2020, The Long Slow Goodbye

A few days ago, I learned that John Le Carre, a veteran of the cold war and seasoned writer of high-quality spy novels, died at the age of 89. The comment had to be added to the official announcement that he did not die from COVID-19. This is a good bye for two reasons, the author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would never writer another ground breaking novel again, and we can’t hear about anyone dying without having COVID-19 added to it one way or another.

A year ago, at this time we were living free from lock downs, wearing mask, and election drama. I still called myself a liberal. While I was starting to see a change in the city, I always lived I still had a love for it and what it could be. There was the cushy job that paid too much money with little work and responsibility. The house that I still owned since 2004 that I had already dished out $78,000 for and I still owed $43,000 on a $65,000 mortgage. Don’t ask me how the math on that works out. Life was cruising along and then news started to come out of China.

In the last year we lost Sean Connery, John Le Carre, Kirk Douglas, Kelly Preston, Jerry Stiller, and Eddie Van Halen. The list is longer and people would be pissed if I didn’t mention RBG, but to be honest with you I think that one had been living on borrowed time for a few years already. The year doesn’t compare to 2016 when we heard about a new celebrity death every couple of days but that was the good old days. When all you have to look forward to on the news is who died now maybe life isn’t that bad, for you that is, sucks for the dead guy. What was different was how every death this year was over shadowed by COVID-19. Except for Kobe Bryant there was always the question if the person they were talking about had died from COVID-19, or if they died of something else but had COVID-19. The story was never about the life of the person who had died but instead played second fiddle to a disease.

Celebrities aren’t the only thing dying this year. The country appears to be on life support as businesses shut down and lives are destroyed. Several places I loved going to no longer exist. Restaurants, breweries, and small shops have closed their doors for good. For many, the sense of having a future to look forward to has disappeared. The media continues to ignore the record number of suicides that states have been seeing while they continue to keep people isolated for no good reason at all. The American dream has been reserved for a select few, and unless you are prospering from the current economic conditions then this does not include you. The constitution has been under fire these days and like the bible thumpers I grew up with people have started to take a selective approach to the bill of rights. BLM is allowed to protest because it is their first amendment right. People are not allowed to protest the lockdowns because the government says so. Statues were torn down, building set on fire, people killed in the streets in the name of… something and nobody appeared to be arrested or held accountable. Meanwhile if you open your business to make money, while following CDC guidelines so that you can feed your family and keep a roof over your head you will go to jail. COVID-19 didn’t do this, we did this to ourselves. The government over reacted and continued policies more dangerous than a disease and we as a people let it happen and continue. Vaccines have been administered this week and even if the majority of the country has been stuck in the arm with a needle the government is saying we will still have to continue with our current policies. Democracy, the constitution, and the bill or rights also died this year.

Four states changed election rules without going through their state legislature in accordance to the constitution of the united states. When 20 other states tried to sue over this the supreme court declined to hear the case. Voting machines that had been purchased through Canada have been shown to alter votes, and while people like John Oliver stated a year ago that this was a problem. Now we are supposed to believe that there was nothing wrong with these machines.

Race relations have never been worse. A constant barrage of stories about racism and defining people by the color of their skin has alienated the country from itself.

A job that I thought was secure turned into a SJW cesspool, or maybe it always had been and I just didn’t want to see it. Emails went out to POCs (people of color) to have meeting with only them, segregating the employees. Over a span of two years several highly regarded famous authors died with no presentation, display, or mention of the event on the library website. Jim Harrison, Anthony Bourdain, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Sam Shepard, and Harlan Ellison died during the time I work for the library and out of the list Anthony Bourdain had a display, only because I put one together on a cart and wheeled it out into the lobby. There it stayed for a week before it was taken down and the materials returned to the shelves. I had requested a display for Tony, even suggesting a link to suicide prevention, but I was told that “If we did a display for every author who died we would always have a display up.” Somewhere along the way the library had lost its way as to what a library is. Without writers a library would not exist. Somewhere along the way libraries had forgotten where they started and why they existed. And we wonder why people don’t read anymore?

