Thursday, January 19, 2012

Past the Brink... Arbitrary Milestones, Body Modification and Soft Core Paranoia in the Time of Chicken Wing. Chances of Redemption Thoroughly Squandered

It was raining like a bastard.

I'm not sure exactly how it is a bastard would manifest himself meteorologically, but if he could he would most definitely have been the rain that was coming down around me on the evening of December 30th, 2011.  It wasn't a particularly heavy downpour, but it was doing its best to bring down the curtain early.  The problem wasn't really the rain.  The problem was that the rain was mixing with the snow to fill the streets with a sloppy, slushy, frozen mixture that seemed somehow able to completely ignore the waterproof label that was clearly visible on my boots.

Son of a bitch.

The alcohol flowing freely through my veins helped with the frozen wet sensation seeping into my feet and a vague sense of impotence.  Trudging through that sludge in the street it felt as though the universe had prematurely ejaculated all over our little blue planet and I was just one of a couple billion helpless sperm that were not going on to fertilize anything or create anything.  I was just part of some wasted biological matter left over after a (short but) good time and then swiftly deposited on a wet blue tissue then rolled up and tossed away into the vastness of space.

December 30th, 2011.  It was the date of my 30th birthday and it was shaping up to be as satisfyingly disappointing as I'd secretly hoped it would be all along.  We love to feel like shit.  I wasn't at the big birthday party I had been planning to throw for myself, my Big 30th On the 30th, a mystical intersection of numbers that I had tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to imbue with some sense of meaning or significance.  Due to circumstances not entirely beyond my control I had moved to another city far away from most family and friends to go back to school thereby effectively putting the kibosh on any type of party mobilization.  I had managed to round up a couple familiar faces to help me over the brink.  Ryebone and my brother Matthew had made their way down  to whatever city in the Western hemisphere that I may currently be living in.  Instead of partying and drinking all day I had to watch my two kids because my wife had started a new job and was at the bottom of the shitheap and really she couldn't afford to turn down any shifts.  Instead of ordering my traditional birthday wings from The Moose I was dragging my feet through four inches of semi-frozen slush in the street going over to Montana's for some generic (yet surprisingly satisfying) chain restaurant stock staples.  At least I was on my way to getting genuinely and dangerously shitfaced.

I reached up to scratch my left arm then quickly stopped mindful of the potential implications.

Rewind two days.  The 28th of December.  I was standing nervously in the entrance of a local tattoo parlour trying to figure out if the artists had figured out that I was a phony and were secretly plotting to take me out back and beat me with socks full of quarters and bags of Valencia oranges.  There was one particularly large tattooist who obviously worked out ate a lot of protein and had a fairly high pain threshold evidenced by the sheer volume of tattoos running down his arms and and circling his skull.

I was following through on a year-long plan to commemorate my thirty years on this strange planet with a permanent mark on my dermal layer.  I'm not sure exactly when or where I had hatched this plan, or why I felt it was a particularly effective monument to the three decades I had wasted loitering around this foggy blue sphere to have some stranger use a needle to force ink deep under my skin into some kind of personally significant image.  Especially when my wife's impulse was to buy me the Kinect, which would have fed my video game obsession and probably (read: definitely) cost considerably less.  There had always been talk about "What would you get if you got a tattoo?" followed by girlish manly giggling as my friends and I threw out increasingly ridiculous ideas and sizes for tattoos (though nothing we could imagine could ever match the glory that is Dragon Dick).  I had always shied away from the idea because it seemed that so many people around me -the hip and the square alike- had tattoos that the originality that I had always associated with having a tattoo seemed diluted somehow like the sitcom or a soft drink from McDonalds left out overnight so all the ice melts but you drink it anyway because you're hung over.  Even though I was a consumer whore who wholly embraced brand loyalty, lived for the high (and inevitable guilt) that invariably came from making a purchase, and embraced Wal-Mart with open arms and erect dick, my first instinct was still to embrace and value counter-culture, some ubiquitous force working against "the man."  What counter-culture represented wasn't wholly rebellious, but really a type of elitism where you could count yourself a member of a community (if only in the barest sense) through the knowledge of a certain set of cultural parameters to which a large majority of the population was oblivious.  In conversations with friends and strangers you could identify fellow cult members through certain key words or phrases, like a secret verbal  handshake, a cipher of Masonic proportions and implications, unlock the door and enter a secret clubhouse whose access was restricted to those "in the know."

