You Couldn’t Pay Me

Watching the debate?  Paying any attention whatsoever to the shitshow that is US politics, outside of the bare-ass minimum it takes to vote?  You couldn’t pay me to do it.  Not a fucking chance.  Not happening.  It’s all too upsetting and vile and fucked up.  But you know, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  Maybe somebody could pay me to do it.  Let me figure out how much…

I would have to quit work in order to make mental bandwidth for it, so you have to pay enough to cover my expenses for two years in case it takes a while to get rehired.  I make about $30,000 per year, so $60,000 is the price floor.  But exposing myself to this would make me less emotionally available to my family, so you gotta pick up the therapy bills for them.  Assuming two hours a night at $90 an hour from now through mid November (assuming this isn’t gonna go smooth), another $8,100.  And that’s just getting by, if I want compensation to make it feel like I came out ahead in the deal, how much will I charge to feel like it was worth it?

$100,000.  Anybody want me to cover the election, or even look upon the faces of our rock ’em sock ’em wannabe lich kings?  Full payment in advance, or you get nothing.  Thank you for your understanding.

Edit to Add:  I forgot about the cost of healthcare in the US – going out of pocket for health insurance.  $400 a month for that Obamacare, $9600 more.  Assuming some medical expenses actually will come up, even with insurance I’m currently paying a few thousand a year for dental and such.  Let’s bump this up to $125,000, just for incidentals I haven’t planned for.

Interview With The Abyss

Content Warning: Depression thoughts.

Hello. I have a healthy level of self esteem. I don’t always feel great about myself, but it’s unequivocally when I deserve to feel bad about something. I can tell the line, bright and clear. And my mind practically has a wolverine healing factor for keeping me feeling hunkydory most of the time.

Most people feel worse about themselves than I do. Hard for me to relate, to know why or what it’s like. But I’ve had a long association with somebody who has an especially rare mix of high levels of self respect and black hole levels of self esteem. It’s a window into another world that can be educational to look into – if you’re brave enough to deal with the damage of it looking back.

Here I present a loose conversation on the topic of self esteem, between somebody who has it and somebody who will never know what it’s like to be OK with one’s self. I introduce you once again to The Abyss, my mans The Beast from Seattle.



GAS: Beast, how do you like being on the Great American Satan Show?



BfS: It’s just swell, thank you.

GAS: Nice, nice.  So you’re a specimen today, if that’s alright.  Can you bear the scrutiny of the howling masses of I think seven people who see my articles and probably won’t read them if the word count creeps up like this?

BfS: I think I can handle it.

GAS: So in our past discussions, we’ve reached some ideas about what self esteem is.  Until I gained some perspective on what it’s like for someone without, I didn’t even notice it was a thing.  But now I can see it, and I feel I should preface this with the vague operating definition we’ll be using.

It seems that as social creatures we have an instinct for ranking ourselves with regards to others – we can’t escape a compulsion to form a self valuation, often at an absurdly young age.  I was among peers, middle childing.  We both suffered a great deal of neglect and abuse (myself more the former, you more of the latter), but I had peers in my siblings, which helped me establish a baseline sense of myself as acceptable.

This is the thing: Self esteem is, in part, our baseline valuation of ourselves.  You’re the abyss, I’m Bazooka Joe chewing gum.  The perverse twist here is that you have self respect.  How would you differentiate self esteem and self respect?  For the listeners.

BfS: I hope they can’t really hear me… well… It’s funny that I don’t know that I would have made the distinction between the two myself, until we began to talk more about it. I knew I had lousy self esteem, but never would have thought of my self respect as being anything remarkable. I guess I would say that it’s a feature of having a strong sense of justice. Even though I can’t regard myself, I know that I don’t deserve to be treated poorly. Seems stranger for someone to have the reverse.

GAS: That is exactly how I would have stated it.  We’ve talked about your dreams before, and an occasional theme of them is righteous indignation.  You stand up for the oppressed, or call situations out as unreasonable.  It’s part of who you are.

You can’t love yourself in the tiniest degree, but you can say, hey, the unlovable deserve a baseline level of respect and rights.  It’s a deeply weird combination.  It makes sense to develop the one to make up for the lack of the other, as a kind of defense mechanism maybe.  The remarkable thing about it is that you have probably better self-respect than most people.  It’s impressive.

BfS: Thanks? 🙂 I like to imagine it’s a bit more dignified than the other way.

GAS: It is.  Self esteem is a funny beast because I think it puts someone like myself on a grade to narcissism, capable of some loathsome levels of disregard for others.  And people like myself can’t help but show our ass at every opportunity.  We feel entitled to share our opinions at all times and in all venues, whether that’s sensible or not.  The difference between a commenter and a lurker.  The lurker is never embarrassed.

