School Bus Spit
I spit on my school bus in the autumn of my eighth-grade year. Not while riding in the bus, I spit ON the bus. My academic record was blemish-free until the spit. My motivation will remain a mystery, only the act itself is clear in my memory. Twenty years later and I’d do it again; it made sense back then and still does, even if I can’t remember what possessed me.
Like any American eighth-grader, life was tumultuous and full of unidentifiable despair. I had recently grown a respectable patch of pubes. The times, as they say, were strange. So I want to be clear: I didn’t spit on the bus because I was a run-of-the-mill angsty tween, the damned bus driver drove me to this tiny act of base retaliation.
Mrs. B was our bus driver for two years. Two long years of school days bookended by frustration and fear. “Mrs. B” is not an editorial abbreviation or a pseudonym, it was her self-chosen moniker. She was of Italian decent, apparently from up North, and assumed our ignorant Southern minds couldn’t grasp ethnic surnames more troublesome than say, Jenkins, Brown, or Williams. She was saving our clumsy tongues the trouble. Her geographic discontent was obvious. Like most new northern transplants in Atlanta, she hadn’t yet realized a significant chunk of our metro-county demographic was largely Yankee. She didn’t know my family had moved to Atlanta via Chicago and we were Slavic; there was no chance her last name was harder to pronounce than some of our family from Cleveland (try on “Znidarcic,” if you want the teacher to skip over you during roll call). She figured “Mrs. B” was easier than explaining the pronunciation of her Italian name to a bunch of middle-schoolers. These are the modern, peculiar, inter-American tensions propagated by an influx of Yankees to the formerly provincial South. I wasn’t experienced enough to recognize it then, I see it everywhere now.
As implied before, I was a good kid. Always was and always will be, even when I’m screaming and naked and setting things on fire. Even if my actions don’t jive with my intentions, I’ll always be a good kid inside*, that’s my nature. But no matter how good I was, no matter how fucking Golden, there was always one teacher or authority figure with whom I seemed to be in conflict each year. Which supports my thesis of me being a decent person, or kid, anyway–it was never more than one per school year. In the third grade it was Mrs. Swenson. In the ninth it was Ms. Bean. Several others have been forgotten. Other than being chatty I never posed a behavior problem in class (things haven’t changed). More importantly, I was adored by the majority. For some statistical or fateful reason there was always one in the group immune to my natural charms (which were only used for good, never to deceive).
So I’ve justified spitting on the bus. I recognize it as loathsome, despicable behavior, but I feel no shame. How could she be so out of touch to consider me a troublemaker? Didn’t she know my teachers? They adored me. Adored me in a legitimate way, nothing duplicitous about it. So, after getting dressed down for some begrudging nonsense, after feeling like she had been picking on me with some hidden personal agenda, I shrugged and stepped off the bus, walked to the rear right side, and hocked a huge blob of phlegm–aiming for, but missing, the “0” in “306,” our bus’s number stenciled in large black type against National School Bus Glossy Yellow. It landed to the left of the ‘3’. She had pulled the doors closed and was pulling away as I made my gesture. At the time I was sure her impish ears heard the wet smack of spit on metal, but now I realize she saw me in the mirror. The red lights had already stopped flashing and the folding stop sign lay flat against the bus, but she hit the brakes and brought the rest of the kids smashing into the backs of the vinyl-wrapped benches. I had already skedaddled a good 50-yards or so towards home. You should have seen her, I don’t think I’ve ever had a curse called down on me like this–she didn’t say anything cruel or vulgar, but her demeanor chilled me from 50-yards out. She leapt sidelong off her seat and skipped all three steps to the asphalt, landing squarely on both feet and craning her neck toward my lunger. Once she’d confirmed my fluids had stained her bus, she turned toward me with a canines-visible sneer, bow-legged and hunching, with a waggling pointing finger, “I’m gonna report you to the Principal’s Office!” Then she wrapped her pointed reptilian tail around herself, retracted fang and claw, and slouched back up the stairs to the driver’s seat. I’d recently seen The Godfather for the first time, so now I was convinced she was Sicilian. I had never seen a school bus lay rubber on asphalt until that day, and I haven’t seen it happen again. The bus snorted off like an angry dog, belching plumes of black exhaust.
As an exercise in good faith, the quote is accurate. A bit of harmless embellishment would make it scarier. But I assure you, as I hope some of you remember, that being reported to the principal’s office was a bone-quaking threat in 1990. This was pre-OJ, back when kids still got in trouble for misbehaving; today I could have flippantly called after her to “prove it” or get a DNA test. Eyewitness accounts were deemed reliable back then and Mrs. B. had about thirty kids she could torture into ratting. Spitting on the twinkie is one of very few We’re-Not-Gonna-Take-It-moments I had in my academic career. I cherish those moments. I have spent the majority of my life Taking it, but baby, deep down I’m a Giver.
So I was called in Monday morning after the incident; I had to endure her nefarious glances in my direction until we got to school. I felt sick, like I did every school day morning. My mother worked in the copy room while I was in eighth-grade, before she went back to teaching full-time. Everyone in the office knew me personally from all the time I spent kicking around waiting for a ride, eating stale birthday cake, or sneaking into the clean administrative restrooms. More than a few sidelong glances were cast my way that morning, but only Mrs. Corley, our front office receptionist, asked me what was going on. She was always very sweet and motherly to me, despite her usual icy demeanor toward those “other” kids. I was one of the gang. I told her. She snickered and went back to whatever task that was busying her on her desk. I was going to be a juicy little story for the office staff at lunch time.
