My Time in Gutters

It was after the bars had closed, and, just outside the final watering hole on my stumble back home, I lay supine on the clean, late-summer concrete, caressed by a gentle breeze that said autumn was on its way. I rolled over to a set of headlamps glowing from an old econo coupe. A dark man with a Hispanic accent opened the passenger door and yelled at me:

“You OK, man?”

I summoned enough drunken bravado to overcome my better reflex to not strike up a conversation. I needed a ride for the mile and a half the rest of the way home; there was no way I could walk it feeling like this.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

The driver, also Hispanic, at least my height at 6 foot 1 inch and not nearly as scrawny, got out and helped me atop my legs, precarious from enough shots that I couldn’t remember the number.

“You wanna ride?” the driver asked.

“Sure,” I said.

Gingerly feeling my way into the backseat of the blue ‘70s-era Cordoba-style boat-car so popular among area partiers, I figured they, too, were drunk, driving home from the bar. Our town had a relatively thin police force, and people were not shy about having a few too many and driving home, though at that time I never drove drunk. But these two Mexicans seemed sober, and simply eager to do something nice.

“Where you live, homie?” the passenger asked.

I told him, and off we went.

“We almost ran you over, man,” the driver said as we turned left from Main Street at the one Rangely stoplight and drove up North White Avenue, toward the run-down cul de sac that was home to the Pepto-pink duplex my kid sister and I were renting.

We didn’t say anything else. They just dropped me at home, I thanked them for the ride and went inside to the party that raged. I probably should have been embarrassed, but I wasn’t. I drank from the bottle being passed around a circle of people in my living room. Yes. In a group of friends whose daily question for itself was not, “What will we do tonight?” and instead was, “Where will we drink tonight?” this was perfectly normal.

That was the first time I remember waking up in a gutter – Rangely, Colorado, 2006, where I was attending a small community college and progressing into nightly binge drinking.

The sketch factor for getting into what looked like the vehicle of a methamphetamine distributor behind a dirty bar in a town near the center of one of the biggest meth hubs in American history didn’t bother me at the time. Nor was it higher than that of many of my other experiences at the time. A friend once showed up at my door telling me he’d sold his soul to the devil. Another day in another house I occupied, a random woman showed up to a party to sleep with my roommate. When they were done, she had me drive her about town, looking for her place. The first stop was a double-wide trailer that was locked and boarded. She drooled and rambled about not wanting to go to jail and her head bobbed around, and I asked her if she was on meth. “Duh, silly!” came her playful, croaky reply. She finally had me drop her at a meth den, with dogs in the yard whose shit had not been picked up in weeks. In another town, I watched another friend with whom I now don’t keep close enough contact – though her Facebook pictures tell a happier story now – slip back into the clutches of a meth addiction she had once overcome.

Lots of meth. It was quite horrible, much worse than anything I could ever do with my simple drinking, which compared benignly. So I kept finding myself in gutters.

I found myself in one in Torrington, Wyoming, where a girl I met at the Moffat County, Colorado, fair lived. She was tall and mysterious and she told me she was very good at tennis. I followed her there, a six-hour drive. We hung out until she told me she didn’t want to anymore. So I bought a 12-pack of Budweiser, which I drank to a hot, windblown summer sunset on a curb on the main drag like a homeless person even though I had a hotel room. I drank away the afternoon, and went to a bar.

I found myself in another on a mountain highway in northern Utah, about 10 miles west of Vernal. This time, it was freezing winter. I had drunk whiskey from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., until two of my roommates brought home two strange women from a bar. One of the roommates was dating a good friend of mine, and he cheated on her on the floor of our Vernal living room. So, angry, I walked through crunchy snowdrifts for the 10 miles, counting mile markers, until I wanted to turn back.

I woke up in another gutter several miles north of Fort Collins, Colorado – where I would spend three of my four final drinking years – in a different winter storm to semi-trucks wooshing past me on a highway. I had been at a party at which I still only remember arriving – so I don’t know why I left. I stopped in a gas station to ask which way I needed to head. “Fort Collins city limit is about three miles that way,” said the checker, who pointed out the door and to the right. I walked into the city until I arrived at an indoor shopping center that was getting ready to open its doors for the day. I snuck in past an employee who left a door open, found a bench and slept for about half an hour, until some manager came and told me I couldn’t sleep there. I called a roommate and asked for a ride.

