Tuesday, January 29

In Deference to Others: Fantasy and Reality Collide

It was 2 a.m. when I heard the first slamming door. A wild thrashing of a door more-like. Someone, somewhere in the house was having trouble completely closing their room, so instead of leaving it open a crack, they were smashing the solid-oak construction into the already battered frame. I awoke with a groan, rolled over in bed, stared up at my ceiling and said one word:


It was Monday night. I had to be awake for work in four and-a-half hours. Thoughts of what I would do to our third roommate and his boyfriend swam through my sleep-slowed mind. Images of flying fists, teeth being knocked loose, blood spattering against beige-painted walls. I reached lazily for my cell phone, arm flopping over the edge of the bed to grab it, and sent a text message to my best friend down the hall.

"Either kill them, make them leave, or shut them up... NOW"

I proceeded to roll over, and forget the entire event. Figuring the people who didn't have to wake themselves up in a few hours could handle sorting out their situation. Until, that is, when everyone woke up Tuesday. Waking usually occurring sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. for the under-employed fools who inhabit the other two rooms down the hall from mine.

Sitting at my desk at work, my cellphone began to ding incessently... the distinct singular doorbell tone I use for text messages indicating someone on the other end was sending quite a mouthful. I flipped it open to find a nearly-full inbox, my best-friend having sent a quick summary of what had happened as I drifted in and out of conciousness after the first commotion the night before. Apparently our third roommate had gone out with his boyfriend (manager at an underwhelming bar/grill in downtown Cleveland) after work, gotten incredibly drunk, taken an indeterminant amount of cocaine, returned to our house, drank half a case of my homebrewed beer, trashed our kitchen making "breakfast" and then proceeded to strip down to their underwear and toss clothes over the entire first-floor. The door-slamming had apparently occured near the end of this distressing scene, long after my best friend had become embroiled in an emotionally charged discussion with the two late-arrivals over their disregard for the sleeping housemates.

What soon followed was another text message, this one from our third roommate in response to a text I had sent at 7 a.m. as I was getting ready for work. Mine read:

"I'm not interested in cleaning up after you OR your boyfriend. The only time I get to enjoy the house is before 7am, and after 6pm. I would appreciate if it was left as spotless by all as it is by myself. Also, please don't slam your door in the middle of the night, it woke me up."

His read:

"Do you want me to move out of the house?"

My reply:

"We'll talk about last night later, John just told me what went down."

Apparently my best friend had walked into all-out war between the two Monday-night party monsters. He asked them what was happening, and launched a heated fight over whatever it is that coked-out flamers take issue with at 2 a.m. on a Monday.

The two of us exchanged texts the rest of the work day. Something needed to be done immediately or our house of dreams would topple. The promises we had all made to each other, to be civilized, clean, respectful, drug-free, and driven were not holding. Obviously there was no accountability, no one taking score or even taking notice of what was being allowed to transpire.

I steeled myself for change once again, ran a quick budget in my head to make sure I could swing at least a few months rent on my own, and did the only thing I knew to do - I wrote a letter. My letter had to contain everything I had hoped to come out of our new home, and it must contain every observation I had made since moving in. The letter had to be honest, heartfelt in a way I had yet to ever truly express, and stern in the consequences of dismissal. Here is what I hand-delivered that evening:

You know so much about the world, and so much about people that I am always amazed at the varied conversations we can have. The fact that you are so willing to learn, and willing to give of yourself to others puts you far ahead of the majority of human beings I have ever met, anywhere in the entire world. Getting to know you in fits-and-spurts over the past year (since that crazy night you were next to me on the barstool at the Hawk) has really been awesome. You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever known, completely unique in the world. And that’s why I need you to take everything I’m about to say in this letter with the full knowledge that I’ve committed to making our home a place that all of us can be completely comfortable in, so we can live our lives to the fullest and grow beyond where we are starting from now.

