Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Practicing Self-Restraint

There is an art to practicing self-restraint. Some people are better at it than others, naturally. Most of us know some basic etiquette, such as not swearing in front of our parents. My brother, for example, has no filter when it comes to dropping the F bomb in front of my mother. My parents on the other hand, practiced great restraint when it came to swearing. If my mom ever swore, it was the phrase "Shit, in plain English!" Somehow, adding the "in plain English" made it less offensive.

We're all offended by different things. Some of it is cultural, some is generational. There are those who are offended for others. I remember last summer, a young man came in the store and was heading back to the cafe to get a coffee. He noticed the cardboard cutout of Curious George in the kids section and quipped, "Hey, have you ever noticed how Barack Obama looks like Curious George?" He chuckled and went on his way. I turned back to my assistant manager and she looked at my aghast. "That's so racist!" she informed me. You are correct if you assumed that my assistant manager is white. Yet she was deeply offended that this man compared Barack Obama to a cartoon monkey. Why was she so offended? She's not black; she's not a monkey; and she's not the president, yet she was offended? She was offended on behalf of the black people. Silly when you think about it.

What offends me? Not much after fifty-three years of life, and experiencing such goodies as military service, three marriages, and working with a variety of people, some of whom even  looked like monkeys. I've always been a great listener and I try my damnedest not to be judgmental -- at least not vocally -- so people tend to be quite loquacious around me. They can be jerks, but most of the time it's because they don't practice self-restraint. There are some reasons that people cannot restrain themselves from uttering obscenities -- such as Tourette syndrome, or some or other mental health affliction -- but let's just assume for a moment that most of us have free will and we can choose what we say to others and how we say it. I'm not just talking about obscenities, but all speech that might leave the recipient feeling slighted.

Let's take my blog for instance. I have been maintaining destined for banality for over seven years, and I write about a variety of subjects. I have also kept a series of journals, on paper and in bits for most of my life. I've found that I have been writing in my personal journal much less lately, and instead blogging here. In a way, my blog has become my personal journal, but I have to practice self-restraint here, knowing that I have readers out there...a couple anyway. I've always been a polite person, and that shows in my writing too.

Now, if you took a look at my religion and politics blog, you could probably find plenty to be offended by there, but just the subject matter should tell you that. Here I try to make my posts palatable for the general public (No NFSW stuff here, that's for tumblr.) I do write about some personal stuff though -- family relationships, drug use (corporate and herbal) and depression -- but I cannot reveal all of my thoughts. There would be people at my door with pitchforks and torches, wanting to roast my ass.

I once had this fantasy that one day a year -- call it Impulse Day -- we could say whatever we wanted to whomever we wanted with no repercussions whatsoever. Impossible, of course, because people have memories. That's probably the biggest reasons one has to chose their words wisely is because the listener, or reader, will remember your words and you may rue the day that you uttered that boast sir. You may have your cheek slapped by a velvet glove and you know what that means...pistols at dawn.

So, remember that even here, where I exclaim "Honesty and Openness at Low Discount Prices!" I have to practice restraint. Sometimes it's what one doesn't say that says it all.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Can I Help You Find Anything Today?"

Customer service. Those words leave a bad taste in my mouth. They bring to mind those minutes wasted on the phone, waiting for the incompetent on the other end of the line to help you straighten out your cable bill. Or the young tattooed, gum-chewing hipster at Best Buy, who could care less about the reason you're returning the flat screen TV that is no longer flat. But I guess that the general meaning of the two words together is just the act of serving the customer. It's something I do every day at the bookstore. In fact, I am probably considered the best employee to help customers with their problems.

