joebelknapwall: (Default)
ring.


ring.


ri—

"Hello?"

silence…click…click…

(irritated grumbling)

"Damn automated phone calls…"

clunk!

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ring.


ring.


ring.

(frustrated groan)

ri—

"Hello?"

silence…click…

"Hello?"

(interrupted sigh of relief)

falsely friendly bill collecting corporate whore: "Hello, can I speak to Joseph Wall?"

me: "Speaking."

(pathetic sigh)

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Hello, sir, this is Beneficial/Household Finance calling in—"

me: "The whole corporation is calling?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon me, sir?"

me: "The entire Beneficial/Household Finance Corporation is calling?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand what you're saying."

me: "You said 'this is Beneficial/Household Finance calling.' I wasn't aware that entire corporations were able to make phone calls. Are you a gestalt being?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm sorry, sir, I'm a little confused."

me: "Apparently. Are you, in fact, an account representative for the Beneficial/Household Finance Corporation?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Ah, okay. Yes, sir, I am."

me: "Do you have a name?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm calling in reference to your account, which is currently showing a late balance of…"

me: "I'm sorry, do you have a name?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm calling in reference to your account."

me: "So you don't have a name?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "That's not important, sir."

me: "Someone thought so."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon me, sir?"

me: "That you were worth having a name."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm calling in reference to your account with Beneficial/Household Finance, which is currently showing a late balance, and I'd like to schedule a payment this morning."

(mental cogs turning)

* reaches over to answering machine *

beep.

me: "This call may be monitored or recorded for quality purposes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Umm…pardon, sir?"

me: "This call may be monitored or recorded for quality purposes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm calling in regards to your account with Beneficial/Household Finance, which is currently showing a balance of—"

me: "Okay, as long as you understand that this call may be monitored or recorded for quality purposes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm not sure I understand you, sir."

me: "This call may be monitored or recorded for quality purposes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Okay, sir, but that is not important at this time."

me: "So you consent to said monitoring or recording?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, may I schedule a payment to your account at this time?"

me: "You may, I guess."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "When would you like to schedule a payment, Mr. Wall?"

me: "I wouldn't."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "I wouldn't like to schedule a payment. You asked if you could, and I said 'you may,' which is true. You may schedule a payment."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Okay, sir, when would you like to schedule a payment?"

me: "I wouldn't."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm asking you when I can schedule a payment."

me: "I haven't the slightest clue as to when."

(long pause)

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, your account with Beneficial/Household Finance is currently showing a late payment amount."

me: "I would imagine so, yes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, sir, I need to get a date from you on which I can schedule a payment."

me: "You need to get a date from me?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Yes, sir."

me: "But you're a woman. It wouldn't work out."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "I don't date women just yet."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, what I am asking is for a date when you would like me to schedule a payment."

me: "Ah, clarity at last."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "Just sayin'. Sorry, but I can't schedule a payment."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Umm, why not, sir?"

me: "I have no money."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, sir, I can schedule a payment for a future date."

me: "Can you see into the future?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon me, sir, I did not understand your statement."

me: "That was a question, actually."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm having a hard time following you."

me: "You're following me?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I need to schedule a payment. Your account with Beneficial/Household Finance is showing an overdue amount."

me: "That's all well and good, ma'am, but you will be unable to schedule a payment until I have money to pay said payment."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "And when will that be, sir?"

me: "I have no idea."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm confused, sir. Why are you unable to make a payment at this time?"

me: "I have no money."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Then can I schedule a time when you will know when you will have funds available?"

me: "That depends."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "It depends on what, sir?"

me: "On whether you can see into the future."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I don't understand what you're saying, sir."

me: "What I'm saying is that I have no money, or to put it another way, no money is what I have."

(long pause)

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, would you like me to schedule a time when Beneficial/Household Finance can call to schedule a payment?"

me: "The whole corporation will call?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "Only if you know when I'll know when I have money so I can schedule a payment."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, is there a reason why you cannot schedule a payment at this time?"

me: "Yes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "What is the reason, sir?"

me: "I have no money."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Can we schedule a payment on a future date?"

me: "Only if you can see into the future."

