Thursday, November 22, 2012


I'm spoiled and a brat and a hypocrite and I don't wash my clothes enough. I have psoriasis and arthritis and halitosis and psychosis. I get back spasms that awake me like a Medieval torture rack. I surpass the recommended daily limit of Ibuprofen before 5am. My mouth has wrinkles that look like an old woman so I'm doubly troubled because I'm too vain to ignore it and too old to do anything about it. I spent months and recent years without two nickles to spend basically surviving hand to mouth at homeless shelters and getting mishandled by the police state soldiers. The trouble was my crippled pride and also my basic math skills that determined a poorly paying job was actually worse than doing nothing at all. I was more broke struggling to keep a shitty job than just quitting the job and playing guitar. That's the state of the Economy as one thing the Right Wing Big Mouth Radio Pundits have correct is the welfare state that rewards poverty as long as you play by the rules of the loathsome impoverished and don't rock the boat or join any unions. The working resentful poor are so much more fucked than the lazy check cashing sloth because they are broke and the police know they are pissed off and near the breaking point in a cycle of decline. And because they have to take a cocaine piss test to work they must use only stolen prescription pain medication to get through the day.

I haven't really give this ironic conflict any thought because I don't get welfare or mix with the welfare crowd. The homeless folks who always amuse and entertain me are so far beyond welfare that some of them don't even know what food stamps are. The professional homeless are generally the junkies and single mothers who lay in bed all day smoking cigarettes and stealing money from the honor system coffee bin at the supermarket. I don't have anything to do with them. But the truly broke folks with health problems that prevent them from even getting health care are the ones that I keep coming back to. Their tales of woe at the Salvation Army lunch table make me smile with the deep honesty and tragedy that is totally absent from modern hypnotic entertainment designed to sell beer and cigarettes.

I've had pride for lunch quite a bit this past summer because I was spinning my wheels for people who repulse me but I needed a few pennies in my pocket to pay off the $4 yoghurt I bought 7 months ago in Labrador. Butter literally cost $8 a pound. Milk was like $8 and I paid $9 a gallon for gas on a trip that was about 3000 miles. My van got 10 mpg. I guess that's what it's like to pay child support for a kid you never see. I was paying child support for the irresponsible 39 year old Oggy who decided to cross the entire continent in a 40 year old van and promote wolf awareness. Well, that wasn't free and it cost every penny I had plus money I earned at a semi conductor wire harness factory and picking futile orders of hockey equipment and also processing lobsters and raking lawns. And that still left me in debt to the past and haunted and hunted.

Yes, the trip to Labrador is legendary, something worthy of the van and the destination, but it was almost a swan song because it left me with nothing but memories and the conviction that my worldview was completely out of sync with the rest of the world. Imagine how that would feel? Imagine being so broke that you are counting live 3/4 lb Maine lobsters at 3 in the morning on New Years Day in borrowed muck boots as the ice collects on your gray beard and receiving emails calling you an asshole and a piece of scum and when you limp back to your van you have to light a fire using broken pallets and pieces of your wooden leg in the wood stove you installed because there isn't a 6' by 2' plot of carpet anywhere in the state that you are welcome to sleep on. And knowing that every penny you are earning WAS ALREADY SPENT near the arctic circle. The situation was bleak bleak bleak...and now imagine that the situation ONLY GOT WORSE for the next 7 months until you were near death on a deserted beach near Mexico, poisoned by oil and corexit oil dispersant and other pollutants we pour daily into the Gulf of Mexico....and you are totally penniless, the police have already tried to tow your employment agencies call you back...your throat have one package of Ramen noodles....and the van is infested by chiggers from a train-hopping street geek from Austin...and the temperature is 124 degrees and the humidity has turned your stove into a rust hazard as your sweat-reeking bed sheets with chiggers and fleas bouncing around your gaunt rib cage harbor more resentments than a prison cell in Cuba.

