Skip navigation

What is the fascination with shopping?

A rainy Sunday, no day to be out, yet people shop. And they shop. They’re miserable because it’s raining; they’re miserable because it’s snowing; they’re miserable because it’s cold; they’re miserable because it’s hot. Yet they shop.

They don’t shop because they need anything. They shop because it’s all they seem to know how to do. They don’t shop because they want something. They shop because it’s all they seem to know how to do.

Have books been forgotten … has reading been forgotten?

Has going to a show or a museum been forgotten?

Because “he” is watching football, can you not watch one of other excessively large TVs in your house, where it’s warm and dry?

Or is it pure and simple greed? The need to amass more and more STUFF. People are addicted to STUFF. People buy stuff, and then have garage sales and sell their stuff for five cents on the dollar. I guess in some perverted way this stimulates the economy, but why not just cut out the stuff in the first place and amass things like knowledge, culture and peace of mind?

Is buying a trinket going to give you the same satisfaction as sitting at home in your coziest room, reading a novel? Is buying a trinket going to give you the same satisfaction as sitting at home in your coziest room and just THINKING?  People don’t think. They act. They react. More often than not they react to something that hasn’t even happened yet. How, you ask?

BY SHOPPING.

A long-standing member of AA, I still have a hard time with the whole Character Defect bit. If you follow the letter of the law, you’ll end up being somewhat, or something, other than human. Is perfection in all your dealings actually necessary? Do we need to pile that much extra stress on top of staying sober?

People are people. People have emotions, and people have reactions. We make mistakes, and they don’t all need some sort of amends. Many mistakes are simple; possibly just knee-jerk reactions to the witnessing of or involvement with another action. We have to have the freedom to react, be it positively or negatively. We have to be able to feel. We have to be able to express ourselves in a manner that suits our personalities.

Granted we shouldn’t be out to hurt other people, but people outside of AA shouldn’t be out to hurt other people either. We shouldn’t be doing things that are blatantly wrong, but neither should anyone.

We do need to be able to feel comfortable in our own skin. And that comfort zone varies from individual to individual. Acting within that comfort zone may not seem appropriate or necessarily proper to someone else, but does that make it wrong? No, not necessarily. In order to maintain our sobriety, it’s critical that that comfort zone within our emotional selves is both found and maintained.

We are not put on this earth to be angelic, nor are we put on this earth to tolerate every little bit of human flotsam that comes drifting our way. Other people are bound to do things that we find irritating, and if we consistently hold all of those potential reactions in, we will likely find ourselves either exploding in a totally inappropriate rage, or drinking once again.

I think that a great many relapses occur because persons in recovery try too hard to be too perfect. It can border on, or be fully immersed in zealotry, and that is seldom (if ever) an attitude that nets a positive result.

If we relax, take things in a moral and ethical manner and behave to the best of OUR ABILITIES, we will be fine. We need not strive for perfection.

I walk South on Church Street in Burlington, VT .. my normal route from having taken my break from work. The walk is short; two blocks only, with Point A being Border’s Books and Point B being my gig.

I did this today, I did this yesterday. The odd thing is that on both days I saw the very same things.

The first corner, in front of Old Navy and the city bus stop there are the wannabe-gansta-hoodlums. They stand as much chance of being actual gangsters as I do of having my hair turn purple overnight. But, they do their ridiculous profiling and posing, shirts off, caps backward and cigarettes poking out of every orifice. Talking trash is the norm, as trash is all they know.

Next I pass the entrance to the downtown mall, a basically deserted waste of real estate, inhabited primarily by said wannabe-gangsta-hoodlums. Next door is Starbucks – the filthiest Starbucks I’ve ever seen – and in front of it there is the same man, in the same clothing, sitting on the same walker/seat as yesterday, and staring at the same funnel of oblivion. Three feet beyond him sits, on a table, the same overaged biker with white hair turned a sour nicotine yellow, wearing the same clothing as yesterday, and talking on the cell phone just as he was yesterday.

The last block is somewhat better; somewhat more upscale and with a generally more vibrant crowd of people that actually have eyes that stare back at you, but for the frequent gathering of the same old panhandlers in front of Yankee Candle.