BfS: Interesting you should mention that, as I once did a research project on ‘lurkers’ — AKA the majority of people on the internet.

GAS: I’ll take this aside for a moment.  Any interesting conclusions, or was it too hard to find anything out about the ghosts in our machines?

BfS: It probably would have been more interesting to focus on the commenters, as they’re such a small fraction of users, less than one percent in many cases. Probably the most interesting thing I gleaned was asking people why they didn’t comment, and they generally said ‘I didn’t think anyone would care.’ Which is mostly true. So what makes commenters think otherwise?

GAS: Self esteem!  Back to the point, seamlessly.  I didn’t notice this about myself until I got to know somebody better who formed a stark contrast to it.  I have something inside, not like a voice but just as powerful as if it was.  It’s a sense of entitlement, maybe.

I just don’t doubt for a second that I’m important enough to matter in a conversation, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Does that make sense?  I can see the vast size of the human species, in our billions, and our cosmic insignificance.  And yet I feel like I could be one of the grandiose npr liberals @ing the fascist orange on twitter, if I used that platform.

BfS: Sounds pretty wild, my dude.

GAS: They say you have a slow wave in your brain.  Something isn’t as powerful as it should be, hence the depression and such.  But to you it’s like time is standing still, stretching out into a horrid infinity.  This is a little off topic, getting into depression more generally.

The reason I bring it up is that it seems like as powerfully intelligent as you are, and as much as you get done compared to the rest of us, wiling away your dark infinities, how could there be anything slow about you?  But science mans said there is.

BfS: That’s true, my neurologist said it would be normal for a 70 year old man. Does seem strange, doesn’t it? That people being able to sit still to watch a TV show have more active energy in their brains than I do. Takes a lot of energy to feel okay, apparently.

GAS: And that’s the magical mystery.  I feel like I am not doing anything extra at all.  When I see you hating yourself, it seems so energetic, so much like that is the extra.  That is the energy.  But no, I am the one with energy.  It’s an invisible energy that says, hey dude, the world is yours.

BfS: You got tha power.

GAS: But you say it seems like everyone around you is bottomed out barbiturate zombies.  Nobody has the energy for a real conversation at your speed, or at least depth.  You say something meaningful and one of us is like, “Cool bro.  Imma go watch commercials for laundry detergent now.”  It just seems funny to think that slow wave produces more thought than whatever energy it is that allows me to live in comparative bliss.

BfS: Yeah, that it takes more juice to sit around and watch the Avengers for the 10000th time than to have a decent conversation. Does really astound me how difficult it is for some people to think about anything. Nothing to do with intelligence, it could be about their opinion on peanut butter cups. I’ve had better conversations with four year olds than some adults. And to think, that being an undead on downers is actually more processor-intensive?

GAS: I’m probably a little aberrant in this respect, a little more chatty.  But I’m a lot closer to them than I am to you.  Something that’s become a topic of discussion in our lives pretty often is the difference between passive and active media.  Writing, RPGs, even some video games require some active engagement.  Reading books, watching movies, listening to music, perusing social media – these are the things that can wash over you.  Minimal effort, passive.

For a person like myself, passive media is an anesthetic to chill me out after the tension of a day’s work.  But you have no attention span for passive media.  Can hardly watch TV and movies, always have to be doing something active.  It seems exhausting.  You are allowed no anesthetic.

BfS: Even listening to music seems a bit beyond most people these days. They gotta hear it 10+ times before they can decide if they like it or not. I guess to me, if I was chilling out that much, I’d just go to sleep! And I hate going to sleep.

GAS: Guess that’s getting off topic into the undiagnosed ADHD territory.  Bringing it back, you have the major depression / nega self-esteem combo, even if it’s higher speed than people expect.  It’s vexing.

It’s one of the things that convinces me there is no justice or inherent goodness in the universe, certainly no god: that humans are cursed with having this self-valuation.  We can’t just be – we have to rank ourselves.  And for some people that means never knowing what it’s like to feel alright.

What’s the best you’re able to feel, and how do you do it?

BfS: Oh man, I have this app that tracks your mood, and I’m basically ‘fine,’ tops. I went to a couple good concerts that bumped it all the way up to ‘good’ back in 2019. Best for me is being able to focus on something I’m interested in and forget I exist.

