I started working when I was 13 years old - old school style, babysat over the summer from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $20 a day. That family ended up moving without warning; I transitioned to after school during the school year, went over to their house like usual, they were gone. Without paying me my final check no less.

That's not what this post is about, though. Not really.

We also had chores growing up, like most kids do. Dishes after dinner, cleaning our rooms, an actual chore schedule (the kitchen garbage can, for instance, got washed out once a month without fail). I was so short I had to stand on something to do the dishes; my dad would check the water temperature and, if it wasn't hot enough for sterilization, he'd let it all out and run the hot water in. Any time I protested the water was too hot for my delicate little hands, he'd grab them and plunge them into the dishwater until they acclimated. It only hurts the first minute or so. Little bright red paws are clumsy, but the dishes got done.

This is closer to what this post is about.

When I was 14, my brother moved into the college dorms. After we dropped him off, dad drove us to a furniture store where he bought a lamp. He held this lamp in his lap and cried all the way home. My brother was 16. He would drop out of college at the age of 18.

That has much more to do with this post.

Despite dropping out, my brother didn't move back in with us. He worked at a restaurant and split a studio apartment with two of his friends, who jointly owned a comic book store.

I stayed home, of course. Despite hours - days, weeks - spent daydreaming of running away, I knew I didn't know how to take care of myself. I did, though, know how to take care of my parents. I knew how to iron dad's dress pants and work shirts to perfection. I knew how to loop his tie and draw it just tight enough. I knew to use up the fresh produce as quick as possible, as dad hated the expense of food gone bad. I can see him still, holding a fistful of wilted, slimy radishes in his hand, "Do you know how much this COSTS?" and flinging it away. I knew how to make a shopping list in aisle order, so my mom could get through the grocery store as fast as possible. I knew which coupons to clip, how to double them.

At 17, with a better job at a local restaurant, I was promoted to more cooking duties and the expense of grocery shopping. I learned you can half-ass lasagna by not boiling the noodles first. Put enough watery green vegetables in there, pop the tinfoil on top, and the noodles steam on their own. I pored through cookbooks. I made meatloaf the way dad used to, with a package of onion soup mix, Saltine crackers, and ketchup on top. I scrubbed, wiped, sanitized, made it to work, made it to school, made it out for parties now and then.

Nearing 18, it was college time. My vote was no college - My jewelry teacher thought he could swing an apprenticeship with a local silversmith. I wanted this. I wanted it badly. I floated the idea of beauty school - cut hair on the side, make jewelry, become a famous artist, done and done.

Dad wasn't okay with this. He'd had one child drop out of college, negating all the status and attention he got for having a child prodigy in the first place. Dad wheedled first - promised he'd figure out how to pay for the entire thing - then threatened. If I didn't go to college ("real" college, 4-year liberal arts type), he would give me 2 weeks to pack everything I owned and find a new place to live. Anything left behind he would burn. I capitulated. After all, "real" college would at least get me out of the house*.

Over and over through this process he told me, "Art doesn't pay the bills. You can't support your family with art. You can't support yourself with art." The argument that being a hairdresser would make up for this fell on deaf ears.

Off to college I went. I worked - couldn't be a burden on my parents, had to buy textbooks, gas, insurance, beer, all that stuff. I made it through. I got jobs. I mostly lived with my parents, dad's logic being that I'd have to pay rent somewhere, why not pay it to them? I could never save quite enough to move out, though I did run off to Brooklyn for a year. Slunk back after realizing the big city wasn't for me, but I go out for awhile.

At 26 I decided to train for medical transcription; I became self-employed at 27 and have been doing it ever since. I'm supposed to be transcribing a report right now, in fact. I'm no longer self-employed** but still a transcriptionist. Since becoming an employee again, I've had to borrow around $3000 from my brother, was forced to stop paying my mom's cell phone bill, couldn't send my dad any more cash***, and am now living with my granny and my mom in a trailer manufactured housing unit, struggling to make ends meet.

Today I'm waiting to hear back from a man named Josh, the manager of a local paint store. Industrial, commercial, domestic paint. Not oil paints, not acrylics, straight house paint. I should hear by tomorrow, Friday at the latest, if he would like me to join his team and sell the shit out of some paint. I have a choice - I can continue on in medical records, buy a business casual wardrobe, maintain certifications, claw my way up a ladder, and make beaucoup bucks. Or I can work at a paint store, make enough for me to support myself (and only myself) and have access to all the free mis-tints my heart desires. There will be no stress. I will have the energy to clean out the garage and set up a silversmithing bench, an easel, move the gemstone faceting machine from my brother's apartment to here.

