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My Fucking Town

gazebo

I did some finagling with a photo found on Trulia. This is the iconic gazebo in the heart of downtown bumfuck, CT.

NOTE: This post is intended to be somewhat satirical. (“Quasi-satirical?”) However, some genuine frustration is expressed here, and, while my choice of words may be a bit abrasive to those whom the subject is a personal matter (i.e. Nutmeggers), please try to understand that this isn’t intended to offend or come off as “whiny,” so much as provide some perspective on being broke in a small town. As the post concludes (at the conclusion, naturally), New Milford isn’t an outright hell-hole, although for the sake of emphasis it may be treated that way. Yes, life could be much, much worse, and I’m not promoting ingratitude here.

(March 1, 2016)

I live in porcelain white Limbo. I’m shacked up with my folks, broke—no car, no nothin’. Connecticut. The cost of living is through the roof, the liquor stores close at 9 and diners stop serving liquor after 10. The bars sell up-charged, watered-down bunk. What am I saying? I don’t even got to bars. I can’t afford that. A Steely is my pride and joy… or a splash of shitty vodka, if I’m lucky. No. I barely ever make it to the package store.

I’m 23. I say to myself, “you should’ve been in grad school, or half way around the world by now. You should have a car, and an apartment. You should be dating, and doing shit. You should…” yada yada. So I sit at home and sleep and then I write about it.

It’s not all bad though. Really. And precisely because this is porcelain white quasi-suburban bullshit-land. I mean, those basic amenities are our blessings, right? I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a laptop from which I can communicate to you everything from Paganini to the heat death of the universe. I live in the country with the most disposable income of any developed nation, with the highest GDP per capita. I live in a nation that enjoys all these fruits in a way that it totally unsustainable, and which will eventually crash and burn under the weight of its pollution, over-consumption, and unsustainability, should dramatic actions not be taken. But we have to enjoy the moment, as they say. I’m sort of a curmudgeon, but I try to, anyway.

Let me complain a little:

I live in New Milford. I’ve lived here since 2001, when I moved from Austin, Texas. This town is basically a series of Dunkin’ Donuts and strip malls that opened up along U.S. routes 7 and 202, snaking along the Housatonic. There are auto bodies and a few car dealerships, industrial parks and convenience stores, condo complexes and old white churches with weather vanes or crosses on top.

Roger Sherman once lived here. I’m sure he thought it sucked, too. Anyway, his house is now town hall. There were a few movies filmed here, including that old Adam Sandler bit, Mr. Deeds. Indigenous Weantinock used to live here. I’m sure they enjoyed fishing in the Housatonic long before it became the river Styx. I’m sure they enjoyed the deciduous woodlands long before they were all chopped to shit and replaced with Walmart, Kohl’s, Verizon, and every other boring big box mart.

The demographic makeup of this town seems to mostly consist of pasty white soccer moms. They like to barrel down Rt. 7 in their minivans. Their kids have iPads and think they’re either living in Compton or an underground vampire lair. As you make your way toward Gaylordsville, a little “borough” of the town, you will notice a sharp increase in the number of rednecks, as well as old Methodists. (Throw in a few Catholics, Baptists, and one or two Jews for good measure.) A lot of these people wear plaid button-downs, tucked into their plain jeans. They peruse antique shops and thrift stores and the million fast food places that line the pot-holed streets.

There are no sidewalks to speak of. (Unless you’re downtown, of course.) If, like me, you don’t have a car, this is a living nightmare. I have to play Frogger—crossing four lanes of death—every time I want to buy cigarettes or a soda. If I walk along the back roads I have to make sure to balance myself along a two inch dividing line, a thin margin separating me from sixteen-wheeled hell freighters and farting Chevies.

Did I mention the rednecks? Despite being this far north of Dixie, you see a lot of pickup trucks, some of which are even audaciously adorned with the Confederate flag. The people who command these vehicles are known for tossing empty tins of Copenhagen and cans of Busch Light out their windows. This is part of the reason why we have a thick layer of trash built up along the roads. (I also see—in my many aimless walking excursions—empty bottles of Crown Royal and Sutter Home and little nippers. The other day I found a socket wrench, a saw, and a pair of pants. But I’m meandering, anyway.) They also seem to be the ones most likely to blurt out “faggot!” or some other obscenity, or blare their car horns, as they pass you down the highway when, say, you’re walking home from one of a thousand diners.

