Category Archives: My life stories

The Time The TSA Humiliated Me For Fun

"I got to second base with a TSA screener"

 

I recently flew from Colorado to Texas, and I arrived at the airport 30 minutes before my plane was scheduled to leave. Normally this airport isn’t very busy. So I wasn’t worried… until I reached the security checkpoint, which had about 50 people in it.

Luckily, the line was moving surprisingly fast. So my anxiety was shrinking as I got closer to the body scanner, which I like to call “the dignity evaporation machine” or “D.E.M.” for short.

 

 

Images of a human body taken by a TSA body scanner. The facial features look like a skull, and the genitals are clearly visible

 

I’ve traveled around the world, and America is the only country I’ve ever had to walk through these. I loathe these things because they blast you with radiation, microwaves, and/or who knows what. They used to take naked pictures of you, but that was supposedly changed, but how would I really know what goes on inside them? Either way, when you stand inside them, you have to hold your hands above your head like you’re a criminal being arrested. The invasion of privacy and the submissive posture really drives home the point that everyone who attempts to board a plane in America is considered guilty of terrorism until proven innocent.

As I approached the D.E.M. I noticed a male TSA agent standing idly next to the old metal detector that nobody walks through anymore. I knew you can choose between going through the D.E.M. or getting a pat-down. I assumed a pat-down would be quicker, and if I was going to lose my dignity anyway, I felt it would be more just if the TSA had to get their hands dirty taking it from me.

So I told the TSA agent that I preferred a pat-down. He looked at me in disgust and then shouted over his shoulder at nobody in particular, “We’ve got an opt-out.” Then he stood there staring into space for 4 minutes while I watched in horror as people who were originally behind me in the line passed through the D.E.M. Finally, I said to the agent, “I’m running a bit late. If this is going to take a while, I’ll just go through the machine.” He barked at me with a mixture of amusement and disgust, “Too late for that.” Only then did he take me through the metal detector to a place with a floor mat with two footprints on it where I was instructed to stand.

As I assumed the position the agent asked me in a voice dripping with suspicion and accusation, “Why did you choose to opt-out?” I told him, “I don’t know what that machine is. I don’t like it, and I don’t want anyone to see me naked.” He replied, “Eh, it’s not that bad.”

Then he took his time finding a box of plastic gloves, and then he made it a point to show me how slowly he put them on and adjusted them. Then the frisking started. Mind you, I was wearing a fitting T-shirt and fitting blue jeans. Since I was flying on a cheap airline that charged $50 to check a bag and/or carry on anything bigger than a small purse, I had all of my luggage (3 pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, and three T-shirts) in a plastic grocery bag. So there was nowhere for me to hide anything.

Still, he wrapped his hands tightly around each of my arms and acted like he was squeezing a tube of toothpaste. He even ran his hands down my bare arms past the sleeves as if I could be hiding something under my skin. He stuck his hands down my shirt collar and inspected all 360 degrees of my neck. Then he did the same thing to my waistband. Then he squeezed both my legs like they were tubes of toothpaste. He did that to each leg from the front and then each leg from the back. On each pass, he jammed his hands up into my groin, which meant he made firm contact with my balls 4 times.

After the frisking was over he swabbed his gloves and put the swab into a machine that looked like a futuristic cash register. The machine beeped, and a bright red light started flashing. I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “Nothing good. It means you tested positive for bomb residue.” I wanted to shout at him, “Bomb residue! Bomb residue! Where’s the bomb? I’m just a guy in a t-shirt and jeans with a plastic bag full of underwear, and you just squeezed every inch of my body!” Of course, there wasn’t any need for me to state the obvious. He knew there wasn’t any bomb or any residue for that matter. We both knew I was just a guy getting harassed, and there was nothing I could do about it.m

The agent called his supervisor, who was an older black lady. She looked at the machine and looked at the gloves. Then she started chitchatting with the agent, completely ignoring me. I asked her, “So what happens now?” Without even looking at me she said in a bored, monotone voice, “Sir, your clothing tested positive for bomb residue. So we have to take you into a private room for another pat down.” Then she just walked off and left us to wait for an elderly white guy to come and escort me to a private room along with the agent who had just frisked my balls.

As we entered the room I asked, “Can I just take off all my clothes to speed up this process.” With a mixture of annoyance and glee, my original frisker said, “No. We have to do it this way.” He stood in the corner of the room and nonchalantly picked through my plastic bag while the older agent frisked me in exactly the same way as I had just been frisked out in the open. So I don’t know why we had to go into a private room. He also jammed my balls into my groin a total of 4 times. The only thing he did differently was make me take my shoes off and rub the bottom of my feet. When he was finished he went and tested his gloves in the bomb residue machine while the younger agent guarded the door.

When the second glove test came back negative the agent at the door said, “Ok. We’re done here,” and sauntered off. None of the agents showed any relief or surprise by the outcome, because they knew from the first second they saw me that I was nothing more than a guy in a T-shirt and jeans carrying a plastic bag full of underwear who was critically late for his flight. Needless to say, I didn’t get an apology for wasting my time and violating my personal space.

So I collected everything I brought with me except for my dignity and ran for my gate just in time to board my plane where I spent the next two and a half hours lamenting how much of my tax dollars are spent dehumanizing the American public under the guise of safety. On my return flight to Colorado a few days later I opted to go through the dignity evaporation machine like the powerless peon I am.

There are some people who would say that everything that happened to me was my fault, and I should have arrived at the airport earlier to schedule time to be humiliated, and I should have just submitted to having my body radiated or microwaved or whatever instead of exercising my barely existent freedom of choice because I should have anticipated the TSA agents would be annoyed by the fact that I want to travel.

Call me crazy, but I feel like this is blaming the victim, and it sets a dystopian precedent. How about instead of making humiliation, bullying and sexual assault a normal part of travel, we just get rid of the TSA since they’re completely ineffective at preventing terrorism anyway.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

My Life Stories (in chronological order)
Police Brutality
America is not the good guy

Tales From My Life: The Time I Worked As An Apple Picker

Picture of me standing in an apple orchard in New Zealand. I'm wearing a floppy hat, dirty T-shirt and jeans. In the distance behind the orchard are rolling hills.

I arrive at an apple orchard at 6:30am Monday through Saturday. My body hurts even though (or possibly because) I get 10-12 hours of sleep a night. I have to. I can’t stay awake because I’m always so exhausted from work the previous day. I used to start work at 7:00am, but my work crew and I agreed it would be best to get to work thirty minutes earlier so we could work thirty minutes less under the hot sun. So it’s cool and there’s dew on the ground when I get out of the van I pay $5 a week to ride to work in.

I put my backpack full of water bottles and snacks next to a row of apple trees. Then I slather SPF 30 suntan lotion on my face, arms, and legs. I put sports tape around my thumbs and pointer fingers to cover the dirty scars around my cuticles where branches have gouged them. I put on a big, floppy hiking hat, and I start picking excess apples off of my row of trees and throwing them on the ground.

Apple trees are strange trees. Some of the branches hang like octopus arms, and some grow at crooked Tetris angles up, down, left, right. Sometimes when I’m weaving my way through them I pretend like I’m a Shaolin martial arts master, and I make chopping and blocking motions with my arms to move them aside. I don’t get too into it though because I need to conserve my energy. Sometimes I pretend I’m a treasure hunter digging through an impenetrable wall of branches looking for treasure…but I’ve never found any treasure. So far all I’ve found is apples… and pain.

Apples grow on the branches in clusters sort of like grapes. Clusters sizes range from 2 to 20. Each tree has hundreds of clusters. My goal is to pick the apples out of those clusters until each cluster contains one or two apples and those clusters are spaced far enough apart to give the remaining apples room to grow. For reasons nobody has explained to me, different apple trees require different sizes of clusters.  Also, the tops of the trees need to be picked thinner than the bottoms of the trees; that’s to prevent the heavy apples from breaking the budding branches.

