Category: The Invisible Life

A couple months ago, I decided to write the FBI and request a copy of my file to be used later for a Grimerica blog. I don’t want to say I’m running out of ideas here, but I knew the process of requesting said file was fairly easy and would take a bit of time. Sooner or later, it would pay off and I’d have all the material for a blog post literally delivered to my door step. I imagined one of two outcomes being possible…

Either there would be something…or there would be nothing.

And hey, if there was nothing then I could write about that too. Sure it would give the blog post an anti-climatic flare, but even if I played the whole thing off like Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone’s vault, at least I’d get something out of it. It’s not like there’s ever been any kind of standards or expectations around here.

My journey started over at Google, which quickly led me to www.getmyfbifile.com. I entered in some basic personal info and they were kind enough to generate a ready to print and mail letter that I sent off later that afternoon. The website can generate query letters for several different government agencies, so just for shits and giggles I fired one off to the CIA too.

A quick story about my one and only run in with the FBI (up until this point)…

One afternoon, I was hanging out at a buddy’s house when we noticed this dude in a suit outside going through the mail. My friend lived on the first floor of a three-flat, and the mailboxes for all the units were located just outside a picture window next to his front door. So my buddy goes out there to see what the deal with this guy is, and the man identifies himself, badge and all, as an FBI agent. He asks my friend if he’s ever known a man named Eduardo Sanchez (made up for the sake of this story) and does he live at this address. My buddy doesn’t know an Eduardo Sanchez, but funny you mention it, we get that guy’s mail all the time. The G-Man then tells us that that’s because there is no Eduardo Sanchez and someone in the area is using that name and this address to create a false identity. The man then thanks us for our time, takes the mail addressed to Sanchez and fucks off to whatever rock he crawled out from. We go back inside, minds totally blown.

I tell that story to illustrate a point; there are several ways in which our lives can intersect with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in non-felonious ways. Maybe at some point our next door neighbors were drug dealers, or our coworkers were committing credit card fraud. I half expected the file to come back looking something like a high school scrap book. Remember this guy? Remember the time we did this? Remember signing this petition on your way home from work that day? And then…several weeks later, a letter came in the mail addressed to me from the FBI itself.

They said they were unable to identify any main file records responsive to my request. It then mentioned, however, that this neither confirms nor denies the existence of my name on any watch lists, but assured me that this was a standard notification given to all requesters and should not be taken as an indication that these records do, or do not, exist. Single page letter typed, not even suitable for framing.

I was satisfied, a little bummed maybe but honestly what did I expect? I’ve never been in any serious legal trouble. Never served in the military, or held a security clearance. Truth be told though, it was kind of a blow to my ego.

Except it really shouldn’t have been. I mean, rationally speaking there was never any reason for there to be a file in the first place. It was the irrational part of me, the conspiracy loving nut job part of me that just expected there to be one. Surely, I must have done something over the past fifteen or so years to invoke the ire of the Men in Black. What about all those Snowden files? Aren’t we all being watched anyway? I quickly realized that I had been living most of my life under a thin veil of counter-culture induced paranoia, one that was possibly unfounded.

So, that was it. The letter came back from the FBI, limp and boring, but it was still something I could get a couple thousand words out of. About a week later I finally sat down to write this post, and then something funny happened. I got a second letter in the mail, this time from the CIA, and this time straight up denying my request.

Once again they say they can neither confirm nor deny any records exist, but then it goes on to say…

“Consider this portion of the response a denial of your request pursuant to FOIA exemptions (b)(1) and (b)(3), and PA exemptions (j)(1) and (k)(1)”

So what’s the deal with those FOIA exemptions? Well, they were kind enough to include a second sheet that gives you explanations for all those exemptions.

(b)(1) exempts from disclosure information currently and properly classified, pursuant to an Executive Order.
(b)(3) exempts from disclosure information that another federal statute protects.
(j)(1) exempts from disclosure certain information maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
(k)(1) exempts from disclosure information properly classified, pursuant to an Executive Order.

I read this, re-read this, read it again, and then Googled the shit out of all this stuff. I’m still not sure what it all means, but I missed the initial melancholy the letter from the FBI gave me. The FBI search turned up absolutely nothing, and this letter felt slightly more that nothing, but less than something. It leaves me feeling like there should be a next step – although the real question is in what direction?

The general consensus is that nowadays all the ABC agencies are so inundated with these requests, that they fire off their pre-generated letters almost automatically. From what I’ve read online, some people do get more of a response, legal records and credit scores, military records if applicable, but not everyone. If that’s the case maybe the fact that I got nothing back maybe does actually mean something…or maybe not, but now we’re treading back towards the topic of paranoia.

And paranoia is like a fire, it’s all consuming. Its very definition is worrying too much about what other people are doing. It’s walking around hyper-focused on other people and fearing the world around you. Whether or not a file exists is really inconsequential, it’s the power we give that file that hold all the cards. I could write more letters, scream louder and harder than I ever have before, and what would that accomplish? Maybe I’d get access to some papers telling me shit about myself I already know?

I also started to question why the hell this ever seemed like a good idea in the first place. It almost made me wish I was married so I’d have a wife at home to run ideas like this by before I do silly shit like write letters to the Central Intelligence Agency. Like seriously dude, who does that? What did I expect to find, and did I ever stop to honestly consider the emotional impact those findings might have on me?

And so what about the findings? Inconclusive at best. Probably nothing, possibly something, but in the end I think I realized I don’t really give a shit either way. The very fact that I’m writing this for a website affiliated with a podcast should prove I’m not really a private person anymore. Most of us aren’t.

How bizarre is it that a culture can be so obsessed with reality TV and social media, yet so terrified at the prospect of cameras in public and government surveillance of the internet? We thrive on selfies and sharing our thoughts on twitter, we place a value on our individual worth on how many followers we have or have…just as long as one of those followers isn’t law enforcement. I mean, I get it, no one wants to party with your parents. It’s like drinking with your cousins at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving, everyone is laughing and having a good time, then one of your aunts walks over and everyone shuts the fuck up, just waiting until she leaves.

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What do suitcase nukes, Amanda Bynes, Bill Cosby, and the Sony hack all have in common? What follows is a good ole fashioned Conspiracy Theory. Ripped from the headlines, drenched in paranoia, and laid out spread eagle for the world to see. Take from it, dear reader, what you will.

Never in a million years did I ever think The Interview would actually get released. I dig James Franco and Seth Rogen, I dig their movies (Pineapple Express is somewhat of a modern day comedic masterpiece in my eyes), but this flick seemed like such an overwhelmingly BAD idea. I think I just expected someone at some point to pull the plug on it – Sony, the State Department, the UN. It’s not enough to just put the shoe on the other foot to gain perspective on this matter. If another country released a movie about the assassination of our president, yeah it might raise a few eyebrows but we (hopefully) wouldn’t go to war over it…right?

The problem with that analogy is simple; No one does movies like the US does movies.

If the British Empire conquered the world with their ships, than the US conquered the world via pop culture. Our movies and music cross all borders, mass media leaving just as much of an impact as our foreign policy. True, other countries create music and release movies, but no one does it the way we do it. A handful of foreign films find their way to American audiences every year, meanwhile most foreign markets are saturated with American films. It’s not even close. It’s not even a competition. The Interview and its dramatized assassination of the current North Korean president wouldn’t have just played here, it would have played worldwide. Audiences across the globe would have bought tickets to watch that man’s death while laughing.

One of the tenants this country was founded upon was free speech, and to many this could be seen as a simple exercise in free speech. But, the way I always had it explained to me, is that free speech stops being free when you do something like yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater. Yeah you’re free to yell whatever you want, but you could cause a riot doing something like that, someone could get hurt. With great power comes great responsibility. And when you have a voice that the whole world pays attention to, you should think twice about being an asshole and making jokes at other people’s expense.

Throw in to the mix that the country in question here is North Korea. Now I wasn’t there when this all went down, so I can’t say for sure that they had anything to do with the attacks. The FBI said they did, North Korea says they didn’t. At this hour definitive proof has not come to light either way, so there’s really no point in debating that. It’s really not important to this post. What is important is that North Korea is this bat shit little country with really big fucking balls, a reputation for not giving two fucks about what anyone else thinks about their human rights policy, and a grudge against the US.

And still…no one thought this might be a bad idea?