The diners, though… I always end up at diners. Not sure how. I just find myself in places like Three Brothers, Windmill, Johana’s, Theo’s—all these fuckin’ diners. And if it’s not in this town it’s in every one of its satellite settlements. Especially Danbury, which is a separate beast altogether.

Don’t get me wrong… I love diners. (Especially when they serve endless coffee for $1.25.) I just get bad déjà vu. Veggie burgers, home fries, spanikopita, challah, little metal pitchers filled with milk, the waitresses that call you “sweetie…” I dunno.

We have five (FIVE!) Dunkin’ Donuts in this town. If that doesn’t portend the apocalypse, I don’t know what does.

We’ve got a million copies of the same bank, always seemingly within spitting distance of each other. There are tattoo parlors and fast food places and stores that sell upholstery and furniture and clothes and a bunch of other boring stuff. It’s really just too much, the monotony of running up and down the same bullshit stretch of road, seeing the same pizzerias, the same bridges, the same empty and overgrown lots, the same nasty creeks… sprinkled with trash.

Downtown—the green and its surrounding “historic village”—is the main attraction, and draws in the majority of the tourists. (Though why you’d want to explore Limbo rather than, say, New York City (maybe an hour-ish away) or New Haven, is beyond me.) We have a stupid green and white gazebo that acts as a kind of symbol for the town. (It’s on our town flag—equally as pitiful.) I remember sitting in there a number of times, once looking over a graffito which read something like “I FUCKED HER HERE!”

Bank Street—so named for the large bank building on its corner—is prime real estate here. Every several months a business seems to close down on Bank Street, presumably unable to keep up with the cost. Some have staid for years: Archway News and Tobacco, the Bank Street Coffee House, a novelty/gag shop, the iconic Bank Street Theater ($5 for movies on Tuesdays) and a health food/organic grocer. But these are the minority. Most businesses on or around Bank Street close up as soon as they open. We’ve had a comic book shop (the owner was flaky?), a music shop, bars (too expensive, and the drunks were loud), furniture stores, clothing boutiques, and a Tex-Mex restaurant (wasn’t that great, anyway) go south.

I used to work at one of the Dunkin’ Donuts around here. It was one of those you see built into the corner of a gas station. Working with four other people on shift, confined to a hundred square foot space, is basically a nightmare. Especially for minimum wage.

Despite shitty customers (and let’s be honest—customer service is basically always taxing), there was some comic relief. Among the throngs of homeless nut jobs who wander the town green, one guy, who calls himself Ed (though he used to say his name was Matt…) would come in and talk to me about the most absurd shit, all while I pumped crappy coffee full of caramel syrup. He didn’t care. He’d lean his big arm on the sticky counter and just start yapping. One time he brought in a plastic bag full of maple seeds. He showed them to me and said, “hey, you see these apple seeds?” I told him they were maple seeds, a statement which he just outright denied, and then he told me something along the lines of, “man, I’m Johnny Appleseed. I’m going to plant these things all over the country.”

“Fair enough,” I told him.

He also once expressed to me that he owned a gold mine, one which so happened to be behind the very Dunkin’ Donuts that I worked at. Or so he said, at least. Funny. I never saw a gold mine. Just a parking lot, a creek, and some crumpled newspapers.

There are a few other nutty homeless people who travel to and fro, from Danbury to New Milford and vice versa. The HART bus (local public transit) is their drunk tank, as it is mine. (Sans drunk… for now, at least.) You see ’em hobbling around the streets, smoking, and just talking. Thankfully they don’t really beg much around here. They just file in and out of the tobacco shop.

When I volunteered at the local soup kitchen I’d encounter some of these characters. One was named Paul. A decent guy. Rumor was that he was a Harvard graduate. Used to ride a bike and smoke a little cherry wood pipe. He died of a heart condition not long ago.