The whole reason apple trees are thinned is because the remaining apples on the tree will get bigger and juicier. Small apples taste bad, and consumers want big, pretty apples anyway. So the trees have to get thinned, and this job can’t be automated. It has to be done by human hands. Unfortunately for the farmers, nobody wants to do this job, because it’s really quite terrible. This is how terrible it is. Child protective service would take away your children if you made your children do a week’s worth of apple thinning for breaking one of your rules. It’s bad enough to be child abuse, but it’s worse than that because it breaks full-grown men and women.

Apple thinning doesn’t require any heavy lifting (though apple picking does), but neither does cross-country jogging. Apple thinning is a physical, intellectual and emotional endurance contest. Before you even touch an apple tree you have to study it like an artist reassessing a work of art. You identify the flaws in the art, decide on a plan of action and execute your plan. Then you repeat that process all day for nine hours. Playing your favorite video game for nine hours a day every day would be torturous. Picking apples is like playing a boxing game on a Nintendo Wee all day, every day… in the hot sun.

When you walk up to the tree and start snapping off all the excess apples with your thumb and forefinger you have to navigate your way around the branches (like a Shaolin Monk). This requires bending over, reaching overhead and getting on your knees. You always have to carry a big, shiny aluminum (or a cast iron) ladder with you, because after you’ve picked all the apples from one side of the tree that you can reach standing on the ground you climb up the ladder and get the apples on top of the tree. When you’re on top of your ladder you can see out all over the orchard district. It’s surreal up there. All you see are rows of green trees all the way to the horizon. Hobbit hills and windmills are the only other thing between you and the big blue, blazing sky.  Each orchard is surrounded by a thick line of coniferous trees cut to look like giant hedges. They keep the wind from blowing through the orchard and making the apples smack together and bruise. So there’s never more than a light breeze on the ground, but sometimes you’ll find a cool breeze when you climb to the top of your ladder. Feeling that breeze and looking out over a sea of parallel green waves you feel like you’re outside of the world. It’s a unique experience that I’m glad I’ve had.

 

But the serenity is spoiled by the fact that you have to thin a straight row of 200 trees in 9 hours in the hot sun while your body is undernourished because you’re barely paid more than minimum wage and can only afford to buy processed food. Even with a healthy diet, repeating the same yoga stretches for 9 hours per day every day will overstrain and hurt your muscles. You certainly wouldn’t want to do 9 hours of ladder yoga in the blazing hot sun. If you attempted that iron-yoga challenge your body would need more than ten minutes of rest in the morning, a thirty-minute break for lunch and another ten-minute break in the afternoon, but that’s all the breaks apple thinners and pickers get. Most apple thinners even cut that short because they’re so desperate to pick more apples and make even slightly more than minimum wage.

Nobody stands behind you and watches you all day. So you can take as many breaks from your ladder yoga as you want, but you have to weigh the value of listening to your body and taking a break against the fact that you have no money, and you get paid by how many trees you thin. So if you push yourself beyond your breaking point and sustain that level of exertion for three to six weeks then you can make enough money to live off of for two months until apple picking starts. If you can’t maintain that pace you’ll be fired anyway.

You don’t want to get fired because you need to eat, and you don’t want to be homeless. Plus, if you impress your boss then in two months’ time you can come back and do the same job over again, except instead of ripping off tiny apples and tossing them carelessly on the ground you pick the full-grown apples and place them delicately in a huge bucket hanging across your chest. Once your bucket is back-breakingly full you climb down your ladder, walk to a plastic bin somewhere down your row, kneel down and pull two strings on either side of your chest bucket, which opens the bottom of the bucket letting the apples tumble out into the plastic bin (just like cherry picking). Then you stand back up and go fill your bucket again for 9 hours in the hot sun. You can make better money apple picking than you can apple thinning. So you definitely don’t want to miss that.

Apple thinning and apple picking would only be mildly excruciating if it weren’t for the ladder. Modern, aluminum ladders are light (as far as 8-foot tall ladders go), but I shudder at the thought of somebody’s grandparents and great-grandparents doing these jobs with iron and wooden ladders. If you’re having a hard time imagining what that would be like, put an A-frame ladder in your backyard next Saturday, and make a goal out of picking up that ladder 200 times at regular intervals over 9 hours and moving it to another part of your backyard and climbing to the top and doing yoga… in the hot sun. Your back will hate you for it…forever, possibly. If you carry stress balls with you the entire 9 hours and squeeze them constantly then by the end of the day your hands will swell and keep you awake at night throbbing in pain, and you’ll have a good idea of what the people who pick the apples in your kitchen go through to survive.

If you do anything outside all day, inevitably you’ll get sunburned. You could cover up when apple thinning, but the more you cover up the hotter and heavier you’ll be. For men, it’s best to wear light shoes and shorts. I’ve seen female apple thinners wearing nothing but bikinis. One of the perks of the job. Another perk of apple thinning is that you can smoke while you work. That perk is undermined by the fact that, if your orchard has a bathroom at all, it’s too far away to go to. You could lose five or eight dollars worth of working time just by walking all the way to the bathroom and back once. So wash the apples you buy from the store. There’s a good chance they were fondled by calloused, burnt, scratched, suntan lotion-slathered, pee-splattered hands.  Most of the apples sold at big grocery stores were also sprayed multiple times with pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals you’ve never heard of through the course of their lives.

When you thin or pick apples the dust from the dried poisons rubs off onto your palms until they’re black. It gets into your scratches, it falls in your eyes. You breathe it in. It rubs off of your fingers onto your sandwich at lunch and onto your hand-rolled cigarettes. The farmer assures you it’s harmless poison, but you know you’re going to die of cancer now someday. So you don’t feel as bad about smoking anymore. One of the perks of the job.

Picture of a man's dirt-covered hand, holding a half-eaten sandwich

You have to find good things to think of when apple thinning. You have to think of something for 9 hours. Something has to keep your body moving forward repeating an action that every muscle in your body and every ounce of common sense is telling you to stop. Of course, what keeps you moving is that you’ve got no place else to go, and if you can’t endure this Chinese torture method then you die of starvation.

So you pick and pick and pick and pick and pick. You try not to think about how mind-numbingly boring it is to just pick pick pick pick all day long. But it’s hard not to think about it when it’s all you do, and there’s never any change in the routine. Every tree looks more or less the same, and after you’ve done enough trees you’ve seen all the variations of cluster sizes and locations. Eventually, it all blurs into one long, timeless moment. The seconds pass like glaciers. Anytime you look to your left or your right all you see are identical rows of apples. There’s no goal you can work towards. There are no checkpoints you can reach where you get to do something different. There’s just no end in sight. It’s pushing a boulder up a hill all day just to push it back up after you finish. But instead of climbing a hill, you climb a ladder, and instead of a big boulder, it’s little apples. The same little apples everywhere. When you close your eyes you see apples. When you dream, you dream about a wall of apples falling on top of you. Sometimes you want to just run the orchard maniacally shouting, “APPLES!… APPLES! APPLES!” Sometimes you want to ball up into a fetal position against a tree trunk and mumble, “applesapplesapples.”

It helps if you listen to music. I shudder to think of somebody’s grandparents and great-grandparents apple thinning with no music or aluminum ladders. Even if you listen to music you end up listening to the same songs over and over again until you hate them. I’ll never be able to listen to Pink Floyd again. The apple orchard took that from me. Now I find it helps to listen to techno music, because it’s fast, and there aren’t idiotic words pounding in your skull all day. I also like listening to foreign music, because I can’t understand the words, and that helps me zone out. A Slovenian I work with gave me some music, and I’ve been listening to Oda Gudeki by MI2 lately. It makes me smile, and I’m going to be sad when I’ve listened to it so many times I hate it.

Sometimes I sing the chorus of “The Lemon Tree” song except I change the lyrics to “apple trees” instead of “lemon tree.” My taste in music would drive some people insane if they had to listen to it all day, as their’s would me. You have to figure out what works for you and hope you have that kind of music available. One thing is for sure, if you listen to slow, sad music it will slow you down and sap your will to go on.