I sometimes found myself in mental gutters, too. But I couldn’t get up, dust myself off and walk away from these. The only way out was a self-destruct mechanism – a cell phone charger or a gun my Dad owned or several large bottles of hard liquor. But even those never worked, mostly because I couldn’t bring myself to go all the way.

I talked to a therapist, attended some 12-step meetings, admitted I had a problem. None of that worked, either. I guess the problem didn’t seem bad enough for me to do anything.

So I kept going. I drank like a person should exercise. I pushed myself to the limit, and once I reached that, I was drunk enough to go farther. Though I had a bed, I acted like a homeless person, like a wild, insane beast with a shaggy mop of hair that swung to the middle of my back. I slept under pine trees in the city, swam through trash cans, escaped my home, escaped my sanity, escaped the human level of being. I yelled in otherworldly tongues at friends who made fun of me in night terrors, comical to others, hideous to me. I strung myself out on booze, and I refused to sleep until I had drank so much that I had no other choice but to pass out. I did it all on purpose, and then I cried out my plight, that I was no longer a person, just a rabid animal, as if those who heard could do something to fix me.

Some people tried to help me. A girl I knew offered to bring me special vitamins that would help me down, sober me up, keep me from dying of shock if I suddenly quit drinking. Another girl I knew offered to hang out with me and not drink, to still be my friend if I sobered up. I never took either of them up on it. I couldn’t believe that people would still love me if I stopped.

Paradoxically, people started to hate being around me. A friend invited me over to watch movies, with the caveat: “but you can’t embarrass me” in front of other people who would join. So I recused myself. One roommate would always tell me to “take it slower” when we hosted parties. I sometimes woke up to angry text messages from friends about something stupid I had done the night prior – “thanks for pushing me down the stairs last night, asshole,” and others I don’t remember verbatim.

I kept asking my parents for money, ostensibly for school. They didn’t have it, but they usually helped me out. But one day, they asked me where my money was being spent. I couldn’t tell them it was alcohol and partying, so I said I didn’t know. They said if I kept asking them for money, they would begin to resent me, and I wanted to cry, something I never did in rare sober moments. I told them I felt like the Wall Street bankers asking the government for money, knowing they didn’t deserve it. I couldn’t ask them for money anymore.

So I found it where I could. I took out a $2,000 credit card with Wells Fargo and maxed it out in less than a month on bar tabs and booze store transactions. I swallowed my pride and negotiated with a boss I hated to get some paychecks advanced to me. At my job at the school paper, I didn’t drink quite as much – just several beers several times a day purchased from a bar on the ground level of the student center. I found change in couch cushions and brought it to a liquor store that had a bin full of bottom-shelf pints for less than $5, and constant sales on malt liquor. I subsisted on that and Ramen Noodles I stole from roommates.

I once paid a bar tab with a pocketful of pennies that somehow came to the correct amount. A friend shot me a weird look.

“Hey, it’s legal tender, man,” I told him.

It was perfectly normal to pay a tab with change. It didn’t matter that the other five people at our table promptly handed over a debit card or crisp green bills freshly pulled from a bank account in the black.

I left other living creatures in gutters. I was looking after a roommate’s dog one night, and I got so drunk that, when I let him out to go to the bathroom, I forgot he was there. The vicious cold front that night left the dog shivering, almost dead.

I made plans to do active things outside with friends and cancelled because I was too hung over. I ruined drinking plans with others because I started drinking too early to be any fun by the sensible time everyone else started drinking.

One summer, I went tubing on the Cache La Poudre River with a group of people to celebrate the birthday of the girl who’d offered to get me vitamins. We drank on the way down, and I got too hammered to stay on my tube. So I got out of the river and hitchhiked to a park where the group planned to land. At the park, I drank beer offered me by a group of fishermen and swam and jumped off Poudre Canyon cliffs into the dark river until the rest of the group showed up. We drove back to the city, and by the time we arrived home, I was strung out. I raced downstairs to my room and grabbed the bottle of 100-proof rum I’d hid under my pillow, and slammed 10 shots in rapid succession and mixed the rest into a bottle of orange juice. A coworker and I had planned to watch movies together that night, but I was too drunk to see straight, so I stumbled to bed.