But the horror wasn't over because in desperation I reached out to the Christian community and ended up living with a woman who was in the final stages of total collapse and the signs of danger and depression were so abundant that when I fled to the roach covered floor of a Salvation Army I felt like I was living in the lap of luxury. The lady hoarded resentments like they could be redeemed for prizes after death and it was like a visit from The Ghost of Christmas Future who demonstrated what my life would be like 30 years hence if I insisted on clinging to a technically ethical worldview that in practice would destroy me without making any difference in the world. This particular experience was totally not amusing.

I'm trying to isolate the exact moment when I reached rock bottom but there was always some moment that was even worse than the last. I guess it would be the deserted beach and the oil poisoning complete with vivid bowel eruptions and parasitic vomiting and crying and desperation with sweating and exhaustion and dehydration and being too tired to eat or even close the barn doors to keep the pulverizing sand from blowing in my wrinkled mouth. People don't die when they are nervous and panicked and moving; they die when they give up and stop wiping their mouths when they vomit and that was the stage I was at. Hell, I didn't even make a video because I couldn't move my arms to hold the camera. And I really felt it was fitting that I would expire on a beach in the van. My work was done and my function in society had clearly been defined as an outcast. I was at peace with death under the limitless stars that I've studied for 20 years. Cassiopia and Alderbaran and Castor and Pollox and Pleiades. These were my constant and unwavering companions in the fluctuating field of friends. My sweat-induced visions were peaceful and I was content with any outcome. My unfinished manuscripts and unwritten love letters were a mortal concern but I was destined for immortal lands.

That was in July and the 5 months between then and now made the trip to Labrador seem predictable and common place. I managed to navigate an economic landscape of total and abject poverty in a time when poverty has grown to endemic proportions...the human detritus all end up in shelters, forgotten veterans, wounded soldiers and junkies and convicts and whores and pimps and children and retards. You don't know the state of the nation unless you've spent some time in the shelters of this land. Something has gone terribly wrong and I'm running out of time to figure out what it is. I know that a mind control experiment is being blatantly pursued and the environment is being sold like a Mexican virgin to the highest bidder but I can't quite grasp how people got so dumb so fast. I know our public schools are willful accomplices to the destruction of free thought but who is the mastermind? The elephant in the room is sucking all the wisdom out of our brains while one stupid reality show after another is dumped in our laps. The more I learn of our culture the less impressed I am. It's obviously a ruse and the economy is a fraud...if a mass murder involves fewer that 100 people then it is instantly forgotten about. I've seen shit fights at a monkey cage more organized than our political parties. An apocalyptic storm is on the horizon. Still we survive and look to the future.

I've got to go take some pain medication so I'll wrap this up. When a lonely man finds himself at the end of the road with no money or food or support or family or friends then he either dies or he prays for salvation. My main directive has been to selfishly develop broad skills that amuse and fulfill me. Because I can't pretend conventional applications like computer programming or wire harness manufacturing are important in the greater sense. There is no universal reward for choosing architecture over the saxophone. You might fit into the circus society better but the years will not slow down and the wind will blow sand in your mouth regardless. Scarlett O'Hara followed her heart. She obeyed her heart...not convention...for good or ill. I've followed my heart to this point with probably as much controversy and conflict as Scarlett but far less prosperity...until lately. My prayers were answered in the form of the one industry that I've attacked repeatedly in the past...modern hydro-fracturing. I'm a bohemian and an artist and I'm a bad businessman so that's a recipe for a broke hippie playing guitar for free. My craft-work is too valuable to sell so I give it away. But when it comes to isolated fabrication of wires and metal I have no limit as long as I can focus on the problem and not daydream too much...and as long as I can ignore the environmental degradation that I'm a part of. I'm searching for an ethical utopia populated by artistic philosophic vegetarian snobs who have evolved beyond politics. Is that so hard to find??