You have a serious problem with drugs and alcohol, a problem that adversely affects every situation and relationship (business, family and otherwise) in your life right now. Your situation is not made any easier by the fact that you also have AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder) which I’ve taken some time today to read a bit about. Your behavior towards myself and John, the two people who’ve opened their lives to you with the hope that all three of us can better ourselves and make it further in the world together, has been flaky, inconsistent and at times downright disrespectful. Your actions and reactions with your boyfriend, your ex-wife and your son are colored by these same inconsistencies – the consequences of which are manifested in the arguments, the ill-will and, if the pattern continues, in the future feelings of your son.

John and I had a conversation the other day, and he slipped and told me he had done coke over the weekend… I asked him who he’d done it with and was surprised to hear it was you and your boyfriend. I was even more surprised that you were doing it in our driveway. Alas, I was not surprised that you had lied to me about doing it.

And you have lied, several times, to me, to John and to yourself. This is what troubles me most. Because you obviously feel as if you must hide your behavior, which is beyond the point of mere partying, it’s beyond even the openness of someone who maintains an addiction because they think they need it to have energy or fun times. The lying and the hiding mean that you are ashamed of what you’ve done and what you are doing.

I am ashamed that I haven’t spoken up sooner, that I may have allowed you to drift without letting you know that I care and that I’ve fought my own battles with drugs and alcohol… beyond the ones you’ve been witness to. I’m ashamed that I’ve presented a stern, seemingly unyielding face to you and to our house rules. I’m most ashamed though, that I’ve let myself be lied to, promised to, convinced even, that you are invested in our house, the relationship you and I share, the values I’m seeking to uphold and the healthy lifestyle I’ve been building for myself. I don’t think you understand the weight of my convictions and commitments to John, and my own self. It’s impossible for you to know of the years of recovery from my demons- psychological, substance & self-imposed. But I cannot, and will not, travel down any path that puts at risk my own wellness, the lives of my friends and the company they keep.

I thrive on consistency and stability, of knowing things will be the way I need them to be – I face nearly insurmountable anxiety every single day of my life over even the most trivial details – but I’ve learned methods to control my mental state and make commitments that stand the weathering of time and all the tests that come along with it. And in order for you to be a part of my life, and a part of John’s, I need nothing less than an absolute commitment from you to end your drug usage, forever, and learn to control your drinking.

You have far too much to lose, a beautiful son who needs you all-day, every-day to be his Dad… a business that has shown immense success before, in which people rave of your talents and call you the best… and most importantly a future where you can be who you are, and who you’ve always been – a strong, driven and free individual, willing to truly invest in the things this life has to offer that are worth it. You are worth it, and I’m willing to work just as hard as I have with- and for- John, as for you, to make sure you can once again reach the heights of all you can achieve.

But I cannot accept anything but the absolute truth from you, nothing but a firm commitment, an investment in seeking treatment for your ADD and any of the other issues, emotional or otherwise, that a professional would be equipped to help you understand. You are strong enough to survive anything, I believe in you, and I want to stand by your side in building yourself a new success story. But I’m not willing to watch you flounder, cannot stand idly by while you risk your health, both mental and physical, and risk the future you have with your amazing son.

I need to know, by tomorrow (Wednesday 1/16) morning whether you are prepared to accept the responsibility for the things that you say and do, whether you are prepared to try a new course, one free of the distortions caused by drugs, and to step into a future where tomorrow may be unknown, but the people by your side are guaranteed. That’s what I offered to John, and I make the same deal to you. I want our house to be full of the love that it has shown so many amazing glimpses of… of the passion for creativity and light that has been evidenced. But I’m afraid it will never reach those goals if all of us are not working together, fully invested.

If you cannot offer me what I ask of you, we will need to reevaluate our living situation. I want you to know that I send this letter in complete confidence and confidentiality. I’ve reserved only one copy, and I’ve addressed it to your ex-wife. If the situation cannot be rectified I wish only her to know the full truth of what you inspired within me, and what you chose to walk away from. I dearly hope I do not have to send it.


