I Can’t Deal

My digits are now tipped in these rather strange talons most people call fingernails as mine have been bitten off for some 30 odd years e’er since tooth discovered keratin. I find it strange – it makes typing far more haphazardous – and I’ve lost the oral fixation Freud hurr-hurred on about for psychopaths and Oedipusians.

After walking Camino for a third time, it seems the habit was left behind like a stone of ill-intentions at the Cruz de Ferro.

And after walking Camino, I find myself once more having that “Come to Jesus” moment about what is reality and where am I going with it.

Continue reading “I Can’t Deal”

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Camino Frances: A Curious Incident Involving an Asian, a Money Belt, and a Banana Hammock

I remember to brush my teeth this evening and head to the men’s bathroom in this brand new – yet delightfully cramped – albergue perched upon the ass-end of a town that has the comical name of Calle. It seems apt given that there isn’t much to this place aside from an overpriced hostel for pilgrims and a kitsch beer garden that took the Germanic title far too seriously. Much as I love beer, being surrounded by emptied and graffitied bottles seems like I’m drinking dead relatives in a hops graveyard.

Regardless, I have applied fluoride to my brush, but stop before I even begin. Some poor bastard has left behind their money belt. A European, no doubt, I think to myself as I grasp the pouch. It is lightweight, thin, and clearly contains money, passports, and other important documents. I resist the urge to peek inside and gander at the identification card lest someone walk in at the wrong moment and assume I’m a thief.

The Asian fellow with the body of a young man but the emotionless face of a stone statue enters to freshen himself up for the night. His face is pockmarked, lacking a beard, but his eyes have that thousand-yard stare only pilgrims and elderly, bearded wisemen seem to possess. I turn toward him (a walking conundrum – like a shaved Confucius) holding the European man purse.

“Yours,” I politely ask.

He grunts in the negative, waving a foamy toothbrush and a dismissive palm toward me. “A no, a no, a no,” he says, caught in that infinite loop of speaking an unfamiliar language to emphasize a point. He points toward his toothbrush – as if it’s the owner – and returns to cleaning his young teeth in an old face.

I thank him for his repeated denial of confirmation and proceed to track down the owner. I scarcely leave that cramped shitter before a half-naked older chap is hit by the swinging door. He apologizes, but the frantic look in his eye indicates I’ve found my mark.

“Yours,” I politely ask.

“Ah!” he squeaks in pleasant surprise. He looks at me, looks at his man purse, looks at me, and takes the man purse from my outstretched hand. He ignores my pasted toothbrush in the other.

“Ah, thank you so very much!” he says. He has excellent command of the language, only the slightest hint of an accent, and I can’t place him just yet. “This,” he says holding up the man purse, “was my Life. Thank you.”

“No problem,” I say. “Happy to help.”

“I would be – as you say – fucked without this.” He emphasizes the word, like he’s trying to sense my limits by proffering the most versatile curse in the tongue.

He has since buckled the man purse about his bare waist. A damp tee covers his chest; an European banana hammock covers the rest. His legs are the same shade of pale as the slick tile.

The Asian man-boy is furiously brushing his teeth.

“It is very kind,” says the half-naked European, “to return this to me. You could have taken anything you wanted.”

I laugh. “It is Camino,” I say. “We are pilgrims. We help each other.”

“Ah, yes. That is true. I thank you.” He extends his hand and briefly shakes mine. My toothbrush remains unused and impotent. “I am from Slovenia,” he says, not bothering with a name. After releasing my hand, he produces a second tee from Lord knows where and begins to wash it – unperturbed by the Asian man-boy – in a nearby sink. The Asian is equally unfazed by the half-naked European casually washing his clothes. “Where do you call home?”

“United States,” I reply. “New Mexico.”

“Ah, yes!” he exclaims as if he’s ever been to that part of the country. “I was once in California – it is close, no?”

I think to myself how distance is relative and simply agree with him. Easier than explaining geography at this point. Our Confucian pal finally finishes scrubbing his gums clean of any and all filth and quietly exits the bathroom. “A sorry, a excuse,” he says. Given the cramped space, he simply squeezes between us, but my new Slovenian friend pays him no mind as he begins asking me about Trump, healthcare, and Camino.

“Trump,” he says with that European dissent. “What a character, no?”

“He certainly is,” I reply waving my hands (and toothbrush) in dismissive defeat. I haven’t checked the news since Lent but according to other pilgrims, The Donald is being racist or some shit back home. Same shit, different day. “But he will get re-elected,” I add.