My city started to implode. It was socially acceptable and encouraged to say that white people were evil. Riots happened downtown with windows smashed, and stores looted. The public sided with the rioters while the store owners cleaned up the mess and had to cover the cost. A year before a few members of the Proud Boys went to Bells Brewing for a beer. An out spoken member of the community refused to let them in the brewery saying they were not welcome here and harassed them until they left, while taking photos of their vehicles and license plates to post them online. These are the “open minded” and “socially understanding” people that had started to take over the city. A year later, nobody spoke up against BLM when they trashed the city while screaming about police brutality. The cops used tear gas when they refused to go home and all hell broke loose. The police were under fire for doing their jobs. The Proud boys came back to hold a rally. I watched the entire 1 hour 45-minute uncut video of their march through the city with the poorly narrated dialogue of a man who insisted on telling the camera the exact opposite of everything that happened. The proud boys marched to Bronson park, said some words, and went back to their cars. Meanwhile counter protesters threatened to hit the marchers with sticks and rocks. Flags were stolen and pepper spray used. The local media pushed the idea that the proud boys instigated the violence by showing up. The BLM protesters were arrested for assault and the chief of police was forced to resign for what the public viewed as a poorly handled situation. Later a memorial to a fallen officer was removed from the downtown mall because of public complaint and constant vandalism. My city, the one that I loved, no longer existed.

A brewery that I had gone to since 2013 closed its doors months before their 7th anniversary. The last day was filled with speeches of gratitude and memories that would live on forever. We tried to remain upbeat but by the end of the night men were hugging and crying at the loss of such a great place.

The union closed their doors after we had moved out of town. A place that I wrote about several times, for their live jazz shows, upscale beer selection, and comfortable atmosphere it had a special place in my heart with good food to add to the list. Reasons for staying were disappearing.

2020 has been a long slow good bye to everything that made this country great. From the small businesses that make up the majority of jobs in this country, to the Bill of Rights that has been under attack by the same people who freely use it while arguing you cannot. In a year we have entered some kind of upside-down world where nothing makes sense and to try to live the way you did a year ago is now illegal and you will be punished several ways for it.

People have talked about the new normal and I will admit that everything is changing all the time. There are some things that we need to hold onto. Change can be good but when you do too much you lose a part of yourself or your culture. The country is divided and as I write this there is talk of dividing the country physically. The west coast wants to be liberal democratic states and they can have it. The Midwest from the Rockies to the Appalachian Mountains want to be conservative republican “leave us the F*ck alone” states. Then there is the east coast that is a little more complicated. While I live in Michigan which somehow went from Trump country to Biden wasteland, I can tell you that if you are not in a larger city you are in Trump country. This land is the opposite of where I left. I have seen BLM bumper stickers on the backs of cars and wondered if anyone was going to say something. But there is a simple philosophy here. You don’t bother us; we don’t bother you. I don’t know why that was so hard in Kalamazoo. The country is tolerant, but remember, when you start crap here, these people will finish it. Burn your own cities. March in your streets. Tear yourselves apart. But don’t bring that shit here.

2020 has been a long slow good bye to a lot of things. I left my job. I left my city. I left the Democratic party. I sold a house that I owned for 16 years. I lost my favorite bar. I lost faith in people. I lost trust in government. The list goes on and on. 2020 has been perpetual loss and saying goodbye is something we are all good at now.

