Monday, March 15, 2010

An Official Introduction To The Blogosphere

Hello. My name is Apparition Jones. The name, which I’ve gone by for years now on the internet, was given to me one night in a cloudy haze of revelry by a close friend, and has stuck. I’m a writer, a father and husband, an office worker, a performer, a musician, and an all around stand up guy. Who does not lack for modesty.

As a younger man, I was certainly modest, to a fault. I was obsessed with being the nice guy, the good guy, the person everybody liked and the person who could always be relied on to do the right thing. Right. Now, this isn’t to say that I’m any kind of bad now. I hold down a comfortable job with a comfortable company. I play Transformers with my son. I console my infant daughter in her fits of colic-induced outrage. I try to provide for the family: money, heart, happiness, whatever it takes. I’m 34 years old. And this is what gets me.

When you’re young, really young but not a child (past the dog eyed wonder of the intellect’s infancy), you start to get these ideas. You start to think about what you can do to let the whole world know that you’re there. You start to think about your own mythology. Forgive the parlance of academia here. What I’m saying is true, whether you’re using the 75 cent words or cashing in your nickels.

You go out into the night and you drink liters of cheap wine, cases of beer, shot on shot of liquor. Maybe one night you have too much even for your own bacchanalian standards, and you tear off your clothes in the middle of an unnamed street in the middle of nowhere and you scream out to the world that you exist. Maybe you challenge God himself. You take up with strange people, anyone who will add a new story to your life. Pagans and priests, the homeless, the privileged, gypsies, transients, good girls, bad boys, anything and anyone who can show you how they live, where they come from, who they are. You do these things to find out who you are.

And therein lies the real bitch of the whole thing. When you do finally find yourself, when you realize that you’re a relatively normal, well adjusted nobody from middle class Middle America, you look back on all these crazy fuckers, and you really start to long for them. But that’s the trick. You long for them because they’re a part of this mythology you created for yourself. You long for them because you’ve created a pantheon in your mind, and these crazy, crazy people are all your own little gods.

You convince yourself of their immortality, and you hope and you pray out loud that you meet them again, that they can remind you of who you really are.

This is what it means to long for your friends.
This is what it means to be a titan of good times.
This is what it means to be torn between who you are and who you were.

So this is where I’m at, as I reboot my name in the blogosphere. I spend my days in corporate America, my nights entertaining and consoling my family, and every free minute I have still chasing down that pantheon of little gods in my mind, now fully mythologized. And if you’re reading this, where are you? Have you acquiesced to the comfort of a shallow grave, or are you reaching, always reaching, for ascension?

Friday, January 15, 2010

He Man Morality

Winter, 1986 – We walked up Devil’s Hill with our sleds in tow. The hill rose steep behind Altoona High School, and the snow had been cleared off the steps that marked its ascent - old railroad ties driven horizontally into the ground to mark the way up. There was a thin path cut through the forest on the front side of the hill, but when you cleared the top, the whole thing was wide and sweeping and clear of any trees. That side of the hill looked out to the south and east, and the land dipped away from it and you felt like you could see all of Wisconsin from there. It was perfect for sledding.

Along with me were Chad and Todd, two brothers who lived down the street from my house. We trudged through the snow, young eyes squinting in the brilliance of the reflected sun. No clouds and it was in the low thirties. A January thaw. Sledding weather. Weather for snow forts and ice skates and snowball fights. I had on a Chicago Bears hat – white and navy blue yarn with an iron-on bear face and an orange and blue pom pom tassel on the top. The Bears were Super Bowl champions and had Walter Payton and the Fridge and Jimmy Mac. I loved them, even if nobody else in my family did.

We were expecting the hill to be jam-packed as we trudged up the slope of the school-side. When we finally reached the top, though, and slipped through the break in the old chain-link fence, there were only two other people there – bigger than us, but far down at the bottom of the hill: high schoolers.

Chad and Todd jumped on their sleds almost immediately, taking running starts at the hill and rocketing down toward the bottom. I went slower, keeping an eye on the teenagers, trying to angle my sled away from them as best I could. Big kids were a mystery to me. I liked He Man and GI Joe and Transformers, they liked beer and girls and dirty jokes.

In fact, to say that I “liked” He Man is a bit of an understatement. I was obsessed with He Man. I had a hundred He Man guys. They had huge bulging muscles and detachable swords and laser guns. They rode giant panthers and flying tanks. The good guys had smiles and wore bright clothes, while the bad guys were always dark and grim. Each action figure came with a mini-comic book. In the comics, He Man always did what was right and noble. He would never abandon a friend or leave anyone in need of help. He would never turn his back to the foul deeds of an evildoer. Never. I prided myself on being just like He Man. If I wasn’t strong or smart, I could make up for it, at least, by being a good guy, as best I could.

And so it was that I found myself at the top of the hill, after the third or fourth trip down and up. I was out of breath and breaking a sweat under the heavy layers of my winter gear. I watched Todd and Chad reach the bottom of the hill again. They were racing. They reached the bottom in a cloud of snow and laughter. Then, without warning, the two teenagers loped toward them like great, snowmobile jacket clad Beastmen. I watched in terror as they shoved my friends face-first into the snow.

