Mr. Clark’s Neighborhood (part 1a)

The Land of Imperviax – One silver ounce

The front of the coin reflected the dim light as it had done over a hundred times until being mindlessly turned again so the back could have another chance to shine.

Free and Blessed, All of Us – 1212, Second Cycle

The music playing in the background grew louder. That, added with the drunken, boisterous laughs and hollers of the bar’s patrons was almost enough to jolt Jeremy Sebastian away from his thoughts, but not quite.

Impervia, he thought. The name was one of the first words he remembered learning. The shiny coin had been his for as long as he could remember. It was his first gift, given to him by his mother before his brain had developed long-term memory. He turned it again and again, over and over, wondering the same things he’d wondered for several spells of time at a go, every week of his twenty-two years of life.

What was Imperviax? The Land of Imperviax? Was it a kingdom like the old, rotting books described? Books that had come from somewhere far beyond the neighborhood. He swallowed, staring deeper at the coin. Was it a modern city? Did its people travel through space? What were the people like? Were they like us? Are we their descendants? Or were they alien? Perhaps beings from another solar system, another universe or another dimension.

All he knew for sure was that the coin was one of a kind, the only of its like in the neighborhood. Mr. Clark had personally told his mother that. Sadly, that was all he told her. Or at least, that was all she told Jeremy she was told.

“Pass me a cigarette.”

Jeremy finally broke from his daze and turned to look at his friend, Katie Lark. Her long hair stood straight up, jutting from the top of her head like an outrageous cone. It was colored green today. Her guitar was slung over her shoulder, the sight of which brought to his attention the band was taking a break. The music had paused.

Putting the coin away, Jeremy pulled two cigarettes out of their box and handed one to the woman before flicking his lighter to life and bringing the flame first to the tip of her smoke and then his own.

“Thanks.” She said after exhaling. She swigged a drink from her glass of what looked like black ale. “We’re starting our next set soon. You have any requests?” She looked around. “Looks like everyone else here is too drunk to care or even know the difference no matter what we play.”

Jeremy smiled before taking the time to really look around the place. He’d been at the bar more times than he could count so everything was as familiar as the back of his hand. Tonight, he’d been sitting in the same chair for over two hours, thinking and remembering. He finally realized how packed it was. Scanning the familiar faces as best he could, it became instantly clear there wasn’t a stranger in the lot. There were hardly ever any strangers in the neighborhood. Everyone was the same as he remembered, no one new, no oddities, nothing unknown. He reached into his pocket and felt the coin again. As usual, it was the only mystery in the neighborhood.

Newcomers arrived maybe once or twice each solar return. Whenever they showed up, his mother always met with them and she was sure to bring him along with her. He knew everything she, Julia Sebastian, thought necessary for him to know. Maybe it was everything she knew, maybe it wasn’t. She was his mother, his teacher, his protector and his guide. The knowledge she made sure to pass on were the names and identities of every person, every family and every group in the neighborhood. It was her job to know and Jeremy needed to know it was his job as well.

“Hey!” Katie called. “What’s up with you?”

“Lots.” Jeremy replied. “Sorry. Play what you like. It all sounds great to me.”

“Yea, sure.” She shot back with a snort. “You’re not even drinking? What’s wrong? Get a drink or something.”

He smiled. “Nah. I have to work, tonight and again tomorrow.” And every day from then on. He thought.

“What?” She didn’t need to speak the word, the expression on her face could ask the question on its own. “Work? That’s your mom’s job. She’s the sentry, not you. Not until…” She stopped herself and took another puff from her cigarette.

Jeremy pondered speaking, not only whether or not to but also what and what not to say, should he choose to produce any words. That was until there was a sudden crash in the back of the bar, near the pool tables. He was instantly on his feet, working his way through the crowd toward the sound which now included shouting and cursing.

“You fucking Valades!” A man bellowed from the deepest pit of his liquor filled stomach. “I’m so sick of your shit! Your whole clan is evil.”

