Monday, December 29, 2008

The Commiseration Game

I politely listen because it is the civilized thing to do, but there are times when I get sick of hearing other people complain. If they only knew how much time I spend complaining myself, they might be a little more sensitive to unloading on me. In addition, most of the complaints that I hear really are not about anything truly horrible. Just like screaming, complaining is a form of drama designed to call attention to yourself. I never understood why people scream the whole way down; On long falls, sometimes you just want to yell, "shut up!".

This recession has caused quite a bit of anxiety, and anxiety always gets people yipping and complaining about the smallest things. I think it's time that I shared with you a personal story about what I could have gone through had I lived through the great depression. I think you will see that your problems are not all that bad after you hear what I could have gone through.

I would have been quite young then, and things are tough on kids because they have little control over what happens to them. Things were indeed tough, but you would have never heard me complain because I knew there were kids far worse off than me.

Back then, I spent most of my waking hours foraging for food. There were times during the winter where I would eat little more than dust and mites, and of course be thankful for even that. Have you ever been so hungry that when you used your teeth to remove a splinter from your hand, you were afraid that you might not stop at the splinter?

Sometimes it was just luck that we made it at all. Maybe it was the kindness of a stranger that would pierce the darkness with his bright light of hope and your heart would burst with gratefulness and relief. This is very emotional; I'm having a hard time getting through this now as I cry like a baby imagining a fat old man, stinking of urine, giving me a whole armful of hay to share with my family. It's the first time we ate anything in two weeks, and I'm pretty sure I split it up evenly so everyone got a fair share.

After eating nothing for two weeks, it was incredible. Now I know why my friend never had any hay in his barn where we used to jump from the hayloft. From two storeys up, that cement platform would have hurt like hell, but nobody complained back then. We had great imaginations, and before the loud thud, you could almost hear the soft whoosh of the hay breaking our falls.

I would have been very lucky to finally have friends; maybe it wasn't always that way. Maybe the first place I lived wasn't even above ground; it may have been in a tunnel underneath a frozen lake. It was miserable, and all I did was sleep. I was either passing out from exhaustion searching for food, or my father was beating me to sleep with a half empty bottle of gin.

He wasn't my natural father, of course; nobody had those back then. My natural father could have died during childbirth, so I wouldn't remember him. The story is that my mother went into labor with me and interrupted his drinking. He was understandably upset and started chasing her around. At some point my mother jumped over a chair trying to get away, but I fell right out onto the floor. My father couldn't stop in time and he stepped right on me, slipped, and fell backwards where he hit his head on an axe blade that my mildly retarded, one-eyed, mute sister happened to be swinging in the den at the time. He was a tough ol' coot and I guess he fell on it one more time that day before he finally gave up the ghost.

Good things often emerge from bad things, an often when you least expect it.

We were visited by a badger one night as we shivered in our sleep. I woke to a racket as mother and the badger squared off. The speed and ferociousness, the hissing and snarling, and whatever sound the badger might be making made the scene hard to take in at first. The badger struck inside with a quick head-fake and a lucky lunge, and mother snapped its neck, but not before it tore off her lower lip. It was gruesome, and you tried not to stare but your eyes were just drawn to it. Mother vowed right then and there to move us somewhere above ground. For the life of us we couldn't understand what she was saying because of the lip, and to tell you the truth, I was too distracted looking at it to realize she was even talking, so there were probably other profound things that she said but, sorry, I missed it. Her look of determination said it all: it said not to get in her way unless a full beating was desired.

As we left, my sister gazed back with her one eye, gazed back to that miserable hole in the ground, and if she could have talked... she probably would have mentioned that we forgot to leave a note for the new father about our intentions, and not to worry about all the blood at home when he got out of prison.

We were heading someplace warm, and where other people lived!

We found a beautiful place already set up that would do fine keeping the rain off our heads and snug at night. There were times when it was actually too hot, as the vent from the asbestos plant we lived under would sometimes leave us covered in a fine blanket of dust with fantastic thermal properties.

We were prouder than hell of our mother. She got a job selling potato chips for Frito Lay. It was off-shift work, and we would see her out the door late at night going to work in that skimpy uniform they made her wear selling chips on street corners. She worked on commission and made hardly and money at all, and I suspect that was because people had a hard time understand what she was saying because of her lip.

Because I was the man of the house, the task of feeding everyone fell on me. There were times when mother made a dollar and I would rush out to buy hay with it, but often I had to resort to other means. I tried my hand a fishing once, but I was not very good at it. I had seen a small fish go by and I dove in after it. I no sooner had it in my mouth when my world was rocked. I saw stars as it ripped into my cheek and started pulling me forward. I fought like hell, swimming serpentine the whole way, but when I broke surface and saw that some old man had caught me, I cussed up a blue streak from the good side of my mouth. The old man called me a foul-mouth bass and clubbed me on the head so he could remove the hook which I had swallowed by that time.