The European nods in agreement, moving his head up and down like a sensible person, and thrusting his near-naked groin to and fro for some strange affirmation. He is caught up in his thoughts and fails to notice the quixotic expression on my face.

Even he knows the cult of personality and the rabid ambition the man has for the office. “It is about money,” he says, wringing out his second tee and standing in full. His money belt blocks the full view of his banana hammock, but I cannot get quite past the paleness of his legs. All these weeks in Spain and not a day of sun.

“Yes,” I say, “money. That’s what people care about.”

“Yes!” he says. I touched a nerve as he becomes wholly animated. “But all that shit – the shit we left back home – does not matter.” He holds his free hand high above his head. “A stack of money this tall does not make one happy!”

I nod.

“You cannot eat money,” he continues. “Money will not cure you of matters of the mind and heart.” His banana hammock flops in agreement as he excitedly moves about within our small quarters.

“And you can’t take it with you,” I add.

“Yes, very true that is. You cannot have it in the next Life.”

He returns to the sink (the Asian man-boy didn’t rinse his out thoroughly and remnants of Confucian spittle decorate the porcelain). He wrings the tee one more time for good measure. “Everyone needs to go on Camino,” he sighs. “It would teach the world of Good.”

“Where else in the world can you have moral philosophical discussions in a men’s bathroom with strangers?” I say. “Now that’s Camino.”

He laughs and with his free hand motions to fist bump. “You are right, American.” Again the banana hammock flops in agreement.

I return the gesture, my hand clenched around my unused toothbrush.

Doubt Breeds Strength

Where to begin?

I hear it. Those reverberating beats of guitar, drums, and keyboard before the onslaught of lyrics eviscerates my reality. That booming voice; a war god howling his rage and frustration. Deutschland. Again and again, repeated for emphasis, to show just how important it is for the listener to pay attention – to take fucking note. Ah, battle ne’er sounded so angrily beautiful. This euphoric assault upon the senses, bringing one to realization that the world is far vaster, far more important, than whate’er miniscule problems one might think they understand.

This is music. Continue reading “Doubt Breeds Strength”

Are You Still Blogging?

A former student of mine – now a Junior – asked this of me the other day whilst I invaded his class in a blatant display of ego-mongering. I was taken aback, for, as we know, I deny deny deny the existence of this blog. The tag line, after all, is “a blog for mad people by a madman.” Certainly isn’t apropos for a teacher to be guiding his charges (former and current) toward a blog of mad rants and ramblings of a drunkard trying to make sense of a world long lost to oblivion.

Well, fuck.

Empty Walls has been on repeat for the better part of an hour, I reckon, for – in times of dead reckoning – such tunes find comfort within my distended breast. Repetition, wh’ther it be poetry, politics, or people, is important to consider.

We repeat things for emphasis.

And, comrades, I daresay I sorely lack in the repetition of my writings.

Continue reading “Are You Still Blogging?”

They Don’t Fill Growlers on Sunday

Howdy folks,

Oft one might wonder what their purpose is upon gods’ green earth – yours?

Me? I serve as a reminder.

Oh, as I told my kids this past week, I know exactly who I am and what I’m here for. I remember Dr. Toland – ah, so many years ago – relating how he found his purpose under the shade of a tree whilst attending college. Not dissimilar from the Buddha (and the man could give His Holiness a run for His money in the theological thinker department).

My purpose, yes, that niggling thought e’er at the back of my mind. Between booze and smokes, under the light of eternal Luna, who wouldn’t ponder their mere existence in the light of something greater?

Call her a close friend, a lover, something more, but tonight she implored as to why I personify myself with Grendel. The monster that wrecks Hart time and time again and causes no end of anguish to the beleaguered Hrothgar. It is not until Beowulf – that bastard Geat – rips his arm from his socket that peace is finally found. Blood spilling forth from his mortal wound, all of his warfare and violence for naught, yet finding peace in the tranquility of the Abyss. But in peace, comrades, do we truly find our calling? What is a peace without assiduously applied butchery?

Today I wrote a children’s book whilst death metal blared from my antiquated speakers as I slowly put off my getting ready for church. Here, just as liable to assist children as I am to indulge my lyrical fantasies for violence and guttural shouts. Christ on a stick; what sort of existence is that where one finds themselves in such a paradoxical predicament?

