The Bitterroot Chronicles: Toilet Paper Not Included

I have to confess, childhood is my safe place.  When I’m most stressed out or scared, I just wish I could become a child again–lost in a world of total safety and pleasure.

As a child, my biggest worries were that the cereal I wanted was out, and that my brother hid the last of the cookies. Maybe on a really bad day, I shit my pants in the car.  I won’t lie, that traumatized me just a little.

I never had to worry about money, because for me, money was some vague cosmic thing that cut short a vacation or caused my parents to fight.  Money wasn’t tied to the real, tangible world that I skipped through.  Money was out there.

This basic idea followed me through adolescence.  Now, even though money was something I could touch, smell and spend, it’s essence still belonged to another world.  Sure, with forty-five bucks I could go to King’s Island, and with twenty more, I could buy food there, but there wasn’t a direct link between the twenty dollars and the satisfaction of my hunger.  Money bought the food, but the food fed me, and in my mind how I got the food was arbitrary.  Food just exists, and sometimes you happen to get some when you give twenty dollars to someone.

Even with my first job, money had no real value to me.  If something is of value to you, you hold on to it.  I made one hundred bucks a week selling pizzas, and to me, this one hundred dollars was just a path to the things I wanted.  Money had value insofar as it could get people to give me the things I wanted.  And work had value insofar as it earned me money that could get people to give me the things I wanted.

Suddenly, I had a fundamental shift in values.  Yesterday, I cared about satisfying my desires.  Today, I care about the work I put into getting what buys the satisfaction of my desires.  My happiness is now a reward for the work I do, rather than a result of living life.  And the whole time this crisis is taking place, my parents and bosses and peers are cheering me on.  It’s not that I’m becoming a slave to myself, they say, like a pavlovian dog that rings it’s own bell out of a sense of duty, forever ringing and wanting, ringing and wanting.

“No,” I’m told, “you have a tremendous work ethic.  You see the value of labor.”  And I believe them.

And the whole thing is oxygenated and lubricated by money.  None of it means anything without money.

I go on this rather depressing philosophical rant to make a point about my new life and what I perceive as reality.  In many ways, I still had little pockets of my childhood way of thinking about money and objects, pockets I believe I was holding onto as long as I could, because I knew when I lost them, I would lose another connection to my safe place.

There comes a point in many people’s lives when their parents try to impress upon them the importance of money.  For me, it came wrapped the package of a car.  That is not to say my parents bought me a car, quite the opposite.  The nearer to driving I came, the more money became a subject of conversation–specifically the saving of money, a concept I still do not have a grasp of.  Eventually, it was the longer I went without my own car, after getting my license.  As I said, I’m not good at saving.  Consequently, after deciding I wanted to move to Montana, for which I needed a car, I still had nothing saved.

It is here that I became aware of a concept my Uncle John refers to as goodwill.  This same Uncle John and his wife Sandy took me into their California home for six months and gave me a job.  Not only was it a way to save money, it gave me training for the future.  You see, John is a carpenter.  Now in my irrational mind, I was thinking of pastoral scenes.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but my reference for carpentry was Jesus.  Again, don’t laugh.  Now you hear the words Jesus was a carpenter, but he’s always sitting with flock of sheep.  You can see the conclusions I drew.  Cut to me breaking up a concrete patio with a jackhammer, and a flock of fucking sheep are the last thing on my mind.  But it got me money, and it gave me experience.  It also gave me awareness of how much goodwill I have–something I can rely on when I don’t know how I’ll pay the rent next month.

Anyway, I saved enough money for a car and a couple months rent once I got to Missoula.  But after years of hearing, “save money for a car,” I had it in my mind that I was saving for a car.  I guess it never crossed my parents minds to let me know about registration fees and title fees and smog check fees and hey, your trying to make it somewhere in life, so give me a cut, fees.  A slice here and a slice there, and I’m running way lower on money than I thought I would.  At least I got a fuel efficient car.

But now, my friends, we come to the real point–toilet paper.  You see I can buy a car, and pay the fees, and save up quarters in a jar for gas, but if I don’t have the money to buy toilet paper, I might be returning to my childhood in a way I really don’t want.  You see, one thing that never left me from my younger years is my perception of where things come from.  Toilet paper, olive oil, pepper and aluminum foil all just exist.  You don’t have to buy these things.  You need to wrap something up, you just open the drawer that has aluminum foil in it.  Sure, you have to buy food, but seasonings and pots to cook it in, those things just come with the house.  No one thinks to mention buying these things to their kid, because no one is supposed to think that way, but I’m pretty sure most twenty somethings out on their own for the first time can relate.