Dr. Valerie Clark, our Principal, had a spectacular office compared to any other I’d seen in our school. It was several cuts above the teachers’ lounge; my first realization of the bureaucratic hierarchical refinements of the Georgia Public School System. I remember a large American flag and a picture of the George H.W. Bush, although he was just plain George Bush back then. Dr. Clark knew me personally, of course. She was exceptionally professional, her no-nonsense approach with a touch of mother’s- love was well-regarded. I only got the no-nonsense side that morning, but we both knew she was doing her job, and I’ll always respect her for that. After a brief scolding, I was sentenced to cleaning and sweeping Mrs. B.’s bus each morning after arriving at school for three weeks. My sweeping time was usually spent goofing off in home room, no real agenda other than taking attendance. Nothing I couldn’t handle. The sweeping was no big deal, but spending an extra ten minutes alone with Mrs. B. every morning didn’t exactly calm my ever-present school-anxiety.
My parents punished me too, of course. I could count on my parents to be a little tougher on me than the school, and I’m grateful for that now. My parents were proud of me in a way they could never admit, the parenting manual doesn’t come with a section for handling pride in your son’s expectorations. They’d heard of the infamous Mrs. B., had enough accounts from teachers over the years to know I was good in school, so they knew the bus driver was the problem, not me. And for your sake I wish I could remember what she did to spark such a tiny-but-disgusting rebellion on my part. It doesn’t matter though. Sometimes, no matter how good you are, there will always be subjective opinions that simply can’t be overridden, they just have to be dealt with.
If you’re one of the good kids, stay sharp, the world is littered with prejudiced assholes just waiting to make you look bad. Be confident. Be aware. And do not take the tiniest bit of shit, not for a second, the world needs people like you. When unruly authority has you cornered, if you suspect or observe tyranny at any turn, do yourself and the rest of us a favor: take a deep breath, clear your lungs, and blast the enemy with something they’ll never forget.
* Ok, ok, I know the old saying “The Path to Hell is lined with good intentions.” I’m aware of the consequences of my actions, thanks. I know the difference between thinking right and doing right, so please for the sake of argument understand that I toed the line 99% of the time in school and elsewhere before I began to understand that adults aren’t any smarter than children, just older.
“By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising……kill yourself….Seriously, if you are, do. No, really, there is no rationalization for what you do. There’s no joke coming. You are the ruiner of all things good. Seriously. You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with vile garbage, you are fucked and you’re fucking us, kill yourself, it’s the only way to save your soul, please. There’s still no joke coming.”
-The late, great, Bill Hicks.
When summer ends I get anxious about the impending holiday season. I don’t know exactly when I started hating the holidays–maybe when I realized so much in my modern life is contrived. Christmas is the Super Bowl of Hustles. “The Holidays” as we call them now, are sterilized ideals co-opted by money-making schemes to bolster revenues. The capitalism I’m all for, hooray for fourth quarter blockbuster earnings–but don’t expect me to buy it. And I don’t just mean “buy it” literally. I won’t buy the hollow promise of your message or idea either. Quit hustlin’ me. Do you know who the biggest hustler of all is? Santa.
I love the good parts of the holiday season, the real parts: Celebration, vacation, family, giving thanks, communing with loved ones. But these are the times the advertisers really ramp up the game. Somewhere along the line our priorities were skewed and we started to think we had to buy stuff to make these sacred times worthwhile. And I, unfortunately, am not an exception. Despite having had my consumerism-epiphany, I still find myself trudging around a mall on December 22 or so, stuffing bags full of products that I pray will be well received by my family and friends.
The Hustle has been around me my whole life–it’s around everyone all the time. It’s constant. Moments are clarity are a rare; if you’re born into a society where everyone’s getting hustled all the time, it seems normal. Be it a panhandler or a fading advertisement peeling off concrete, just about everything you see and hear while walking down the street in a modern city is a hustle. And it feels so good to swipe your debit card and believe that you’re “working” to make your life better. Until you realize you just spent your hard-earned currency on worthless junk. The smartest hustles don’t even let on that they’re hustling you, the sophistication has come so far that we’ll spend our money because we think we need something that’s being suggested to us. Key word, suggestion. You don’t need that shit, it was just a suggestion! But even then we’ll buy whatever is being sold, and we’ll congratulate ourselves for fulfilling a need, like we’d gone out and hunted and killed an animal for food, dragging back whatever “necessity” we’ve just bought for our family. The huge irony is, of course, that whomever buys the product, regardless of need, is actually the prey, not the predator. The consumer always gets hooked and reeled in by the scheme.