I was wrong on two counts.  First, those truly involved in the "tattoo culture" differed a great deal from the band of yuppies, aging hipsters, university students looking to get the obligatory tramp stamp, fat balding men in mid-mid-life-crisis, and bored house wives looking for a taste of "the wild side" on which they had previously failed to walk.  Culture -and sub-culture- was not some monolithic construction, but rather a spectrum that ranged from the hard-core to the tourist.  Unfortunately, in this instance I was closer to the tourist end of the spectrum, and I felt it acutely as I tend to.  Even though it seemed that there was a wave of people branded with various bullshit like the now-cliched Chinese characters that seemed ready to crash down upon me, simply "having a tattoo" in no way, shape or form automatically qualified one for entrance into tattoo culture.  It was the same reason that owning a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket branded with the Hell's Angels logo didn't automatically qualify one for entry into the Hell's Angels.  Even though my mission parameters involved getting a tattoo and everybody who worked there was really friendly I could tell that I was in no danger of becoming one of the Elite in this particular circle.

Second, while I wasn't exactly being offered the keys to a certain cultural kingdom, neither was I being completely excluded.  One of the factors that had previously kept me from considering a tattoo was the fact that so many people I knew had them.  I was somehow worried about being "unoriginal" whatever that meant.   It was impossible to be truly original in the sense that we tend to think about it.  Most people aren't original.  Most people don't create new things.  But getting a tattoo wouldn't make me unoriginal.  What weapon we did have was innovation.  I was only "unoriginal" in the conventional sense if I was somehow defined by a single character trait or personal attribute.  We don't "invent" ourselves, we "innovate" an identity by collecting a unique combination of traits and attributes.  If I waited around to do something unique that nobody else in the world had ever conceived of before I would be waiting for a very long fucking time.  I couldn't deprive myself of something I wanted just because somebody else wanted it too.  It's fucking ridiculous.  The creed of the hipster was no way to lead a self-fulfilling life.

"Can I help you?"

"Yeah, I'm, uh, looking to get a tattoo."

"Well, you came to the right place."

The dude in front of me with the baseball cap, glasses and neatly trimmed beard greeted me with a smile.  My first instinct when deciding on a tattoo parlour was to follow word of mouth from people I knew.  I figured it would be the safest way to go.  But since I had moved to a new city and didn't know anybody who had been inked locally I had had to go the nerdy route and look up establishments online.  My second instinct was to go with the biggest place I could find.  I figured any institution that could sustain a staff of seven or eight artists indefinitely must have a descent health record.  I figured safety in numbers.  If I didn't know anybody's reputation personally then I'd go with the biggest.  Trust the beast.  Wal-Mart syndrome.  Somehow I was able to muddle my way through, showing him a picture of what I wanted, getting a quote on the price, going over health and safety questions and setting up an appointment for the next day.

Fast forward.

December 29, 2011.  I was lying in a comfortable chair in a muscle shirt fighting the urge to fall asleep while some dude I barely knew branded me permanently with an image of my choosing which you can check out right here:

For those of you uneducated swine who don't know what this means you can do your own fucking research on wikipedia all about gonzo (no, not the muppet).  The tattoo is cool, and is kind of annoying having to explain it to (almost) everybody I've shown it to so far, but in this way I have engaged with a very particular sort of elitism in a very particular sub-culture, and so have that particular satisfaction to enrich my life.  The reason for this having this particular symbol immortalized on my body is complex, but basically boils down to the fact that it was the calling card of Hunter S. Thompson who was the best of the best at what he did, which, incidentally, is also what I hope to do.

The procedure itself was actually much less painful than I had imagined and was done in about half of the originally estimated four hours (based upon a rough idea of the size I had tried to explain the day before).  The real bitch of it came in the days and weeks that followed when, sure enough, just as the dude at the tattoo place had predicted the area of skin that had been tattooified would feel like a really bad sunburn.  It was sensitive as hell, and two weeks have flown by, but during the first half of that fortnight my left arm hurt like a son of a bitch.

