Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't Stop Til Ya Get Enough: Shallow Affections and Deep Infections

What is addiction? It’s an entire man trying to crawl out of another man’s lungs. (The only problem is the metaphorical man is much larger than the real one and therefore much harder to get out). It’s sleepless days on end staring into a mirror and managing to notice the one microscopic shard that possesses slightly less luster than the rest. The shard that feels like it’s being dragged all around my insides, stirring up a blood-and-guts stew within my torso. Looking into the mirror makes me want to grab the moron on the other side and shake him viciously for conceiving the terribly wonderful idea of quitting smoking. If I found out there was a cure for death, my first instinct would certainly be to smoke a celebratory carton of cigarettes in a single puff. (Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration; it would probably take at least two puffs). I want to go to the bank right now and ask one of the tellers what to do about MY withdrawals, just to throw a nic fit at the irony of the situation.

I’ve realized quitting cigarettes is just like breaking up with a girl, a girl that makes me feel SO good but is hurting me in the long run. It takes about half the duration of the “relationship” to fully move on is what they say in both cases, but in my couple days of suffering such heartbroken misery I already feel inclined to call up an old pack cigarettes on the phone just to gloat over old memories in hopes of a pity smoke. All I do nowadays is curl up in the fetal position in my bed, sick to my stomach, thinking about her butts. I smell her empty cartons left carelessly around my bedroom remembering the slender ivory figures they once encased. I feel there’s no filter big enough to prevent my true emotions from pouring out full force.

To rid myself of this craving is not unlike Peter Parker trying to rid himself of the symbiote suit; the addiction takes on a mind, complete with desires, of its own. I am enslaved to this all-powerful entity which can have me to my feeble knees by the mere waving of its/my wrist. The addiction rivals my own conscience: it rationalizes that death is trivial in the face of just one more cigarette (despite the irony). The living addiction believes in simplicity: complex matters are irrelevant, so long as I feel good. What matter is human interaction when nicotine provides enough satisfaction? Who needs to talk when my inner conscious is loud enough (my internal voices can talk, or rather think, amongst themselves and abolish all feelings of loneliness). Perhaps it’s just an indication of multiple personality disorder when inner monologue becomes inner dialogue.

With the third day of abstinence, the day that marks the alleged end to the most severe withdrawal pains, also comes a Jesus-esque “resurrection” of desire. Waves off longing come with a strength that could push a boulder aside. The final pleas of inner addiction cry out for “just one.” It sounds so simple, like a bite from a delicious red apple; how did Peter Parker opt out of limitless joyrides complete with exclusively good feelings, including mentally-conceived invulnerability, so easily? He found a distraction: sound.
Music focuses your mind on tonally-influenced good feeling and allows for a more naturally focused sense of self-control (that is to say, proverbially speaking, that listening to Queen’s A Day at the Races could lead to the Kingpin’s unsuspected clobbering amidst a night at the opera.

It’s hard to quit cigarettes when your lighter looks so cool. That’s not to say “coolness” and popular imagery are the only reasons to start smoking; however, they provide powerful incentive to continue. All my favorite rock idols seem to subliminally and nonchalantly seem so harmless in the rock world (well at least next to the omnipresent availability of cocaine access). Julian Casablancas of the Strokes performs live with a lit cigarette which undoubtedly provides the rasp in his emotionally climactic vocals for a band of hipsters who refuse to pose in music magazines without their symbolic props of thematic coolness. Jack White is essentially the poster child of a generation that revels in the significance of spending hours in a diner (outside MA or any major city) with nothing but a pack of smokes, lukewarm diner coffee, and manically sped up conversation tempos (he and his ambiguous ex-wife were in Jim Jarmusch’s aptly named and nominally themed Coffee and Cigarettes…enough said). Now I’ve loved the White Stripes long before I started smoking and correlation certainly doesn’t equal causality in this cause. I represent few individuals (keyword: individuals) in this generation of young conformists that started accidently as a means of coping with a life-shaking circumstance, that circumstance being a girl who was feet from suffering the fate of my first car (lifeless). It was totaled on the behalf of a semi truck’s rear that consciously decided to get into my car through the passenger windshield, decelerating from a velocity of about 90 mph despite a red light. Despite my ability to blamelessly paint a completely unilateral depiction, it was completely my fault and I now know it will be my unyielding (literally) affection of distraction that will be the end of me. But morbidity aside and a year later of mutual recovery (physically for her and psychologically for me), some menial scars still exist (for both of us sadly), and I still smoke but now almost exclusively for the euphoric feeling of the drug, with or without life’s/society’s confrontations I face on a near daily basis.

