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1 Tuff Rockies

“I was having a wonderful time and the whole world opened up before me, because I had no dreams.”

— Sal Paradise, On The Road

Don’t worry about that line right now, we’ll get back to it. Just some verbal beef jerky for you to gnaw on. A little literary licorice.

On with the column.

And so CmcD said unto Ben Gets Punched, “Go out now, and fulfill your duty as the cleric of the written word we at 1 Tuff have shaped you into. Observe your world, keep your skills ever to the sharpener, and provide us with tales that give me the opportunity to photoshop your picture into something comical.”

West I was sent, away from the perpetual incandescence of The City, through the annoyingly repetitive hills of Pennsylvania, over the scrolling plains of Iowa, to the mountains, and the eternal promise they hold. Boulder, Colorado. A stone’s throw from Elwayville. A mile-high mecca of ski bunnies and sixty-degree temps. I was stationed here to simply live and observe and provide a midstation for anyone on a road trip to Vegas. Ben Gets Punched, punching in, back on duty.

It’s been a while, so let us reacquaint ourselves.

Who wouldn't want to punch this face?

My initial foray into the post-college purgatory was just like anybody else’s: a solid four-to-six nights a week at a generic detestable watering hole, daytimes loaded with Elimidations and plentiful helpings of vicodin, courtesy of my now-absent wisdom teeth. My protracted attempt to remain either structurally or seasonally unemployed saw itself foiled by my mustachioed old man and his network of needy business associates. Forced closer to the vortex by unreasonable Nickels losses and ultimately sucked in by the black hole of the Marketplace, I auctioned my very soul…got $15.50 an hour for it.

My employer: a peon of the Man; a firm contracted by the local totalitarian telephone conglomerate. They fitted me for my hard hat and, unaware of my uncanny aptitude for feigning hard work, sent me out into the gray reality once known as King’s County. They told me about midspan telephone drops and grounded copper plant and other things no man should know about. I crashed a company van into the garage, got another one stuck in three feet of mud, and tried, most unsuccessfully, to hit on the boss’ daughter, who was a real bitch. I doped myself up on Dayquil and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, stopped home whenever possible for a cold beer or numbing bong hit. I contemplated retirement nightly. Purgatory passed, here’s hell.

About a month into that woeful shitshow, I penned, during the fetal stage of an aborted 1 Tuff column, these grafs:

That infinite train of soulless wayfarers — aching ever forward, never moving — is no longer just a nightmare, an abstraction. It is life. It is now, and tomorrow, and forever. It is damaging.

It is over.

When a cup of decent coffee and too-long trips to the men’s room become one’s primary sources of joy — or whatever pale emotion [relief, maybe?] now springs forward when joy did previously — you begin to think it could be over. When the 250-pound secretary becomes optical hershey’s because she’s something other than an off-black laptop in serious need of a degauss, you start to hope that it’s over. When you’re awake at quarter to seven a.m. and don’t have a bloody nose or a naked chick in front of you, you realize it really is over, unsure if it ever began.

The American Dream has become the American Delusion; the thing everyone’s destroying each other to reach, something that’s not there, never was; the Most Fabulous Object in the World. Logic dictates it exists. Reality constantly reaffirms it never did. No one seems to notice, or believe, or care. They stake their lives on the assumption it’s out there, barter any shred of existing happiness for one shot at it, so confident in its guarantee of eternal bliss, or perfection, even though no one’s thought to look up the specs on this guarantee, never noticed it expires continuously. These sorry fucks know not what they seek, and worst, would unflinchingly continue their search if ever they did find It.

This Fight truly is the good fight, the one worth dying for, for dead we already are; we can’t stop that, only skew it and slow it and seek brief release from it. The Fight becomes central if we care to survive one more day, if we want to live again, or ever.

A little jaded, I’ll admit. Hard hats lead to harder truths, apparently. But I believed those words when I wrote them, and see the truth in them all the more now that I’m once again unemployed, freed from the corroded shackles of nine-to-five and (Extended Star Wars Metaphor Alert) the ravenous, Wompa-like beast we call routine, the hairy thing that will string you upside down in an icy cave and leave you dangling in a hopeless limbo until one day it up and decides to eat you.