(sound of sighing in the phone receiver)

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, is there a reason why you have no funds at this time?"

me: "Yes."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "What is the reason?"

me: "I'm unemployed."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Can we schedule a payment for a time when you will be employed?"

me: "That depends."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "It depends on what, sir?"

me: "On if you know when I'll be employed again."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Is there a reason why you are not currently employed?"

me: "Karma, I guess."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "Can't find work, and I've been writing a book."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, sir, that's nice that you've been keeping busy, but you're currently overdue on your account with Beneficial/Household Finance and I need to schedule a payment."

me: "But I have no money, ma'am. What part of that is not working for you?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, are you currently disabled or otherwise unable to work?"

me: "No, ma'am, but no one in my field wants to hire me. Well, the fact is that my field doesn't really exist anymore. I learned my family business and am one of the best in my field, but the field itself has disappeared."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Why's that, sir?"

me: "Damn computers."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Is there no work outside your field?"

me: "I'm writing a book."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "It's called Scaggsville. It's about my life, you know—essays about my childhood and a friend whose life went sorta wrong."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Umm, sir, what I mean is 'why can't you work outside your field?'"

me: "For what?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "For income, sir, so you can pay your debts."

me: "But then I couldn't work on my book."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "You could, in your spare time."

me: "But I never had any spare time when I had a full-time job."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, get a part-time job, then."

me: "But I can't pay my bills on a part-time job."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, you can't pay them when you're not working, either."

me: "Well, then it really doesn't matter, does it?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, your account with Beneficial/Household Finance is currently showing an overdue amount and I need to schedule a payment."

me: "Well, have you, meaning the Beneficial/Household Finance Corporation, charged me a late fee for my overdue balance?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm afraid so, sir."

me: "And you can't waive that fee?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm afraid not, sir."

me: "Well, I guess I'm not going to worry about my overdue balance until the next due date, then."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Why is that, sir?"

me: "Because you've already charged me for being late. I've paid a price for being late and until I'm late again, I have the moral high ground to hold out on you."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm confused."

me: "Why should I rush to get up to date when I've already, in effect, paid a penalty for being late?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "What are you saying, sir?"

me: "I've already been penalized for being late. Are you going to raise my interest rate AGAIN or charge me another late fee or report me as late AGAIN?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Umm, sir, you've already been charged and—"

me: "—so I have no incentive to find money I don't have to rush to make a payment that won't make any substantial difference at this point."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I'm trying to collect an overdue balance on your account at Beneficial/Household Finance."

me: "I understand that, but I have no money."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "And you have no money because…"

me: "Because I'm unemployed."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "And you refuse to find employment to pay a debt that you incurred voluntarily?"

me: "We've already explored that subject."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "And you cannot get a job in a grocery store or retail outlet to keep you going until you find work in your field?"

me: "My field doesn't exist anymore, alas."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, then, until you find work in a field of your choosing."

me: "Not really."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But-but-but you are currently in default on several loans."

(sound of keyboard on the other end of the line)

me: "Yep."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But, sir, you made a payment on your account with MBNA last month."

me: "I made some money doing handyman work."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, then, why did you pay your payment with MBNA and not Beneficial/Household Finance?"

me: "It's a smaller payment, and they're nicer to me."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "And besides, my mom cosigned that loan, so I don't want to screw up her credit."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "What about your credit, sir?"

me: "I'm sure you can see the status of my credit on your computer."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "You're going to damage your credit if you refuse to pay your obligations, Mr. Wall."