Of course I can’t stop smoking now; I still have fuel in my lighter. (I realize that’s like saying “I can’t stop buying boxes of Eggo waffles because there’s still syrup in the fridge). It’s a black Zippo with a flaming graphic of Mick Jagger’s iconic tongue upon which practically seduces me into pursuing my addiction (maybe Mick couldn’t “get no satisfaction [sic],” but I know I’m one paper rod away from pleasurable apathy). Why didn’t I buy the lighter with the red skull on it to remind me of my impending death (not that I don’t remind myself on an hourly basis) or at least what I’ll look like in twenty years if I continue with the aforementioned bad habit? I keep oxymoronically telling myself it’s a temporary addiction: I’ll quit after this pack. It’s funny how one pack leads to another. Unlike the biased propaganda for another healthier drug, relatively speaking, cigarettes are just the gateway drug to more cigarettes… and perhaps some coffee (not to mention emotional irrelevance).

It’s amazing how stubborn smokers are. I’ve heard stories in town (which is surely applicable world-wide) of smoky old folks who count their vaporized time increments in terms of centennial fractions. This of course is the point in their lives where they come to accept cigarettes as part of their lives as much as eating, breathing, and sleeping are (though cigarettes have a tendency to hinder and supersede all three life functions; nicotine kind of likes to be the center of attention). Now these wrinkle-laced citizens, one of which who works at the local CVS(which is both tragically convenient for a smoker and is an inescapable catch-22 for a smoker wanting to quit for the sake of expense; at said multifaceted drug store, quitting aids and cigarettes coexist on the same shelf with the former taking a bigger toll on the wallet than the latter). This toxic avenger has quit for months at a time, then made the ever-so-common decision to smoke just one cigarette (which in my mind is the greatest story ever told by every smoker that has existed since the dawn of time; this one cigarette is just a re-admittance into the cycle of nicotine, the “smoke ring” if you will). Years later she finds herself working alongside the smoker’s greatest enemy/best friend after a rough day at work (or in my case after a rough day in the life of an impulsive lover).

Of all the drugs I’ve been scared away from thoughtfully considering thanks to a sheltered childhood full of biased health classes and forced biblical ingestion, I was never once warned about how addicting sex can be and how easily sex can be confused with love. The two appear synonymous to the mathematical mind. It’s a simple matter of algebraic substitution involving the variable c for chocolate: if you consider the fact that eating chocolate mimics the euphoria of being in love, and the fact that elder ladies suffering from menopause use chocolate as a substitution for sex (as depicted in the iconic mid-life comic strip “Cathy”), sex is proven to be equal to love logically by combining the two equalities c=love and c=sex (making love=c=sex) and simplifying the singular equality by ignoring the redundant variable c. Math and drugs aside (paradoxically), sex only provides a short-lived state of happiness which is absolutely irrelevant to the personalities of the two engaging participant; however (at least in my case), such shallow emotions can never fully satiate a gluttonous, or emotionally- deprived depending on how you look at it, heart. The temporary feelings are too good to stay in the bedroom. I tend to crave such feelings constantly after enough regular exposure. And once the addiction has taken hold (it usually takes under a month for me), it’s only to be expected that relative withdrawal symptoms would occur given the deprivation of the aforementioned stimulus by means of heartbreak. It doesn’t matter what the drug is, withdrawals hurt.

In the wake of my most recent stint with the most potent of all abstract drugs, cigarettes walked back into my life like a rebounding ex-girlfriend. It was just what I needed: artificially-inseminated good feelings to replace the previously-received organic good feelings. Essentially, cigarettes served as a topical band-aid (or a nicotine patch if you will) for the wound left behind from a painful vacancy of pleasure. Daoism teaches us that the anticipated lack of one profound quality (pleasure) only brings about its antithesis, and I sought to come to terms with this natural order by way of unnatural substance usage ( it was the easiest means for me to achieve a personal sense of way-making).

Empty-Metal Jacket (Unless I'm Wearing It)

I was never so anti-militaristic as when I realized how anti-art the military is. The very premise of a stentorian micro-conversation in passing containing little more than the words “fuckin’ a” or being as complex as “how tight so-and-so’s pussy was” never filled me with spiteful ardor so much as bemused curiosity as to how unyieldingly ignorant personified mental regression can be. While I respect a life decision devoted to self-dehumanization by way of becoming a human dumbbell and stolidly accepting a daily mist of saliva and motivational obscenities from an irascible drill instructor who amounts to little more than a cliché from Full Metal Jacket, sans the political correctness, I just can't wrap my head around it. I realize breaking down the mind and soul in order to build up the senses and strength is just as easily accomplished as with a night’s heavy drinking (also synonymous with the military), but it would seem the latter provides just as desirable an identity to such military types (i.e. not having one) as wits require patience and never desperately resort to intimidation or any physical means to yield desirable results. If only I hadn’t quit the wrestling team in high school before the actual season started…

