Keep Your Hands Off My Stack

The last three days have been spent in soul-draining, brain-sucking tedium. It’s given me new insights into the economy.

I’ll back up a bit. Jamie and I were at a local Christmas bazaar, basically a huge convention hall full of the intrepid soldiers on the front lines of the free enterprise system. Trinkets, tools, food, hats, books, toys, T-shirts. Just oodles of stuff. Jamie and her parents toughed it out last weekend, and Jamie and I took on the second weekend. She had lots of her handmade jewelry and some contributions from her folks (solid oak ruler racks and a small garden of quilted Christmas trees.)

And from Friday morning to Sunday night, we sold squat. I sat there watching people go by, wondering if I had a funny look on my mug or something, because hardly anybody bought anything. Tons of people passed our booth, glared at Jamie’s work, doted over the quilted trees her mother made…and almost never bought anything.

“Oh, it’s so cute!” Women of every shade and age said something along those lines. And they moved on empty-handed. For the hell of it, on Sunday Jamie and I decided to count how many of these “oh, how cute” dorks came by without slapping cash down. I bet on 50. We counted 48.

There were even folks who tried to buy things that weren’t for sale. Everyone loved Jamie’s maneki-neko, a ceramic lucky cat. A few idiots came offering to buy it. It was the only thing on that damn table without a price tag.

Jamie and I were practically banging our heads together. We didn’t understand any of it. We sat there, greeting people, watching them walk by, reading, talking, kvetching as quietly as possible, freezing under the El Nino airflow of an industrial air vent, trying to keep each other from eviscerating middle-class forty-something gold-bricking bloated Twinkie molesters as our brains slowly turned to mush over the course of three days.

I got kinda punchy after a while.

No one got much business at the show, it turns out. Every booth took a bath. Small consolation.

And it was while I was sitting there–trying to keep busy with my little projects, reading, and notetaking stuck in the tiny space between our tables–I started looking at economics and the American right-wing.

This time last year, Darth Cheney and the Shrub tried to coax the country into spending money in the middle of a recession. Many corporate giants in this country, Enron being the most notorious nowadays, went out of their way to bilk millions out of millions of people. They did more damage to the country’s economy and morale than al-Qaida. (Think about it. We grieved, we rallied, and we got on with our lives. Thanks to all the corporate corruption, we practically fear the economy.)

I shook my head at all this lunacy and greed until this weekend, when it was all about my money. The economy sucks just as much for the shoppers as it does for me. And still, I wanted to take their fraggin’ money away from them. I didn’t care whether they had bills or a mortgage, or if they had kids to feed. I have major financial problems. I have a negative cash flow. Maybe they didn’t need the junk I was selling, but once I took on the role of capitalist running dog, anyone’s wallet seemed like fair game. And I was competing with hundreds of other people for it.

Once I could step back and look at it all, I think I understood better the corporate fixation on money. It’s like trench warfare. You’re either digging a foxhole or charging into no-man’s-land, desperate for a better position. More money means less vulnerable. More money feels safe.

Hunger and fear give you greed, so reactionism is an easy fit. I think now that right-wingers are out there glomming onto all money and power they can find, and try to help everyone else do the same under the assumption that they’re helping everyone makes themselves more safe. But economics isn’t about making everyone safe. It’s about the distribution of limited resources. And there’s never enough safety to go around. To give one person safety, it must be taken from someone else. The rich don’t hate the poor, but they do fear poverty.

Pink Floyd weren’t kidding. “Money…it’s a gas.”

Use it, sure. We all gotta breathe. Just don’t sniff the fumes.

Veteran of the Psychic Wars

If things get any weirder, I’ll have to check the water supply. Just when I thought things were going to calm down, this weekend delivered a better curveball than any I’ve ever seen in Major League Baseball. And I want it all to go away, just for a day.

I had a different attitude about change once. Change isn’t necessarily bad. It’s the way of the universe. There would be no life without it. Every belief and creed is based on that: God calls forth Light; Vishnu dreams a new dream; a void explodes; the end of a cosmic status quo. Change can be exciting. I can’t be the only one to think so.

Still, some people panic. They run and hide, assuming the worst, lashing out. They hold true to the ancient Chinese curse and make it prophecy. May you live in interesting times. So you can imagine what a downer it is when somebody freaks out and you have to spend the next several days picking up the pieces.

I’ll bet you’ve noticed a total lack of hard info in my kvetching here. I won’t go into the specifics, not here. I’m tired of that. It’s the trend, not the event, that’s getting to me. The schtick, not the dialogue.

I’ve spent the last few days kicking ass and naming names. I never wanted to do it in the first place. I keep getting volunteered to be the pointman in someone else’s war, knocking down their personal demons just to defend myself. I want to speak in a soft tone, civil, mature and sensible. I’m tired of shouting. I feel like I ought to carry around a water cannon just to have it on hand in case someone flips out again.

Again. It always happens again. No rest, no peace. The pace and the tension goes up a notch every day. It takes so many energy–sheer willpower–to keep someone under control when they don’t want to be. Each day for the last three years, my will gets spent faster than I can recover it. It gets harder to get out of bed. To eat. To write. To care. And I have to keep doing it because no one says it should stop. No one except me, anyway.