Ugh, "Mr. Wall." Elementary school all over again.

me: "As you can see, I have no credit."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But you may need credit in the future, sir."

me: "For what?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "To buy a house or a car."

me: "I have a car, and I'll never be able to afford a house."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But your car won't last forever, and you may eventually be able to afford a house."

me: "Not the way I'm going."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Eventually, though, sir."

me: "I tend to doubt that, but by the time I'm in that position, my credit rating will have recovered."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But you can't get credit right now, sir."

me: "Are you kidding me?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "You can't get credit with your current credit rating."

me: "You think I need more credit? Are you insane?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "A good credit rating is important, Mr. Wall."

me: "Why? So I can get more in debt with cards and accounts that jump to 31% the second I'm a minute late with a payment and have my phone ringing from exactly eight o'clock every damn morning to ten at night, with insane people telling me how important credit is to me?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "A good credit rating is important in society, sir, and it's the right thing to do."

me: "The right thing? What on earth do you mean?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "It's irresponsible to take on a debt that you are not prepared to pay, sir."

me: "I was prepared to pay the debt when I took it, ma'am. Then I lost my job. Are you saying I'm immoral?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "That's not my place to say, sir, but you are refusing to make good on the terms of your loan."

me: "Because I have no money."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But you could have money if you wanted to, sir."

me: "Umm, okay. Could you please tell me how, so I can make this amazing transition to a happy, credit-filled life of joy and fun?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, there's no cause for abusive language."

me: "'Joy' and 'fun' are abusive language?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "No, sir, but your tone is aggressive."

me: "My tone is aggressive? I have an aggressive tone? I'd say my tone was more incredulous than aggressive."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "At any rate, sir, your account with Beneficial/Household Finance is currently showing a late amount, and I need to schedule a payment."

me: "Fine, schedule one."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "When, sir?"

me: "Whenever."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I need a date, sir."

me: "Don't we all."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "No, sir, I need a date for your payment."

me: "That sounds complicated."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, can you please give me a date?"

me: "That's between you and fate, I think."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir."

me: "Tomorrow, then."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, will funds be available to make that payment?"

me: "Probably not."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Then why are you scheduling it for tomorrow?"

me: "To make you happy."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "My feelings on the matter are not important."

me: "Well, then it's to give you a date to stick in the little box on your computer that says you scheduled a date."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But a payment won't be made on that date."

me: "I don't think so."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Well, then, sir, when can I schedule a payment?"

me: "I have no idea."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "You have no idea when you can make a payment."

me: "Correct."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "When will you know when you can make a payment?"

me: "If I knew that, I could probably schedule a payment."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, your account is overdue, and you need to make a payment."

me: "Well, I think I've pretty clearly demonstrated that I don't need to make a payment, and am unable to make one whether I need to or want to, so why don't you just schedule a call to ask me the question again a little later?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I'm not prepared to do that, sir."

me: "So I'm the first person you've ever talked to who won't schedule a payment?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "That's neither here nor there, sir."

me: "But it makes me kinda special, doesn't it?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir?"

me: "We all need to feel special sometimes, ma'am."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I don't understand what you're saying."

me: "What I'm saying is this, ma'am: I'm thirty-seven, I have a college degree and twenty years experience in a business that no longer exists, I'm seventy pounds overweight, getting a hairy back and sore knees, and I've got a book I can't seem to finish, more unpaid work than I have time for, and I'm hopelessly in love with a man who is unavailable to me. I've been single for almost a decade, have been rejected by my own dog, for god's sake, and am such a pain-in-the-ass that my friends and family can hardly stand me most of the time, and the rest of the time, I'm like a hermit, hiding in my apartment. Some days, I just get up, shower, sit in front of the computer for a while, then just give up and sit on the couch, staring at the wall, waiting for the day to end. When things get really bad, sometimes, I end up in the kitchen in my underwear, which is full of holes because I can't afford new drawers that fit right, sitting on the floor compulsively eating half-frozen Food Lion store brand nondairy whipped topping right out of the container because it's about the only thing left in the fridge and I'm just so damn depressed that I can't be bothered to even get up and go outside to even buy some damn ramen for ten to a dollar, and all day long the phone's just ringing endlessly with people like you telling me what a big fat stupid loser I am, and that's all there is. Sometimes, you just need to feel like it's all adding up to something, you know, even when it's not. Sometimes you just need to feel like you're special. Is that wrong?"