Another was Dougie, or “Banjo Man,” who used to walk around drunk in the middle of the night, singing wildly and strumming his banjo. Once, he came into the soup kitchen asking for extra bagged lunches. (We gave out bagged lunches for later consumption, but the policy was to limit them to one per person per day.) He demanded more lunches in order to feed his “three-headed dogs,” which he supposedly lived with behind the local supermarket. There are, in fact, some bums who camp out there (or who at least used to), but I have my doubts about mutant canines.

Teenagers have nothing much to do here, seeing as this town is basically an open-air coffin anyway. Well, they have a skate park. And a baseball field. And a rowing team and parking lots to stand around it. And we’ve got the Maxx—the name itself makes me cringe—the “teen center” which miserably fails in its job of keeping kids out of trouble. If there were any drug deals going on while I was still in high school, it was always in the parking lot of the Maxx. Strangely enough, there always seemed to be a security guard walking around, though I guess he just didn’t give a shit, or didn’t notice.

There are these obnoxious bikers that fart their way up and down the road, often stopping at one of the trillion Dunkin’ Donuts to hang out in the parking lot for hours on end. Seems that’s what a lot of people do here: stand in parking lots. Unless you’re rich, in which case you probably have a house on Candlewood Lake, and your own pontoon boat, and can take lavish excursions to who-the-fuck-knows. Maybe Tahiti or Barbados or London or Mongolia…

We’ve got gas stations. And a few tattoo parlors. And a frozen yogurt bar. And a library. And golf courses/country clubs. We’ve got little hiking trails and ponds and the lake and some streams. We’ve got people kicking the dirt and picking at their food, drinking coffee and playing pool. We’ve got a few farms for pumpkin-picking and corn mazes, during the fall, of course. They’ve got cows. And the cows have got sheep. And the sheep have chickens. And the chickens have the earth.

Rolling hills. It’s all the rolling hills of Litchfield fuckin’ County. The “green wave” of the local high school. The mascot of which looks like a cracked-out version of Gumby… And we’ve got our fair share of parks and trails: Clatter Valley, Lover’s Leap, Dyke’s Point, the Still River Trail, and so forth. We’ve also got a tiny cave, called Tory’s Cave, which I’ve passed by, but have never been inside of. I hear that a British soldier once hid out there, during the Revolution. I also hear it’s a tight squeeze.

Beneath and along the bridges are graffiti etched out of the rust and painted over the steel. Beneath the big, red bridge on Lover’s Leap are some curious symbols suggesting the sigil of Lucifer, or the inverted pentagram, or just edgy-as-fuck teenagers getting stoned in the woods.

We’ve got mowed lawns and divided highways, back roads and abandoned lots (did I already mention that?), a psychic and a bunch of old, Victorian (-ish?) buildings converted into law offices and insurance agencies. We have a basketball court, a tennis court, gyms, a few marinas for the lake-side yuppies, and a factory or so… I don’t know whether they ever shut down the old Nestlé plant. All I know is that one day it just stopped smelling. I mean, for some reason, when it rained, the whole town would start stinking like urine and beef bouillon. I recall it less than fondly—having to stand there in the foggy morning, waiting on the school bus, wanting to puke.

We have little bits of swampland, criss-crossed with roads and bridges. Some of those bridges and passes are dilapidated, some drenched in spray paint, some overgrown with Japanese knotweed or goldenrod or wild mustard.

All in all, I guess it’s not such a bad town. If you’re rich enough, you can leave whenever you want. For myself, travelling three towns away is a serious ordeal. But that is also a product of my own laziness, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Ah well. C’est la vie.

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Forever and Ever (and Ever and Ever and…)—A Little Rant on the Arbitrariness of All

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(Source unknown.)

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole.”

—Heidegger

~

A little rant:

What’s the point of being famous if humanity won’t last forever? Who will remember you? What’s the point in trying to do anything with the hope of it being remembered? I mean, look at gravestones. Ever see the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington? Headstones as far as the horizon. A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting those countless blocks in the ground. And yet, when the sun expands into a red giant, every grave on the earth, whether ostentatious or cheap, will be destroyed, along with every other monument and fragment of human civilization. Supposing we create a database that holds all the information about planet Earth and human history, and install it into a generational ship and carry that information to the stars and beyond? What, then, is stopping this monolithic supercomputer from being spaghettified in a black hole or dissolved in the event of the universe’s eventual heat death? I suppose if we have figured out inter-dimensional travel by that point, we can just tunnel into parallel universes for the rest of eternity, escaping the imminent death of each one. Maybe we’ll even find a world where entropy doesn’t exist. Then we can just kick back and enjoy the rest of forever. (And ever and ever and…)