Being good at customer service, means more time with customers, duh. That means that during the busy season, I am up front at the cash registers more. It also means that the so-called tough customers are sent to me. There is still one cute little old French woman, who comes in regularly, but will only deal with me at the used book counter. She will even call ahead of time to see when I am working. She once tried dealing with one of the younger employees -- you know the one: ex-barista, lead singer in a indie band, with a sullen outlook on life -- and by the end of the transaction, the employee left in tears. It seems that the older French lady wasn't going to take any of her punk-ass attitude. Now she'll only deal with me apparently, because I treat others as I would want to be treated. Even the manager wanted to "86" this customer from the store, but he's also scared of her. Chalk one up for the bearded nice guy.

Last week I had an older customer, looking a bit befuddled in the mystery section. (Here's a hint: if you're ever looking for an old person, look in the mystery section of a bookstore.) I asked him if I could help, but he waved his hands, and politely refused. About three minutes later he got up the courage to ask me for a suggestion. I say the word courage, because I've noticed the reticence of older folks to ask for help. Part of the reason is their fierce sense of independence -- of course -- but the other factor is that they get tired of being given the brush off by impatient younger humans. And that's the funny part: we're all human, and if we're lucky we'll all get to be senior citizens. Let's hope that when we're a bit feeble and befuddled sometime in the future, we can find an empathetic human to help us find a book, or cross the street, or maybe even carry our grocery bags.

Young or old, we all need help at some point, whether we're the type to admit it or not. Men are notorious for being stubborn, not asking for directions and such. I see it in the bookstore. They'd rather try and find it themselves than appear ignorant. I have news for you buddy: your ignorance is still showing. Better tuck that in.

Some of us need more help than just finding a book. Some of us need a sympathetic ear. Some of us need a hug, and some understanding. Not advice necessarily, but a nodding head and a pat on the back. There is a book out now called The Trauma of Everyday Life, and I understand that title, as I'm sure most of us would if we took a moment. There are days when we all just want a mental health day. Some time and space for a nice long walk, letting those stressful thoughts drift off in the breeze. Our country has the highest use of anti-depressants by far. Last year, the Seattle area was out of Wellbutrin, and had to substitute an alternative until they were restocked. We also recently legalized marijuana, and I can tell you from personal use, that it's used by many of the population as stress relief, which is a darn sight healthier that a few glasses of scotch before bed every evening.

I recently saw a video of a man giving out free hugs (thank you internet.) He was standing street side in a country obviously not America, blindfolded with a sign offering free hugs. First passersby were hesitant, but eventually people came up to hug him, many at the same time. I was quite moved, and it's been crossing my mind to try that social experiment right here in my own backyard of Seattle, USA. What do you think? Would the people of this city stop and hug a blindfolded stranger? I can barely get people to reply to my greetings on the sidewalk when I'm walking to work. People direct their eyes to the sidewalk, and concentrate on the sounds coming from their iPod. I'm lucky if I can get a return smile.

So, one the one hand, I pride myself on being a misanthrope, but I also have a great sympathy for my fellow humans...even if they can be ignorant dolts sometimes (myself included.) No matter how I may try to ignore the feelings of those humans resonating with me, I have no choice. Here is a situation where I truly believe I have no free will. I have no choice but to offer my hand to those in need, at least when I am emotionally available to do that. Some days I'm the one who needs the shoulder to lean on, and the hug from a stranger. Hey barkeep! Another round of empathy for everyone! On me!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

If I Had My Druthers

We're all a mass of atoms, being prodded along by electro-chemical events in our brains, and those events are effected by all manner of things: coffee, chocolate, running, being stuck in traffic, or high on heroin. We can't help but effect our mind, whether through stress, or pleasure. There are mornings I wake up not feeling like myself, without knowing the reason why. I feel out of character. Out-of-sorts. Under the weather. Out on a limb.

It's not a secret that I battle depression. It's been my personal demon since I was about 16-years-old and who isn't depressed when they're sixteen?! I had an evaluation, while I was in the air force that showed I was slightly depressed at the time. The Sargent/counselor looked up at me, after reading the results and said, "Everyone in North Dakota is slightly depressed." He should have added that if they're not they're most likely too drunk to pronounce the word "depressed." After the air force I quickly got married and learned a new definition of the word depression.