Monday, January 28

In Deference to Others... What is Lost When We Turn Away

I just emerged from a family discussion. Mind you, our family consists of a rag-tag assembly of unrelated gay men, our range in age bested only by our range of experiences. Tonight's topic of discussion was one that in our short time living under one roof has played itself out in two out of three individuals (my own experiences coming before the move-in date), it was - in a word - drugs. Not life-threatening addictions, nor comfort-choking bad habits... but that most common of household indulgences in this modern nation - marijuana. First, I'd best set the story straight on what has taken place in the last 40 days of life in our fair city of Cleveland.

For myself, the past month has meant nose-to-the-grindstone labor, in a warehouse, on a computer and here at home - preparing to accept the rights and responsibilities that come along with the journey into manhood. Deferring the pleasures of today (or tonight) so that my future will shine ever the more brighter.

For my best friend, confidant and closest gay acquaintance the past month has been, from my increasingly sober and less-turbulently emotional perspective, one of floundering amongst darkness and seeking release from the daunting troubles ahead.

For our third, and admittedly most unfamiliar roommate - the past month has been one of intense personal renewal, and the casting-down of barriers so that he may connect with those reaching out to him in this new environment. He also, I may add, is struggling to define his own role as a gay man, a committed boyfriend, an ex-husband and a father.

I began January in a state of emergency - having been unceremoniously booted from my role as cherished houseboy for a pair of middle-aged queens trying ever-so-hard to live the American Dream, albeit a warped modern version involving all the trappings of consumer indulgence and a heady mix of alcohol and illicit substances. They being transplants from San Francisco, myself being transplanted from the suburban graces of a life straight out of a Better Homes-and-Gardens magazine. We had spent a year together under one roof, myself cooking and cleaning and being generally homey - with an out sized debauched side further indulged by having the run of a 5-bedroom tudor in a nice urban neighborhood.

Upon their dismissal (which I will detail further - I promise - in a forthcoming post) I girded myself for struggle, and a loss of the utter freedom I had engaged in since being taken-on by the pair. I made the commitment to myself, and to my best friend, that I would quit the party lifestyle and all the substances so ingrained with it to better my own circumstance. I set about to do so and accomplished quite speedily the task of finding work, transport and an airy three-bedroom on Cleveland's west side from which to build upon. My friend (who had moved in with the queens as well for about a month) made much the same promises of self-improvement, although as I will detail, with far less commitment.

Our first days at the big empty house we had ponied up the cash for seemed like a dream. We were truly stepping into our own, and excitement was alive in every moment. Each wall held a future project, each nook a bit of character - to perhaps fill with a piece of our own individual characters. The rules were drawn up, and commitments laid out then, dreams more-like, because we all saw this as a fresh start and a new beginning.

I imagined myself rising to the needs of the various projects, coming home from work to join in painting another room and repairing another crack. My best friend seemed alive with the choices to be made, and the chance to finally call a space his own... and our third, a chance to regroup and settle into a new routine amongst friends.

It was only a month ago that we held these ideas high, and in the time since... a poison of apathy, the turbulence of new love and the dissension of unequal sacrifice have nearly torn our dreams apart. Tomorrow morning, I will detail the first encounter with reality - and post the letter that saved our home from immediate dissolution.

Thursday, January 17

Cleveland: Playing Witness to an Economic Malthusian Trap

Just a little thought about Cleveland. The endless butt of late-night TV jokes and the poster-child for the sub-prime mortgage lending crises offers, in my opinion, a fascinating study of the perils of de-industrialization and de-regulation upon the human psyche. The urban Clevelander's generalized apathy towards acquiring education, modern technological tools and, among a certain subset of the population, legitimate remunerative employment can be seen as a predictable response within the framework of Malthus' theory - often referred to as a Malthusian Trap.

When applied in an economic sense, this theory - which states that the peaking of production will limit returns to human beings and, in turn, reduce the quality of living - has already played through most of it's course in the urban center and inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland, the areas most dependant in the past upon unskilled resource-conversion and labor-intensive production work. When the economic returns to workers fall below the costs to acquire the basic trappings of subsidence (which in our day-and-age are warped by a commercially saturated media environment) an interesting psychological break can occur which can lead down many paths, the most dangerous of which delivered the world a German society primed for the hateful rhetoric of Hitler in the waning years of the 1930's.

