My Hurricane Harvey Experience

I’m happy to say, we’re safe and dry in this household.  And by dry I mean both physically and spiritually.  This October will make 4 years of sobriety for me, and if this storm doesn’t make me drink, nothing will.

Like everyone else in Houston, I am in shock at how much water and flooding has occurred.  It’s hard to know when to take the weather predictions and the news seriously.  Every time it rains, they get all excited and tell you the world is ending.  Weather is the only subject they seem to be comfortable editorializing.  Everything else is more or less fact-based, but when it comes to weather, it’s opinions galore.  Locally, we have received about 40 inches of rain since last Thursday.  Saturday and Sunday night were the worst.  It was coming down in buckets, and my phone alerts were so frequent they became annoying.  During the tornado warning, with the wind whipping around outside, we actually thought we might get hit.  I got the storm shelter ready, put some dry clothes & a flashlight in there, a few other little things.  Thank God we didn’t need it.  Water got up over the curb, but that’s it.  Turns out our neighborhood has some really good drainage.  I’m about 30 feet above sea level here and outside any flood zones.  Turns out it really is all about location, location, location.  I could probably sell tomorrow for $200K as a flood-proof, hurricane-proof house.  We never even lost electricity.

My daughter’s house got about a foot of floodwater in it.  She’s here with us now, along with her family and pets.  It’s been a struggle feeding everyone and it’s a constant routine of cleaning, cooking, laundry, repeat, every day.  The chemical plant I work for is flooded as well.  I’ve been told to stay home until called in, which is good because my little BRZ wouldn’t make it that far anyway.

I pray to God for the rest of Houston.  This is an incredible disaster for the city.  I’m not one of those big tough guys that rescues people with his big truck and giant boat.  I’ve never been that guy.  God has given me the skillset and abilities to do just one thing, and that is to take care of my family.  It would be nice to be able to save people and get them to dry land, pick them up from rooftops in my big fan boat, but it never seems to work out for me.  And that’s OK.  We all have different roles to play, don’t we?  I’m the grandad.  I provide.

I doubt much of anyone is still reading my posts, but if you are, say a prayer for Houston, especially the poor.  My daughter’s situation is pretty common.  They basically don’t have a penny to their name, and have lost almost all of their possessions.  Their house may not be habittable, and it’s likely the car they left behind is totaled.  Without help, they’re in a world of hurt.  And theirs isn’t even the worst story.  At least they got out.  I would imagine a lot of people, they will find after the waters recede, did not.

God bless Houston and God bless Texas.

-Mark

What did you not do today?

Don’t beat yourself up over what you did not do today.  The things you didn’t do is infinite.  There is no way you can do all of them; it’s impossible.  Concentrate on your accomplishments.  You will get rewarded for your works, for the things you did, not the things that you didn’t do.  Think about it.  You didn’t give all your money to the poor.  You didn’t offer your body to be burned.  You didn’t clean the grout in the bathroom with a toothbrush, especially that little spot by the toilet where you have to get on your knees and stretch until your nose touches the bowl right next to the trash can and there’s always a spider’s web and a few dirty Q-tips.  The list is endless; no one can do everything.

You know what I didn’t do today?  I didn’t drink alcohol.  In fact, I haven’t had a drink for almost four years.  Maybe I didn’t finish painting the upstairs, and maybe the check engine light is still on, and maybe we don’t have lunch ready to cook yet and will probably eat junk food again, but damn it, what’s more important?  The fact that I’m sober, or the fact that the fucking walls don’t match the new couch?  Nobody is impressed with sobriety, or faithfulness, or any other type of tireless consistency.  People want to hear about your new (finished) home theater room, or the new recipe you mastered, or the new car you bought.  Maintenance isn’t sexy.  Everyone wants to hear about upgrades, but upgrades don’t pay the bills.

I refuse to beat myself up for the infinite number of things I didn’t do.  I’m not God.  I don’t have unlimited time, energy and money.  If God wants me to do something, He’ll give me the opportunity along with the will and ability to do so.  In the mean time, I’ll keep doing what He put me here to do: taking care of my family.  It may not be glamorous to replace a broken fence slat, drive the kids to the mall, change the oil or run the dishwasher, but it needs to be done.  When I get to Heaven, I want to hear, well done thou good and faithful servant.  And that’s what I am, a servant, not a CEO.  I’m doing my best to obey my lord, stay out of trouble and keep everyone safe, sheltered and fed.  It uses up all my time and energy, and if that’s all I get done, so be it.  The rest of that shit doesn’t matter.  It’s like dessert.  Cake is awesome, but eating sugar on an empty stomach can make you sick.