I knew what He Man would do. We were pretty far isolated from any houses – it would have taken me fifteen minutes or more to find a grown up to help, and maybe another fifteen to get back to them. My friends needed help right then and there. Every time they stood up to run, the teenagers kicked their legs out from under them, pushed them back into the snow. I knew what had to be done, and I did it. I pulled my Bears hat down over my brow, and took a running dive on my sled. I caromed right toward them. I slipped off the sled as I neared, and gathered myself. I ran as hard as I could, packing snowballs and firing as I went. In my head, He Man shouted “I have the power!” and lightning flashed and my muscles bulged. Walter Payton, the Fridge, and Jimmy Mac followed me, riding on the crest of the wave of snow that flew up from under my feet.

“Yeaaaarrrhh!” I screamed. “Leave them alone!”

The high schoolers stared at me in bemused surprise. One had hard blue eyes and longish black hair that curled behind his ears and a scraggly adolescent beard. The other one was clean shaven, with short hair just visible under a faded red baseball hat. Both of them were in snowmobile jackets and snow pants. The plan had worked perfectly. They forgot about Chad and Todd, and now turned to me with lips half turned in sneers.

I remember how it sounded; Chad and Todd running back up the hill, thick steps thudding away from me. I remember hoping that the high schoolers would be won over by my bravado. I remember hoping they would tell me good job, and say to go back to my friends. Instead, though, they laughed and spoke in the cotton-mouthed tone of post-adolescence. The only words I clearly understood were “hat” and “Bears fan” and “Packers”.

They pushed me face first into the snow. One of them pinned my arms down while the other one threw snowballs at my stomach and my crotch. Then, they let me up, only to knock me down again. Each time, as I started running, they’d kick my legs out and start the process all over again. I remember thinking that my friends would storm out of the forest like I had done, or that somebody would stumble across the scene and rescue me. Maybe somehow Refrigerator Perry would happen to be passing through the forests of West Central Wisconsin, and would sense a Bears fan in need. The earth would shake with his footsteps as he raced toward us.

In the end, nobody came. The teenagers finally got bored, and let me go. I ran up the hill, and when I hit the top, there were Chad and Todd coming toward me, looking terrified. They held dead branches like spears. “We were just coming to get you,” they said. They didn’t need to say anything, though. I wouldn’t have thought any less of them. I understood at that moment why He Man morality was for make-believe. Heroes didn’t appear out of nowhere to avenge wrongdoing. Friends (especially 10 and 12 year old friends) didn’t defy all odds and outwit enraged giants in Ski-Doo jackets. There was no such thing as Battle Cat. Maybe there was no such thing as Refrigerator Perry.

When I got home, though, I didn’t throw all my He-Man guys into a box and tuck them away forever. I thought about it, but I couldn’t do it. Precisely because of my He Man morality. Because in He Man, when someone fought for what was right against a powerful villain, a great hero would appear and reward courage with victory. The good guys, as long as they did good deeds, always won – no matter the odds. I realized then that everybody needs that fantasy world: a place where they can pretend everything is right and good with the world. A place to escape. A place where good and evil are clearly defined by smiles and scowls, or the color of one’s clothes. Everyone needs to believe that good is rewarded with good, and evil is harshly punished. My preference is that it be punished by men in brightly colored spandex.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last Week

Last week, there was a car accident on the street that runs in front of my office. A van, at high speed, crossed over the median and struck a number of cars stopped at a stop light, killing one woman. The driver was having a heart attack or stroke, and was unable to control his vehicle. It was violent, debris was scattered for a hundred feet from the point of impact, and police shut down the entire intersection for hours.

Imagine you’re in your mid forties and you’re married. When you were younger you smoked (only when you drank), and as you got older, you started thinking more about your health, and you quit. You eat too much, and you know this. You’ve been battling on and off for years with diets and exercise routines. You drop 10 pounds over a couple months, and gain 15 back. Everyday you do your best to lose weight. You work in an office, and there’s always food around. It’s difficult. You sit in a chair from 8 to 4:30, then you go home, cook a light dinner, then sit in your favorite recliner from 6 until 9. You go to bed, wake up, start all over again.

Imagine you’ve been saving 8% of your income for retirement. You’ve been careful with your spending. If you go to the grocery store, you never buy brand name pasta or detergent. You cut coupons whenever you can. You pay the bills on time and you try as best you can to cut down on frivolous expenses. You only go out to dinner once a month, at most. You bring leftovers to work. You eat casserole. You invest 5% of your income in an IRA, and another 3% in a college fund for your kids. You drive a used Ford Taurus you’ve had paid off since 2002. Since you hit forty, you’ve begun to plan carefully for your retirement. You are halfway done with your working life, and have only twenty years to go.

Imagine that you remember climbing to the top of the jungle gym at Pederson Elementary in 1975 and the sunlight was gold and it hit your cheeks warm and you swore to Tonya Hale that you would be the first person to fly to Mars and you would bring her back the biggest, reddest rock you could find. Imagine that years later, when you saw the hills at Sedona, Arizona, she was the first person you thought of.

Imagine that when you were young you believed in some kind of love phosphorous, burning bright and fast and blinding. Imagine you thought you were going to do something crazy with your life. You were going to be a pilot or a travel writer, an entrepreneur or a fireman or a hotshot computer programmer. You were not going to be like your parents. You were going to live your dreams. Imagine you believed that making dreams come true was a matter of destiny, and not painstaking perseverance.

Imagine that now you know different. Now you believe in comfort, a hand to hold, a warm smile to throw on like an old sweater. Imagine you believe that the murky years of hard, dull work and loyalty will pay off when you retire. Imagine you don’t think about a big payday anymore. Imagine that what you want most is to travel with your spouse. See your kids get married.

Imagine that you’re sitting in your Ford Taurus at the corner of County C and Snelling, waiting for the light to go green.