But today offers a new sight when I find a surprise waiting on the bench across from the shop I work in.

Passed out on the bench is a drunk. A very drunk, drunk. His head is tilted way back behind his shoulders, past and over the back of the bench, his legs are outstretched and his arms are akimbo. He is surrounded by a backpack, some plastic bags. I feel for this man, because years ago it may have been me – exept that I have never been poor.

People surround him. People laugh at him. I feel for him. People take pictures of him, probably itching to hit You Tube as soon as possible. The poor man has no chance. Cell cams snap, digicams snap. He’s oblivious to it all. Nobody cares; nobody helps. Nobody evens checks to see if he is alive or dead.

I call the police, and within minutes there are four EMTs and two police officers there to help him.

But, they don’t help him. It’s determined that he’s not drunk enough to warrant a trip to detox; he gets a ticket for public inebriation and is ushered off the bench and sent on his way.

It’s time? Yes. It’s time. It’s time for me to get outta Dodge before I crack up.

While living primarily as an introvert, and really having no complaints with that lifestyle, I’ve been fortunate recently to make some new acquaintances and friends.

I am difficult to get to know, but once I’ve “let someone in”, they tend to be in for the long haul. I hold very little, if anything, back. I enjoy talking about the human condition with those who understand it, and more importantly, I like to LISTEN. People have so much to say, generally.

An issue I do often find disconcerting is that some people tend toward the narcissistic, and in those cases I find myself listening with my ears on auto-plug, but I think I choose my “inner circle” wisely.

Another issue I find disconcerting is when I determine that someone is adding pomp to their own self-glory. This happens primarily, in my opinion, when speaking shallowly with persons I meet in the store I work in. I think, were I able to delve into some of these tales, that I would find far less to them than meets the ear.

But, of primary importance, are the truly wonderful people I’ve come to know in recent history. People from AA, some people from the past who have resurfaced and transformed into finer, more astute individuals and a small cache of people with whom I interact “around” the workplace, by which I mean in other establishments I frequent.

While it’s still true that I can count my true friends quite quickly, it pleases me to no end that that number has risen from where it sat just a year ago.

I find this to be a sign of my own growth, and it’s a process which I hope to continue.

Technology, that great exercise in societal advancement and productivity, is ruining my life. I suspect it’s ruining many lives.

How many times per day can one hear ringing phones, beeping phones, tones, buzzes, car alarms and other extraneous crap that interrupts what could be a nice, peaceful ambient noise level?

How often do we encounter difficulties with those same devices? Paper jams, update interruptions, security breaches, spam? Wrong numbers, text messages not meant for us, telemarketing calls at home, at work and while we’re trying to have dinner?

What is our fascination with speed? In days gone by people got along  just fine with rotary phones with actual bells and mail that was sent, written in longhand and sent in an envelope with a stamp. People weren’t rabid about tracking numbers for every little thing they ordered; it got there when it got there. Checkout lines were manned by cashiers who actually pressed buttons, waiters brought a check after dinner instead of during it, and no person had an electronic growth sticking out of their ear making them look about as ridiculous as a person can look.

We didn’t have websites like Facebook or MySpace, luring us into hours of absolutely nothing. We read. We listened to the radio, and we listened to what the radio played. We enjoyed it. We didn’t have three hundred television channels to surf, nor did we complain that there was nothing on.

Our cars didn’t have tracking mechanisms that screamed at us in an artificially metallic voice to turn here or turn back to there. We had maps, and we could follow them. If we got a bit lost, it was an adventure and not a cardiac arrest.

Our books had pages. Paper pages that we could turn, feel, smell and enjoy. They weren’t downloaded onto yet another device that merely takes the entire pleasure of reading and turns into yet another headache.

In fact, we could actually add, subtract, multiply and divide in our own heads!

If we had the luxury, we played vinyl records. We loved them. We could choose them, savor them and care for them. They sounded great. They weren’t compressed files loaded onto an overpriced, tiny device that allowed you to disintegrate your eardrums.

