Saturday, March 23, 2019

In Closing

The adventure of a lifetime isn't supposed to mean a lifetime of one, never-ending adventure. There has to be a beginning, middle, and an end. Or else the adventure and the life merge into an indistinguishable blob that is neither life nor an adventure. 

The road takes a toll on one's heart and body. The soul may ripen with age, but the skin wrinkles, the hair turns white, the beard grizzles, the organs shrivel and decay. I remember being able to type accurately and furiously as the library was closing and the librarian was kicking me and the other homeless men into the streets of Santa Monica, typing with the words firing from my fingers, with the passion and the fearlessness of a man in search of a voice, a man who may have found the voice he was searching for, but was pushing the limits. Now I have to spell check the word 'Milk'.

Speaking of Beginnings, Middles, and Ends... I will recollect my three ghosts of travel, the moments, (one could call them eras since I'm talking about a decade of time). The beginning of the Man in The Van was not the first post, nor the tenth, because I think those were attempts to discover my blogging persona. The beginning was when I morphed into the honest, unaffected asshole one sees today. That was probably on the sands of Mexico, La Paz...summer of 2009. The van's timing cover gasket blew out and required a full dis-assembly of the front of the engine in the parking space I had just rented at a house. It was embarrassing that the second day I met that family I was neck deep in grease, but such is life. I had to fix that gasket twice because there are two layers of gaskets and the deepest one was the one that failed. (Hey, 10 years later it's never needed adjustment.) The Mexican journey was always one that could collapse at any second. I planned to spend one year in Mexico, travel towards Guatemala and abandon the van when it failed me. But I felt comfortable in La Paz up until the insane summer heat arrived and, from apathy and malaise, I did not get on the ferry to mainland Mexico. The heat drove me quite mad until I only dreamt of northern climate, the coolness of trees. Also, I had planned badly for the trip as my bank card expired and I didn't have access to any money. So I drove north without ever grasping how the persona of the blog had been adopted without my being aware. I wasn't acting anymore. Life in the van had become my life, it was not a phase anymore. I had faced mechanical challenges in desperate times in harsh conditions and I had been forced to embrace the challenge, and the process shed my previous persona that treated the van as a separate, 8 cylinder, character-rich conveyance. By the time I drove north from La Paz, the van was a part of me and that marked the beginning of the journey. Our fates had become inseparable.

The Middle was a large period of time that included a trans-continental journey called The Arctic Wolf Quest to Baffin Island, in which I played the role of a time-travelling scientist trying to save the future of humanity. Then an International journey as far south as Panama that required my involvement in the hydro-fracturing fields of Louisiana and Texas. This lasted many years.

The End was my return to America and realizing I had only one more journey on my bucket list, a tour of Southern Utah, which I accomplished before going completely broke for the third or fourth time since owning the van. Alas, the financial limits of the gypsy life forced me to seriously pursue and get hired in the adult world of the National Park System. That launched me into a world that the van did not really fit in and my priorities changed so that my main focus was no longer reflecting on experiences and projects, but simply moving on to another project with no reflection. What really pained and vexed me was the crazy hoops I had to jump through to play piano. I mean, I love playing Nat King Cole songs on the piano and imagining Diana Krall whispering in my ear, but the van had forced me to visit old age homes and sort of lie my way into being the evening's entertainment. Most of the times it was pretty harmless adventure into the memory garden of my blighted future but sometimes I wound up playing show tunes for actual schizophrenic patients since I mistook a group home for mental invalids for a long term care facility. I wondered, would it be too much for me to just buy a house so I could put a piano in it? Like a normal person?

