A Quarter Tank of Gas

So you fill up your tank on Friday, and it’s gotta last you until next payday. But that’s OK, cause you’ve got that mother filled all the way to the gas cap! You drive all the way across town to see a buddy you haven’t seen in a while and you all decide to go out. You volunteer to drive, because you’ve got a full tank of gas!

On Saturday you race from store to store. The Walmart on Waters is closer, but you like the one on Fletcher more, so you go there. Sunday you go out to the lake, just because it’s a beautiful day and it’s been forever since you’ve been there. And you’ve got a full tank of gas!

Monday after work you offer a ride to a girl who usually takes the bus. It’s 20 miles out of your way, but she’s cute. And you’ve got a full tank of gas!

But when you drop her off you glance at the gauge and see you’re down to a quarter of a tank. And it’s only Monday. “Fuck! How did I manage to go through three quarters of a tank that fast?

The first step for a guy like me — given to morbid reflection — is to engage in critical self-analysis. Self-Recrimination. I think about all the stupid things I did that caused me to be in this position. I play them over in my head one by one until I feel like complete shit about myself. It usually takes more than one time through to really work up a good head of disgust.

Next is the Self-Pity phase. THIS STEP IS MANDATORY! Even though there was no one at the wheel except me, I need to feel like a victim. I’ve gotten all the mileage (pun intended) I can out of my gas situation, so I run through every instance — in my entire life — where someone fucked me over. Whether or not they truly screwed me or it’s just my memory of the situation is of little import here (“…the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real…”). The purpose of this is that if I got cheated once before, then they may be partly to blame for my current dilemma. The human mind is not designed to analyze the current situation and make the best possible next decision, but to explain, rationalize and justify why the last decision you made was great. If you find that difficult to do, then the smart thing is to blame someone else. That way, it’s not your fault and your ego remains intact (to be fully torn down in the next 2 steps).

While it’s possible to remain on the self-pity phase indefinitely, most people find that spite, anger and resentment will only take you so far. To truly be self-destructive you must move to the Fear stage as quickly as possible. Ball-shrinking, butt-clenching, paralyzing fear. If a smart person like yourself — making the best possible decisions a person could have made — got put into this position once, there is no chance of you ever succeeding in the future. This is where the more-imaginitive have an advantage over the less-imaginitive.

Envision every possible circumstance you can ever be in, where you will fail. Put a real person in the position to deny you your rightful, well-earned success. This is very important! Refer to the people who screwed you over in the past as a possible villain pool. Though it doesn’t have to be limited to ex-wives, ex-bosses and your parents, many people find it helpful to start here. Be sure to formulate arguments for yourself, and then create a cruel response from them. If the dialogue doesn’t anger you sufficiently the first 500 or 1000 times you go through it, don’t be afraid to put some real effort into it! It will pay off in the long run!

Now that you have planted, grown and watered your paralyzing fear, it’s time to reap the fruits of your labors! Depression! Now that you have determined that you are a piece-of-shit who got screwed over by everyone and will never succeed, nothing will feel quite as good as giving up. You’ve still got a quarter tank of gas left, but go ahead and call in sick for the next 4 days. Don’t get out of bed unless it’s to go to the bathroom (optional for the beginner, bed-shitting is usually recommended for the more advanced students) or fix yourself something to eat. Make sure you don’t wash the dishes, clean the house, or shower. If you’re feeling lonely, remember: nothing cures loneliness like isolation. If you must watch a movie, make sure it’s something sad. I personally recommend “When Harry Met Sally”. That’s the saddest movie ever made, because you will never have that kind of love. Because you suck.

To review, the four-step program to complete annihilation of self is:

1) Self-Recrimination

2) Self-Pity

3) Fear

4) Depression

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As I sit here typing tonight — at a card table and camp-chair typing on my laptop outside my tent — I approach my 56th birthday. I realize I have used up 3/4 of the time I was given. Most of it was squandered, mostly while drunk. Some I used well, and later spoiled; like raising my kids for 13 years and then being mostly absent from their lives for the last 10.

Camp Chair

I am an enigma. I live in the ghetto (in a tent, in a friend’s back yard) and look down on the trash who live here, as though I were above them. I feel apart-from and better-than, and yet I am the only person in this ghetto who does not live indoors. Sometimes I have to shit in the back yard because the homeowner forgets to unlock the back door. I put the toilet paper in the trash out front so he will think it’s the dog who crapped there. The dog has promised to keep my secret, but lately I don’t feel I can trust him. Beware of the dog: he is shady as fuck.