Toilet paper just never crossed my mind.  I wasn’t told to save up for that.  Who saves up for toilet paper? Well you better believe that next time I live on my own for the first time, I’ll have money for toilet paper.

The Bitterroot Chronicles: Misfortune in Corporate America

Day one in any new place has to be out of the ordinary.  Having never moved before, I don’t have much to compare this experience to, but it’s not like you just fit into a new place like a hand in an old leather glove.  Brand new places need time to stretch and mold themselves.

Of course, as a kid I visited different places because of my dad’s work.  We never moved, but we sometimes spent several months in one place.  I don’t remember anything about New Orleans–babies tend not to–and I only have snapshots of Florida and Philadelphia, but Canada is vivid.

I think I’ll always remember my first day in Canada.  After a long ass, and I do mean long ass, drive, we made it to our new driveway–a driveway filled with three feet of snow.  I was about as happy as my parents were near to tears.  To a Kentucky kid, for whom four inches of snow and two inches of ice is a good winter, this was Shangri la.

Cut to a different first day–one that has made me appreciate my parents tears.

Excited to hell and back, I drive farther up the Bitterroot valley towards Missoula, checking my phone for reception every five minutes.  You see, I don’t have directions to my new house, and only half the expectation of getting cell service.  Coverage maps take on new importance when you’re in Montana.

The Missoula city limit sign flashes past me.  Still no service.  Verizon it is.

Never have I been so glad to see a Starbucks.  I pull into one of it’s profit driven corporate parking spaces, glide across the beautiful prefabricated threshold, and wrap myself in the comforts of free wifi.

A quick Google maps search, and I have my directions on the back of an envelope.  Two middle fingers up to the Starbucks I’m again free to hate, I’m back to my symbol of small batch individualism Subaru.  Which is locked.  With the keys in the ignition.  And a phone that has no service.  Can you take middle fingers back?

Twenty minutes and one humbling Starbucks phone borrowing later, my individualism is unlocked and I’m again riding the wind, throwing my middle finger to the corporate establishment.

Finally, I pull into my new driveway, hoping the lack of cars in it is not matched by a lack of people inside.

It is.

Oh hey, Starbucks.  I just need to find a Verizon store and I’ll be out of your god awful mermaid hair.

Another two hours, and I stumble out of the Verizon store with bloodshot eyes and a new phone.

Several phone calls later, I’m actually moving into my new house, and as I curl up on the thermarest that is my bed, I’m happy that today happened just as it did.  Because whether it’s three feet of snow in the driveway or repeated run ins with misfortune and corporate America, day one has to be different.  Anything else just makes for a boring story.

The Bitterroot Chronicles

MissoulaDowntown

I like to think that my life is beginning again, right in the middle, like an episode of a T.V. show, or the old western where the drifter come riding into town out of the wasteland.  Even the few who know my name don’t really know me.  I’m a phantom, an invisible man suddenly given substance.

Of course, I know this is not true.  I know that hiding in the back of my car are all my past experiences and emotions, by which all my present actions are dictated.  I know I’m just play acting, and that the first time I return home–that inescapable green rolling hills chipped yellow paint farmhouse home–I will fall back into old roles and old projections will be cast on my white sheet face.  I know all this.  But I do enjoy becoming lost in the scene, if just for a moment.

Missoula, the stage of my little scene, does, in a way, remind me of the inescapable home.  The salt encrusted 4X4 set in their ways but happy to open a door for you old men go about their simple lives.  Two lane roads that say “thirty-five and no more” but really mean “as long as you’re comfortable” cut their way towards town.

But home never had mountains.  Home didn’t have a glimmer of change in it’s old eyes.  Home never said, “you’ve arrived, and I’ve been waiting for you”.

Home was a place of comfort.  It was a place of spring peepers and fireflies, cream cheese coffee cake and tootsie rolls on the stairs, cornhole in the back yard and Ale-8.  Home was all of these things, but also of worn out traditions and rusted dreams.  Home is inescapable, but needs to be left.