“That was a dick move,” another friend told me the next day. So, beer in hand, I sent the coworker a Facebook message apologizing.

One more night of drinking, I told myself, more times than I can count. Then, I’d quit. I always woke up the next day to look for more alcohol. OK, after this weekend. It was important that I party this weekend. Then, I’d quit. Another beer, another shot, another night, another weekend. One more gutter. Then, I’d quit.

Lessons in Addiction from Man’s Best Friend

Sweet Dee, 55-pound 2-year-old golden retriever, is the Hedge Family Pet and Chewer of Valuable Electronic Apparatuses. She is seen here with The Tennis Ball. Photo by Hailey Hedge.

Warning: This article contains a poop joke.

Sweet Dee, a 2-year-old golden retriever employed as the Hedge Family Pet and Chewer of Valuable Electronic Apparatuses, is a model addict.

Like many pooches, she has a shrewd ability to prompt gushing outbursts of snuggling and cooing from us by frequently deploying the Doggy Soul Stare*. It is an insidious and calculated exploitation of the human need to be validated as superior beings, equipped with progressed cerebral cortices and opposable thumbs.

But generally, her ultimate goal is not to snuggled; it is the object of her affection to get us to play with The Kong or The Duck or The Tennis Ball – objects whose printed representations we spell out in casual conversation because she knows their meaning if spoken phonetically.

Sweet Dee is obsessed. And it’s not only with the chewing, pawing or nuzzling of these items. Her advanced addiction to them requires us to throw them across a room, yard, field or whatever expanse is present.

Her need is a textbook addiction, just like those that develop in human addicts of alcohol or drugs. She would go to any lengths to get someone to throw a toy for her, throwing any caution to the wind, and she doesn’t care whether it hurts her or someone else or her relationship with that person. She’s at it during every waking hour, emerging from her doggy bed on the floor with The Kong to push it into the crevice between the bed and Hailey’s or my body; losing a toy too far behind a piece of furniture for her to reach and staring at it, lip tucked sarcastically behind her teeth, in a fiendish melancholy; angrily chewing television remotes beyond function if we leave her alone too long without a plaything; waking fitfully, legs twitching, from a dream about chasing The Tennis Ball across an unending grassy knoll.

She’s peripherally addicted to a number of other things – rolling in feces, for example – and she acts on those addictions seemingly to spite we naysayers. She does bizarre things a being unencumbered by her obsession might not. On a drive our family of three took across Appalachia, we pulled into a gas station for a pit stop. I went in to use the restroom, and Hailey leashed Sweet Dee so she could do the same. Hailey looked away for a moment and felt a tug on the leash. The dog had found a random puddle of chunky brown diarrhea, and to Hailey’s appropriate horror, was rolling, slathering her thick mane, which had been groomed not a week before, in the toxic juices. White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, may we never see thee again. We left a poo smear on the ground outside the gas station and a ruined towel in one of the establishment trash cans.

Sweet Dee is so dedicated to her addiction that I’m not convinced she’d be sad if we left because of them, as long as her most reptilian needs were fulfilled.

This might seem an overly-nihilistic description of my little version of Man’s Best Friend. But if humans engage in such behavior, as we often do with objects of our own obsession, we’re rightly castigated for our conduct. This is a bizarre social construct, a restriction from my right to act freely in this supposedly free world of ours. I’ve had this very experience. With more than a little thought about the contextual implication of the following statement, I have to say:

If only I were I dog, I might still be allowed to drink.

I’d apologize if I were sorry for implying that I still want to drink. But I’m not. It’s the honest truth, and that’s what recovery is all about. So I can’t pretend that when I visit a grocer, I am not very uncomfortable when I enter the booze aisle – uncomfortable that I can’t make a purchase like a normal person might do just on the whim that he’d like to have a drink that night, uncomfortable with the ambient sound of the liquor calling to me.

So when I start thinking such things, I have to remind myself of what I have in spite of my addiction afforded me because I’ve stopped drinking.

Sweet Dee will be OK. Her obsession with doggy toys is far from a perfect allegory for the darker, deeper and culturally relevant addictions of humans. There’s the obvious: my obligations that require me to conquer my addiction are considerably more profound than those present in my dog’s social contract. Everything she needs is provided without her working for it. The biggest worry she has is making sure we know to take her out so she doesn’t poop on the carpet. And we’ll never ostracize her for her obsession. Then, there’s the more under-thought idea that human addiction spans a far wider range of things, from substance abuse to our more harmful addictions to social paradigms, like war and corporate welfare and industries that produce everyday items that make our lives just a little bit easier. Like this computer on which I’m typing.