Hence the references to Blue Oyster Cult at the top. (No, no fraggin’ omlaut. Deal.) The song of that title was based on Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, the cosmic hero reincarnated again and again to yet another conflict he must resolve. In college I lost my interest in the mordant weariness of the character in all his guises. When my life began to take on the tone of those stories, I finally understood the character. He wasn’t morbid or world-weary. He was burned out. The battle between Order and Chaos never ends. In it, ethics become a luxury.

I’m the only one playing by a set of rules. A few entries back, I raised the question of whether preying on other people was the right way to go. It’s times like this when the idea seems the most appealing. I feel beaten down, and yet the only time anyone gives any quarter is when I beat them down in return. It happens so much that I wonder whether this is supposed to be Life’s Great Lesson or something. I was raised to believe in the Golden Rule. Left to my own devices, that’s how I’d do things. But that doesn’t protect me…more like the opposite. It leaves me vulnerable to those who won’t play by the same rules. I’m forced to fight just as dirty just to make them back off. And the arguments get more brutal, more draining, each time.

Ironically I started the weekend on a very different note…courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Jamie got a copy of the DVD in a steal of a deal, so I filled my brain with webbing for almost 24 hours. It brought up a lot of memories.

Strange as it sounds, I learned more about ethics and morals from comic books and the Bible more than I ever did from my parents. Even now, I see ol’ Spidey as a spiritual mentor. A totem, maybe? And while lots of people have written off Sam Raimi’s flick as just another soul-sucking, money-hungry Hollywood blockbuster, he captures the heart of that character. For all the garish color and adolescent wish fulfillment, there is a strong philosophical message in Spider-Man. “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s the whole point of the character and thus the movie. The script places protagonist and antagonist on opposite ends of the issue of power. The Green Goblin represents a reckless, selfish use of power, the darker and older instinct in humanity. Spidey has realizes that someone else suffers when power is used selfishly. He made that mistake once and, as Spider-Man, struggles and sacrifices to atone. Instead of being a martyr, paralyzed and impotent, he grows into maturity and becomes something greater than he was at the start.

And it’s that message that informs my actions, even now, after three decades. I just hope I have the strength to stay in there and…well, keep swinging.

The Rush Hour of Our Discontent

I’m not quite as liberal as Jesus, but I’m not too thrilled with the election results. Locally it’s pretty good for my li’l hobbit hole, but throughout the rest of the United States…well, I think the next six years are going to be a long, hard ride. I can only hope the music scene picks up during this Bush’s administration as it did for Bush Senior. At least we’d have a cool soundtrack for the disaster movie to come.

Of course we had Kurt Cobain to kick everyone’s butts into gear back then. Marilyn Manson (the goth answer to Sideshow Bob) and N*Stinc ain’t gonna cut it.

And man, I need something to go my way here. Our cats–all fourteen of ’em–are rapidly turning into the Typhoid Mary brigade. Nita, a dilute tortie introvert/assault vehicle, has some kind of urinary infection. Jamie and I took her to the vet a day or so ago, and we’re still puzzled as to why. She keeps bleeding all over the office, so I’m surrounded by puddles of watery blood even as I write. Visitors are going to think I’m a devil worshipper or something. (“See? I knew it! He wears black all the time, he’s got heavy metal records! He even does blood sacrifices fergodsakes!!!”) Meanwhile a couple of Jamie’s Japanese Bobtail kittens, henceforth referred to as “JBTs,” keep chunking charlies all over the rest of the house.

We’re living in mortal dread that more than one cat might need professional medical attention at the same time. That’d take us instantly into three figures. Even if we weren’t in the throes of bankruptcy, it would’ve hurt plenty.

Anyone who’s kept up with Jamie (or her blog ) knows a lot of this BS already. For me, it’s a different kind of pain. I never thought I’d ever have to file for bankruptcy, let alone spend enough money to go there. Technically it’s not being filed in my name, but I’m about as screwed. All our efforts are being channeled to fix it. We’re bleeding money. And frankly it’s humiliating. A bunch of strangers show up at my door, demanding that I account for money I never saw. Yet I see all around me things bought with that money. And I didn’t want even half of it. The whole situation is ridiculous, at least to me.

I’ve seen some strange things in my life, courtesy of very strange people, folks who were eager to believe anything, no matter how absurd or outrageous, as long as their consciences or perceptions got an easy out. For a long time I was surrounded by such humanoid creatures, subjected to more personal demons than Max von Sydow, forced to tangle with them just to free myself of them. And I learned, like any victim of brainwashing, that reality is liquid. It changes with the wind. People see what they want to see. Dysfunctional people, even more so. It’s taken many years–after the efforts of so many to convince me 2+2=5; that there were five lights when I saw only four; that meddling with my life was their way of loving me; that I was a monster for not letting them get away with it; all because it suited their pathetic ends–for me to trust my perceptions again. So it takes a lot of thought and willpower to override the fear of retribution invading my flesh like an electrical shock when I speak my mind. Part of me wants to hide every time I feel anything. It might not be what someone else wants me to feel.

They say he who dares, wins. I look at all the horrors that happened in my life, at the ones plaguing the world at large, and the kinds of people who profit the most from them. I forget who was it who claimed that a barbarian has the upper hand in any battle because he’s willing to do anything to win. Of late, I begin to wonder if that person was right.

And a horrible thought strikes me: Is this what it feels like when someone is about to go postal?