Sometimes you can’t stand the music anymore and you just have to turn it off and try to enjoy the absolute silence of the apple field. Sometimes your music player breaks or runs out of batteries or doesn’t exist and you have to endure nine hours of almost total silence every day without the benefit of music to help you forget that you exist. Then you’re alone with your thoughts. It’s like being in solitary confinement, except you’re forced to do excruciating yoga outside as you wrestle with your thoughts. It can be quite revelatory, and if you’ve got any fight in you, fighting apple trees will wear it out of you. Apple thinning would be a good way to get the fight out of juvenile delinquents. Well, that or it’ll teach them that hard work only pays barely enough to survive and selling drugs is a lot easier and more lucrative. And if you get caught selling drugs and go to jail, at least you won’t have to work in an apple orchard. So… life could be worse.

It was inevitable that some apple thinner out there has and will use drugs at work to speed them up or help them forget where they are, and inevitably somebody is going to fall off their ladder, especially when it’s cold, windy and/or rainy. Of course, the farmer who owns the orchards will do as little as possible to attend to their workers’ medical needs. After all, if farmers cared about their workers’ health then they wouldn’t work them past the limits of human endurance to begin with.

Even if you have a strong mind and good music, everybody breaks a little eventually. You can’t keep up 9 hours of constant mind-numbing yoga torture forever. Every once a while you have to just sit down (even if it’s not break time yet) and curse your life, the apples, the farmer, God and yourself for getting you into this fuck-awful situation.

Gif of Stewie from the TV series, "The Family Guy," wearing a straitjacket in a padded room. He is shaking and blinking with unfocused eyes

Sometimes you work for an ignorant country farmer who has been doing backbreaking work all his life and owns a giant country home surrounded by orchards full of disposable slaves making him richer. The only thing standing between the farmer and more money is the physical and mental limitations and pay expectations of his workers. So some farmers pay their workers less money per tree than is fair. Some farmers degrade and harass underperforming workers, then fire them after they’re burnt out so he can bring in a fresh crop of (hopefully more desperate) workers who are willing to put up with lower pay and worse treatment. Sometimes you end up working for farmers who smile to your face and bring you water and even buy you a little beer and thank you for sacrificing your body, mind, and the irreplaceable moments of your life to make him richer while you’re spending the prime of your life in a death race scraping by with one foot in the gutter. Sometimes you get lucky like that.

A wiser man than myself once said, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Another man once said, “Life doesn’t suck because you’re unlucky. Life sucks because you’re a dumbass.” (paraphrased) There’s a lot of truth to both of those statements. I work with an ex-con who can’t get a “real” job because of his criminal record. Some people would say he’s sleeping in the bed he made. I can recognize without being told that I, myself, am working in an apple field because I screwed up. I took some joy in the first two weeks of pain by telling myself I deserved to be there, that I was paying penance for screwing up. So don’t feel any sympathy for me or my ex-con friend. But feel sympathy for the billions of other people in the world who’s are spending their lives in orchards, fields, kitchens, warehouses, factories, and offices even though they never screwed up. They’ve been doing what they were supposed to: working. Working at degrading, inhumane jobs and doing a great job of it. They just don’t get to keep enough of the profits from their work to achieve stability in their lives because their bosses (the job creators) wants a bigger house and longer vacations.

More than sympathy for the oppressed, we should all feel ashamed every time we walk into the fruits and vegetable section of our local grocery stores, because everything you see there has blood on it, literally and figuratively.  Apparently, that’s not important enough to motivate us to demand better pay, shorter work hours and more profit-sharing for workers. It should also motivate us to reassess our standard business practices to identify and rectify the flaws that cause all business owners to feel pressured to pay their workers as little as possible to make ends meet. The call to action isn’t to throw rotten apples at orchard owners. The call to action is to replace our economy with a more sustainable, more humane model.

 

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll also like these:

My Life Stories (in chronological order)
The Life of the Poor

How I Became A Christian And Then Lost My Faith

I was born and raised in the Bible Belt, specifically, Texas. In my community, it was taken for granted the Bible is the word of God. From the earliest age, I remember going to church and saying this prayer before bedtime, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”

 

Map of America with the Bible Belt outlined, which is basically the entire South East quarter of America from Texas to Florida

 

Other than going to church, buying Christian themed decorations and quoting a few select Bible verses, nobody in my community lived like Jesus or the Apostles. They lived like modern Americans, and I naturally adopted their lukewarm approach to Christianity as well. I tried not to lie, steal, lust, hate, miss church or masturbate, and I felt profoundly guilty when I committed these sins. Sometimes I prayed and put a few dollars in the offering plate at church. Outside of Sunday school, I never read the Bible.

My real life revolved around going to school, trying to make friends, figuring out life and coping with the drama that the world throws at you. I had a very rocky childhood, and my life started sliding out of control before I got to high school. I started hanging out with the rejects, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, stealing, committing petty crimes, running from the cops, and listening to heavy metal music.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I did all of those self-destructive things because I was looking for meaningful connections to life. I hung out with the rejects because they accepted me without judgment. I poisoned my body because that was the only other thing outside of my friends that made me feel alive. I binge-listened to angry musicians because they understood my emptiness and pain.

By my sophomore year, I was basically never sober. The farther from sobriety I ran, the more I lost touch with reality. I lived in a dreamland. Sometimes I danced through Technicolor flower fields, but mostly I wandered in the dark looking for a lighted path that would take me back to the happiness and wholeness I felt as a child.

As my life spiraled downward, I had two near-death experiences on drugs and almost got arrested when a house I was doing hallucinogens at got raided by the police. Before things could get worse, my mother kicked me out of her house, and I had to move from Paris, TX, to my father’s house, eight hours away in Jourdanton, TX. The only Bible verse I ever heard my father quote was, “Spare the rod; spoil the child.”

Having lost all my friends and all meaningful connections in my life, my soul drifted in free fall. I felt like I was in outer space. I didn’t have anywhere to go, and I didn’t want to spend time with my father. So I stayed in my room and listened to songs that reminded me of my friends. The only book in my room was a copy of Nave’s Topical Bible, which listed Bible verses by topic. Having a lot of anger at God and nothing else to do, I read what God had to say about love, hate, and forgiveness.

I didn’t understand the context of any of the passages or the passages themselves, but they fascinated me. There was a murky message of love and salvation, both of which I needed badly. These thoughts percolated in my brain for months until I had the opportunity to go back to Paris and see my friends. We got together like old times and did drugs. It was refreshing but painfully nostalgic.

At the end of the night, everyone else went to sleep, and I stayed up for several more hours daydreaming intoxicated visions. That night I had a vision of God. His body was in the shape of a human but made of glowing love. He looked like one of the aliens in the movie, “Cocoon.”

 

Image of an alien from the movie, "Cocoon," which looks like a blank, feature-less human figure

 

We had a long conversation in which He told me I was loved and accepted. Everything is fine, and everything is going to work out. Life is important, and we all have something important to do with our lives. I could still fulfill the meaning of life. I just have to give up my hedonistic ways. So the next morning I threw away my cigarettes and quit all my poisons cold turkey.

I made up my mind that it was time to get serious about God. So I started going to church regularly, and I got a real Bible. I read the New Testament cover to cover several times. In 1997 I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior at a Billy Graham convention in San Antonio. A few months later I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church in Charlotte, TX.

I took my faith as serious as life and death. Everyone who knew me my senior year of high school knew that I was a serious Christian. I went to church twice a week, read my Bible, prayed to Jesus, invited the Holy Spirit to guide me and behaved impeccably moral even when no one was watching.

By the time I graduated high school I was convinced I should become a preacher. So I scheduled a meeting with the pastor who had baptized me, Brother Sewell. We met at a Dairy Queen and talked for about an hour. In the end, he told me that if there’s anything else I could imagine being happier doing than preaching, then I should do that. Reluctantly, I admitted, I would be happier teaching art or being a comic book artist than standing in front of a crowd, blowing people’s minds while begging for money once a week. So Brother Sewell told me to become what I wanted to become most.

