When I joined the Army in the last years of the Carter administration I didn’t even have my own pair of shoes. True story. i don’t remember the exact dollar figure, but the monthly take home pay was about $400. I became a paratrooper because that meant an extra $80 per month.
By the time I got out in my early 20′s I already owned my first house and a small truck I paid for cash. I started doing HUD house remodels in the worst parts of town for the worst kinds of people working longer hours than I did as an infantryman, but I kept at it. By the time I was in my late 20′s I was building multi-million dollar bus washes for SEPTA, Wawa markets in under 90 days, Ford dealerships and that kind of thing. There was no nepotism, no bankrolling rich uncle, just hard work, long hours and determination. I was also alone- no wife, no kids, no dog, no fancy car, no wild parties. Then, by accident I drifted into stand up comedy as a hobby- open mic nights, that kind of thing. Before long I was doing road gigs and after a year I was full time at clubs and colleges all over the country as they say. I lived an even more spartan existence then, living out of the trunk of my car. Every night I wasn’t given a hotel room by the venue, I camped in State parks, in empty fields, wherever I found myself. Somewhere along the way I picked up a dog, then a girlfriend who I later married and at the peak of my career our first child came along and I quit and started all over again.
Not long after 9/11 I had become a typical pillar of the community type in my hometown. I was active in my church, spent my free time with my family, participated in local politics and had a seemingly perfect life except for one thing- I knew that something was wrong.
I saw what the military did first hand in places like Granada, El Salvador and Panama, but I kept my mouth shut.
I saw what the big government agencies like HUD did with taxpayers money and who they funneled it to, but I kept my mouth shut.
I watched my country transform itself from thousands of small towns and dozens of unique regions into one size fits all corporatized McBox stores from one end of this country to the other, but I kept my mouth shut unless I was on stage and then only for the laughs.
I watched my hometown church, the one my great-great grandfather built being turned into a nanny-nanny feel good social hall where nothing that was said ever really sounded like it meant anything. No one was to be judged, nothing was sacred, everything was forgiven.
I knew my way around the Internet since I had won a Compaq laptop and a lifetime subscription to Prodigy in the first Colorado Comedy Competition in ’94 and so I started to write a series of essays about what I had kept shut up about for so long. I was honest, I wrote what I had seen and what I saw and I used my own name. The articles got around, and soon the media got wind of them and the gates of hell opened beneath me.
If you’ve never been doxed, never had your face on the front page of the newspaper, never been called a nazi and a racist, a homophobe and a misogynist by the NYT let me tell you it’s an experience. People I had known my entire life, folks who sat next to me in the pews at church, other town councilmen, neighbors, but mostly people who didn’t have the first clue about me or my life, how I lived or what I experienced couldn’t STFU about me. There were threats- of course- but worse than those were the shunnings- just like something from the 17th century. I understand the term witch hunt more than you can imagine and believe me it changed my frame.
The shock wears off. New stories come along, we were a little too sympathetic to demonize for long- I was a deacon in the church who spent most of my free time working with a group home of mentally challenged men. I was a decorated combat vet with no criminal record. I had a beautiful wife and family, had made my way in the world on my own for my entire adult life, wrote pieces that for all their politically incorrect observations about the decline of America were at their core not much different from the pieces you call fiction on this website. My great faults were that didn’t walk in lockstep on issues of race and immigration. I thought our foreign entanglements, particularly in the middle east, were a mistake- just like Washington (the man) had warned us. That Iraq was based on a lie, that 9/11 probably was too. That families can’t be “redefined”, that degeneracy was a bad thing for the long term prospects of a stable society, that corruption at the highest levels was endemic to political elites, not certain parties and that our entire economic structure was a sham.
So I left politics on the local level and quit believing it on any level. The press left me alone- since I was a private citizen and since they couldn’t find a single human being I had ever wronged regardless of race or gender orientation- and I returned to obscurity.
But I wanted out.
So we kept working, kept saving, had more children, remained loyal to each other and to those friends and neighbors who had stood beside us and we planned to make our exit from the rat race. I never wanted to be put in the position of depending upon anything else but our own hard work, good relations and basic human decency. I sure as hell wasn’t angry any longer- a good lot that had done for me- and I owed it to my wife and my family to start looking at the world that was a little less Matrix and a lot more Waltons. I researched aquaculture, permaculture, soil studies and water quality tables. I read the entire section on farming and agriculture at our local library and started composting. Our garden expanded and so did our base of knowledge. I began to accumulate old hand tools and seeds, and just as it looked like our plan to exit the rat race was at hand my mother died of cancer. It took only 11 days from diagnosis to deathbed and I watched every single minute. I have always been close to my family and they raised me in a way I hope I have raised my own children, to be honest, to do what is right, to be true to yourself and to rely on your own skills and resources rather than to beg or to live in debt. My mother loved me, no question, but she loved my children even more and when she died she left us everything she had and after we mourned we took that plus everything we had saved through a lifetime of our own efforts and bought the farm, free and clear.
So that’s the story.
It isn’t fiction and neither is anything I have written thus far. It’s my story, my hours, my days, my life in my words. I have no regrets about anything I wrote in the past, make no apologies for any friendships or associations, I owe no explanations for my choices, make no boasts of my accomplishments. I have made as many mistakes as I have wise choices, but I have learned from every single one. What we do now, every day of our lives is to make this world better for our passing through. The old gripes are gone because I know better than to rage against the dying of the light. I’ve read Spengler and I think he was optimistic. People live and die and so do civilizations and if I have learned anything as a farmer its how to spot terminal conditions in living organisms.
When we came here we left a lot behind- the town my family founded over three hundred years ago, the friendships we had built over a lifetime, the home we built ourselves. But other people give up more than that and start over with less. I have become a competent farmer because this is what I want to do with the time I have remaining even if it ends tomorrow, which it could. I have been loyal as a husband because I have a wife who has proven her loyalty to me and it has been a blessing. I am dedicated to the raising of honorable children because they will be here after I am gone and I want people to depend on them the way they depend on me. I am open to discuss anything anyone wants to talk about and to say nothing about anything they want to avoid because I know what it feels like to be made to feel unwelcome and unwanted and I wouldn’t want that for anyone. I can’t keep people who don’t know me from calling me names I don’t call myself, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same in return. Turning the other cheek isn’t a form of self-punishment, it’s a cure.
So I will continue to comment about the few things I know when I think I can add a perspective about how I live my life. I don’t expect to inspire anyone to do anything they wouldn’t do on their own, but I do mean to encourage them to do what they want because they can. This world may be in collapse, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to build something while we’re here. Everyone can make a commitment to produce more than they consume, love more than they hate, live more than they work towards death.
My life is not a work of fiction.