So what did you do today?  If you’re still married, employed and sober, you’re doing good.  Very good.  Well done, fellow servant.  Well done indeed.

-Mark

Just existing is enough

It’s enough to just exist.  It’s enough to watch a sunset, or sit by a lake, or close your eyes and listen to the wind in the trees.  It’s enough to watch children play at the park, to see the turtles swimming in the fountain, to gaze out at the stars.  God created a wonderful, beautiful world.  You don’t have to earn it.  You already have it.  It’s yours, all the fabulous beauty in the world, for you to behold and enjoy.  God gave you eyes to see His creation, and ears to hear the music of His nature.  It’s good; it’s very good.  And it’s OK to enjoy it.  How many times does God say to rest, trust, consider, watch – these are admonitions to slow down, calm down, stop working so hard.  Didn’t Jesus chide Martha for busting her ass in the kitchen instead of listening to Him?  It’s OK to relax.  You can work so hard that you miss all of it, and before you know it, you’re a bitter, aging  man like me.  The world was made for us, not us for the world.  The Sabbath day of rest was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  It’s important enough to make the top ten commandments.  Peace, not stress, is the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s OK to take breaks.  It’s OK to leave a project unfinished.  It’s OK to just be still and feel God’s presence.  It’s OK to just… exist…

-Mark

 

Strict rules create criminals

I am so sick of following the rules.  I pay my bills on time.  I tithe.  I go the speed limit.  I obey traffic laws.  I obey the rules at work.  I pay my taxes.  I do nothing intentionally wrong, and I still get in trouble.  Fear rules me.  I’m scared that someday, someone will find something that I did without permission or the proper government forms, and the Authorities will swoop down and take away everything that I’ve worked so hard for.

I hated rules in high school.  I was a good kid.  I was tied with about 6 or 7 other nerds for Valedictorian.  I never got in trouble.  I was never tardy.  I always had notes for any excused absences.  I always turned in my homework.  And when the pressure got to be too much, nobody was there with anything except a cold, formal rule book.  I guess that’s how you control 750 teenagers in a giant socialist jailhouse – by making rules.  I followed them, but when it got to be too much, instead of having someone who cared and took the time to talk to me, I was judged and forgotten.  That’s when I started smoking, taking drugs, failing my classes and basically giving a big Fuck You to The Establishment.

I’m about to have the same reaction again.  There are rules in my community, and they are strictly enforced.  I get notices in the mail every once in a while – as all the residents do – about fence slats that need to be replaced, trash cans that need to be moved out of public view, or bushes that need to be trimmed.  And never mind that my house looks better-kept than most of the other ones; it doesn’t matter, because there are rules, and the homeowners association has lawyers and can put a lien on your house if you don’t do what they say.  And they won’t come talk to you.  They’ll send you a nasty note in the mail, and file papers in court if you don’t comply.

So I’m at a point where I can either go on being the straight-A nerd, or I can join the freaks in the smoking area.  I am really, really tempted to do something illegal.  I really, really want to break every fucking law that I can get away with.  Or, hire the toughest, meanest lawyer I can find to bury the HOA with discovery requests, depositions, endless litigation, until I bankrupt those assholes.  Or, I’ll try to come up with the most annoying things I can possibly do to make life a living hell for everyone around me, until they beg me to stop or change their minds and treat people with respect, rather than quoting rules from afar like the little ninnies that they are…

There was one guy in the neighborhood that got complaints about his trash cans.  They were on the side of the house, where he had kept them for years, but they were in “public view” so he got nasty letters telling him to move them.  After two such letters, he relented and built a small fence to hide the trash cans.  Of course, he didn’t get a thank you note.  No; he got another nasty note saying he put up a fence without HOA approval.

Why is it that people have to apply the rules and laws blindly, without consideration or reasonableness?  I can’t put my finger on it; it’s impersonal, it’s picky, it’s petty.  Some people can sell drugs, prostitute, steal, and they get a slap on the wrist, while others who do something really minor get the book thrown at them.  It’s not fair.  It’s not friendly.  It’s not human.  It’s just a bunch of laws written by those in power to control the faceless masses.  And it’s wrong.