I wasn’t a good (or rich) enough artist to go to art school, and I wanted to work in a profession that helped people directly anyway. So I decided not to go to seminary school and preach in a church. I would get a day job as a social worker helping the neediest of the neediest. In my free time, I would write Christian books and comics.

So after I graduated high school, I enrolled at the University of Mary~Hardin Baylor in Belton, Tx and majored in social work. I picked that school because it’s a Christian university with a reputation for being unapologetically serious about Jesus Christ. Every event on campus opened with a prayer, and every student had to attend mandatory church services. There were always student-led Bible studies going on somewhere on campus. Every student had to take at least one semester in religious studies.

I chose to take the hardest course they offered, a year-long, in-depth survey of The Torah. I wanted to know every detail about how my religion came into existence, and The Torah was so boring and confusing, I figured this was my best shot at understanding it. I felt confident that if I could master the basics of Christianity then I could write the proof to end all proofs that would convince any Atheist that the Bible was the true word of God.

To my delight, my professor turned out to be a genius named Dr. Stephen Von Wyrick. He spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin fluently, and he spent his summers in Israel excavating religious ruins. The textbooks he taught from weren’t Christian propaganda. They were gigantic, rigorous, boring history books. Dr. Von Wyrick knew as much as a human being could know about the historical context of The Torah.

He also believed wholeheartedly in the divinity of the entire Bible. So I’m sure he would be appalled by the fact that, more than anyone else, he was responsible for me losing my faith. He took my class through the Torah line by line and explained everything that was happening. He showed how to tell when different authors had written different passages within the same book. He explained how miracles could often be attributed to naturally occurring events. He pointed out where the authors had copied stories from other religions. The two most important things he taught me how the Jewish theocracy and culture operated at the time. They were both barbaric and superstitious.

 

"If this thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young lady, then they shall bring out the young lady to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones." Deuteronomy 22:20-21

 

Once I actually read the Torah cover to cover, I looked back and realized I didn’t just read a story about God’s love and salvation. The original covenant God had with mankind, was for humans to slaughter animals on altars so God could bask in their blood. In return, God would kill the enemies of the Jewish state. The laws God commanded His people to follow were barbaric or trivial. The whole story was so chaotically thrown together, there was no hope of reconciling all its contradictions, scientific inaccuracies, mysticism and psychotic moral codes.

Making sense of the Bible is even more difficult when you try connecting the Old Testament and the New Testament. Why does a perfect, all knowing, all loving God, write a book that approves of slavery and war? Then He changes his mind and writes a book that approves of slavery and love (most of the time)? But after saving everyone from having to please God with blood, now you have to please God by believing in His son, who is somehow also God at the same time, and maybe one other person/thing called the Holy Ghost.

I found a million holes in the Bible, and I couldn’t ignore them. They weren’t making me doubt my faith yet because I believed the answers existed; I just had to find them. So I asked dozens of highly educated Christians to explain the gaping holes I’d found in Christianity. Without exception, every single person told me to, “Just have faith.” They couldn’t explain any of the problems and didn’t want to. This infuriated me because if we didn’t understand the Bible, that meant we didn’t understand what we believed in. So when we witnessed to non-believers, we were telling them, “I don’t know what I believe in, but you have to believe it too.”

The further I looked for answers, the more I found myself piecing together an explanation of why the Bible is just a standard, archaic mythology produced by a primitive culture and not the word of God. This scared me to the depth of my soul. I was afraid God would send me to Hell for entertaining those thoughts, let alone believing them.

The more I dove back into the Bible to find the clues I’d missed, the more mythology I found. It was like watching a train wreck. I watched it until I couldn’t take it anymore. I shut my Bible one last time and let out a huge defeated sigh as I accepted the undeniable truth staring me in the face: Christianity is mythology, and I would never find salvation in it. Even then, it took me over a year to admit out loud I’d lost my faith.

After leaving the church I didn’t think of myself as an Atheist. All I knew was that I was lost. If I had to label myself at the time, I would have called myself an Existentialist, or simply a searcher. Search I did. As depressed and disconnected as I felt, I wasn’t suicidal.  I didn’t know what life was for, but I knew a lot of trouble went into creating it, and I believed life was some kind of opportunity with some kind of potential.

Desperate for any glimmer of direction, I read most of the other religious books the world follows. Without exception, I found the same patterns of inconsistencies, incoherencies, inaccuracies, absurdities and culturally relative morals I’d found in the Bible.

Like the Bible, they all also contained useful information. You could even find patterns in some of their wisdom that different religions agreed on. I didn’t take this as evidence that God had a hand in every book, but rather that some morals are self-evident. If you were going to make your own religion, probably the first rule you’d pick is, “Don’t go around killing people.”

Simply proving mythological gods don’t exist, doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist.  Since I know that I don’t know the first thing about the universe, I’m not qualified to state emphatically that there is no God. The ingeniously elegant patterns in nature give me a reason to suspect a higher force could have played a hand in creating the universe, but that force seems to have left us on our own to sink or swim.

I would like a more cut and dried answer to life’s questions, but the evidence seems to point to the conclusion that we’re here, and our lives are our responsibility to figure out using the tools we’ve been given. I’ve been trying to do that as best I can. I’m constantly updating my conclusions, which you can find listed below and on my Table of Contents:

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

The Bible is mythology
Christianity is Harmful to Society
Preaching, witnessing and arguing with Christians
Christian Culture
My Tweets About Religion

 


My Life Stories: My UFO Story

Iconic blurry photo of a disk-shaped UFO hovering over pine tries, above the words, "I WANT TO BELIEVE"

In the year 1999, I drove from San Marcos, TX to Sugar Land, TX to meet my girlfriend’s family. She had already made the trip a few days earlier, but I couldn’t go with her because I had to work. After my shift ended, I drove to Sugar Land alone, and I decided to take a more scenic route through the country instead of a major highway.

Around 11pm, I was driving down a  two-lane country road, about an hour outside of Sugar Land. There were no buildings or street lights in any direction, nor were there very many cars on the road. The sky was moonless, not that I would have been able to see it because of the low cloud ceiling. I kept glancing upward, because… well, I really like clouds, and it’s not very often you get to see a low cloud ceiling blanketing the sky in Texas. Usually, mountain-sized clouds lumber across the gigantic, open skyline, high in the atmosphere.

That’s when I noticed something even more out of place. I kept seeing lights flash from the clouds above the field to my left. I couldn’t see any aircraft, but lights glowed through the clouds, as if something bright was flying inside them, obscured from view. It couldn’t have been an airplane because I was keeping up with it driving 50 miles per hour. At first, I assumed it was a helicopter, but when I looked closer, I realized there were nine lights, each a perfect circle. Six were arranged in a ring that rotated clockwise. In the middle, the other three lights rotated counterclockwise in a perfect circle. Every once and a while the lights would change directions in unison. Then the outer ring of lights would rotate counterclockwise and the inner ring would spin clockwise.

I strained my eyes to see the source of the lights, but it never came out of the clouds. I started to get the feeling the source of the light was either invisible, or it was being projected upwards from the ground like a spotlight, but the lights were traveling over corn fields and patches of trees. I followed the unidentified flying objects for at least half an hour, constantly almost crashing as I looked up instead of at the road. They stayed steady at fifty miles per hour the whole time. I kept waiting for them to suddenly accelerate and shoot out of sight, but they never did. The show ended when they veered North and moved away over farmlands where I had no road to chase them.

When I got to my girlfriend’s house, all I could talk about was the UFO I saw. She was intrigued for a minute, but she didn’t take it seriously and got bored with my ranting quickly. I was bursting with excitement, but I had nowhere to direct it. I didn’t have any video since smartphones didn’t exist at the time. I wanted to tell the whole world about my experience, but since I couldn’t prove what had happened, there was no one I could convince.