The bulk of these highlights are what await you if you click randomly through my posts. The quest was to experience the world on its terms...what is the world like from 2009-2019? If I changed the world at all, it was purely by accident. These experiences included the vitriol-filled political punditry that has replaced what was the Internet, the celebrity gossip machines, the virtual minutia that now rules our every day life. The trends I've witnessed are a combination of self-consciousness that drives one to view videos on "how to wipe your ass" or "how to eat an apple" or "Why you are jerking off all wrong." These videos and similarly titled essays have two functions: 1) to fill the required puff writing assignments that Internet content employees are required to fill. Essays equal space for more ads and ads are the only thing that matters. The essay is redundant. 2)  To disseminate information that actually illuminates every-day activities in a new light. But this 'information' empowers and weakens people at the same time. Now, every mundane activity can be double-checked on the Magnificent Internet of Oz to make sure we are doing it right. Yes, humanity evolved to the point that parenting, childbirth, sex, eating, etc. are now mysterious and baffling activities that can only be studied, or 'hacked',  by watching a video involving animated puppets or reading an essay written by a 23 year old Brown University philosophy major. We have all this information at the tip of our fingers but don't trust ourselves to eat an apple correctly without first consulting the all-powerful Oz. We take drugs to fall asleep, and take drugs to wake up. Children are drugged if they can't concentrate on 8 hours of jingoistic social programming at school. Adults are drugged if they get addicted to drugs. Then we study the internet to determine if we should or should not take the advice of doctors...who in turn study the internet for their own reasons.

Have I reached conclusions? No. I've reached milestones that will be revisited. Have you studied Mexican political history? Well, I have dabbled in Mexican History and it is extremely complicated and tumultuous. Mexico has had a Civil War/Revolution/War for Independence/Coup/Dictatorship or something cataclysmic every few months since 1700. Repeatedly, the only peace Mexico enjoyed was during a quality dictatorship. The half-assed dictatorships like Carranza's were violent, as well as oppressive. Porfirio Diaz at least was only oppressive. I think, "Gee, maybe a peaceful transfer of power between complete idiots like Bush, Clinton, Obama and Trump is indeed better than having Bernie Sanders occupy the Vermont statehouse with a mercenary army from Ontario who bomb railroads, execute priests, sell New York's mineral resources to France, and swear to supplant the government at all cost." Yes, it's better because Mexico has proven with 200 years of insane failures in the political realm that a violent revolution guarantees the ideals of the revolution will never be realized because the revolution obliterates both the need for the revolution and the ideals of the revolutionaries. My study of Mexican history reaffirms my feeling that there are no immigrants from Mexico, only refugees who should be welcomed. (Then I wonder if obese, godless, consumer addicts should be a welcome committee to anyone.) America meddled in Mexican politics for centuries and caused, intentionally or accidentally, much of the turmoil that led to the refugees. Call me repulsive liberal or a disgusting democrat, but I'm of the opinion that you don't turn away from the mess you make; you try to clean them up. It's called being responsible in some circles; in other circles it's called being a repulsive liberal.

