Don't Look at the Dead Rat in the Living Room

My dead and rotting spiritual master.

I was hanging out at home the other afternoon when I noticed a distinctly rat-corpse-like form on my floor.  When I first noticed it, I was chatting with a friend.  I chose to table issue until he left.  As soon as he did, my fear was realized:  there was a dead rat with splayed guts on my floor.

I’m not particularly squeamish, but this freaked me out.  Rats are dangerous.  They carry disease.  They’re fast.

I was also confused.  While I’d had mice run through my place, a big rat, much less one with protruding and bloody innards, seemed anomalous.  It must have gotten in via the two floors above me, which have many entry points.  It’s guts must have burst open due to some disease, parasite or cannibalistic rat.

However it got there, I had to deal with it, which proved challenging as I could barely look at it, much less handle it.

I put on some full-fingered cycling gloves, got a large, stainless steel kitchen bowl, and neared the corpse.  With eyes averted, I slapped the bowl on top of the rat and scurried away, pulse high, breathing short.  At least I didn’t have to look at it anymore.

I worked up the courage to approach it again, getting a magazine and sliding it under the bowl to scoop the body up.  Fortunately, it wasn’t sticking to the floor, nor did it seem to be moving.  Part of my fear was that it was a zombie rat—half-alive, ravenous for human flesh.

It was now trapped between the bowl and the magazine, but I still had to deposit it in the garbage, which would require lifting the bowl and looking at it (I thought about doing the whole operation with eyes closed or blindfolded, but the prospect of missing the garbage and picking it up again was too much to deal with).

I also half-recognized that this might a great opportunity for growth.  It didn’t matter how the rat got there, it was there, and like all of my fears, it could either be addressed or ignored; either disposed of or left to rot under a bowl.  I wanted to be someone who went through life choosing the former route.

I took the trash bag near the bowl, breathed a few deep breaths, averted my eyes to view as little of the rat as possible, and lifted the bowl.  Before depositing it, I quickly noticed some strange details out of the corner of my eye.  First, the blood hadn’t smeared on the magazine.  The guts were still red, so it should have been running.  Next, there seemed like a distinct lack of detail to the rats entrails; it was more of a general mess than an exposed anatomy with intestines, kidneys and other organs.

The reason for these strange details was that the rat wasn’t real.  It was rubber.  A houseguest, my good friend Doug Campbell, had put it there as a joke that morning.  After a chuckle and a mock-angry text to Doug, I started to breathe again. Continue reading “Don't Look at the Dead Rat in the Living Room”

The Joy of Breaking Down

You don't get strong pushing a functioning motorcycle.
  1. Eighteen years-old.  I had just spent three months sitting in my folks’ basement continuously high, working out, watching TV, in near-complete isolation, interacting only with parents and pot-dealer.  Bleakness prevailed.  I thought learning how to play my dad’s old guitar might help.  I just needed $30 for a book so I could learn some chords.  I asked my dad for money.  He said no.  I broke down crying like a baby.  It had nothing to do with the guitar book.  I needed help.  I realized I had never asked for help before.  I asked for help.  I got help.
  2. Twenty-three.  I was in Munich, Germany, debauching my way through Europe after two years spent more or less continuously drunk.  All my waking hours were dominated by drinking.  My mornings—if I could get up in the morning—were pervaded by hangover-induced physical violence.  My early afternoons were spent in regret and physical recovery.  My late afternoons/early evenings were spent thinking about how getting a drink might not be a bad idea.  My nights were spent drinking, repeating cycle.  By Munich, I couldn’t handle it anymore.  My body was shutting down.  The myth of drinking to have a good time was being demythologized sip-by-sip.  I couldn’t go on.  I stopped.  I asked for help.  I went home.  I got help.  I got well.
  3. Twenty-six.  I finally broke up with my ten-year-senior, ex-stripper, adolescent-child-toting girlfriend after five unsuccessful tries.  I couldn’t seem to do anything right, even break up.  I was bouncing from job-to-job.  I had no purpose in life, no direction.  I was desperate.  I needed help.  I asked for help.  I got help.  I found direction.
  4. Thirty-two.  I was in a very unsatisfying relationship with a satisfactory woman.  She was the picture of who I thought I should be with:  pretty, successful, spiritual, worldly, etc.  And I was totally fucking miserable.  I had spent two years trying to make a connection.  I moved in with her.  She was under the impression that we were going to get married.  I knew better.  The weight of my lie was like an anvil bearing down on my chest.  I distrusted everything I said.  I went to bed early and got up late.  One night, we had a fight—the same fight we always had.  I saw the opening to get honest.  I was honest.  The relationship ended.  I moved out within an hour.  I had to rebuild my life in an instant.  I asked for help.  I got it.

At an event I host, a programmer named Amit Pitaru gave a talk about designing the best motorcycle to travel through South America.  He said that when asked, most people said they would want the most reliable motorcycle they could find.  The prospect of getting caught in the middle of Nowhere, South America is not an enticing proposition.

But he described the worst thing that can happen on a trip to see South America on motorcycle:  not breaking down.  When you break down, you have to ask for help.  You get to know the locals.  You create bonds through your interactions that would have never been possible zipping by on a problem-free bike.  You might witness a beautiful sunset fixing your clutch.  You might meet a great family or friend fixing a flat.

He went on to say that on your never-break-down-bike, you zip past little towns never interacting with anyone you don’t pay to help you (restaurant, hotel and gas station attendants mostly).  You attract thieves because your fancy bike probably makes you look like an easy target.  You move through the country efficiently, but detached.  You have no problems, but you have no meaningful experiences either.

His point:  life is not interesting without breakdowns. Continue reading “The Joy of Breaking Down”

The Plurality is Near

Man and machine merge.

In 1997 my dad bought me a desktop PC for school.  It had a 2 gig hard-drive because, he said, “I thought you needed something you could grow into.”  It had Microsoft Office and came with a disk for a web-service called Gowebway.

I remember unpacking the computer, anticipating all the things I could do with it, like word processing and…well I didn’t know what else.  I didn’t have any reason to make a spreadsheet.  I’d never emailed.  The web was an abstraction.  It was like Encarta apparently, but more so.

When my folks left my place, I started up my computer, loaded Gowebway, hooked up my phone line and within minutes, I was online.  A minute after that I was looking for porn.  A few seconds after that, I found porn, and lots of it.  Before the day was through, I had signed up for a $30/month subscription service (seemed like a deal), and had spent the whole night—and many days and nights after—having a one man bacchanal.  It was a fitting entree to my online life, which has been the mental equivalent of a lifetime’s supply of Cheetos.  Like Cheetos, online content is satisfying going down, but leaves you totally unnourished no matter how much you consume.

Continue reading “The Plurality is Near”

Killing My Inner Child

That was supposed to be me up there.

My first and last bike race started with a clatter and ended with a whimper.  I was fourteen and had entered the Illinois state road championships months before.  This would be my first outing on my coveted and crinkled US Cycling Federation category-four license.
The race would mark my ascent to cycling greatness.  Soon I would be among cycling legends:  Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, American Greg Lemond, who had just won his second Tour de France by eight seconds that day.
In preparation for the euro racing circuit, I dressed like top pros for my premiere race, wearing my PDM jersey (then the most powerful cycling team in the world) and a “hairnet,” a leather and soft-foam head covering that offers about as much protection as its food-service namesake.
My older brother, who also had an interest in cycling, drove me to the event in his beat up 83’ Toyota Celica.  My race started at 8:30 in Bloomington, a Podunk town two and a half hour drive from our place in the south suburbs of Chicago.  We arrived around 8:25. Continue reading “Killing My Inner Child”