So the movie gets made, the trailer gets released. You hear some squawking from North Korea but nothing major. Months go by and as the release date nears this Sony hack thing happens. Yes it’s a massive security breach and many innocent employees SSN’s and medical records are released, but the majority of what you read about in the news is how one studio exec talked shit about another, or how Spider-Man almost made his way into Captain America 3. There’s still no plan on delaying the release of The Interview. There are a few black eyes and bruised egos, but so far everything is pretty sane, pretty rational. They have the press screening, red carpet premier in LA goes off without a hitch, everything is fine.

And then a couple days ago something happens causing Sony to pull the movie, and shelve it indefinitely. This is where the conspiracy theory comes in. The official story is that this hacker group also made threats to bomb movie theaters Christmas Day showing The Interview, and under fear of liability lawsuits Sony backed down. See…I don’t know if I buy that.

First off, if we stick with the narrative that this hacking was an attack perpetrated by the North Korean military than it would stand to reason they would also be responsible for the “9/11 style attacks” threated against movie theaters across the county. Wait a minute…what? How do they plan on accomplishing that? Long range missiles? Are we supposed to believe there are North Korean sleeper cells operating inside this country poised to attack at any time? I can’t imagine there aren’t a whole hell of a lot of North Koreans in the US that we aren’t already tracking.

The only way I can see fear of physical violence being the reason this movie gets pulled is if there’s suitcase nukes out there floating around. Even then that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because what, you’re a terrorist with a suitcase nuke and you’re saving it for when the AMC down the block shows a James Franco movie you don’t like? Unless there’s something big, that’s already play that could be redirected towards this latest fiasco I can’t see this as being a legit threat.

So, then what was it? Well, we know whoever perpetrated the Sony hack uncovered a treasure trove of emails and personal information about actors, directors, producers, anyone that’s every done business with Sony. And like I stated before, so far all the emails released have been pretty PG-13, some low level name calling or business strategy spoilers. But, what about all those OTHER emails? You know, the ones about how much cocaine Nicholas Cage wanted on set for Ghost Rider 2, or tips on removing hooker blood from Cuba Gooding Jr’s trailer during the production of Radio?

You’re telling there’s none of that in there? I mean we’re about to go a little bit further down the rabbit whole in a minute but let’s stop right here for now. We know drug abuse and wild debaucherous behavior runs rampant in Hollywood. Maybe the threat Sony pictures is trying to skirt by pulling The Interview isn’t so much a physical one, but a moral public relations nightmare.

In a 2011, an interview with Nightline former child actor Corey Feldman, opened up about years of sexual abuse his longtime friend Corey Haim had suffered at the hands of a “Hollywood Mogul”, and that abuse was not only common amongst child actors but “Hollywood’s biggest problem and darkest secret”. Corey Haim, backed this story to People magazine a year later and Corey Feldman would go on to write about the topic extensively in his autobiography that came out late last year. Being a father myself this is a tough topic to write about and I have no desire to delve too deeply into, but spend some time on Google and it’s all there, along with many other accounts from many other child actors and performers.

It’s a fucked up thing to think about, but it’s also a hard topic to ignore. So far, 20 women have accused Bill Cosby of rape. Are any of these topics covered specifically in the Sony emails? Who knows, but there could be other incidents we still don’t know about. It’s hard to believe that you’re going to steal all of Sony’s emails and the most slanderous thing you’re going to come across is “Angelina Jolie is a bitch”. There’s more, believe me there’s more, and Sony knows it.

THAT, dear readers, is why I think Sony flinched. Because if you’re a hacker group bent on retaliating against a movie studio for trying to embarrass your country by releasing a movie like The Interview how are you going to fire back? Hollywood and American culture is too big of a powerhouse on the world’s stage? Exposing it for the cesspool of sin and corruption that it is would be a good start. It’s also interesting to consider the fact that Paramount was about to rerelease Team America: World Police in the theaters as a way to stand in solidarity with Sony, but after a few short hours they backed out of that idea as well. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and hackers have the ability to expose them all. But you know what hackers don’t have the ability to do? Bomb movie theaters.

Still though, I can’t stop wondering why The Interview even got made. I’m sure no one anticipated exactly such a scenario as this unfolding but someone had to expect something right? I mean I know I did when I saw the trailer. You know, the US government has a pretty sizable hand in the movie making business. Not all movies mind you, but most of the bigger budget action pictures. Let’s say you want to make a movie like Peter Berg’s 2012 “movie based on a board game” Battleship, right? The most of the movie takes place on a battleship, there’s other battleships in the movie. Where do you find all those battleships? The US Navy of course, you can’t rent that shit. Any movie with tanks or military weaponry usually gets that stuff from the US government. They loan it out to the filmmakers.

So, let’s say a studio is making a movie the government doesn’t want them to make because it be potentially damaging to foreign policy, and six months from now that same studio wants to borrow a bunch of harrier jets for Transformers 5. Can you see where ‘ole Uncle Sam might be able to muscle in a little say-so about how that first movie is handled? So, thinking the US government wasn’t paying attention to what Sony was doing or doesn’t have any kind of power of them doesn’t make much sense either.

Maybe we wanted to start some shit with The Interview, maybe that the film’s intended purpose all along. A bloodless false-flag attack for the new millennium.

Maybe we smelled blood in the water after this Bill Cosby debacle so we used this as an excuse to hack Sony ourselves; the information collected enough to hold the pop culture tastemakers by the shorthairs for a long, long time. Election season is right around the corner and Hollywood does love to throw their fundraisers.

Or, maybe not. Who knows? Conspiracy Theories are always just that, theories. The power isn’t in the theories themselves; the power is in having the ability and outlet to share them. Alternative history, alternative science and medicine, they’re all just that…theories. Whether are not they become widely accepted or ultimately dismissed, I tend to believe we do ourselves a benefit just by seeking them out and humoring them, if only for a moment. A simple conversation with someone that holds a different point of view is sometimes more enlightening then all the 24/hr news channels combined.

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This is a story someone told me once, but don’t take it as gospel…

One afternoon, in the late 1960’s, L. Ron Hubbard and Anton LaVey were out day drinking in some bar in San Francisco. when inspiration struck. Hubbard had just had another one of his science fiction stories rejected from a prestigious literary magazine and his old army buddy LaVey was taking him out to drown his sorrows. Hubbard was laying on the usual self-pity trip most writers do when faced with adversity, when Anton LaVey, forever the straight forward pragmatist, cut to the heart of the matter…

“Ronny, man, listen, artistic freedom and financial freedom aren’t always the same thing. I always wanted to be a musician, and they got me playing the piano in strip clubs down in LA. It ain’t Top of the Pops. but at least I’m paying my rent with my fingers. “

“I’d take a writing gig for the paycheck, I swear I would! No one wants me though!”

“Then you gotta do it yourself old boy! Find your nitch and work your fingers bloody digging into it!” Anton said, downing the rest of this Tequilla Sunrise while simultaneously ordering three more from the bartender “Let me ask you something, what is the best selling book of all time?”

L. Ron Hubbard thought for a minute and then said quite simply…”The Bible”
A silence fell over the two of them. Anton was the first to speak…

”Really? I figured it would have been The Tale of Two Cities, or something”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s The Bible. Not that that does me much help.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s already a Bible, Anton. You can’t write another one. There’s only one.”

“Says who?”

And that that afternoon, with tequila in their bellies and the sun upon their backs, two old friends sketched outlines on cocktail napkins for the two books that would usher the New Age movement into the modern era. L. Ron Hubbard, would rehash several of this rejected short story ideas to write Dianetics, a religion of the future, chalk full of beings from outer space and invisible particles shooting from the sun. Anton LaVey would go the easier route, ret conning an already established bestselling text, to tell the story from the antagonist’s perspective. Before they left that night for their respective dwellings they shook hands, each proud of the work they had done and made a gentlemen’s bet – to see whose crackpot religion idea would sell the most books in twenty years. I’m too lazy to Google who won.

 

For reasons even I am not entirely sure of, I started reading the Bible this year on New Year’s Day. It had been sitting on my phone in app form for a while now, tucked away in the sub folder marked EMERGENCY next to the police scanner, Morse code translator, and US Army field manual for survival. It’s entirely possible I downloaded it in case I came across a demon possession in my travels, that’s legitimately how my mind works. But, for whatever reason that cold January morn I started a function of the app that put me on track to read the entire Bible in one year’s time. Provided I set aside roughly ten minutes a day to read a bit from the Old, a bit from the New, some Proverbs and Psalms. Strangely, here we are at the ass end of November and I’m still reading it. This is looking to be the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve even come close to keeping.

