Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Doesn't Kill You, Can Make You Stronger

Many, many things in life shape the people we are to become. Many of them are the good influences like family and friends and the people who are truly positive examples of whom to aspire to be and how to act in life. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of those growing up (which isn't to say everyone in my family are bad people). Now, this isn't meant to be a pity party, but in an effort to maintain complete and total truth in the representation of myself on this blog, I would be leaving out a huge chunk of my story if I was to not speak of some of the terrible events that shaped my formative years, no matter how brutal it may be. It’s important to me that I be 100% honest on here because when it comes down to it, I am writing this blog for no one but myself. After all, even the worst events in life make you who you are, and bring you to where you are today.

At 8 years old my parents divorced. That was a damn good thing, although in retrospect, it did cause my mother to often inwardly freaked out and worry that I would blame her for breaking up our family unit. On the contrary, I could not have been happier when the news finally broke. This to me signified the end of brutal fights that often resulted with them destroying one another's property in the most malicious of manners. Many times it would even reach incredibly violent levels, building ultimately to my watching my Father hold a gun to my Mother in the hallway outside my room. He maintains to this day that he was attempting to show her the gun was empty. She maintains that he was holding it to her neck. My young recollection only puts them together with me glancing my father holding a gun pointed in her direction and my beginning to sob uncontrollably. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of all three accounts.

Upon their divorce concluding, my Dad nearly immediately met a woman and got engaged. Her name was Teresa and she was from the hills of Kentucky. She didn't have a lot of money and she had two kids much older than I, but she seemed nice enough... at first. She even made it a point to tell me she thought I was a good kid and that I must have a good mother. Looking back, she is the reason I am completely untrusting of anyone who immediately fills you full of compliments before seeing who you actually are. This overcompensation usually masks a hidden agenda.

Right before they tied the knot, I noticed a distinct personality change in her as she moved into my house. She began to become cold and extremely judgmental of everything I did. This escalated in the coming months ultimately building toward her openly hating a 9 year old boy without attempting to conceal it in any way. I was very overweight at that point in my life and was a bit of a nerd. I had the highest scores in class and didn't have a lot of friends. And although I wasn't picked on at all, I was most definitely a shut-in.

Her hatred built and eventually culminated in her taking over my bedroom at the house. She took what had been my room (that I only used every other weekend when visiting my father) and stenciled hearts and apples on all of the walls. She decorated the room with creepy as fuck Raggedy Anne and Andy dolls and placed other inanimate antique-toys on the shelves that seemed to to stare at you with a look of rape and torment in their eyes (this bitch even had a stuffed cat in her living room). She threw away my bed and substituted two twin beds located 3 1/2 feet off of the ground so that I may share the room with her mid-20's son when he would come home from college. I eventually resigned myself to spending all of my time in my father’s barn playing around with woodworking tools and watching the Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey on his $3 TV in his "office” that consisted of a vacant desk and an empty refrigerator. I left my sanctuary only to sleep, and upon waking, immediately returned and spent the rest of the day there with my dog Bullet.

It even got worse as the time went on. Eventually I wasn't even allowed to make food in her house. When I would make a sandwich, she would literally walk behind me and throw things away as I placed them next to my plate while vocalizing derogatory comments such as "Who ever left this out must be a worthless fat piece of garbage" in her extreme hillbilly draw. She said this as I was standing next to the plate. I hadn't even left anything out, I was still using it. This treatment eventually got so bad that I started to form depression and by 11 years old I was suicidal. I would carry a serrated steak knife up to my room nightly and hack away at my arm. Why? It’s hard to explain, but physical pain was much easier and more immediately dealt with than the mental pain and instability that I was experiencing. I took great solace in that knife blade and unfortunately I still carry the scars of it to this day.

Whenever I was stuck there, my father would ultimately leave during the days and go to work on the weekends without me, leaving me to the care of a woman who would have been happier if I were dead. She would take money from my father under the guise of taking us to the mall, and upon getting there, give my step-sister $100 to go and spend and leave me with whatever I had in my pocket, which at age 12 was absolutely nothing. I would spend hours sitting in the center of the mall staring at the fountain and wishing I were dead while they walked around with my father’s money and gleefully wasted it while rubbing their purchases in my face.

