Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ghosts of the past

"I got a pocket full of quarters and I'm headed to the arcade…"  is how the song Pac-Man Fever starts out. Other than the chorus, the first line is about the only one I can remember from the song. If you had asked me in 1982 when the song came out I could have quoted it to you verbatim. Back then it was more than just a song to me, it was an anthem.

Nearly every Saturday  without fail, I'd take my five dollars, jump on my bike, and head down to the arcade.
When I first started playing video games, my money would only last a little while but as my prowess  increased, the five dollars would last me later and later into the day.

That wasn't really  my first taste of freedom, my parents let me roam on my bike for hours at a time (something that's almost incomprehensible for a kid that age these days). But there was definitely something intoxicating about being in a room full of kids your own age, with next to no adult supervision, playing video games.

I hadn't thought about that place in a long time, but as I was going to Subway the other day, I noticed that they were tearing the bowling alley down and all of those memories came flooding back. 

For me and a lot of my friends, Uncle Jack's Saloon (I don't know where the name came from) was a big part of our lives. At first it was video games and pinball, but as we got older  it became the place to hang out, shoot pool and flirt with girls. Even later in life we'd go down to bowl and drink beer.

It wasn't the prettiest of places, the carpet was a ratty brown color that looked as if it had never been new. There were patches on most of the walls where something or other had went through them. It smelled of old cigarette smoke and stale beer, and it always seemed as if about half the lights were burned out at any given time. But for a number of years, this was the epicenter for teen activity, at least as far as we were concerned.
As we got older, started driving and got girlfriends, we spent less and less time there. Life inevitably seeps in and you grow up and move on. But as I was driving passed the other day, and saw that gaping hole where the bowling alley used to be, I realized that another part of my childhood was vanishing. 

Evolution is the way of life. Old things are replaced by new things. A new generation of kids is making memories as I write this. Thus is the course of nature.

The actual building that housed the arcade is still standing, but the demolition of the bowling alley seems representative of the death of the arcade as well, even though it's long since been gone.

 For the kids of my generation that spent countless hours in that dingy smoke filled arcade, that hole where the bowling alley used to be reflects the hole in our collective heart.  Eventually something will fill that space on Ludington Avenue, but for those of us in the know, the spirit of what used to be will always linger.  I imagine that on a quiet night, when the moon is just right, and the wind is just so, you may just hear the ching of the quarter sliding into a game and the laughter of the generation of kids who grew up there.  It may happen so quick that you'll think you imagined it, but you didn't. There are ghosts everywhere if you just take the time to pay attention.

Monday, February 25, 2013

When I grow up


     As a child I was asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?", and I honestly can't think of a day in my life when I woke up and said "I want to be average." Though there are things I'm average at, striving for mediocrity has never been part of my M.O.

     When I was young, I dreamt about being a marine biologist or an archaeologist. An astronaut, or a race car driver. A motocross racer, a rock star… The list goes on.

     The world used to seem like a huge place, full of adventure and potential, with excitement waiting just around the corner. To quote Tom Petty "The future was wide open."

     As I grew older the familiar pressures crept in. "This is how you're supposed to live your life." "This is what you're supposed to do." "Go to school." "Get a job." Work, eat, sleep. Repeat.

     One of the things that I have never been good at, or even average at, is conformity. Early in life I had a defiant attitude. Like James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause", it didn't matter what I was rebelling against, if I was supposed to do it, chances are I wasn't going to.

     I lived a pretty reckless life for a while, then about ten years ago things got real for me. My daughter was born. Since I was adopted, she was the only blood relative that I knew, and her presence in my life was amazing and overwhelming.

     Suddenly things took on a whole new importance. Things that hadn't mattered much now became first priority. I tried to be responsible where before I had avoided responsibility. I had a new life depending on me, and there was no way I was letting her down.

     When you become a parent, especially a single parent, your standards of living change. Suddenly it's not okay to live on Ramen noodles and hot dogs for a week because you blew all your money partying. It's not okay to quit your job because you don't like it, or because your boss is a jerk. When your child is relying on you, you tend to take second place in your own life.