One of my personality traits is to put off everything until the last minute. I'll most likely put off my death until my last breath. I take medications for high blood pressure and depression. (I think that they're puppy uppers rather than doggy downers. That would make the most sense anyway.) After developing that sometimes fatal syndrome known as dangerous debt, I had to change doctors and facilities to get my prescriptions refilled. Tonight I popped my meds for the first time in about three months. I haven't run down the street in my underwear, wielding a cleaver, so I must be okay, but it's better to be safe.

Just about everyone I know is on some type of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. I debated their use for many years, but after becoming a parent I decided to try the corporate medication route. I'm still not happy about it. If I had my druthers (and a couple of plump bank accounts), I'd deal with my stress and depression by using my sauna, and hot tub. Then I would take Fridays off, and head up to my cabin in the mountains for some pure rest and relaxation without needing the correct app or password. Unfortunately, druthers are hard to come by these days.

The hard work is using mindfulness to stay on track. Toe the line. Stay in character. Sometimes I see a woman walking down the aisle at the store, and I want to complement her taste in boots. I've even done this a couple of times in the past, but I'm always afraid I come off sounding lusty and full of bad intent. Am I lusty and full of bad intent? Maybe. That's for me to know, and you to find out.

We may not have free will (haven't you heard?), but we have medication that aids us in controlling our thoughts and actions. My boss may not necessarily want to hear that he's being a catty bitch and I understand that. It's best that I have the self control not to utter my thoughts without a filter. Drugs always makes it easier to deal with co-workers.

We all think thoughts that are better left unsaid. We may want to see our relatives again, or not get divorced this year. That often means keeping our cards close to our vest, or at least using common sense, when it comes to having your druthers. Druthers are sometime best left in the closet, only to be pulled out in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Then all bets are off, and what happens in Vegas will end up in a big crater along with the rest of the shit we shine up and call precious.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cravings

Lately I have had a craving for a McDonald's cheeseburger, fries and Coke. I haven't eaten at McDonald's in a dog's age. (There is a pun in that last sentence somewhere, but I'm not going to go looking for it.) Not that I don't have a burger once in a while, I do, but I usually have a chicken burger. Fear of beef and all. When I'm in a burger and fries mood I usually choose the local Burgermaster on Aurora, because they're food is pretty dependable. Plus, it's still a drive up, where you roll down car window, and they hang the food tray on it, and take your order. Sometimes on sunny weekends, the drive-up restaurant is filled with classic cars. It reminds me of the A&W drive-up restaurants of my youth.

If I'm going to slum it at all, I go to Wendy's. She's pretty hot and juicy, or so they say, but the last guy who took my order had a neck tattoo and looked like he was late for the weekly meeting with his parole officer. But my order is fairly simple: two chicken burgers with only cheese and pickles. They can never get it right though. It's just too simple for them. I understand that when you're on an assembly line, special orders can upset you, but it's pretty basic. Wendy is just not as hot and juicy as she used to be. Take my word for it.

I still crave the old powdered Nestea Iced Tea that I used to get in the tall bottle. Just a heaping teaspoon in a cold glass of water and I was all set. That was my drink of choice for my first couple of decades (discounting the formula of the first few years, of course.) Now I can barely find a can of that metallic-tasting Arizona iced tea. It's all about energy drinks, and other colored drinks that brag about having 5% juice in them. No kidding. I buy Simply Lemonade and it's tasty lemonade. It's a full 11% juice, which is about as good as it gets these days.

Don't even get me started on V8. There were once know for their 100% vegetable juice drink, but now they're marketing V8 Splash, which has as little as 5% juice and also includes artificial food dyes, high-fructose corn syrup, and sometimes artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or acesulfame potassium. WTF V8? Oh, that's right. It's not about health food, it's about marketing. If you can get dolts to shell out their hard-earned cash for artificially colored sugar water with some cancer causing chemicals for good measure then good on ya mate.