Jeremy moved closer and made himself recognizable to the two sparing men, Karth Foote and Alez Valade. Studying them, he knew it was an even match, both in size and drunkenness.

Alez picked up his thick beer glass and jutted it out toward Karth who was armed with a cue stick. “Jehrahmee,” he slurred, “get yer mom. This Foote mother fucker is pissing me off.”

“We don’t need the sentry!” Karth stated. “We can settle up, here an’ now!”

Jeremy stepped between the men, confidently yet reluctantly. “What’s going on? I won’t let you two hurt each other.”

Karth pleaded his case first. “Damn Valades. They put a hex on my brother. He’s been haunted for a day and a half. Nightmares and shit flying all around his house.”

Jeremy looked at Alez with raised eyebrows. “That true?”

“I dunno!” Alez shrugged. “I s’pose. But his brother slept with Strike’s girl.”

“That doesn’t warrant a curse.” Jeremy stated. “Back down and cool off. I’ll visit Strike tomorrow.”

Karth spat. “No! Tell your mum to see him now. Punish that bastard!”

“I said tomorrow.” Jeremy said, coolly after turning to Karth. “It’s late and I’m not even sure where Strike is.”

“No good!” Karth shook his head. “Not fair! My bro can’t even sleep! He’ll miss work again tomorrow.” He stepped closer to Jeremy. “Get Julia to fix this or I’ll blow this prick to bits!”

By now, Karth had a small group of supporters behind him. They were angrier, drunker and rowdier than they should’ve been. The hoots, calls and comments from them showed their growing unease. Cursing was especially frowned upon and few families did it better than the Valade clan.

Alez tried to help. “Hey! Heeeyyy!” He put his beer glass down and raised his hands. “I’ll talk to ‘im, talk to Strike as soon as I see ‘im too. I’ll get him to pull it back.”

“NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” Karth hissed. “NOW!”

Jeremy turned his full attention to Karth and the men and women behind him. “Turn around and calm down. I said it’ll be handled tomorrow.”

Someone behind Karth, a woman, Sara Blime, scoffed. “What do you know, boy! Go tell your mom, now!”

“Tomorr -” Jeremy started before being interrupted.

“Say tomorrow one more time and I’ll bust your head open!” Karth threatened.

Vax, a man standing next to Sara, spoke up. “He’s not gonna get his mom. Bash the little prick!”

With that the small mob attacked. Jeremy was outnumbered nine to one. The nine didn’t stand a chance.

The threat, the danger, triggered the essence inside Jeremy. Drawing in the light, the power of protection, granted to his blood line generation after generation, he stood his ground. Karth brought the cue stick down hard toward his head. It shattered an inch before reaching his scalp. Blossoming with righteousness, Jeremy grabbed Karth’s wrist and twisted. The drunken man’s body followed the turn, completely uplifted, hefted off his feet before crashing down to the floor, landing hard on his face.

The others pressed.

Jeremy summoned a known power that saturated the ground around him with the heat of divine light. Those with enough sense had backed off. The eight attackers were too blind and stupid to do the same. Their feet and legs paid the price, feeling the burning sting. They cried and cursed. Five fell, three continued their foolish ambush.

With a sharp exhale, as Julia, his mother had taught him, Jeremy produced an ethereal shield of light that emanated from his left forearm. Charging the three, the shield rammed the remaining group, easily knocking them unconscious and to the floor to join their writhing friends.

The futile and easily avoidable skirmish was over in seconds.

“Gods!” Katie said after rushing up to Jeremy’s side.

“I thought only your mom could do that.” One of her band mates, Greg said.

Jeremy looked at both of them in turn. “My mother died. I’m the sentry now.”

 

Balancing Pride

Pride isn’t the opposite of shame, it’s the source. The cure to an inflated case of pride is humility. While most of us say we respect those who’re humble and show humility, a lot of the time, unfortunately, the humble are seen as weak. One of our challenges is balancing the two. I’ve thought this for a while but the issue comes to the top of my mind after having a talk with my family last night.