At age 13 I was finally discovering who I was by being consistently beaten in the face by people I never wished to be. I got into music and guitars, and for the first time in my life I wasn't listening to what my parents told me was good music. I began to wear flannel and listen to early Grunge and Punk. During this time my father would periodically force me to attend dinners with him and his new family on a bi-weekly basis where I was clearly never wanted by anyone but him (and even that was debatable). It got to the point where I refused to eat with them and would pretend I was sick and hide in the truck the entire time while listening to my bootleg tapes of Nirvana on the truck stereo. I'm fully convinced that music is the only thing that actually stopped me from taking my own life during these days, although that did not stop me from attempting to do so.

During this time I was not only discovering music and who I was, I was also discovering drugs and alcohol. After one particularly terrible Christmas at my fathers which ended in the cops coming to break up my father and his wife, I ended up hammered for the first time. In his eternal wisdom, my dad told me that everything would be OK and that I should just have a shot and forget about it. One shot with him turned into five and five shots with my step-sister turned into ten. By the end of the evening I had consumed 13 shots of Jim Beam before passing out in my twin bed and falling flat on my face from the 3 foot fall when the room began to spin.

My early onset alcoholism was made worse when my father purchased a houseboat for his family. When I would attend I was given free reign over the alcohol and I put it to good use. After a day of directly discouraging remarks to my 14 year old face by someone in her 40's, I began to use both drink and drugs heavily as a crutch to get through the day. When I would eventually get hammered enough to get a little sentimental, I would inquire to my father why he would let his only son be treated like that. His answer was simple enough, I needed to grow up and stand up for myself rather than let myself be beaten down. It is because of this that my father is the single biggest influence I've ever had in my life. He is an easily manipulated, self-absorbed, coward of the highest level. Instead of telling his wife to fuck off and treat the only blood he will ever have in this life like they deserve to be, he chose to place the blame on the shoulders of a 14 year old boy. He is an ever shining beacon of all things in my life that I wish to never become.

This all culminated in my attempting to kill myself at age 14. One night, after a girl I was crushing on made it apparent that she did not feel the same way, I ate 50 aspirin and laid down in my bed for what I hoped would be my final time. This was not a spur of the moment decision, this was calculated. I had determined that it was easier to not exist than to live life as I was being forced to. It was a stupid move that only ended up with me eating a hole in my stomach and not able to eat for a week. What's worse yet is that no one noticed that I was not eating as they couldn't have given two shits about me and my mother was busy attending night school after her day job ended.

But the story ultimately has a happy ending, or at least thus-far it does. At age 15 I started doing a heavy introspection of my life and concluded that all of these people were pieces of shit and deserved each other. My father deserved the wife that would fill her Kentucky home with his furniture anytime they chose to separate for a few weeks, and my Father deserved the cold, unloving wife that resembled a frightful troll more than a woman. They all deserved each other and I was better than all of them put together. My life improved noticeably the day that I quit concerning myself with having a family that I deserved, and instead used the pieces of shit surrounding me as anti-role-models of how a human being should conduct affairs in this life.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Excess in Abundance, San Diego Comic-Con 2013

This tale may or may not be true, and the names have most certainly been changed. So do not only take it with a grain of salt, please consume the shaker. Or perhaps, just as likely this is a toned down version of the exact events that took place, dumbed-down with the intention to protect myself and my not-so innocent compatriots. Guess you have no way to tell, but then again, who ever does with writing?

Bike Cleaned For Con
We took off on a Wednesday afternoon and the idea was that I would follow my buddy and his wife down to the Con on my motorcycle. I assumed we would become separated and that I wouldn't be able to stomach the traffic and would begin splitting lanes to make up time, of which I was correct. The idea still being, that if anything were to happen to me along the way, they would be behind me at some point to pick up the pieces of either my bike or I.

About an hour and a half in to the two and a half hour ride I regretted this decision. I was safely (as safely as you can) splitting the car-pool lane at about 40 MPH as traffic was slowed down to around 15 MPH around me. Suddenly, a man crossed the quadruple yellow without signaling and came into the lane of which I was occupying and grazed my tire before even looking to see where he was merging. He almost immediately realized his mistake and hopped back into his lane but the momentum shift of my bike threw my front tire off of balance and began to skid around the road.

Now, the rest of this is my assessment of what happened because I had to piece the event back together due to it all taking place within about 5 very unclear seconds. Which upon retrospect felt like an eternity. I regained control of my front tire by wrestling it with my arms but had inadvertently locked up the back brakes and my ass-end began to slip and slide wildly. I instantly disengaged the brake but my bike was already all over the road. I plowed down my right foot to regain balance and upon doing so, threw the bike in the opposite direction to which I corrected with my left foot.