HAILEY AND I spent six months in Aspen, both of us working for The Aspen Times, over summer 2010. I reported; Hailey did page design for the Times and several publications owned by its parent company.

Initially, my stories were good, and I won frequent high praise from the editor-in-chief for exhaustive daily writing on city policy and several feature stories, including a long obituary on a local contractor who died of a heart attack in a rafting accident.

And initially, the drinking seemed slow.

In the first several weeks, while Hailey was trying to figure out a way to move in with me, I lived in a crappy employee housing flat the size of a middle-class high schooler’s bedroom. There was a bed, a TV stand and a tiny kitchen. I was very happy with it, but I knew I was going to have to find something better for when Hailey moved in. She visited on the weekends, and we spent what money she had made from her job on modest dates to small pizza places and a barbeque establishment.

On my first day alone in the flat, I bought a bottle of vodka and some juice, mixed a drink in a big cup I found somewhere and brought it under a Highway 82 bridge by a creek side. I sat by the burbling water and wrote something about the mountains in a notepad. I finished my drink, so I stopped writing and walked back to the flat and finished the vodka to some television shows I had on DVD on a laptop.

On my third or fourth day at work, the sports editor pulled me aside at the end of a long shift, and, knowing I was running on financial fumes after a spectacular crash in my education, slapped a $100 bill into my hand.

“I know how much it sucks to be broke, man,” he said.

I thanked him very much, told him I would pay him back and walked straight to a liquor store across the street where I bought the cheapest large bottle of rum I could find. I went back to flat, telling myself I would be smart and not drink the whole thing so I would have some the following evening. The next morning, I woke up shaky with a headache and an empty bottle.

Nearly every night, I found money somehow and bought some liquor. The drinking seemed slow.

The day before Hailey moved in with me was the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, an annual gathering for local and international connoisseurs to showcase and taste new and old product. The fine fare from the four corners of the world, accompanied by myriad whiskeys, wines, beers and anything else a man could desire was served in an excessively elegant setting, in white tents that flowed in the breeze. The Aspen Times and other publications are given press credentials for such events as a matter of course, and my editors handed me one the day prior, asking me to write a story about the event. I went, enthusiastically, in the morning and drank for three hours. I went back to the newsroom on one of the best drunks I’ve ever had and wrote the story, which turned out poorly apart from what I still think is a good lede. I finished and took the press credentials back to the festival to explore some more. Somehow, I stumbled home to a different affordable housing unit owned by the Times’s parent company, this one bigger, more suited to a couple. Hailey arrived late that night. We slept on an air mattress and woke up at 5 a.m. the next day to meet Hailey’s dad who would take us across the Continental Divide to the Front Range, where we’d lived previously, to pack up Hailey’s furniture and move it back to Aspen. During the trip, I got my first angry call from an editor who was demanding that I locate and return the press credentials I had taken to the festival.

That was Aspen.

“There was always just tons of delicious food and free booze wherever you went,” Hailey told me this morning with a chuckle when I asked her to clarify some facts. There were fancy events we attended with free drink afforded by press credentials. There was a scrappy brewery on the walk from the newsroom to our apartment on a hillside that served a fantastic India Pale Ale with whom I became too well acquainted. There were wealthy cougars – not the wild mountain cat – who were willing to spring for as many drinks as I could put down.

I spent three of my six months at the paper working in my free time on an investigative project about the previous city election, which many election wonks said and city records indicated was so problematic that the official outcomes of two races were wrong.

It seemed to me to be a very big story. My editors were skeptical. They had a conflicting relationship with the community of election doubters. I thought they were insane.

I thought the story was so important that I skated by on the weakening strength of a number of underreported stories on different controversial city initiatives, like a hospital expansion, a hydropower project and a relocation of the city’s art museum. In the ample free time, I worked on the election story. The writing was sparse, and the corrections abundant.