I guess I should say what’s worrying me.  I installed an air conditioner.  Not an ugly window unit, but a nice little mini-split system.  The only visible part is the condensing unit, which is sitting on a concrete pad right next to my big one.  This morning, I was washing my cars like I do every Sunday, and someone pulled up next to my driveway, stayed there for a little while, then drove off.  I know that was the HOA bitch out to make people miserable again.  I was right there.  She could have come out and said Hi.  She could have mentioned something six months ago when I emailed her about putting in a mini-split unit.  She could have said something several weeks ago before I finally got it all working.  But instead, she’s sending a formal complaint, quoting the rule I broke and demanding that I do something about it.  Mind you, I haven’t gotten any letter yet, but I know it’s coming.  Because someone found out that I did something on my own without getting permission first.  Oooh, I’m sooo bad.  I need to be thrown in jail.

If I am going to be treated like a criminal even though I do my best, then why not act like a criminal?  If they’re going to cite me for putting in an unauthorized air conditioner, why not cook meth in the garage?  Why not be the bad guy that they see me as?  It seems like so much more fun, and if I’m going to get in trouble anyway, who cares?

Strict rules make criminals.  I know.  I am one.

-Mark

Random thoughts

First of all, comments are welcome, but spam is not.  I currently have 637 comments waiting for approval and *maybe* one or two of them are legitimate.  The rest are trying to sell me Gucci bags, directing me to porn sites, or telling me “you have good site, much good info, but have trouble viewing on mobile, click here…” or some other such nonsense.  If I figure out how to disable comments all together, I will.  It’s just too much garbage to sift through.

Trump: Yes, I was excited when he got elected.  Yes, I thought (and still think) that he can change things for the better.  And yes, I am bitterly disappointed.  I suppose even Donald Trump can’t overcome the Washington bureaucracy with his bravado and confidence.  He’s learning that it takes more than a loud voice to make things happen.  It’s probably good, in a way.  That’s what prevents one man from being able to destroy everything, whether he’s a conservative or a liberal.  I do wish people would just stop fighting and agree on simple, simple stuff, like enforcing the law.  I mean, really.  We shouldn’t even have to discuss that.

Alcohol: Still sober! 🙂  Have other things going on in my life right now, and I am so glad that getting drunk is no longer a problem.  Right at three and a half years since my last drink, and no regrets.  Becoming sober was one of the most worthy efforts I ever expended.  Highly recommended to anyone who still thinks they can “handle it” or “it’s not so bad”.  It may not be.  But it will be, eventually, with few exceptions.  Almost everyone just gets worse & worse until it overwhelms their entire life.  Wish I was an exception, but I’m not; I’ve consumed my lifetime allowance of booze.  No more for me.  Ever.

Work: It’s Friday and I can barely stay in my seat.  How is it that other people can work 60, 70 hours, and I can barely manage to squeeze 40 out?  I mean, it’s a lot of my life spent in this little chair, in my corporate cubicle.  Every single week, it sucks 90% of my life out of me.  By Friday, I can barely stand any more of this torture.  I love my job, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job, but it’s a job.  I just can’t stand it after 8 hours.  I need a break.  I don’t want my life to consist only of hard work and sleep.  I don’t care how much they pay me, at the end of the week there just isn’t any more left to give.  I’m empty.

Sound: I’m very excited about my new home theater room!  We took our upstairs loft, which I walled in years ago to a separate room, cleaned it out and put in a big couch and a big TV.  I bought some vintage Bose 901 speakers along with a MiniDSP sound processor and QSC amplifier, and have now gotten it to where I think it sounds great.  There’s no surround sound, but oh my gosh, tons of tight bass, a huge “wall of sound”, the effect is really quite good.  I’ve been playing with the Room EQ Wizard and a Dayton USB microphone to get the sound right.  It has not been easy.  I found out a flat frequency response sounds terrible to me.  I always thought it would be perfect, but no: you have to EQ it flat, and then add a “room curve” (very gentle, wide EQ bands) to get it right.

Subaru: I passed inspection!  Despite the fact that I have installed an aftermarket supercharger, along with some supporting mods (injectors, tuning, fuel pump), they did an OBD scan and I’m good for another year.  The car puts out over 300hp now at redline, though it rarely ever gets up there.  But it’s a blast to drive and no one has rear-ended me since the lady did at the dealership 🙂  I’m debating what to do next.  The car is plenty fast.  I could put in a catless header (biggest restriction) or I might get a radar detector, which would probably make the car way faster than anything else.  I haven’t gotten a ticket in well over a decade; don’t want to screw that up.  I kind of like the way the car is now anyway.  Nothing about it would lead you to think it’s wicked fast.  Which it is.  Up to the speed limit, anyway.