My own experiences as a wayward slacker in Cleveland, and amongst the people who find themselves staring up from the bottom of Cleveland's proverbial dry well, have shown a direct correlation between belief in the ability to achieve success - and the actuation required to reach such goals. Surviving in some neighborhoods of Cleveland's inner-ring suburbs, the ones that most middle-class suburban (read: privileged white) folks merely drive past on the highway, requires life skills most commonly seen in third-world countries and areas devastated by war. The mere act of survival amongst the predatory thieves, mal-educated dunces and disabled or depressed individuals usurps any energy that remains after the struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over your head. After being failed by the city's corrupted public-education system, swindled by unregulated loan sharks, and left to fight over whatever scraps of employment remain for the city - the incentives to work harder, better or faster become ironic jokes to the hundreds of thousands who've literally been left-behind in the flight to the suburbs and exurbs. Solutions to this problem have inexorably focused on poorly managed re-training or re-education programs (of little use if no foundation of education exists in the first place) which generally just plaster neighborhoods and buses with advertising, serving as an underhanded reminder of the community's failures, as well as an easy buck to fatten the wallets of the advertising company.

My own suggestions for solving these widespread problems are decidedly pie-in-the-sky, and go against many of the basic tenets of liberty in terms of enforcing the rigid structure necessary to break free from the psychological hold of being mired in failure. Mostly, I can only imagine an intensive, incentive-based program of neighborhood revitalization that trains under-employed or never-employed youths in three basic areas - home repair, environmental stewardship and artistic expression. Similar to the Works Progress Administration programs in place during the end of the Great Depression, my dream programs would focus on improving public space (roads, sidewalks, adding parks, public art and public gardens) as well as improving private space (rebuilding porches, landscaping homes, repainting exteriors, repairing gutters and interior areas as well). These programs would come with odious three-strike participation clauses, but re-entry would not be barred, merely delayed, by a failure to uphold the standards of participation. They would have to include a healthy dose of optimism, while instilling the habits of success in each participant. In perhaps the most important and democratic side of the programs, all regional communities would participate in providing post-program support through internships, technology training, business training and scholarships - allowing a dialogue to open between the sidelined and the successful in our community.

By supporting individuals within a framework that allows for a snow-balling of accomplishment, I believe that both the city-at-large, and the people who suffer in hopelessness can achieve what years of pessimistic, politically expedient "solutions" have failed to reach. Urban revitalization, attitude adjustment and a reallocation of will.

Wednesday, January 16

Worker Productivity Gains and the rise of Starbucks... an early morning thesis

As I poured the last thin cup of coffee from the office Coffeematic and gathered the supplies to brew a fresh pot, an interesting thought occurred to me. My stand on coffee has always been "if I can see through it, I won't even bother" - which is to say, the stronger the brew, the better. I usually scoop four or five heaping tablespoons into the filter, completely filling it, and filling the office with the strong aroma of freshly brewed joy. My coffee gets rave reviews from my co-workers, the real coffee drinkers among us, who bad-mouth the first weak pot brewed up by the earliest man to arrive (a greying inside-salesman with a penchant for nicknames). People seem to really perk up after their second cup of coffee, which is invariably brewed by myself, and I wondered if our office environment is an analog of our capitalist nation at-large. I decided to do a little digging (very little, as I am working while I research this bit of blog) and try to compare worker productivity (a fitting real-world measure of worker "perkiness") with the rise of that infamous coffee titan, Starbucks.

First: The Meteoric Rise (or... a coffee shop in every pot)

Second: Busy Little Bees

So in comparing the graphs my early-morning, pre-caffeine postulation may in fact have a bit of weight behind it. The rise in nation-wide, strong-brewed coffee doled out to early-morning risers may indeed have increased worker productivity. My research for these graphs also indicated that American worker productivity had stagnated up to the early 1990's, and that technology developments and Clinton-era psychology had important effects on productivity gains. I however hold up this simple truth.
Good Coffee makes for Good Workers!