Sounding Off as a Former Resident of Spain

This is a bit out of the norm for me. I generally try to avoid politics online these days, mainly because here in the States, nobody is solving anything. Social media can generally be boiled down to

  3. And finally, the “STFU THEY BOTH SUCKED” camp.

I more or less belong to the third one. We have the government we deserve because we keep falling for stupid, divisive garbage and patting ourselves on the back for being better than the other guy.

The problem is, when you’re the biggest gun on the block, and everyone else is kind of counting on you to keep that thing in working order, and then you neglect or abuse that gun and let it fall out of working order, suddenly a gang of renegades moves into the neighborhood and starts doing whatever they want.

For those of you not following the metaphor, the gang is ISIS.

For the umpteenth time in a few short years, some ISIS a–hole committed a terrorist attack because of his backwards, Stone Age beliefs, that people of his kind are better and people not of his kind are not even people, and should be slain for it.

A sensible response would involve hunting these clowns down, along with everyone who ever financed, aided, or abetted them, and permanently removing their ability to organize and harm other people. Maybe that means seizing their assets. Maybe that means destroying their infrastructure. Maybe that means catching and executing them. The point is, we’d do it.

But we’re not. We keep allowing things like this to happen. Somehow, the status quo wherein peaceful citizens in peaceful cities get killed all the time is preferable to hunkering down and actually solving the problem.

We have two ruling political parties who don’t want to solve that problem. They want the problem blamed on the other side, in exchange for power, so that they can…keep the problem going. A cultural and media behemoth works at the beck and call of these parties to keep them in their frenzied state of pride, contention, and mistrust.

The lives of our military don’t matter to them. The lives of civilians don’t matter to them. All that matters is power, and capital, and whatever they can generate from ongoing news coverage of the carnage.

We’ve had these attacks stateside, we’ve had them all over the world. For the first time, I’m seeing the aftermath of an attack in a city where I lived, if briefly. I served an LDS mission in Barcelona, Spain. While I was only in Barce proper for a month, I visited frequently for numerous reasons. I’ve walked that Rambla. I’ve shopped at those stores, eaten at those restaurants, mingled with those tourists, tossed coins to those street performers. I’ve sung in a plaza not five minutes from there, surrounded by other missionaries from all over the world.

The Spanish people are my people. I’ve been among them as they’ve dealt with this before. In March of 2004, terrorists attacked a train station in Madrid, roughly 200 miles from where I was living (Zaragoza.) It was 9/11 all over again, with some cultural differences.

Later, while we were weathering a recession in the USA–and then slowly coming out of it–Spain was hit with one twice as hard. In fact, if you were under 30, you had a 50% chance of being flat-out unemployed. To this day, it’s still close to that bad. One of my friends just moved back to the States (dual citizen) to find work here because of how hard it is over there.

My point is, Spain is like my backyard, or the next neighborhood over. They’re not just foreign names on a map on the news. This particular attack…it hits me in a way that the others haven’t. Part of that is the fact that it’s about the fifteenth attack since 2014, when ISIS came into power.

And there’s no end in sight.

We’ve become comfortable with this. Somehow we’ve reached a point where this is better than solving the problem.

I’m used to that from the government. I wish we here on the ground were better, though. I thought we were. Thought I was.

I hope we can, as a nation, as a species, as a planet, get our crap together before anyone else has to suffer like this.

Or, we can go back to our stupid hashtags and backpatting, and watch some other insane whackjob do this in another country.

Buy my mom’s house in Henderson, NV.