Church: I promised God that I would attend the new church in our neighborhood after they opened it up.  I didn’t.  They finished it up for Christmas, and they started having regular services in January.  I bet my wife we wouldn’t last 30 minutes before we got offended.  She said it would only take 10.  We were both wrong.  It took zero.  I don’t know why they thought it was OK to pepper my house and cars with flyers.  It’s definitely NOT OK to put anything under my windshield wiper.  Just stay away from my car, OK?  It’s private property, and no one is welcome to advertise anything on my vehicles or doorknob.  Not a good first impression.  I will go there like I said I would, at least once, but I don’t expect to return to church life, like, ever.  Just too many memories.

Home: I paid off my mortgage!  Took me 21 years and 3 months, but I can now say I really do own my own home 🙂  I’m a little worried about the taxes and insurance, though.  I’ve never had to save up thousands of dollars before; they always just took it out of my payment.  But hopefully it’ll be easier now that I’m not sending a grand a month to the bank.  I really wanted to pay it off in 15 years, but with kids and everything, I never could put more than an extra hundred or so towards the principal.  And for the last few years, I couldn’t do that at all.  I used a big portion of my annual bonus to pay the balance off.  So no big vacation this year, but it’s money well spent.

So.  I’ve got an hour to kill before I can sneak out of here without drawing too much attention to myself.  How about some random thoughts.  Lego juicy transmission hair nemesis laser toast.  Pick axe slumber nervous tick.  A wide-angle lens capturing the aura of the northern kingdom.  Sound waves bounce but water waves slurp.  Tick tock gotta rock, stuffed turkey or dead cock.  Munchy bunchy two-by-four, can’t go surfing, I’m too poor.  Robot poop and dandelion farts, buy a zebra and save it for parts.

I don’t know why I even bother with this stupid blog any more.  I don’t have anything to say, really.  It was good therapy for me when I was drinking, but it’s kind of outlived its usefulness.  I’d rather spend my precious free moments in life doing something else.  My book was a complete flop.  I don’t see myself getting anywhere with my writing.  I make enough money at my job now that anything else would have to be only a hobby.  Which means, in 20 years, I’ll be sitting in this same chair, waiting for the clock to tell me it’s time to go home for the last time.  Cheerful thought, isn’t it?  God willing, of course.  I don’t know what He has in store for me.  It may be as boring as that, or there may be some more plot twists waiting for me just around the corner.  Who knows…

Thank you for reading.  Feel free to leave a comment, and if by some miracle I manage to see it among the ocean of spam, I’ll approve it.  Otherwise, have a nice life, stay sober, it does get better, life finds a way, praise God and enjoy whatever you manage to accomplish.  Life is a gift.  Enjoy the present.

-Mark

A Happy Place

I haven’t updated this blog in forever (and by “forever”, I mean a very, very long time).  There were actually a couple of more recent posts, but since the server crashed, I restored the most recent backup I had and, well, a few things got lost.

Most of my readers know about my problem with alcohol.  You can see more detail below about my struggle.  After I finally got sober, I wrote The Christian Alcoholc, where I recorded everything before I forgot.  It’s been exactly 2 1/2 years now (Yay!) and I can honestly say I do not crave alcohol any more.  Not that I don’t wish I could swallow something to make me feel better – I do all the time, but these days it’s wheat-grass-banana shots and coffee – but I remember enough of the nausea, headaches and regrets to remove booze from the alternatives I seek out when I’m feeling bad.

One of the posts that got lost was about my 1-year sober anniversary.  It was a trying time for me.  I thought I was done with it, but for some reason when the same time of year came around, the same desires & cravings came with it.  Something to watch out for if you’re in the same boat.  One of the other things they don’t tell you when you’re drinking: it will be YEARS before your wife stops mentioning the things you said or did and how much it hurt everyone.  YEARS.  At least more than 2 and a half.