But, anyway, this seems incredibly unlikely. So why do people care about being remembered, or becoming famous? The universe is 13.7ish billion years old. It will continue to exist for billions of years. And yet, even knowing this, so many of continue to squabble over pieces of dirt and pennies on the dollar, neither of which will be here in a million years. Plate tectonics and rising sea levels, globalization and cultural degredation, the modification of language and the unfathomable future we are all beset with… Entrust oneself to change!

So where, exactly, is the human race going, in the end? Will we just continue to exist for existence’s sake, on and on until we go nuts or blow our brains out? (Will there even be brains then?) What happens when we run out of new things to do and try? Will we off ourselves out of pure boredom once every song is written, every painting painted, every book published, every poem heard… every experience experienced?

Science fiction always provides a thought-provoking, albeit outlandish, backdrop: Perhaps the answer is to put humans, or their evolutionary descendants, into flotation tanks of some sort. Then, we can keep them on (what’s assumed to become) eternal life support, and pump them full of feel-good drugs, so all they ever experience is pure bliss. E.g. A strange panacea that, say, mixes the effects of MDMA and heroin, and never causes tolerance. Addiction wouldn’t have to be worried about, since these individuals wouldn’t have to function in society. You’d just have to find space for them in a broom closet or warehouse is all. They could just be butt ass naked floating in these tanks…

Or how about something akin to The Matrix? Rather than Tom Anderson’s dead-end office job, have the denizens of this cybernetic universe live in an eternal play-land, a Cartesian dreamworld-utopia, full of the greatest delights imaginable. How would that be?

I realize that there are many philosophers who have tackled the overarching problems of purposelessness and dissatisfaction in some way or another: Buddha boiled it down to suffering, whereas on the more existential, Western side we find Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, and so forth. It is largely an individual issue. As such, I’ve never really seen it put into the context of humanity’s long-term existence, eventual fate, and function in the universe. So, anyway, I broached the topic.

I’ve also seen the obvious mystical leanings. I like them… I do. The idea of it all being about “knowing thyself” or simply the experience of pure being, or non-being, or whatever way you formulate soteriology, etc. For religionists this may be Nirvana, or Heaven, or Jannah, or gnosis, etc. And, as I’ve implied, the existentialists tackled this issue, but only on an individual level, really. (“What is MY purpose in this world…?”) My question is, what is all of humanity eventually going towards, and what happens when we ultimately run out of things to do? Do we erase our memories (with whatever lightspeed gadgets we’re assumed to have at this theoretical point in the future, or just some kind of hyper-barbiturate, yada yada) and then just start over, ad infinitum? How is it that we avoid nihilism, or even a concomitant antinatalism, as a collective? Does this differ from the way that we give meaning to individual lives?

I know this may come off as a little silly or outlandish. Granted, I wrote this pretty quickly, so pardon a lack of articulation or elaboration. In any case, I think it’s really a pertinent question of how we value the world.

(SEE THIS ALSO.)

We Are Not Alone

fuck

(Source unknown.)

Ryan doesn’t seem a terribly common name, even if it is unisex. So few people know Ryans—at least around Podunkville, Connecticut—that when I tell them my name they have to do a double-, triple-, or even quadruple-take, attempting to correct themselves.

“Brian?” They’ll ask.

“No, Ryan.”

“B-b-BRIAN? You said Brian?”

RY-an. RRRRy-an. Ryan.”

“With a “B”?”

… Anyway, that’s sort of how introductions tend to go for me. It doesn’t peeve me anymore, really. Now it’s just funny. I fully expect to be, and indeed I am, known as Brian to at least a few people. Primarily a co-worker from Peru.

Have you ever been tempted to go online and look up your name? It’s a strange feeling. Next time you do decide to Google yourself, put your name in quotes (of course). I would then highly recommend clicking the “Images” tab—what pops up can be anything from stiflingly boring, absolutely hilarious, mortifying, depressing, or outright shocking.