GAS: For me, it feels like I always forget I exist.  I can lose myself in anything that catches my eye.  I’m not a consideration or sticking point in my own life, which is one reason self esteem is invisible to me – feels like a non-thing.  But it seems like, if this slow wave of yours is related, maybe my self esteem is a constant reassurance that I am OK, and can safely be forgotten.  Sound about right?

BfS: It could be, might be a secondary thing. I’ve met people with lousy self esteem that can seem to forget while they veg out, and only feel bad when they get reminded of their own existence.

GAS: The other way this difference between us manifests is in loneliness.  I rarely feel lonely, but you often feel that way.  I’m not socializing any more than you are.  Why the difference?  Is my self esteem, my fast wave if you will, something like company to me?  An unspoken voice in my head?  Or is it just that the pain of hating yourself makes you feel the need to be more engaged – as a way of getting outside of your own mind?

BfS: It could be as simple as an extrovert/introvert thing, I might be some kind of repressed extrovert for all I know. We know some people with bad self esteem that are also extreme loners, so it’s hard to say.

GAS: It’s vexing to know I can be over here chilling, and just being in the same room as you without speaking, I’ll feel good about that.  Like I have whatever company my mind needs.  Meanwhile, the reverse can never be true.  I am insufficient funds for your social needs.  I’m not offended, exactly, but I do feel sad for you on the regular.

BfS: LOL it’s okay, man. Life sucks.

GAS: Well, per the words of the great sage Dr. Phil, I think there is a cure for your bad self esteem that you could try.  Might help.  Next time you feel inclined to hate on yourself, just simply STOP DOIN’ THAT.  It’s the wisdom of Texas.

BfS: (Insert thinking emoji) Will do.

And with that, he was cured!

I Got Sexually Harassed Thursday

Content Warning: Explicit Talk of Sexual Harassment.

I’m six foot tall, 250 pounds, AMAB, masc-looking with a big white beard at the moment.  But I got full-on sexually harassed yesterday on the bus.  Leering, repeated explicit come-ons, not accepting rejection, a weird racial element, and being unwillingly exposed to a stranger’s penis.  This is a new experience for this 43-year old,  and that novelty probably has some of my AFAB readers feeling jealous.  I didn’t feel like my life was in danger, but on the way home from the bus I did look over my shoulder to see if I was being followed.

There was a bit of foreshadowing to this experience.  Within the last week on the bus, a drunk lady who may have been trying to hook on me dropped a come-on line that was verbatim the sort of thing men often tell women.  “I just wanted to tell you I think you’re cute… I’m not bothering you, am I?”  To that I said, “Thank you, no bother, I just prefer to listen to my headphones in the morning.”

Why am I so irresistibly hot right now?  I guess with the beard I’m kind of a bear.  And I’m more stylish for the office than I was for the mega-retailer.  But the A.M. drunk lady was the first time I could remember hearing anything overtly positive about my appearance in over ten years.  (I used to catch a few smiles from fellas and ladies back in my 20s, which was nice.)   I had my doubts about her motives, but it was almost pleasant for me.  That did not prepare me for the dude who was sleazing on me last night.  I didn’t do anything about it and probably will not (unless I see that guy again), except tell him to chill out or he’ll get himself arrested, on my way the hell out the door.

I don’t know how I felt about this.  At first there was bewilderment and amusement, but there’s a lingering sensation in my head I’d like to get rid of.  I’m a little disturbed.  At no point did I fear violence, and yet?  My body is kind of reacting like I did.  I’m taking a sick day.  I’d rather not take the same bus home at night within 24 hours of that experience.

But I will almost certainly get over this, and soon.  It is not part of a pattern of abuse that preceded puberty for me, unlike the experience many AFAB people have to contend with.  That may make it a little more of a shock at the moment, but it doesn’t feel like society affirming its fundamental disrespect for my bodily autonomy, like an atom in a sea of degradation that defines my life.

Moral of the story?  Public transit sucks.

Ghost Cats and Gauntlets

You get used to a cat being a presence, like any given movement or patch of appropriate color the right size in your peripheral vision could be the cat. Walk in the room, dark spot on the bed. Did you leave your t-shirt there or is it your black cat? Your eyes adjust, it’s the cat.

When I get tired I get minor hallucinations of movement. Might be something to do with the floating debris on my eyeball that I can see well due to nearsightedness. I see that stuff sliding by and my eye chases after it, imagines a more substantial source to the motion.

So sometimes I see a movement, not dark enough to be my alive cat Hecubus, and forgetting her recent passing, fills in my deceased cat Momo. She’s ghosting about my room, animated by the frailty of human senses and endurance.