I’m 51. I’d like to be 81 so I could remember even further back. I long to step back in time and drive a car with fins. I want to wear a Fedora atop my nice suit and have polished shoes instead of neon sneakers. I don’t want to hear everyone else’s conversations, and when I’m talking with someone I don’t want to be put on hold because their cell phone is ringing.

Maybe all this is part of why I just don’t talk to very many people anymore.

One thing I’ve always had difficulty with is the misuse of power; or authority. And it’s getting worse.

Our business and societal sturcture has always been, at least to some extent, based on power and who holds it. This is, of course, the natural flow of things, and has been since the dawn of recorded time.

But, let’s take banks first. It used to be that banks promoted from within, most typically based on seniority and experience. In this way the more senior persons had an actual working knowledge of not only the industry, but of the people with whom they had to deal. Loans were made upon a handshake, and were practically never written off. The banker knew the customer, and life was good. Banks were conservative, to a point, but also willing to take a chance with someone who seemed like a good, honest individual.

Fast forward to today’s banks. Typically the “suit” in charge has no knowledge of banking, per se, or of the people that need the services offered. The outlook is the bottom line .. the paycheck, the stock options and the greed. For the most part they are ignorant to the services that their banks offer and they usually know practically nothing of either good business or good faith. To them it’s just a matter of a computer entry, a credit report and a sure bet against an individual borrower. But, schmooze the same ignoramus with a trumped up balance sheet and a pie-in-the-sky game plan and you’ll get millions. It’s almost an inevitable default, and said banker can leave with a seven figure bonus. Will he or she work in banking again? No doubt. This type of executive replicates him or herself not unlike a termite.

The same goes for those who act in the capacity of CEO in smaller companies. They may, and probably have, come from small companies of their own making, and suddenly they assume qualifications far beyond their capabilities. I’m a big fan of and believer in The Peter Principle. More often than not, these are individuals who have, indeed, done at least moderately well with their own private ideas. But, keep in mind, they also had support personnel to make it all work for them. Every so seldom were even they “hands-on”.

A great case in point was a “politician” from Vermont named Peter Tarrant. He co-founded what turned out to be a very successful company. But, all he did was sell the product of the actual genius. Granted, he was a partner in this firm, but his job was knocking on doors to sell medical software that he had absolutely no hand in developing. But, given a fat bank account, he ran for a major public office and actually had to SPEAK in debates. At that point it became painfully obvious that this man knew nothing. He lost.

But, it goes far deeper than that. Small, struggling companies now reach out to persons who have allegedly made it. They’ve perhaps had a bit of success in a small company setting, sold it and then claimed to be business gurus. I’ve seen it countless times. Those gurus then get involved in other companies and it’s straight down the drain.

Power and authority are, first of all, bullshit. But, second of all and most importantly, positions of trust. We cannot expect them to relieve us of our own duties in favor of their own bonus, but be wary …. that’s their only goal as a matter of course. They have investors to answer to, and those investors want a return.

Typically the most qualified persons to actually run a company are persons who are from middle managment who have had their fingers on the actual pulse of what happens. Bring in an outsider from a completely different industry and I’ll buy the Drano.

One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was when a good friend and coworker of mine called me the man without rules. It really hit the nail on the head, as I very typically eschew the societal, corporate and governmental rulebooks.

It’s important here to mention, though, that I don’t necessarily BREAK any rules, I just don’t necessarily follow them. I disagree with most of them as they’ve been set forth by those who create them, enact them and enforce them. The average rule is basically ridiculous. One of the truest definitions of anarchy is that those who follow the rules don’t really need them, and those who need them won’t follow them. It’s a very basic outlook on simple right and wrong, without being having to be told what that is. The way that fits into my outlook is that I don’t need them because I basically don’t do anything truly wrong or offensive, but I have a natural tendency simply not to like being told what to do. Basically, I’ll do the right thing if simply left to my own devices.

There are a number of things that I simply won’t do: steal, lie, cheat, harm, etc. But, that’s simple and proper human behaviour. I don’t need a rule to tell me to avoid doing these things.

But there are a number of rules that I will bend and/or break simply because I feel that they violate my inherent right to live according to the way I want to.