I will make art. It might be mediocre art; it might be sloppy, ill thought out, unsellable art, but it will be art, and I will be happy.

Also, since this post will reach a wider audience than usual, this is where I ask humbly for good thoughts, prayers, and chicken sacrifices on my behalf. I'm sure the Gods of Paint will also accept chocolate and whiskey sacrifices if you're squeamish about the chicken.****

*There is a long and possibly triggering story behind this, which I will not share now.

**There is a medium-sized story behind this, which I will not share now.

***There is a very long story behind this; in fact, because I can't figure out where to put 4 asterisks, there's two stories - one about the jewelry career and one about dad having a drug-induced psychotic break, neither of which I will share now.

****I keep telling myself I shouldn't get my hopes up, but right now it's down to me or one other guy, and I can't help but hope.

_____
This has been an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol; please read and enjoy all the entries, and vote for the ones you like!
When I was 16, after we'd moved back to Methford from Washington, dad got a gold claim. I used to mess up and call it a gold mine, and that's obviously not the same thing. Anyway, he got this gold claim outside of Merlin - far outside - or somewhere thereabouts, and was going to slowly make a fortune. You can, right now, still go out to the Rogue and the Applegate and pan for gold and find a few flakes, though you do have to watch out for the fool's gold. The way the gold claim works, best as I understand, is that you get a lease from the BLM for 99 years. You can then sublease your claim, or sell it outright, which is how dad got his. What you find is yours, of course, and you can't do much to the land itself, but this claim came with a small trailer so one could conceivably spend the night out there.

In this process dad met a few cronies, and he learned the ropes pretty quickly, the ropes being simply etiquette and safety. There's bears and cougars out here, plus the rattlesnakes (and black widows; those are relatively shy, though I'm sure the trailer was riddled with them), plus the drug dealers. In southern Oregon it's meth and weed for the most part - was true back then, is true now (though sadly heroin seems to be making a comeback). So for the animals you took a gun (in dad's case, a Russian-made SKS he later sold for a pittance of its value because he was out of booze money), and for the growers/dealers you kept an eye out for PVC pipes, what they'd use for irrigation, and avoid them.

I only went up to the claim once myself. Now, I'm biased, I think southern Oregon is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. and definitely the most beautiful part of Oregon itself. But, still, the claim was objectively beautiful - golden grass, dark green oaks, crystal-clear creek, the dampest, loamiest dirt ever. There was a massive quartz boulder up the creek a ways, and dad was convinced this was the key to the gold (heaven forbid he just pan the creek, slowly amassing gold flakes; he had to find the mother lode a.s.a.p.). As we walked up the trail beside the creek, we hopped over a few bear or cougar scats - probably bear, as they were large and full of half-digested berries, but oddly I never tried to figure this out. I'm sure there's a Guide to Wildlife Shit, but I never did bother to study up.

We got to the quartz boulder, and part of the slope around it had washed off in a recent rainstorm, leaving a new face exposed and churning the dirt up around it. I saw a gleam in the dirt, stuck my finger out, and came away with a single gold flake. I called my parents back and they got all excited - dad hadn't found any actual gold yet, but he had the little sample bottles ready and had me carefully transfer the flake into a bottle. We walked on, encouraged, then went off the trail a ways where dad showed us a pile of PVC pipe that had recently appeared, making him a bit nervous. We saw nothing (definitely didn't smell tortillas, had a nice day, and left with our single gold flake and a new sense of hope.

Dad would go out to the claim now and then, go out with his cronies and have a few drinks, but that pile of PVC pipe was worrisome. He came back once or twice with stories about running across these guys, them giving him the evil eye and warning him off, how he and the other miners (panners?) were growing increasingly concerned. Then one day he came back and said the PVC pipe guys tried to run him off. I don't know exactly what happened, but one day dad came back from the claim, got some extra supplies, and only came back much later that night, reeking of whiskey and completely - completely - freaked out. The story was garbled, but the gist was that he'd met up with some of his gold-friends to protect his claim from the growers. There had been gunfire from both sides. There was entrenchment and ducking and weaving and shooting back and forth. He was rather afraid he'd killed someone but wouldn't say much more than that.

He didn't, though, go back. Much to my mother's relief (and my own). He claimed some paperwork saga - perhaps someone else over-filed the claim, perhaps his sublease/purchase of it wasn't legal in the first place, I don't know, and honestly I don't care. Even given dad's penchant for drama and exaggeration, I've rarely seen him as freaked out and nervous as he was that night.