(long, long pause)

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I just need to schedule a payment."

me: "Schedule it for Friday, then."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "And you'll be able to pay it by then?"

me: "Probably not."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Then can we schedule it for a time when you will?"

me: "Sure. Schedule it for May 16th, 2010."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I can't schedule that far, sir."

me: "Friday, then."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "But you've already said you won't be making a payment then."

me: "I won't, but some other account representative will be on duty then, so it'll be their problem."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, you're being very difficult."

me: "Yeah, my mom says that's how I am."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "I've scheduled your payment for Friday, August 26th."

me: "Fine."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "If you don't make a payment then, you will be flagged as overdue."

me: "I'm already flagged."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, that is not the point."

me: "Sounds to me like it sorta is, really."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "No, sir, it is not."

me: "Ma'am, can I tell you something?"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "What's that, sir?"

me: "You're on my hidden camera show!"

(long pause)

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir?"

me: "You're on my hidden camera show! Look behind you!"

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Are you kidding me?"

(sound of nervous laughter on the other end)

me: "Yeah."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Pardon?"

me: "Yeah, I'm kidding. If I had a hidden camera show, I could probably pay my bill on time."

f.f.b.c.c.w.: "Sir, I've scheduled a date for you. Have a good morning."

me: "Wait, wait, how will I recognize him?"

click.

me: "Hello? Hello?"

clunk.

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ring.


ring.


ri—

"Hello?"

"Good morning, sir. This is Beneficial/Household Finance and I need to speak with you about your account."

me: "Ummm, I just got off the phone with someone."

"Someone from Beneficial/Household Finance?"

me: "Yep, but she wouldn't give me her name."

"You've just spoken with a representative?"

me: "Yeah, like thirty seconds ago. She got me a date!"

"Umm…okay, yeah, I'm showing that a date was scheduled for Friday."

me: "Is he cute? Does he like husky guys?"

"Pardon, sir?"

me: "Look behind you! You're on my hidden camera show!"

(long pause)

"Thank you, sir. Thank you for doing business with Beneficial/Household Finance. Good day."

me: "You're always welcome, and—"

click.

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Sigh.


Something's gotta give, and soon.

I'm so tired of this.

At least I've got a funny recording for a future podcast—aww, crap, the stupid digital answering machine only records for a minute or so. Goddammit. Damn computers.


If you see me shoplifting underwear at Target, say "hi," will you?
joebelknapwall: (morning fire)
I start the days with the strike of a match, in a swirl of smoke and sulfur and the golden flash of fire, touching the wick on a new candle in an old place, bringing light into the dark mornings. In an inexplicable incantation, I say "good morning" to someone I never met, stand and watch for a moment, and then head for the stove to make a pot of tea.

Sometimes I think I was meant to be Catholic, and not just because the lifelong infusion of guilt adds a certain squalid glory to every moment of moral uncertainty. When I got my first adult-sized bike, a dull red Western Flyer touring model with broad, sweeping handlebars that was a hand-me-down from the boys next door, I had to ask my neighbor what the little oval metal badge screwed onto the front was for.

"That's a Saint Christopher medal," he said, touching the oxidized badge with a reverence that didn't make much sense to me in those days. "He's the patron saint of travelers, a kind of guardian angel."

It nearly took my breath away, the idea that there'd be an angel for a bicycle.

Bouyed with a sense of invulnerability, I launched that dull red Western Flyer off every impossible cliff and hurtled down every rain-carved orange clay ditch and rode slowly through every bad neighborhood, secure under the outstretched arms of a stamped-tin Saint Christopher. In time, that bike came apart at the seams, worn out by forty years of abuse under the Saint's watchful eye, and there were new bikes to come, but never magical ones, protected by the complex systems of celestial patronage.

