We are all awash with data. Our screens radiate heat, twilight and a quagmire of words, links and connections. Step and lift through a morass of language; sales, introspection, polemics, exhortation, extortion, waves of echoing group-think.

We are trapped in hermetic worlds encapsulated within commercial products; our scope of understanding and expression defined in features and bugs. We do not change exploitative economics to feed hungry people, but we will play with a toy that perhaps trickles rice, or rainforest preservation.

Reading becomes skimming. Thirsty eyes trip downwards over the flow of text, looking for resonant ideas and simpatico. Pieces which capture our imaginations are remembered and returned to like islands of solid ground or springs of good water.

My mind is full, perhaps with hope, perhaps with frustration, but no useful dialogue finds my fingers. Perhaps I need to unplug. =)

♪Life works in funny ways...♪

One week, I'm complacent. I have a job, a live-in girlfriend, a car, and I'm going to college part-time. By the next week, my employer closes up shop with no warning, my girlfriend cheats on me, my car breaks down, and I don't sign up for any classes next semester. 20 years old and hanging my head, I move back in with my dad and my wicked step-mom, the Wicked Witch of the East, the one that told everybody in my family that I was a filthy drug addict. I used drugs, sure, but it was a gross exaggeration on her part to call me filthy! I start looking deep inside myself for answers. All I come up with is bad poetry, fragments of short stories and more questions.

♪Life works in funny ways...♪

Let's fast forward to a couple of months later. I have a new job where 85.64% of the workers think that I'm a moron, no girlfriend, an uninsured car, and an English professor who just told me that I wrote the most annoying paper he has ever had the displeasure to read (I'm sure some Everything2 readers could sympathize with his sentiments). I contract my first STD, a milestone in my life. I'm a borderline alcoholic. Sometimes when I drank I would take benadryl so that I would sleep for 14-16 hours straight. I also reconnect with an old friend, one of my cousins, and in him I could see the lost potential and broken dreams of our childhood. When we were 13, we coded, from scratch, entire Dragonball Z web sites for God's sake! That's potential. Now all we do is smoke weed and watch Adult Swim until 5 am. Part of me crawls deeper inside. I start writing on Everything2.

♪Life works in funny ways...♪

Now, it's summer. The damned pigs give me tickets two different times for driving without insurance (which cost me about $1,000). Don't ask me why I was even driving in the first place. Also, around this same time, I lose over $500, some of it stolen from me at a party when I was completely wasted, and the rest of it lost at a supermarket when my wallet fell out of my pocket. I think I broke down around this time, but I'm not completely sure. I start reading the Tao Te Ching and walking the streets of Detroit by myself with Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air playing on my headphones. I isolate myself from my friends and go into a dark seclusion. (In retrospect, that was all a bit odd.) I finally go so far inside of myself that I reach my core, my inner essence. I finally see myself for what I am. Whispers of change blow in the hot summer winds, chattering in the leaves and waving to me in the fields. A surreal moment.

♪Life works in funny ways...♪

I start working hard, real hard. I immerse myself in the arts, observing and participating in their mysteries. In every word, every splotch of paint, every note of music, I see a small part of me escaping to the real world. People at my job actually respect me now, and college is, of all strange things, fun. Still, I don't feel satisfied, and that truly bothers me on occasion. Then, a windfall. My grandma offers to pay for me to go to college full-time, to support me so that I don't have to work. I can concentrate on intellectual pursuits, which for me, is the closest thing to happiness I know of. Words can't express my gratitude to her. Songs? Maybe. I feel selfish accepting her help, but really, why should I feel guilty?

♪Life works in funny ways...♪

For the first time in my life I can see how lucky I am. All of these 'hardships' I endured where in reality insignificant annoyances that helped me mature. I should be thankful, if anything. It was dumb of me to whine so much about what happened. At the least, I always had a home, food, and my free will. Plus, I would never have become the person I am today without those bumps in the road, and I definitely don't want to go back to my old life, the life I lived before all of the events I outlined here. I'll also admit that these events, along with some other unmentioned events, have also made me a superstitious believer in fate and predestination. I just saw The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the character Lyn Cassady, played by George Clooney, said something about how once you find your true purpose in life, the stream will carry you. Before you dip in the stream, though, it will seem like everything is against you. Sometimes, you know, life has to set you on fire so that you'll get buck naked and jump in the stream, because you would be too shortsighted to do it otherwise. Now, where do I think the stream is taking me? I'm not telling.

Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

When I was a boy my father used to take my brother and I to the custom car shows in Cleveland. We'd go to the Memorial Hall in the frigid weather and head inside under the bright lights to check out the custom cars. My father had grown up a hot-rodder, and when he met my mom he drove a '49 Ford Flathead, souped-up with Edelbrock heads and three Stromberg carburetors on an offy manifold. He used to drag race out by the Goodyear Airdock and hung with some of the better racers of the day. My Dad was nothing special as a racer, he had a good, but not great car and he was a good, not great driver. In the company of guys like Otis Smith and 'Ohio' George Montgomery, he was an also-ran. But the loved the scene, loved the technology, and the challenge of making a car faster and neater.

But then he got married and I came along in very short order. Persnickety hot-rodded engines weren't the thing for young families, so the both sets of parents got together, took away the '49 street rod and replaced it with a much more respectable Packard. It would be years before Dad dabbled in hot rodding again, this time with a 1969 Dodge Dart with a free-revving 340 V-8, blueprinted and balanced, .040" overbore, .520" lift cam, new rods, pistons, headers, Edelbrock torquer manifold, with the bigger four-barrel off a 440, and narrowed 9 3/4" posi rear-end. The car required constant attention, but went like it was shot out of a cannon. One hundred miles per hour came really quick and the car shock at idle. The sound fired my dreams and I loved that car even after he got sick of it and sold it. In fact, I still love it.

The problem back then was the custom car shows had gotten a bit wierd. George Barris studios were really big back then Barris created the original Batmobile for the campy sixties TV-series, as well as the Munster coach and Dragula for the Munsters TV show. Cool looking cars, nicely fabricated (though I admit the Batmobile proved a big disappointment up close) but there was no way you would ever drive one. In fact they weren't driveable at all. Dad despised trailer queens. He thought the whole point of a car was to go, that a car that just sat there made no sense. The kind of car he liked was driven regularly, and hopefully raced. They were real cars unlike the absurd Red Baron mobile at the shows. He thought the real hot rods were going away, and so we stopped going to the shows.

Today I went to my first custom car show in almost forty years. The drawing card for me was three 'Swamp Rat" dragsters from the 1960s. You see "Big Daddy" Don Garlits always called his dragsters a "swamp rat". Garlits is quite simply the greatest drag racer of all time. He defined the Top Fuel Dragster for three generations. He created the original front engine 'slingshot rails that dominated the late fifties and sixties. After a transmission explosion amputated part of his foot, Garlits created the first competitive mid-engined dragster. He won National races and championships in three different decades. And so to see three Swamp Rats was a look back into history, for me, and to see three of the most historically important cars in the sport. The fact that rails run by Connie Kallita and Don "The Snake" Prudhomme were also on display sealed the deal, for if Garlits had a rival in the day, it was Prudhomme.

I know my race cars. They didn't have a single road racing car on display, an omission I found sad though road racing isn't so much about hot-rodding, though modding street cars is very much part of the sport. They had plenty of trailer queens, whose paint jobs cost more then a year's worth of the minumum wage. But I think Dad would have been pleased. None of the cars looked as if they could not be driven, with one exception that sort of lacked any real provisions for braking and engine management. All the rest looked like the could be started and at least driven on the trailer. The sort of car a determined hobbyist might build, and to be honest pretty much everyone there was a hobbyist. Real, pretty fast cars, sometimes chopped and channeled, pretty cars with great detailing and big, honkin' motors. And they had a new trend, 'salvaged' race cars, they called them 'barn cars'. Old, rusty cars, operable but not so pretty, often with bar metal and surface rust that had not (yet) been ground away, owners who showed pride in the car's salvage from imminent cancer.

I ran into a man who raced pro stock on a budget, a nearly impossible proposition when a competitive engine runs for $150K. He explained the pull shifters as no one can row a gear fast enough these days. I saw old indy cars, one with twin rear axles and shiny offenhauser engines. And many of these cars were truly beautiful, labors of love. It was easy to find people to talk to, for everyone there loved cars, and wanted to know more. I had a really good time.

I don't know if I'll go to the custom car show next year. But I'm sure it won't be forty years until I go again.

Lots of things are about attitude.


Like virginity. If you and your partner are both able to laugh at yourselves, it will be a positive experience.


It won't be like in the movies.


It will be awful. Painful. Silly. She might bleed, he might bleed, you will have someone inside you.


Life is strange. People are strange. Sex is very, very strange, until you know someone (yourself?) well enough that it becomes streamlined.


Good luck.

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