Tuesday, November 12, 2013

fear and loathing of transition

custody battles make grown men weep, send sensible kids into screaming fits and thrashes emotions around like a pack of wild dogs with still-kicking, live prey in its grip.  judges assigned to the impossible task of neutrality often lean towards the mother under the often faulty assumption that each parent holds the childrens' best interests at heart.  even with such leanings, only a truly disastrous father is kept away completely.  when the parents really do have the kids' best interest in mind and only have problems with one another, the judge may order some sort of trickery, asking each parent to ask each child individually which parent they'd choose.  at a young enough, tender enough age, what choice does the child have but to lie and tell each parent she or he is the preferred one?  when each parent reports back the conflicting answers, joint custody is awarded, at least in my particular case.

joint custody has its benefits.  there is no feeling of abandonment, relationships continue on relatively uninterrupted and, with no access to weekday friends on the weekend, sibling rivalry intensifies.  the most awkward aspect of this weekday-with-mom-weekend-with-dad arrangement is friday.  before the kids can drive, the transfer of them has to be arranged.  since the parents clearly do not want to see each other, more clever methods of transfer had to be devised.  for me, it was saxophone lessons friday after school.  i'd hop on the bus after school to go downtown for my lesson and my dad would pick me up when i was done, no risk of even accidental parental face time, all under the guise of nurturing my love for the worst saxophone music in the world, school band music.

lugging my instrument from my locker to the bus stop was embarrassing enough, but enough school books, school supplies and some clothes for the weekend would be stuffed into a too-small duffle, strapped to some part of my body like an army pack, smacking my saxophone case with every other step.  i know at least some school kids laughed at me, but that was nothing compared to the five blocks i'd have to trudge downtown from the bus stop to my saxophone teacher's apartment.  nicely dressed strangers on break or perhaps even leaving their cushy office jobs stared at me, wondering not how on earth parents could let their child wander around alone, but how could this husky-pantsed child endure such weight.  was this some sort of corporal punishment all chinese inflicted on their kids?  did you know they take their shoes off right when they get in the door too?  and have you tried the orange chicken at chang's?  under the weight of all those weekly stares, for the first time in my life, i preferred the homeless to the homed.  at least they understood both the need and feeling of a human playing the role of pack mule.

though there were probably reasons besides the embarrassment of the trip to lessons, i eventually gave up the saxophone.  however, the need to transfer from mom's to dad's did not stop.  my trips downtown on the bus continued.  some friday afternoons were spent in the library, soaking up chess books and science fiction while pretending to understand what quarks were.  other fridays i'd be in the $2 matinee wondering how in the hell rambo could be in the movie rhinestone.  and yet other fridays, my dad would check me in to the nebraska department of revenue building, where text-only computer baseball surrounded by stacks of very wide green and white striped printer paper would occupy me for a couple of hours before a trip to the ice cream stand and the drive to my dad's.

on one of these bus trips downtown, i even made friends.  one of my sister's classmates saw us and came over to talk to her.  we ended up on the high school magazine for a year before being regular attendees of shows on the local music scene together and me helping him with his fish tank cleaning business.  eventually, i was his best man, an honor i would have returned if not for the drive-through nature of my wedding.

eventually, these bus rides ended.  my dad met an untimely death just after my 13th birthday and jaunts downtown to hang out with the sophistication of both big money and downtrodden lincoln, nebraska had to wait until i could drive.  by then, i was playing the bass, thinking my musical talent only needed long hair and hobo clothes to be cultivated and that the college kids would be more appreciative of such things than my highschoolmates.  i only ended up playing one gig and in a town where coaching football is a qualification for federal office, my counterculture appearance only made others repeatedly mistake me for a woman or pawnee indian.  after two fine years of driving displacing bus-riding, it was off to the east coast for college, where there were only my own two feet and the t.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

fear and loathing of vegetable oil

i wasn't alone in my desire to withhold money from the oil companies.  most who had taken up the cause of the boycott, even those of us who converted to public transportation for commuting, would still drive occasionally.  by the middle of the decade following 9/11, people had re-discovered that the diesel engine was actually meant to run on peanut oil and modern diesels could do so again with only minor modifications.  soon, every fucker with a trust fund and a trucker hat who had heard the letters d i y and whose time wasn't already taken by some other conscience project was in the market for a converted diesel.  i got swept up in the vegetable oil revolution and got me one, sans trucker hat.

while the satisfaction from outsmugging every prius driver i saw with "still runs on gas, asshole" was great, free fuel was the real objective, that grand notion that you could go from l.a. to s.f. on what kfc threw out last night*.  securing this free oil required dealing with sleazy restaurant managers, assessing the quality of the received product, ensuring that rules skirted are not exposed and all manner of other activity similar to buying drugs in an unfamiliar city.  but even after finding and laying claim to an oil source, turf wars could ensue.

the vegetable oil revolution had taken such firm footing in silver lake, heart of hipsterville, that presumably precious land was housed a used car lot dealing in converted vehicles.  once acquired, these cars had to be fed; and owners competed for feed.  in these weird vegetable oil contests, attrition was usually the winning strategy.  as the weak and undetermined falter in their attempts at refining and otherwise have their spoiled temperaments bored, they eventually give up.  this was verified with glee in craigslistings reading "wvo system for free" accompanied with a location too close to the restaurant not to be the vanquished.  unfortunately, this was also the first sign that the diy vegetable oil revolution would be short-lived, as any movement counting on the attention span of combatants so easily thwarted can only be doomed.

even for the victors of such battles, things were not easy.  making the weekly pick-up rounds was invigorating at first, a sense of purpose satisfied.  as with any responsibility, it eventually became grating and tiresome, especially when your wife has a weekly date with lonely kitchen staff because the hours available for pick-up were during my day job's work hours.  even if i could take my mind off any potential misbehavior there, perfecting the refining process took many iterations, each one painfully accompanied by a call to aaa and a trip to the mechanic.  and if even that wasn't enough, a garage full of hoses, pumps and weird interconnected containers full of weird liquid was easily mistaken for a potentially explosive reaction from a distance.  the parallels with illicit drugs in unfamiliar places continued.

when gas reached $4.25/gal again, my suppliers were no longer content with the free oil-hauling service i was providing.  others were offering cash.  solar panels and electric cars were now cheap enough so i traded vegetables in for the sun.  others also abandoned the vegetable oil revolution.  trucker hats gave way to spandex jeans and energy independence got lost in talks of occupying something or other.  though diy vegetable oil may be dying because it's just too hard for its idealistic practitioners, biodiesel, especially in places like brazil, will carry their flag into the future.

so long, old friend.  and thanks for the memories.

* -- something i actually managed to do once, albeit not with stuff from kfc.  that shit'll fuck up your engine if you don't have serious chemicals to treat it with.