Eventually this process of ping-ponging back and forth resulted in my not going down, but it severely hurt my already weak (another story in itself) left ankle. The driver then waved apologetically at me to which I returned his gesture with a middle-finger and drove on to the next gas station where I sat for a half-hour and re-examined the all-too-late idea of riding to San Diego. Inevitably I got back up, dusted myself off, and went back on the road. I met up with the rest of my crew once I got there and immediately went to the most important task: Drinking. I checked my bags and headed off to the hotel bar to knock back a few before attempting the mile long walk to the con.

If you've never been there, the size of this convention can not be overstated, and it is rumored to double next year. The eye cannot help but dart back and forth between over-weight men who have never had a lay in their life, to amazing bodied cos-play girls showing less clothes than they do skin. The place somehow encapsulates both what it is to be a true basement-dwelling, masturbatory nerd, as well as the now embraced "geek culture" consisting of heavily CGI'd comic-book adaptations and video games. It is truly two sides of one weird coin, and somehow they both achieve some strange symbiotic existence.

Waking In Car
Wednesday night was child's play. We went out drinking, ran around town with our friends, ran into people we would rather avoid, made new friends, created a few enemies and generally pursued the most aggressive destruction of our livers possible. However, with our personal excess never being enough, the rest of our crew winded down early for an easy first night. The pussies. So my buddy and I took the whiskey and beer and headed to have our own private party in his car located in the parking garage. We laughed, we over-talked one another, got stupidly sentimental, and ultimately passed out for the night in the front seats. To many, this must sound like a weird, terrible thing to do.... to us, it seemed second nature.

Crazy Christians
I woke up that morning with a hangover... go figure. Upon sweating our asses off at 9AM, my friend and I separated and returned to our hotels rooms to shower and prepare for the next days offerings. He went to his hotel directly outside the parking garage, and I went off to my hotel a mile away. To say that I stunk was a colossal understatement, but that did not stop the crazy Christians outside from hounding me with "Get Out of Hell Free" cards. One of them must have smelled me because he turned to me on his megaphone and uttered "I'd never turn my back on one of those stinking homosexuals, you never know what they might do behind you". Way to represent your lord buddy. Bigoted asshole.

Eventually I got cleaned up and made my way back to the show floor where I had to wait outside for my credentials. Now, I look a bit aggressive with my tattoo'd arms and punk-vest with leopard print on it, but with that said, the many, many ways that this is interpreted to outsiders is often hilarious. For example, I was standing in line for my badge when I notice a couple looking at me and whispering. No biggie, happens all the time, however... they were in hardcore bondage gear. The male ventures over to me and asks, "Hey man, do you like Adult fun?". He fully had my attention, after-all, what a way to introduce yourself to a human being. "Sure, why not?" I replied. He then explained to me how he was the head of a club that sponsored "Discreet Adult Parties" and invited me to attend. I of course asked, "Wait... is this an orgy?". "Well", he replied, "We don't use that word, we just get together in a group, wear protection and see where the night takes us." I laughed and said "It IS an orgy!" of which he did not seem to find quite as funny as I did and he moved on.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Fish, The Fisherman, and the Asteroid

Some days I'd like to be the fish, wild and free. Able to swim, and let life happen to me.

Some days I'd like to be the fisherman, working and content. Providing for my family, a life well spent.

And some days I'd like to be the asteroid, round and with girth. Taking out all life, on the entire fucking planet of Earth.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Day I Traded My Car For Schlitz Malt Liquor

In 2001, instead of concentrating in school, I spent the majority of my time working at a automotive repair shop named "Top-Notch Automotive". We mainly specialized in body work on salvage-titled cars in an attempt to fix them up and resell them. We also did other more traditional work to other people's automobiles and occasionally had a few extra cars laying around that people were looking to unload cheap.

Some of these cars were lifted directly from the island of misfit toys, we had Blazer 4X4's with the top cut off and made into a truck, we had cars that looked fine and drove but stunk of rot, we even had a small 2 door Izuzu Truck with a 350 Chevy engine. It was a real plethora of cars no one had any love for and people would unload for pennies on the dollar to us. One of these cars was a rusted out 1986 Toyota Corolla Station Wagon, and after the company obtained it for free, it was given to me as a project car.

At this time, I already had a car and had zero use for it. Instead of doing the responsible thing and fixing it up and selling it for a few hundred dollars, I opted to keep it next to the field outside the garage and do terrible things with it. The Jay's (who I previously introduced in this blog) and I would all get stoned, hop in it, and use it as a personal go-kart. We would drive it 45mph around farmers fields, through cow-pastures, in the ravine, and occasionally use it as a battering-ram on wheels to fly people's trash-cans down the street or into their mailboxes. Many a wasted night was spent in the car doing the worst things a 16 year old could imagine.