     My daughter is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. In trying to be a good parent, I'm forced to constantly re-examine my own life, and adjust the things I do accordingly. I try to teach her things by lesson as well as example, so that she can live her life to the fullest. I try not to repeat the mistakes of my parents, and I encourage her to use her intelligence to analyze things and to make decisions accordingly. My goal as a parent is to give my child the tools to be happy in life.

     Over the past few years I'd become increasingly unhappy at my job. I felt like there was so much to life that I was missing out on, and that I was caught in a vicious cycle of stagnation. But I couldn't just quit my job and go off chasing dreams, I had a child to take care of and bills to pay.

     With that thought in mind, I went back to school. I had my job because I needed money, but it was nothing that I wanted to be doing, and school seemed like the best choice.

     I had initially planned on continuing with my previous major, computer science. Computers have always fascinated me, and I think it's a relevant and meaningful career choice, especially considering the huge part they play in our lives.

     While I was going to school I met some people who were doing the same as me; Furthering their education with the intention of getting a better job. But I also met people who were going to school for another reason; They were chasing their dreams. The more I thought about it, the wider the gap between those two groups seemed to be.

     As I mentioned, I really like computers, but as I started taking these classes and spending more and more time in front of a computer, coding and debugging programs, making flow charts and plotting graphics, I realized that though it was still interesting to me, I didn't want to do it as a career.

     I thought that perhaps instead of trying to find a career, I should try to earn a living doing things that I was passionate about, and after some thought, arrived at the three things that occupy most of my free time; Writing, playing music, and playing poker. 

     I've been into music for as long as I can remember and I've been playing guitar for over half of my life. I'm no virtuoso, but I'm pretty decent, and I've played in some really good bands.

     I've spent quite a bit of time and money learning to play poker, and once again, while I'm no virtuoso, I've got a pretty solid game. I've cashed in some tournaments, and I'm generally a profitable cash game player. 
     Writing is something I've always been good at. Although I sometimes struggle with things that I'm writing about, I never struggle when it comes to the act of writing. It's how I express myself most effectively. I am absolutely in love with the written word, and the unlimited potential it has.

     Anyway, my thought process concerning my unhappiness with my job, was that while I may not be able to make a living off just one of my passions, I'd probably do okay if I had more time to devote to all three of them. So that's what I decided to do.
     I started talking to people about some potential writing work and received several positive responses. I'm playing in a band that should be playing out by summer, and with my tax refund, I have a some money to live off for awhile, and a start to my poker bankroll. I figured If I didn't seize the opportunity then, I probably never would, so I put in my two week notice and quit my job.

     For all the people who cringe at the thought of quitting a job in this economy, I didn't make this little walk on the wire without a net. I have some construction work lined up in the spring with a flexible enough schedule to allow me to chase some dreams, and I'm going back to school full time in the fall.

     Some people will read this and think it's crazy. Hell, half the time I think it's crazy. But crazy isn't a synonym for bad. What's bad is continually spending time doing things that make you unhappy. Continually spending time in a place you don't want to be, just to get by. To continually spend time around people that drag you down, mentally and emotionally, and to waste years of your life in pursuit of someone else's definition of success. These are things that are bad.

     This quote by John Lennon has stuck with me and always comes to mind when I think about success and happiness.

     “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

     I believe that there is more to life than a white picket fence, an S.U.V., and 2.3 kids. This is not the American Dream, and more importantly it's not my dream. We live in a culture that places immense value on the possession of things, and more often than not, we allow those things to define who we are, and dictate our path in life.

     I want my daughter to lead an extraordinary life. I want her to grow up knowing that she can truly be whatever she wants to be. I want her to strive for happiness, and I want that to dictate her actions, not a desire for things, or the belief that there is only one way to be successful. I want her to be far more afraid of not trying, than trying and failing, and I want her to be able to define and attain success on her own terms.

     I want to break free of the belief that doing things that make you unhappy, in order to attain happiness, makes any kind of sense. Life is not all smiles and sunshine. It's full of good times as well as bad. But it's also far too short to spend very much of it doing things that make you unhappy.