I looked forward to reporting on city council meetings, which sometimes went past press time, because by the time I got to the newsroom to write my stories, the senior editors had gone home. The building was only occupied by a copy chief who spent his editing sessions drinking beer and smoking too much weed. He sometimes inserted typos into my stories, but I didn’t care because he didn’t mind my own drinking. On my way back to the newsroom from Aspen City Hall, I would stop at a small bottle shop and purchase a 40-ounce bottle or can of Miller High Life and a couple shooters of whiskey and nurse them as I wrote.

I finally convinced my editors to print the election story, and a week before it was scheduled to run, the editor pulled me into his office for a chat. He said he was concerned with the mistakes in my stories – the occasional misspelling of a name, the too-occasional factual correction or clarification. No corrections with the election story, he said. I agreed.

The night we put it to bed, I copy edited the total 6,000 words with a six-pack of my favorite apricot beer and a bowl of weed.

It printed, and our inboxes and voicemail accounts flooded first with praise and then with anger from city officials who disputed many specifics in the story, as well as the thesis. The paper was not used to the controversy. It printed a long list of corrections and clarifications on the story, many of which were quite valid. I was reprimanded and threatened with suspension if I didn’t get my act together. My list of qualifiers, the specifics of which I’ll not go into here, for what happened was lengthy at the time. After a couple of years of reflection, that list doesn’t seem so important.

I decided to quit working for The Aspen Times, and Hailey and I moved back to Fort Collins on the Front Range, and, unemployed, I kept drinking.

WHEN WE LEFT Aspen, my parents gave us one of their latest litter of golden retriever puppies as an early Christmas present. We named her Sweet Dee for a character from our favorite television show. Friends sometimes visited our apartment, and we would party. Sweet Dee, fiend that she is, always attempted to steal only the vile substances we consumed. She would ignore the food and beg for beer and cigarette butts.

She was a fluffy little ball of shedding fur from which poked four fat legs and three black buttons for eyes and a nose. Now, she is a dog.

We don’t have any booze in our house anymore for obvious reasons, so Sweet Dee begs for human food. We frequently give her our dinner plates to lick. Accordingly, she sits as close as possible when we’re ingesting food and deploys the Doggy Soul Stare. When told to “Go lay down!” she does so knowing a treat is on its way.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m really not supposed to write about my addiction or my recovery, and if I do, I’m only supposed to journal it, keep it private. I’ve been told by people with a lot more sobriety experience than me that I’ll regret it, that I’ll look back in a year and ask myself, What was I thinking? Maybe I will. This is a calculated risk; these warnings were duly noted before I started writing. I’m comfortable because I’ve seen other people do the same when they felt they were at a place in their addiction at which they could generate and record valuable insight about it.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve been asked not to write about a certain program in which I’m participating that is partially facilitating my recovery because of its anonymous nature. I’ll honor that request.

And lastly, I don’t intend any writing I do on this blog to be The Definitive Work on Addiction.

 

*not necessarily into the eyes, this gawk is simply toward a human’s body and into the soul; term stolen and adapted from a friend’s frequent Facebook anecdotes about his own dog

Reporting on My Own Depravity

A lot of journalists are considered with high regard because in the line of reporting, they’ve infiltrated an arena to which they’re alien – they’ve imbedded with troops, they’ve spent nights on the street with the homeless, they’ve invited themselves into living rooms filled with photos that enhance the troubled testimonies of their owners. These journalists are often great at what they do, which is a heavy and legitimate public service. Heck, I’ve even been there a few times. And I don’t begrudge these reporters the fine job they do.

But this, the story I’ve been trying to tell for a while now, is the ultimate act of immersion journalism. There’s much that distinguishes it from the traditional immersion assignment: It was an accident; I didn’t ask for the disease I’m writing about. I certainly don’t want it. Being the essence of the issue you’re covering – being the story – flies in the face of much of what they teach you in J-school. There’s no way to be objective, something many editors require before all else. It convolutes the picture you’re trying to see when you’re part of the story’s statistical landscape. You become a de facto outlier in your own storytelling.

You identify with your sources; you cry, rejoice, bleed, heal with them. But I don’t think that matters here. Indeed, it’s very possible, as a number of bylined – as well as anonymous – writers have demonstrated, to do a very good job. David Carr is a fine example. Perhaps it’s just part of the coping process for addicts who also happen to be storytellers. In 12-step programs, one of the necessary ventures is to take an honest inventory of self. For me and people like me, I think that’s part of why I’m doing this. The need to catalogue.