The Jay's and I were always looking for places to go and smoke bud and drink. Most night's we just went behind my dad's company or wherever I was working at the time, but that got boring quick. We tried to hang out at Fat J's house, but his parents would get mad at us for smoking and at everyone but me drinking (they allowed me to drink because as they put it "He has problems at home.") We went to Kuban's house occasionally, but as he lived in the shed of his house, it was uninsulated and freezing cold in the winter. It was about this time that Kuban began dating a girl (of who's name I won't expose or go into detail about) and he became quick friends with her stepdad.

Well, "friend" is a strong word. This guy enjoyed drinking with, making fun of, and randomly knocking the shit out of Kuban, his name was Junior. Junior was a mid-40's white trash hillbilly that lived off of disability and spent both his day's and night's drinking shitty beer in his garage while staring at motor's and pretending to be a mechanic. Every now and then he would get drunk enough and mutter "Wanna watch somin' funny fuckers?" and pour gasoline into a motor on a stand, throw a crowbar on the fly-wheel, and crank-start the motor for a few minutes as he sat back and cackled. I was always unclear on whether he did this for shits-and-giggles, or whether this was his attempt at making it sound as if he was actually making head-way on a project to his couch-bound wife

In short, Junior was a lazy and worthless piece of shit. But, he was a piece of shit with a warm garage, so we occasionally would come over and hang out. Junior liked me as I tended to kick him back when he would randomly kick me, and I would even wrestle with him when he started to push me around. I suppose that's the sort of thing he respected, not taking shit. This made it twice as funny when he would kick Kuban because after a few hours of abuse, he would eventually gather the courage to fight back. Then Junior would, as they say back home, stomp his ass into a mud-hole. When he was in a good mood, and we had gotten him plenty (and freely I might add) high, he would then allow us access to a few of his beers. His main selection of choice? Schlitz Malt Liquor tall-boys.

One night,we were standing around his atrocious smelling propane heater that he ran with diesel fuel and began talking about cars. He was currently working on a 1987 Toyota and needed a transmission. I mentioned that I may have one if the price was right, so we walked over to his driveway and checked on the car he was working on.... and it was a beat up piece of shit. It was in worse condition than the car I had been using as a go-kart for a year. I laughed at him to his face and asked him what a working transmission would be worth to him to fix up this glorious automobile that he was restoring and he offered me fifty dollars.

Now, at the time I was basically broke and had long since lost the title to the car, so that eliminated all options of my driving it legally, but fifty dollars? What a joke. So I drunkenly countered his offer with emptying out whatever he had in his beer-fridge. We went and took account of the situation and there were 18 loose tall-boys of Schlitz Malt liquor. If you haven’t had Schlitz, let me inform you that this is bargain-bin booze. This makes Mad Dog 20/20 look like a Nappa Valley wine in comparison. It reeks of skunk, tastes horrendous, but at 5.9% APV, it will fuck you up and help you make terrible life-decisions... and I had already had 3 that night. So without hesitation, we made our drunken accord, I hopped in the back of Krazy’s Blazer, and off we went to go retrieve my go-kart.

There have been many, many drunken adventures on the motorways by many, many drunken 16 year-old's, and although I would never condone drinking and driving, this was one for the record books. Take a nihilistic 16 year old me, add booze, a car that he doesn’t care about selling in one piece, and the back-roads of Madison Township? That drive back to Junior’s made that car the talk of the town and was searched for for two weeks by the local Sheriff Department. The car may or may not have made several pit stops in many lawns, fields, and gardens. Also, the car may or may not have taken out a small rickety barn on an abandoned property. I say "also" not only for legal reasons, but in part because I had to be told the next morning what had happened.