Now, let me reiterate, I’m not bagging on capitalism, I’m a firm believer in “bottom-up” economic policy. But I’m under no illusions, there are problems inherent in all systems, and lately the problems seem to be more flagrant than usual. Maybe it seems flagrant because there are more people on the planet these days….it’s easier to be observant of your fellow man when your crushed up against him. Alexis de Toqueville saw all this coming: the inherent problems of a society dominated by popular opinion (if you haven’t read Toqueville, you should, some of the smartest writing on problems the United States and other democracies inherently face). You can’t take a quiet shit these days without a populist uprising about the kind of toilet paper you’re using. But then again, I’m a father of a two-year-old, quiet shits are a vague memory at best, maybe I’m being cynical. Popularity doesn’t equal “right.” And you can debate morality all day long, but you’ll never come to a philosophic conclusion where majority rule substantiates any moral decision (although it happens all the time).
Which brings me to the groundbreaking television drama Mad Men. I watch more TV than I should, but only rarely does a show come along that I find edifying (NatGeo documentaries typically notwithstanding). The entire series takes place during the early 1960s, or as I like to call it “When Shit got Weird in America.” Things were different in the early 1960s–apparently you could drink and smoke all day at work and tell your secretary (not your Administrative Assistant, mind you) that you overdid it at lunch and to hold your calls because you’ll be taking a nap until 4 p.m. World War 2 and The Korean War were fresh memories, and the country was enjoying its peacetime, Vietnam wasn’t even on the news yet. There were only a couple channels on TV, and people still read newspapers every morning. Suburbia was a fresh, welcomed idea. The show makes it seem, and I suspect it’s true, that advertisers on Madison Avenue are some of the most powerful, savvy people on the planet. They don’t actually produce anything, nothing tangible or empirical, but they’re more influential than the Ministry of Propaganda from 1984. This was a time in our country’s history that was ripe for the exploitation of our citizens’ new wealth, the infantile stage of what we now call “consumer culture.” We weren’t in an economic depression, we had disposable income, and no one was being shipped off to war. Spend plebeians, spend.
Modern advertising has shaped American culture with a reckoning force greater than politics. Strangely, whether they realized it or not, politicians and advertisers were working hand-in-hand to change the psychological landscape of the American frontier. In a country that favors capitalism and free markets instead of authoritarian rule, The Ministry of Propaganda becomes Sterling-Cooper. Advertisers have convinced us that money can buy love, happiness, freedom, control, adventure, or security. None of these things can be purchased with fiat currency, only products can. For some reason we keep going back to the store subliminally expecting to buy happiness, and all the shelves are full, we just can’t seem to find where they stock all the happiness and love. And when we get home and look at the receipt, after we’ve opened our shiny new product and we’re wondering what to do with all the packaging, we wonder why we feel so dissatisfied. This product was supposed to make me feel better, right? That’s what we were lead to believe, but it turns out we bought into and idea instead of the product itself. Now we’re the proud owners of something with very little actual function, but might earn us the slightest piece of status in the world of contrivance (again, created by the advertiser). If you’ve ever felt this way, you got hustled, baby.
So where can you buy some happiness around here? Is it expensive?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo ….some Bill Hicks for your viewing pleasure.
Humans are the only creatures with enough conscious awareness to comprehend our own demise while simultaneously worrying about it. Doomsday prophecies have been around (most likely) since the first humans realized individual life was temporary.
Everything comes to an end. Everything. Earth will come to an end. In a trillion years or so, our sun will eventually become a shining diamond in the galaxy no longer producing solar fusion, then it will cool to the ambient temperature of the rest of space, a few degrees above absolute zero, enabling it to relax and hang out with all the other old space chunks. A trillion years is a long grind, the sun deserves a break.
But let’s not worry too much about the distant future, humanity in its current form will be long gone so there’s no sense in getting upset. We spend much more of our limited time indulging ourselves in apocalyptic scenarios we feel are imminent in our lifetimes. Is there real danger lurking around the bend or are we merely succumbing to predestined biological psychosis? Is our drive to survive culpable for the multitude of Armageddon scenarios that litter contemporary media? I’m not sure if it’s real or imaginary (there’s no way to tell), but I feel the quaking in my bones, too. We have a lot to worry about lately.
Before I get into the end-of-the-world concerns of the modern day, let’s look at a few bygone doomsday prophecies that came and went, if only to demonstrate our perpetual fascination with the End of Days. These fears have been around forever, but we’ve had the pleasure of watching them cycle continually over the past few decades thanks to modern media. What a bitch of a day-after it must have been for the convinced.
The list gets pretty long, but you might remember some or all of these:
- Pat Robertson 1982, Biblical Armageddon (He ran for president not long after, what an optimist!)
- Heaven’s Gate, 1997, Hale-Bop Comet apocalypse (They castrated themselves and committed suicide. Great follow-through!)
- Nostradamus, 1999 (No one really knows what he was talking about)
- Y2K (awesome parties)
- Giant Dinosaur-killer-style Meteor, constant updates (don’t go into Astronomy or watch the Science Channel)
- God’s Church Ministry, May 21, 2011. American Christian Radio Host Harold Camping (now revised to October 21, keep your fingers crossed!).
I can’t include 2012 because we’re not there yet. I don’t think 2012 will be the end of humanity, but I have an intuitive understanding of why popular culture has embraced this date as possible “end times.” I’ve read the books and watched the documentaries. Pick up Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012 The Return of Quetzlcoatl if you’re looking for a smart read that handles the idea on a broad spectrum. Or check it out if you’re into hallucinogens, either way it’s fun. I can’t predict whether or not the world will end soon, I’m just some guy, but it’s obvious the human race is feeling something on the unconscious level that scares us–we can’t identify it exactly but we can feel it.