I’m proud of several things about myself. I’m proud of my wit, my writing, my accomplishments, my drive, my integrity and my status as a husband and father. All those things are pretty cool and make me feel good! A healthy amount of pride can drive us to do what we do best and to keep on doing it. Without pride, I’d probably just be a slob, lying around in a hole somewhere, covered in dirt and stink. Nope, I stay clean, comb my hair, keep the world around me in order and press on to maintain my happiness. Still I remind myself that there are always others out there who do whatever I do well, better. That’s all fine, I’m humble that way. Too much pride is poisonous, destructive, childish and well, shameful.

I figure most of us know all this but it’s still fun to bring deep rooted beliefs to the conscious forefront every now and then. That and for those of us who parent or deal with children on a regular basis, it helps to remember that those young, little beings aren’t often anywhere near finding the balance I’m writing about. Hell, I’ve seen it with my three kids. Humility? Hah! I don’t see much of that in any of them. They’re always jockeying for status:

“My (insignificant kid) thing is better than yours!”

“You got to do or have that (inconsequential) thing last time! It’s MY turn!”

“I’m better than you at… blah blah blah”

“MOOOMMM!”

I’m not a Freudian but what I’m talking about here is classic ego and super-ego stroking stuff, often off shoots, by product of off the charts pride run amok. I don’t blame our children. Kids will be kids and they do get along fairly well most the time. Still, when you have more than one of them, they, like a damn wolf pack, almost immediately fight to establish a pecking order… for everything! It’s almost funny in some sadistic way, only because I know the issues at hand are essentially pointless. If the disputes were more serious then that’s a whole other story.

Actually, it’s hard for them because they haven’t learned to just chill the fuck out. They haven’t learned humility. They don’t know how to be humble. They’re afraid. Afraid of losing out, of getting taken advantage of, of not getting a fair shake. Granted, we all fear those things but with maturity comes humility. Humility helps us take a deep breath and move on, picking our battles on issues that really matter. With the young ones, not so much. Everything is everything. Their pride is a monstrous, screaming demon that commands their brains to order their bodies to act out so they don’t feel belittled or shamed. It’s a challenge finding balance but most of us, those of us who aren’t mega-maniacal or narcissistic, figure it out through combined teachings from others and life in general.

Like Mr. Miyagi said, “Lesson for whole life. Whole life have balance. Everything better. Understand?” and “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”

What’s in a Name?

I used to really believe colleges and universities were meant to help individuals grasp a greater intellect. Guess not… Experience has taught me otherwise. The individual has been coerced and steadily absorbed into the mass, group think edicts of the bureaucratic institution to which they submit themselves. I’d suggest all these kids (when one cowers from and attacks language and words, I don’t believe that person qualifies as an adult) should read Orwell’s 1984. Maybe our current US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch should change her last name, it could frighten the little kiddies pretending to be grown ups. Ridiculous.

College students want the name ‘Lynch’ removed.

Centenarian

I don’t know about you but I plan on living until I’m at least a hundred years old. I feel good, I’ve been in great health my whole life and people tell me I look, and often act, younger than someone who’ll turn thirty-nine next April – despite my graying hair. Genetics seem to be on my side too. My mom and dad are seventy and sixty-six respectively and have also been in good health. In fact, I can’t think of anyone in my family tree with health problems other than my mom’s dad who fell to a heart attack at seventy. It’s my understanding, since he passed the year I was born and never got to know him, he was a heavyset man most of his life. I’ve always been rather tall and lean and haven’t had any blood pressure issues.  My dad’s father just moved on shortly after turning a hundred too. So why not? I can and plan on making it to the big 1-0-0 and beyond.

It’s funny how such emphasis and feeling can be acquainted to hard, scientific, mathematical concepts like time and numbers. But we do, or I do at least. Consideration of my expiration date isn’t meant to be morbid in the slightest. It definitely isn’t in my mind. It’s simply a timeline I’m cruising down, sort of like waiting for a program to download on a computer: 15% complete, 25% complete, 39% complete. It tells me how much further I still have to go. It reminds me how much work and play I can still get to do while living on this beautiful, air covered rock, whirling around a nuclear fireball. Toward the end my book, Hailiorea Revolt, one of the characters makes the point that our, humankind’s, knowledge of our mortality is a gift, not a curse. I, not surprisingly since I wrote the lines in the book, agree. It teaches me humility, calmness, acceptance and drives me to live.