Life is much better now.  I recently turned 50, and I got myself a sports car as a pre-emptive strike against a midlife crisis.  Abandoned my old friend Camaro for something smaller, a Subaru BRZ, with all of about 175 horsepower.  Then I added a supercharger, injectors, flex-fuel kit, custom tune – at 300 hp now, it’s basically a rocket 🙂  My formula for happiness hasn’t changed much since I was a teenager: a car, a dog and a girl.  Got the car, got the dog, and my girl has been in remission from breast cancer for almost 5 years 🙂  See all the smiley faces?  I’m happy now 🙂 🙂 🙂

The truth is, I’m not driven to write when I’m happy, unless it’s something abnormal and freakishly weird, like if I won the lottery or cracked the code to an ancient mystery or discovered the cure to cancer, so you may find the reading here to be a little on the downer side.  I have found that most people who contact me have found solace in the fact they are not alone.  I certainly did.  I’m not the only one who’s a Christian and also an alcoholic, who trusts Jesus for salvation and still wants (or wanted) to get hammered.  Don’t ever trust a salesman: the life people advertise is not like the brochure.

But still, I can’t complain.  I thank God every day that he gave me the strength to give up drinking.  It was a horrible, frightfully desperate time in my life, brought about by a sick wife, rebellious children and a crumbling church, where everything I every cherished or believed in was faltering.  But, I made it.  It wasn’t easy, in fact it was just about the most difficult thing I ever did, but if I can do it, so can you.  In the end, there’s always hope.  And isn’t that what happiness really is?  The hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and looking back, today really IS much better than yesterday.

Things can and do get better.  Never give up hope.  Sometimes, it’s all we’ve got…

-Mark

Six months sober

It’s been over six months since my last drink.  I have been off of Clonazepam for a couple of months, and dropped the Zoloft about 3 weeks ago.  I hate life.  I really, really wish there were something more to it than feeling anxious all day and being awake fidgeting all night.  Very annoying.

The cravings for alcohol are long gone, but my best guess right now is that I’m suffering with long-term benzo withdrawal.  My ears started ringing while I was still on Zoloft.  I went through a time a couple of weeks ago when I was dizzy and my blood pressure fell & my pulse went down below fifty.  I went to my general practitioner, the on-duty nurse at my job site, my shrink and an ear-nose-throat specialist.  I’m perfectly healthy.  Or so I’m told.  Normal ECG, no hearing damage, good auditory and sensory response.  But, I’m still anxious, my body is restless but lacks energy, I’m losing focus and can’t remember words.  I now have a 20-pound weighted blanket to help me feel secure when I sleep, but I can’t lay it on my chest or I’ll get stabbing chest pain.

I know what it’s like to die.  Nobody believes me, but I swear to God, my heart stopped.  I was lying down and couldn’t move.  No energy, and I just felt so heavy, like gravity just kept getting stronger & stronger.  I fought against it, but couldn’t open my eyes or move my fingers.  Everything was quiet and I just sank into my mattress.  I was powerless to wake myself up, communicate, open my eyes, say or do anything.  I felt my chest fall into my back and I couldn’t stop it.  I breathed out and then, stillness.  Dark, still quiet.  I was expecting some sort of fireworks or angels or one of those out-of-body experiences.  No tunnel.  No light.  Alone.  Very, very still and completely without sound or feeling.

My wife thinks I’m crazy, but I know what happened.  I guess it wasn’t my time yet.  I woke up.  Somehow I forced a scream, which came out as a mumbled groan, and my eyes woke up to my pounding, restarted heart.  That day I bought some baby aspirin, which I take now when I can feel myself slowing down, getting heavy.  I haven’t, but I thought about, writing down my super-secret passwords at night so my wife could find them in the morning, so someone could get into my affairs and pay the bills after I’m gone.  I had a friend at work who got a pacemaker when he was about my age.  He was perfectly healthy, but an overnight monitor revealed that his heart slowed down to near death at night.  Doctor told him one day it’s just going to slow down too much & stop.  I’m pretty sure I need one of those, but like I said, nobody believes me.

If I do die, I want my tombstone to say “I told you I was sick!”

Other than the whole dying in my sleep thing, I still find every day a struggle.  I can only pray that God still has a purpose for a burned out recovering drunk like me.  Still manage to go to work every day, and to accomplish some small portion of our remodeling project each weekend.  My car is aging along with me; every day it seems to sprout a new leak, lose more paint or develop a new habit, turn on another trouble light on the dashboard.  The latest trick is after twenty minutes of driving, the transmission decides it’s gone far enough.  I can rev the engine nearly to redline and barely accelerate.  I guess 150,000 miles will do that…

I sincerely hope that eventually, maybe in another six months, I’ll be better.  I started working out again, and I’m taking more vitamins, trying to clear this fog and hedge my bet against the grave that will eventually claim me.  But youth is gone.  I’m in a daze, stumbling through life, no longer searching for anything, just trying to survive, pretending to be interested in the day-to-day monotony, keeping up with the bills and various obligations.