"Alright, boys, let's drink our balls off!"

It was Matthew's voice ringing around in my head.  Somewhere through the tense music and terrible sounds of virtual bodies being ripped apart by thousands of rounds of virtual ammunition that punctuated every game of Left 4 Dead I registered my brother's voice as I took another swig of the cold beer I cradled in my hand.

"Let's get stupid!"

He punctuated this by going right up to a witch and bitch slapping her resulting in his own swift demise.  Despite 48 hours of tutoring, Matthew still refused to sneak by any of the witches in Left 4 Dead, instead choosing the baffling strategy of voluntary massacre at the hands of that genetically modified she-bitch.  I'm not sure exactly why Matthew seemed intent to keep banging his head against the proverbial wall, but I'm sure it had something to do with the contrary nature we had both inherited: the more I advised against startling the witch, the more he seemed bound and determined to do just that.

"Eat shit and die you zombie bastards!"

Waiting for my wife to come home from work on the evening of my birthday Matthew, Ryebone and myself had taken to killing some zombies on Ye Olde Xbox and drinking heavily.  Luckily for us liquor and zombies don't mix, and as usual alcohol seemed to improve our skill at everything, although I had to physically restrain Ryebone when in a fit of drunken insanity he almost succeeded in lighting an improvised Molotov cocktail in my living room as he frantically screamed "I'm calling zombie bullshit!" and trying unsuccessfully to bite my nose off, his go to defence after recently watching the last half of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS over and over again every night for three months for no apparent reason.  In true (My Family Name Here) fashion, Matthew never missed a beat and was able to completely tune out the rest of the world and zone in completely on the TV screen totally oblivious to everyone and everything around him.

At last my wife got home just in time for us to abandon her and go out for a few more drinks and some sustenance.  Because my wife didn't get off work until 9 o'clock and because all three of us had already started drinking the plan was to walk over to Montana's Steakhouse which was literally a well-heaved stone's throw away.  I had also received some gift cards for Montana's for Christmas so it seemed like a sign.  A sign of what, I'm not exactly sure, but a sign nonetheless.

My 30th birthday dinner was OK, I guess.  We had appetizers which I can't recall.  My brother ordered the half chicken dinner, I got ribs and wings and Ryebone ordered what turned out to be one of the smallest pulled pork sandwiches I had ever seen this side of the children's menu which he still couldn't finish earning him the nickname "Kid's Meal" which I intend to remind him of every waking minute from now until the day he dies.  For dessert we tried the deep fried cheese cake which was fucking delicious but it filled me up past the brim and made the rest of my night fairly uncomfortable.  I was totally on the brink of puking the rest of the night thanks in large part to that cheesecake which kind of put a damper on the whole drinking thing when we got back to my place.

Through my drunken, sugar-induced haze I have vague recollections of Matthew playing chicken with a transport truck, Ryebone waving his genitals at passing traffic, and an effeminate Asian man dressed head to toe in leather offering to "make our night."  After racing home through the rain and slush we turned on the TV fully intent on picking up where we left off killing hordes of zombies.

Instead I fell asleep in the recliner in the living room while Ryebone and my brother debating the various practical applications of morning wood (I drifted off completely after Ryebone's suggestion of using it as a citrus juicer and a montage in my head of all the times I'd partaken of orange juice at his apartment and making a mental note to strangle him and his penis with barbed wire when I woke up).  All in all it was by all accounts -to use the parlance of our times- an epic fail.

I was turning 30 on the 30th.  It was supposed to mean something.  Right?  It had to.  There was supposed to be a light shining down from the heavens and strippers on raised platforms dancing to White Snake.  There was supposed to be a celebration.  It wasn't until afterwards that I realized that there was no significance.  Everything was arbitrary.  I didn't feel fundamentally any different at 30 than I did at 20 or 23 or 27.  All the goals I had set for myself to have accomplished by the age of 30 were equally as arbitrary.  Why the feeling of disappointment?  There was no accountability because who was there to be accountable to?  There was no greater Power, no order, no plan.