I live in the now for the most part but when I take the time to plan for the future my mind often wanders into what’s most likely a blend of imagination and clairvoyance. It’s like I can almost see the future. This hit home this past Tuesday night as Dana and I were getting ready for bed. I’d had Vivien over for a few hours that evening so thoughts of family were a bit heavier on my mind than normal. I can’t remember if it was something Dana said or not but in an instant, I was there, in the future, a hundred year old man, with Dana close behind me. Viv, Hunter and Rylie were grandparents themselves. I could see it all and it felt great. Back in the present, I laid on our bed, staring up at the ceiling, smiling and almost giggling at the thoughts. They tickled.

Aging doesn’t scare me. I loved being young and I love moving into middle age. I love the strength and vitality of youth and don’t want to lose them but I know, inevitably, some of it will deteriorate away with the years and it’s ok. It’s ok because I’m optimistic. I look forward to growing old. Sure it’s not sexy but it’ll be fun nonetheless. Dana and I are husband and wife, partners, lovers, mates and we’ve got good, fair, just, heads on our shoulders. We’ve planned the future and work to secure everything as best we can. We plan on being done with the grind before we’re sixty. We’ll still work in some capacity but not like now. Hell, speaking for myself, I’ll keep writing for sure.

Sixty to a hundred. That’s forty years of relative freedom. Freedom to see who we want, go where we want and help others as much as we can. Take those forty years and add the first sixteen of my life before I started working and I finish my download with only having to grind it out about 45% of the time. Not too bad at all. Not that I hate my job or anything but it does take up a lot of time and I like to stay up late and then sleep in. Hard to do that when I need to get up at 5am to get ready for the work day. Only another 20% to go till that point. Sixty to a hundred, let the good times (continue) to roll.

The Business of Learning

I’m a curious person by nature who enjoys taking the time to wonder about things. I wonder what our world would be like if there was intelligent life on Mars. What would happen if the beings there were more advanced than us? Less advanced? What if they were at relative equal technological footing to our own? I wonder about colors our eyes can’t see. I wonder who the first person to sample and eat various foods was. Were they bold, crazy or just hungry? Yep, lots of curiosities in the cosmos take their turns occupying my thoughts. These, and many more, could very well be the subject of future blogs. Right now, I’m wondering why we still put so much emphasis on how great and vital it is to go to college.

I went to college. I worked thirty-five to forty hours a week as a grocery store produce clerk to pay most of my way so it took me more than the “usual” four years. I did well, graduating with a 3.7 gpa and only $7000 in student loan debt (I took out a couple loans my last year since my friend and I foolishly decided to buy a house). I liked the people, my fellow students as well as my professors, and, being a curious person, enjoyed most of the subjects I studied. I didn’t get involved with any of the groups or clubs at the university since I was busy with the actual school work, my job, commuting back and forth and going out a couple nights a week with friends. No time and no drive for the other stuff. I did my work, followed the guidelines and got out. After the graduation ceremony all I was really left with was a piece of paper, an empty wallet and some questions: What the hell did I really learn here and was it all worth it?

Right off the bat, there weren’t any job openings in my field that even paid as much as what I was making at the grocery store. I frustratingly wondered what good all that time, work and money I’d spent at school was. I landed a new job in cable advertising sales two months after graduation. Perhaps having a degree helped me get hired but my specific degree didn’t have any relevance to the work I’d be doing. Instead, I learned the business as I went along and relied on my innate skills, drive and personality. I could’ve very well started the job at nineteen or twenty and been in the exact same boat I was in at twenty seven. Why did I go to college again?