The fact is that we aren’t alone with our names. Names, those things that encapsulate us as individual beings… you’d think there would be some inherent sacredness about them. No. Sorry. They’re nearly omnipresent, at least for the majority of us.

Imagine my surprise when I found out just how close to “Jon Doe” “Ryan Stewart” is:

Apparently I’m mostly a sports person, which seems odd, since in this particular incarnation sports are the furthest thing from my mind. But there it is—I’m a footballer, a footballer (“soccer”—doing my best to be culturally sensitive), I’m in the NHL, and I’m at least several tall black dudes who shoot hoops for the Detroit Lions and the Long Beach City College Vikings (what a mouthful), among other ball-handling associations.

I also have the pleasure of being a tech-savvy manager for some fancy Adobe software, as well as a Canadian songwriter. Yes, I’m Canadian. (Two of them, at least.) I’m also from Trinidad, interestingly enough. (I’m admittedly a little envious of this other Ryan Stewart. Trinidad sounds pretty damn good, especially with the ass-kicking (I mean that in a bad, bad way) winters we get here.)

So maybe I’m one of a few million people with Gaelic to their name. So what?

Considering this, I began crediting myself as “Ryan V. Stewart” in my blogs and such. There’s no way that anyone else could possibly be a “Ryan V. Stewart”, right?

Wrong again. But only by a hair: There are two—two—Ryan V. Stewarts other than myself. (Well, that’s what Google can detect with its wizardry, in any case.) Apparently one of them lives in Illinois, and the other one was arrested in Philadelphia for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

As intimidating as heroin dealers might be, I have to admit that, after finding this out, I had a little bit of a romanticized, albeit sort of morbid, wish to meet this guy. He’s what? Two, maybe three hours from me? Pennsylvania isn’t so far from yuppie-nutmeg-country. It would have been pretty jaw-dropping to meet another Ryan V. Stewart, much less a Ryan Stewart at all.

It was my intention, as an aspiring writer—of sorts—to quite literally make a name for myself, one that would stand out amid the crowd, the sea of John Does, John Smiths, Sarahs and Ashleys and Chads and Joes. What will I do now? I can’t really use my full name. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue too well. “Ryan Vincent Stewart” doesn’t have the same ring as “John Stuart Mill” or “John Lee Hooker”.

And you know what? It wouldn’t matter anyway. Because, apparently, there’s a Ryan Vincent Stewart in West Unity, Ohio.

Now what lightens the mood a bit is Vincent Stewart Ryan, son of Anthony Ryan, apparently a serviceman in the U.S. Army during WWII. After all this debasing of identity, I got a bit of a kick out of that.

It just goes to show that if you do enough snooping ’round digital space you’ll find all sorts of useless facts about people you’ll never meet, or who’ve been dead and buried for god knows how long now. Maybe that makes me a proverbial “creeper”, or just an asshole, or whatever.

All of this is ultimately the consequence of living in a  world of 7 or 8 billion and counting. What? You expected to be unique? You are one helluva ubiquitous snowflake, my friend.

Maybe, after all, we shouldn’t condemn celebrities for giving their kids such fanciful names as Pilot Inspektor (son of Jason Lee) and Jermajesty Jackson (son of Jermaine Jackson). Then they’ll go down in history without parentheses after their name on the pertinent Wikipedia page; they will be known for something more than the fact that they are the offspring of people who regularly bathe in liquid gold.

Maybe, after all, we ought to start naming everyone John Doe, or John Smith, or…

Drugs of Choice (or, Why I Need Better Drugs)

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The third circle of Dante’s vision of Hell. This circle is the home of the gluttons, those not completely unlike myself on relatively bad days. (Source uknown.)

Food is my drug of choice, and I damn myself for it. Temporarily, that is. Many of us have been through that, or consistently struggle with some style of self-inflicted ass kicking. But then you get hungry again, and it starts over and builds back up to the break.  I eat shit and then crawl up into my head to do a few rounds of “it’ll get better,” watching the words drift out of sight. In a moment I realize that much of that post-indulgent, self-consoling armchair philosophy, all of those machismo-laden aspirations are pretty unnecessary. You know what I mean… you have the entire box of macaroni and cheese—you’ve nearly forgotten the meaning of the phrase “serving size!”—and then afterwards you stand there, uneasy, somewhere way off those mental projections playing out on your mind’s eye, a paradisaical rendition in which you bench wrought iron and walk out the door an incubus…

At some point you just have to watch a button pop off of a pair of freshly ironed slacks and go flying across the room. You have to see it land on the floor or hit the baseboards so that you wake up and shove those flowers down your throat, followed by a large tub of Hamburger Helper. It’s only then, in a moment of glory, that you can admit to it, turn your eyes to the earth, and humbly proclaim, “I’m just a fucking fatass.”