I've made sacrifices. Early on during my van life I crossed paths with the kid of a friend in L.A. The kid toured the van and then looked at his mother and said, precociously, "I wonder if living in a van would expand my views of the world and broaden my mind." He was about 13 years old. The mother was horrified. I stammered, "Well, sonny, leave that to me. You stay in school. I gotta run." The experience forced me to make the decision to completely cut off all contact with children and all contact with people who have children. It's safer that way for everyone. Hobos have a mystique about them that is not within their power to shut off and that mystique acts as an illusion that their lifestyle is somehow causing their mystique, that their lifestyle makes them mysterious and if a kid who is impressionable decides to live in a van of his own then he thinks he will become mysterious also, and his life will blossom. None of that is true, but an impressionable kid will not see that and begin to equate a vagabond lifestyle with 'freedom' and 'spirituality'. It's like meeting a sad computer programmer and thinking it's the occupation that makes him sad. Or a happy motorcycle mechanic and thinking that occupation makes him happy. No, I've found careers are easily adapted to, even if they are all mundane and monotonous. The world needs engineers and doctors and selfless leaders who can inspire others, not gypsy van dwellers. You can adapt to any occupation, but the fluctuations of spirit and self-worth usually don't have anything to do with your job or lifestyle. The van lifestyle was required to see the world on its terms. There's no other way to do it, no other way to travel unhindered and self-sufficient among the multi-classes of the universe. I've worked as I traveled, but the work became all-encompassing because the world now demands absorption of its employees. Work is the study of minutia and the development of minute skills of a trade or career. To work well, one must abandon universality, abandon holistic philosophies and embrace minutia, embrace trade-specific details. The plow-horse knows how to plow. The milk cow knows how to give milk. One such as I, who admires Hesse and his macro-cosmic ethics, is drawn to Electrical Code books not for confirmation of ideas, but for relief from the uncertainty of the universe. Code books are definitions and 'rules' in a world that defies rules. The world rewards the man with a hammer. There is no reward for the man who ponders over a nail or cogitates about a hammer. The rewards for such ruminations are brief and private and intangible. The man with a hammer leaves behind a shed or a staircase; the man who reflects about a hammer builds castles in the sky. Speaking of Hesse, they say everyone gets what he wants. When I first read the book Narcissus and Goldmund I felt I wanted the wisdom Goldmund had. I wanted to write about it passionately like Jack Kerouac, but I wanted the wisdom and reflection Goldmund reveals rather than the melancholy confusion of Kerouac. Well, I got what I wanted. There is a scene after Goldmund's prolonged wandering through a plague-ravaged land when goes to confess in a church. I love this book most of all for the depth of reflection it contains. 

There were a number of confessionals in the church, but no priests. They had died, or they lay in the hospital, or they had fled for fear of contamination. The church was empty. Goldmund's steps echoed hollow under the stone vault. He knelt before an empty confessional, closed his eyes, and whispered into the grill:
"Dear God, see what has become of me. I have returned from the world. I've become an evil, useless man. I have squandered my youth like a spendthrift and little remains. I have killed, I have stolen, I have whored, I have gone idle and have eaten the bread of others. Dear Lord, why did you create us thus, why do you lead us along such roads? Are we not your children? Did your son not die for us? Are there no saints and angels to guide us? Or are they all pretty,
invented stories that we tell to children, at which priests themselves laugh? I have come to doubt you, Lord. You have ill-created the world; you are keeping it in bad order. I have seen houses and streets littered with corpses. I have seen the rich barricade themselves in their houses or flee, and the poor let their brothers lie unburied, each suspicious of the other. They slaughter the Jews like cattle; I have seen many innocent people suffer and die, and many a wicked man swim in prosperity. Have you completely forgotten and abandoned us, are you completely disgusted with your creation, do you want us all to perish?"

Sacrifices and Rewards: this is the story of all lives. If I'd been asked, "Oggy, when will you leave the van life behind?" I would've answered, "When it becomes intolerable to me."
I don't have a burning desire to own a house, but I accept that my life is NOT moving in the direction of minimalism and more austere vagabonding, which is what the gypsy life requires.
I accept that living in the van did not stop the ticking of my life's clock. I accept that living as a hedonistic youth did not keep me young. I admit that the limitations the van life has on my ability to play kit drums is significant. I can't carry all my instruments at once. I can't even carry half my instruments. I can't carry even 1/10th of my songbooks. I have bags within bags, sub compartments within sub-compartments that I have to memorize and re-memorize the contents of. (are my foot fetish magazines in the bathroom bag or the literature bag? Things like that.) Van life requires simplicity and the study of a single hobby, not 4 or 5 hobbies. Tools required to keep a 50 year old van on the road are significantly more important than tools to required to weld sterling silver jewelry. You can guess which tools I keep in the van. Add a 45 year old moped that requires metric tools and suddenly I've got a single hobby: keep the van and the moped running. Although I've learned to enjoy that single hobby and it has brought me satisfaction and even forced me to be the outgoing person I am expected to be, but my sole purpose in life is not to maintain a 50 year old van and 46 year old moped. No, I would like to maintain them on my schedule and relying on them for transportation and habitation means they control my destiny instead of me controlling their destiny. See?