Of course, there is another option, one most people consider while hanging upside down in their Wompa cave, but never act on: Escape. Sure, it seems a little risky, especially since you have no idea what awful, bloodthirsty creatures lurk in the snowy clime outside, and at least you’re guaranteed that this Wompa cave has certain amenities like walls and some decorative icicles. Most people seem content to just chill in the cave and figure everything’ll be just fine if they spruce the joint up a little bit, convinced that if they can just find the right carpet, no one will even notice all those carcasses on the ground. But no matter how many flat-screens or Corinthian leather couches, no matter how many high-priced hookers or glamour toys you pack in there, one day, the Wompa’s still gonna eat you. That’s just what Wompas do.

The eternal question...12 oz. to wash away reality or lightsaber the arm off the Special Edition inserted villain?

Escape, when compared to this, seems like a risk probably worth taking. So, with the express backing — moral if not financial — of 1 Tuff’s Development Department, I went for it.

I loaded my assorted oversized backpacks with only the glaring essentials — Foamposites, a couple good books, my Don Beebe’s House of Speed t-shirt — hopped in my rally-ready Audi 90, flipped on my Hella lamps and tore into the fog of the unknown, the scent of sovereignty propelling me westward like some long-forgotten pioneer in search of beaver pelts and powder days.

2,000 miles and one ounce later, I staked my flag on the lawn of liberty, which is maybe a quarter acre and completely covered in dog shit. Looks like I made it.

I’ve got a backyard outside and three cacti in my room. There’s a mutt I’m hopelessly allergic to and a roommate I’m pretty sure I heard having sex with it. Entertainment? My other two roomies somehow filled three of those 100 CD books with DVDs, including every Disney movie ever, which is more than a bit disconcerting but impressive nonetheless. I ski when it snows, shoot hoops and wander around the grocery store when it doesn’t, and sleep more than I don’t. I drove past Jon Benet Ramsey’s house. I got my brakes redone in a mall parking lot by some guy who lives in a halfway house. I got kicked out of Taco Bell for cursing in Spanish. I saw a retarded midget riding a tricycle in heavy traffic. I watch Ishtar biweekly (that’s twice each week, not once every two weeks. It can mean both).

My newfound, gratifyingly feckless lifestyle recalls — although by no conscious design — one of my favorite literary lines, mentioned up top and spoken by Sal Paradise, the narrator of Kerouac’s humblingly good beat novel On the Road:

“I was having a wonderful time and the whole world opened up before me, because I had no dreams.”

Opting for the Unabomber route, Ben Gets Living

I used to like this line for its beauty, its whiff of literary perfection. Now I appreciate it for its jarring truth. When first read, the sentence seems counterintuitive, or at least unnatural, but that’s just the Delusion, its relentless echo pounding our brains, the awful pounding we’ve grown so accustomed to, the pounding we eventually accept and begin to call things like “drive” and “ambition.”

No dreams, he says? Lunacy! We’ve forever been taught to set our sights high, shoot for some fancy boy prestige-steeped business school or seven-figure job, barraged by grandparents and guidance counselors with the same questions as always; what’s your major?; have you given any thought to an actual career?; are you ready for two hours of intense fishing?

How could we not have a vision, a plan for ourselves, how could we possibly view the world through the eyes of anything but a fledgling servant of success, another worker bee come to serve the queen? The world’s supposed to shut down if none of us have dreams; no dreams equals (!gasp!) no progress, which would be a terrible thing to be without, because then we wouldn’t have Atkins diets or Playstations in our Hummers or Oxy-Clean or sleepnumber beds or Nelly hollering Pimp Juice when our phones ring.

It’s personal progress — not these hollow artificial advancements — that should be paramount, that eternal investigation into the betterment of ourselves as free-thinking, Wompa-slaying individuals, the kind of lucid self-discovery that only two brutal months with nary a second of sobriety can provide.

Somewhere, not so deep within the simplicity of this life, lays its perfection. In the absence of dreams and hopes, the world is exposed for what it truly is: not quite meaningless, but a lot less consequential than people seem to think. This life allows one the ability to simply be and shift focus away from the things that can ruin a man far more easily than they can make him; there’s no one mystic girl to chase, or salary barrier to hurdle over or ideas beyond this minute, this drink, this rack I’ve been staring at for half an hour; no hopes for today, no thoughts of tomorrow. Just one truth: I am.

For the minute, knowing that is plenty.