Thinking About Zombies

So, lately I’ve been thinking about zombies. No, not the political meat puppet types in congress but rather the walking-undead-face-eating type. I’m a big fan of the AMC series “The Walking Dead“. It’s evolved to the point that it’s now less about zombies and more about human survival and group dynamics. Seriously – will Rick really be able to forgive his wife? Is the baby really his? Will there be a showdown between Rick and Shane? Riveting stuff.

Which leads me to another show – Doomsday Preppers by the National Geographic channel. Truly awful TV. Unwatchable. Nat Geo needs to exit the reality show genre and go back to lions eating zebras. Finding a few serious nut jobs who are convinced the world is ending and rating their survival preparations is dumb. In the last episode they featured a guy who’s convinced the magnetic poles will flip and cause world-wide chaos and continents to move. I’m not a scientist, but I’ll hazard a guess that we’ll have adequate time to prepare for the North and South American continent breaking free and slamming into Africa.

If there’s going to be an apocalypse to prepare for, zombies are just as good a reason as any other. Pandemic, world economic collapse, the big earthquake, Yellowstone super volcano, Al Franken running for president, nuclear armageddon, they all share a few common preparedness steps you should be making:

Food and Water

Roughly speaking, your local grocery store is only stocked for three days to a week. Looking at what happens to store supplies every time there’s a hurricane warning in the gulf… it’s not hard to imagine that when something really bad happens you’ll be out of luck if your preparedness plan relies on running to Safeway for a few things. You need a one month supply for your family. Period. Don’t forget your pets! It’s not as much storage as you’d think. Remember we’re talking about sustenance, not gourmet meal preparation.

Word goes out that the local water supply is contaminated. Whatcha gonna do? One gallon, per person, per day. It may be weeks before a reliable source of fresh water is available. Remember the mob scenes during Katrina and attempts to provide water to people stuck on the overpasses? That was only a few days. Figure out where/how you’ll supply your family with water and do it now. No, you can’t substitute 100% with Red Bull’s.

Protection

During extreme events (tornado, small earthquakes, etc…) we often see the best of humanity. Communities and neighborhoods pulling together for the common good. I’d like to think the best of people, but history shows that’s not always the case. Eventually when people get hungry, thirsty, or desperate enough they are going to come take your shit and they will do it by force. Accept it and be prepared to defend yourself and your family. Up to you how you choose to do it, but realize that a stern talking to won’t stop someone who doesn’t share your morals and wants your stuff. In my opinion there’s not many problems that double ought buckshot won’t solve. You’re welcome to use eco-friendly pepper spray if you’d like – let me know how that works out for you.

Everything Else

What else would you want/need if you had to hunker down at the ‘ole homestead for a month waiting for the government to figure out what to do? Toilet paper? Medications? Do you have a way to boil water if the power is out? No electricity = no ATM’s. Do you have enough cash in the house? Can you take care of medical issues like cuts, fevers, a sprained ankle? Something worse? What if a family member fell and broke an arm? How about light at night? Heat if you live in a cold weather area could be an issue. Scotch. And red wine. May as well enjoy your time waiting for FEMA to spring into action.

Beyond a month? Hmmm… things have gone terribly wrong. I’m afraid that in the “civilized” world we’d be in trouble. I can deal with a few weeks without American Idol, but beyond that we’re stretching the limits of human endurance. Read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and decide if survival is worth it (spoiler: be prepared to be depressed for a week).

Have I taken any of these survival preparation steps? Of course not! My plan is to loot the nearest Starbucks and drink as many peppermint white hot chocolates with whole milk and whipped cream, at 750 calories per, as I can force down. Then I’ll come knock on your door and beg for food. And to use the restroom.

Brother, Can You Spare A Buck?

For no particular reason I opened up Wikipedia and clicked the “Random Article” link. What came up was “Aggressive panhandling”. Funny because just a few days prior a friend had posted on Facebook that he’d given a few bucks to panhandlers and wondered if he was a sucker for doing so.  What I think this means is that all social media is interlinked and the giant corporations are directing our web traffic to support their evil schemes. Oops, that’s another blog post.

Unless you live in Lebanon, Kansas you’ve seen ’em. Beggars, bums, panhandlers, urban campers, 17th century music majors, hobos.

Down on his luck

They stand on corners, intersection medians, and near shopping areas with their cardboard signs. “Down on my luck”. “Homeless and hungry”. “Need gas money”. “Homeless vet”. “Why lie, need $$ for beer”. They range in appearance from young-ish kids sporting multiple face piercings, to sad older folks, to filthy wackjob looking guys who’ve clearly need a serious delousing. You sit in your $30k car watching them shuffle from window to window looking for a dollar. The guilt sets in, especially women. You fish through your pocket or purse, find a buck just in case he gets to your window before the light changes. If you don’t have anything handy you do everything possible to avoid eye contact. Staring down intently at your phone seems to be a favorite tactic.