On the topic of the van: El Conquistador is a legend. This 1969 Ford Econoline E200 Super Van with a camper top conversion. Is. A. Legend. An original, irresponsible, barely able to start and stop, 8 MPG fuel chugging, no catalytic converter exhaust spewing legend. The world can not accommodate this kind of vehicle. It's awful that I am allowed to drive this van. Future generations will look on this kind of vehicle ownership/use as we now look upon slavery or date rape. We're raping the future. We're raping the environment. We're destroying everything with insane, frivolous machines that allow up to do activities we only remember because we took photos of the activities. The van is a legend but gasoline prices have driven it out of a practical realm. Only thieves can waste gasoline on 8 cylinders of consumption.

I'm moving on. I'm changing my approach. I'm devoting myself to my other hobbies. I might even apply myself at work. If I live in a van much longer then I may run out of time to explore the world of home ownership. There came a time in Thoreau's residence on Walden Pond when he had worn a path in the forest floor. Thoreau had domesticated and altered the untrodden natural world he was searching for. He saw the future and it was "Walden Ponds Resort and Spa". So he left.

Recent insanity involving a Bowflex and Mt. Shasta.

Old adobe military camp and El Conquistador.

The crazy part is that I still own the van and regularly sleep in it and will not sell it if I can help it. The state I live in requires at least one non-running vehicle to be on my lawn and I intend on complying. I'm just not going to pretend I am living and traveling in the van like before, so the blog has become insincere. That's the truth. My lifestyle isn't going to change significantly beyond owning a house that I'm responsible for instead of renting places periodically. I still drive the van, work on the van, sleep in the van, etc. But the blog has to end for the good of the blog. I've written for one decade about living in the van and, at my best, I was able to juggle the work and the blogging, but honestly I cheated the work and my employers in favor of the blog and my essays. My work was the blog and the other shit, oil field, national park, aluminum foundry, etc. was incidental. My work was the blog and I did put my heart and soul into that work. I figured anyone can fix the mistakes I made wiring harnesses for semi-conductor wafer slicing machines. But not anyone can write my blog, so I decided I should focus on that. I did focus on that for one decade and now my focus is more on the minutia of work (flushometers and LED light strips ballasts) and what it means for humanity. I plan on writing a completely different blog that focuses on the minutia of home renovation work but it does not belong on this blog. I feel like any new adventures I have in the van will be for my benefit alone and if I ever write a legitimate summation of my decade behind the wheel then I'll publish that here but don't hold your breath. As far as the home renovation blog, there are hundreds to choose from and if you happen to stumble on mine then don't ask me questions about the van. The home renovation stuff is separate.

I hate that this sounds like a shitty Judd Apatow movie plot where the 'over-aged youth embraces adulthood.' Sure, I'll give away my porn, throw away my water bongs, buy a Brooks Brothers tie and matching socks. Hell, I'll say the pledge of fucking allegiance every morning. Maybe get married and have some kids. Yeah, that old fucking routine. It's gross to me, it's gross to even consider owning property that was definitely stolen from the Chiracahua Apaches when the nationwide Genocide occurred in the 1880s. That's gross enough, but to compound the disgust with some kind of illusion that I'm 'embracing adulthood' is an insult when everything that I've seen suggests adults in America are a repulsive walking-caustic-acid collection of pop culture factoids, diabetes, and fast food preservatives.