It would seem that I offended the very sanctity of the Marine Corps’ honor-invoking emblem by wearing a replica of a vintage military jacket which I took to be as nonspecifically military-esque until a stranger interrupted my humble attempt to order some ersatz oriental food from my college cafeteria’s wok. He asked my back where I had gotten the jacket. At first I thought this abrasively extroverted individual was earnestly impressed with my panache for fashion. When he pulled out his wallet and handed me picture of himself wearing what appeared to be my jacket, only buttoned up (to a point of ostensible neck malfunction), I had a very lucid epiphany: I was wearing for sheer style’s sake what a member of the marine corps is issued at at the cost of his neck (literally) as part of his uniform. Meanwhile I ordered mine online for a hundred bucks from England where long-haired rock stars and their respective apparel are safe from heckling high-and-tights. Though dress like a royal guardsman there, and I imagine vituperation would be inevitable. The black Marge Simpson hair alone would likely cause a stir.

So I’m apparently in front of two generals: General Tso and General Lee over here giving me a hard time over a simple fashion statement that nonetheless directly offends his cut and dry-cleaned dogmas. I wanted to tell him off, but thought otherwise for fear that a book depository may possibly be nearby, or that I may have neglected his briefcase full of sniper rifle parts that do all his bidding, or that he is a polyglot marine and Lee Harvey Oswald’s tongue of choice is bolt-lock. My skull didn’t need his input, but I listened to avoid grislier repercussions. I figured if I just smiled and quietly enjoyed the show, nothing bad could possibly happen. It worked for Lincoln.

His heightened attention to detail (but obliviousness to the obvious, including lip piercings, girls jeans, long hair, and otherwise blatantly liberal accoutrements) found that my shoulder buttons bore a symbol other than that of his beloved, and lo and behold I was exculpated. He warned me of how he would of “told me off” had I not been “only a civilian.” I tend to identify myself more informally as just simply “a human,” but then again I also tend to split hairs for the sake of doing so. But civilian status is better than being a casualty and a bull needs no further provocation to attack if all he sees is red. Art exists only in the real world; outside of reality, fabrication and perception are the real world.

This occurrence ended less intensely than another one could have. I was applying at a steakhouse, where I should have anticipated a high volume of Yosemite Sam-esque conservatives and red-blooded meat-eating alpha males in the most literal of places, and I was wearing the same jacket I had just worn to an apartment I was checking out but disappointed by. I had taken it with me because, well, it was winter. Whilst applying for an application to be a bartender or server at such an establishment (let’s call it Carnivore’s Delight), I heard an utterance of a phrase I may have remembered hearing in Full Metal Jacket: “sempra fi!” That’s the only reason I looked up, that, the vague connection between the jacket the phrase and the cafeteria incident, and the feel of red, glaring hatred that seemed to be standing just swatting distance from my unbuttoned self. I looked up and my suspicions were just. He seemed either drunk or quite literally intoxicated by his abhorrence of me. I tried to disarm his arousal before he armed himself any further.

He seemed to imply that I wasn’t permitted or qualified to wear such a jacket, let alone with it not buttoned straight up to my neck. After responding negatively to his inquiry (was I a marine?), he uttered something similar to “do you have any idea how disrespectful that is [to wear a uniform sans the basic training]?” Cloaked in spit, the vitriolic actuality of his words amounted to “Who the fuck do you think you are [wearing that uniform sans the basic training]?!”

“It’s just a fashion statement,” was my rejoinder, after all, it was nothing more; there was no deeper or intentful symbolism to be had in liking the way the jacket looked (especially unbuttoned).

This grizzly old man was not amused or moved in the slightest. “Oh yeah, I bet it looks good with your hair,” he said sardonically. He was waiting for some pithy or snide comment to escape my mouth (as the “smart-ass, big-mouthed punk” I no doubt am to be so bold in my dress choices), begging for his violent redress and physical bestowment of permanent silence.
I realized at this point that he equated the adornment of such a particular stitching of fabric to the flesh of his fallen brethren. He saw the honor of his platoon being metaphorically mutilated and scoffed at in this simple act, or else his war-warped and post-traumatically stressed out mind super-imposed the words “fuck the marines” on my back, making for a scarlet letter jacket of sorts.