For years, you’ve wanted to be a legit Old Hendersonian.
You’ve wanted to live within walking distance of the Water Street District, where you can eat a different culture’s food every day of the week.
Where old men in white smocks cut your hair with hand-sharpened scissors and tell you stories about The War.
A place where whatever grocery store across from Wal-Mart is trying to survive this week. (Is it a Sav-On? It’s Albertson’s. No, it’s Haagens? No, it’s an Albertson’s again…)
Well, you no longer have to dream about being closer to Target AND Walgreens AND Friendly’s Donuts AND Johnny Mac’s AND Cinedome 12, with its $4 Tuesday Tickets and the same ticket-tearing lady who’s been there since I was 11.
Yes, all of this is within your reach, because a home just went up for sale in…THE TRIANGLE! Specifically, my mom’s house!
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You can be the envy of your friends as you step out into your front yard, look west, and gaze upon the industrial masterpiece that is Timet Industries! They make titanium there, how cool is that?!
And it’s right behind the James I. Gibson Library, which used to be by City Hall, but has since moved closer. About 90% closer. It’s on  your doorstep, giving you The Look, and jangling its keys. Once you own this classy, revamped, War-era house, you’ll have that last 10% right at your fingertips.
Directly east of your new Legit Hendo House is the leggitest Discount Tire Store in the whole valley, designation “NVL01”. I worked there in high school when it was a much less classy outfit than it is now.
A decade ago, many Triangle houses were derelict or outright abandoned. In just the last year or two, many of Mom’s neighbors have redone their houses, and the neighborhood on the whole is looking a lot better, which is why these houses have gone up in value. That, and the location.
In fact, here’s a short list of what’s within a mile or so of your new place:
-St. Rose Hospital
-Albertson’s (for now…)
-Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, Subway, Jimmy John’s, Carl’s Jr. (same shopping center)
-Target, PetSmart, Staples, Marshall’s, and Big Lots (also same shopping center)
-The Henderson Convention Center
-The Farmer’s Market (every Thursday)
-Jack in the Box, Sonic, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Pep Boys, and the US Post Office…all next door to each other.
-And that’s not even counting the Wal-Mart on the corner of Lake Mead and Boulder.
For crying out loud, you’re less than two miles from Cinedome 12 (the cheap seats!), Johnny Mac’s (wings! pizza! ribs!), Friendly’s Donuts (JUST ASK ANYONE IN TOWN), and the Sunset Pizzeria.
The only Old Henderson Landmark not inside that circle is the El Torito restaurant, which was teleported out of Mexico thirty years ago and is still serving the same recipes today. Deadpool himself would swear by these chimichangas, and we all know how Deadpool likes to swear.
But enough about the neighborhood perks! What about the house perks?
Well, my mom bought the place in 2009, after having to sell the house I grew up in off of Pacific and Horizon. Check out the B&A:
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You’re getting new paint inside and out.
New windows, all up to city code.
Plenty of new plumbing and fixtures (including for the kitchen, hall bath, and laundry.)
Three of the rooms couldn’t even be used when she moved in. Now the house has 4 bedrooms and 2 renovated bathrooms, plus:
A walk-in pantry
A spacious living room and family room
Tile and laminate flooring
AC and a swamp cooler
A 12′ storage shed out back
And 2 driveways out front on either side of the property. (3, if you count the pull-through.)
Heck, you’ve even got pomegranate trees in the backyard, and fertile soil full of fertilizer from Mom’s two hyperactive egg-laying hens. Those planter boxes have more chicken crap in them than Green Valley High School’s entire athletic roster.
Mom’s been able to run a full-time business out of this house, with two 12-foot wide longarm quilting machines, the whole time she’s been there.
The downside of that is that her house has been full of business-related stuff, and she’s the only one living there, so most people who walk through have only seen a house full of unidentifiable quilting stuff that might or might not be used to conceal the activities of a serial killer–and I can’t think of anything more Vintage Henderson than that.
Not to worry, though–Mom’s bringing that stuff with her when she moves into my basement in Utah.
So if you’re in the market for a Hendo House, seize your chance to own a legend! Her agents Sherrie ((702) 525-4316) and Mary ((702) 281-0322) will get you a showing.
Or be a sweater vest sellout and buy a boxy little cookie-cutter shack in Green Valley that costs WAY more than it’s worth, plus an HOA. Don’t let me tell you what to do.

Talk Trash, Eat Trash: Bike Race Edition

Teenage boys talk trash. That’s just biology. The smart ones are tactical about it, and then there’s 15 year-old Graham.

I got fat in my mid-teens. I cut P.E. In favor of a drawing class, and started eating all the time. Once I realized I was sneaking up on 200 pounds, I decided to start exercising again. (You don’t burn calories at a drawing table, I discovered.)

So I set up a bike and trainer in our workshop out back, dropped an Offspring album in the CD player, and started pounding out circuits in the evening. The worst of the weight melted off over the course of months, and my confidence grew.

Around this time, my dad and sister were participating in a series of bicycle criterium races in Southern Cali, and we went down there about once a month to cheer them on. I think it was April or May of 2000 when, after a few months of spinning (and a 50-miler in Mexico where I blew a tire), I was feeling pretty damn bulletproof.