Whatever your personal fear, the fuel for the current apocalypse craze comes from two intertwined sources: Over-Population and Peak Oil. We’ll come up with new ones when these play out:
Over-population is self-explanatory if you’re half-educated. Ever own a goldfish? How big was your fish bowl, a gallon or two maybe? How many fish did you have in there, one, two, three? Maybe a couple big ones and a little school of tiny ones, maybe an algae-eater even? Did you ever get fish-crazy and go to the pet store and buy a bunch of fish and try to cram them in the little fish bowl? How many did you get in there? Another dozen, maybe 50? Everything fell apart, right, and you had to flush a bunch of rotting, reeking, tiny fish down the toilet in the hall bathroom no matter how many flakes you fed them? This is a terrible ecological analogy, but you get the idea. Finite space cannot support infinite exponential growth. There are nearly 7 billion humans on the planet now, and the population has more than doubled since 1960. The fish bowl is getting really crowded and a lot of us are nervously wondering when the big flush is coming.
Peak Oil isn’t a new idea, it’s been around since the fifties, but it’s getting a lot of press lately. I’m going to do my best to summarize it succinctly, do your own research if you’ve never heard of it (watch The Collapse, an interview with Michael C. Ruppert if you’re in a particularly pessimistic mood and want a fear-inducing intro course). “Peak Oil” refers to the point in time when global petroleum extraction hits its all-time high, never to be reached again. Reputable scholars think we’ve hit the peak already, but there’s significant debate about whether we’ve begun our decline in production. Either way it makes intuitive sense to the oil-consuming public–we’re beginning to wonder what will happen as our demand for petroleum continues to increase while the supply dwindles. The intuitive fear is greater than the fear of high prices at the pump; oil has been the keystone resource for global industry for more than a century. Consider the middle-class population boom in India and China, all of them wanting shiny new internal-combustible powered automobiles, and you’ll start to feel the pinpricks of fear. It’s a little like having only one glass of water for ten people. Things are going to change.
And change, though constant, is scary. None of us can predict exactly what will happen, Nostradamus could supposedly see the future and he missed the mark more than a few times. People are starting to adapt now: the local food movement, an increase in cyclists, electric cars, wind and solar energy harvesting, home vegetable gardens, modern homesteading/getting off-grid, many of these trends are a direct result of the coming adjustment to the status quo.
But not everyone thinks ahead and plans accordingly, it’s not easy to prepare for the unknown. Hence the doomsday crowd. It’s much easier to be afraid than to think, even if thinking gives you horrifying information. And although educated scholars are out there doing their best to disseminate mountains of information, the average guy on the street can feel what’s going on easier than he can rationalize it. Our fear is so rampant we see phrases like “if you’re not paranoid, you’re not paying attention,” surfacing over and over again, each time it sounds a little more like good advice. Always more fear mongering. If you’re afraid you’re easily ruled.
Which is where our insatiable hunger for zombie-culture comes in. World War Z, The Walking Dead, 28-Days Later, are all entertainment vehicles preying on our subconscious fear of civilized society drastically changing or coming to an end. Hundreds of zombie films were made in 2010, our love for the Undead has increased sharply in the past few years; the genre is ubiquitous now. Also, zombie-entertainment conveniently combines our apocalyptic fears with other subconscious desires, like sadism. Sadist or not, anyone who’s endured gridlock on an interstate has fantasized about ruthlessly beating a fellow idiot commuter (while smiling). This subdued rage can be taken out on the Undead guilt-free. They look human, but they’re not, so go ahead and take a bat to their skull, it’s for the greater good. Zombie films are dress rehearsal for end-of-the-world scenarios, and we can’t get enough.
With a little luck the change won’t be so bad. I’ve dabbled in Anarchism, and even a little Nihilism on my more morose days, but I have an optimistic outlook for our inevitably “different” future. Things will change, humans will adapt, life will go on. People will die, people will live, and whatever the circumstances we’ll carve out a new niche for ourselves (probably a much smaller niche). A lot of us will have to learn a new set of skills, and the pencil-pushers will have to rely heavily on those with the skills necessary for survival. So don’t waste any more precious energy worrying about what the doomsdayers say, they’re only scared, like the rest of us. Who knows? The Big Change might come tomorrow, or it might not come for generations, but we all feel something coming, which means something probably is. Be prepared.
In case of rapture, I’ll be in the shed with a bottle of good bourbon. Don’t bother me unless the music gets too loud, in which case you’re welcome to join me or fuck off.
I used to dream of piloting a spaceship. I still do. Wait, that’s not entirely correct–I dream of captaining a spaceship. The pilot just drives, I want to be in charge. I used to think it was only a childish dream, but I realized I already own a spaceship. I have a vessel, christened with a name, that carries me around this universe as well as it’s able. And I don’t really own it either, I didn’t even have to sign a lease, it was a gift, but I will have to give it back. It doesn’t move as quickly as a spaceship does, but it’s locomotive just the same. The best part is I don’t have to learn many new controls, I have the operations manual pretty well memorized, although there is still room for improvisation and new tricks. Its preferred fuel is spicy chicken burritos with extra guacamole, which can sometimes be hard to find, but it can burn pretty much anything just like my backpacking stove. In a way I have what I always wanted.
