"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 30, 2011

Climbing The Mountain

I went to a wedding.

I was the only man not wearing a suit. A blemish which did not go unremarked. Over the course of several hours, my suitlessness was pointed out to me on a least four separate occasions. The fifth time, I tried to make a joke of it with a cousin. Defensively. Preemptively. She squirmed, embarrassed for me. I don't think she was uncomfortable because I was the only man - the only male, in fact; one of my other brothers' sons were kitted out in suit and tie - dressed like a pauper.

I made her uncomfortable because I didn't know how to be that pauper.

I don't own a suit. I've never owned a suit. A fact which I could not have said bothered me until about a half hour before the wedding. If you'd caught me sometime last week, I would probably proudly have boasted that no suit and tie had ever sullied my tiny little closet, or the hair on my chest.

In hindsight, I'd have been lying.

My youngest brother's wedding, and I the oldest brother, a fucking scrub.

I didn't want it to bother me. But, by not owning that suit, I was broadcasting my failures. I was a note of comparison. I don't want it to be true: I'd have informed you on Friday that these failures were in fact successes.

I didn't know, only four days ago, how little I believed it.

So, I worked.

I took over every portion of the meal not contracted out to caterers. I swept floors. I washed counters. I even did laundry. You can ask my wife - I try to never do laundry. I'm pretty sure I didn't know why at the time, but the closer to the actual wedding we got, the harder I worked. I fucking rocked that bruschetta. It's already been shit out by a hundred careless and causal eaters. My shame has not.

As my younger brothers began to dress, to compare their matching ties, their expensive shoes, their expertly tailored single breasted, narrow cut blazers, I started to tick off all the choices I've made, the ones which distanced me from the lives my brothers live.

I was a runaway at fourteen. A ward of the state by fifteen. A flight risk, an opium runner, a dealer, a robber and a house burglar before my eighteenth birthday. I went through a window with a pick axe because, damn it, people freeze the fuck up when you smash into their houses, cherry red hair in a top knot, double fisting an axe, aglow with the halo of their shattered picture windows. If, afterward, you calmly ask them for their gilded sundries, they tend to hand them over nicely.

I plotted to kill a dear friend's father, her raping, fucking untouchable fire chief bastard motherfucking dad. I've written this before - but I didn't believe her the first time she told me. She invited me to her window, one night. Naive and stupid, I arrived to see a thing for which I wish I'd long ago gouged out my eyes. And for the second time in my life, made the real and resolute decision to murder a person who deserved it. I was seventeen. With an act of courage and inexplicable strength, she chose not to hold me to my promise. By eighteen I was homeless, a long winter in Boston. By nineteen, I'd been to rehab twice. And was an involuntary captive of the state, yet again.

It went on like that for years, until broken and beat to glue, I took a promotion at one of my cover jobs* and decided that my labor was something more and less than revolutionary. I was starving. I could no longer look potheads, junkies and trippers in the face without feeling an explosive contempt and a cold, frightening hatred.

I had a baby on the way.

And a soul deadening exhaustion.

But, I was always convinced of my own pride. It wasn't that I was unbreakable. After you've been strapped to a restraining bed in a padded room of a state hospital and begged Jesus for death before they fucking stick another pill down your throat and take away your mental health in the name of an official sanity, you don't get to pretend you've never been broken.

It was simpler than any lie of heroic resistance.

I was, I thought, equal to my own pride in merely surviving. In beating the odds. Murdered friends. Friends jailed forever for murder. Four roommates, and more, lost to AIDS. Suicide. Overdoses. Death by alcoholic vehiculation. Twenty year stretches. Insanity. Willful diabetic self-destruction. Pancreatic cancer. Amphetamine exits. Abnegation by way of abusive marriages.

All of them broken by a simple fact of existence: by the failure to make the right compromises.

My brothers made the right compromises.

And each of them is successful. Well adjusted. Content. They own property. I don't have a high school diploma.

Like those friends and fellow travelers on the way, I made a different set of compromises - the ones I've always believed to be born of resistance, by a refusal to cooperate. I thought I'd paid my dues and the heavy price of survival.

I thought I had a reason to be proud, for choosing to survive the compromise of degradation instead of choosing its polar counterpart, complicity and assimilation.

Then my brothers and their friends tightened their matching hundred dollar ties, looking dapper and dashing.

And on the side of a northern mountain - one I'd climbed earlier that day, two miles up the road, along fresh moose tracks, to the songs of birds whose names I've never learned, high enough to pop a blood vessel in my arm and one on my forehead - it all seemed like nothing because I can't afford a suit, because I've never been to England, or Spain, or Italy and Mexico, to any of the places my brothers have been and never thought to invite their loser oldest brother.

Because my sons could see that I was the only man at that wedding too poor to buy himself a costume required by culture and custom.

Because I was the goddamned cautionary tale.