Now before you start feeling too bad over what I could have gone through, you should consider what my sister went through: Mother sent her to school to smarten her up, but Sis would end up running home the 6 miles, bawling like a baby the whole way. We didn't know exactly what was wrong because she couldn't talk and none of us could read or write, but I figured she was teased because she didn't have any shoes, and shoes were all the rage back then.

Kids can be darned cruel.

I know it's a terrible thing that I done, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so I stole a set of horse shoes from my friend's barn where we used to jump. I put a rag in my sister's mouth and nailed those shoes to her feet just so they wouldn't pick on her anymore. I thought I had done a good thing, but mother cried when she saw it. We left the rag in for a few days.

People today might poo poo the idea of nailing horseshoes to a person's feet, but you have to understand that I would have been young and people back then knew how to make the best of a situation; Yankee ingenuity, it was called, and it was ingrained in us.

Take for instance the family that lived by the DDT plant next to us; they had a set of Siamese triplets who were arranged sort of peculiar. They all faced each other in a triangle, and each had one arm sticking clear out the back of the others. They had every reason to be miserable, but almost every time I saw them, they would wave both hello and goodbye to me. They were great at waving. They picked on themselves more than others picked on them. Sometimes they would get to pestering one another by slapping each other in the back of the head when they weren't looking. This would escalate to where they were slapping from the back, and punching each other in the face with their free arms. Eventually, one would forget and try to run away and they would all fall down and it would be over.

The finest example of overcoming would have to go to my friend Freddie. He was born without legs but you hardly even noticed that. He always wanted to do what we were doing, insisting that we treat him regular. It wasn't always easy because doing things like playing chicken on the train tracks put him at a disadvantage because he would have to start rolling out of the way before everyone else just stepped aside, so he often lost but still played anyway.

He may have lost at chicken, but you wouldn't believe him on a baseball diamond; he was legendary. When he was at bat lying on his belly, his strike zone was so tiny that it almost was a gimme for him to draw a walk. We used to think that was funny - a kid with no legs drawing a walk. We used to say, "Hey, Freddie walked today."

Sometimes the opposing pitcher would get so mad that he would just line a fastball into Freddie's face, and Freddie would just smile, bleed from the nose or teeth, and take his base. He usually wasn't very good at stealing but whenever we played this one certain team, we would actually draw a crowd of spectators because the game was so exciting. The other team had a blind second-baseman, and Freddie exploited that weakness every chance he could. He would roll off first base a little bit, and when the pitcher was committed in his wind up, Freddie would lunge like a worm toward second base and the most exciting race you ever saw would unfold.

The catcher would go through the motions of whipping of his pretend mask and he would throw a laser to second base trying to catch Freddie stealing. If the ball didn't hit the second-baseman, then Freddie, who could have waltzed into second base if he had legs, had to race the center fielder to the bag. Their catcher was good, though, and usually would hit that blind second-baseman with the ball. The place would go wild; we would be yelling Go! Freddie Go!, and the other team would be yelling, "a little to the left! More to your left..." and you don't know what excitement was.

Man, those could have been the days. I hope you all feel just a little richer now in your relatively affluent life when you think about what I could have gone through during the Great Depression.


Anonymous said...

maggotH8R wuz here.

mg said...

Ackermann, you missed your calling, whatever it was.

Hey, MaggotH8H!


mg said...

That sounded not quite right.

What I meant to say was great piece and you should have been a comedy writer.

And I meant maggotH8R.

MouseOfSuburbia said...

Thanks, man.

I haven't seen you at Mish's lately.

maggotH8R said...

hi k,

i don't know if i'm banned or not over @ mish's, i haven't tried to leave a comment in over a week. I was in a bad mood the other day & called him an idiot after he issued me a warning for trolling him. Nice work here BTW. :D

MouseOfSuburbia said...


I'd try again in a while. You have to admit, when things are hitting on all cylindars there, it's pretty wild.

It's one of the few places where people of all stripes knash out stuff, for the most part peacefully.

I just started this blog as a place to collect my writing. Soon, I'll be putting up some animated stuff I am working on.

I've got a 3D character that looks like a realistic piece of shit. His name is Peter O'Stool and he's going to be running for office. Probably a bunch of things.

It's a bitch though; I want him to have a very human mouth that is accurate with the words he speaks. There is no easy way to do it, but I am finding shortcuts that help.

My test case is him saying the "She slit the sheet" tongue twister.

Anonymous said...

keynes = robber baron

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