Naturally, I landed on my head a lot, which might count for something.

If I'd been raised Catholic, I'd probably have come to adopt Saint Sebastian, the unofficial patron of homosexuals before Judy Garland came along, but I came of age as a Presbyterian instead, and our patron saints were the collection plate and plastic punchbowls of sherbet and ginger ale punch in the Fellowship Hall, so I've had to strike out on my own.

If I'd known about such things earlier, it'd have been obvious.

My father came down to the basement to see what I was up to, and I was there in his leather work gloves, holding a propane torch to a solder joint in a odd little sculpture of roof flashing I was assembling. He stood over me and watched as I bent the thin metal into a curved, flat box and carefully sealed the seams with acid-core plumber's solder, even as I swore and scowled, frustrated by the way the flashing wouldn't hold the liquid lead.

"What are you building, son?"

"A cyclotron."

There was a pause, a familiar hesitation, and he asked again.

"What's that?"

"It's a particle accelerator," I explained, showing him the pages from the 1962 issue of Popular Mechanics that went into meticulous detail about "atom smashers," and told him how I'd worked out that I could build a smaller scale version of the same thing, right there in a basement in Scaggsville. He scratched his head and bit his lip, taking pains not to completely deflate my enthusiasm.

"Well, let me know if you need anything."

In the end, I had him get me dry ice and an old watch with a radium dial, and I sat in the basement, ready to play with the forces of creation, and fired up my ramshackle cyclotron. The dry ice sizzled and smoked, the electromagnets I'd wound from wire pulled out of the flyback transformers in abandoned TV sets down at the dump hummed as they were meant to, and I watched the swirling mist in the cloud chamber, and not one damn thing happened, at least not until one of the electromagnets shorted and started to burn.

My father smelled the distinctive scent of burning varnish filtering up through the vents and clumped down the basement stairs to check on my progress. I sat there, coughing in a wreath of smoke and vapor from the dry ice, just looking over it all and wondering why it just wouldn't work.

"It's pretty hard to build a cyclotron, son," said my father, hoping to dull my frustration. "I think it usually costs millions of dollars to build one, and that's when you already know how to build one."

I switched off the lights, peered into the cloud chamber again, but didn't see a damn thing beyond the usual trails of particles zinging off the radium watch dial at the center of my ridiculous homemade cyclotron. I didn't get it. I thought I did everything right.

Damn.

Saint Jude is the official patron saint of lost causes, impossible missions, and desperate situations, and there's no better patron for the life I've led. I've spent a lifetime banging my head against the wall, chasing after impossible dreams, and reaching out for unreachable things, but I've just kept on anyway, even when it becomes painfully clear that I'll never get where I'm going.

Sometimes, it's just all too much, and that's when I need a Saint.

That's when I need a sympathetic ear.

I've been thinking of Saint Jude a lot lately, as I've been sitting here, chained to my desk, editing my writing in the hope that some day, somewhere down the line, all this work will have counted for something and I'll make a little money off my work. I sit and write and I'm pretty proud of what I write, but when I start to edit, it just turns into a jumble, an embarassment of badly placed commas and my signature endless sentences, and I read and read the same passages over and over until they just turn to gibberish in my head. I sit and stare and think "no one's going to read this shit," even if I've got a highly-dedicated group of readers who say otherwise. I read and reread and type and cut and paste until my head starts to hurt and the loneliness starts to bite, interrupted only by the increasingly frequent calls from bill collectors out for blood.

I'm a few weeks away from being unemployed for a year, though I've been working harder than I ever did at my often-maligned desk job. I've written and composed and studied for almost a year, and burned every penny of savings and my entire 401K and run myself back into debt, and it's still just impossible, and I'm no closer to having something to publish than I was six months ago, or maybe I just can't see it. The lure of the impossible is so much stronger when you're not hanging on by your fingernails, and I'm even beyond that, slapping at the grass on the edge of this cliff as I slide further down, as I head for the abyss.