For years that sample bottle with the single gold flake sat on our windowsill. Like so much else, it's lost now, but it remains the only piece of gold ever found by my family at that claim.

----
Bonus song:


This has been an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol. Please read, enjoy, and vote for the entries you like best!
I am afraid of flying. I have to fly, to get to places I want to be, and I try to console myself by repeating (obsessively, while death-gripping the armrests of my seat) that there's a bravery in doing things you're afraid of. I also remind myself that physics are wonderful, that if there is a God, It doesn't want me to die yet, and on some flights even figuring the over-priced airport fast food nuggets count as a modern-day chicken sacrifice. Flying is innocuous, yet I'm terrified of it. I hate turbulence especially, so when we hit turbulence, I remind myself that turbulence rarely, if ever these days, causes the plane to crash. Much more likely is mechanical failure; the most dangerous times are takeoff and landing. Which makes takeoff and landing rather awful, but it works for the turbulence. Spectacularly unhelpful were the fellows one row back on my last flight home who decided to converse about Interesting Plane Crashes Through History, but I managed to tune them out.

I think what I'm afraid of isn't so much the flying itself (again, physics! very comforting!) but the idea that I will have my last moments be full of terror and awfulness and screaming. "You will feel a slight tingle, followed by death," is the exact opposite of this. If I knew death was coming, I might be scared of dying itself, of no longer being alive, but at least it's a slight tingle, versus fear and pain and screaming and all that. Since I'm not really sure what happens in the afterlife, if there is such a thing, I'd take a slight tingle over a flaming ball of wreckage hurtling from the sky any day.

I also get this sense of vertigo. Or at least I used to call it vertigo; I didn't realize there's a word that may describe it. The definition for occhiolism from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is rather long, but is elsewhere summarized as "the awareness of the smallness of your perspective in the scheme of the universe." I have had one or two flights where I was struck by the absolute beauty and amazeballsness of flying, and was able to contemplate the wonder of being 30,000 feet over the earth... then the 30,000 feet concept strikes. The sheer nothingness between myself and the ground, the weirdness of being this tiny human in a slightly-less-tiny tin can, surrounded by air and sky and clouds, separated from any firmament by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of miles, and suddenly I'm caught in an emotional vertigo, a speck, a nothing. It's the same sensation I get when swimming, especially in the ocean. Suddenly the depth below me and the height above me (coupled with a fear of something slimy brushing my leg), and I'm gasping with the knowledge of how insignificant I really am in the scheme of things, both physically - in mass and size - and mentally/emotionally. It's not a horrible sensation per se, but the wrenching of perspective from ego-filled-me to speck-of-a-being is dizzying.

All that said, I had a good trip to Puerto Rico. It was laidback; I didn't make it to a drag show or a punk show and completely missed the handwritten sign to a burlesque show just down the street until it was far too late to go. I didn't swim in the ocean (see above), but I did frolic in the waves. I didn't swim with the manatees, either, but maybe next time )
About 11 years ago, I bought a car. I hadn't owned one in years, but she came up for sale and I couldn't resist. A '68 Rambler*, powder blue, 3 on a tree, blocky and old and adorable. I named her Phaedra**. I only drove her twice, once on the way home where she died and had to be towed out to an auto shop; a second time when the mechanic refused to work on her at all and demanded she be removed from his business. This second drive was the most terrifying of my life. If you've never driven (or heard of) a 3 on a tree, it's a 3-speed manual transmission, the shifter being on the wheel shaft***. The car is practically unstealable because nobody knows how to drive one these days. I was given a crash course by the guys I bought her from and sent on my way; this second drive was weeks afterward, struggling to remember how it worked. Plus the brakes were bad, the turn signals didn't work and I kept mixing up my hand signals... and there was no speedometer. I collected my brother to be a pacer car; it was about 8 miles out to granny's house, much of it on busy roads.

The bright side? Every single person I passed over the age of about 50 brightened and smiled and waved enthusiastically as I went by. The down side? Everything else. My brother was supposed to go in front, you know, keep to the speed limit so I knew how fast I was going. But as I struggled with the transmission, he slowed down... and slowed down... and every time he did, I had to slow down too - with no brakes. I spent a lot of time veering into the ditch to lose speed, then swooping back out to catch back up. He'd see me come out of the ditch too fast and speed back up, then lose me and slow back down, so we had this sort of... slinky effect, I guess. Getting onto the highway itself almost gave me an aneurysm, I'm a biological coward, but I got it to granny's safely. I parked it there, intending to work on it slowly, enter it into some car shows, then got a job up in Portland and left.