A few months later, I joined the U.S. Air Force. After completing basic training in San Antonio, Texas and military trade school in Biloxi, Mississippi, I got stationed at Aviano, Italy, which has had its own share of UFO sightings. Some Italians believe there’s an underground bunker underneath the base that contains a crashed UFO and the body of at least one alien.

The base did belong to the Nazis during WWII, who dug miles of tunnels underneath it, but the American forces supposedly collapsed them all so enemies couldn’t use them to sneak behind the perimeter. So I suppose there could be large spaces under there nobody knows about, but I had a top-secret security clearance, and my job took me to every building. I never heard or saw anything to suggest Aviano has a UFO or aliens.

One Friday after work, I drove a car full of friends North across the Italian/Austrian border to the city of Graz to check out the nightlife. By the time we neared Graz, it was already dark, and there was a low cloud ceiling, which is very common in Austria. Not far from town, I saw the exact same pattern of lights shining down through the clouds, spinning in concentric circles.

My eyes bulged, and I shouted for everyone to stick their heads out the windows. They all got excited when they saw the lights too. I told them we were going to follow the UFO as far as we could, and they all agreed, not that I had asked. The chase didn’t last long, as we caught up to them hovering above a very fancy McDonald’s restaurant, which had a spotlight on the roof projecting the circles across the bottom of the clouds.

All my friends mocked me abusively… as if they didn’t almost pee their pants when they first saw the “UFO” themselves. I deserved it though, and I continued to beat myself up for years afterward. The worst part wasn’t the shame. I want to believe there are alien spaceships in our skies. For a few years, I lived in a reality where that was a confirmed fact, but that magical time of my life ended in a McDonald’s parking lot in Austria.

My story does teach something novel about our world though. If you’ll remember, the lights I saw in Texas were traveling at fifty miles per hour for half an hour, in the middle of nowhere. The only explanation is that some red necks put a spotlight in the back of their truck and went driving through the countryside freaking out motorists like myself. That’s fucking hilarious, and it’s almost as bizarre as alien spaceships. I have to wonder how many other UFO sightings were caused by humans behaving absurdly and probably drunk.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

Conspiracy Theories and Theorists
My Life Stories (in chronological order)

 


My Life Stories: The Time I Got HIV

In 2005 I was a Senior Airman (rank E-4) in the U.S. Air Force. My job title was 3C0X1, aka Communications Computer Systems Operator, aka all-purpose computer nerd. I was stationed at Sembach Air Base, which is located in Southwest Germany, about a twenty minute drive from both Ramstein Air Base and the Army’s Landstuhl Medical Center.

Picture of me wearing a military cold-weather uniform in the snow behind my office in Sembach Germany. In the distance are pine trees and a weather radar

Since Ramstein is the largest Air Force base in Europe, and Landstuhl is the largest military hospital outside the continental United States, this is where the military sends all the wounded soldiers from the Middle East. Several times a year, Sembach would have a blood drive due to the high volume of blood needed for all the incoming wounded soldiers. I love the idea of giving blood, but every time I do, my blood spews out so fast I get light-headed, nauseous and almost pass out. They always have to elevate my head and put a cold pack on my neck, which is pretty embarrassing. However, that first world problem pales in comparison to soldiers needing emergency transfusions. So I did my duty and opened my veins for my brothers and sisters.

Another reason I’m hesitant to give blood is because I had hepatitis when I was four years old. It wasn’t sexually transmitted, and I recovered from it. Multiple blood tests have shown it’s not in my system anymore. I couldn’t have enlisted if it was, but I always worried my blood might be dirty. However, this didn’t stop me from giving blood, because they test every donation for diseases. So if there was anything there, they’d catch it.

Since the military had already tested and inoculated me for everything you can be tested and inoculated for, I didn’t give my blood donation a second thought until a few weeks later when I stopped by the base post office to check my mail on my lunch break. That day I received an official letter from the military, which I had to sign for. This was highly unusual. So my heart rate was a little elevated when I opened the letter. My mind raced, trying to guess what I may have gotten in trouble for.

The news was much worse than I imagined. To my horror, the letter said my recent blood donation had tested positive for HIV, and I needed to contact the medical squadron as soon as possible to have another test done to confirm the results. By the time I finished reading the document, my head was spinning and darkness filled my peripheral vision.

I went back to work and tried to go through the rest of my day acting like nothing was wrong, but my head felt like a black hole, as if everything good had been sucked out of my life, leaving an existential vacuum in its place. Nothing mattered anymore. I was no longer working towards retirement. All of my hopes and dreams were unreachable. There was nothing left for me to do but wait to die… and give the bad news to my family, friends and most recent sexual partners.

Unable to face reality, I let a week pass without contacting the medical squadron. I walked through each day in a daze, watching what happened to me from a thousand miles away. I made a list of my sexual partners, which wasn’t long. I decided who the most likely culprit to give me this horrible disease was, a promiscuous Air Force girl from my previous base. I obsessed over who else I may have accidentally infected by having any kind of physical contact with, which I knew wasn’t possible, but my mind was stuck in panic mode.

I’d already had my last will and testament drawn up by a military lawyer a year earlier. So I didn’t have to worry about that, but I spent dozens of hours plotting my final words and trying to decide what to do with the few years I had left. As I ate tasteless food or carried on pointless small talk with my coworkers, I thought about my regrets and everything I wouldn’t get to do in the future. I didn’t try bargaining with God, because that would have been pointless. I was already a dead man walking. All I could do was make the most of my fleeting time and try to cry as little as possible. Mostly I thought about those poor souls I’d infected and needed to hurry up and pass on the tragic news to.

I didn’t want to tell anyone my secret until I knew for sure I had HIV. Lucky for them, even though I was dragging my feet, the Air Force wasn’t. A female nurse called me at work and asked if I’d received an official letter recently. I said, “Yes.” The nurse asked me what it was about, and I replied I’d rather not say out loud. I knew my boss, whose office sat caddy-corner from my desk, eavesdropped on my conversations. The nurse asked me to say the first letter of the pertinent word, and I said, “H.” After confirming she didn’t need to break the bad news to me herself, she scheduled an appointment at Ramstein a few days later for me to give more blood for further testing.

On the day of the test I told my boss I had to go to Ramstein for a routine medical checkup. Twenty minutes later I sulked into the medical clinic. As a male nurse quietly drew my blood, I asked how accurate the initial test was. He looked me in the eyes and said in a meaningful tone of voice, “Ninety-seven percent.”

I went home that night and got drunk, as I’d done every night for the past week. Even with all the lights in my apartment on, everything looked dark. It was like living in the Twilight Zone, where the rules of the universe were different for me, and not in a good way. The only ray of hope my mind could latch onto was that there had been a mistake, but I couldn’t take a three percent chance of a fluke happening seriously.  I’d have better odds of winning the lottery.

Fast forward several more months of bleakness, despair and blood tests. As fate would have it, I did win the Twilight Zone lottery. A ninety-seven percent accurate HIV test means three percent of the people who take it, win an existential nightmare that ends with them receiving a new lease on life. I’ve had more STD tests since then, and they all confirm I never had HIV. Plus, all of my sexual partners from that time are healthy and alive.

Part of my brain tells me I should be mad at the world for giving me a false death sentence, but in the end, it was a blessing in disguise. I almost feel bad for anyone who hasn’t had to go through that. It’s so easy to take life for granted and let the years slip by without really thinking about what’s important or how you should spend what little time you have on Earth. I basically got my mid-life crisis out of the way at the age of 25.

People told me I was crazy when I immigrated to New Zealand at the age of 29 despite having never visited the country. In my mind, the risk of not experiencing life to its fullest outweighed anything that could possibly go wrong. I only spent three years in New Zealand, and during that time a lot of things did go wrong, but experience has taught me, you’re not having an adventure if everything goes right. And as a wiser man than myself once said, “The summer would not be so sweet, were it not for the winter.” When bad things happen to me, and those two pieces of wisdom don’t put things into perspective, I can always remind myself, at least I don’t have AIDS.

