American Worries In 2015

Woman: I worry that I don’t fully own my own body under the law, and that I could be imprisoned for miscarrying.

Person of color: I worry that I can legally be shot dead by a police officer despite not having committed any crime.

Man: I worry that I have to start thinking before I speak, because a bunch of people might make fun of me on Twitter if I say something racist or sexist.

Poem

As I’ve mentioned before, every year my company has a grand meetup and we are all required to give a 4 minute-long flash talk on a topic of our choosing. In the past, I’ve spoken on rabbits and the underrated art of lying. This year, I read a poem:


 
Watching this now makes me realize I actually really miss performing.

Coffee Shop Overhears

Ocassionally, I work outside the house. Typically, this is at a local coworking space, which is very quiet and kind of corporate, and I work there with my coworker. But this week, we decided to mix it up and work at a coffee shop.

Like most places in Albuquerque, this coffee shop is adjacent to a garage. I’ve lived here for nearly two years now, and I have yet to learn my way around because I don’t leave the house much, but no matter where I go, I usually find that it ends up being next to a garage with no customers and a bunch of dudes sitting out in front of it. There are approximately 2000 of these garages in the greater ABQ area; ours is predominately a garage-based economy.

The coffee shop itself was owned and staffed by a bunch of old hippies, mostly veterans, and the clientele was also about 90% staff. There were plenty of tables and outlets and the wifi held out great, and I had a really amazing cappuccino and half of a terrible breakfast burrito.

But what really made the experience was the overheard conversation between the various staff members. For most of the day, two old dudes sat around and loudly expounded on matters of government surveillance and national security. It was pretty impossible to follow but it all started with a discussion of a movie about a sniper that is apparently out right now.

After a long, spirited debate about whether or not this man was a hero, they moved onto the purpose of art.

“I mean, you see all these people lined up to see this film,” said old hippie number one. “And they look miserable! They don’t look happy! I mean, I go to see a movie to be entertained, you know? Or, or inspired. Not to…not to make myself miserable.”

“Mmm,” agreed old hippie number two.

“I don’t go to…to…, and who’s seeing this film? Who’s seeing it?”

“Not me.”

“Not you and me! We’re not seeing it. You know, it’s these people…and they don’t look happy. That’s not a good time for them, seeing that.”

When next I tuned back in, they were discussing ISIS.

“And what if they decide to come across the border, you know, here in New Mexico?” said hippie number two.

“Why?”

“Well, they could just–”

“—Have you seen that border? Have you been down there recently?”

“Well, I’m just saying–”

“They can’t get across that border. That’s the last place on earth they could ever get — nobody can even — that border, let me tell you about–”

“–I’m just saying, I think Albuquerque is prime target, for, you know, for ISIS.”

“Why?”

“Well. It’s a major metropolitan area near a border.”

“What? What the hell would ISIS possibly want to do in Albuquerque? What’s here?”

“…Los Alamos?”

When next I tuned in, they were deep into analysis of the lyrics of a certain Taylor Swift song.

“I have to say,” said hippie two. “I have a crush on her. I’ve never had a crush on a female…like, a female vocalist before, but.”

“Now, what are you talking about?” said hippie one, very indignantly. “What about Chrissie Hynde?”

“Oh, yeah,” said hippie two.

They contemplated that in mutual silence for some time.

“Anyway,” said hippie two. “It’ll be a sad day when that Taylor Swift gets married.”

“Yeah, that’s what’ll put her out of reach for you.”

“Mmmm,” agreed hippie two, pensively. “And I’m happily married,” he added.

Around this time, a lady with a combined air of management and long-term drug abuse came in and started bustling around and giving various burrito-based directives. She also queued up a documentary on hip-hop to play very loudly on an overhead projector.

“You ladies bothered by the language in this?” she asked us. “It’s about hip hop.”

“No, not at all,” we lied politely, as a pair of undoubtedly very talented fellows screamed at each other that they were nobody’s bitch and could fuck any bitch they put a mind to.

Having made sure the burrito situation was well in hand, this woman joined the two hippies and was soon deep into a discussion of her family dynamic.

“Because,” she said, sounding just a bit choked up. “My mother is the only one who ever validated me, you know? She’s the only one. And my sister, now my sister has been practicing witchery since she was 8 years old. And I don’t think that’s right, and I have objected to it, and the only one who took my objections seriously was my mother! My mother. Now, my sister, and then recently, she began to practice witchcraft in my bedroom! She did it in my bedroom! When she knows how I feel about it! And everyone else was, had no idea how deep she had gotten into it, but I’d told them. And the only one who validated me was my mother.”

This conversation eventually moved onto other things, but after a while, the lady felt moved to call her mother and tell her that she so appreciated her support.

“You were the only one, ma,” she explained. “The only one who validated me. Oh, that’s what they say, but she’s been practicing witchery since she was eight. Yes, she has, ma. Yes.”

Around this time, we sadly had to pack up and leave, but I’m not sure when I last had a more interesting work day. I think I might work at coffee shops more often.

Rabbit Skeleton

I never wanted or expected to come into possession of such a thing, but shit happens and I paid a mint for it, so I might as well share: here is an x-ray of your average rabbit:

Rabbit skeleton

A particularly interesting thing about this is, the rabbit is apparently 98% intestine. Which explains a lot.

“Life,” said Emerson, “consists in what a man is thinking all day.” If that be so, then my life is nothing but a big intestine. I not only think about food all day, but I dream about it at night.

