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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hopes and Dreams

I'm trying something different today. This post isn't about politics. It isn't about the dishonest relationship that exists with public sector unions who provide campaign funds exclusively for the Democratic party, which in turn passes laws increasing wages and benefits for government workers, whose wages in turn fund the unions, who in turn fund the Democratic party, ad infinitum in a giant circle jerk of corruption. And no, this post isn't about corrupt politicians, and the tacit bribery of passing bills chock full of earmarks for big corporations, and in return for this consideration are promised a job as a highly paid lobbyist influencing the next generation of legislators. It's not going to be about our out of control debt and the eventual and inevitable collapse of this once great nation. No, this post is going to be about hopes and dreams. It's about growing up and doing what you love or maybe finding out that doing what you love doesn't pay the rent. And so with no further ado....

I always knew—from the time when I was six years old and flew all by myself from Augusta Georgia to Memphis Tennessee—what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a pilot. Flying was so different forty years ago. Of course my experience is from the perspective of a wide-eyed six-year-old so of course you may have a substantially different opinion about the way it was, but for me this is how it was. It was glamorous. From the baggage checker to the flight attendants, from the proud pilots to the lowliest janitors, everyone was neat, clean, and unfailingly polite. They all had smiles and seemed genuinely happy to be doing what they did. The stewardesses were all pretty and smelled of flowers and spices. People smoked all the time back in those days and every seat on the plane had an ashtray. As far as security goes, I don't recall that there were even metal detectors. You just checked your bags, got your ticket, went to your gate and boarded your plane. Nobody had to take off their shoes. Nobody had to let an x-ray machine take a nude picture of them for the titillation of some faceless TSA pervert masturbating behind a view-screen.

When I turned thirteen I started to go through puberty. Lots of changes all happening at once and the worst one for me was that things started getting blurry. Sitting in my desk during algebra class the teacher asked me to read the problem on the blackboard. I squinted as hard as I could but I just couldn't make it out. Everything was blurry. One examination and a week later saw me sitting in the same desk watching the world through my new eyeglasses. Everything was crystal clear and my slim chance at pilothood was now no chance at all. In those days the only way to get pilot training was the Air-Force and they only accepted candidates with perfect uncorrected 20-20 vision.

I suppose that if I could point at one thing, one quality, pick one word that summed up the cause of every problem, every failure, every bit of trouble, and the reason I wasn't very successful at anything I tried, that one thing would be boredom. Why didn't I do better in school? Boredom. Why didn't I go further with martial arts? Boredom. Why didn't I become a painter, sculptor, a musician? My name is Jack and I took that name and made of it a philosophy: Jack of all trades master of none. Like a lot of kids I flailed around hunting for something to do as a career that would be interesting as well as financially rewarding. The problem with the most interesting careers is all the boring hard work required to get from point A—where I was—to point B—where I wanted to go. Math has always been my nemesis. The career paths that seemed most interesting to me all required advanced mathematics, but to me anything beyond simple math was just so much hieroglyphics.

Words, language, the art of expressing my thoughts and feelings that was always my wheelhouse, and so most of the people who knew me probably expected me to gravitate towards something in that field. Would I be a writer, a poet, a journalist? Again boredom set me back. I dreamed of writing a science fiction novel. I suppose every sci-fi reader probably has the same dreams. It seems like it would be the simplest thing in the world to do. I bet most failed writers start with some great ideas, a hook that provides a good starting point for a plot, and like me once they sit down and try to flesh it out the reality that writing a book is work and furthermore, boring work, starts to set in.

Boredom makes it easy to get hooked on drugs. Everyone talks about peer pressure, but for me that wasn't it. It was boredom. Seeking fun and thrills through the magic of chemistry and horticulture wasted the better part of a decade, a decade that was, while at times fun and exciting, also a decade that if I could do over, I would. I learned to play a few instruments during that lost decade. I learned to play a saxophone, a flute, and a bass guitar. I wasn't that great at any of them but was nevertheless briefly convinced that this was the career path I'd always been looking for. Groupies and plenty of dough would guarantee a life of ease and plenty...except that of course every other dissatisfied and indolent youth fresh out of high-school probably has the same idea, and for the ten-million kids hoping for their time in the spotlight, there are only ten-thousand spotlights, and of those only a few hundred kids really make it to what everyone calls "The Big Time."

So reality eventually set in for me like it always does I suppose, and I moved along. I got myself straight and found a boring but semi-lucrative job which has now blossomed into a career. It's boring but it pays the bills. Luckily for me I still find time to do lots of reading, and the occasional bit of writing. For an older me, pleasure, fun, and entertainment aren't as hard to find as they were for the younger me. Climbing into a hot-shower is even a bit of a thrill. Some people would call that sad, I suppose, but maybe it's just because they still have some growing up to do.

I'm going to finish this tiny little autobiography with one of the hundreds of—for me anyway—compelling memories of that lost decade when I thought I could become a big-time musical sensation, maybe even the next Ian Anderson.

This happened about two-years after I dropped out of college. I played bass-guitar but didn't like it. I liked playing my flute and I was much better with that. I could play it by ear and so I could extemporaneously fit myself into whatever the band happened to be jamming to at any particular time. We named our band The Tribe and we rocked out every night. There was beer and pot and sometimes pharmaceuticals even gnarlier. Looking back I'd say we were a decent band, but nothing particularly special. I was on bass, Ken on guitar, and Eric on drums. There was somebody—I forget his name—on keyboard. Eric could also play the bass guitar and when he did, Ken would get out his acoustic and I could do what I loved, which is jamming like Ian Anderson on my flute—although not quite not so well.

Anyway, after a couple of months practicing together we got our first "gig" at a local bar. How excited we all were! Except that several days later Eric told us that he was moving to Nashville. Eric was a talented artist and his paintings and drawings were exceptional. His brother—also an artist—had put in a good word at the business he worked with. It was some kind of advertising firm as I recall. So before our first gig we lost our drummer and the backup bassist that allowed me to hit those really exciting high notes I so loved. Eric knew another drummer who wanted to try out for the band, and so we tried him out. He wasn't that good but we thought—after a few practices—maybe he'd work out. The night of the gig Eric showed up and told us that he wanted to play the first set. Everyone agreed and that first set went really well. The audience was grooving while we played some Stones, Beatles, Floyd, etc. We had an original song that featured—in my own humble opinion—a bad-ass flute riff. It was called Mother's Milk. (This was because Ken—who'd come up with the guitar chords—thought it was so melodic and pop-music sounding that he deliberately set out to make the words as mushy and sentimental as he could, ending with a title that basically means: "Pap.") Ken decided that he didn't feel like playing that song to end our set and picked a different one.

After the new drummer sat down for the next set, things rapidly degenerated into chaos and ruination. The drummer played as loudly as he could. We kept trying to get him to play more softly but it was like talking to a brick wall. So in response Ken turned up his guitar. I couldn't hear my bass so I turned it up. The guy on keyboard did the same. The audience started complaining that we were too loud. Eventually the manager of the bar told us we had to turn it down. Ken got mad and started packing everything up. And thus my one and only bid at fame and fortune ended with the bang-bang-bang of a shitty drummer and the clapping of an audience only clapping because we were packing up.

The lesson I learned was only learned much later, after years of reminiscence and philosophical conjecture. What I eventually learned is that relationships built on drugs and the vainglorious pursuit of fame and fortune seldom if ever work out. If you doubt me, then ask any divorced couple who met in a bar. Those kinds of relationships aren't built on anything lasting, they're built on people doing something—anything—to escape the boredom that shapes our lives.

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