For most of us a dollar isn’t going to make or break the monthly budget. It’s not like your children will have to skip dinner tonight if you give up a buck. Should you feel guilty about not giving? Absolutely not! Don’t give them money!! Ultra liberal do-gooders are probably hyperventilating at this point. Don’t worry, they’ll be ok once they have a chi latte. First off, it’s the rare exception that these beggars actually need that dollar to eat. Per a PD contact, many of them can easily make up to $200-$300 a day. Yes, you read that right. It’s common to see them wander off the median and head to their car and drive off when the (sucker) traffic is slow. Many dress for the part and carry multiple cardboard signs with various sayings in case the current one isn’t working.

If nothing else, there’s the safety issue. Do you really want to roll down your window and invite a hepatitis infected drug addict to reach in and grab your purse or worse? Think it doesn’t happen? I know in your Hello Kitty, sunshine and rainbow-filled world all people are good, but that’s just not reality. Sorry.

I just want to work

I’m certainly not suggesting these folks are well-off.  They’re out there for many reasons. Probably the biggest one is a drug addiction. Sadly, they’ll take that dollar from you just as quick as they’ll break into your car or home looking for stuff to steal and sell. Gotta feed that addiction. Mental illness can be a factor as well as a host of other unfortunate events. Waaay down the list is the true, down on his luck, lost his job, home foreclosed on, can’t feed the kids, homeless guy. Why? I believe that most people will take steps before things got to that point and do everything possible to either prevent, or get themselves out of that scenario ASAP. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but my gut tells me it’s the rare case.

Warning, politically incorrect statement: At least in the SF Bay Area, 90% of the restaurant dishwashers, car washers, and fast food workers are our southern friends – here in a temporarily undocumented status. They do not speak English. (no complaints, their English is better than my Spanish)  The point is that they work, and work hard. If an illegal immigrant who does not speak english can find work and survive without begging… so can many (most) of the dudes working the street corner. Begging for money has become a choice for them, not a survival mechanism. Like it or not, giving money is only enabling the behavior. It’s not an accident that cities like San Francisco who pride themselves on being tolerant towards panhandlers are meccas for the homeless. It’s hard to walk down the street in SF without being accosted by some scary looking dude looking for money.

Giving is good. Giving makes you feel better about yourself. I like giving. The difference is that I want to give in a way that maximizes the benefit. Give (or better yet, volunteer) at your local soup kitchen/homeless shelter. Give to a drug, job, outreach center. Give to your church. Find a charity that matches your personal goals and opinions and give. You’ll feel good, and the overall benefit will be 100x what that dollar you give at the intersection does.

Everyone Needs A Tattoo

A friend is currently designing a new tattoo for herself. I like what she’s come up with. What I like best is that it’s something that has meaning to her. It also really pisses me off. I’ve been ready for another tattoo for a while now. Something bigger. Art. Maybe something that can’t be done in one sitting. But here’s the rub – I have no idea what I want. It really bothers me that I can’t come up with something that is important enough. Something that has a personal meaning significant enough to commit to ink. Am I really that shallow that I can’t come up with an idea?

My first one was a spur of the moment sort of thing. A right of passage. Something to get out of my system. Poked around on the web for some flash, picked something I liked and went and found a shop. I still like it, but has no meaning whatsoever. I guess the significance was just to say I have one. When asked I just tell people I’m an expert in ancient, tribal, gekkota studies.

First One

Let’s get the tattoo rules out-of-the-way. Wait until you’re at least late twenties, if not thirty. Period. Any younger than that and you’re still trying to figure out how to tie your shoes, how to make a living in the world, and if you really like red wine or just trying to impress your friends. Neck, face, hand/finger ink, just say no. Sleeve or similar visible tattoos are cool, but just accept that you will immediately exclude yourself from certain jobs. Don’t even consider something highly visible it until you have an established career, and then it still better be a career that’s tolerant. Deal with it. It’s just the way of the world.

I’ve spent hours looking at various tattoo styles. Significant research. Ok, I watched a bunch of Miami and LA Ink episodes. There’s a new show now called Ink Masters that’s helping. I will now ask all potential tattoo artists to demonstrate their skilled shading technique. But what to get?

From an artistic standpoint I really like the Japanese styles. Koi fish and fu dogs. That really doesn’t fit my personality though. Besides, I hate sushi.

Koi

As far as more traditional tattoos I’m fascinated with skulls. I find the Day of the Dead sugar skulls pretty neat, but anyone who knows me would probably laugh if I had a skull tatoo. Besides I’m not catholic, so there’s no religious significance.

Sugar Skull

I do like the new-school bio-mech art. The problem I see there is that I think there’s only a few artists in the country who are doing it really well. I don’t have the attention span to do any actual research.