Reading it every day became habit, albeit something that felt like a positive one. I had gone through 12 years of Catholic school growing up, (in Chicago that’s due more to personal safety than spirituality) so religion wasn’t a topic I was known to shy away from. Plus, this is the Bible, man. Everyone talks about the Bible, but how many people you know have actually READ the Bible? And why not…Is it the length? If any single page document was responsible for this much culture, this many wars, wouldn’t we all read it at least once? The Bible may be the bestselling book in the world, but statistically speaking it’s also gotta be one of the least read, and probably the most misunderstood. All the more reason we should strive to understand it.

So, without further ado here we are, my impressions on the 87% of the Bible I’ve read so far, this year. I’m taking a page from the Cracked style of journalism here and doing this next part in bullet point format. My God have mercy on my soul…

– There are vast portions of the Bible that are nothing, but names and dates. Such and such a person had these many sons and they were named whatever, this king ruled for so many years and then that king ruled for so many years. The instructions on the exact specifications for building the Arc of the Covenant aren’t much easier of a read. Not only is it long and rambling and nonsensical, but it absolutely boggles my mind as to why someone would make that up. So, does that mean God isn’t real? Frankly…I don’t know. Hey, look, if you thought at some point during the body of this blog post I was going to even attempt to sway your opinion on the matter, one way or another, you’re fucking goofy. I’m going to offer that people that speak definitively on either the existence or non-existence of God, should be treated with equal mistrust. We simply don’t fucking know. Super devout hardcore religious fanatics are just as wrong as card carrying atheists. Both make assumptions based on something that can’t really prove one way or another. That kind 100% infallible self-confidence should only be reserved for drunk people on the dance floor.

– The epistles get salty from time to time. You kind of have to understand the historical context there, what was going on in the area politically (it’s a lot of arguing about circumcision actually). Proverbs are a good read, lots of fortune cookie-esque advice. The Gospels: Four different stories about the same events, all different. Are you sure these guys aren’t Irish? Exodus: Moses has the best superhero origin story of all time. Basically Superman in a nutshell. The Book of Job…man where do you even begin? Since there’s still 13% left to read I still haven’t gotten to the fan favorite, Revelations! What a pop culture icon that book turned out to be. I’ll get to it when I get to it, part of me wants to skip ahead, but I never was one of those neurotic people that read the last chapter first just so how they know how it all ends.

– There’s a ton of anti-Semitism in the Old Testament. The Jews are like the Jenny to God’s Forest Gump, perpetually fucking off and getting into trouble, but always (more or less) welcomed back with open arms. Frankly, there’s a lot of shit talking about a lot of different people. Women, gays, Babylonians, the Syrians…I don’t know who the fuck the Moabites are but they’re written as bigger heels then Patrick Bateman, Mr. Kurtz, and Moby Dick combined. God’s shit talking narrative also includes several mentions of other gods, which is interesting. I’m stealing a bit from Louis CK here, but it’s interesting to consider the fact that the #1 rule of the Ten Commandments is not to worship other gods, while rape doesn’t even make the list. It never says that other gods DON’T exist, just not to hold them in higher regard. Which brings us to…

– Moloch, Dagon, Baal and a host of other Gods that appear in there. You might recognize those names from their later use in Watchmen, HP Lovecraft, and Diablo 2, respectively. Who are these guys? How did I spend 12 years in Catholic school and never heard more than an utterance of their existence!? If fundamental Christians take the bible literally and think that all the other weird shit is real, then you can’t just pick and toss these guys (and possibly gals) aside.

– And much has been written about the inclusion of giants, watchers, fallen angles having sex with women, and potential extraterrestrials into the standard Biblical narrative. There are also several references to leviathans and dragons and all kinds of other crazy shit. Yeah, that stuff is kind of weird. Anyone that follows the fortean mindset understands the implications these make. But, then again, we have to ask ourselves…Is this all real? If we know the flood is real, and we believe the giants are real, then what makes us draw the line at Jesus? This is part of the reason I eventually had to give up on the show Ancient Aliens. The show’s internal logic gets fuzzy here.

– Most of what’s in the Bible can be divvied up into two categories; Religion vs. Spirituality. Religion is how you keep 40,000 people from killing each other while wandering around the desert. “Hey, quit stealing each other’s cows and fucking each other’s wives! We’re trying to read this map!” Dietary laws keep people from eating bad shellfish or undercooked pork. Spirituality, on the other hand, is all about making connections with the world and the people around you. The greatest schism I felt between the Old and New Testaments was the message of Love God vs. Love Man. The Bible today works as a seriously outdated code of laws, but as a spiritual text I think it still has some merit.

Look. I get why a lot of people thumb their noses at organized religion. Religion, is like fandom. You ever like a band, totally dig them and they mean the world to you. You’re the only one of your friends that’s really into them but these fuckers like mean the WORLD to you. Then you find out that band is coming to town and you get super fucking excited and you get your ticket and get a buddy. or the chick you’re seeing to go with you, if you buy the ticket, so you don’t have to go alone. Then the night of the concert comes and you’re so stoked you want to like fucking piss yourself and you go to the concert and you get there and buy your t-shirt and special tour edition 7″, or whatever and your girlfriend sticks them in her purse and you have a couple beers and this is the moment you’ve been waiting for…

And then the band comes out and not only do they kind of suck, but you start to notice everyone else in the crowd are complete and total douchebags? That shit happened to be with: The Hold Steady and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I think that happens a lot with people and religion too. We build it up, we expect too much, it doesn’t deliver like we expected, and the other fans are fucking annoying…

Some folks will criticize the Bible (and by extension the God contained within) as being responsible for much of the misery we see in today’s world. The separation of church and state is a novel one. Most nations align themselves with a religion that at least sprung forth from what we consider the Old Testament. Look, with all this stuff going on, all these characters and narratives and laws and exposition, it’s easy to pick out little details here and there and construct any narrative you want. Back in film school, we were given an editing project once, where we got a bunch of footage of a couple playing hide and seek. The assignment was to take the footage, and assemble the movie as you saw it unfold. Every student started with the same footage, but every student turned in a completely different edited film. People see the details they want to see, draw the conclusions that want to draw. That’s how one text can spawn so many different religions (not to mention sect, cults, ect). But, I cannot believe there is no value in this text. There are things in here worth saving, if only we took the time to read them and open our minds enough to understand them.

Because ultimately, mankind will look for spiritual salvation anywhere he can find it. The Bible is one of the bestselling books of all time? I wonder where all that money is going to…

It’s the early 80’s in upstate New York, and a down on his luck horror novelist by the name of Whitley Strieber has taken to hosting writer workshops in the basement of a VFW hall. Joel Olsteen and that Long Island Medium chick are both in attendance and the topic of discussion is, HP Lovecraft, and how his short stories spawned cults of fanatics that believe them to be the literal truth. Strieber, rubs his temples and Olsteen rambles on about the time he spent down in Lousiana with the mud people, who worship ancient gods, whose names don’t sound like words the human tongue was meant to pronounce when spoken aloud. The Long Island Medium chick, jumps in with an anecdote about a small fishing town on the coast of Maine she vaguely remembers visiting as a child.

Whitley Strieber sits back in his chair and thinks to himself, “There’s gotta be a better way to make a living…”

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I’ve always found horror movies and scary books/comics enjoyable, but what really gets me going is when people tell me their real life stories of the unexplained. They’re never as finely crafted or expertly told, but they’re fucking real and that’s what makes them so fascinating. I can deal with the lack of backstory or closure, hazy details and half memories; because I know that this isn’t some Hollywood bullshit. This is what’s really out there, and this is the way it really intersects with our daily lives.

So just in time for Halloween here are two eerie tales from my own life. Don’t expect phone calls coming from the attic or hooks left dangling on side view mirrors, just a couple really bizarre happenings from a Midwestern America.

xxx

The summer after 8th grade was full of graduation parties. Backyard BBQ’s, VFW hall throw downs, they ran the gambit. At that age they’re more for the parents than for the kids. None of us were old enough to drink, and we’d all had cheese burgers off the grill before. No, the 8th grade graduation party was a time honored way of the recent graduate to pay his parents back for all the hell to come by giving them an excuse to throw a party.