I guess it’s better than hugging a toilet though, right?  Yeah.  It’s definitely better.  Much better.  I guess I can only go up from here.  If I don’t go to hell first, that is…

-Mark

FRIDAY!  Last night I didn’t die.  I felt heavy as a rock, and I had my first good night’s sleep in a long time.  All of this anxiety is really wearing me down.  My wife reminded me that she’s seen me stop breathing at night before, so I’m going to yet another doctor for sleep apnea.  Come to think of it, my friend with the pacemaker, that’s how he found out.  He went to a sleep clinic and they woke him up and said, dude your heart just stopped, you need a pacemaker…

As I was reminded by hulioathome’s comment, I’m not really destined for Hell because I’ve been born again, into God’s family.  To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  True that… thanks for the reminder, hulioathome, I needed that.

Have a nice weekend, dear reader.  It will get better.  If not soon, then eventually…

-Mark

Life After Booze

It’s been almost six moths since my last drink.  I would first of all like to apologize because it seems I only write something when I feel bad.  When I feel good, I typically am busy doing something else besides feeling sorry for myself.  So, although I tend to paint a pretty bleak picture here on my blog, life can be good.  Sometimes.

I no longer crave alcohol, per se.  Those of you who have kept up with my struggle know that I was drinking heavily, daily, trying to wash away my reality after my daughter ran away to Mexico and my wife got breast cancer.  That was the lowest time of my adult life and I just couldn’t bear to face the day.  I went through the “Last Call Program” which turned out to be a total rip-off, I tried tapering off, cold-turkey, herbs, you name it.  I think I finally just got tired of feeling like shit all the time.  So I’m clean.  But, I do still crave escape, some kind of solace, some way to take a break from this tired old world.  And here’s the reason why:

FREEDOM

I can’t even remember all of the stories, both national and personal, that lead me to the conclusion that I am a ward of the state, oppressed, submissive, demoralized and living in constant fear that some government entity will one day take away everything that I have ever worked towards.  There are one or two times in my nearly five decades on this rock that I was happy to see a cop or a fire-fighter, and dozens upon dozens of times that I have been scared of them.

It’s all over the news.  If you’re a simple rancher with cows on the same land that the government wants to use to build a solar farm, you’ll be confronted by trained & heavily armed government SWAT teams who will take away your livelihood and put you in jail.  If you dare speak against the sitting president – especially if you’re not black – your Facebook and Twitter posts will be used to try you as a subversive terrorist.  If you have a beautiful patch of land in Colorado, and the government finds out, they will bankrupt you with legal fees until you have to settle for barely enough money to pay your lawyer.

Personally, I’ve had many similar, though not as newsworthy, experiences in my own life.  I had to scrap my plans for a building in the back yard because of the assholes in the code enforcement division giving me hell over getting permits and the futility of trying to explain that I was a homeowner that actually wanted to build something myself.  Or the time I got a letter from the city that the scraps of PVC pipe in my back yard, behind my six-foot privacy fence, constituted visible waste, which I had to clean up immediately or face prosecution.  I’ve all but given up on building my own car because I’d have to do it in the dark of night to avoid the piercing gaze of the homeowner’s association.

It’s like the America today is full of all these power-grabbing, omnipotent, self-appointed guardians of righteousness, and they will do anything and everything to make you comply with what they see as how you live your life.  I can’t grow my own pot, I can’t distill my own whiskey, I can’t do much more than change my own light bulbs without hiring a professional.  It’s like they make these rules that fit 99% of the people out there, and people like me that want to change our own oil or build our own structures are rebels that must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  It didn’t used to be like this.  People used to have common sense.  People used to become police, firemen, IRS agents – OK maybe not the IRS – but they used to actually want to help.  Now they just want an excuse to use the power they’re drunk on.

So I am living in constant fear of the Authority.  Any moment, dozens of armed men with automatic rifles and bullet-proof vests are going to drag me outside in my underwear and cuff me in front of my kids for not having the proper papers.  And I’m not even Jewish.