If I'd been smart, I'd have waited until I was ready, right?

Like most kids, I grew up with a complete tracker pipe organ stored in the attic. It was my Dad's little pipe dream (as it were), something he'd salvaged from a church that would've otherwise just dumped it all, and it sat there in the attic, in rank after rank of dull grey lead pipes and warm wooden reed pipes stored in long, flat boxes, along with all the valve boxes and other hardware, for what seemed like forever.

One day, I came home and found my father out in the yard, by his workshop, pounding something with a five pound maul hammer. I looked and saw that he'd pulled out the boxes of pipes and was flattening the lead ones, folding them up, and dumping them into trash cans.

"What are you doing!?" I asked, horrified to see something familiar being destroyed.

"I'm getting rid of these pipes," he said, and paused to smoke.

I couldn't understand his motives. There was more than enough space to store them forever, even if he never got around to building the organ he dreamed of owning.

"But-but-but you were gonna build this thing one day," I stuttered.

"Son, sometimes you just gotta know when a dream's over," he said, took a drag, and went back to flattening pipes. I stood and watched and something in me just hated him, and was ashamed at what he'd become, at his rejection of the impossible.

"Why is it over now?" I asked.

"It just is, son. It just is."

I kept on chasing the impossible until it ground me down, too, and in time, I found a way to be that was warm and safe and comfortable and entirely possible, and I let love and ambition and desire go because those things are nothing but trouble, nothing but pain and frustration and humiliation, and the most primal urge in all living things is to be safe and happy. For a time, it was an equilibrium that worked for me, and I loved that cold, deep winter, where I could just hunker down and accept the lesser rewards of a half-lived life, even as I knew that it just wasn't me, that I'm just not made of that kind of fabric.

I start each day lighting a candle, and sometimes I don't even know who I'm doing it for, whether I'm lighting it in memory of someone I never met or for my father or me or for all my abandoned impossible dreams, or if it's just my way of calling on Saint Jude when all I want to do is give up. I get up some mornings and think I'll just leave it, that I'll let yesterday's candle sit there, cold and burned out, and for a moment, the urge is unbearably strong. I'm not lighting that damn candle. I don't owe anything to anyone who's not here and real. Fuck rituals and observances.

I'm tired, I'm lonely, I'm broke, and all I want to do is give up.

I've been applying for jobs, but no one will hire me, and there's a train thundering towards where I'm standing with my foot caught in the tracks, and it's already too late, even if I found a job right now. My finances are in ruins and will be for another decade, no matter what happens in the next several months. I spent ten years stitching up my worn-out underpants and never traveling or spending on anything fun or frivolous to get to a place where I was living a balanced life, and it's all gone. I look in the mirror and I see tired eyes staring back at me, and I wonder if it's all been worth it.

It's easy to leap around in a triumphant dance of zen bullshit when there's still something holding me up, when I can write endless celebrations of the virtue of hurling yourself off a cliff because something will come along to catch you in the nick of time, when it seems like there really is such a thing as "karma" or saints or fairy godmothers or just something. When the bills come due and there's no way to pay them, it's another story, optimism be damned.

It turned out, in the end, that Saint Christopher was never even a saint, and that there are doubts in the church that he was even a real person at all. I found that out while researching something else a while back and was sorely disappointed to find that the little badge that'd been protecting me on my dull red Western Flyer was just nothing, just a pointless talisman made of base metal, and yet, it'd worked, after a fashion.

With Saint Christopher on my side, I pointed my Western Flyer towards the future and, as often as not, found it along the road somewhere, but now I'm trying to be my own saint, to motivate myself even when all I can do somedays is leave the computer on, crawl into a nest of pillows and blankets on the couch, and find escape in sleep.