Our thinking surrounding travel and exploration hasn’t changed much since we first settled The Crescent, (by “Our” I mean us dirty humans). We’ve continually branched out in multiple directions, spiraling from our homelands, settling again and creating a new epicenters for a new set of spirals and settlements. It’s an instinctual drive that keeps me on the search for new space vessels. If I never get one I’ll be fine with the limitations of this model, but the drive to explore, to see farther and discover something yet unseen, keeps me in the market for bigger, faster, more impressive models. And I don’t particularly understand the drive. I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a drive to “nest” or be satisfied with a little inertia. Alas nature has decreed otherwise. I am human, and until I become something different entirely, I will always have the drive to explore just as I have a drive to eat. But it’s not exactly like feeding oneself with food, is it? The drive to explore has come in pretty handy, but it is not necessary. In terms of tangible existence, I could eat, stay put, and survive until death. Exploration doesn’t sustain me physically. Not to say living in a hole and feeding myself until death is a viable option, but theoretically it’s possible. A life without exploration of one’s surroundings and beyond won’t lead to death. Not eating will kill you. So, in this modern life how do we discern the difference between “drive” and “indulgence?”
But why the hell am I worrying about indulging myself? Who cares? I am not a selfish man. And I can’t help but compare myself to the quaking masses of over-indulgers surrounding me; they’re quaffing from the font of life with wild abandon and I’m just trying to find a comfortable space.
I’ve never known exactly what to do with my life, and I don’t believe I’ll ever figure it out. I believe everyone else feels the same way– some catch a wave, others eternally wait for the perfect set…which never comes. I would rather catch a million less-than-perfect waves and have spent my life surfing, than to wait a lifetime in order to catch one perfect wave. Or is it a zero-sum equation? Does catching the perfect wave soften the pain of waiting all that time? I personally find all the waiting painful, but I know it doesn’t have to be. There are no perfect waves, just as there are no perfect people. Much better to ride every wave you can while you have time, rather than watch them peel by as you sit and spectate. I’m not advocating riding every person you meet, but take it as you will. This personal philosophy is why I’ve never had much time for televised sports. Not that I’m constantly out playing sports myself, but when I’m watching a game on TV I feel a little bit like I do when I’m on a beach watching the waves break and peel back into the surf, wanting to rush into them and make something happen. All the spectating makes me anxious.
I haven’t stopped obsessing about the rat race, which is why I’m given to surfing analogies. To me surfing represents personal freedom and unity with the power of the universe. Bank accounts and advanced degrees become meaningless while riding a wave. I’m losing my desire for material things. I still have desires, but my desires center a bit more around experience these days than actual physical “wants.” I don’t want a Ferrari like I used to. I’d still love to drive a Ferrari, but I don’t covet luxury goods the way I did much earlier in my life. I’m more interested in moments of peace, enjoyment, quiet contentment, sunshine, time with loved ones, all that sap. It’s mostly because I’m tired. I don’t think I have the energy to truly enjoy a Ferrari anymore. Not that I can’t get the energy back, but I feel like I need a space very different from the one I currently occupy, inner space and perspective notwithstanding. I would prefer a life lived outside, with a cozy little space, no mortgage or car payment, no utility bills or credit cards. Just dirt, sun, fresh air, and time to enjoy all three. A natural life is hard to come by in the suburbs, no matter how often you cut the grass.
Eckhart Tolle labels a person like me a contemplative (many Hyperchristians consider Tolle a heretic and usurper of Christian dogma, but he’s alright by me). He said there are a good handful of these types in the world, often they seek out alternative living situations or start small businesses in order to afford themselves a degree of independence from the stresses of our modern world. I am definitely one of these people, but I’ve found myself living a life that feels incongruous with my spirit. And I still don’t know how to match them up. I don’t want to be overly wistful, or worse, corny, but I can’t escape the feelings and the only way to figure it out is to get it written down.
My current spaceship has a few years and many miles on it now, we’ve had a good run–with a little maintenance it should be good for countless voyages. I just have to make sure the captain stays sane.
We’re all trying so hard, aren’t we? Are we getting anywhere? Are we doomed to float aimlessly in the currents of the cosmos? There are so many of us now; it used to be you didn’t have to do much to make a mark, but now you’ve got to get in the big line. Or create a whole new ladder to climb. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, whatever that means. Different, rebellious, outside-the-box, open road, all that shit. The funny thing is, I turned thirty and realized the concept is much broader, and there’s no welcome mat for aspiring artists. Artists are a constant contingency in any population, in some eras they flourish, in others they suffocate. So much of the modern art culture is a hoax, it’s not easy to find the people intent on making a difference with their ideas. Hipsters, by definition, are horribly contrived. That’s funny because art should be the opposite of contrivance, not that every hipster considers themselves an artist. I doubt they even consider themselves hipsters. Although, if you’re wearing dark-framed glasses with a sarong and a hard hat, you probably should. Pardon the digression, like most of my essays I have a hard time getting to the point in the first paragraph, so here comes the second:
Art should break barriers, shatter convention, illuminate, rejuvenate, and inform the viewer/listener of something beyond their typical consciousness. Ironically, art is being mass-produced and co-opted at an alarming rate. Perhaps not so alarming considering our relatively gargantuan population compared to, well… before. But commercial art is still art. Warhol was right. People who didn’t understand him immediately thought he was just reproducing commercial logos and getting rich from something trendy. Most people didn’t understand the depth of his thesis, it wasn’t really about getting rich or doing something easy. It was about communicating an idea, a prophesy some devotees might call it, that can’t be communicated through language. Now that I see the previous sentence in writing, I believe that’s the best definition I can give: Art is communication without words or conventional physical expression. We can write articles and essays about art’s message, or it’s perceived meaning, but we’ll never be able to communicate as effectively as the piece of art itself. And you won’t understand unless you can step outside the parameters of conventional communication. You have to feel it.