Now where was I? Oh right cravings. So I seem to be concentrating on food cravings: cheeseburgers, iced tea and who can forget Del's frozen lemonade in the summertime? Who even knows about Del's on the west coast? I remember when I first joined the air force, the first things I started to miss from home was the food. J&D's pizza, Sax steak sandwiches. It's a food based nostalgia. Everything tastes better in our memories, but I really do think that McDonald's cheeseburgers were probably much better in the late 1970's and early '80's. We even had Burger King and Burger Chef in Massachusetts, along with Friendly's and Bliss Brothers. Today everything is injected with hormones and dyes, but my memories are still 100% organic. No fillers.

There are many other types of cravings to be sure, but the hunger craving is one of the most satisfying once sated. These days I sometimes get the midnight munchies and crave a Payday bar, and a Simply Lemonade. Tonight I was craving Popsicles. Cherry and lemon primarily, but a natural icy fruit bar for sure. I've already eaten about four of them, and I'm craving another. Are you craving anything at the moment? Do you have the free will to resist? Or is resistance futile, as it usually is?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life and How to Live It

It would be a tad presumptuous of me to instruct one on how to live life. I can't say that I know how myself, but I somehow manage. I instinctively cogitate, ambulate, masticate, and masturbate. I work and play. I sleep and sometimes I don't sleep so well. Maybe I could use a little remedial sleep training. Last night I had a dream, wherein a man smashed a ceramic ashtray that I had proudly made. I just had to respond by kicking him repeatedly in the face. This translates to me kicking out in bed, and my wife having to rouse me, so that I won't injure her. Another dream segment included me hiding deep in the scrub brush, just beyond the fence line in the horse pasture, where I played when I was younger. I was hiding from construction crews. I remember looking up and seeing a great tree, that had stood by the path for years, being felled with a thundering crash. But my hiding spot was comfortable and no one would find me there.

Jeeze Louise! I think I need some meds! Stat!

It's a Saturday afternoon, and my music is blaring from the stereo, and by my music, I mean something loud and crunchy. Emphasis on loud. I'm home alone, which explains the volume on the music. (Yes, my 21-year-old stepson is downstairs, but sometimes that's as close as I get to home alone.) I've been lounging about, doing some writing, taking a few selfies and posting on Facebook. In other words, practicing the art of being lazy, or as I like to say: creative. A plus of being a writer, is one can be writing, while walking, or while shelving books at work. Not the actual physical act of writing or course, but the collation of intentional thoughts to be written down later. Sometimes the thoughts are jotted down in my cell phone notes. Sometimes in my computer, on a blog or just put into some file, maybe to be retrieved later, and maybe not. Kind of like the workings of my of memory. Some things are better unremembered.

Lately I have been putting a lot of thought into ideas of choice and free will (thank you very much Sam Harris.) I've always had a natural empathy for others. I saw a few people, sleeping on cardboard adjacent to the exit ramp in downtown Seattle. They've fenced off the areas under the highway, so that the homeless cannot sleep there. My thoughts are not, "Look at those bums. They're just kids, who could be working blah, blah blah..." My thoughts don't go there. Instead they go to, "That must be an uncomfortable place to sleep and cold; never mind breathing in the exhaust constantly. Why do we treat our poor worse than our pets?"

There are days when my thoughts are slogging through the stressful caverns of my mind, and I'd like nothing better than to stay home and make my feeble attempts at letting things go -- maybe watch old black & white movies all day, or finish the latest novel I'm immersed in -- but I seem to have no choice but to arise and put on my customer service face. I go on with the routine, face the day, and even try a little carpe diem while I'm at it.

There are days when I look down into that dark abyss of my soul -- the collection of memories, feelings and urges -- and my habits of the past would have me staring into that black hole, until I couldn't resist it's pull. These days I'm a little better at peeking in, and then going on my way, finding blue skies, and gentle breezes. Friendly neighborhood cats, who just want a scratch behind the ear. Time for my son, and his litany of questions.