I don’t wear seatbelts because I don’t like them. I find them to be annoying and an impediment to my basic civil liberty to move freely in my own car. Whether or not I choose to risk bodily harm really is my choice, not the government’s.

I do not smoke in restaurants or public buildings because I wouldn’t anyway, but I will smoke anywhere I please if I am outside. I’ve never bought the second (or third) hand smoke threat to begin with, and if I am in free and open air I will smoke whether it’s approved or not. If someone walks by and makes a foul face because I am smoking I very likely will light another one, whether I want it or not.

It’s not a question of whether or not I disrespect others. I respect everyone, no matter their lot in life. I simply believe that we all have the right to live. Not to live by harming others, taking things that are not ours to take or things of that nature, but to live in a fashion that we choose without all these levels of intervention.

Our basic civil liberties are disappearing one by one and two by two. It seems that each and every day someone with the loudest mouth is causing the rest of us to make a change in our lifestyles simply because they don’t happen to like something. The majority no longer necessarily rules, the loudest mouth does. I resent that, and I resent it deeply. It’s a crap sense of entitlement in it’s most abhorrent sense.

I don’t want to do bad things; I have no intention of doing bad things. Others don’t deserve to have bad things done to them. But, by the same token, we should not be harnessed into a governmental cockpit that sets us on someone else’s auto-pilot. If we could all just ease up, live and let live and stop trying to dictate or mandate what those around us must or must not do I think we’d all be a much more genial and happier society.

Basically, leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. Tell me what I can’t do, and watch how long it takes me to do it. And don’t blink.

I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “Nothing ends well, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” Why?

I awoke to a very peculiar dream … all my dreams are on the peculiar side; often violent. This one had all the classic elements of one of my dreams, for certain.

My third fiancee, Wendy, and I had moved into a house in the country. A cape of some kind. It wasn’t a nice house, but it was what we could afford. Wendy felt as though we were being stalked, and I armed us with a shotgun. Early one morning, we went out into the woods to hunt the stalker, with me totin’ the streetsweeper.

Somewhere along the line we discovered an old barn. We inched our way into the barn, and the far half of it was a music store, with instruments, LPs, CDs and other miscellany, including weapons. I settled on a very lethal knife and a pair of binoculars that I found for $5.00 each. I was ogling the instruments, and discovered that they also had iced caramel cake. I ordered a piece, but then discovered that Wendy was gone. I turned and fled from the store to find her, only to find myself on the outskirts of Bridgeport, CT.

As I set out to find her, trying to hide in the brush along the side of the road, a school bus approached going well over the speed limit and driving irratically. The bus was empty, but for the driver, and he was angling right toward the patch of brush that I was hiding in. Whether he saw me or not I didn’t know, but I assumed he was aiming for me. As the bus bore down on me, I saw that the driver was Wendy’s mother, and she was laughing hysterically. I took aim, with my shotgun, now having turned into a sniper’s rifle, and shot her in the neck. She exploded in a splash of blood, and the bus then turned into a hospital bed and then just disappeared.

I made way back to the house, not having found Wendy at all, and found the telephone ringing. It was my parents, demanding this and that. I lit a cigarette, poured a huge glass of straight vodka and just listened as they berated me and called me the son they’d never wanted. While on the phone I looked around at what was now a horrendous dump, with full ashtrays, empty glasses and empty liquor bottles all over. Wendy came in and told me her mother had died of cancer. I didn’t care; I only wanted to have sex with her. She removed most of her clothing, but then turned and disappeared.

I awoke.

In actual fact, Wendy and I were together for three years. I’d had an affair with her while I was married to my first wife. Her mother did pass away from cancer at Yale/New Haven, and at the time I was too much of an active alcoholic to care or offer any support to her. Our relationship did end, though we spent time together over the next year. It was over, though, but in some morbid fashion we were also addicted to each other.

Had I not been such miserable drunk, Wendy I would have let our engagement go to the fruition of marriage. She was a woman I truly loved, but I ended up loving the bottle more. I never lived in or near Bridgeport, though she was from there. We lived in a beautiful house on the Stamford shore. It was never dirty, but a lot of empty bottles did go into the recycling bin! I ended up leaving Connecticut after a couple more years, with my accounts in order but my reputation totally ruined.