With so many other things to think about in between each day’s hustle and bustle, I tried to not dwell on it too much. I put aside questions like, what good is my degree? What good are lots of degrees? Why did ‘they’ (they being the bureaucratic education system) make me take so many irrelevant electives? Interesting as they were, the information was nothing I couldn’t find on my own and they cost a lot of time and money. They were all a big waste, basically. It’s almost stupid enough to make me angry.

We’ve all heard the same tripe over and over telling us how a college education is the great intellectual equalizer in our society. Yep, I’m sure the same rhythmic dogma is playing through your brain right now, reminding you how going to college helps us grow, learn and prepare for the world. For the future!!! We’ve heard it enough to where, for lots of people, the very thought of saying college is mostly a big, dumb waste of time, money and material would be blasphemous. You see, right there… I didn’t learn the word blasphemous in college. I learned it on my own, by listening, by thinking, by giving over to my enjoyment of wielding a somewhat decent vocabulary. Other than a few, trivial tidbits, I can’t think of anything I learned in college I couldn’t have just as easily learned on my own, through my own research, on my own time, by my own terms, necessitated by my own needs. Unfortunately, I fell prey to the dogma, “You need a degree to succeed! You don’t want to be a failure, do you?” My eighteen year old self was pounced upon and brought down hook, line and sinker.

College can serve a purpose. I believe such extended study is helpful for those who choose to work in fields like the medical profession. Deep understanding of the human body is a definite plus before someone claims to be a doctor. There are other areas, mostly in the sciences, but even then… the knowledge has all been logged in countless books and the actual experience of learning under professionals in the real world teaches us so much more. I’d like to see college all but disappear and for serious apprenticeship programs in all fields become the norm. If you’re interested in astronomy and physics, read, learn and teach yourself all while working (either for free or paid) under maestros in the field until you’ve grasped enough knowhow and confidence to try it on your own. You want to be a journalist? Do what journalists do, go where they go, write like they write. Offer your help, time and services to professionals then make your own moves to land a job. Seems simple enough. Why be forced to take classes on things like health and fitness if the knowledge you really seek is on mathematics, economics or politics?

Why indeed.

Why? Because colleges and universities, as with all of us, like to make money. They make money off students, their parents and / or government loans. The more classes students are made to take to earn their degrees, the more money goes to the college.

On a side note, there’s a coupling… Universities and the federal government.  Another blundering example of how the federal government makes things worse: College is pricey; Washington steps in to offer loans to mostly unemployed, clueless eighteen year olds; More people attend college; Basic economics says that when people are willing to pay more, prices go up; College becomes more pricey; More loans go out; More students get degrees; With so many degrees earned, their value drops, flooding the market, so to speak; Devalued degrees lead to less of an advantage at gaining employment. As a result, we have an influx of men and women in their early to mid-twenties with no jobs and loads of debt. Oh well, at least the colleges and universities are doing well.

Those who know me know I’m a fan of knowledge and wisdom. I admire those who’ve gained them and I’m a proponent for those without them to go out and attain them. Ask questions, research, LEARN! We have access to libraries in nearly every city. Hell, most of our homes have access to the greatest library ever known to humankind. Look around the Marvel trailers and cat videos… knowledge on EVERYTHING is there, ripe for the plucking. Beyond that, go out and talk to the pros! Most people like to show off, I mean talk about what they know. Let your curiosity drive you. Interact and engage.

I just don’t see the added value that comes from the way colleges and universities do business in our day and age. I see most of them as greedy, corrupt institutions which push their political and philosophical agendas on their students, thus hampering learning and actual realizations about life. They generally fail to prepare young men and women for the real world and have become more and more of a poor investment of our time, money and energy. There are much better ways to learn and grow. Unfortunately, the stigma of having a degree is so ingrained in many of our heads, any thoughts to the contrary or criticism is mostly discarded.

Having a degree isn’t a golden ticket to a prosperous future. It’s not even a badge of honor. My degree is just confirmation that I successfully illustrated a very expensive, very time consuming paint by numbers puzzle. It wasn’t easy to finish but it was simple and now it’s tucked away somewhere collecting dust.