Cut to about 2 years later, I'm on the phone with dad, wondering if I should sell it or order some parts and start working. My dad wasn't much for advice giving, not one of those dads like you see on TV, kicked back in front of the TV sucking on a pipe and ruffling his kids' hair. His nuggets of wisdom came, say, on the front porch, when he'd crumple up the roll of tinfoil he'd smoked his salvia/weed mix out of, and he'd whisper, "Oh my god, did you see that dragon? It WHOOSHED up the driveway!" When he did give input, it was surprisingly pithy. After a long and rambling deliberation, he cut in with, "Sometimes you just gotta cut your losses and walk away." Granny had been threatening to turn the damn thing into a flower planter, if only she could get the trunk open (it came locked, with some tantalizing rattling noises - never did figure out what was in there), then some old guy came over the mountains and knocked on her door. He offered her $300 for the Rambler, and he'd haul it away any day. I couldn't figure out how to hedge my bet on this one; I'd gambled and lost. I had her forge my signature on the necessary documents, and she collected the money. Next time I came to visit, Phaedra was gone. But I did have $300 (minus the $18 or so I used to buy granny a rack of Busch Light to say thanks for her patience), and a pretty good story. When I could remember it better, that terrifying drive knocked people's socks off. And other things... For whatever reason, girls who are into cars are either fetish territory or automatically suspect as lesbians****, so when I told guys about my cars, I'd get one of two reactions - "Oh my god that's so hot," or "Are you a lesbian?"

One night not too long after Phaedra's departure, I went out to meet a guy... I can't remember his name, actually, let's call him Colin. So, I don't really date to "type." Sincerely and truly, personality and intelligence are way more important than looks. That said, if I have a type, it runs to tall, skinny, fluffy haired, beaky nosed, and covered in tattoos. Colin was all of these things - about 6'4", built like a scarecrow, nose like Pinocchio after 10 lies. So there we are on our first date, having identified him in a bar thanks to his outlandish socks, and we immediately strike up a bizarre conversation where he tells me he's into the arcane. Like, Aleister Crowley type of arcane. Which, fine; I'm an agnostic Quaker Jew, I won't judge. After a few beers, though, he told me his trick to dating - masturbate beforehand and smear the juices all over your underpants. There may or may not have been a spell along with it. Wash your hands so it ain't so obvious, but go out laden with pheromones and you'll be beating the ladies (or laddies) off with a stick. On the walk back to his place, we started talking about cars. Over the Hawthorne Bridge, I waxed poetic, all about my '69 Rambler (that was a Freudian slip if such things exist, as it was a '68), all the way back to his place. After he showed me his collection of occult books and introduced me to his cat, we got a little snuggly. Stayed up late doing some light necking (for real, just making out... I might be fast, but I ain't easy), and the next morning he was kind enough to send me off with cab fare. I used the money for a bus ticket and grocery store sushi, stomach wobbly, head throbbing, the sunlight streaming ice picks into my skull.

Footnotes:

*Like this but way more beat up.
**I was pretty obsessed with this song back then.
***I wish Youtube had existed in 2005, so I could watch videos on how to drive a 3-speed manual transmission.
****Let's not even get into the whole gender/sexuality identity spectrum problem here... just a subjective and fast explanation of my past experiences being judged solely on my hobbies and interests.

-----
This has been an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol. Please also see my teammates' entries (and vote for us all!), which are: [livejournal.com profile] i_love_freddie, [livejournal.com profile] ellison, [livejournal.com profile] inteus_mika, and [livejournal.com profile] prog_schlock.
I'm being an ungrateful bitch lately because I'm tired, cranky, and don't feel well. I thought of writing a story for this entry, but I can't even think of a story that doesn't include some sort of bitter, self-serving complaining disguised as thanks.

I am, however, thankful for this competition... and for all those who participate in it.

I had an entry that was indeed sniveling and spoiled and lame, and I deleted it - because there's nothing quite like the public shame of admitting that, despite my relatively privileged lifestyle, I'm a whiner.

So I'm just going to make a list: Coffee with heavy cream, kittens too tired to scratch, Granny's homemade bean soup, mom's ridiculous puns, aunts who pay the internet for 3 years without complaining, brothers who save me from myself, weather too cold to smoke in, doctors with sliding scale fees, and armpit sugaring.

It's a start.

edited to add: Ordering a boar bristle hair brush, my long-distance SO who remembers to say 'good night and sweet dreams' every single night, my fat old cat who wants to claw my eyes out but gets distracted by chin scratches instead, regaining my #1 spot in the football betting pool.

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