— Henry Miller, on rabbits

(Dem ears, tho!)

(The rabbit is completely fine, if anyone cares. My finances on the other hand…)

The Eternal Battle Against Entropy, and My $60 Pillow

For most of my adult life, I lived in very expensive cities on about $30k, which means that I lived in small spaces with several other people, and my furniture was generally of the found or scrounged variety. I was always fairly comfortable in my surroundings (if you discounted the auditory and olfactory senses), but I very rarely spoiled myself with a new Nice Thing.

I’d always assumed that if I ever wanted to abandon my more bohemian aspirations and get an actual job (sell out and go straight), I would make more money and be able to afford my own place and new furniture. And I’d be able to occasionally splash out on a Nice Thing. And in fact, that happened! (Well, that, along with moving to a very inexpensive city.)

But here’s the rub: it turns out that even when you have some disposable income, it’s still quite a job to spoil yourself. For one thing, buying a Nice Thing is never the end of the endeavor. Usually, even though you’ve paid a lot of money for something, you still have to figure out how to transport it, assemble it, paint it, set it up, get a bunch of different types of chords and attachments for it, introduce it to your other stuff and mediate disputes, figure out why it’s not working the way the box says it will, knock it onto the ground and break it in a fit of pique, buy another and start over, etc etc etc.

And too, the very second you have the Nice Thing installed, assembled, and working, the forces of time and nature begin to work against you. The Nice Thing must be cleaned, fixed, maintained, charged, rotated, upkept. In many cases, it creates its own new messes and complications that you then have to deal with. It begins to disintegrate the very second you bring it through the door.

And so with each new Nice Thing, you have a more complicated life than you had the day before.

In fact, dealing with your continually slowly deterioriating surroundings is more or less a full-time job. For example, as I sit here typing this, one of the floodlights over my garage has gone out and the other has started shining 24/7 instead of being motion-detected like it is supposed to be. The clicker that is meant to open and close my garage door has ceased to function. Even though I vacuumed three days ago, everything around me is again covered in a blanket of dust. There are untold numbers of huge cardboard crates and packing materials from assorted Regular Things that have come in the mail that need to be broken down, bound into bundles, and put into the recycling. The cover that goes over my box springs is covered in dust, and I can’t lift the mattress by myself to get it off the box springs and wash it. One Nice Thing I recently purchased is a keyboard tray that needs to be assembled and attached to my standing desk and I can’t figure out the instructions, and also I think I need to purchase additional tools. The last time I paid any attention to either the front or back yards was just before Halloween, and even though I spent an entire weekend sweating over them at that time, they already resemble Grey Gardens. There’s an oil spill on the garage floor. One of the fireplace tiles has cracked. I never put a winter cover over the swamp cooler. The sliding glass door is in backwards. Some of the sills at the bottom of the doorframes have come unnailed. The bathroom sink has started backing up. There’s a certain table that I clear off every single day, and every morning there are somehow 4,000+ pieces of crap scattered across it again.

Everyone lives this way, and for each person or animal you add to your life, the problem is doubled.

I think that in general, most people deal with the ongoing sabotage of entropy in one of two ways: (1) they are oblivious to it, and go about making their art or playing with their children or dozing in front of the TV completely numb to the rising tide of grime, clutter, popped lightbulbs, stinky upholstery, and broken appliances surrounding them; or (2) they are a person who just naturally efficiently and quickly deals with any sort of physical issue that arises without sweating much over it, procrastinating about it, or being flummoxed by how to fix it (and I would suggest that perhaps this second type of person does not have a particularly rich inner life).

There are also a very few people who are exceedingly wealthy enough to pay for all of this to be the problem of some other person or persons. And there are a dwindling number of men who have managed to marry an old-fashioned woman willing to make combating entropy on behalf of the family her full-time occupation.

But for most of us, the options are to ignore this shit, or spend all our free time dealing with it.

Anyway, the point of all this is that this winter, I’ve tried to stop rewarding myself with food and alcohol, and instead have actually been on the hunt for a Nice Thing to enrich my life without requiring a substantial outlay of time and energy for me to accommodate it. This was surprisingly challenging! There aren’t many Nice Things that fit this criteria!

I’d been noodling on this for a while now, but then I finally cracked it: I purchased a pillow that cost over $60. And let me tell you — if you have a spare $60 around, go online and buy yourself a $60 pillow immediately. 

Me, I’d never given any thought at all to pillows! They’re just there. I bought my pillows probably about five years ago for about $12 at a Walgreens or something, and at this point, they have the consistency of a half-empty bag of oatmeal that was left out in the rain for a month. But they’re just pillows, you just lie on them, it never occurred to me to make them better.

But this pillow! It’s far more comfortable to sleep on, yes, but it’s also SO MUCH BETTER to fold into a bunch and prop myself up against in bed. I don’t slowly slide down while I’m reading, or realize that I have a migraine and a neck ache after sitting against it for an hour.

And it is the perfect Nice Thing because it came to my door, I popped it out of the box, and into a pillowcase, and that was it! Done! The pillow immediately went about its job of making my life better without my having to go to any trouble at all to get it situated and functioning in its new position. And it won’t break or run out of batteries or need to be tuned or charged or have its software upgraded. It will just sit there and be a good pillow until it isn’t a good pillow anymore, and then I will throw it out and buy another one.

That’s how everything should be.