I Need A Vacation From Myself

 

Chris Denny

In 2007 an Arkansas musician named Chris Denny recorded a song titled “Vacation.” The opening line is, “I need a vacation from myself, a little  time out of my head.” The first time I heard it a few years ago, it resonated for me. I could really relate.

Truth is, I’m sick of me. I’ve spent way too much time in my own skin. I know all of my weaknesses, foibles, failures, embarrassments, and irritating habits. I feel guilty about all the dirty secrets of my life, some so bad I’ve never told anyone about them. (I’m not a psycho or anything. I’m probably just about average in my regrets.)

I don’t think I’m weird or even very different from most people on this. There is an unfortunate human tendency to focus on the negative. In journalism it’s called “If it bleeds, it leads.” If your front page choices are between a train wreck or a carefree picnic, which one do you think most everyone is going to read? So don’t tell me to focus on the positive. People aren’t built like that.

So I’m stuck with me. I can’t even get away from me for five minutes. Sure, there’s sleep, but even there I’m haunted with dreams that obviously spring from the most traumatic experiences in my life.

Think of all the movies that use the fantasy gimmick of people switching bodies. Think of all the books that put you in the mind of somebody else. Think of all the songs that let you live somebody else’s life for a few minutes.

I also believe many people use drugs to change and escape who they are at least temporarily. Of course, it’s just another version of you, even when you’re high, and sooner or later, you get tired of your druggy self too.

When my wife Ann and I spend too much time together, it often leads to hostility, because we get tired of each other’s company. But if she’s away from me for more than a few hours, I really miss her. That just confirms my hypothesis that I have met the enemy and he is me.

If I can tire of another person, someone I love, upon overexposure, just imagine how disgusted I am with me. The self-loathing sometimes reaches Hunter Thompson proportions. I try not to think about it, but how can you ignore something that’s with you all the time?

In a way, I envy those people with multiple personality disorder. I wouldn’t want to be afflicted with this, but wouldn’t it be fun to be able to be someone other than yourself? I’m no psychologist, but I suspect the pain of being trapped with yourself is what drives people into this state.

Reincarnation also offers some hope. I’ve always found the idea of having multiple chances at life as different people very appealing. Maybe I could get it right one of these days if I had enough shots at it. I hope reincarnation happens, but I don’t think so.

There’s only one thing I see I can do, and it’s more of an amelioration than a cure. I can try to be the best version of me I possibly can be, create less stuff to feel bad about, make fewer missteps, keep progressing toward a happier life. Of course, some of this is not under my control, but I do what I can.

Still, I long to get away from me, take a couple of weeks off, get some perspective. I’m pretty sure I’d come back liking myself a lot better.

Here’s a link to a video of a live performance by Chris Denny and the Natives of “Vacation.”

The Faucet – Flash Fiction for 7/27/12

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Photo courtesy Madison Woods.

“Jimmy, go hook the hose up to the faucet.”

We were out in our backyard, in the suburbs, just before dark.

Jimmy came running back.

“I saw a big bear.” He pointed toward the faucet.

“A bear? In our yard?”

I took the hose and hooked it up. Jimmy ran into the house. For five, he had an active imagination. I watered the yard. When I finished and came in, Jimmy was asleep on the couch.

I forgot about the whole incident until the next morning when I unfolded the newspaper and saw the headline: “Bear Escapes From Local Circus.”

The Old Graveyard – Flash Fiction for 7/20/12

This week’s photo prompt was challenging. I ran through a bunch of ideas before I could come up with anything.

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Photo courtesy Madison Woods

 

 

The old graveyard is all grown up with briars and grapevine. I take a shovel and flashlight and walk to the tombstones and find the right one. I roll up my sleeves and start.

The rain-softened ground makes digging easier, but it’s hours before my shovel grates against the metal casket. I soon have it open.

The bank bag was  there, where I’d hidden it twenty years before, in my frantic race from cops that day in the business district. They’d caught me, sent me to prison, but the money was never found. Until today, the day I got out.

