“…they secretly want it to end. Their life is shit and boring and dull and controlled from so many fucking angles and nothing changes. No matter what happens it’d be great to see the whole thing crumble and see what happened after that. It’d be a massive playground adventure where everybody’s equal all of a sudden.” – Dick Lucas, Subhumans
You kick down the door of your friends’ hotel room to the tune of Hulk Hogan’s theme song, Real American Hero, complete with red white and blue headband on your skull and calisthenics until they wake up. Hello, Wisconsin Dells.
You wake up on a bus on a stretch of street with no lights and stumble off, touch the side of your bruised head and recall the blow that knocked you unconscious earlier at a rooftop barbeque. Hello, Englewood.
You open your eyes in a bathroom stall and focus on a friend standing in front of you, arms outstretched, grasping your shoulders firmly, and realize your pants are halfway around your ankles. Hello, Huck Finn in Beverly.
In an emergency room you call your mother with the intention of letting her know that you’re going to be alright, but after two shots of morphine and a Norco the best you can blurt out over the phone is “HOLY SHIT, MOM! I’M HIGH! I FINALLY FIGURED OUT WHY PEOPLE DO DRUGS!”
Most of the single serving conversations I’ve had with single serving friends I only just met are forgettable. Not because they were uninteresting or boring, but because I have no idea who the business card I found in my pocket belongs to and can’t remember who just said hello to me at the convenience store.
Hello, escapism. My name is Aaron and I’m sure we’ve met.
At some point, you wake up one morning, wipe the blood still oozing from your nose and realize you’re bad at being an adult. Not because you had bad parents or a terrible childhood or have unsupportive friends. Not because you first tasted blood at the age of 7 when a kid nearly twice your age spin-kicked your face into the dirt, or because you spent most of the next decade getting your ass kicked on a regular basis. You’re not bad at being an adult because you weren’t afforded all sorts of opportunities – because you were. You went to college, you had jobs, friends, lovers, even traveled a little.
Nope, you’re bad at being an adult because you’re defective.
Rather, I’m defective. I once wrote:
“…there’s a hole inside all of us. There’s an emptiness we can all feel that’s just out of reach. It’s something we can’t touch or taste, something that sits on the tips of our tongues and on the edge of our lips. Religious people might define it as a lack of spirituality or sickness of the soul. Folks who aren’t can find any number of disorders or emotional and mental states to try to explain it. But the truth is, it’s something a little more.
And we try to fill that hole, that emptiness, with things every day. Some people do it with money and material goods, some do it with booze or pills, others with work, or a quest for power and authority, and some shut down and spend their days in the dark watching hours of television. Whatever it is though, however we choose to try to fill that void it’s never enough. And it will never be enough, so long as we continue to ignore that the very fabric of the world we live in is threadbare.”
That’s some pretty complicated philosophizing for “I just don’t give a fuck about the things most people do, or what they believe people should give a fuck about.”
Humans tend to be drawn to routine and habit. I wake up, make coffee, shower, put on the same pants and shirt I’ve been wearing for three days because I have yet to do laundry, and race to make it out the door to catch the right train. Punch in, sit at my desk. Answer emails and phone calls. Listen to coworkers gossip. Leave for a little while to grab lunch. Sit back down, answer more emails and phone calls. Listen to coworkers gossip. Punch out. Catch the train heading home. Pet the cat. Feed the cat. Sit on the couch. Turn on the television. Scroll through my phone. Wait until I can fall asleep.
Hello, Monday thru Friday.
That’s probably not the normal routine for the subgenus of humans known as average middle class American citizens. There’s variations – a dog instead of a cat, a couple of kids and a partner in the mix. Maybe home ownership or a time-share in some balmy country where the locals look different but are unthreatening because they’re cleaning your sheets and mixing your drinks. Maybe on Tuesday’s you go bowling, or you’ve got a fantasy sports league to keep tabs on.
The ultimate structure however, remains the same.
Therein lies the flaw – I can’t get into that kind of routine and when I do, the gears slowly stop spinning. More than likely I came off the early adulthood assembly line with some serious defect. Instead of installing athleticism, someone installed chain smoking. Instead of fashion sense, a love for bad sci-fi. The slot for accepting hierarchical authoritarian structures remains empty, and the drive to raise progeny behind a white picket fence failed inspection.
Those defects don’t cause complete system failure in a westernized American human, however.
There are patches and fixes for many of these defects. That fantasy sports league I mentioned. Bad science fiction. Good science fiction. Blockbuster movies. Video games. Pornography. A never ending orgy of consumable things. Booze, booze and more booze, along with an endless supply of items you can stuff down your gullet, up your nose and into your veins to keep you going, producing and a productive adult within the confines of a glorious capitalist hegemony at the end of history.
Except, one has to ask oneself, do I really want any of that?
And that’s where apocalyptic fetishism creeps in. Zombies. Plagues. Vampires. Nuclear war. The rise of the machines. The fall of the empire. My parents finding my facebook profile. Any number of fantastic scenarios where the whole thing crumbles and there’s a massive playground where everyone’s equal again.
And perhaps that’s the largest defect – the conscious one. The one I installed in my brain which asks the type of questions I believe we all ask but slightly louder. Why have I been protesting two or more wars for more than ten years? Why is my good friend six figures in debt due to a debilitating medical condition? Why did both my parents lose their jobs? Where’s this magical fountain of jobs politicians point to when whining about welfare? What’s the point of spending more than third of one’s day on menial tasks whose value are measured by a person playing golf halfway across the country?
And when the apocalypse doesn’t come, when I can’t just kick the lego castle over and start building something else so no one ever has to ask questions like these again, I create my own mini-armageddon’s. I pick a fight with a stranger in a friend’s bar because his politics aren’t like mine. I pick a fight with an entire bar of brodudes because, well, they’re brodudes. I wake up in a car that’s been idling for two hours in front of my house and the only sound I can make out from the stranger peering through my window is 5-0. I roll out of bed, put my feet on the freezing cold floor and try to dodge the cat vomit I forgot to clean up on my way to the bathroom.
The world as it is rolls humans off an assembly line and makes promises that all their equipment will be continually upgraded, so long as they follow the rules and pay no mind to the machines left discarded and unused, broken or otherwise obsolete. In those cases, despite the equipment given, the best those folks can hope to do is kneel at a Randian altar and pray the market will bless them with another life, provided they’ve paid off their student loans.
But still, there are those who continue to rebel or fight the good fight, and I count myself among them. Maybe that takes shape in the streets, maybe in insults over Twitter, online petitions, graffiti on expressway overpasses, or just a simple element of refusal like sitting down and waiting until one is forcibly removed by police from a building. Still, sometimes I wonder if that’s all just part of a larger dance. The remainder in an equation so large it would blow the minds of the most stoned hippie watching the Matrix for the first time. Wake up, shower, take phone off charger, pack camera equipment, rush to train, find march, take pictures, shout at police, update twitter and facebook, get quotes, shout more at police, wait outside of jail for released comrades, go home, write story, drink whiskey, edit photos, drink more whiskey, pass out.
Hello, cynicism and sarcasm. You’re my truest of friends.
So yeah, I’ll trade one routine for another, one pattern for another, like a day trader switching from selling mortgage futures to uncollectable debts. Because yeah, shits fucked up. Yeah shits fucked up and bullshit. And I don’t know if all the chants, overturned barricades and arrests will actually fix it, but it’s better than cognitive suicide or catatonic surrender. Still, we all have our days.
Hello, escapism. My name is Aaron. Have we met?
*I originally wrote this somewhere in 2012 and it was published in a few places. Still, it’s one of my favorite pieces.