I’ve heard it said that humanity and the lowest form of bacteria are only about 10% different when it comes to genetic coding, or something to that effect. I don’t know, ask a scientist. The thing that sticks in my head is that all life on Earth comes from the same biological stock, and once you start narrowing that by phyla and genus and class and all that, we have a ton in common with our fellow mammals.

An apt simile, then, would be to say that I was like a wolf, territorial, anxious to assert dominance and demand the respect of other teenaged boy wolves with bad musical taste. The problem was, I had never actually been in a wolf fight, but I had imagined it a TON while spinning in a workshop after dark.

When I saw other teenage boys warming up for their own crits, I started talking trash about how they were skinny California twerps and I could totally wreck them on a bike. It didn’t take long for my family to get sick of me repeating this, and before I knew it, I was wearing my dad’s spare jersey and cleats, sitting on his 20-pound aluminum racer, surrounded by 150-pound Twerps, waiting for the race to start.

(They let you do that if you sign a waiver.)

It was essentially 20 laps or so around a city block where there was an elementary school in West Covina. The race started, and I went off like a cannon, smoking those twerps and giving them a good view of my (imaginary) sculpted posterior. I was awesome! I was unstoppable! I was gonna win this thing SO HARD!

20 laps, you say? Why not just end it at half a lap? Cause that’s when I blew up.

Soon the Twerps were lapping me. Then again. Then again. Before long I was almost lapped out. On my 10th, they were on their 16th. By their 20th, I think I had completed 12 or 13. If you’re grading that, I scored a 65% on a Can Your Cardio Cash The Check Your Mouth Just Wrote test.

As for my mouth, it was back at the van with the rest of me, choking on a baker’s dozen of hot, fresh, gooey STFUpcakes.

It was the kind of story that became family legend before the ink had even dried. To this day, we’ll get together as a family to hang out or play games, and we’ll all start jabbing each other, and then we pull out our Universal Argument Enders, and mine inevitably goes to “Yeah? How ’bout that bike race?”

Frankly, that’s as it should be. It’s important to overcome those parts of your biology. I mean yeah, we need to eat and sleep and challenge ourselves in between, but it’s also important to get kicked in the huevos every now and then so you remember what you’re made of. Otherwise you end up being that guy sitting on the couch watching TV with both hands stuck in Pringles cans, making fun of Olympians who only come in second.

Don’t be that guy. Go lose a race once in a while!

Then shut up and get back to work.