There are no stars to help me gaze into the past tonight. Only a fine mist, that is more like a heavy fog than rain. Time is broken up into weekends, father and son time, and work days. Vacations are few and far between. Free time must be used wisely. Should I read, or watch that Scarlett Johansson I've been meaning to get to? I try my best to slow the hands of time, but it's all relative.

* * * *
I spent more time than usual today, editing and reworking this blog post. Usually, I barely have time to check my grammar before dashing off to work. ("How is old grammar anyway?") And I'd have to say that I'm still not really satisfied with the end product. Maybe the key is to just write a quick post, without thinking about it too much, and be done with it. When I spend time with it, I tend to ramble, and go off on tangents, and then go back, and add and subtract ad infinitum. That's the danger with any writing I guess. One can revise forever. Not like one's life. I cannot revise my past. What's done is done, and all the participants have different recollections anyway. It's like the phone game of the past. We're all faulty witnesses to our own pasts, so maybe I should keep my eye on the present and be careful of my footing. Stability and structure is a must, but also an illusion in this ever-changing world.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Identity Crisis

Damn! I actually misspelled my last name in the last post. And what was I thinking, putting my last name in a post? The author of this blog is Hayduke, a character from Edward Abbey's seminal work The Monkey Wrench Gang. I try to maintain different identities on the internet, but they all add up to thoughts originating from the same mind. The mind of Mark, the Markster, and your friendly neighborhood bookseller. "Can I interest you in a Paul Auster perhaps? Have you read Murakami yet? Oh, you're 'so done' with Murakami...okay." And so forth.


It's Tuesday evening and I closed the store tonight. That means I didn't get home until about 10:30pm and now I'm in my winding down mode. Actually, at this point I've done wound down. It's about time to slip outside and take one last look at the moon -- if the clouds and mist have cleared -- and then crawl into bed, and drift off into a dreamland filled with vaguely familiar landscapes and all too familiar emotions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

No Choice in the Matter

Hello. It's me again. That mass of molecules known as Mark, adopted at six months of age, after being found, floating in a basket on the river Styx. I still battle my inner demons on a daily basis, but lately I've been trying to be more mindful. It's much easier to accept the dark with the light, when I can realize that it's just my thoughts that give my emotions their coloring, and I just need to let go of those thoughts. For me it's not "Let Go. Let God." It's just let go....

There are daily struggles, and we all have those, whether it be ex-wives (or ex-husbands), daily debts, or work woes. Life goes on, whether we fret about it or not. I have not been able to get my medical prescriptions filled for months, because I owe the corporate medical structure money. I don't owe the pharmacy money, just some hospital for a couple of emergency visits, but they are all parasitically tied together, so I owe money to one, it effects my other dealings. Therefore, I cannot get my prescriptions refilled, until I work out my financial troubles. One would think, that once they put you on blood pressure medication and other various pills that should not be stopped abruptly, they would have a responsibility (Remember the Hippocratic Oath? Oh...that's right. It's Hypocrite now.) to ensure that you do not run out of that medication. As my mom would say, "So, anyway..."

I recently finished reading Sam Harris' Free Will and I think I'd better bump my Good Reads rating up to five stars, since I can't seem to stop thinking about the ideas brought up in those essays. I've read about the experiments done that show that our subconscious mind is making decisions without our conscious knowledge a full 300 milliseconds before we are aware of it. But Sam Harris, is a brilliant thinker, and puts out his ideas in clear and understandable prose. It's the concept itself that is a bit mind-boggling. The whole idea of free will rests on the notion that we could have made a different choice in our past events. But the past does not exist, except in our bitter memories, or not so bitter, depending on your mood.

My return to mindfulness is helpful, in that it helps me to realize that thoughts are ephemeral  and it's best not be get attached to something that will soon disappear. The thing with thoughts though, is that they are like are continuous stream -- a stream of consciousness -- never pausing to tie up at the dock for a while, maybe even get out of this boat full of thoughts, and have a picnic beneath a shady tree. I have many thoughts that could easily bog me down, and even create a need for outside help, but sorting through those thoughts and then taking them down to the recycling bin, definitely helps.