One such party I attended was thrown at a country club in the surrounding suburbs. The kid was a friend of ours, not super close but part of the extended family of misfits we hung out with in grade school. Only a few of us classmates were invited and once we got there we discovered there was little to do but wander around the forest preserve adjacent to the club.

I remember walking down the trail with my two friends and noticing something shiny and metallic catching my eye through the bush. I stopped the other two and pointed it out to them. For a good 5 minutes we tried to make out exactly what it was from our current vantage point but to no avail, the brush was too thick. Finally, one of my more courageous friends decided to go in and investigate. The second such a feat was even suggested I remember by body being overwhelmed with dread.

No. It’s not safe. Are you crazy? You are NOT crawling into the woods to investigate some mysterious object.

I will never be able to possess the words to convey the way I felt that afternoon. It’s a feeling I’ve known a only couple times in my life. Usually seconds before you get into a car accident that you see coming, or just before some drunk dude kicks your ass in the parking lot of bar. Standing there, on that bike path in that forest preserve in broad daylight I was sure that whatever lay just behind those bushes, was something I did not want to see.

Whatever interior dialogue I possessed that was psyching me out my friend clearly did not have, and sure as shit he bounded into the woods to go investigate. About 30 seconds later he called to us from the other side to join him, insisting to us that it was all perfectly safe. Hesitant I decided to enter.

On the other side of the thicket was a small clearing, covered on all sides with the same dense foliage, and in the center of the clearing, what had caught our attention from the path, was a bright, shiny, classic car. I knew even less about cars then than I do now so I’m not going to pretend I knew the make model and year. I have no clue, and when I think back to try and remember to look pictures up online or something I can’t trust that memory. The car keeps shifting from the old car my buddy Scotty D used to cruise around in in high school to the Buick 8 on the cover of Steven King’s From a Buick 8.

Still, there in the middle of this clearing stood this car. Pristine condition, totally untouched. We stood there marveling at it for a moment before the feeling came over me again…the one telling me to run. The other guys didn’t seem too concerned one way or the other, at this point my constant paranoia was becoming a joke, and with little prodding we left the clearing more out of boredom then any sense of self preservation. We all climbed out of the woods, and found our way back to the party.

Then, about a day or two later it hit me…

The brush around the clearing was completely intact, so there’s no way the car could have been driven in there recently without doing damage to the foliage OR the car itself. Both were in pristine condition, almost as if the car had mysterious materialized in the clearing (or possibly not even been a car at all). Moreover none of us seemed to notice this at the time, and when I called my friends a few days later to discuss it, they seemed totally uninterested. There was no discussion of how or why the car was even there in the first place. We just seemed to happen upon this totally illogical scenario, shrug our shoulders and then just move on about our day.

For some reason, even years later it still bothers me. How did this mysterious car find its way there, how long had it been there, and to what purpose? None of it makes any sense.

xxx

The next story happened several years later after we all had graduated high school. Most of the people I knew in high school all went away to college, leaving a rag tag group of derelicts behind terrorize the neighborhood (for the record I was in film school, but one located downtown allowing me to still live at home). There were only so many of us left, so those first couple months unlikely friendships were formed at every turn. It was towards the ass end of October when I started hanging out with this friend of a friend that owned a monster truck. Not like Bigfoot or anything, but just a really big souped up truck meant for off-roading. A couple nights a week we’d grab a case of beer and head off into the woods. Once again high strangeness eventually followed.

Now (much like with the last story) for being the third largest population center in the United States, Chicago has a lot of dense wooded areas surrounding it, particularly on the south side where we all lived. All you had to do was drive a couple more miles south and west to hit a deer in the middle of the night. I knew kids in high school that coyote problems, shit like that. This was still the Midwest we’re talking about here. We were out one night exploring one of the wooded areas in late October when we found a nice little spot not too far from home. There was some intense yet fun off road driving required to get back to this clearing that ran alongside the I-294 expressway overpass. Once settled we’d setup shop, listen to classic rock and kill beers before heading back at a somewhat reasonable hour to be up in time for work or school the next morning.

For the most part we’d never leave the truck except to piss. It was chilly out and there was little point in standing around the woods unless we absolutely had to. Plus there was that feeling again…that tenseness in the air that you get when isolated from the rest of the world. We weren’t out in the middle of nowhere, but we didn’t have to be. We were far enough that our screams for help would never be answered. Half a mile into a forest preserve or the dark side of the moon, when you get right down to it, it doesn’t really matter.

So I’m out of the truck taking a piss one night, and on my way back I see two guys talking to my friends in the truck. They were dressed pretty normal for fall in the Midwest, jeans and a jacket or something maybe. No dog though, which was my first indication that something was weird about our two parties crossing paths out here in the middle of nowhere. One of the dudes was talking to my buddy in the driver seat about the size of the truck’s engine or whatever, and as I approached the scene I started to feel that chill. My buddies seemed oblivious to the whole situation but I sensed something was off. As I enter the scene I can feel the tension level rise across the board. I say hello to them, fear in my voice because they’re standing in-between me and the safety of being inside the truck. The second guy, the one not talking to my friend speaks up.

“How many of you are there out here?”

His intrusion kills the conversation and my buddy in the driver seat informs him it’s just the three of us.

“How many of YOU are there out here” I reply with. Everyone starts laughing immediately, eager to break the tension. The two men take that as their cue and they excuse themselves and walk back into the woods. I hop back in the truck and my buddy riding shotgun hits me up for another beer.

“Who the fuck were they?”

“Just some dudes”

“Just some dudes? Where did they come from?”

“The woods”

“Ok so those two guys just came out of the woods and walked up to the truck. What were they doing out here?”

“I don’t know, probably the same thing we’re doing out here. They said this isn’t a safe place to go off-roading, real easy to get stuck…”

“Yeah except they didn’t have a case of beer, or a truck. You guys didn’t find anything weird about that?”

“No Pat, quit being such a fucking pussy”

The next week they drove out there on Halloween. I was invited but wouldn’t go with. As luck would have it they ended up getting so drunk the truck got stuck and they had to walk home. When they went back to get it the next day the truck was ripped to pieces. Windows smashed, engine wires torn out, the fucking steering wheel was even gone. They should’ve listened to those guys. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that when strange men walk up to you in the woods in the middle of the night and tell you things, you fucking listen.

Prevailing theory on this one; Satanists. Maybe pot growers too, but Satanist make the better story.

xxx

So that’s it. Like I said earlier, they might not be much to look at but they got it where it counts.  Next time you’re with someone, ask them if they have any tales of high strangeness to share. You’d be surprised how many people have these small fractured little incomplete spooky stories. I’ve had people tell me ghost stories about the houses they grew up in, stories about blue green monsters they swore lived in their backyard as a kid, dead relatives visiting them, shit like that. If we truly believe that we live in a world where all this stuff is possible, then we need to know how to realize it when we see it. The underground isn’t called the underground because it’s out in the open.

Happy Halloween!!

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Hey, gang. Full disclosure here – what follows is some shameless self-promotion mixed with a couple hot-button issues. We’ll return to form a little later in the month when I regale you guys with two real life spooky stories just in time for Halloween…

My first exposure to “Ag-Gag” laws came earlier this year, when Coast to Coast AM did an episode covering the support they’re gaining in Washington and the horrors they’re designed to shield the public from. Basically, Ag-Gag laws are anti-whistleblower laws, effectively making it illegal for animal rights activists and journalists to get jobs in factory farms with the intent to shed light on the abuses that take place within. In the past, folks have gotten jobs in the industry with the sole purpose of secretly documenting what happens to these animals, before they’re turned into the meat we eat. These Ag-Gag laws make all that illegal, under the guise of protecting corporate secrets, or whatever else bullshit they try and sell us.

Now, thankfully, these laws aren’t being met with much support. The factory farms want them, local government is all too willing to play ball, but animal rights and freedom of the press are pretty much no-brainers when it comes to popular opinion. Therefore, even though they are attempting to pass the laws more and more each year, for the most part they’re getting shut down. Not that that’s actually changing any of the practices at any of these factory farms, but there is some amount of accountability.

What really twisted my melon though was when the guest on C2CAM detailed exactly what these Ag-Gag laws are trying to suppress. Holy shit, guys. Do you have any idea what they actually do to cows/chickens/pigs to turn them into the meat we eat? And I’m not just talking about, at the McDonald’s farms. I’m talking EVERYWHERE. Everywhere that produces meat that isn’t designated “free range.” It’s absolutely fucking disgusting. Here’s a couple images that were burned into my head that night…

Chickens are kept in these tiny little compartments called battery cages. The chickens are stacked on top of one another and forced eat, sleep, defecate, and most importantly, lay eggs their entire lives. Imagine a huge wall of these poor animals, hundreds, if not thousands, on them all on top of each other. Some die and are left for days, rotting on top of the ones around them.

