To meet someone like me is a truly underwhelming experience. After a 30 minute conversation you’d think that my life was the simplest of stories where every chapter begins and ends in a cliché. The cliché of youthful rebel. The cliché of wandering hedonist. The cliché of banal prosperity and a failed marriage. The cliché of career burn out. The cliché of starting over.

See?

But in the case of most things, there are the simple explanations and then there are aspects that require a little bit more information.

Someone very wise once said that when starting a story it is always best to start in the beginning. What he didn’t say was in how much detail.

I think that the only important detail to know about my early childhood was that I was an extremely willful boy. My mother said that beginning at about age 6, I had decided that I was going to do what I was going to do and to hell with the consequences. Actually I think it began a year earlier for it was at age 5 that I smoked my first cigarette. Actually it was only a big smoldering butt that a woman threw out of her car window. I remember to this day she was driving a green Pontiac and the cigarette was a Viceroy. I can still conjure up the smell and taste of that first one and the irony is that in every respect it was exactly like the last one that I smoked at the age of 25; the smoke tasted dirty and smell was acrid.

The only other important detail about my early life is that somewhere at about the same early age I began to distrust all adults and authority. I cannot say how or if this is linked to my willfulness. All I can say is that I don’t respect authority any more today than I did as a child. But why this is so; that I do not know.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t know the difference from right or wrong. If anything I was highly aware of the difference and maybe so acutely so that I questioned the arbitrary manner in which rules were applied.

I grew up in a small resort town called Petoskey and it was a tough town for a boy without means to grow up in. It was close to nothing but smaller replicas of itself for miles in every direction. The nearest cities of Detroit and Chicago were so far away that for many, they existed only as rumors. Petoskey’s isolation could be explicitly realized from its highest point looking west; there was nothing but the immense expanse of water where the bay opened into the cobalt blue expanse of Lake Michigan. For almost half of the year the bay was frozen while winter covered the land in deep white snow.

The town burghers were a well fed lot smugly satisfied that they lived in paradise whilst the tourist others could only visit and then paying them for the privilege. A lot of the citizenry of old affected the veneer of gentility that was brought north by the summer people. Many of the locals and most shopkeepers coveted their society magazine lifestyles. Their envy manifested itself in snobbery and arrogance towards the towns lesser citizens.

And it was this environment that my father insisted that I get a job at age 11 believing that this would be good for my character. At that age I was only qualified to deliver newspapers. And even then my future value as a paperboy was highly suspect to the boss man who was doing the hiring and firing. But I got the job anyway and so it was that I delivered 70 papers a day, 6 days per week, rain sleet or snow to a working class neighborhood in my small town for 2 years. For my 15 hours of weekly labor I received the rather un-princely of $7.00; that is if everyone paid. There were some deadbeats on my route who didn’t pay me every week or for that matter every month. And of course, shortages were the sole responsibility of the paperboy; one of those early lessons in the arbitrariness and unfairness of rules that tended to poison my work view. My next job was washing dishes in a restaurant; the lowest scut job in the entire establishment. Eventually I was promoted to busboy where I cleared the tables, then only abused by the wait staff, not the entire restaurant as in the case of the dishwasher. Then for an occasion I carried rich people’s golf clubs one summer. This job was somehow viewed as prestigious; I am guessing it was all about the big tips that the caddies supposedly got. My attitude of carrying shit for assholes must have been a pretty easy read as I got canned quite early on.

So from the beginning the whole work ethic thing proved to be a difficult proposition for me and coming of age in the ‘60s only made those and other matters worse.

The counter-culture proved over time to be as much of a disappointment as work. Popular music for all its bluster turned out to be just another aspect of the larger music business. And the ugly truth was pop music was business. And the whole counter-culture thing, viewed through my very cynical lens, all of it; including the drugs, and even the lifestyles were monetized just like other businesses. Tying the counter-culture movement to an abstraction like freedom was so impossibly hypocritical. And I was just one kid trying to sort all of that out and for different reasons neither side wanted to debate the real issues. The so called establishment, as represented by my father, were bull headedly right in their convictions that the dope smoking hippies were too high on drugs to be worthy of anything but contempt. The hippies were convinced that the true path was to be found going in any direction as long as it was orthogonal to their parents. There seemed to be no middle path; one was either hip or square. Everywhere and everything to my untrained mind were just different versions of the same hypocrisies and lies. The counter-culture rather quickly degenerated into the same contemptible rip-off businesses that they purported to despise where the smart hippies were those who were making money off the dumb ones who confused the consumption of the symbols of freedom with freedom itself. It all made my head ache. I wanted to find that world view with a philosophical sweet spot that marginalized both the profiteers and the consumers and led me somewhere else. But it all just continued on; it was all politics to me. It was aggravating and it seemed to me at the time that I was destined to always be that proverbial square peg in a round hole. My workplace negativity eventually took me into that death spiral of poverty. The family proved to not be much of a safety net, nor were my friends when it was quite obvious that I didn’t want to drink anyone’s Kool-Aid. Somewhere along the line I fortuitously filled out an application for a student loan and it was that acceptance letter arriving one cold November morning that pulled me out of the skid-row house that I was living in with other misfits and sent my life off in another completely different direction. And thankfully a better one. University life exposed me to a slightly better value system than I had been operating under. There I was exposed to a more expanded life premise. Until that point I was just another well-read working class kid; albeit one with poor role models: Kerouac, French existentialism, and 19th century Russian literature deceitfully slotted my nascent intellectualism into a band too narrow to provide the answers that I was looking for.

I tried university for a couple of years but the entry level classes that I took were pretty uninspiring. I did like the lit classes and I am grateful that I was exposed to a much broader reading list. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that I could read and study literature pretty much anywhere and that I certainly didn’t need to pay tuition for that privilege. So I dropped out and became just another delusioned self-centered bad boy who found little good in the world except for the usual hedonist pursuits. I bounced around for a while. Spent a lot of time on the beaches down south working on my tan and deciding if going pro throwing Frisbee was maybe where the short term future was at. And of course, ‘Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse’ turned out to be just another lie like all the rest.

Sorting through all of the cultural detritus came with a body count. Many of my beautiful and funny childhood friends never made it out of the ‘60s. Well they kind of did – some made it to the ‘70s and a few more made it to the ‘80s. But certainly all the rest, those that couldn’t shake that lifestyle, had finally run out of road by the ‘90s.

The boring ones lived through it, but they never counted to me mostly because they never took a chance. They never questioned anything. They never questioned their parents, they never questioned their culture, and they never questioned themselves. It was ironic how those same people came to be effectively imprisoned by all of their decisionless choices and were now all rotting in the suburbs or still living in their small little towns that had been ruined by more of the same short sightedness that gave way to all of the chain stores and restaurants that had effectively robbed their lives of any semblance of choice or individuality. Quality was sacrificed for lower prices, convenience and easy access to goods. The Chinese dystopian view became the replacement theology for the American internet generation.

If I sound angry after all this time it’s because I still am. I am angry with those that didn’t try and I am angry with those that didn’t care. I am angry with those that didn’t make it. And I am angry with myself. I didn’t try hard enough. I never tried hard enough. And I never thought through things far enough to find the truths back when I so desperately needed it. Sure, I rebelled. I reacted. But my actions were no more than those of a stubborn ox who sits down and refuses to pull the plow. And it doesn’t count for much if at the end of day anger is your only measurable output and your only reason for living is to have a good time.

But thankfully I am older now and have better reasons for living.

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