This coming week is the most likely yet to cause me to flame out of my new job. Every day I work there I feel like my brain is being taken apart and put back together. My chest is hollow and my arms weak. I might find it easier with less direct oversight. With fewer interruptions from someone trying to catch my mistakes, I may be able to relax into things more. Or without close supervision I might get flustered with difficult customers and get shouted down, broken like a dog.

This weekend is half over and too fucking short. The shit we’re expected to do for the right to not be homeless, amirite peoples?

The Black Coach of Sorrow

…or Darby O’Gill and the Goodbye Momo

content warning: animal death, dismal feelings

A long time ago film companies had studios. There are vestiges of this arrangement, but as exploitative and sheisty as the studio system was, it had too much overhead for modern capitalism. They had to go. Once upon a time, though, Disney was in a system where they had a film studio and a sense of obligation to use it. It was just how things were done. Get a studio, use it or lose it. So they cranked out some really bizarre little films for a few decades, like The Absent-minded Professor and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Did they do Herbie the Love Bug and The Parent Trap? The Shaggy DA? I think they did.

Eventually the production values dwindled until there was nothing left but made for TV fare. But back in the halcyon days before pomade quite fell completely out of style, they made a goofy Irish-sploitation leprechaun movie called “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” Now it’s mostly used in clip form to show Sean Connery singing romantically a few years before he became James Bond. But believe me, it’s an entire-ass film. I saw it on TV when I was a child and a few things stuck with me.

Darby O’Gill catches a leprechaun king and tries to be smart about his wishes. But something (karma?) something, his young daughter was going to die, and he had to use his last wish to take her place in hell. The leprechaun king lets him off the hook and they live happily ever after. But it was a bit dark for small children.

I remember him yelling “The BawnSHEEeee!” when the spectres started appearing, and that Death wasn’t a guy with a boat. He had a flying horse-drawn carriage. Maybe it influenced Jowling Kowling Rowling’s thestrals. I just remember that element being pretty spooktacular. Translucent horses show up and you get inside, resigned, nowhere to go but beyond that veil.

About 5:20 AM today, my sickly old cat Momo woke me up making these rhythmic choking sounds. I knew she was going to die real soon. I had been intending to schedule her to be put down on Saturday – after my work week and a little more time to keep her company, say goodbye. She’d been given subdermal hydration and an appetite stimulant to prop her up for a little while, but apparently her various lethal afflictions had a different agenda as goes the timeline of this.

So I roused my boyfriend’s mom to drive us to the emergency veterinarian, where we knew they would be ending her pain. It was dark out and the closest emergency vet was a few towns over. We went this way and that, through dark pre-dawn valleys, highways, freeways, and winding hillside roads. Along one such road we had to slow to not hit a raccoon. It was leaning into the road with one very human-like hand on the ground, ghostly and silver, teeth slightly bared, eyes glowing.

We all draw our own standards as to what constitutes respect for non-human animals. Cultures and religions factor into it, take away some of our choice, but at the end of the day we know what we want to do. Some people want to kill raccoons on sight, thinking about their overpopulation and menace to domestic animals, their spread of rabies. Or they just like killing for fun, because they’re gross creeps. Me and my ride are not the kind of people who want to kill a raccoon, so we gave it a chance to stay on the side of the road like a good boy.

We were on a mission to ease the suffering of an animal, our minds wracked with sympathy for her, locked in a box with some towels, on the back seat as it sloshed this way and that in the hilly terrain, who knows what happening in her abdomen. The dark chaotic ride, the silver goblin on the roadside, the boxes within boxes. I was put in mind of Darby O’Gill and the carriage of Death.

We were the carriage of Death, as we had been on a similar night a few years ago when Mochi was dying. He’d been in horrible condition and was screaming in pain as much as he was able. When I found out it was gonna be over for Momo soon, I thought she had at least a little more time, that it wouldn’t have to be like that. I was wrong. Maybe she was in less pain? Her heart rate was slow, temperature low.

Anyway, I feel like shit for having guessed wrong on her expiration date. My boyfriend said I should be with her and I said I’d see if I could try. But when we got there she wasn’t making noises anymore. I didn’t know if she was alive. They said she was, but wasn’t tracking on anything. Even so, I also feel like shit for not looking into her eyes as she went. Or at least facing her with eyes closed. Cats like that. I just wanted them to let her go as quickly as possible, so I didn’t go there.

My boyfriend and I got Momo and Mochi about a year after we moved in together, if that. Now they’re both gone. And I got to be one of the sad coachman for both those rides into the abyss. Then it was straight to work for a full day of crapola. I’m dead like the studio system. Good night.

momo the cat, a fresh young dilute calico american shorthair.