That's our older brother, I vainly imagined them whispering, the failed rebel, the man who helped seize a federal institution and who held it long enough to get the press' attention, and then took flight when they started to take it seriously. The convict, the reprobate, the idiot who thinks his stupidity is a refusal to compromise, who got a full boat to Dartmouth and reacted by running away. He's been a Jesus freak, a Buddhist hermit, a drug dealing snake and a silly damned communist revolutionary. He's run nightclubs, grocery stores, biker bars, coffee houses, gas stations and chain restaurants. He's sold liquor, petroleum, LSD and the best most ass-kicking shrooms this side of Texas. He still tells that stupid story about holding his own with GG Allin and a couple of scumgirls somewhere between Lowell and the Manch-Vegas. It's all faded glory and he's got nothing to show for it.

I don't want to care what they think. I really don't.


I do.

And that's an indictment on the way to my inevitable conviction.

There's no escape. I've climbed the mountain. It has a prison atop it.

I'm sitting here, writing to you outside its humble doorway. Facing my jailer.

He's wearing my face.

And I'm afraid that there's nothing I can do about it...

* - one of the sad truths of semi-successful drug dealing is that you have to be able to explain your income. Most of us who managed to avoid prison - at least, for dealing - worked two and three jobs as a cover. Plus, work is a good place to meet people who need the chemistry of escape. Really successful drug dealers own pharmaceutical conglomerates and drug cartels. They don't have to work. They can afford accountants and lawyers.


Cüneyt said...

My, that throws me into considering the compromises I've made and make.

Will Shetterly said...

I hear that. Nothing to add, but Blogger doesn't have a "like" button, and what we really need is a "thank you for writing that" button.

David K Wayne said...

Where did today's post go?

Joe said...

Good piece, Jack. Seems like life is a gradual process of shedding illusions about yourself. Having made my share of the "right" compromises, I have to say, they strike me as trivial accomplishments at best. Mostly they seem like acts of cowardice.

Anonymous said...

Yeah... what? I mean, huh? You're you when you're you, and when you're their version of you, maybe you're not the same you.

It is your life, after all.

The not following through on the murder of that fucker... well. I salute you.

Thanks for writing that.

Jack Crow said...

Thank you.

Was really just trying to be honest about a moment of clarity.

davidly said...

Your reevaluation in the line of emotional fire is admirable. One should never be so absolutely self-sure. But KFO is right.

For what it's worth, from your newer post (this time via somebody who also oughta know: Imitation is the sincerest form of show business.

Stay tuned, Jack.

Ken Bias said...

you were in AIM, Jack?! Not to blow your cover...

Jack Crow said...

Perceptive, Ken. I was affiliated, though never an active member like the folks out West.

Ken Bias said...

i think the late 60's global social movements altogether easily comprised one of the greatest triumphs in all of modern history. but i didn't live through them, so i have a pretty limited perspective. sheds a lot of light on your analyses.

Anonymous said...

Your commenters to this muuunchhausen babble
suggests a loyal mouth agape following of vicarious
Credulous hot house rebels

I hope they come to realize what a patent
Life fraud you ultimately are Jackie

The dart mouth full boat
throw away was delightful
Man of all mud seasons eh ?

At least Jean genet took it up the ass with pleasure

Here's Jackie

With off the reservation self serious tantruming


Jack Crow said...

Heh. That made my cereal taste sweeter, "Paine."

Ken Bias said...

to the dude two posts above: i can't really say much else to that except what the fuck are you even talking about?

Ken Bias said...

his only lines of "argument" seem to be: (1) anarchists can never praise any individual, for anything; (2) praising someone can only mean that you want to "sex him" (two guys! haha! gay!); and that (3) Jack is a complete liar about everything and he could not be a more trivial human being -- even though the "anonymous" commenter has such an apparently intense hatred for Jack that, that the former seems to get a demented pleasure out of telling the latter that "he sucks so much."
Anonymous -- do you honestly think that praising someone's blog post amounts to devoting yourself to a personality cult in that blogger's honor? It's just the internet, man. Save your anger for something more productive.

Will Shetterly said...

If people think so little of what they say that they're anonymous, they clearly expect to be ignored. I think their wishes should be respected.

JRB said...

The whole question of the choices we make for ourselves and how they impact the people around us is very much in play for me these days.

Increasingly I see a need to accommodate others, at least superficially, if for no other reason than that they aren't likely to accommodate me. E.g., I can get past the fact that they're all wearing suits -- I can at least comprehend their motivation, etc. But they're not going to understand why I'm doing X; they're going to be afraid. If I can put them at ease, this opens the possibility of something more.

Certain things are easier for me to compromise about than others, so I try to be flexible in areas that I don't really care about in order to preserve what is fundamental to my outlook.

Anyway, its helpful to hear you reflect on your experiences in this regard, even if they are worlds apart from my own.

Jack Crow said...

Sometimes I think the barriers are harder to overcome with family, JRB.

I'm significantly older than my brothers. I never went to school with any of them, and I was out of the home and in foster care before any of them were in double digits.

I've always been the cautionary tale, and we still relate to each other on those terms.

A long time ago, the second oldest and I were knee deep in a good smoke, and he said casually, but with some angst scribbled into his chin and brow, "As long as I'm not following in your footsteps, mum thinks I'm succeeding..."