That’s another think I’d like to bitch about.  I feel like wild game, and I’m in season.  I’m not part of any protected class.  I’m the most despised, hated person on the face of this earth, because I’m not under any special category: I’m not female, I’m not Hispanic or black, I’m a middle-aged white Christian male, which means I must be super-privileged and never earned what I have and everyone believes that I don’t deserve anything but should have my property and wealth confiscated and distributed to illegal alien Muslim drug dealers, because it’s OK to offend me, insult my religion, call me all kinds of names, but don’t dare draw the word Mohammed on a napkin or you’ll be arrested faster than you can say Praise Jesus.

At the risk of getting fired, something that is constantly on my mind and haunts every waking moment, I will give you another insane example of rule-making gone amuck: let’s talk about flashlights.  Where I work, there are areas that could have explosive gasses and so, logically, spark-producing electronics are forbidden without written permission and an air sample.  But the letter of the law, the company make-one-mistake-and-you’re-fired rule is written such that even a pocket flashlight is deemed an extremely dangerous device and if you have one in your possession, EVEN IF THE BATTERY IS OUT, and even if you wear a daily-calibrated LEL meter that continuously checks for an explosive atmosphere, even though you may be walking in one of those units but OUTSIDE the danger zone, well, the rule is “no flashlights” so your ass is gone.  You get 15 minutes to clean out your desk and you may never, ever return, plus the rest of the companies are told of your reckless behavior so you’re blackballed on every other site’s list and you end up on food stamps or begging under a bridge, which is just where they want you anyway: helpless and dependent.

I used to think that here in the USA, if you do what’s right, work hard and don’t intentionally look for trouble, you could be safe, successful and secure.  I don’t feel that way any more.  Now the only way to be successful is to play politics, say the right things, act the right way, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, find out what the company likes and play their game, fake your way to the top, OR, screw all that and be a victim.  If you don’t work, or you’re a minority, well, then you can depend on the government to help you out; food stamps, medical care, free cell phones, whatever you need, because poor you, you can’t be expected to help yourself.  Victims are noble, self-motivated workaholics are evil.

So on this beautiful Easter weekend I can thank my GOD that against all of this prosecution, all of these dangers, this government of, by and for the rich and connected, I have the assurance of a Savior that is still (barely) legal to worship and who loves me and protects me and is in control of all of those who would do me harm, that want nothing more than to count the likes of me as sheep for the slaughter, because without Him I would be without hope and beaten down, scared and cowardly, head down, submissive and quietly obedient – or maybe I’m already there.  Maybe I AM scared of anyone with a badge or government seal, maybe I AM fearful of the Authority, and maybe I’m just so sick of waiting to get hauled off, fired or shot for an unintentional clerical error that I’ll just beat them to the punch, become the criminal that they think I am anyway, and have a little fun before I go.  Maybe I’ll be a bad guy, because they don’t have to follow the rules, they can have guns, drugs or booze, they’re the only ones that can do whatever they want, because they just ignore the rules, and in America, that’s now the only way to be truly free.

I’d like to ask God to bless America, but I honestly don’t think there’s much left to bless.  And besides, in a few years it’ll inevitably be illegal to say God anyway.  So let’s just say Thank America for letting me live.  For now.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Meth

Do you know what I crave more than anything else in the world?  Here in America, where it’s supposed to be abundant to everyone?  Something that people have fought and died for over the centuries, in wars and riots and rebellion from oppression?  What drove our ancestors long ago to escape their world and travel thousands of miles to colonize a new one?

Freedom.

I long for the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, without the constant, overbearing fear of retribution from the always-watching, ever-present Authority.  I am surrounded by enforcers with a zero-tolerance policy against violating any one of a myriad of rules, regulations and laws, so that my only solace, my only chance at averting their constant, piercing gaze is to not attract attention, to stay under their radar.  And their radar is everywhere.

Here at home, I’m not free.  I have to obey the city ordinances, most of which I don’t know and a few of which I’m sure I’m breaking.  I once thought that my back yard was private, but that was before my neighbor turned me into the city for having too much trash “in view”, that is, if you peek over the 6-foot fence.  I love to build things; I have a concrete storm shelter, but getting a permit to build one outside was a nightmare, so I hid it in the garage, next to my (probably illegal) home office.  I live in fear that one day someone from the government will come in and fine me or jail me for all of the code violations, lack of permits, and I’m not even mentioning  all of the overbearing rules from the community association.