I still have to find the answer to all these thoughts, and this post is in no way a culmination of my journey. No future post probably will be. I’m a year and more than three months from my last drink, and I haven’t even attempted to get a sponsor or begin the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous. I don’t imagine that journey will ever be over.

TODAY, I WENT to my fifth meeting since I stopped drinking. It was at the end of the same, typical drive I’ve taken to prior meetings, past a bunch of fast food, maybe a couple of parks and, of course, a number of appealing watering holes and even a strip joint called Minx. The meeting was in a small conference space in a large Baptist church with enough hallways to get lost in. It’s immersed in a conservative but gentle militarism you might expect from a Southern community, near several installations of American Armed Forces. I pulled into the parking lot filled with Lexuses and Cadillacs, and a bunch of blue hair and a couple of dress uniforms – it’s Veterans Day – spilled out the front doors and onto the blacktop.

I used to be a very Christian person. Then, in 2005, I started drinking very heavily and stopped believing in God. It was a small part of the depression I was suffering. I was struggling to reconcile the humility preached by Jesus in the New Testament with the largesse lived by the modern Christian establishment. And I was very pissed off. Still am.

This morning, I expressed that skepticism. A proverbial talking stick had made about five stops around the circle of about 20 people before I volunteered. I said I was having a lot of trouble with the God part of Alcoholics Anonymous because I didn’t believe in such a being. It’s true. Of course, some people can say they’ve heard me say I think there’s an argument to made for the existence of a Higher Power that created all the wonderful things we experience on the daily basis.

Total bullshit.

It’s quite the leap to decide that, just because not everything has been scientifically explained by carbon dating and the Big Bang Theory, it logically follows that there’s some omnipresence out there driving all these events.

This is what I was having a very tough time with, I told the group.

Somebody passed me a note with a bunch of chapters written on it from the AA Big Book, which carries the organization’s philosophies and governing principles. It also had a phone number on it. I read it and shoved it in my pocket for later. I’ll give the guy a call.

Then, they challenged me. More than a millennium of sobriety in the room told me there is, in fact, a god, and it’s not me. They just said it. It was a fact. Black and white. They flipped the bird to one journalistic convention I hate: that you always have to prove something before you say it. (Don’t get me wrong; you should have evidence to back up what you’re saying. The point is, if you can prove it readily, just say it. If you’re called out, circle the wagons with fact.) They just knew; it was experience talking. The message came collectively from a lot of men and a few women who’d served in the military and religious communities before they took their lives from the desperate fangs of addiction and gave them to sobriety. Now, they just say there’s a god out there, something that’s not me that makes the world turn. Like, for example, the collective sobriety of the organization.

That’s powerful.

And – here goes my objectivity – that was a comforting thought. I don’t want god to be one of gas-guzzlers and military complex. God should be that of small things.

Tomorrow, I’ll call the number in my pocket, and start taking notes.

My First Post – A Rant, A Statement of Hope

In the week of Oct. 14, 2012, a lot of other important things happened aside from the dawning consciousness of this website. In fact, the weight of most of those things was far greater than that consciousness.

Heavy violence in Syria, which had captivated most notably the large cities Homs and Allepo, spread to Damascus, and what was once seen as a haven from which its evil dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, could wield his power over the country became the newest emblem of the populist uprising that had engulfed the country of late. Children became further desensitized by the violence.

Amy Goodman, the weather-beaten anchor of the alternative news program Democracy Now, hosted the views of third-party candidates who were excluded from – indeed, in one case arrested for attempting to attend – the second 2012 presidential debate between granny-starver* Mitt Romney and grand decider of who should live or die Barack Obama. (Protect the duopoly!)

A U.S. appeals court – the second one – struck down DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married gay and lesbian couples, as unconstitutional. Almost in tandem, demographers at Gallup attempted to measure the gay population of America, releasing a study that showed 3.4 percent of Americans are openly gay. It was called the biggest such study ever.

The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, publicly announced his support for a high-school cheerleading team that was fighting on the basis of free-speech rights to display Bible verses on their game-time banners.

Obama and Romney promised people they would fix problems (but nothing too specific). People around the world, including me, kept foolishly inserting information to the blogosphere and the Facebookland about their lives and views and financial standings that governments and corporations could someday exploit to their benefit and to the degradation of the former. A woman survived three days in the ocean after her plane crashed near the Virgin Islands. The Los Angeles Police Department announced that it was pursuing evidence that implied 12 unsolved deaths in Southern California are linked to the Manson Family.