They take female pigs and put them in these confined spaces called “gestation crates,” where they are pumped full of sperm and bred their entire lives. Essentially bred to death.

Cows with broken bones and oozing wounds that go untreated until it’s time to be turned into meat. Others, are milked until they collapse from exhaustion (and pumped with steroids to make sure that takes as long as possible) before they’re sent to be slaughtered and turned into beef for school lunches.

I sat there that night listening to all of this stuff and couldn’t help but think…Can you imagine if someone made a movie where all this stuff was happening to humans instead of animals?

A few months, and several conversations with fellow filmmakers, friends, and vegans/veggies later I decided to do just that. Make a movie where we see a group of free humans, living simplistically off the land, taken by unseen captors and forced through the same processes we put over 250 million animals through each year with 100% accuracy (or as much as budgets allow). Yeah some might consider it torture porn, in line with the Saw or Hostel movies, but hopefully the bigger picture of what we’re seeing would give it a greater resonance than that. I’m a fan of horror movies, but not particularly those horror movies. I’m more of a science-fiction fan myself, and the amount of allegory and symbolism with a project like this makes it feel more like a really gory Twilight Zone episode to me and a riff on Hostel.

Not to mention, the social significance a film like this could have. People will know the “gimmick” going in and all the stuff they see happening to our characters they’ll realize happens to millions of animals each year. Will it radically change the way the world eats? Probably not, but it will get people talking, and more importantly thinking (and possibly even voting) differently.
I decided to call the movie The Jungle: 2099 because the story itself feels very in line with Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel about the meatpacking industry in Chicago. The “2099” part is a reference to the futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting in which the film takes place as well as the riff on the 2099 Marvel comic line I remember as a kid. You can find the movie’s Kickstarter campaign here…

Just a word on how Kickstarter works – we don’t get dime of any of the donations unless we reach our goal. Kickstarter also doesn’t take any money from our backers unless we reach our goal. The campaign lasts until the end of October, so if you choose to support the project, no cash will exchange hands until November 1st, or so. So far, we’ve had a lot of support from not only friends and family, but random strangers that totally dig what this movie is trying to do. That speaks volumes about this project. Any filmmaker can hustle 20 bucks from their Uncle Jimmy, but to have someone you don’t even know say they believe in what you’re doing is worth so much more.

Thanks for your time.

– Pat O’Sullivan

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Through the online chaos vortex that is Facebook, the opportunity presented itself recently to spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank. An old friend from high school had recently taken to “floating” as it’s called, and he was looking to get other people into the experience. There was no pause, no hesitation. Locking my body and mind into a total void went from something I had never given any serious thought to do, to something I was willing to drive from one end of the city to the other at the drop of a hat for. Like most things in life I did it just to see what it was like.

On the topic of Facebook: People give Facebook a lot of shit (and rightfully so) but I gotta say this is one of those instances where it shows its worth. I hadn’t seen this dude live and in the flesh in over a decade, and here we were reconnecting to have a grand adventure together. Left to my own devices…probably would have never done it. All I needed was that spark, that nudge we get from other people. Yeah, it’s annoying when people post pictures of food, or bitch about their day, but when stuff like this falls into your lap because of Facebook, it puts it all into perspective. We are stronger together as a group.

Originally, I had wanted to do two hours, even though only an hour was suggested for my first time. I felt like a teenager again, dropping acid with my friends. Everyone is taking two hits? Fuck it, I’ll take three just in case. I’m a big dude! What if it doesn’t work? That’s like my number one fear with any psychedelic exploration. “What if it doesn’t work?” Consume extra drugs, give yourself twice as long of time in the sensory deprivation tank. I want to trip and I want to trip balls my first time out. I can handle it. I’m an American, we over-consume. But there was an issue with scheduling and all we could get at the time we wanted to go was an hour, so an hour it was.

Once we got there, my buddy and I split up and were directed to our individual rooms, where we showered and entered the tank. I’m a tall guy (6’4), so I fit in there alright, but as I was floating on top the heated salt water solution that filled the tank, I would occasionally bump into the walls. A good portion of that first float was getting used to the actual floating aspect. Because while the tank is silent and dark, it’s not so huge that you can bob up and down, floating around without ANY physical sensation whatsoever. This aggravated me at first, and I wasted a lot of time trying to reach the mythical point of equilibrium when I would be totally still and motionless.

And so, that soon gave way to me goofing around in the tank. The sheer absurdity of it at times was so overwhelming. What the fuck am I doing lying naked in 800lbs of salt water (or was it 300lbs, I can’t remember)? It was so warm and dark and buoyant in there, it was easy to just regress back to being a kid and bounce around like a Ping-Pong ball. I was a big swimmer growing up, so I’ve always been at home in the water. I can imagine some people getting claustrophobic, or worrying about drowning, but I can attest to having zero concern in either of those regards.

In retrospect, I have to say I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how it should all feel. Way too much focus and time and attention was spent on the physical aspects of it. I had this preconceived notion going in that I would be floating in total darkness and silence with zero physical sensation, and maybe it’s just my size and shitty sense of balance or the dynamics of the tank, but that never really happened. However, at some point, probably about half way through, I realized this and gave up trying. Were my senses ever completely and totally 100% deprived? No, but I was floating naked in a warm, tranquil pitch black and mostly silent state, and once I realized that would have to be good enough, I started to relax. And once I let my body relax, I could focus on my mind.

On the topic of Meditation: While the concept of meditation isn’t really anything new to me, I always met it with mixed results. It’s hard as fuck to quiet my mind and I’ve tried a ton of different techniques. The most success I’ve had is by using some of the different guided mediation tracks you can find on Spotify. I need something concrete to focus on. My mind constantly spirals between what I had for breakfast, to whatever new creative thing I’m working on, to the next creative thing I want to be working on, to whatever is going on at work or school and then there’s usually sex somewhere in there. There’s no fucking way I’m sitting there picturing a waterfall for any significant length of time. Not going to happen.

Going into the sensory deprivation experience, I tried not to bring any work with me. I mean, the big question is what the hell are you supposed to DO in there the whole time, right? You feel like you should bring some kind of checklist, or agenda. I went in there as blank as possible, I had no mantras prepared, and I didn’t particularly feel the need to try and work through some ongoing problem in my personal life (two things the facilities website suggested “Floating” was useful for). Before parting ways my buddy had mentioned a technique he likes to use where he counts down from ten to zero, all the while picturing himself floating underwater looking upwards at the bottom of a boat. Once zero is reached, he pictures himself sinking deeper into the ocean, and farther away from the boat.

“So you want me to go in there and picture myself drowning…”

I skipped visualizing the boat, but I took him up on the counting down from ten part. When I reached zero I’d try and silence the chatter of my mind, if only for a few moments – kind of like hitting the mute button on a remote. Whatever thoughts were buzzing around would stop and there would be a few moments of pure silence before it would all start back up again, and then I would resume counting. This seemed to work, so it went on for a while.
One of the times, as I reached zero, just before my thoughts were consumed by silence, a stray thought had formed and made itself heard… “Who else is in here with you?” My mind seemed to ask to no one in particular. The voice hung in the air, and for a long time I couldn’t ignore the question.

Which is what I think the breakthrough I had (if any) during my experience was. “Who else is in here with me?” Absolutely no one. I went into that tank as naked as the day I was born. No light, no sound, no additional input. What happens in that tank is 100% between you and your mind. The secrets of the universes didn’t unfold before me, and I crawled out of that thing more or less the same caliber of asshole I was when I crawled in, but I learned to love myself a bit more. See, we constantly bombard ourselves with TV and the radio and our phones. I am just as guilty, if not more, as everyone else. But the thing is we don’t have to. If we choose to drive along in traffic alone with our thoughts we won’t get bored! Our thoughts are awesome and entertaining. And since when is boredom such a horrible thing anyway? Maybe that’s just me, some people look at that tank and think, “oh shit I’m going to suffocate in there” and me, my biggest concern was, “this better not suck”.