It doesn’t need to get any more complex than that. Really… I mean it’s quite the relief. Because now that you know you’ve got a problem you can, of course, begin chipping away until you expunge from your life every inclination towards pork fat and Boston Cremes. Wipe your brow, raise your hands, and place the cake slowly on the ground.

No, it’s never that simple. Really… because then it’s that chipping away that becomes so tedious… hours at the gym won’t do justice to half of a large pizza on a Saturday evening. You just ate half a fucking pizza. I’m sorry, sir, ma’am, but you are a bona fide fatass. How do you put it, then? … Quid pro quo!

Now let me be clear: you don’t need to be fat to be a fatass. I’ve met fatasses short and tall, rotund and rattling like chimes in the wind. It’s a psychological condition, fatassery. It’s the unassailable connection you’ve got to food. Food becomes a sad savior. The world may be falling apart, but if you’ve got the time and lack of energy to allocate to a box car diner, you may just die happily. Really, is there anything more comfortingly complacent, and yet depressing, than taking so much joy in the simple act of stuffing one’s face? And why, in the first place? You may not even eat when you’re hungry… you may eat out of boredom or to alleviate any one of a myriad of shitty situations. You lost your job? How about we go out for a slice?

It’s no stretch at this point… the mentality of indulgence and routine, lackadaisical waving-aways of reality end up providing you with highs that hit harder and stick longer. Sleep is chief among these. Sleep is my drug of choice.

However, I don’t quite damn myself for sleeping as much as being gluttonous. Because sleep is more universal, you know. There aren’t qualities of sleep more or less hedonistic than food: There is no red velvet cake to sleeping, or if there is, it’s just more subtle. Because unless you’re an insomniac or work the graveyard, do you really envy your neighbor for his Bed of Ware? Unless you recline on nails or your spine is snapped, what is it to sleep that makes it anything other than ideal for everyone, all the time? Sure, doctors say too little or too much is unhealthy, but we don’t disparage over-sleepers like we do over-eaters. We sympathize with excessive fatigue, but frown upon excessive hunger. Or, rather, we could care less that our friend crashed on our couch for 16 hours, whereas if he eats our top ramen we can kick him in the taint. Where are our priorities? Where are our preferences? What is the narcoleptic’s equivalent of fatassery? A sloth? What?

It’s just goes without saying that if people have no obligations or endeavors on a certain day, they might as well, and may very well, continue punching the snooze button until 6 pm rolls around. I often experience this as the fruition of staying up until 7 in the morning. It’s nice to know you’re not in a rush to do anything in particular, although the rebound sets in eventually, and regret pours out of your eyes. At least I was doing something while I was inhaling that burrito. Now I’ve just been comatose for half a day. What did that do, other than to prove that I can waste my precious time? What did it do, other than to show that I have the freedom not to worry, or rather to put worrying off until the strain becomes unbearable?

Masturbation is also a drug of choice. It, too, comes (heh) with the nothing-to-do 20-something package. I mean if you’re really, really bored all day, and don’t even take a step outside for nearly 3 consecutive days, how else do you think you’re going to end up spending your time? And if once, then why not twice, or thrice, or 15 times? Go for the record, why don’t you? You’ll be sorry when you’re sore though.

I don’t want habituation or hubris, just the ability to do things at leisure. Perhaps I’d like a little moderation in all things—as they say—but then what’s to keep that from becoming a new priority? Can you mediate mediation without Jack growing dull? Doesn’t that become a “drug” after all is said and done with? Where’s the standard beyond health or appropriate time management, set for and by oneself? When does my choice fall into a gridlock with my impulses, and then am I really even calling the shots?

These are just some thoughts. But in conclusion, I think I may need better drugs.