As I said, nothing ends well, or it wouldn’t end.

Today, my first day back on the main drag in Burlington, VT, has me totally reillusioned. And, I think, I’ve finally figured it out … maybe.

I’ve always been one to enjoy the greener grass, i.e.: I always want to be somewhere that I am not.

But, that is not so. I was never dissatisfied for all the years I lived in Connecticut. I have also been fortunate to have been able to travel the country extensively. I have admired each and every other state, city and village that I’ve spent time in. To me, the problem is Vermont itself. The FWQ (Freaks and Weirdos Quotient) is far too high. But it isn’t JUST that … it’s that the FWQ is all phoney. All a big put-on.

Vermont, being known for liberal views and radical behaviours, is really just a crock of shit state, with Burlington being the primary turd in the barrel. People try to be outrageous, and in that process they just look stupid. New York City has many an odd duck. But, they FIT IN, and nobody really notices them because they’re aren’t necessarily going for the bullshit shock and awe factor.

I can’t explain their behaviours, other than to surmise that they just don’t know any better. Vermont is not, nor has it ever, been famous for being the one state among the fifty that stands out for brilliance of mind or solidity of spirit. Rather, it’s a vagabond hodge-podge of wannabes and never wills.

Boasting the highest per capita rate of alcoholism and drug abuse says a lot for it, yet that problem in itself is not what marks it as the dump that it is. It’s attitudinal. And the attitude is immature, childish and ignorant at its level best.

The Clash brought the famous question, “Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?” Left to my own devices the answer would clearly be TO GO. Being married makes that more difficult, but I will seriously predict that I will be elsewhere one year from now.

On a recent trip overseas, I was suffering badly from jetlag, pain, etc. My wife and I had arrived for our 10th anniversary trip, and we had gotten there at 7AM after flying all night. Note that it was 7AM THEIR TIME, which is five hours ahead of ours.

I tried to plow through a full day, but everything finally got the better of me and I simply had to go to the hotel flavor of the day and sleep. I managed to get two hours of sleep, but then my wife came back to get ready for dinner. She woke me up … once, twice and a third time. I truly was in no shape to join her, and since I’d had lunch I was not hungry for dinner. The fourth time she woke me up I gave up, and got up.

A tremendous fight ensued, carrying itself right into the dining room. We had to step outside, as it was just getting bitter.

I was incensed that she’d woken me up, and she insisted she hadn’t. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How can someone do everything but jumping jacks on the bed where someone is asleep and then insist that they hadn’t awaken the sleeping person? I sat at the table and ordered nothing, which is what led us to go outside and try to get this thing to blow over. Her insistence that she did not purposely wake me up wasn’t cutting it for me, and I basically told her she was full of shit and to fuck off. I asked her to just get me on a plane home and suggested she spend the next 11 days alone, including the anniversary day itself.

Finally, she told me to just go back to bed. Well, that was out of the question just then. I have a hard time just falling asleep after being mad, and I was still too mad to even consider it. I told her I’d sit with her while she ate, but would then “go out”. Then the proverbial shit hit the fan. She automatically attached drinking to going out, though my intent was simply to go around the block to a Starbucks that I’d seen. Her arguement that I was busily neatening the scotch bottles in a kilt shop was on point, though, as I was “thirsty”. I couldn’t believe a kiltmaker would also have a wonderful selection of some of the world’s finest scotch whiskey … truly an old favorite of mine!

The bottom line is that I had a bowl of soup, some bread and did, indeed, go back to bed for the next ten hours. It was an excellent demonstration, though, of how weak in both their physical and mental selves people can become with extreme fatigue. Her reaction was the worst possible one, and I cannot deny for one second that I may very well have gone to a pub and not to Starbucks … which it turns out, closes at 6PM in Glasgow. They must close the coffee shops early so the pubs don’t have any distractions.

After that, despite a few bouts, we had a good trip and drinking was never again an issue. I also don’t think that an expectation of me going out to drink will ever be an issue again, or at least it will never be voiced again!