The baby growing in my wife’s stomach grew to the size of a watermelon and practiced some of its motor skills, like breathing (though its a viscous liquid, instead of air), sucking and gripping. Humans in my military barracks scurried about base in aquaflage uniforms, mostly to oblivious to all these happenings, and organized their transfers to other bases where they’ll continue to learn their jobs in the Navy.

I sat in an office I work in on the third deck and wrote this, trying to come to terms with some things. That, in the last year and a bit, I did a whole lot of things I never thought I would. I joined the military; I got married; I quit drinking. I thought about where I’m going, what I’ll do in the next year and a bit.

I have orders to report to the naval station at Dam Neck, Virginia, to learn how to maintain and operate the NATO Sea Sparrow missile system. It’s a place where, no doubt, some of my friends I made in boot camp and during my time learning basic fire control here at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, have gone to learn their own jobs in the Navy. Painting. Cooking. Administrating. Patching holes in ships. Patching holes in humans.

I’m hoping things will be different.

One day this week, the chief petty officer I work for decided we need to find a replacement to occupy the position I’ll vacate when I leave in a little less that two weeks. I write and edit speeches and emails and papers and news articles on a website that’s as-of-yet unapproved by the command and pontificate on current events. It’s a pretty sweet gig. I don’t have to attend many of the roll calls, which I consider unnecessary, or participate in much of the busy-work – sweeping and swabbing decks, moving furniture, making sure there’s an audience for weekly corporal punishments for shitbaggery – that’s an integral part of other service members’ lives.

To do it well, I’m equipped with a quality eye for the difference between good and bad communication. In a barracks that houses, generally, between 500 and 600 sailors who are waiting for the Navy to vacate a spot for them in the fleet or in a training command, the chief’s theory is that there has to be someone out there with experience in writing or media production. I’m more pessimistic.

The day before yesterday, our tenuous recruiting program yielded a gossiper, straight from high school. I entered the office after lunch, and she was just there, with hollow eyes, a skinny face, overly-straight posture and an underdeveloped taste for pretentious platitudes about the student population she was presumably there to serve. She said she had never failed an academic writing assignment and liked to dabble in “abstract poetry.” I don’t know what the latter is. She didn’t recite any poetry or provide any examples of her writing. I asked her if she knew how to work the back end of a wordpress. She said she didn’t. Instead, she sat in a swivel chair and criticized the wife of an instructor from the fire control school for being fat. She used the word “disgusting.” She was snarky to my coworker and me about what she saw as deficiencies in our product, to which she hadn’t contributed.

She’s not the rule, but she’s not entirely heretic of the group that inhabits this building on the academic fringe of this training command. Stand in on a muster here, and you drown in a swirl of complaints about rules, late liberty and stupid shipmates – the loud banner of the unfounded and lofty sense of entitlement to being treated like an adult, when most owners this of sense are anything but.

So I look outside at the changing leaves – so bright-red they seem to glow purple in the dusk – and I hope the new place will be one separate from the orgy of high-school complaints about having to do actual work. One away from where all we do now is not what we’ll do in the real Navy.

But here, again, I’m pessimistic. As I came to the Navy later in life than most, many of the second- and first-class petty officers on this base are younger than me and harbor the air that something deep is due them. Sure, they’ve been on a deployment or more. They’ve served the American agenda for the good or bad of it or of the world. Most likely, they’ve worked hard and very possibly, they’ve saved a life. Sure, something deep is due them. But mostly, they corrected things, fixing broken circuit cards and revising errant records and topping off fuel tanks – the little things that kept the Navy going, steaming toward that massive goal of protecting America, its allies and its corporate agenda. And now they sit in an office surrounded by reams of paper and a smart phone, and they’re still human beings.

On Oct. 19, lots of important things happened. Most notably here, we went about our lives. We played video games, bitched at leadership for making us do things we didn’t want to do, walked around with no particular purpose, saluted and requested permission to go ashore. That was important to us. So important, most of us didn’t pay attention to the other important things that happened in the world.

I hope it’s different somewhere in this Navy.

*stolen from Charles P. Pierce, political writer for Esquire