      I'm not encouraging you to quit your job and go traipsing off in search of crazy dreams. I'm encouraging you to examine your life and your level of happiness. Are you really happy? If not, what are you waiting for?

      I know it's not easy to question everything you've been taught, and rely more on a belief in yourself than in those teachings. For the record though, there was no promise that life would be easy. In fact, life doesn't really offer any promises up at all. All that life offers is potential.

      I don't have all the answers, but I think the first step in finding the right answers, is to ask the right questions. The world is an amazing place, but most of us never take the time nor the initiative to see what it has to offer.

      John Lennon had it right about people not understanding life. It's easy to get caught up in the tide of popular opinion, and it's hard to break free from that mode of thinking. I think however, that that's absolutely necessary to be happy.

      Like I said, I don't have all the answers, but I have one more than I did previously, and I'm one step further along in the journey. And if someone were to ask me now what I want to be when I grow up, my answer would simply be "Happy".

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Cold Dead Hands

     I do not own a gun. Although I don't own one, I do not have a problem with guns.
If some magic fairy waved her wand and every gun in the world disappeared, well, I wouldn't have a problem with that either. I don't believe the world would be a better or worse place without guns. Evil men committed evil deeds long before there were guns.

     In wake of the recent shootings there have been numerous debates over gun ownership and the second amendment. One side claims that if we take away or limit guns, it will limit the amount of people that will have access to them, and thereby potentially limit the senseless acts of violence that have seemed so prevalent recently. The other side claims that if we take away or limit guns, the only people that will have guns are criminals. And the government. And the police.

     The reason that this is so big an issue is because guns give people a distinct advantage. People use guns to hunt animals because it gives them an advantage over the animal. People use guns to rob other people because it gives the armed person an advantage over the unarmed person. It's really simple.

     If you follow that logic, it's not difficult to come to the next conclusion; If having a gun is an advantage, than not having a gun is a disadvantage. Since we know that criminals don't follow laws, it's logical to think that criminals will not give up their guns should such a law ever pass. Therefore it's reasonable to conclude that should this come to be, the only people that will be at a disadvantage are the law abiding citizens.

     I see a lot of arguments plying on the sympathy of the American people over the loss of lives in the recent shootings. Does anyone honestly think for a moment that this doesn't affect or deeply hurt anyone? These are our children. This is our future. But I've also seen the facebook meme that says "If your first reaction to the shootings is "Oh shit! Obama/liberals are going to try and take our guns." Then your priorities as a human being suck." Well, I can almost guarantee that that wasn't anybody's first reaction. If it was, than I agree, your priorities as a human do suck. But that doesn't change the fact that that's what the government is using this as an opportunity to do.

     This is not about being liberal or conservative, this is about not giving an unfair advantage to people who will take advantage of it.

     I've heard conspiracy theories claiming all of these shootings are a plan, and the government is using them as an excuse to come and get our guns. I don't know if they're planned, maybe it's just a coincidence that a series of shootings occur when the U.S. is involved in the U.N. small arms treaty. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the president just signed the NDAA which allows the military to indefinitely detain American citizens without a trial. I mean the government wouldn't purposely deceive or manipulate us in order to acquire even more power over Americans… Would it?

     According to Thomas Jefferson, “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. … Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."

     This is just common sense, seriously. The world is not a nice place. To think that passing more gun control laws or taking away guns entirely is going to make the world a better or safer place is ludicrous. Bad people do bad things. That's the bottom line.

     Charlie Reese, a syndicated columnist said "A government that intended to protect the liberty of the people would not disarm them. A government planning the opposite most certainly and logically would disarm them. And so it has been in this century. Check out the history of Germany, the Soviet Union, Cuba, China and Cambodia."

     Once again, this is just common sense. Look and see what happens the majority of the time a government takes away guns. So in essence, this debate isn't about saving a few lives, or making the country a bit safer, it's about championing  freedom and standing against those who would take it.

     The fact that this country was founded on certain principles and rose to greatness by adhering to and promoting those principles should make any thinking person wonder about a government that tries to act in direct opposition to those ideals. How much do you really trust the government?