My friend and I met in the parking lot after the fact to compare notes. I mentioned that time really flew by in there, and how one of my irrational fears going into the experience was excruciating boredom. I hadn’t anticipated the physical adjustment period and I expected a solid hour of staring off into

empty space in complete darkness. My friend made an interested comparison to the time distortion one experiences inside the tank, to being akin to the kind you experience in jail, but with a much more positive connotation. Spending the night in jail sucks and goes on forever. You’re alone in your little holding cell. No stimuli, no idea what’s going to happen next. It totally sucks. On paper the two situations seem similar, but when you’re floating, the lack of stimuli just leads to an increased sense of self. Or hell, maybe BOTH experiences lead to an increased sense of self and it’s just all about the frame of mind your in at the time.

On the topic of drugs: I wasn’t high my first time, and I probably won’t be for my second, but maybe my third. “Floating,” is definitely its own thing, and the physicality of it all is overwhelming enough. Get the hang of that before you introduce controlled substances into the equation. My first time in there my body was drug, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine free. Why introduce so many variables at once?

So in closing, any advice to would-be floaters? It’s an experience. Just have the experience. Don’t worry about what you think it should feel like, or how you think your mind should perform. This is a totally new thing you’re experiencing with a lot of moving parts. Don’t try and control every aspect of it and just let it happen. Because like I said, it’s just you and the tank, man. You’re the only one in there. All the micromanaging and expectations are only limits you’re putting on yourself. You ARE the experience. Any disappointment you manifest is just disappointment in yourself. Learn to enjoy your own company. Because if you can’t stand yourself, how the hell do you expect anyone else to?

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A long standing tradition of the American educational system is the How I Spent My Summer Vacation writing assignment for returning students. The idea being is that you trick the kids into writing a paper about something fun like what they did over the summer before you turn around a week later and make them write papers about The Columbian Exposition or magnets.

The parallels here hold up. Summer is ending, and those of us in school are heading back. Our vacations are nothing but a distant memory, and preparing for Fall and Winter and the holidays that come along with them take center stage.  And while Grimerica certainly doesn’t deserve the negative connotation some of us associate with school, there’s no denying it’s pretty fucking educational at times. So, having that said…

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION by Pat O

Towards the ass end of June we took my son down to Lake Geneva for a week. For those of you not familiar, Lake Geneva is the premier middle class Chicagoan tourist destination of Wisconsin, located less than two hours away from the city. Boating, fishing, sandy beaches with crystal clear water. Rural and chill but still with WIFI and McDonalds.

Being city folk all of that got boring pretty fast. One afternoon I decided to take my son on a boat tour around the lake. Actually it’s not much of a tour. They sell it like that, but really you just cruise around for an hour and look at the ridiculously huge mansions that occupy the side of the lake opposite the hotels. The Wrigley Family (chewing gum empire, used to own WGN, the Cubs and a bunch of other shit) own several miles of shoreline with several mansions and three pool houses, even the smallest one bigger than the house I grew up in.

While everyone else on the boat was all Ooooh and Aaaah over the size of these houses they would never be allowed to set foot in, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of crazy drug fueled orgies people with that kind of money must have. House after gigantic fucking house, each one the summer getaway of one Chicagoland captain of industry or another…how many of them at one time housed victims of human trafficking? Who throws better coke parties, the Maytags or the Sears empire? As we toured the exterior of these houses from several hundred feet offshore, what were the chances there was someone chained to a wall in one of their basements at that very moment? I mean with that kind of money…what’s to stop you?

When I got back to Chicago I confided in a coworker my experience on the boat tour and my theories about what really went on in those multimillion dollar strongholds of the rich and famous. His response was dismissive to say the least.

“Maybe the reason they’re rich in the first place is because they’re NOT oversexed drugged out perverts. They’re too busy being successful and making money.”

You think? Part of me just naturally assumed all rich people (and I’m not just talking about the upper class here, I’m talking hundred of millions of dollars of generational wealth) were misanthropic deviants. Shit maybe he was right. Maybe I was guilty of the same class bias that folks complain about all the time. Maybe they had earned it all and worked hard for it, and to accuse them of child exploitation was just a byproduct of my xenophobia.

But then I talked to one of my buddies from the old neighborhood and he pretty much confirmed how I felt. Him and I grew up together in a neighborhood where our parents were all cops or firemen, and we got away with fucking murder. Not literally murder, but all kinds of crazy shit, and simply because of who our parents were. Can you imagine if our parents weren’t just cops, they were senators? CEO’s of company that supports the local economy of a town? The son of a newspaper tycoon? If you can buy your way out of a speeding ticket or underage intoxication by dropping a name, imagine what you could bribe someone into looking the other way for with a couple thousand, even more. Why was I so sure all those millionaires had animal masks in their underwear drawers and dungeons in their basements? Because I know I would.

But like my coworker said, that might just be me projecting, so the verdict is still out on Lake Geneva. 50/50 shot the rich people have Eyes Wide Shut parties there in the summer.

###

This summer I also took a theater workshop here in Chicago. I make short films in my spare time (Checkout my You Tube channel Movies for Hangovers next time you’re bored at work) but Chicago is such a big theater town it feels like if you haven’t paid your dues till you spend at least some time working on stage. I spent 8 weeks studying under the Neo Futurists, a group that originated here, but whose alumni from the NYC and San Francisco branches are responsible for the wildly popular Welcome to Nightvale podcast. I took studying with them as an opportunity to not only work on my writing skills, but also explore other avenues of storytelling and grow a deeper appreciation for the acting process. I’ve always had an admiration for stage actors. Acting for film is a marathon, long hours, repetitive tasks. Being on stage is like running a sprint at break-neck speed. Once you get started it doesn’t end until the show is over.

It also gave me the opportunity to work with some really talented, creative people. The 8 week workshop culminated in our class/ensemble getting together to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. We wrote, pitched, voted, then directed each other and finally performed the material all in front of a live audience. The shit was insane. I learned a ton and when it was all over I was glad to hop off the stage and go hide behind a camera where I feel most at home. The whole experience was utterly terrifying for me at times, but isn’t that what life’s all about? Trying new things, pushing boundaries and working outside your comfort zone? I puked my guts out the day of the show my nerves were so bad. That’s something I’ve been doing since I played in bands as a kid. Someone once told me that when you stop getting nervous before you do something like that then it’s time to stop doing it. Getting nervous means you give a fuck in the first place. There are stakes involved.

One of my favorite 2 minute plays that we performed was called I want to be at least 5 drinks in when the world ends and involved the cast drinking cocktails on stage while yours truly(perpetually typecast as the narrator with the golden voice) stood offstage and read the death tolls from several current conflicts taking place all over the world. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives in an effort to change their living conditions and politics. It was at this same time though that right here at home in the States we were experiencing our own turmoil and social upheaval in Ferguson Missouri over the loss of a single life at the hands of a police state that’s spiraling out of control. Syria 191,000…Ferguson Missouri, 1. I couldn’t put down the juxtaposition. What did it all mean? Were we a more noble people for jumping into action after a single death, or were we just paper lions. How long have the battles is Syria or the Ukraine been raging? How long did Ferguson burn, three days? Or what about the reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff (and just tonight David Haines). How big of a impact are their deaths making in regards to foreign policy and public outrage? How many hundreds of nameless, faceless men and women and children died in Gaza last month alone? Why are the deaths of the nameless and faceless any less powerful to us? Shouldn’t those numbers mean something?

We can disagree about politics and policy, preemptive strikes versus self defense, but the one thing that should supersede all that bullshit is the belief that all life, every life is sacred, and the loss of a life is a tragic event whose ripples exceed far beyond the point where we lose sight of the rock as it hits in the water. James Foley, the JFK Assassination, Michael Brown, are all examples of how the loss of one life can carry such a weight that we should all be openly fucking weeping when we see the news reports coming out of the Syria. But more importantly than that if just the loss of one life in a small Midwestern can spark national outrage and debate, social upheaval ect, then imagine, just imagine, what each and everyone one of us has the power to do while we’re still living. I cannot believe we’re more powerful dead than we are alive. That’s just the shit people trying to kill us want us to think.

###

That was my summer in a nutshell. Some other shit happened too, but it’s hard to look back on any period of your life and sort the significant from the insignificant. How can you ever tell at the time? Oh and for the record I started smoking again. I know, I know I’m an asshole and I’m going to die young. Maybe I’ll trying quitting again in a couple weeks. I got a lot going on right now.