No, I have embraced nothing but my own manufactured disillusionment. I may as well swim with the current for a while because I'm convinced the whole package is defective and we're all fucked. Live in a Walmart parking lot, a mansion, a boat, a tunnel under the Los Angeles subway. It makes no difference. Everything suggests mankind is on a collision course with apocalypse. CO2 levels are beyond what can be reversed. Plain and simple. We got a fucking moron-friendly President who embraces a confederate loser culture and encourages fuckheads to protest Electric company SmartMeter radioactivity but then denies that the climate has been damaged by humanity. Ok. That makes sense. We can ban a Michael Jackson Thriller album but the loser Confederate flag flies over multiple courthouses...because the victims of rape and torture in the case of the confederacy were only black and deprived of basic human rights by the racist writers of the constitution and the sadistic colonists of America. Alright. We've got our priorities straight. The Confederacy is 'history', but Michael Jackson is a 'sex predator'. ok. Let's boycott the greatest pop artist ever because he's accused of child abuse, but memorialize a generation of rape and abuse because it's 'part of our history'. Teach pre-civil war America and you teach history. Talk about Thriller and you're a pervert. Maybe we should bring back Asbestos, the miracle fiber. Or lead paint? Fuck all that. I'm firmly repulsed by what the status quo peddles as a grotesque 'adulthood'. I didn't avoid adulthood for 30 years because I'm childish. No, I avoided it because what passes for adulthood has categorically destroyed the entire planet's atmosphere and has polluted the rivers and oceans and has exploited 99% of humanity for the instant gratification of the 1%. If that's adulthood then, fuck it, I'll live in a van on a beach and shit in a hole dug by a palm tree. That was my position 10 years ago, but those times are behind me. I neither embrace adulthood, nor rebel against it. I'm going to do my own thing until they bury my emaciated body in the ground and tow El Conquistador to the scrap yard. Right now, my own thing is to buy a house (if you saw the house I'm going to buy you would know I'm not embracing adulthood) and write my book about the state of the world and make some sterling silver collar tips and play some drums. Adulthood and conformity has nothing to do with it. I see the situation exactly for what it is, I know how we got here, I know we'll get what we deserve and I know there's no altering the destructive path we're on, and I'm over it all. Way to go, adults! 

The most generic explanation for my blog-tirement is that I've dodged as many bullets as I think I'm allowed. I've flown faster than my angels. I've used all my nine lives. I feel this in my bones. I have no more close calls left in my allotment. The next close call will be the end and I prefer to put the gun down and take my chances with another kind of risk taking. Maybe touring on a motorcycle will allow me more chances, but definitely touring in the van has pushed my luck to depletion. How many more cliffs/bandits/potholes/cows/corrupt policemen/serial killers can I miss in the van? I think none. 

On the topic of mortality I will say that I did not know how fearless I was for a decade until I stopped to reflect. "Don't look down" is advice for rock climbers and it's metaphoric as well as realistic. Don't look at what you can't control. Concentrate on the goal...each handhold, each foothold. "Down" is not a concept that needs to occupy your thoughts when "Up" is your direction. I took this methodology to heart for over a decade. I did not look down. I looked toward my destination, navigating every turn, every flat tire, every police shakedown and drug addicted hitchhiker, every gas needle hovering below Empty, every pain in my back and rattling wheel bearing. Those demanded my full attention. The cliff, the river, the sharp end of the mugger's knife, the pit of despair in every Nicaraguan torture prison...I did not dwell on these or even give them any attention. I did not think I was immortal, I simply refused to give mortality any time in my meditations because I needed to stay focused. It was a period of time where I mentally transcended mortality. I could have died at any moment, but my death would have been a surprise and not the conclusion to a time of dread. I believe that give the choice of dreading my death until I die or denying my mortality and being surprised by death then I would choose the latter. Dwelling on death, especially as one after another of the characters in this blog have died, hung themselves, shot themselves after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, died from congestive heart failure, etc, leads to nothing but more refined dwelling on death. It's not productive. If I fixate on the meaning of life then fixating on the meaning of death is even worse. I did not know how blissfully focused I was on life until my lifestyle and scenarios allowed me time to focus on death, to look down with dread and see the gaping maw of eternal damnation or eternal nonexistence...however you want to look at it, really reminds me that my ego is a manufactured construct that never existed in the first place.