Eventually we pulled up back to Juniors where I was informed that the deal was to be renegotiated due to Junior now having drank 3 of the beers in question. So without hesitation, I threw him the keys, grabbed a trashbag, loaded in the remaining 15 cans of hellish bargain-booze, and took off again into the night to see what other hell there was to be raised. I ran into Junior a few months after that and asked him how his transmission exchange had went. In typical Junior fashion, he informed me that after they had pulled it from the car, they drunkenly dropped it off of it’s stand and cracked the case, making it completely useless to them. The remains of that car sat in his front yard until far after I graduated high-school and moved to California.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

DIY Hi-Fi On a $300 Budget

I've recently gotten back into vinyl in a big bad way. Yes, I have always bought records throughout the years, but recently after doing research on the benefits on not having to deal with the over-compression plaguing CD's these days (known as the "loudness wars"), I've decided to only buy vinyl if and when available. Now, does that mean that many new albums produced today are not directly taken from the CD? Of course not, but it will always at least be on par with the CD quality and in most circumstances the over-compression stems from post-audio-engineer and takes place in the CD duplication factory. That means that 95% of the time, even if an album was recorded digitally, if the engineer is worth his salt, the vinyl will still be more listenable. Also, I personally just prefer to have a more substantial physical product to hold and study at the end of the day.

I work alot in the field of audio, so when I get time off, I want the biggest bang for my buck when it comes to creating the best sound possible from any given album. The problem with this is that a true Hi-Fi system can run you upwards of $20,000 depending on how much of an audiophile you are. Although I do want the best sound possible, I have limitations to what I am willing to spend to hear an album (you could get a car for the price of some systems after-all). This led me to piecing together my new setup from scratch which although the sound may suffer just a tad, it's basically unnoticeable to anyone except the best trained ears.

Hi-Fi systems can be broken down into this: The Needle, The Turntable, The Preamp, The Receiver, The Speakers. In the purchase of each of these, I was determined to get the biggest bang for my money possible. Some of these deals I had to hunt down, but most are readily available for anyone to purchase.

The Needle & Turntable:
With a bit of research, I found THE introductory model of turntable. It is the Audio-Technica LP60. For under $100 it is THE best deal on the market, however it's stylus (needle) and belt are a bit lacking for quality. This is best remedied by a company named LP Gear who sell a $99.95 LP60 that comes with a new diamond tipped needle and carbon fiber belt. The only downside of this model may become apparent when hitting the last few songs of a side of an album. As the needle gets further away from the outside, the downward pressure is greater. Too much downward pressure creates distortion and is bad for your LP's. This is fixed on most systems by adjusting the counter-balance of the needle-arm, however this introductory model does not have a counter-balance and must either be returned to the factory if the problem arises, or, you can follow my quick tutorial HERE to learn how to do a DIY counterbalance.

The Preamp:
The LP60 comes with a built in line-level preamp that is of decent quality, however the biggest piece of a HiFi system is the placement of a tube preamp in front of the receiver. After researching tube amps for weeks, I came upon the "Little Bear P-3". This is a DIY kit that comes with every piece you need to assemble you're own tube preamp. It is Chinese in origin, but the build quality is very solid. Communicating to the seller is occasionally hard to near impossible as English isn't even their 3rd language (pretty sure they just run everything into Google Translate) but they are easy to work with and very appreciative of your business. I had a problem with the left channel output of mine and they immediately sent me a replacement board for free. It takes just a bit of "balls" to assemble this as you are working with a transformer after-all, but just assemble it with common-sense in mind and look at the pictures on the site to mimic it's wiring and you're gold. The thing is quiet, has zero unwanted noise, looks beautiful when plugged in, and sounds absolutely amazing. I would recommend purchasing an in-line power cutoff so that you don't have to unplug/replug the system every time you wish to use it. The only downside is that the stock Chinese tubes aren't the highest quality, but that is easily fixed with a few quick, cheap purchases from The Tube Store

The Receiver & Speakers:
Honestly, this may be a point of contention to any audiophiles reading this article. For the price, it is my opinion that you should go with one of the cheaper "all-in-one" surround sound systems on the market. You cannot beat the price of these and they open you up to other uses aside from just the turntable. I would never buy one of these new however and used is another bad bet, but I purchased my "open-box" system for $125 and it had an MSRP of over $400. Just get last year's display model and purchase the optional 5-year insurance policy and you've made a solid bet. Personally after hunting 3 Best-Buys in the area, I purchased this one. Just make sure that the reciever has an "RCA In" option and you're good to go. The bad thing about these cheap systems is that they jack up the watts by using inferior 3OHM speakers (smaller OHM = Bigger Watts). This is easily remedied by purchasing good quality 8OHM speakers that can handle the amp load... which I have yet to do.

So that's it! I spent under $300 and assembled my own DIY HiFi Setup. My plan is now to upgrade one bit at a time to achieve my perfect setup. First up will be the speakers, followed by a well-reviewed receiver, but for the time being, this setup sounds amazing and is on par with systems I've seen costing around $1200!