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This post is about the trials and tribulations of quitting smoking. They say reformers are the worst and it’s only been a couple weeks so I’ll try not to get too high on my horse here, but consider this fair warning.
I started smoking to look cool. Anyone that tells you anything different might be lying, but I really can’t say for sure. I can say with 100% certainty though that it was the reason I started smoking. No one pressured me into doing it. The people in the movies did it and looked cool and I wanted to be like the people in the movies. Sounds sad I guess but that’s how kids think. I was 14 at the time.

I bounced around with different brands for a couple years but eventually settled on Marlboro Reds. Jesse Custer from Preacher smoked them and that was as good enough as any for me. Reds remained my brand for the next 17 years. “Cowboy Killers” fellow smokers would say when they saw me pull one from the pack. It was an uncompromising brand that demanded admiration and respect, just like me. This touches on something I wrote about last time but it really was part of my identity. You don’t buy the same product once a day for 17 years and not have it become a part of who you are. Just not possible.

Smokers in the states (and especially here in Illinois) have gone through a lot over the years, but we always seem to get by. About five years ago they stopped letting us smoke in bars. Jesus Christ you would have thought the world was about to end. Can’t drink and smoke at the same time, why do either then?! But we managed, and kept on drinking and smoking. You smoked less, of course, but it was almost like being back in college where most friendships and bonds are formed outside class in the smokers area.

Eventually you try and quit. We all have. Longest I’ve made it so far is six months, and that was because of a girl I was dating back in my early twenties. After we broke up I went right back to doing it again. Being a parent slowed my smoking down substantially but didn’t kill it. It sounds sad but you know what did? Going back to school in my 30’s. Kids today don’t smoke. They’re too smart. They’re not being bombarded with it like we were growing up. They think it’s gross and a waste of money. They’re not entirely wrong. I mean I always KNEW it was bad for you, but it wasn’t until it stopped being cool that I stopped wanting to do it.

It was different this time, I could feel it. I actually wanted to quit. I wasn’t doing it because someone was nagging me to or because it was the responsible thing to do. No I was doing it for me and I really was done with it all. The drive was no longer there. It was something I felt self-conscious about actually. So one Monday morning I woke up, threw out the rest of my pack, and started the week as a non-smoker. This is where shit got crazy…

The first few days passed without incident. Most of us have strung together a couple days off the dogs purely on accident at times. The twinge was there, but I chewed gum and kept busy. Started listening intently to Podcasts and eating cheese burgers on my drive home from work instead of driving really fast with the windows open blasting punk and classic rock tunes while chain smoking the Reds. The voice was always there though. “Just stop, you’ve got ten bucks on you. Why suffer any longer? There’s a gas station. Just stop”

As the days went by that voice got louder. Most of us are used to a single narrative going on inside our brains. One voice telling us what to do, speaking our thoughts, bouncing ideas around. Me, I wanted to quit smoking. So who the fuck was this other person in my head telling me to stop at the gas station for smokes? It sounded like me, it didn’t feel overtly invasive, but it’s goals were not my own. Finally one afternoon as I drove into work we had it out, me and this other voice. It was a totally insane schitzo moment but I drove down the Dan Ryan towards downtown Chicago screaming at myself that I wasn’t going to start smoking again and that was it. End of discussion. Crazy part is it worked. Like demons being exorcised from my psyche the urge all be left me completely. The voice stopped, the withdrawl symptoms subsided for the most part and I went on to living a happy, healthy, smoke free life.

For about a month. Then I had a bachelor party to go to.

It was my buddies wedding and I was one of the groomsmen. We had been planning this thing for months. So far I had avoided going to the bars for fear that getting drunk might kickstart the old habit again. Now there was no avoiding it, I was going to the be drunk with a bunch of dudes and strippers and there was no way out. So I bought a pack. Why fight it right? It was just one night. I bought the pack, smoked the pack at the bachelor party and woke up the next day done and over it.

Then two weeks later I had the actual wedding. Same deal, I knew I’d be drinking so why not buy a pack. I did, smoked it, had a few left over the next day so I smoked those too. Was good for a couple days, maybe a week and then found an excuse to buy another pack. I wasn’t back to being a full on pack a day chain smoker, but I was finding more and more excuses to smoke here and there. Then I started bumming off coworkers and that shit is just about as low as sucking dick for crack as far as I’m concerned. “Oh I don’t buy smokes I just smoke other people’s”. Fucking assholes those guys are.

I could feel old habits coming back, but now they brought with them a sense of guilt and remorse. I had come so close to changing my life. It was right there, I felt like I had already done the hard part, and now with every pack I was pissing all over it. Because you CAN have just one, but the problem is it makes it all the easier to have another, and another and another. There’s a reason they say reformers are the worse, and it’s because you need to completely demonize the behavior to keep yourself away from it. Recovering alcoholics will go and on about the evils of drink because to sit there and talk about how much fun it can be when handled responsibly is too much for them. We create these black and white realities for our own benefit because they’re so much easier to navigate through.

So a couple weeks ago I quit again. This time for good. Lasted about a week and then I got struck down with bronchitis. The doctor said it was probably because my lungs kept trying to actually heal only for me to start poisoning them again. They put me on antibiotics and a steroid inhaler for a couple days and it totally helped carry me over that hump where you want to start falling back into old habits.

This time though it’s not about image or health, it’s a matter of principal, of pride. Why the fuck do I keep doing this thing that I clearly don’t want to do? Chemical dependency? Physical habit and muscle memory? Neither one of those are satisfactory answers. Neither one paint the picture of the man I want to be. As masters of our lives and our own destinies we should be able to move through this world three dimensionally, going where we want to go and doing what we want to do. Cigarettes are slavery in so many fucking ways its embarrassing. Maybe it’s a slavery we willing accept because we don’t mind it, but make no mistake you are letting them control you.

At the end of the day though we’ve all got bigger fish to fry. We all die a slow eventual death, it’s not like smokes speed up the process that much. Maybe they keep us sane at work or awake on long drives. Yeah they cost an arm and a leg but it’s a luxury good item. Some people buy Lotto tickets, some buy cigarettes. The process of even attempting to quit smoking is akin to climbing a mountain, and it’s a mountain you totally gotta be 100% invested into climbing. I’m trying to climb that mountain and while I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the top, or if there IS even a top, I do find the climb itself to be somewhat rewarding. When you’re fighting a battle you’re not sure if you can even win you have to learn to take comfort in the fight itself.

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Part Two: The part about Drag Shows…kinda

This post isn’t what you think it is, but if you sit tight and give it a shot it might actually be something better. This post is another post in disguise that either has very little to do with cross-dressing or just about everything in the world to do with cross-dressing. Frankly I haven’t really decided yet and I’m the author. Chaos Reigns

When we’re born we are nothing. A blank slate. Gender alone governs the first few years of our life. What toys we are given, what stories we are told, the color of our clothes and bedroom. Eventually we grow older and begin to develop likes and dislikes, sometimes talents are found. As the years go by this House of Me begins to be built, the construction of which is never quite complete.

We tell ourselves things. Things that are ultimately meaningless but they help us to answer that scary question “Who am I?” This is how I feel and this is how I vote. These are my values. This is how I party. This is who I pray to. This is how I fuck. Never, ever is this more evident in the concept of sports rivalries. It’s not bad enough we have to identify ourselves by what team we root for we also have to identify other people we decide we don’t like based on what team they root for? Jesus Christ guys now we’re just looking for reasons not to get along (end digression).

But we do all this because it…well because it’s what we do. It’s human nature. It’s part of growing up. But do we ever stop to think how damaging it all might be? It’s like building a cage. Yeah it’s your own cage, and you built it (with a little help others), but it’s still a cage.

Grant Morrison illustrates this perfectly with his “White Flame Mediation” sequence in The Invisibles (v2#3) where a teacher asks a student to describe a wooden chair…

Student: It’s a chair.

Teacher: Is that all? Does that describe the entirety of this object?

Student: It’s an object with four legs and a thing to hold up your ass so you don’t have to sit down in the dirt like the rest of us dickheads. Chair.

Teacher: Yes, a partial description. But if you were an antiques dealer you could also describe this object’s agreed worth – somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million dollars. If you were a specialist, you could describe the intricacies of the craftsmanship in detailed jargon. If you were Van Gogh, you might attempt to describe its soul…

But where in all of this description is the essential chair? Have we yet come even close to a full description of it? Did we even mention that several hundred years ago, it wasn’t a chair but a tree? Where is it now? Here? Or in memory? We cannot even fully describe a chair and yet we say “I AM.” “I AM…” Understand there is NO “I AM” Nothing “IS” Try to describe all that you are. Simultaneously discern the logical flaw in what I’ve just said…Feel the white flame. 