The other thing I took away from this experience is that it’s important to leave something good behind when you inevitably die. I don’t have any money to shower the poor with, but the one thing I do have is wisdom gained through often unpleasant experiences that I don’t want to be in vain. This is a big part of why I’m in such a mad dash to write as much as I can regardless of how little it pays. I hope my blog and books inspire, enlighten and entertain you. That’s all I need to take to my grave.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

My Goals
My Life Stories (in chronological order)
My Art

My Life Stories: The “Good Porn” Story

When I was twenty years old I worked for a company that did short-run manual labor contracts like brush clearing, pressure washing and picking up trash on the side of the road. The job paid $50 per day, cash under the table. Almost all the workers were either felons with outstanding warrants or illegal immigrants because those were the only people who would do the disgusting, dangerous, monotonous, back-breaking work we did for so little money. I was there because my brothers were, and it was better than my last job washing dishes at Bennigans.

 

 

We did a lot of work on long, lonely stretches of Texas country roads and found a lot of strange things motorists had thrown out their windows. Mostly we found old, sun-scorched, water-stained trucker porn magazines. These were all nasty, skanky, degrading, depressing smut rags that made Hustler look like Vanity Fair. The kind of magazines that published pictures of homeless guys dressed as Santa gangbanging a haggard woman with missing teeth. Until I worked at this job I didn’t even realize magazines like that existed.

In case you’re wondering, and you need it spelled out, the reason there’s so much trucker porn on the side of the road is because truckers masturbate to it while they’re driving, and when they’re bored with a magazine, they just throw it out the window.

Half the people who worked for that company either lived or partied at my apartment. So when members of our work crews would find these magazines, they’d keep them and put them in the magazine racks in my/our bathrooms. The house also had a subscription to Playboy and Maxim. So we had a range of toilet reading material, but mostly there was just old, cover-less, sun-dried, wrinkled trucker smut.

One day I was sitting on the toilet flipping through the magazines looking for a Playboy with an article I hadn’t read yet, but all I could find was soul-crushing trucker smut. Fed up, I threw away all of the road porn so all that was left was the classy stuff.

A few days later me, my two brothers, and four or five other guys from our crew came home and started our nightly ritual of drinking to congratulate ourselves for pushing the limits of human endurance at work that day and to forget how hopeless our lives were. A few beers into the evening someone shouted from one of the bathrooms, “HEY! WHERE’D ALL THE GOOD PORN GO!?!” I chuckled to myself nonchalantly, but literally everyone else in the house jumped up in a panic and ran to the bathrooms shouting, “What!? Is the good porn missing?” “Hey, where’d all the good porn go!?” “Who the fuck took all the good porn!?”

Casually, I remarked, “You mean all that trucker porn? Man, I threw that nasty stuff out.”

Then pandemonium erupted. Everyone was furious. They were seriously offended. It got tense, and for a second I feared for my safety.

 

Gif of an angry mob carrying torches

 

I tried to explain that I was doing us a favor by getting rid of all the riff-raff, but everyone responded that they hated the vanilla classy stuff. It was like looking at a photograph of a fruit bowl to them. They needed something far, far, far more raw and primal to feel alive.

I looked at my roommates and coworkers with new eyes that day. I didn’t want to know what depraved life experiences made them feel a connection with gutter skank erotica, and it frightened me that I was the only one in the room (or on the highway) who enjoyed glamour porn.

A few months later the lease on our apartment ran out, and we all went our separate ways. I went on to become a computer help desk technician and network administrator. I’ve found porn on many, many people’s computers, and I have never once found a folder full of glamour porn. Every jpg. and video file has been self-loathing degradation smut. I challenge you to go into any sex store and look at their magazine and video selections. Most of it is far from classy.

I hate to burst your bubble, but most of the men you know are turned on by scarier stuff than you’d be comfortable knowing. Statistically speaking, trucker smut is the good porn.

 

fry meme

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

My Life Stories (in chronological order)
Sex positions and techniques
General Sex Advice
Dating Advice
Relationship Advice
Philosophy of Sexuality
Friendship
My Tweets About Romance

My Life Stories: My Ghost Story

 

Cartoon Gif of a ghost wearing a bed sheet, waving its arms spookily

I don’t believe in ghosts because I haven’t seen rigorous scientific proof that they exist. However, I don’t believe they don’t exist. I’m agnostic on the topic. If anyone ever produces evidence that passes rigorous, repeatable double-blind studies that prove ghosts are real, I’ll pretty much accept it, but that hasn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t be too surprised if scientists do one day discover something that we would call ghosts though. Humans know as much about the universe as ants know about global politics. As ignorant as we are, there’s a 100% chance that forces exist in this universe that we’re ignorant of.

The story I’m about to tell you is real, and some people would cite tales like mine as proof positive that ghosts exist, but I’m not one of those people. As convincing as my story may be, the phenomenon I experienced can’t be measured, reproduced or fully explained. Since I can’t fully explain what I experienced, and you can’t verify it, then this story can’t be used as proof of anything.

My story takes place in a creepy, elegant house in Paris, Texas. It was built in 1818 in the style of a Southern Victorian plantation home. It had two floors with a large staircase for the owners and a smaller staircase in the back of the house for the servants. Black slaves must have worked there, which is depressing, but the old woman who lived in that house during America’s civil war took in a wounded Union Soldier and nursed him back to health in the room that became my older brother’s. This woman would have been hung as a traitor if anyone ever found out. So she cut up the soldier’s uniform and hid it by sewing the pieces into a quilt, which has been passed down through the family ever since.

The last tenant of the house before I moved in was a yoga instructor back before yoga was cool. He looked exactly like a red-headed George Carlin and acted like one too. A brilliant and eccentric man, he remodeled the entire house to reflect his personality. The bedrooms had sinks and faucets. In the room that became my bedroom, he’d mounted heavy wooden posts and poles in one corner so he could hang from the monkey bars in contorted angles. He installed a porcelain bathtub with hot and cold running water into the back porch. There were hidden compartments in almost every room and a hidden room underneath the stairs. On the front of the house, he embedded an orange start with a black diamond in it, which was his personal logo, and he named the house, “The Palmer House” and posted a tasteful white wooden sign in the front yard with the house’s name in black beveled letters.

 

An architectural drawing of The Palmer House, with its two stories, wide, covered front porch and double doorsThe man poured his heart, soul, and finances into projecting his personality into his house, and in the end, it took his last breath too. He fell off a ladder while doing repair work and suffered crippling back pains. His doctors told him his condition was irreparable, and the only way he could manage the pain was to be on pain pills the rest of his life. He ended the pain by shooting himself in the mouth with a shotgun underneath the heavy wooden breakfast table mounted to the floor in the alcove where the slaves used to eat.

One way or another he had always planned on dying in that house. He named it after his brother, Palmer, who shot himself in the mouth with a pistol in the room that became my twin brother’s room. The leather recliner he did it in was still there when we moved in. Their mother died of pneumonia in the room that became my mother’s. The bed frame that she died in was also still there because it was built into the floor.

This didn’t spook any of us out. The way we looked at it, people die in houses every day. That doesn’t make those houses cursed. The story of a person’s death is the story of their life. Death stories are life stories. They’re golden threads in the rich tapestry of history. But we didn’t have to get that philosophical. The house was just way too amazing to pass up, tortured spirits of the dead be damned.

I didn’t/don’t believe in ghosts, but I still never got up for a single midnight snack the entire time I lived at The Palmer House. I hoped I’d experience something, but I didn’t expect it, and I never lost sleep out of fear… except for one night.

To understand what happened that night you need to know the layout of the house. It was built almost in a perfect square. All four corners of the second floor were bedrooms. The staircase ran straight up the middle of the house so the whole floor had one square-shaped hallway that wrapped around the staircase. Since both the stairways and the halls were made of old, hardwood, you could always hear where everyone in the house is by the sounds of their footsteps creaking in their path.