Rock ‘n Roll music has been a constant tide of art in postmodern society. Let me be clear about “Rock’n Roll:” I’m not merely talking about the legacy of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, et. al. I’m not talking strictly about top-40 radio, although I reluctantly include it in Rock’s definition. I mean all music that speaks to either crowds or individuals, that transcends typical communication. This includes Hip-Hop, Classical, Punk, Bluegrass, Jazz, Country, Spirituals, Funk, Melodic Death Metal, anything that comes from the gut, all of it. The stuff that makes your balls tingle (ladies insert appropriate analogy here). Even when you don’t understand the message immediately, your intuition says “this means something.” It’s the music that has to be made, because of the stirring in the artist’s creative innards. What I’m talking about is beyond labeling, “Rock” is the closest word I have to be inclusive of everything, so that’s what I’m using.
I saw an interesting interview with Paul Stanley recently on VH1C (I said earlier I was over thirty, right?). Now, Paul didn’t sound like the smartest dude in the world, and I doubt anyone other than his groupies consider him an intellectual, but I think he truly understands what Rock is all about. It’s about 80,000+ people worshipping at the altar of something greater than themselves–coming together with a crushing mass of other human beings to enjoy something simultaneously, to live in the moment–not only individually but en masse. Not just to enjoy music, but to have an experience while having said experience immediately validated by thousands of your peers. It is religious, a sacred experience–the kind of thing that’s not easy to describe, but very human to feel. Jesus was rock’n’roll. Evangelical preachers more so, although I think they’re more the top-40 type–they might make you wiggle a bit in your seat, but there’s a more powerful commercial motive behind their art. In a postmodern world where our churches have failed to keep us interested, occasionally violated us, in a generally dubious society at large where everything can be questioned, we all know deep down that there is something; something bigger than ourselves, something connecting us, something that can’t be communicated through language. It happens while riding in the car all the time, but the meaning comes through powerfully in a coliseum.
When a band takes the stage, and we all prostrate ourselves at their feet, dancing, jumping up and down, pumping our fists in the air, we are all swimming in the realization that we are One (whether we realize it consciously or not). I am you and you are me. “They” don’t exist, it’s merely “Us.” Right here and right now. Getting our rocks off together. Despite selling billions of dollars worth of merchandise and selling out innumerable stadiums worldwide, KISS takes a lot of shit from “smart” people. Mostly because they’re unashamed of being commercial. And being commercial somehow has invalidated their religion, not unlike the Catholic Church. Paul knows he’s just as much a preacher as he is a rock star, and thank God he does. Where do you think the term Rock-God comes from? Rock’n’Roll has always been intuitive proof that all life is connected. Every time I’ve been in a stadium or large theater, toward the end of a good show, the house lights come on and reveal the squirming mass of humanity that’s been loudly celebrating and worshiping in the darkness. Every time I’ve witnessed this, all I can think of is schools of jellyfish. Those gelatinous, vaguely flesh-toned invertebrates gently propelling themselves through the tides while pulsing, pulsing, pulsing, constantly brushing up against their neighbor, riding the currents while maintaining a loose but imperative connection with the rest of their like-minded group. I’ve been to a lot of great shows, but I’m still looking for my particular group of jellyfish.
“I had never dreamed Dean would become a mystic.” – Jack Kerouac, On The Road
I think things started going downhill for me after I read that line. It’s the best I can do to remember an exact moment, but reading that particular line in On The Road might just be my ground zero. Everything afterwards changed, took a new course. I read the book first in high school, and honestly didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. I was fifteen and desperately trying to find and read “cool” books–all the books you know your average public school English teacher loves but isn’t allowed to teach. The stuff they read in their free time. Books with lots of sex and cussing. Anything subversive, although I had no idea what “subversive” meant as a fourteen-year-old. I barely had a grasp on the mainstream so there wasn’t much to feel subversive towards. The Beats are where most of us start, the cultural watershed moments of the pre-sixties revolutions. The anti-suburbanites. They seemed free, poetic, and masculine in a way that challenged conventional masculinity. They seemed like Americans with a hefty dash of American Indian. Burroughs and Ginsberg were queer, and supposedly the glue holding the three founding Beats together was a quiet and competitive lusting over Kerouac. Not exactly the quintessential macho American males of the 1940s.