“Alright. I’m sorry. I’m taking it off now,” I said submissively, trying to calm him down and giving at least a vestige of dominance over me, lest he resort to old habits to prove his possession of such.

Caught off guard, apparently, by his easy victory, he offered some closing trash talk as he retreated in the form of a few halted rushes at me and “Yeah you better take it off,” reverting to the prideful tough-guy in the former football captain that existed in him prior to his enlistment, or draft. Drafts were at least something this man seemed to have been too acquainted with this night, proving himself a bitter drunk, or else man with tendencies to dwell on his flashbacks as if someone younger and seemingly more privileged was responsible for the way his life ended up.

I shouldn’t have to censor myself for fear of an institution that places heavy emphasis on the power of subjective associations, without concern for negative repercussions or true intent. Not too long ago, I found myself quite captivated by a news article that was brought to my attention and brought such a truth to a front: as it turns out, one of my favorite musical entities, The White Stripes (i.e. the unabashed creative outlet for Jack White’s guitar and its tendencies to filter his egotism through an orgasmic onslaught of squealing solos at live shows), was pressing charges against the Air Force! The damages in this case were not pecuniary ones, despite it behind the sole vehicle of vengeful compensation in a lawsuit, but rather philosophical ones. During the Super Bowl (of all collective venues and commercially-viable opportunities), the rating flood that gathers the most repeated national viewers yearly (*not based on actual research, just ostensible), notwithstanding American Idol (but similar things can package disposable art for strict financial gain), the Air Force aired a commercial, now vaporized into thin air and rendered obscure even in the deepest stretches of internet oblivion, full of glamorized action sequences the likes of Michael Bay would be proud of and outfitted with a soundtrack vaguely, if not exactly, reminiscent of “Fell in Love with a Girl” from White Blood Cells.

The similarity was the product of some guitarist trained to appeal to popular youthful markets (now the indie rock market), an employee of a music company hired by the Air Force (in the late nineties, early 00’s it apparently seemed that grunge metal audiences were a flourishing maple to tap). Deny their involvement to death (alongside other methods of creating death) and sell out a patsy they may, passing the buck was the easiest way to avoid shelling out many a buck and admitting their guilt. Subliminal messages have always been the means by which propaganda has maintained its efficacy, even if the audiences today are jaded to the blatancy of candor and subtlety is very perceivable by the acutely aware. But those who appreciate art, and not just its creators, should not allow such to be used for destructive means as opposed to peaceful ones. On the White Stripes’ website they gave their reasons for such a course of (legal) action upfront (something the military seldom does): they wouldn’t have their music be used to help recruit soldiers to fight in a war they didn’t believe in, stressing loudly and clearly that they assuredly “support the troops” and hope for their safe and hasty return. Even in spite of this disambiguation of sentiments, a few members of the armed forces and “former fans of their music,” denounced them (via user comments/responses to electronic news articles) for such shows of overt disrespect, as they see it, one in particular announcing his decision to deposit all their CDs in the garbage, while another proposed that “they” drop Jack White in Afghanistan and “see how long he lasts.” Well as a musician, armed only with instruments, creative abilities, and (incidentally) an opinionated brain, it is untenable that he would last long…being in lack of actual weapons and the mindlessly violent temper (not to mention required military employment and the corresponding training/dehumanization trials) it takes to actually desire to engage in mortal combat.

A separation of art and wrongful usage should exist, and the military is only one of many culprits to make manifestations of individual creativity do the bidding of anyone but the mind(s) who engendered such crafted vessels of pleasure. I was just as outraged to see a commercial recently modify (only slightly) another track (“Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground”) from the same album the Air Force had suckled on only months ago to great ignominy, even if the commercial was only soliciting hiking gear as opposed to full-time careers as body bag subleters.

The jacket lives inside of my dresser drawer for now, next to dress shirts and khaki pants I never wear, waiting until it’s safe to come to out, as if it needs to wait for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to be replaced by a government mandate allowing the unity of all types to coexist without discrepancy and fear of death threat. The last time I wore it was to a rock concert, where its kind should surely be found in exclusively high volumes amidst other high volumes (blood alcohol content, hair and mind-blowing amplifiers, etc.); it was surprisingly there (well actually a bar next door) that my third aggressor would confront me in the form of a bus boy with a crew cut and a heavy step to meet me before I could make it from the bathroom to the front door. Thankfully he was more mild-mannered about his need to teach me a lesson about respect and clothing choices, compared to the former examples, and thankfully I had just bumped into the ecstatically-dressed lead leader of the headlining band (JET) who reminded me that it didn’t matter what this example of human life thinks. I choose to live outside of a very limited reality and dress accordingly.