In a matter of days or weeks — months at the outside — my financial situation will be changed. Drastically. Forever? I don’t know. I have proven to myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am perfectly capable of screwing up a sure thing. I could invest it all with my sister and live modestly — $30-$40k per year — off the income for the rest of my life never touching the principal. That doesn’t appeal to me. “Modestly”. The back-yard shitter doesn’t want to live modestly.

The story I tell myself most often, I liken to my sobriety. I didn’t deserve sobriety when I joined A.A. Every single decision I had made had culminated in a life so damn bad I didn’t want to live in it one more day. I certainly hadn’t done anything to deserve “a gift from God”. But I got it anyway. And I have spent the last 15 years earning that gift. In my better moments I think I’ve done that OK with that.

The inheritance I have coming — though originally earned by my father — was left to me by his wife, a woman I grew to despise. I don’t deserve this money. I tell myself that my job is to use the money — make it grow — and thereby earn it. For the last 10 years — much of which I have been homeless — I have told myself: “I have many qualities, the world just won’t give me a chance! Why, I could run this company better than my boss!” Now I have a chance to start my own company. Or two. The Universe has given me a chance that I swore I wanted, yet in many ways I am afraid, because if I fail then it means I was meant to be here. I deserved it all along. I may be back here homeless at 65.

Another part of me is reveling in my homelessness. I almost sought it. When my girlfriend said she wanted me to move out — she wanted to live alone — I could have begged to stay. Or even just asked. Instead I asked Tivo if I could move into his backyard. You see, I have this idea…

Everyone in recovery — maybe in life — has heard the theory that God gives you lessons. If you don’t learn the lesson, you repeat it, over and over, until you do learn it. So I have this idea that there’s something I can learn from being poor. Homeless. And if I learn it now I won’t ever have to repeat it.

Maybe it’s not to look down on people like my neighbors. Maybe it’s that as a business owner my primary purpose should be to let other people grasp as much success as they’re able to handle, regardless of where they were when I found them. Maybe it’s something as simple as learning to be happy without any money, so I don’t have to “buy happiness” and blow my money on fancy cars and big-boobed women. Or drugs and alcohol.

So I’ve got a quarter tank of gas. That’s not a lot, so I can’t waste any of it. What I do with the next 18 or 20 years of my life will determine how I am remembered. Really, what I do in the next 8 or 10, with the same amount (hopefully) in retirement. Can I redeem myself? In some ways I feel like I have to earn my father’s love and respect — which I don’t feel he had for me in life — by turning this money into more money for my kids than he was able to leave for his. Is this really about me competing with a ghost?

We all write our own epitaphs. If I died today, mine would read: “Well, that was a waste of protoplasm…“. But maybe I have one quarter of my life to rewrite it. No one gives a shit — or even remembers — what the score was at the end of the 3rd quarter. As a matter of fact, if they were way down they don’t talk about how “they sucked for 3/4 of the game“, but how they “came back!” at the end.

So I have one quarter of my life to rewrite my epitaph. What will I write? That’s a question I should have asked myself every single day of my life. Maybe I should ask that every single day from now on.

4/3/15

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7 Responses to A Quarter Tank of Gas

  1. Off-Dry says:

    You’re one heck of a writer. Thank you for this.

  2. Donna Collins says:

    No matter what age, or circumstance….TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE…EMBRACE IT, FOR YESTERDAY IS GONE, TOMORROW ISN’T PROMISED, TODAY IS CALLED THE “PRESENT”, UNWRAP IT SLOWLY, AND ENJOY IT! 😉

  3. Jackie says:

    No waste of protoplasm in your world my friend….all the people you have helped….all the support and encouragement you give, and all that you are, all that you do…everything is part of an amazing roller coaster of life. ..Keep the faith and know that you have a lot of life to live….You also have another friend in the ghetto….always will be here….Please get in touch….Keep on trucking and have a great day….It just gets better….

  4. Lillian says:

    Hi Jim,
    You are a gifted writer. You are so much like your father (the one I knew) that you possibly can not see it. I am sorry about how you felt about his wife but I did not get along with her either. I loved the little person who was my sister. You will make it and I wish happiness for you.

    Lillian

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