. 

It was about four months later I realized I was over three months into my job and my insurance should be kicking in.  I called corporate to find out why no money was being taken out of my check for a health insurance policy.  It was then I found out I missed some enrollment deadline and I couldn’t get insurance for another 10 months.  I crashed. Hard.  A coworker found my in a puddle of my own tears at my desk where I was just numb.  Tears came out of my eyes without sadness or any kind of feeling.  He comforted me and my boss assured me it would be straightened out.   It wasn’t, and a few weeks later my grandmother died, and I really lost it, as I questioned life and the cost of living. 

The darkness of winter was really dragging me down and my friends seemed to be turning me away, and with nowhere to go, with running not an option, I had the first full mental breakdown of my life.  Everybody should experience this crash at least once in their lives as it builds that some kind of toughness and character that the Great Depression generation had. As they say, every strike chisels the stone.  Absolute bottom forces you to search for a way out, and survival becomes the only instinct. 

For the first time I was scared for my life, I had thoughts of beating the beat down to the punch as they danced eloquently through most of my thoughts as I held a bottle of pills in my shaking hands every night single night. If I just spent 3 months working for insurance and a massive corporation who is beating me down and paying me peanuts can lie to me then what hope do I have?  It’s hard to have much of anything without money, let alone a chance, and it was clear I wasn’t making any.

The company offered free and confidential vists to a shrink (5 visits), and I was willing to give anything a shot, before I took a shot at myself.  It was a disaster, as I went to some women who I didn’t really like although I did tell her everything.  She seemed not to believe it but I kept going into one beating after another until she told me  I should just be grateful that I’m as functional  as I am, and if I want to go into therapy it could destroy that shaky foundation I am on, and I probably would crash.  In other words I was to fucked up to fix, yet just functional  enough to survive; and she wanted to know how I was going to pay for it once the company’s free sessions expired.  I knew she was right, and I never went back because I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t face it, plus I’m not sure I need to either. So I just squeezed onto my rock and faced the work as best I could.

I came out of it about a week later and I hate to say it but my grandma’s inherence helped. Money can’t buy you happiness but it certainly has no problem renting some.  I found a little bit of confidence and I was able to laugh it all off, as I always do.  Pissing in the wind can get messy but there is something about doing it that just feels right and natural plus if you are all alone the collateral damage is minimal.  I’m still much drained, but I have a smile again on my face which is oddly tough to find in the TV age of Glee.

I moved out of sales and into the administration staff where I do data entry.  This means I no longer have to go on burials or deal with the bereaved.  Plus it gives me weekends off giving me something to look forward to as I explore new towns and seek out what I have no idea of what I’m looking for.  Maybe a story, maybe a life, I don’t know, but I sure enjoy the trip. Now I’m a month away from health insurance and getting a new lease on health. But in perfect rhythm here comes another swing from the beat of our generation.

I don’t mean to offend anybody as I realize my comparison is extreme but it’s just how I feel.  I feel like a Jew building a concentration camp that will ultimately lead to my demise.  At work they are forcing me to train on new software, which clearly does everything I do; only it does it without me.    By most calculations, I have between one and three months before I’m once again laid off due to the progress of man.  Just at the perfect time, when winter is once again stirring at it’s fiercest.  I again trusted the company to give me insurance, and right when they are about to, they will lay me off.  It’s a comedy of errors that leaves me with no choice but to laugh.  It’s true this is all speculation but it’s also true the writing is on the wall and the company has a large staff outsourced to begin with, so they clearly only look at numbers.  That’s all I am is number, and even when I die, all I’ll be is two dates of eight numbers and a dash.  My mother used to scream and fight with me to be more than a number but clearly it’s unavoidable.

The funny thing is unlike last year, and two years ago, this time I’m ready for it.  I’ve been down this road a time or two and know where the good bars are and which restrooms are the cleanest.  There is a part of me that worries about how dark it could get and how I’ll actually deal with it when it happens; but all that is speculation, and speculation I can laugh off at this point in time.  So bring it on, I’m ready for round three.

After all it’s Sunday, and I’m off relaxing, watching my Chicago Bears beat up on the Carolina Panthers without an offensive line or a quarterback.  A feat that probably should be getting more attention by the so called experts who yap about the game.  I’ve never seen such a disaster of a team actually win games.  A win is a win no matter how ugly it is or hard it was to get. 

All of this makes think back to Paris, Illinois where I would often give prizes out while on the radio.  It was always humorous to me especially early on before I built a fan base, to gauge the response I would get based on the prize.  Sometimes it defied logic.  One day I could have fifty calls for a shitty Tim McGraw CD while the next day I could be giving away one hundred dollars cash and nobody would call.  I would actually be begging people on my knees to call in and win.  So when I had University of Illinois football tickets, I really wasn’t sure what I would get.   I took the tenth caller and some guy named Yoder won and his excitement was so electric I feel the energy over the phone. 

I asked my boss if he heard the call, and he said he did, “a ‘Yoder’ won.”

“What the hell is a Yoder,” I asked with my city drawl. 

“An Amish,” he responded. 

“Like horse and buggy?”

“Yes, they live just outside of town.”

“They have radios and listen to me,” I panicked as my mind started working on how to drum up Amish listenership as my ego increased. 

“No, they don’t listen to you,” he laughed, “when their kids reach a certain age usually around sixteen they are allowed to explore the modern world.   They understand kids need to be free and that kids are kids and they make mistakes.  So they are allowed to run wild, until a certain point, usually a few years later when they are asked if they will give up all the fun and be baptized into the Amish way --or be cut off from their family and be free to join our world. “

“That sounds exhausting.”

So here was a guy who in his life had probably made a handful of phone calls and one of them was to me.  My voice was floating across the corn fields like magic in his minds eyes as he had the opportunity to be given free tickets to a sporting event, that was in many ways only a myth to him.  I was excited as hell to meet the guy.

Later that afternoon a horse and buggy pulled up and out stepped a young man of about sixteen dressed like any other farm boy.  My radio station was playing from a small 80’s style boom box on the floor of the carriage.  He got out and came to the farm house station, with the eyes of a child on Christmas morning.

I gave him the tickets and we talked about football which he’d never seen, but only read about.  It was all new to him as I showed him the stations transmitter and other technologies.  Not only had he never seen football before, he had never been to a stadium with that many people attending at once.   Never a concert, never a festival, never even a circus as a kid. The idea of that large of a gathering to cheer on a game was magnificent to him.  I could tell Saturday couldn’t get there soon enough.

I don’t know what happened to him, if he enjoyed the game, or if he freaked out at the mass exposure of disgusting ,drunken, face painted maniacs chanting fight songs as an Indian dances on the side line (for the last time) while he cowers in fear and rushes home to tell a tale of the barbaric world.  My guess is he loved it but who the hell knows.   I did watch him ride away in horse and buggy as I to thought about football and how much I love the game and just how lucky I really am.  I’m way over exposed to the world, hell I can’t get off my Droid for more than an hour (looking at football apps) but I do love and appreciate just how simple it all is.

So I get hit again.  Look at Cutler he got hit so hard he got concussed and he’s ready to step back onto the field next week.  I’m happy with whom I am but sometimes I do think of that Yoder, and I’m glad to have met him to remind me just how lucky we are to be this far advanced.  I guess.


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