I carried the record player home on the back of my big red bike, holding it steady with one hand and steering with the other, riding the long straight stretch from the dump at the dead end of Scaggsville Road as quickly as I could without losing my precious cargo. I carried it down the basement stairs with difficulty, careful not to hit the narrow concrete walls of the stairwell with my ungainly prize, and my father put down his rake and followed me down to see what I was up to.

"Where'd you get that, son?" he asked.

"The dump," I said, and set it gently on the scarred top of the workbench.

"What are you going to do with it?"

"I'm going to fix it."

He looked at the case of the old record player, which had been outside long enough for the sun to bleach the color out of the vinyl that was coming off the plywood case in dangling strips. I tipped it forward and it gushed algae-choked water through the speaker grille.

"I don't think you're going to be able to do it," he said, pointing out how the ivory plastic tonearm had left a trail of shadow burned into the faded brass color of the top, working like a sundial over years of exposure. "I think that old thing's pretty much done for."

"Maybe," I said, and started to unscrew rusty screws in the base panel.

"Try not to electrocute yourself or burn the house down, son," Dad said, and he tromped back up the stairs to resume his yard work.

I sat with that thing in pieces for days, extracting the old metal chassis with its vacuum tubes and cloth-insulated wiring and just staring into the circuits until certain things came into focus. I resoldered and rewired, replaced the drive belt for the turntable with a belt I stole out of the vacuum cleaner, and tweaked and adjusted everything until it was all exactly right. When I was confident enough, I carried it back up the stairs to the back porch, plugged it into the the outside outlet, and put on my sister's copy of Abbey Road.

It was not hi-fi, but it was clean and clear and right.

My mother came out and found me there, grooving along to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and smiling the kind of smile I rarely smiled in those days, the kind of smile that crosses your face when everything in the world is exactly right. She went back in, found my dad, and brought him out.

"Can you believe it?" she said, pointing to the old record player, which played on merrily in spite of looking like something salvaged from a shipwreck. Dad shook his head, chuckled, and put a hand on my shoulder.

"Well, I'll be damned, Joe."

Life is impossible.

It'd been so long since I'd pulled off anything impossible that I'd forgotten that, and how it doesn't matter if most of our dreams are destined to go nowhere. It just doesn't matter, and as soon as it starts to become important to us, we just go to sleep, and get comfortable and quiet and burrow into ourselves. Right now, I'm tired and lonely and worn-out and overwhelmed by so many demands on my time and energy that there's not a chance that I'll get through the next six months unscathed, but I've got no choice but to keep on going until I electrocute myself or burn the house down.

I've got no choice.

Pema Chödrön wrote a great book called The Wisdom of No Escape, and it's a book I'm revisiting, just to remind myself that there really is no escape from all this, that life is impossible and we can either deal with that and get on with our lives or just live in fear. I let nearly a decade pass me by while I was hiding out and waiting to be ready for what the world's gonna throw at me, and I lost that time forever, because I stopped believing that I can do impossible things.

I am chasing two impossible careers, and I'm in love with an impossible man, and I'm dedicated to impossible values, and I'm trying to do it all in an impossible timeframe, and sometimes it all just beats me down until all I want to do is give up, but I'm not going to be beaten, not again.

If you're Catholic, you've got places to go and sources of intercession at hand, and I'm so damn jealous of that that I'm just gonna fake it and let Saint Jude be my very own patron saint, someone to reach out to in the very worst moments, when I'm sitting at my desk with my stomach churning, trying not to accept the cold, hard facts at hand, which say I'm chasing a bunch of impossible dreams at once. I've chased them before and I've failed over and over, but I've beaten the odds once or twice, too.

This time around, I'm going to beat them all or burn the house down trying.

I start my days with the strike of a match, but I end them with a whisper, just four little words that are the last thing I say out loud each and every night, and so I bracket my day with items of insane faith, even if such things are not always central to my nature. In the last year and a half, I've learned a lot of lessons about insane faith, and for once, I'm ready to shut up, override my doubts, and leap.

The world is impossible, but then again, so am I.

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joebelknapwall

January 2013

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