For a while I did feel disappointed.  There's something masochistically satisfying about an overwhelming sense of total failure.  For a while my 30th birthday threw into sharp relief all I had not accomplished.  Even the tattoo I had gotten was a reminder of (as yet) unrealized dreams, a standard of excellence that I was in no way near approaching.  Then gradually it came to me.  This thought that had been drifting around in the bottom of my subconscious and slowly made its way to the surface:

My Epiphany

There's something vaguely satisfying about the smell of shit.

I don't know why I hadn't seen it before.  In a sense I suppose I had.  It was the culmination of 30 years of experiences finally being unified with an overarching theme.  A unifying thread.  A nexus whereupon all points of time and space in the universe merged together for an instant to reveal some hidden truth.

Shit was life.

Even as I thought it I knew that it had occurred to me before, but never in a way tangible enough to be put into words.  Somehow, I had always known it.  There's something life-affirming about the smell of shit.  We don't want to admit it, but even as we're repulsed by it we are simultaneously intoxicated and drawn to it.  Shit is the great equalizer.  It is a constant, daily reminder of our mortal, animal nature.  It's a reminder of how close we are to the bottom no matter how far ahead we get, and conversely how things can always get worse.  

The smell of shit was real.  It was tangible.  It was the essence of Humanity.  We took in, we consumed, and we produced nothing of lasting value or worth.  But unlike humanity shit was unpretentious; it was, simply, what it was.  It didn't try to make more of itself.  We kept trying to elevate our selves, our lives, to some higher meaning or plateau, to make everything as Un-shit-like as possible all the time.  The problem is when we try to elevate everything in essence we lower everything.  By trying to make nothing shit we had made everything shit.

We need the shit.  Without embracing that feeling of the mundane, the ordinary, the depressingly routine, without really feeling those lows we had, in effect, numbed ourselves to the highs.  And just like any junkie, we needed larger and larger highs.  I needed a large birthday party for my 30th because it had to mean something.

But for what?  I was trying to insert significance where deep down I truly understood that none existed.  I wanted my 30th birthday to mean something, to have some sort of relative significance that I could fathom and construct for it, and for a while my reach ran the very real risk of exceeding my grasp.  There was a failure that day.  The failure was mine.  And the failure was this: I had tried to be inspired by an arbitrary, constructed psychological artifact, the construction of which I felt no ownership of and hence placed no significance on while desperately wishing to believe in that very same significance.  In total disrespect to the Bard, I had not been true to myself.  I had wanted something that I only thought I wanted, and the depression came from not reaching goals that didn't even really exist in the first place.

I was the bastard son of a bastard son.  I was a castaway from the twin broken vessels Civilization and Culture, the construction of a construction.  I had lost what little sense of agency I had.  I looked back at my 20's and saw Unrealized Potential and failed dreams, but then the question suddenly popped into my head: By whose standard?  Who was this imaginary Bastard Father I was so desperate to impress?  And for what reason?  What was this Great Thing I was supposed to have accomplished by the age of 30?  And so what if I hadn't accomplished it?  Or if I had accomplished it and just didn't know?

It wasn't wrong to love misery; it was wrong to love misery for the wrong reasons.  I had let my lows become my highs instead of letting my lows accentuate my highs.  We need misery.  We need shit.  Not to wallow in, but to remind us of our condition in the universe.  The best moment of your life seems infinitely better when contrasted with the worst.  The smell of shit was an affirmation of life.

By my own standards my 30th birthday had been a disappointment.  Yet I still had fun.  Ryebone, my brother and I got drunk, had a few laughs, and nobody's organs were stolen and sold on the black market.  Just like the shuttle mission in APOLLO 13 my birthday had been a "successful failure."  There's something oddly compelling about failing on a scale more massive than most people would ever succeed on.  And if that was to be my legacy in the years to come, I could think of far worse and little better.  If the goal was failure on an epic level then the potential for success was nearly infinite.  Failure was the new immortality.

The king is dead.

Long live the king.




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