I grew up in a small town; my parents live in the same small town. And that is where the similarities between my life and any of the songs of John Cougar Mellencamp end.
Note: WordPress spell check refuses to recognize the name “Mellencamp,” which seems criminal considering it does recognize Springsteen. Who knew that WordPress had strong feelings in the never ending debate about who is the greater working class hero? Everyone should remedy this obvious oversight by adding “Mellencamp” to their dictionary immediately.
Not many Americans experience life in a small town. In fact, only about 19 percent of Americans did not live in an urbanized area according to the 2010 census. I’ve heard it remarked that some people are surprised to learn how few people live in rural America. I find it surprising that these people are surprised because the current working definition of “urbanized” is a place where people live, whereas a rural area is that space in between those places where people live. Given that I am one of the remarkably rural, I like to keep tabs on the people I grew up with because…. well, because there are only about 12 of us and it isn’t that hard. In this endeavor my old local newspaper has proved invaluable. I find a lot of information about my old classmates in the wedding and birth announcements; I find out about the rest of them in the police log. In that same vein, I’ve noticed a small and sad phenomenon: every once in a while a name I’ll recognize will appear in the obituaries. The cause of death is never state explicitly because, well, that’s tacky, but usually you don’t have to be Jessica Fletcher to solve the mystery of the dead 26 y/o. Overdose, she wrote.
How do you know you have a problem? Where is rock bottom? When I crash and burn, will I be able to recover?
This is the point in my post where I think I might have a problem. That line above, the one you just read, was the transition from my preamble about small town life/drugs into talking about me and my weird habits. Originally, I thought it would be funny to frame my weird behavior in terms of addiction, which is a bit of an exaggeration. In order to accomplish this transition, I needed some verbiage on real addiction to serve as the connective tissue leading to my discussion of my not real problems. I generally like this approach because part of being a privileged white yuppie is having the luxury to be extremely narcissistic. The best and most ridiculous narcissism, I believe, is when insignificant issues are elevated to the same level (or above) real problems. This kind of behavior is pretty common. It’s reason that yuppies slept on a side walk in order to spend $500 and be among the first to own an iPad, instead of using that time or money to help those who sleep on sidewalks every night. We all know what the highest and best use of our time and money is, and we actively avoid doing it, because it’s boring, or dirty, or sad, or not the most fun. And normally I’m okay with that. Hell, I don’t even give blood because it’s a little uncomfortable and makes me dizzy. And my blood type is (like most things about me) very desirable. However, now that I read what I just wrote and think about where I intend to go next, it seems really crass. “But like many self-centered white men, craven insensitivity is, like, your thing. You do it really well,” all the non-whites and females affirmed for me, I imagined. Thanks guys, here goes nothing!
For me, rock bottom came in the form of 0% juice in a silver pouch left on a park bench.
I’m not quite a dumpster diver, because I’ve never technically fished through actual garbage. My drug of choice is a poorly attended lost-and-found. Now I don’t exactly steal from the lost-and found, but that’s because I’ve re-written the definition of stealing to better suit my needs. You know how in mafia movies (or Game of Thrones) all the otherwise morally bankrupt characters have some sort of twisted code of honor that makes it ok-ish to off whomever they want? We’ll I’ve sort of done the same thing. I don’t take anything from the lost-and-found box until the owner of said box puts it out at the end of season with an angry note saying something to the effect of “get your gosh darn garbage out of here or, come the new year, I’m pitching it the hell out,” which happens with some regularity, among the more frequently purged L-a-F boxes.
It’s precisely under this circumstances that I acquired this little prize:
I noticed this fleece in the lost and found my first year of college, and kept my eye on it all semester long. In case you didn’t know, these shits are mad expensive, and I spend approximately 40% of my life trying to figure out ways to not have to pay for things. Snagging this fleece would be a real boon to my balance sheet. “Don’t be greedy,” I had to constantly remind myself. Like a 55 y/o divorcee eyeing a bachelor party, I had to carefully stalk my prey until the moment was right. In the absolute worst case scenario, I would grab it too quickly and then get caught by the one true owner while I was casually mincing around campus in my new/old fleece. This would be the worst because (1) I would get caught and everyone would know that I’m a thief, and (2) I would probably have to give it back. I can handle one or the other, but publicly shamed AND fleece-less is one place that no one wants to be.
By waiting until the purveyor of the lost and found box (in this case, the good people of the dining hall) were threatening to dump everything, I could grab it and if questioned could claim immunity under the internationally recognized doctrine of Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers.
At this point I should mention that its a woman’s fleece. I didn’t think anyone would notice. It sort of had a unisex-ness to it. In any event, I really thought that the femininity of the cut was far outweighed by the value. My grandfather disagreed. He was pretty sure that this woman’s fleece was my first foray into life as a transvestite. Convincing a WWII vet that gender is a social construct, and that gendered clothing is just a byproduct of the white heterosexist patriarchal cultural hegemony is a lot harder than you’d think.
Nevertheless, my unconventional procurement methods have grown in the intervening years. Here is just a sample of the treasures I’ve acquired that are immediately within photographing distance of where I’m sitting right now:
Jealous of all my swag? I know you are.
Sometimes I use my powers for good. Like the time I lost-and-founded a really old fat dog.
She was waddling around my neighborhood with a really confused look on her fat little face. I lured her into my apartment the same way I attract lovers, with individually wrapped slices of generic brand cheese. She was so fat that she couldn’t roll onto her back lest weight of her own torso cut off her breathing. I don’t know what I would do if I had to choose between airflow and a belly rub.
I was eventually able to contact the owner, who was so relieved that someone found her precious pooch that she offered me $20 for my services. I, of course, refused it on the grounds that accepting payment after spending last four hours snuggling with Daphne the dog on the couch would give my enemies even more fodder for their (completely unfounded and hurtful) claim that if I were a prostitute I wouldn’t be very expensive.
Now several months later, while walking through a empty park next to my apartment I happened upon a box of Capri Sun, left like a dumpster baby and crying out for a new home.
As I stood over the park bench, I had an existential crisis. Did God lay these Capri Sun before me as a test?
I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t partake of half-consumed food abandoned on a park bench. I also want to be the kind of person that gets to drink Capri Sun for free. Like Robert Frost’s Yellow Wood, two roads diverged before me, and I too was sorry that I could not travel both.
In that moment my baser impulses warred against all that society would have hoped for me. “Am I evolved enough to eschew the free Capris and take my more evolved self to Starbucks,” I asked, “or would I undermine civilization by taking the first step back to an age of hunter-gathererdom?”
So what did I do?
Capri Sun is delicious, and that has made all the difference.