Yet, comrades, I must reiterate my nature as a beast of Paradox:

  • I do not want children; I love all 150 of my students
  • I cannot commit myself to any one person; I am married to elucidation
  • I love who I am as a free individual; I bemoan the existence I’ve implemented upon myself
  • I detest school as a formal institution; I am a teacher
  • I love every heart I’ve broken – the list is arduous
  • I want the best for my charges; I cannot be a role model in my current state
  • I want my charges to experience failure and disappointment; I want my charges to Live without interference

Comrades, hark! What sort of madness beguiles this maddened scribe? How can any individual wish only the best for their students while wanting them to experience the bittersweet unguent of failure? Am I not mad? Am I not human?

A friend – and a few students – commented on my lack of humanity; how I have sold myself to Diogenes the Cynic oh so long ago. Yet I ponder: is such a thing necessarily bad? The bastard philosopher wasn’t necessarily wrong in his arbitrations of human nature and disposition. Indeed, being treated like a dog is a pendulum that swings both ways; a cutting blade liable to spill blood and offer enlightenment whilst doing so.

Is it wrong to want loved ones to fail the better able to sup their eventual victory? To want the young to witness and experience the tribulations of youth to better prepare them for the glory of adulthood? Forsooth, I want my nephews and nieces to touch the hot oven, the better able to learn for themselves than from the guise of a drunken lout who merely chuckles and says, “I told you so.”

Scarcely, I say, is it wrong to want suffering to be a guiding light? Who, among you, reader(s), have not suffered in your own quest?

This past week I have bombarded my charges with philosophy, trying to drill it into their heads the importance of being able to think – critically – and learning from those great thinkers who have gone before us. Yet I find myself wondering (on the occasion), am I misguided in my intentions? After all, I reason, are these blokes not very much dead?

Who gives a shit about Averroes? Avicenna? Plato? Kierkegaard? Sartre? These are dead men -rotten beyond comprehension – with idle words and ideas far beyond 10th grade comprehension.

Fuck, me. They are dead. But the idea – the idea, comrades! – cannot be extinguished so swiftly.

I am a goddamned mess – a slew of vices corrupting my virtue – yet at least I am aware of my purpose. I am an example: of things to do and not to do; of things to emulate and things to ignore; of things to savor and things to revile; of things to witness and things to ignore.

To my charges reading this drivel: go to bed.

To my charges seeking enlightenment: cross the Dark Stream.

Trust me, comrades, the deeper you go, the more that makes sense.

Now then: we’re off to change the world. One cynical thought at a time. And to hell with the rest.

When Wasn’t I Awake?

Fuck, I love Tobacco

There is something to be said about vices and how they keep us human. After all, comrades, how are we to trust someone who has ne’er indulged themselves beyond the Dark Stream?

I first started smoking at 16 when I was punished for fighting at NMMI. I was only a Sophomore in high school, but my heavy boots and quick tongue found me in a moral quandary my young mind wasn’t capable of extricating itself just yet. My squad leader – a loveable chap who shall remain nameless – recognized my errant behavior and my uncouth attitude toward rules and regulations. After receiving my duly (and justly) fit punishment for breaking the rules, he and I stole away to an insecure power bay and there – on those hallowed grounds of cavalry stomping – I indulged myself for the first time.

Ah, how flitting is the smoke.

I went cold for five years when I found myself sworn to a girl I was for certain to marry. But, if you know my story, comrades, you know that weren’t the case. After five years of biting a hole into my cheek, of swallowing my tongue, of putting on the Richard Cory face, I watched as Rome burnt afore me; I hadn’t even a fiddle to play.

These days – far from that five years – I find myself with a couple of proper pipes and an endless supply of fine American Spirits. There is something to be said about addiction, comrades, for I find it humanizes me. After all, when one compares themselves to Beowulf’s greatest foe, it is reassuring to relate monstrosity to humanity. Am I not flawed? Am I not imperfect? Ah, yes; so very much so. All courtesy of a finely wrapped and packaged death sentence I all too happily indulge: we all die. Enjoy it.

The Longest Journey by Ensiferum has been on repeat for at least an hour – quite possibly more – and though I have listened to this song a thousandfold, each new reverberation brings a new realization. The Dark Stream; pray tell, what is it?

On the morrow I am to teach the Allegory of the Cave by a Mr. Plato. Some Greek blowhard who had some good ideas and unintentionally spawned Christianity. My faithful readers, I implore you to remember we are born of pagan ideals mixed with the blood of the Savior. The Allegory is a stark reminder of this. We escape toward Truth. We must cross the Dark Stream lest we let it consume us.