Now I seem to have no choice but to get to work. According to the latest neurological research, I didn't even have a choice on whether or not to write this blog. No choice in the matter. So, I shouldn't stress so much about life, just parse those thoughts and let them go like dandelion seeds in the springtime breeze.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Heart Full of Monday

Yes, it's Monday, whatever that means. I'm doubting everything today, from calendars to correct change. It's Monday and it feels like a typical Monday. Kids are back in school after holiday break. Relatives and friends that were in town visiting, are now back home, remembering what a nice time they had in Seattle. I'm shelving books all afternoon, which seems to be my life's path. As long as I don't lose my knack for alphabetizing, I should be okay. Customers like me, because I'm polite and I live by the old standard treat others as you would expect to be treated. An no, I don't have any religious backing for my moral stance. I am nice to others, because I believe that is the right way to be. I feel empathy for others, and that causes me to be nice to clerks, old people and the homeless.

At the present moment, I am at lunch. After eating a couple of bagels at Bagel Oasis, I came back to our office/break room and decided to let my fingers run along the keys and create a blog post. Do I really have anything vital to add to society today? I doubt it. My mind keeps drifting back to my warm bed of this morning, and the option of getting comfortable on the couch, and starting my new book. All pleasures that must be delayed until I am released from my shift. Would they even be perceived as pleasures without the drudgery of work to compare and contrast. Does good exist without evil? Hmmm.

I traded in five books today, and got enough credit to buy three books to take home. I bought one book just to tear it apart. Not literally, although that may come in time, but figuratively. Eric Metaxas' Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask.) This guy thinks he's Mr. Funny stuff, and he must be successful, because he lives in Manhattan, and writes for Veggie Tales. Well, I plan to reawaken my religion and politics blog, just to criticize his piece o' crap book. I paid just over four bucks, so I could enjoy myself, while criticizing Mr. Metaxas' ignorance. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Damn!

Damn! It's been a long week. On Monday we made a tenth of what we made on Christmas eve. When people are done holiday shopping, they are done...unless -- of course -- you make everything in the store 20% on New Year's Day. As someone once said, "If you put it on sale, they will come." So, we had a banner day in the store yesterday, and I was too damn tired last night to even open my book. I watched a little Star Trek -- long enough to see Benedict Cumberbatch make his appearance -- and then I decided early to bed would be wise, and by early I mean 11:30pm. Today I'm back at the bookstore. The crowds from yesterday have disappeared, and we're now back to the usual queue for coffee in the cafe, and stops at the front counter for the daily newspaper.

Fridays are always nice, because the manager is off today. I'm sure that I noticeably slack off when the big boss man is not around, but it is Friday. In fact, I've been here for a half hour already. It's almost time for a break. (Just kidding. Although I missed my toke break this morning, and I do plan on attending the church on the corner for a little bit, or at least sit on the back steps of this god building, and imbibe my herb.)

Well, I missed making my reading goal for 2014. I've already got one book chalked up for the new year: Spanking the Maid by Robert Coover. A short piece of post-modernism. There was definitely a lot of spanking in it's mere 102 pages, but if only the maid would do her job properly. Now I'm on to free will and Sam Harris's book of the same title. I would not absorb any of the neuro-philosophical goodies if I'm exhausted though, so I'm putting off starting it until this weekend. I need a fresh mind to understand the concept that I have no free will.

On the resting front, I had way too much to dream last night. It seems the gist of my dream was the act of me getting fired from some big company. Tears were shed, as I plead my case, and -- of course -- I was in the right. I was escorted off the property. Stress in my dreams is a sign that I need a camping trip. That's my theory anyway. I can feel the need building for a trip to the mountains to assuage my citified stress. I'd rather not be camping in this freezing climate though, and that could put the kibosh on that idea...at least for another month or two.