When I was offered this job as an instrumentation field service tech I was basically working for free at a repair garage doing work on cars and motorcycles, learning the repair trade and rapidly losing weight. The money dangled in front of my face was, flat out, life changing. The prospect of making more money in one hour than I could make in a whole day was too tempting to resist. But it was also a challenge in another dimension but similar to the choices I had to make to cross the continent in search of the white wolf. But now I was going to jump economic trains while in motion and if I could land on my feet then I would be going from one extreme to another. Never mind that ethically I was burning every bridge I had meticulously built for a decade but culturally and historically I had the chance of a lifetime - no, I had an unprecedented chance to go from rags to riches. Literally, I was wearing oil soaked rags and patching my pants with shoelaces and looking longingly at the woman serving food at the Loaves and Fishes homeless kitchen before I got on my rattling moped with no light and flat tires. Like I'd never actually met someone with a wood stove in their van or someone who had gone to the upper limit of Canada from the tip of Mexico, the story I would have to tell if I jumped from one train (destined for disaster) to another train rolling into an uncertain future pushed by the energy of a million trees and lizards from the Pleistocene era couldn't be missed. Well, I jumped for many reasons, money, love, hope, a guitar, adventure, experience but also for a chance to be a part of history.

I'm neck deep in history right now and it's the story of America that I've been looking for. Desperate Man with Diverse Skills Finds Fortune in Deserted Plains. Mankind inches forward, following our collective crazy heart. The oil we're sucking from the earth has already been purchased by Australian investors. Acreage rent on ranches went from $150/acre to $10,000 an acre in less than a decade. Wages went through the roof. Fortunes were made overnight and what was once a dusty town on the edge of a spinach and cotton field became a hub of international commerce. Debt got paid off, land was purchased, businesses grew. The cities I've lived in like Los Angeles and Boston and Saint Louis have all had their boom era. They are either in decline or are in stasis. But this part of Texas is comparable to a small hill that has the potential to be a 20,000 ft mountain. Geology is a big part of this area so the comparison is apt. The White Mountains were once as tall as the Alps. The Alps will one day be as flat as the Florida coastline. To grasp the great distances and time spans is almost beyond my imagination but here in this dusty town of narrow streets and unpainted highways I can sense the eruption of prosperity that will lead to millions of people coming here for work. They will transform the land here until it is unrecognizable. They come with dreams and prayer and deceit. They are running from their past and caught up in the rushing tide of economic boom. They are totally ignorant of the hard times gripping folks in Cleveland and they are ignorant of the destruction on the east coast. This is our time right here and we are devoted to progress at all cost because when this is a thriving metropolis then no one will remember the lies and the cons and the fraud and the broken treaties and failed partnerships. All that will remain is what worked at the time...what was better than the rest.

I've spanned the continent to learn the truth about America and mostly what I've seen is despair and a beaten, confused people in decline. On that polluted beach I had given up hope. But then I found this job and am not only a witness to the rebirth of the elusive dream but I'm actually a participant as my bank account swells to unprecedented heights. When you jump from one train to another it's impossible to follow the path of the first. It passes over the horizon and beyond your influence. I'm on this train now and it would be unsophisticated to say it is better or worse...but the historical significance is what amazes me. This train seems bound for glory in the eyes of the grinning passengers. But I know it's really bound to become exactly like the train I just left, like the Alps will one day crumble to dust. But my memory is getting as bad as my eyesight and eventually all we here in the oil field will remember are the good times, the salad days, the boom. Our kids have good chances to survive. The depression and zombie apocalypse is someone else's problem. For that, I'm thankful.


Anonymous said...

I liked the getting off the train and getting on another but never seeing where the first train went or was headed.
I am thankful I get to read you rants and raves.
I can feel it in your writing, even though you are fucking the world, your worldview and everything you have built for the last 10 years, you are happier, more carefree, relaxed. Desperation has trickled away from you and you are writing from a different place.


Oggy Bleacher said...

Cyndi Lauper was right when she sang, "Money changes everything"

Anonymous said...

What a powerful piece of writing - Tom Wolfe would be envious, Thomas Wolfe would give you a hug, and Hemingway would invite you to box! Powerful, right on the money at all levels - you have earned the right to be America's chronicler, whether in the land of poverty or the land of riches, it's all the same except in one the money and beds are better.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.