To my students who are reading this drivel, foremost: stop. Read something of substance. I shan’t quiz you on what your loony instructor writes, but that of what truly matters: this ultimate quest for Truth. And certainly don’t take up smoking; we all die, but at least die knowing you made a contribution aside from being a lung cancer statistic.

Back to the Allegory for I find it a most provocative piece: we delight in our ignorance. It is humanity’s universality. I have some kids who are dumber than a sack of hammers and are destined to make a killing in the o’lfield one day swinging said hammer, but is Life merely an amount of zeros following a dollar sign? No, comrades, far from it.

Beyond that Dark Stream – the proverbial End – and far beyond the Cave of Ignorance, a whole world yearns for our touch. Our gentle boot to the ass. The slap of indignation across the face of realization. To think – to fucking think! – that we are to merely exist to swing hammers and collect a paycheck; ah, how that irks. How it perturbs. How it disturbs. Disrupts. Defiles. And, most damnably, distorts.

We, my comrades, are not put upon this sphere of influence to collect magical pieces of paper with a monetary value in constant flux; render unto Caesar and fuck all. We were not put upon this globe to work until our hands shrivel in dotage and our ungrateful children retire us to homes of the walking dead. And we certainly weren’t put upon this earth, comrades, to labor for no higher purpose.

Are we not to serve as reminders?

Ah; education. Education – that bridge across the Stream, straddling the Cave – to enlightenment. My little bastards have but a taste of it; far more is to come as Real Life swings the proverbial Dick of Life into their wholesome faces, but let it be clear that it is with the best of intentions. Certainly, a dick in the face is frowned upon in polite company, but if you can learn something – for Good or Ill – is learning not worth it?

Years ago I learned I found relief in stimulants, my beautiful tobacco, and mastered the art of keeping an addiction under control for self-betterment. With each new high, I found the dragon e’er out of reach until I stumbled upon that one high replicated e’ery 49 minutes. Teaching, ah blessed Teaching, how you, like my tobacco, keep me humble, alive, and awake.

We all die, comrades. We all struggle with addiction. Self-doubt. The cancer of the soul that one day will claim us as another statistic of whatever egress you fancy. But, comrades, but, we aren’t there yet. Make something of yourself. Make something of yours. Embrace your mistakes and realize you were simply the Escaped Prisoner from the Cave the entirety.

If, dear reader, these words are lost upon you, then I fear you ne’er left the Cave. Rethink yourself. Rethink the Cave. The Dark Stream. Rethink you. What have you to offer, after all?

I am a near-alcoholic, chain-smoking, foul-mouthin’, fucking crazy.

But at least I am Free.

Grössi

It was Swiss National Day. 1 August, when the original three cantons swore blood oaths against foreign aggression and the hated Hapsburgs. It was unlike any other Erste August they had celebrated before.

He sat across from her, a diminutive woman from centuries past, a veritable peasant milkmaid once upon a time who most certainly hurled boulders on the invading Austrians at Morgarten. She might have been a shade, her stature so small against the massive wooden chair she found herself seated upon. His grandmother – his father’s side – who was approaching her 85th birthday.

Grössi. Swiss shorthand for grandmother.

He looked upon her gnarled hands – worn well with ages of manual labor – and remembered the tenderness behind those curved fingers. How she would comfort his father when he was sick – a shot of grög to cure any illness (warm schnapps with water, lemon, and sugar to hide the bitterness) – how those very same hands once fended off a rabid fox using only a wooden pitchfork before his grandfather – Opa – shot it with a rudimentary (possibly flintlock) shotgun. The very same hands that knitted water-tight wicker baskets, carved planks from felled trees, sowed corn in the Alpine climate of Fribourg, cut beans, made salbe to cure wounds and prevent infections, swatted misbehaving children and grandchildren, and toasted fortune and misfortune alike with a hearty Sante and a fiery schnapps. Those very hands, rough as talons, that would pat his head and remind him – even well into adulthood – he was still just a little boy. Hepschabübe.

Apart from his full-blood Swiss cousin who was destined to inherit the family farm, he was the only grandchild who spoke enough of her odd dialect to engage in genuine conversation; the trouble with immigrant parents. He recalled the times she would badger him about his American girlfriends, when he would settle down and find himself a nice Swiss girl.

Üb’ die Berge, she would say, passing him chocolate and sweets, forcing him to sit in the shade and rest as she labored in the fields, refusing to accept his help. Over the mountain, indicating a potential Swiss bride was just over the next Berge for her wayward American grandson.