Biomech

Another option would be to just let an artist have free reign to design something. Errr, no that’s too scary. God knows what I’d end up with.

New School

Which brings me back to disappointment in myself. The logical thing to do would be create something that had real meaning for me. A favorite artist’s work. A quote or saying that helped me through a hard time. My all time favorite superhero. A stylized piece of cheese symbolizing my ancestors migration west from Wisconsin. I’ve got nothing. Zero. I can’t come up with anything. I feel so… so… superficial. My personal lack of anything meaningful has turned this into a quest.

If anyone has any ideas, please share them! If you have a deeply moving story about a personal loss I might consider adopting it as my own at this point. Nobody needs to know that the portrait on my shoulder of grandpa Joe, who we lost in WW II, isn’t actually my grandfather. People will appreciate the story. And secretly they’ll be jealous because everyone needs a tattoo. When you exit this world you’re not going to get extra credit for having kept your skin blemish-free. Scars and tattoos show that you lived life. You experienced the world. You weren’t afraid of what other people might think. Enjoy life. Go get that small, hidden tattoo that nobody would expect you to have. And no, it doesn’t have to have deep meaning.

At least not the first one.

Dude, Where’s My Stuff?

I’m slightly concerned. Maybe concerned isn’t the right word. Intrigued might be better. I’m intrigued at my fascination with the TV show Hoarders. I can’t help it. Flip through the guide and I’ll invariably land on some 2009 episode of Hoarders. I can’t seem to tear myself away from their train wrecks of a life. How do you let yourself get to that point? I can understand clutter. Unable to climb into a room due to garbage and dead cats… uh, no. Don’t get it. Yes, I understand it’s a sickness and these folks need serious help.

Which brings me to my point. We recently had to give up ninety-five percent of our stuff. We walked away from our possessions six months ago and had no idea how we’d survive without it all. We had a 2,700 square foot house in an affluent neighborhood. Every room packed with what you’d expect in a house – dining room stuff, kitchen stuff, backyard stuff. Computers, gardening equipment, tools, sports paraphernalia, closets of clothes. More closets of clothes. Knick-knacks. A porcelain clown collection (don’t ask). We walked away from it all.

Here’s the shocker. I don’t miss it. If you had told me a couple of years ago that I’d have to go six months without one of my ten toolboxes, snow boots, or five pairs of jeans that I’m saving because I might fit into them again someday, I would have thought them certifiable. Crazy. How could I live without my stuff? But I have, and been perfectly happy.

I’d like to say that I found supreme enlightenment, embraced the green, hippy, crunchy granola movement. Unfortunately I’m a little

A Small Closet

more shallow than that. In reality we sold our house and packed everything up and put it in storage while our new house is under construction. We moved into a thirty-six foot motorhome in the meanwhile. Not exactly living in a tent, but space is significantly limited. We went from jam-packed closets to what can fit in a tiny space.

I’ve been surprised how satisfied I’ve been with what I brought with me. A handful of shirts, a few pairs of jeans, some shorts and a couple of pairs of shoes. I no longer even remember what other clothes I own. I was shocked at how liberating it is to be free of stuff. In our new, temporary, smaller space I’m even finding myself thinning out and throwing stuff away that we haven’t touched in a few weeks.

The level of consumerism that our society has become is a little frightening. Our economy is now built completely on people buying stuff. Sales, super-sized, bulk purchases from Costco, keeping up with the next door neighbors. It’s crazy. George Carlin had it right way back in 1981 with his bit on “a place for my stuff“. It’s so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of “I need”. How could you possibly expect me to survive without a new Starfrit Automatic Rotato Express Electric Peeler? Only $19.97 at Walmart. Please don’t tell me you’re doing the old fashioned manual way? Neanderthal.

The test of this new-found enlightenment will happen when we move into the new house. All our stuff will be there waiting for us. How will I react? Will I fall to my knees and thank the gods above that I have my stuff again? Or will I embrace my new-found, uncluttered self, and get rid of much of stuff we’ve acquired over years and years?

The twist, in part, is why we’re living in a motorhome in the first place. The “new” house is actually one hundred years old. A classic craftsman bungalow. We fell in love with it instantly. Well, except for the closets. How in the world did people live way back then with such tiny closets? Seriously, those closets were probably smaller than our motorhome’s closets. So, of course we did what anyone else faced with such a first-world problem would do. Let’s do a massive remodel and put in big walk-in closets!

Such is the way of the universe. We tired of our big, boring, track home. Bought a smaller, historical house with no closets for our stuff. Put all our stuff in storage so we can build bigger rooms for our stuff. Forced to live without our stuff for months. Really enjoying being minimalist. Now about to move back to the new, old, house with room for our stuff. My head hurts a little thinking about it.

I think I’ll go watch an episode of Hoarders. Then go throw something away.