Out on the road is where I used to feel the most freedom.  When I got my license to drive, and I could go anywhere, I felt alive; I felt free.  Not any more.  There are speed limits, school zones, red-light cameras and a cop on every corner, watching for someone with a broken taillight or expired registration.  I have a 300 horsepower Chevy Camaro, but I have to drive like a grandmother to avoid being noticed.  I don’t feel free.  I feel trapped.  I’m NEVER ALONE.  Even out on the road, miles from home and work, at any moment, my cell phone could ring and my wife, my boss, my parents, a co-worker, anyone can intrude in my happy little world.  I feel like a dog on a leash.

The police think they have absolute authority over citizens.  I remember as a teenager I used to walk around at night.  I felt some of the burden of life lifted during the darkness, when there was no school, my parents were asleep, and I had no obligations.  I could walk around with a friend all night, but almost every night, we were stopped and interrogated by police.  A couple of long-haired hippies up to no good, no doubt.  I got searched for drugs, accused of stealing, or breaking in to a shop.  I once stepped out of a convenience store to a parking lot full of cop cars because I matched the description of someone who robbed a store down the road.  And I don’t dare try to resist; they have the power, and I am at their mercy.  Freedom is not mine until they decide to let me have it, or IF they do.

I used to feel a little bit of freedom at work.  That was when computer-aided-drafting was new, computerized controls were new, and programs I wrote were used, appreciated and applauded.  Not any more.  A few years ago, they decided that everyone had the same needs: Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook, and about 1.5 GB of storage.  They ordered me to stop updating my custom database program, start using standardized software.  I once spoke up about something that I noticed needing to be fixed, and the project engineer did it, but said I had come up with this on my own “initiative”, which had become a bad word.  Then came the whole safety program.  They wanted everyone to be safe, so they came up with more rules, only if you break one of these rules, you are escorted off the property, never to return.  Zero tolerance.  No circumstantial or extenuating circumstances.  One mistake and you’re fired.  No more career.  Gone.

Even in my own family I have no freedom.  My father has intense OCD; nobody’s happy if he’s not happy.  We all do whatever Grampa wants, because otherwise he freaks out, pouts, makes everyone around him miserable.  And I realized something: I’m not free around my wife, either.  I love her to death, but thinking over the past several weekends, the only time I did anything, worked on any project, is when she was napping.  Otherwise, I feel to guilty.  The only hobby I feel like I can pursue without the guilt of ignoring her is to cook.  If I’m not grilling or smoking some fabulous side of beef, I’m on the couch, on the porch, or on the bed, doing basically nothing, until my wife tells me to.  It’s pitiful, but true.

When I was a teenager, beset by an overwhelming set of parental expectations, pressured by ambitious teachers in advanced classes, and stifled by emotionless rules that were blindly applied to me and every one of my fellow 2,000 students, I finally gave up trying to be good and turned to drugs.  It was wonderful.  I didn’t like pot that much, it made me feel too disconnected, and at that point I hadn’t gotten into anything else, except for speed.  Methamphetamine pills.  They were awesome.  I could take them, nobody would know, but I was breaking the law, I was being a rebel, I was free.  I realized a great truth back then: freedom is a state of mind.  If I can’t be free in the outside world, I will be free on the inside.

I have a video game that I play.  You start out in the wasteland.  It’s total freedom.  You can drive anywhere and shoot guns and rockets with no fear of arrest or prosecution.  Then you go to Wellspring.  The first thing the mayor says is you have to ditch your Ark suit and get a garage to park your buggy.  “We’re civilized here.  We have rules.”  Then later you get to Subwaytown.  That’s even more rigid.  You have to do whatever the town’s boss says.  “Nobody does anything without his OK.”  That’s just such bullshit and it’s just like real life.  The more people, the more civilized, the more rules, and the less freedom you have, until you end up like me, a slave, a subject of the state, with the NSA watching everything I do, cameras recording me everytime I step outside, cops everywhere, just waiting to arrest me for breaking some code or ordinance or rule or law that I didn’t even know existed.

I wish I could live in the wasteland.  Sure, bandits try to kill me and mutants are always crawling out of the sewers, but I could drive my buggy at top speed, jump off a sand dune, crash into a rock, fire explosives at anything that moves, and be respected and admired for it.  But if it’s not going to happen, if I’m not going to be able to relax and stop worrying that my pitiful little suburban life is one mistake, one lawsuit or accident away from complete destruction, if I can’t do what I want, then I’ll turn to something else to make me feel good, to relax and empower me, to take this putrid reality away and replace it with inner peace.

True freedom may only come in death; until then, give me liberty, or give me meth.

-Mark