Nay, Grössi, i’ wie nicht, he would respond a thousandfold. No, Grandmother, I don’t know. His catch-all response for matters of the heart.

Schön, schön, she would sigh gayly, returning her attention to fields needing plowing and hay needing turning. Good, good. It was a waiting game for her – a means of conversation – and even though he dreaded explaining himself in a foreign tongue to this family relic, he found solace in their brief, practical conversations.

She was no taller than five feet, coming to his shoulder on a good day, but with a perpetual crick in her spine, as if the weight of the farm and family constantly caused her to tilt to and fro in either direction. Despite her size – this elderly ragamuffin – she was worth every ounce of her salt, easily outpacing him in plowing fields, harvesting hay, gathering roots, or chopping wood. She was a metronome, and he, in the prime of his Life, found himself wholly inadequate in her maternal, enduring presence. She was carved from the very stone of her mountainous homeland; part of him was certain she watched the granite blossom from nothingness.

He had visited the farm several years ago, intent on exploring Europe via foot and backpack. For a week, whilst his luggage languished in Germany – Düütschesland, she’d mutter – he helped about the place, trying to earn his keep, to show her that not all Americans were fat and lazy. Even though he awoke before dawn and helped milk cows before herding them to the hills, she was always there before him. It seemed Time was afraid of her and merely responded to her bidding. Geh’ du Lese’, Professor, she would say laughingly. Go back to reading. Farm work was no place for a boy outpaced by an octogenarian.

Once, many years ago, she asked about his American interests and what sort of music he enjoyed. Though he did take a particular liking to traditional Swiss polka and yodel, he confessed he admired Rammstein. She swore in rapid fire Swiss, crossing herself thrice – a good Catholic woman – before chastising him for his lack of taste and affinity for megabrutal music. Mein’ Gött. When they visited Rome together later that summer, she entered the Vatican on bended knee, crawling through St. Peter’s gate as a true Pilgrim. The heavens sang.

When his mother was stricken with breast cancer, the very same diminutive woman (who had only left Switzerland three times before) made an immediate pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for healing. His uncle, who ran the farm, protested at the loss of his most valuable hand for a near week: how would he get by? Soga’ Ketzer brauche’ Hilfe, the good Catholic would laugh. Even heretics need help, she said with love. His Protestant mother had been cancer-free for several years.

He thought of the old woman he and his missionary comrades had served in Santiago de Chile. Abuela, they had affectionately called her, a tiny woman who was easily 80 years old, yet cared for her American hijos and hijas as if they were her own babes. He saw his grandmother in this woman – the very same spark of Life and vitality no hardship could extinguish. She kissed the ground as they left for the last time, falling prostrate, rising for each child, kissing them on the cheek, and whispering Spanish prayers into their ears as they hugged goodbye. He wept that day, finding his Grössi in the slums of Chile.

His thoughts returned to 1 August, a day of celebration and fest. Here they were, assembled as a family: grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, the whole mess of them drunk on wine, schnapps, food, and family.

His father raised his wine glass and the table silenced themselves – the chatter and laughter coming to a hushed close. “I wish to make a toast,” he said in his heavily accented English, “to Grössi. And to Switzerland.”

The quiet table burst into raucous cheers of hear, hear’s and Sante’s as they clinked crystal wine glasses against one another, ensuring they made eye contact with every individual at the table (and never crossing arms; taboo and bad luck) before supping the fine French wine.

Amidst bread, blood, and drink, all was well.

He looked at his father, a proud, strong man who seized the American dream by the throat and throttled every meaningful promise into existence for his family. He held back tears – plain enough to see – as he smashed his glass again and again.

Für Grössi, Vater,” he said as their glasses met.

Grössi raised her own glass, her petite bird arm cradling the fine schlöcki as she toasted her fellow well-wishers.

Für dich,” he said as he met Grössi’s strong, patient eye. “Mein’ Grössi.”

“Mein’ Kinde’,” she replied warmly, the sound of cascading crystal reverberating throughout the room. My child.

She had passed away some 12 hours before, approximately 3,000 miles away, in the comfort of her bed.


My Grandmother in Switzerland passed away during the early hours of 1 August. I last saw her in 2014 when I started Camino Primaris, still the strong, implacable woman of my youth. Her image of strength, tenacity, and willpower will ne’er leave me.

Geh’ mit Gött, Grössi.

Go with God.