Oggy, distracted by his chrome mirror glasses, always on the lookout for serial killers and cliffs.
I want there to be finality, but there isn't. The van didn't explode or lose brakes and plummet down a mountain ravine; the van wasn't stolen; I didn't sell the van. The van is not irreparably broken. Basically, I could continue the blog, expand on it, explore other dimensions of the van life but I want to quit because I think my best improvised essays on this subject are behind me. How many times can I write about homeless people and police harassment? It's all the same story. I'm chasing ghosts now and the past two years were solely devoted to working in national park system and although I lived in El Conquistador the whole time, the van was not my life. So I didn't write much about the van life. Now I'm looking to buy I bought an actual house with PEX plumbing and that will take me further afield of life in the van. So, why not call it quits and allow my readers or those who stumble on this blog to know that for 10 years, and no longer, I wrote what I could about this adventure and at the end of 10 years I stopped writing? Isn't finality better? There will be no more random blog posts. None. I'm done. Don't expect me to add anything to this blog. I might, but probably won't. I'll probably edit some previous posts but not add any more. So, this is the last blog post. Unlike Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, I want to wear a different hat. I'm satisfied with the experiment and satisfied with what I've published here. My main goal was self amusement and I did accomplish that at the time of writing but I can't say I'm amused by the end product. I'm indifferent. I didn't travel to write a blog; I decided to write a blog to record my travel as an afterthought and because it was a novelty in 2009. Now you can't throw a stick without hitting some asshole living in a van and writing about it for a self-published coffee table book with staged photos of mock leisure on beaches. This blog recorded a decade of writing and video editing and trip planning and travel. I experienced these moments and the development and recording of these moments from all sides, in all dimensions. So, the actual resulting blog post is merely one dimension of an event I couldn't completely capture, but that needed to have a one dimensional platform to share it with others. That's the nature of existence: we are all struggling to communicate our singularity, but failing, so we are satisfied with sharing a trace of what we think we think. This blog certainly represents what I thought that I thought I wanted to share. I amused myself sharing what I thought would amuse me and others. That's the basic product and it's all here. 

I only meant to live in the van for one year in Mexico, but got carried away with the life. It was easier to stay a gypsy, but I've checked off all my North and South American bucket list items. I'm done here.

If everyone could watch Audrey H. perform this tune it would be a better world.

  I leave you with some words from my future work that sounded much better when I first wrote them: Oggy's mind was a circus tent, divided into stages of amusement and distraction. His inner eye perched on the center pole and cast its attention on the hysteria below, hosted by his somersaulting imagination. At the one/two o'clock position a walrus balanced a beach ball on its nose while a gnome tossed magic mushrooms to a fairy flipping backwards over the beach ball. Oggy's amusement quickly waned as he detected a quiet desperation in the gnome's expression, a sadness, a dejection and resignation to a lowly task. Pretension made the gnome sad. The fairy was one of those arrogant know-it-all fairies who provides infinite advice on how to better your life with pomegranate juice or Yoga, but obviously has failed to apply it to her own affairs. Thus, the fairy was only partially invested in the pointless routine, catching mushrooms while upside down over the spinning beach ball...again. The fairy was whistling a tune that had been composed with an idyllic vibe in mind but lapsed into sadness, even disdain upon passing through the fairy's glitter-dust lips. This disdain highlighted the pathos of a fairy being encumbered with juvenile entertainment and the fairy knew it but was trapped by her own emotional short-comings, one of which (in the opinion of the walrus) was that she had the sincerity of a stripper nearing the end of her shift. Perhaps, Oggy suggested to himself in the voice of his father, the fairy only wanted to surround herself with her intellectual inferiors to be the brightest bulb in a room of dim bulbs. Another voice reminded Oggy that the world was not in the literary definitions he manufactured to define his reality, but in the moist breath and hot blood of his neighbors, the men and women on foot, the other undefined. Yes, probably he should pay less attention to the mental recording of events than to the experience and focus of living. Sure. It'll be fun.

He lived happily ever after.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this in 2023 ..I enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you.

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