I’m not trying to give a synopsis of Beat culture, you can do that on your own time, and if you’re anything like me you’ll get it all squeezed in soon enough and move on to other things, reflecting on them periodically as a modern genesis for American literature that colors outside the lines. There are more intelligent people out there breaking them down into little, analyzable, pieces. I’m merely trying to trace back my own weirdness, I’ve often wondered when it all started, and I’m pretty sure it was with that line. I’ve read thousands of books since, but that one line remains engraved in my memory. I remember reading the book in my bed at home, 40-watt bulb glaring on the page as I lay in rapture with what I was certain was going to be a life-changing event. Everyone cool had read this book, and I was about to be initiated. After finishing the book I remember not feeling any different. Some dudes on a road trip? Big deal I thought. I was only fifteen but had had enough angsty teenage experience to avoid being overly impressed. Despite my internal whatevers I had never shacked up with a migrant worker in California, or driven into Mexico, or New York, or Colorado. My boundaries were pretty much Gwinnett County. But I was infatuated with the idea that Dean Moriarty was a mystic. What exactly was a mystic? And how did he get to be one? Over the years I’ve re-read the book a few times, and honestly my memory doesn’t seem to hang on to it the way it does with other literature. I read it, enjoy it in the moment, put it down, and forget it. Only the major details and maybe a few minor ones stick out. Everything else is kind of a blurry back-splash, like watching the world go by through a car window.
As a teenager I never spent much time figuring out what a mystic was. At that point in my life I think I considered the Mystics in The Dark Crystal, the old, dwarfy, meditating ape-lizards that raised the boy-gelfling-hero. I believe they were basically Jim Henson’s take on Buddhist monks of some sort: the good guys, the earth bound aescetics in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. And honestly, that’s about as sincere an image as was necessary. Moriarity didn’t seem anything like a monk. But there are similarities if you compare the two: unconventional, life-loving, spiritual, nomadic. A good enough comparison for me at the time. Retrospectively, much of my adult life has been spent casually researching different “spiritual” teachers. No flakes please!
It was more the idea that Mystics existed, or exist, somewhere in the world that affected me. Where were they? Certainly nowhere near my middle-class subdivision, at least not that I could see. Bringing this kind of stuff up only got a room full of rolling eyes from the adults I knew. They knew I’d eventually grow up and get a job and stop thinking about all this fantastic garbage. But I haven’t. Not for a second. I’ve met a lot of quacks, a true Mystic doesn’t advertise conventionally. It wasn’t until I was much older that I had any idea what Kerouac was talking about. Dean wasn’t a monk, or a messiah, or a religious anything; he was intoxicated on life. And many, many other substances certainly, most notably benzedrine, which ultimately caused the real-life Moriarty, Neal Cassady, to die at forty-two while wandering on railroad tracks in Mexico. But drugs are not the issue here, they’re merely a small component of the larger idea. Dean represented freedom, and the idea of individual liberty and the American road were forever merged. The idea existed before, but popular (maybe “underground” would be more appropriate, but it’s mainstream now, right?) culture now had an accessible anti-hero based on a real person. All the names were changed in the book, and it was technically a work of fiction, but it was close enough to reality that it drastically affected the consciousness of the reading public.
So here was this dude, just this regular guy who was broke, unethical, jobless, and couldn’t sit still. “Bum” comes to mind, but instead he’s labeled “mystic” by a successful writer. He knew something, had something figured out, or maybe he just didn’t care. And contemplating this throughout the course of my life has caused me a lot of heartache. Never quite being able to figure out which circle I’m supposed to dance in. One foot in, one foot out, trying to force a rythym between the two and failing miserably. Knowing there are mystics out there but never being able to find them. Or be them. Maybe the mystic is in me. It’s certainly in there somewhere, but he’s all chained up and I lost the key. So how do I release him?
I went to the chiropractor this morning for the pain in my neck, shoulder, and lower back. I’ve been dealing with Psoriatic Arthritis, a.k.a. “Phil Mickelson’s Disease,” and it’s really becoming a pain in my ass, sometimes literally. But we all suffer, so I’m looking for healthy ways to alleviate it. The Buddha says all suffering, or dukkha, stems from desire. Which is bullshit. Big fan of the Buddha, naturally, but I think something is lost in the interpretation. Translated from Sanskrit, dukkha means something more like “unfulfillment,” or “disquietude,” the incessant wanting that Henderson struggled with: “My heart was saying again ‘I want I want I want.’’’ So what about the suffering that stems from pain? This is a very natural form of suffering, not brought about by the disharmonious desires of the ego (maybe). What is the difference, then, between physical suffering and emotional suffering? Perhaps I’m missing the link, I know I get depressed because of physical pain, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m in pain because I’m depressed, or ‘suffering’ emotionally. If I take care of my spine and my heart (both literally and figuratively), I should be able to alleviate a lot of my physical problems.