Of course the leaving has been full of growing pains, but even these are beautiful.  They each have their part to play in my little scene,

The Bitterroot Chronicles.

ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ

Have you ever been guilty of forgetting yourself?  You wake up from washing the dishes or taking a shower or eating dinner, and realize that somewhere along the way you hit autopilot and drifted off to sleep.  Maybe you were tired of living with your mind turned on all day and found a routine to lose yourself in instead.  Maybe you never consciously chose to not be awake.  Either way, you forgot that the tripping, jolting, new driver aspect of life is the only way you can ever discover who you are meant to be.  To use a tired old metaphor, what if the caterpillar entered it’s cocoon only to stay in there forever, never emerging to become the beautiful creature it truly is, capable of things it never was before.  Perhaps the metaphor isn’t perfect or very original, but that’s the point.  I’ve forgotten who I am, and so I’ve lost touch with words.  

Recently, I got a tattoo of the Ancient Greek maxim, “know thyself”.  I loved the idea of a tattoo that reminded me daily of something important.  Well I am a writer.  I may not do it professionally, and I may never write anything of consequence, but that is what I am.  Written words are part of my soul–they are my bloodstream.  

I have not been writing.  

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve written a handful of paragraphs, but I’ve finished none of them.  The inspiration comes, I pick up a pen and write down a few sentences, and then the words vanish.  I am sent chasing desperately down empty halls, flinging open doors, hoping to find one trace that the words were once there and might come back.  When I don’t find them, I give up.  And this process is one that takes place over and over again.  

There are too many empty pages in my notebook, too long a time between posts online.  And there are two meaningless words on my forearm.  I cannot know myself unless I am writing.  When I write, I am forced to go to the most out of the way corners of my person, find those few words and make something of them.  I learn.  I grow.  I find something on filled pages that I never knew was in me.  

This isn’t a resolution.  I don’t think I will change a bad habit by writing one angry, angst filled post on my blog.  

This is a confession.  

In the sharing of my hypocrisy, may I be renewed in my willingness to write.

 

The lumbar yard and hardware store has always been associated in my mind with the father. It is the realm of Papa, and there he is both respected and superior in knowledge. There is an ingrained inferiority when it comes to these manly, fatherly realms.  I am convinced that if I stepped into the hardware store with my father forty years from now, any personal accomplishments and confidence would be blown away with a breath, and I would again become meek and ignorant, reaching above my head to hold the hand of my father, counting the sizes between our feet and watching with awe as he moved, godlike, among the aisles, knowing just how to manipulate each tool and trinket to his wish.

When I step into the hardware store with my Uncle John, I immediately revert to the role of quiet, obedient son, as I attempt to remain behind, but not so close as to step on his heels, pouncing on his every request and direction, attentively soaking in his every word, barely catching myself from saying yes sir when he addresses me. The father never leaves us, even though we may travel two thousand miles away from his presence.

That’s all.

The lumbar yard and hardware store has always been associated in my mind with the father. It is the realm of Papa, and there he is both respected and superior in knowledge. There is an ingrained inferiority when it comes to these manly, fatherly realms.  I am convinced that if I stepped into the hardware store with my father forty years from now, any personal accomplishments and confidence would be blown away with a breath, and I would again become meek and ignorant, reaching above my head to hold the hand of my father, counting the sizes between our feet and watching with awe as he moved, godlike, among the aisles, knowing just how to manipulate each tool and trinket to his wish.

When I step into the hardware store with my Uncle John, I immediately revert to the role of quiet, obedient son, as I attempt to remain behind, but not so close as to step on his heels, pouncing on his every request and direction, attentively soaking in his every word, barely catching myself from saying yes sir when he addresses me. The father never leaves us, even though we may travel two thousand miles away from his presence.

That’s all.

Come to me sweet darling, 

Let me show you why the earth moves. 

I will touch your golden hair, 

Draw your breath in as my own, 

Feel your sun-warmed back, 

Sliding my hands down your scarred body. 

Your fingertips like weathered bark 

Tested and true, but soft to the soul. 

I will soak in the sight of your eyes– 

Fierce and full, like the ocean

The spray cools my body. 

Unable to speak

Paralyzing words formed with care 

To caress your ears. 

Your soul is iron and silk, coffee and wine. 

For this the world moves. 

For you the universe keeps spinning.