#Gritpunk, or What I Did After Being Fired

Four years ago today, my brother and sister-in-law had me stay after work so they could inform me that they were letting me go.
It hit me kind of hard, considering my son was only two weeks old, and my wife was no longer working, but I dare say it was necessary.
Despite me being the production manager for their (worldwide) business, elements of the brother-brother/owner-employee dynamic were at loggerheads, and ultimately they had to consider what was best for their own livelihood.
As tough a pill as that was to swallow, they made the right call, and I told my brother that the next day when we met up at the gym for our typical morning workout. No man in his late 20s wants to admit that ending up in such a pickle is his own fault, but it was–partially because I had butted heads too often with my brother/boss at work, and partially because I had neglected my own career paths in the nebulous pursuit of Someday Making It As A Writer.
There are things that I believe in that are immutable parts of my conscience and my soul. I can’t rank them, but they’re there, and one of them is that when you own something, you have a right to control it, and in most cases, everyone else ought to butt out. This is true of my brother’s business; it had to be hard for him to make that call, because it was right, but also because we were family. I wasn’t going to hold it against him. If I hadn’t been family, I’d have been gone long before they finally cut me, no matter how well I did my job. No owner would let a manager get into shouting matches with him in front of the whole crew more than once or twice, but I did it, and the result was the result.
I went home that night, broke the news to my wife, and cried like I hadn’t in a long, long time. I was mad. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Desperate. I can’t remember ever having asked God for help as hard as I did that night. I never finished college, and my previous work experience wasn’t going to land me something that would replace the lost income. Worst of all, that happened at a time when my wife and new son needed me the most.
So I considered my options. I did some research. I went to trucking school. And then I went to work.
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I hit the highway and took whatever crappy job came my way. For 8 months I drove over the road for Knight Transportation, crossing this great country border to border, coast to coast. I saw the Pacific and the Atlantic in the same week. I must have gone up and down Mount Shasta in Northern California two dozen times in that span. Hell, I’ve driven every inch of the I-5, from the Otay Mesa to the Canadian Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington.
Some drops were at noon. Some were at 8PM. Some were at 2 in the morning. (Damn you, IKEA.) I had to go into Canada several times to make extra cash, because–surprise!–guys with a CDL and a clean criminal history aren’t that common, and international commerce can keep a small company afloat. (Knight was relatively small, next to companies like Swift and Werner.)
I was usually gone for weeks at a time. My son grew like a weed while I was out. The wife and I bought smartphones for the first time, so that we could FaceTime each other on a regular basis. We called every night. She was supportive beyond all comparison, despite how hard it was. I did it because I had to, because doing it meant that my wife didn’t have to work, that she could be home with our son and take care of him. It was never going to be permanent.
And fortunately, I was able to get out of it, and quickly. A local crane company hired me on as a support driver, despite me knowing nothing about the industry. I sucked it up and worked that job for 21 months, putting up with long nights, horrible co-workers (not all of them, just the ones who had power), and a highly unstable schedule where I was sometimes lucky to work 30 hours in a week. (Other times I’d work 20 hours in a shift.)
I did it, because I had to, and it meant my wife wouldn’t have to work.
Then an even better job opened up closer to my side of town, at a higher rate of pay, in a more exciting industry: blasting. And I was able to take the skills I had learned in the previous two and a half years, and apply them in a way that made me feel like I really knew what I was doing. Lately I’ve been thinking about training a new driver to learn the things I know about the different trucks at this company, and I’ve come to realize…there’s a lot to process, and most of it is stuff you can only really learn with experience, and somewhere along the line, dare I say it, I became a really good truck driver.
I did it because I had to.
(Granted, I still make plenty of mistakes. One of my nicknames around the shop is “Tank.” It sounds cool, but they call me that because I punctured a fuel tank on a truck by driving over a rock. Twice.)
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Tons of times in the last four years, I have thought to myself “Man, I wish I’d gotten into this sooner.” It’s not hard to crack $40k a year with a CDL. That’s more than we made when the wife and I both worked for my brother. And no matter how you do the job, it keeps you on your toes, you learn new things, and go to exciting places. Sure, the work sucks often, as it does with any job. Lots can go wrong, and most of it can (and will) be your fault. I think that’s a good thing, though. It keeps me responsible, keeps me aware of how I should never be too confident, never assume that I’m bulletproof, because I can botch it pretty easily if I’m not careful.
But I’ve made it this far. Because I had to.
Because the cost of learning this skill and succeeding in this line of work is less than the burden of letting my family go without things they need.
That right there is probably the most obvious lesson. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week in the wake of LTUE, and my writing career (which is still definitely happening), and how they’re related. I’m trying to figure out my mission statement.
I’ve never been 100% sure what I wanted my purpose to be as a writer. Generally I wanted to “write the books I wish I could’ve read as a boy.” But that doesn’t hit my point hard enough. And as I look back on my driving career, and consider how I might go about teaching the things I know to a new driver (backing, trailering, securing a load, managing hours, getting around tight spots on job sites), it all keeps boiling down to the same simple, salient point:
Do it. Because you have to.
I don’t remember exactly when this came to mind, but it was sometime last Saturday, possibly after the panel on Steampunk Aesthetics at LTUE, where I was a participant (and it went great! Thanks to all of you!). A single word popped into my head, courtesy of Charles Portis, Chuck Pagano, and my overactive wordsmith brain.
That’s my mission statement as a writer. That’s what I want to do. I want to write books that inspire young readers to look inside themselves, dig deep, and find the inner grit to do things that they thing are difficult, to humble themselves into being willing to learn, and then mustering up the guts to get the job done.
Everyone is going to face a trial like the one I faced four years ago, where they fall hard and have to pick themselves up, and won’t be able to do it without admitting hard truths to themselves. If I’m serious about being a writer, and having my work matter to the people who read it, then that’s the feeling I want to put into my books. GRITPUNK. Find your grit. Find the grit my characters find. Learn from their failures, celebrate their successes, then look at yourself and do the same thing.
Life is all about doing hard things. Each of them will probably be harder than the last, in their own due course and time. That’s fine.
You can do it. Because you must.
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