The Visitation – Flash Fiction for 7/13/12

Last December a flock of about fifty black vultures came and settled in the hardwoods on the wooded slope below our house. They hung around over a week, and then one day they were gone. Madison Woods photo prompt and their visitation were the inspirations for this week’s flash fiction.

Below, I’ve posted a photo from when the vultures were here last December.

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Photo courtesy Madison Woods

 

It was December when the vultures came. First, just one, but soon a second landed in a tall bare oak. Then another, and another. When they were all gathered, there were exactly fifty. Next morning they were still there, striking their crucifixion pose, wings outspread, warming themselves in the sun.

What did they want? Why had they chosen my woods? Had they somehow sensed my loneliness? I spent all day watching them. Being in the cabin didn’t feel right anymore.

A couple of weeks later a woman was tallying the buzzards in the trees around her trailer. She counted fifty-one.

Black vulture doing crucifixion pose.

The Cat Came Back

Silver in fatter times

Most of the way-too-many cats we have here at the compound are strays. A few years ago, a part Tonkinese with bright baby blue eyes showed up one day and we took him in and Ann named him Silver. Silver was a skinny cat when he came here, but he soon filled out and you could usually find him lying around on the deck.

Then, in June 2011, he disappeared. It’s always troubling when a cat comes up missing. You don’t know what happened, but you’re fearful it’s something like coyotes or a poisonous snake. Often, when cats vanish, you never find out why.

Then, in September 2011, I walked outside one day and a strange cat was out on the deck. He was a ratty looking emaciated seal point. I told Ann a new cat had showed up. She came out and said, “That’s Silver.” He was in such bad shape, I hadn’t recognized him. He’d been gone about three months.

Silver fattened up again. He lay around all day on the deck. He seemed really glad to be back home. Then, in early May of this year he disappeared again. This time, we weren’t quite so worried, given his history. Three times in June, we saw him as we were driving by an abandoned property about a quarter of a mile away. We stopped and tried to catch him, but he ran from us.

This morning, he was back, slimmed down after two months of being lost, meowing his head off. He came in the house as soon as the door was opened this morning. He was really hungry, ate all he could and right now he’s laying on the deck about six feet from the front door.

If you have an Asian cat, a Siamese, Balinese, Tonkinese, there’s something you might like to know. We think their sense of direction isn’t as good as other breeds and that they easily get lost.

But our cat came back and there’s cause for celebration. Sometimes life gives you happy endings.

 

Let My People Sit

Have you ever seen a Walmart checker sitting down? Bet you haven’t, unless she was on a break or lunch hour. Same goes for Target, K-Mart, supermarkets, convenience stores and all the retail outlets out there.

Why don’t these employers allow checkers to sit? Do they think their brains are in their asses? That’s where the brains of the people who run those places must be. The human spine isn’t meant to stand on a hard surface all day long. Some of these checkers are older than dirt and their backbones must already be in bad shape.

A long time ago, my wife Ann worked as a checker at Handy Dan. She discovered that all the check-out stations had a built in seat for the checker that you could slide out. She and the other checkers decided to start using them. Just a few days later, she came to work to find management had removed all the seats.

I think retail management is mean -spirited. If they want to prove me wrong, let the people sit. They’ll be fresher, cheerful, happy and grateful, and it would show a measure of mercy and thoughtfulness that is rare in retail.

Stand up for your employees. Let them sit.

Don’t Shop At Walmart

When you shop at Walmart, you get frustrated because the check-out lines are so long. When you get frustrated, you challenge a redneck for having too many items in the express line. When you challenge a redneck, he takes you out back and beats the crap out of you. When you get the crap beaten out of you, an ambulance takes you to the hospital. Whey you go to the hospital, you run up huge medical bills. When you run up huge medical bills, you take bankruptcy. When you take bankruptcy, your wife kicks you out. When your wife kicks you out, you live in a cardboard box. Don’t live in a cardboard box. Don’t shop at Walmart.