     The constitution and the amendments are the foundation upon which America is built. If you destroy the foundation of something, it inevitably falls.  By attempting to infringe on the constitution and our rights, the government is attempting to undermine the pillars upon which our country was founded and stands. This is not how a government should behave.

     Gun control is just one more issue that America is divided on, which, if the government did have some hidden agenda (but they don't… do they?) would fall right into the divide and conquer strategy.

     I do not believe that the government has the best interest of the people at heart. I do not trust the government. I can't in any good conscious support a government that manipulates and lies to the people that it's supposed to be serving. It is still "We the people…" Right? And our government is still "By the people, for the people…" Isn't it?

     Maybe I am a conspiracy theorist, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are… It's a duck.

     Maybe I am a little bit paranoid, but like Joseph Heller said "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you".

     I have to believe that things are going to get worse before they get better. The government controls the media, and big business controls the government. The only thing they don't control is us. The American people. How long that will last if we don't stand up for our rights?

     No, I don't own a gun, but I'm starting to think maybe I should.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Freedom ain't free
Thad Ray

It's been a while since I've sat down and written. After going to school and working full time for the past nine months, I was simply burned out. I avoided my computer, I didn't write anything, didn't work on any computer related projects, I even deactivated my facebook account for a few weeks.
If you follow my blog regularly, you'll see that it's kind of therapy for me. The inside of my head is a jumbled mess of thoughts and words and ideas, and writing is the way that I make sense of that chaos. Often I don't even know my thoughts on a subject until I see it come out on paper (well, my computer screen).
I'd been thinking about writing again for a while now, and I have a lot of stuff that I want to write about, but I hadn't really felt the urge to write. Sometimes you just need a break.
I chatted with Rob [Alway] a week or so ago and we talked a bit about writing, and I explained to him kind of what was going on, but I told him that I'd have something for him soon. I had some ideas, but wasn't really sure what I wanted to write about.
In Ludington, Memorial weekend is a big thing. The population multiplies exponentially, there are people everywhere, the beaches and parks are in full swing, and the heat is usually here to stay. For us it really is the start of summer.
While Memorial weekend is usually a festive time, underneath its happy exterior lies a more somber reason that a lot of us seem to forget, or not be concerned about, or take for granted.
With the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, news of U.S. soldiers being killed, and the amount of coverage we see, the reason for Memorial day has been weighing heavier on my mind than it ever has previously.
I'm not a fan of big government. I think the government should serve the people and not vice versa. More specifically I'm not a fan of our government. I think that it's a self serving entity that has it's own best interest at heart, and not the best interest of the American people.
My feelings about the government aren't the topic of this post though. I shared them to illustrate one of the freedoms that we have. I can still love America, be patriotic, and not like the government.
I would like to say that I'm anti-war, but I'm not. I believe that war is sometimes necessary to fight oppression, battle injustice, and right wrongs. As much as that saddens me, that's just the way it is.
There are wars that I am opposed to however, especially ones fought under false pretenses, but again, that is not the subject of this post.
As an American, I often forget how good we have it here, the things we take for granted. But on Memorial day it really hits home that those things didn't come for free, and that everything that we take for granted was payed for in blood.
There is no greater sacrifice that a man can make than to lay down his life in the promotion of freedom, and for this I am eternally grateful. For those who have given their lives so we could be free. How do you even hope to find the words to express the depth of gratitude that we should have for the countless that have died defending American ideals?
I know that Memorial Day has passed, and we'll go back to our jobs and our day to day lives, and as the real world creeps back in, the sacrifice made by our friends and family members will slowly fade to the back of our consciousness until next Memorial Day. In the meantime though, there are people all over the world whose 9 to 5 is protecting those freedoms that we take for granted. So maybe every once in a while, while you're watching T.V. in your air conditioned living room, eating Cheetos and drinking beer, you can take the time to be thankful for the people who are out there making sure that you can do that.
As easy as it is to take the things we have for granted, and then complain about how tough our lives are, the bottom line is, those things weren't given to us. Throughout the course of history, Millions of people have died so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today.
I would like to say thank you to everyone who has shed their blood so I could live in this great country, and while I'm not a big fan of the government, I'm a huge fan of America. To all the people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, I salute you. I understand that freedom ain't free.