I was laying in bed one night around 1am tossing and turning when I heard footsteps creaking up the stairs. That didn’t surprise me because there were three teenage boys living in the house. I assumed I was listening to my older brother trying to sneak in the house without waking my mom up. Since I could hear the footsteps from my room with the door closed, my mom would be able to hear the sound from her equidistant room if she were awake or sleeping lightly. So I stopped rolling and listened to the footsteps slowly creep up the stairs.

I listened to my brother walk about halfway up the stairs and then stop. I assumed he realized how noisy he was being and paused to lay low. So I waited for the creaking to start back up, but the next three steps I heard were on the second floor near my mother’s door, which sat at the opposite end of the hallways that the stairs opened up to, which meant my brother would have had to climb up the railing, which was possible, but I definitely would have heard that.

A few moments later I heard five or six footsteps walk past my door, which was located caddy-corner from my mother’s room, on the opposite side of the house with a staircase hole and railings between them. Then I heard two steps come from another side of the hall. I laid under my covers for what felt like thirty minutes listening to intermittent footsteps walking up and down the stairs and around the hallway, and they always started and stopped absurdly far away from each other.

Gif of a skeleton walking sneakily on its tip-toes

In my panicky, scientific mind I considered every possible explanation for the chaotic spread of echoes, and I ruled out every logical explanation. I did consider just getting up out of bed and investigating, but part of me didn’t want to know the answer. I also considered the fact that if there was something malevolent in the hall, hiding under my blanket wasn’t going to help me in any way. Yet I still chose to just lay there inhaling recycled breath and contemplating my position on the existence of ghosts.

If you’ve got a personal ghost story and would like to share it, feel free to leave it in a comment for the rest of us.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

Conspiracy Theories and Theorists
My Life Stories (in chronological order)

My Life Stories: The Time I Got Shot

When I was thirteen years old, I lived with my two brothers and my father in New Braunfels, TX. Our father was a rageaholic who would scream at us for hours and spank us furiously with his thick, leather belt any time we broke the smallest of rules. As scary as it was living with him, my older brother was ten times worse. He was a bad seed from the day he was born. He literally stole baby bottles from the other toddlers in preschool. He tortured my twin and me emotionally and physically for years without having to worry about getting arrested for child abuse. Even though he was only thirteen months older than us, he was still too big for us to gang up on. Any time we ever did manage to hurt him in a fight, he’d go “Hulkamaniac” and pummel us, impervious to pain. We rarely told on him, because he would just beat us up twice as bad later as punishment.

One Saturday, my older brother and I were sitting in our bedroom while our father was away at work. I was happily devouring the contents of a carton of Whoppers, which was my favorite candy at the time. I was thoroughly enjoying this luxury, not even caring if I ate enough to give me a stomach ache.

Click to view image source

On the other side of the room, my older brother was playing with my Crosman 760 Pumpmaster BB gun. We all had BB guns, but mine was the most powerful. If you pumped it once or twice, you could probably shoot someone and it would bounce off the skin. If you pumped it fifteen times, you could kill a bird twenty yards away.

Click to view image source

He pumped it up seven or eight times and said, “Hey, Travis. Hold up that Whoppers carton, and let me see if I can shoot it out of your hand.”

Obviously, I told him, “No way. You’re going to hit my hand.”

He replied casually, “Let me put it to you this way, either you let me try to shoot it out of your hand, and hope I don’t hit you… or I’m going to beat you up and force you to let me do it anyway.”

Protesting or running wasn’t an option. So I reluctantly held the carton as high and far away from me as I could. I heard the gunfire and felt my hand go flying backward, letting go of the carton of Whoppers and spilling them everywhere.

Several thoughts went through my mind at that point. First, “Of course he shot me in the hand. He definitely did that on purpose.” Second, “I need emergency medical attention.” Third, “We can’t tell our father about this because he’ll give us the worst whooping of our lives, ground us forever and take away our BB guns.”

With these facts in mind, I inspected my hand to see how bad I’d been injured. The BB entered the side of my palm, just below my pinky finger, and I could see a bump under my skin on the top of my hand, just below the middle finger, where the BB had come to rest.

I was relieved to see the steel ball just under the skin because that meant I could cut it out myself by making an incision in the skin without having to dig into the muscle. Then there would be no need for an ambulance, and our father would never have to know what happened. So I went and found a pocket knife that one of us had won at a county fair earlier that year and took it to the bathroom sink, where I attempted to cut the BB out, but the pain was unbearable.

Losing blood and running out of time to fix the situation myself, I put the knife down and tried another approach, which to my surprise, actually worked. I simply pushed the BB out the way it came. With minimal effort, it popped out the side of my hand and rolled down the drain, leaving a blood trail in its path. Relieved, I put a Band-Aid over the bullet hole, wrapped myself in three heavy sleeping bags and laid under my bed for a few hours, shivering from blood loss and shock.

To this day, our father has no idea one of his children shot another one in their bedroom. It took my older brother a long time to feel guilty about what he did, but he grew up eventually, and we’re good friends now.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

My Goals
My Life Stories (in chronological order)
My Art

My Life Stories: The Cow-poline Story

"Necessity is the mother of invention, and so is having too much free time."

When I was nine years old I lived in a trailer house at the end of a mile-long long dirt road. My closest neighbors lived a mile away, and the closest town (population 3,220) was twenty miles away. We had friends in town from school, but our dad couldn’t afford the gas to drive us to see them. So during the summer, pretty much the only faces I saw belonged to either my dad, two brothers, two dogs or two cats. We were so far away from civilization we could pee freely off the front porch of our trailer and set whatever we wanted to on fire without anyone complaining.

The solitude was liberating, but it was also oppressive. The only way to relieve the endless prison-like monotony was to create our own entertainment, which forced me and my brothers to be very creative. We played with stuffed animals and action figures, built elaborate blanket forts and staged fighting tournaments. Our das was a computer teacher, and he would give us reams of dot-matrix continuous printer paper, which we would unfold all the way down the hallway and then draw continuous scenes that looked like a level of Super Mario Brothers. Then we would pretend we were controlling a video game character and run it through the level.

When it wasn’t too hot outside we would take long hikes through the South Texas countryside with our two dogs and two cats. We navigated the wilderness by following old cow paths. The highlight of each month was when the old farmer who owned the cows would drop off a big round hay bale somewhere. If we stumbled upon it before the cows chewed it down we could play king of the hay bale, which was as fun as it was dangerous. The farmer also left salt licks that we would chip pieces off of and snack on, as well as wheat pellets that we would dip in wet cow patties and feed to our dogs.

If you think that’s vile, you’ll be more depressed to know that we also had dried cow patty Frisbee fights. On the most boring days, we would just walk around chopping prickly pear cactus patches to shreds.

Picture of a large prickly pear cactus

One of our favorite activities was to pretend we were characters from the movie, Predator, and we’d run through the brush country shooting hordes of imaginary aliens with guns made out of sticks, PVC pipe, and dreams. It was on one of these missions that we caught wind of the smell of a dead animal, which wasn’t unusual. We’d often track down animal carcasses by following the halos of buzzards circling above their next meal. Why would we track down rotting carcasses? To see what’s rotting and if it had a cool skull. If we happened to have fireworks with us, the opportunities were endless.

The source of today’s amusement wasn’t hard to locate. It was coming from behind the low hanging canopy of a huge, old oak tree. The smell of putrid, rotting death cooking in the brutal Texas summer heat pushed at us like an invisible wall before we could even see the body.

To this day, I’ve never smelled anything more profoundly repulsive. The worse the odor got, the more it fueled our curiosity. We pushed back the curtain of leaves to reveal exactly what we expected to find, a dead, bloated cow covered in blowflies. Its eye sockets, mouth, and anus pulsated with maggots. Most little girls would have vomited at the sight, but we weren’t faint-hearted little girls. We were prepubescent male trailer trash.