The Long Walk – Flash Fiction for 7/6/12

Photo courtesy Amanda Gray

Ramon liked the desert. It was clean and empty and smelled of sage and sand. He had crossed the border the night before and had twenty miles behind him. With only the clothes on his back and a gallon jug of water, this time he was determined to make it to the  big valley and find work in the fields.

Five miles along, he came across the abandoned  structure. He was resting in the shade of the building when he heard the drone coming. Ducking inside, he shook with fear until it passed.

A week later, Ramon was picking  tomatoes.

You May Already Be A Wiener

Americans think big. They want to live in hip-roofed mansions, drive gynormous SUVs, and work at jobs that pay about the same as the GNP of a third-world country. Men want big penises. Women want big breasts. They want to watch TV on a screen big enough to be seen from the next county.

So I guess it’s no surprise when the lines get longer at the convenience store when the Powerball jackpot gets to a number that’s too big to comprehend. I see them in there, shuffling along in front of me in line. Typically it’s some guy with a bulging belly, wearing a white T-shirt with the sleeves and neck ripped out, buying a pack of Marlboros and five dollars worth of lottery tickets. Never mind that the odds are something like 175 million to one. Americans dream big.

You’ll see that same old boy at the Cherokee Casino chucking quarters into the slots. Never mind that the odds on the slots are some of the worst in gambling. It’s the dream of the big jackpot that keeps him feeding the machine. If he were to say, play blackjack and win a few bucks, what’s that going to buy, a few double-meat burgers? The dream is a lot bigger than that.

A recent survey found that 25 percent of Americans think they will get rich in their lifetimes. Of course, there’s not nearly that much room at the top. There isn’t enough money in the whole country for one-quarter of the population to be wealthy. But that doesn’t stop these air castle builders from thinking they will somehow be the ones to beat the system.

What I don’t understand is how these people see any path to getting wealthy. Most Americans work at jobs at businesses that are owned by the wealthy. There’s no way the people in charge are ever going to pay you enough to get rich. That’s how they stay rich. You’re not going to make it by working for somebody else.

You could start a business, but most Americans can’t marshal the resources it takes for a start-up because all their money is going to house payments on the big house, car payments on the big car, and generally trying to live large. If you live an upscale middle class lifestyle, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever get rich. It’s more likely that you’ll get deeply in debt and at the first bump in the road, you’ll be bankrupt. I’m sure you’ve heard about the foreclosure crisis we’re experiencing as a result of exactly this kind of thinking.

So that leaves the lottery, which you’re not going to win. The lottery will be won by a group of workers in Akron, Ohio, who have been buying 100 tickets every week for the past 20 years, and even they have to surmount huge odds to win.

Publishers Clearing House used to have a slogan, “You May Already Be A Winner.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that, though not in the way Publishers Clearing House intended it.

I don’t really have a problem with people taking on long odds. It’s how they do it that’s the issue for me. I’m a writer, so I’m used to tilting at windmills. I’ve been rejected more times than a supernerd at a sock hop. Still, I fantasize about hitting it big with my stories, though realistically I know I have only two chances, slim and none. But I’m having so much fun in the quest, I already consider myself a winner in a big way.

I create stuff. Sometimes it’s magical. I get great, warm feedback from my host of writer friends. I love doing it. The rewards are intrinsic. Isn’t that a lot better than tossing another set of losing lottery tickets in the trash?

So here’s my preachy advice to the 24 out of 25 of you who think you’ll get the big bucks, but won’t. Change your goal. Instead of aspiring to be wealthy, aspire to be happy.

I can’t say it any better than Fitzgerald did in the opening lines of The Great Gatsby. The rich are just like you and me. The only difference is the money. It’s trite but true, money can’t buy happiness. Find something else that can make you happy. Your chances will be a lot better and you won’t be deluding yourself.

You’ll be a winner, not a wiener.