But this isn’t a philosophical or religious argument, I want to talk about chiropractors. I’ve been to six separate clinics, and I’m starting to figure out their game. The practice has been around for about one hundred years, and chiropractors have taken a lot of shit over the last century, mostly from the medical community at large. Chiropractic is a beneficial form of therapy, but chiropractors are not doctors, despite their self-appointed titles and initials before and after their names. I think the whole industry would benefit greatly if the competition with accredited AMA doctors ceased. My experience with each of my six chiropractors has seemed relatively standardized, there were few differences or exceptions between my treatments. Each clinic was set up like any other clinic I’ve ever visited. A spartan reception area with crappy magazines, the receptionists wearing scrubs (for reasons I’ve never gathered), the ubiquitous copying of drivers’ licenses and insurance cards, and six or eight stark exam rooms peppered with a few yellowed and peeling medical posters outlining the spinal system, etc. At first glance it looks like any other doctors office, but again, chiropractors aren’t really doctors. There are no chiropractic surgeries or pharmaceutical prescriptions. In each clinic, respectively, x-rays were taken, I received an electric stim treatment (used in hospitals and physical therapy clinics everywhere), a spinal adjustment (the delicious cracking (they don’t like the term “cracking,” but that’s exactly what it sounds like) of the spine and joints, which each of my chiropractors performed uniformly, and brief therapy in the form of light exercise, stretching, etc. Then you go home and listen to your neck crackle like Pop Rocks for a week until your next scheduled session.
At first I was skeptical about the rehabilitation schedule; anyone in business understands the benefits of convincing clients they have to come in bi-weekly for thirteen weeks. After enjoying the benefits of chiropractic I’m less skeptical about the scheduling–if I haven’t been in a long time I’ll need a few extra visits to get me back in shape, then I’ll only come every few weeks for a tune-up, which is similar to any other kind of physical therapy or exercise. Despite my opinion that they’re not really doctors (an opinion shared by the American Medical Association) I find chiropractors to be valuable, and they provide services rarely found in the traditional American medical community. Every orthopedist I’ve seen ultimately recommends surgery, after a three-minute exam (I’ve been to seven or more). Chiropractors, unlike the majority of our western doctors, focus on preventative medicine rather than cutting you open when things have gone too far. Which is refreshing. I don’t want to be myopic, there are legions of genius doctors and surgeons in our country, but medical care is a business here, and like most businesses, physicians are concerned with throughput time: finding the most expeditious route to take a sick person and make them well. In my experience the expeditious route has a way of taking precedence over fully conscientious care. We’re all trying to make a buck after all.
Chiropractors have created a lot of enemies and skeptics in their attempt to legitimize their occupation within the medical community. A great many of those enemies have advanced medical degrees. Chiropractors are highly educated physical therapists, and many of them can give you results you won’t get at a typical doctor, who will most likely prescribe you a bottle of pills (with serious side effects, manufactured by pharmaceutical companies who are more profit-minded than any rehabilitation service requesting your presence on a bi-weekly basis, pushed on the doc by sexy saleswomen in sultry business suits, armed with briefcases full of free samples) without actually looking at you and trying to figure out the problems with our mechanics. Which is what it all boils down to; if the frame is compromised all other systems will suffer, leading to systemic poor performance, just like an automobile (or anything with a skeleton for that matter, animated or otherwise).
We are now, if not always, amidst a cultural revolution. We used to look to ivory towers and authoritarian enclaves to validate our titles, but this reliance is fading. We’ve needed it, honestly, over the past few centuries, most of us were too ignorant or segregated to navigate the world of professionalism. The self-proclaimed authorities did what they could to regulate chaos, to standardize our ideas of what we considered “healthcare,” or any other profession for that matter. And they did a commendable job at it, but we’ve traveled far enough now past the need for more regulation and have arrived at a time where all the professionalism in the world can’t help all of us. Ironically, we’re going to have to look to our smaller, local groups for appropriate care, despite the enormous wealth of medical information at our fingertips. There used to be a village healer or medicine man in every social group, but we’ve done away with all that in favor of validated professionalism. It’s time to judge what we see in front of us and stop relying on higher authorities to tell us what’s best. Chiropractic eases suffering, the physical form of dukkha, and that has incredible merit.
In a time when our conventions are being challenged on every front, the chiropractors need to realize their unique place in the medical community and and make it their own. They don’t have to dress like a doc, their reception area certainly doesn’t have to be uniformly bland like every medical waiting room I’ve ever been in, their exam rooms don’t need all the medical accoutrements, and they don’t need to put “Dr.” in front of their names, which is misleading and a little bit sad once you figure out why it’s there. Doctors’ offices are boring at best, scary at worst, so why would anyone outside the medical establishment want to emulate them? I go to the chiropractor to feel better, hopefully as a preemptive measure against visiting a traditional hospital. The poor bastards are so hung up on convincing everyone they’re “real” doctors that they’ve completely missed the mark and created tension between themselves and the rest of the medical community. Their paychecks would look the same if they didn’t have the “Dr.” in front of their name, right? Heck, even massage therapists can file with health insurance companies now. And of the six or seven chiropractors I’ve visited, each of them have introduced themselves using the “Dr.” followed by their first name: “Hi, I’m Doctor Mike,” “Hi, I’m Doctor Lisa.” AMA accredited doctors don’t do that, it’s more of a kindergarten teacher thing (Hi, I’m Ms. Lisa! We’re going to have a wonderful year!). Medical doctors typically don’t say much of anything with social value, they’re too busy treating our diseases and forgetting that we’re human beings (Sorry all you fun, social docs with a good sense of humor, I know you’re out there and we appreciate you).
So drop the bullshit and just let me call you Mike, Dr. Mike, my lower back is killing me and I need you make it crack like a celery stalk.