So who are we?

Our sense of self is such a powerful construct but ultimately it’s paper thin. Everything we spent our lives telling ourselves about ourselves can instantly be negated if we want. After all we made the rules in the first place right? Our parents and teachers weren’t lying to us when they said we could be whatever we wanted to be when we grew up, I just think they had different definitions of “BE” and “GREW UP”. We will never stop growing, and we will never be anything more that what we decide to be.

What does this all have to do with Drag Shows?

Absolutely nothing. Or possibly everything. I still haven’t figured that out yet.

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Ever wake up in the night terrified, 100% sure that there’s something in your room and it’s going to get you? You spend the next god knows how long praying that it’ll all just go away and then the next thing you know you’re asleep. Then it’s the morning, and you’re more concerned with getting to work on time then that crazy dream you had last night. No? Maybe that’s just me…

Trouble sleeping. Doesn’t everyone have trouble sleeping? I honestly don’t know, this is the only person I ever remember being so my POV on these things may be a bit skewed. That’s the problem though with life. It’s different for everyone so sometimes it’s hard to tell what the fuck other people are talking about. Some people are completely dumbfounded by my interest in the alien abduction phenomenon, but you know what I don’t get? Soccer.

When I was about ten years old I woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of screams coming from my parents bedroom. I jumped up and grabbed the baseball bat that had been resting next to my bed (why was it there, had it always been there?) and ran out of the room. As I turned the corner out of my bedroom and into my parent’s room next door I saw two tall “Grey” aliens emerging from the bedroom closet. I froze. They hadn’t seen me yet and I had the drop of them, I was armed yet terrified so I just stood there. My mother saw me first and yelleded for me to stay back. The two Greys turned and saw me and I could sense that they were surprised. They either asked or commanded me to sit on the edge of the bed in front of them, and as my mom screamed and begged for my life and my dad wrapped his arms around me one of the Greys leaned down in front of me and said that they were about to tell me something very important. So important, in fact, that I would have to forget it for now, but when the time was right I would remember…

The next morning at breakfast no one mentioned a thing. The news segment on the radio morning show we were listening to reported that there had been several UFO sightings in Wisconsin (a neighboring state) the night before. This was back in the early 90’s when UFOs still made the news from time to time. Tension hung in the air as the reporter finished his story, but then it passed and we all just went on with our lives.

So let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and sense a presence in the room. As your eyes struggle to focus in a low light scenario you begin to see something in the corner of the room. Invaders from Mars or Dimension X? Ghosts? The CIA? Your creepy Uncle Henry? Are you even awake or is this all just a dream? Hell, are any of us really awake or is this ALL just a dream? The problem with most of the alien abduction stories you hear is that they start with people asleep in bed. You wake up in the middle of the night and you think you see The Wolfman in your closet dollars to donuts it was just a bad dream. But instead of a werewolf you see a tall gangly creature with big black eyes and suddenly it must be real and you’re being visited by creatures from another planet.

It also doesn’t help that at press time there still is no unified theory of alien visitation. Extraterrestrial or inter-dimensional? Malevolent or benevolent? You can’t subscribe to one person’s theory without shitting on a couple dozen others, which in turn begs the question maybe their all just shit. They’re all preached by pundits with the same degree of fervor. 200 years ago we would’ve said they were faeries or leprechauns, hell maybe angels. Maybe abductees are the modern day prophets. In which case treat these blog posts as gospels and send Grimerica a tenth of your earnings.

The truth, much like beauty coincidentally enough, is only to be found in the eye of the beholder.

Years later I sat in a motel room with the girl I was dating as we rolled our faces off on XTC. We were both just out of high school and still living at home, so it made sense at the time to rent one of the four hour nap places when experimenting with hallucinogens. It was a quiet, safe, controlled environment with a waterbed and free HBO. This particular room on this particular night was covered in mirrors. It was supposed to be a sex thing but it didn’t take long for it to turn into a drug thing.

As my body ran so hot my brains dripped down my spine and I felt myself vibrating into a state of pure bliss, the events of that night from several years back came rushing back to me. It wasn’t like I forgotten them, it was just like for some bizarre reason I hadn’t thought of them for an entire decade. It was like the floodgates had been open and other stuff started coming back to me too. Missing time, strange conversations with family, synchronicities so profound they transcend any Canadian third party ranking system. I’d like to try and characterize the experience as something downloading to my brain that night in the hotel room, but the fact of the matter is it really wasn’t much of a download because it was already there. It was more like a long forgotten turd in a toilet bowl, slowly bobbing to the surface. 

The drugs don’t help my story much, or maybe they do, who knows. In Fire in the Sky pancake syrup made Travis Walton spontaneously remember a whole bunch of shit so I guess MDMA isn’t that far fetched. Hell, my story even makes a bit more sense then his in that light. There’s been several studies that suggest MDMA can be used to treat PTSD and there’s no better way to describe coming face to face with monsters in your parents closet than traumatic and stressful. Still, I’ve always taken the whole experience with a grain of salt. Nothing every matched intensity of that first encounter, and I’ve still never seen an honest to God UFO.

Maybe I’m so reluctant to believe it because I don’t want to believe. As much as I’ve gone on the record that “I want to believe, I want to believe” when you’re looking down the barrel of such a thing it’s easy to change your tune. Ask people on the street if they believe in God. Most will tell you yes. Then tell those same people that God is real and you’ve had conversations with him. They’ll look at you like you’re nuts! Same thing goes with aliens. People say they believe in aliens, they just don’t believe you’ve seen one. We pay lip service to an ideology we don’t fully believe in, even when we see it for ourselves.

For years there was nothing, and then…

At the time I was living with my then girlfriend (different girl, there’s been a few over the years). It was the middle of the night, we were spooning, and I woke suddenly to find a small Grey standing on her side of the bed. I sat up and looked at it, then laid back down and held her until I fell asleep. It was different than the other ones though, were as the Grey’s from my childhood were tall and almost cartoony with their big black eyes, this one was smaller and looked older. Almost like if ET got beat with an ugly stick. Anyway I passed out and the next morning nothing was said. A few weeks later we found out she was pregnant. 

Being a dad is already pretty fucking terrifying, and there’s already enough stuff to obsess over day to day, but I catch my son doing little things that make me wonder sometimes. When he wants to sleep with a toy lightsaber in bed next to him or how insists we always close the closet door. Some nights he’ll crawl into bed with us, we’ll just wake up and he’s there. Sometimes I’m awake to catch him sneaking in, but I never say anything. If I’m awake and he’s awake it’s because we’re both having trouble sleeping, and that’s something I can sympathize with.

I know enough about the mythology to know that being an abductee is a generational thing. In a lot of ways the little guy is kind of like my litmus test for the whole experience. I know how fucked up that might sound but anyone with kids will tell you the same thing; being a parent is like holding up one big mirror to your own life. You get to experience the world all over again with a fresh set of eyes. You get to relieve the wonder and amazement of playing in the snow or with a cat for the first time. You also remember what it was like to be afraid of the dark.

It’s the curse of creative people. Give us a blank canvas, a dark room and an empty night sky, and we’ll think up all kinds of crazy shit to fill in the spaces with. Give us the unexplained and we’ll make up an explanation of our own. I don’t know if aliens are real or if they’re good or bad or time travelers or what. What I do know is that more exists than what we spend 95% of our lives obsessing over. Our intelligence is not the only intelligence in existence and somewhere, out there is something different than us. I won’t say greater because I’ve never read their literature or tasted their food.

And what about the thing they told me and made me forget? I still don’t remember what it was. Maybe a few more brushes with MDMA or DMT will do the trick. I’d like to think it was something really profound and important, but I’m also cynical enough not to want to blow smoke up my own ass. Doesn’t everyone want to think they’re important? Isn’t everyone playing the role of John Connor in their own personal version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day? No one wants to feel small and insignificant so maybe we blow these dreams out of proportion to bolster our own egos. At the end of the day though we don’t need to be alien abductees to be important. We don’t need secrets implanted in our subconscious from above to make the world a better place. As far as I know Hemingway wasn’t an abductee, neither was David Cronenberg. But you know who was? Shirley MacLaine and Sammy Haggar.

I rest my case.

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