We lingered beneath the old oak tree for at least an hour marveling at the miracle of death and sharing our thoughts. Eventually, the eye-watering stench drove us off, but it went without saying that we’d be back every day for at least a week.

On the first day, we created a game to see who could throw a rock at the cow’s inflated stomach and have it bounce the farthest. The second day the game evolved to see who could bounce the largest rock the farthest. On the third day, we tried to see how big of a log we could all three heave at our big, morbid leather stink balloon. The next day we got to talking, and we reasoned that since leather is almost impossible to break with brute force, then theoretically, a small child could bounce on a leather trampoline and not fall through. And since dead cows are made of leather, there’s no reason a small child couldn’t safely use a ripe, bloated cow as a trampoline.

So we played rock-paper-scissors to determine who got to be first to test the cow-poline. I don’t remember who the honor went to, but as soon after they took a few cursory hops and confirmed what we already know,  we all scrambled up the meat mountain and started leaping like cheerleaders and being propelled up towards the sky by the force of the compressed fermented gasses bubbling in the cow’s decaying guts. For the first few minutes, every time we landed on the stomach, poop, and maggots would spurt out the cow’s fly-coated butt hole.

Photo of a cow with a shocked look on his face

As much fun as that was, we knew we couldn’t keep our cow-poline forever. Sooner rather than later the smell would draw packs of wild coyotes who might decide to eat a living cow next. So that night we told our dad about it, and he called the farmer, who said he’d be out to bury it in a few days. In the meantime, my brothers and I returned every day to jump on our red neck bouncy castle. We even managed to get two or three balanced bounces on top of the cow, on a pogo stick.

Eventually, we heard the old farmer’s tractor ratting up our dirt road/driveway We met him on our front porch where he shook our dad’s hand, and then walked to the death site as he drove behind us. When we arrived, he didn’t even flinch at the smell. Silently and stoically, he wrapped a long, heavy chain around the cow’s head and horns and attached the other end to his tractor.

Since he never told us we couldn’t, we followed as he dragged the 1,500 pound rotting meat bag as far to the edge of his property, as far away from the rest of his heard as he could get it. Then he used a bulldozer attachment on the tractor to dig a trench the size of a small swimming pool and push the corpse into it.

Watching him bury our cow-poline was emotional. It was like losing a new friend… and the equivalent of a toy that would have cost several hundred to buy at Wal-Mart, which to poor white trailer trash like us, may as well have been a million dollars.

It took the farmer about twenty minutes to fill the trench with dirt. Each time he would turn his tractor around to fetch another mound, we’d use the window of opportunity to run at the trench, jump onto the cow, and catapult ourselves across to the other side and back as many times as we could before the tractor came too dangerously close with its next payload.

The whole time, the farmer never said anything to us. I didn’t even see him shake his head in condescending disbelief. I’m sure he was laughing at us inside. Maybe he was having too much fun watching us to make us stop. Maybe he figured if we were so starved for fun that we would risk getting buried alive for the chance to jump on a rotting corpse, then he should just let us have that. Or perhaps he was just so dumbfounded he didn’t have words.

Gif of Neil Degrasse Tyson shrugging apathetically

I’ve told his story to friends and acquaintances before, and of all the crazy tales I’ve told, this one always elicits the most guttural reactions. Until I had a few girls shriek at me in horror, it never occurred to me that most people wouldn’t use a dead cow as a trampoline.

It’s funny, everyone tells you to think outside the box until you do. Then the gasp and shout, “That’s messed up! You’re freaking crazy! What the hell is wrong with you!?” Maybe I’m crazy, but maybe sometimes “crazy” is just being creative outside your comfort zone. My brothers and I weren’t trying to be creative though. We were just bored and incidentally proved the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

If you have any stories of depraved, desperate creativity that you’re willing to admit, feel free to leave your story in a comment below.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

My Goals

My Life Stories (in chronological order)

My Art


My Life Stories: The Eggnog Story

Picture of a carton of eggnog

In 1987 I was seven years old. I had just moved from Pleasanton, Texas (population 8,000) to Paris, Texas (population 25,000) and was starting the first grade. Like any child, I was anxious about making friends and succeeding at my first year of school and life in general.

I didn’t have a very complicated personality at that age. I was so shy that my parents had to send me to speech therapy at an earlier age because I never spoke. It’s not that I couldn’t. I just let my identical twin brother do all the talking for me. He understood me. So he translated for the adults until they caught on to what we were doing and put a stop to it.

I was also trusting to a fault and vividly insecure. Despite my anxieties, I didn’t have a hard time integrating into my new environment because children enjoy meeting new children. So it wasn’t long before I was on a first name basis with a third of the kids on the playground, and I even had my own best friend, a swell kid named Robert who lived within walking distance of my house.

I’d been in first grade for almost a semester, and Christmas break was coming up. One day Robert and I were walking aimlessly around the perimeter of the playground at school after lunch talking about all things Christmas. At some point in the conversation I said one of the things I liked best about Christmas was that stores sold eggnog, and I love eggnog. Robert looked at me like he was a Ku Klux Klan member, and I just told him I was a gay black atheist.

Wide-eyed and with a tone of voice full of accusation, he shouted, “EGGNOG!” I flinched, and he shouted again, “EGGNOG!!” He kept shouting it over and over, and soon other kids standing nearby joined in. In no time there was a crowd of 5-10 children shouting angrily at me, “EGGNOG! EGGNOG! EGGNOG!”

I was just a poor country boy who moved up to the big city and was trying to fit in. I didn’t understand what social faux pas I had broken, but apparently, it was pretty major. I was terrified. So I ran. It didn’t take long before all 40-60 children on the playground saw what was happening and joined in. They chased me through jungle gyms and across basketball courts. I ran as hard as I could, but it was only a matter of time before they caught me and pinned me to ground. I can still remember the crowd surging above me screaming with such sincere disgust, “EGGNOG! EGGNOG!”

Picture of a group of children chasing a lone child.

I don’t remember how long I laid on the ground in a fetal position while my peers pelted me with accusations of eggnog. I remember going home feeling more confused about life than ever. I wanted to be a good person. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to make adults proud of me. But I couldn’t even get the eggnog thing right. I’d gone and fucked up by liking eggnog, and I didn’t even know why that was a bad thing.

These thoughts and question racked my mind all night and the next day until the end of lunch break when my classmates and I were released onto the playground again. I walked outside that day feeling vulnerable. So I hung back by the edge of the building to survey the scene. I made eye contact with a few kids, and nothing happened. My paranoia began to dissipate until I heard a shout from behind me, “EGGNOG!” As soon as that happened, every child on the playground immediately joined in. Again, I was chased around the playground by a mob of angry anti-egg-noggers until they pinned me.

I know there were teachers watching this whole fiasco unfold, and to my memory, they didn’t put a stop to it. I imagine they were just leaning against the wall of the school smoking cigarettes laughing at us.

Gif of Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreations" looking concerned, then shrugging like he doesn't care.

I don’t know if they ever said anything to any of the other children, but nobody ever said anything about eggnog to me again after that day. It’s like it never happened. At times I’ve wondered if did since my memory is the only validation I have that this scenario ever occurred. Whether or not it was real, the experience shook me deeply for a long time. I didn’t admit to anyone else that I liked eggnog until high school. Even then I did so timidly.

As much damage as this event did to my self-esteem, it taught me a few things:

1: Question everything.

2: People tend to do whatever the people around them are doing, even if it’s being mean to someone else.

3: You don’t have to be ashamed of your choices if other people don’t agree with them. They may get on top of you sometimes, but in the end, they’re not going to spend their lives with you. You can do what you want when they’re not around.

4: Young people do stupid things that don’t make sense. That’s because we’re all born crazy, and life is a life-long struggle to figure out what sanity is. None of us will ever truly know what that is. So we all deserve a little leeway for doing stupid things like shouting “EGGNOG!” at their best friend and causing a riot that scars him emotionally for years of his formative life.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

My Life Stories (in chronological order)
My Goals
My Art

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