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Golden: part 9

It took time to recover from the journey home. It was the weekend and I didn’t return to work until Monday. I went to the local brewery and people were curious about my trip, wondering if I was going to be moving anytime soon. Samantha, one of the bartenders and a friend at the time, asked about the trip and all I could do was shake my head with a look of disappointment. She asked if I had seen the space needle, the troll under the bridge, Pike place market… the list went on and on. I continued to shake my head.
“What the heck happened?” she asked, thinking I was going to have this great story.
I wen through the process of obtaining a passport a few weeks prior to leaving with the hopes of going a few places and starting to see the world. Things were opening up for me and yet I was still at home. That passport still sits in my dresser, unstamped and soon to expire.
I told her everything, all the things you read until now came out. I never saw the one place I wanted to go and the places that any tourist would have been taken to remained a mystery to me after a week. After drinking my beer, I went home feeling like a disappointment to myself. I sat at my computer in my dining room turned writing studio, and looked at a blank page. Instead of working on the show I decided to focus on something different, my next book.
Later that week, after going back to work and returning to the grind of cleaning courtrooms and offices, we had another Skype meeting.
“We are scrapping the season. We’re going to focus on the pilot and make sure that is fine tuned to perfection.”
If I had hair, I would have pulled it out. The cameras were off. Skype was a glorified conference call. I shook my head in disbelief and wondered why the hell I was brought all the way to the other end of the country to begin with. We were literally backing up to a place before my trip to Seattle.
Even with my frustration I decided to stay. The extra $300 a month wasn’t bad for a few hours of work but I would learn later how much Nick was expecting from me. What was a few hours a week turned into more meetings, more projects assigned and soon he was trying to add more shows when we couldn’t get one moving along.
Nick wanted to add more characters, add some random thing for no reason here and that’s what we were working with. Everything had to be in the first season. Before I knew it was working more hours on the show than I was on my own books, the real money makers and I wondered what the heck I was doing. A script writer was brought in and Todd was in charge of writing the pilot episode. I felt bad for the man, not knowing what he was getting involved in. during our meetings a came across as a good man, someone who was agreeable but didn’t stand up to unrealistic expectations. He was a father with two kids and while he was trying to become a television writer, he worked other various jobs to get by. What he was being paid wasn’t worth the time he was putting in. during our emails back and forth on certain topics I tried to warn him about what he was getting into but like me when I first started, he was promised the glitter and glory of Hollywood. Neither of us could see the forest for the weeds.
It was around this time that Nick started to have the project funded by his girlfriend, the wealthy soon to be divorcee, he had met on a cruise the year prior. She was unhappy in her marriage and started shacking up with Nick to get away. California laws were tricky so they kept their affair a secret until the final papers were signed. She received a 3-million-dollar payout along with annual alimony. Convinced by Nick to invest some of the money they started a company that only existed on paper and payroll was set for the next few years. Nick had finally corrected his mistake from decades before by nailing a rich woman to set him for the rest of his life. At the time it appeared that the project would move forward and we would eventually sell everything and move along to something else. As time went on the expectations became unrealistic and we here running around with our heads cut off trying to figure out what the hell Nick wanted. He was becoming harder to contact and when he did pop up there were frustrated tirades about nothing being done. Meetings would go on for hours, the majority of the time spend listening to Nick talk about some story in his life we had already heard several times before. I didn’t want to hear about Norway, the textile factory, the production company, his AA meetings. That ended up being the last straw.
After 2o minutes of hearing Nick talk about the everything but the project he started discussing his time in AA and how it turned his life around.
“Glad it worked for you. It doesn’t work for most people.” It was three am and I wanted to sleep. I knew that AA would be another 20-30 minutes and my time was being wasted.
“It works. How would you know if it works or not?”
“the success rate is 13% and AA wouldn’t know that because anyone who doesn’t stick with the program isn’t tracked. They have false statistics to make themselves look good.”
“that’s bullshit. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I needed a higher power to get me through and come out sober in the end. AA saved my life and you think you know better than someone who was in it? Where do you come across saying these things?” Sam and Todd were silent. A button had been pushed and all I wanted to do was go to bed already having nothing to work with from the meeting.
“You said yourself you had to stop smoking to stop drinking. That’s not a higher power, that’s thinking.”
There was an eruption on the other end. Sam jumped in trying to calm Nick down. While Nick went on a rampage I sat back and listened. It was the only joy I would get out of this meeting and it all happened because he could only focus on himself and not the show.
“we’ve been on this call for three hours and for the last 30 minutes all you have done is talk about yourself. I don’t know what you do during the day but I need some sleep and I have to go to work tomorrow. Stop wasting my time!” I finally said it. I was expecting to be fired. I wanted to be fired. I was begging to be let go. For once Nick listened.
“You’re right, I’m not respecting your time. Let’s wrap this up and start again in a few days.” There was a sigh of relief from Todd’s end and I signed off without saying goodbye.
The next morning, I started receiving the emails. Nick had added me to his carbon copy list at the beginning of the project and I would receive emails about everything from bills to be paid and the show. It also included messages back and forth with Sam. Shit was starting to get real.
“If that son of a bitch starts that shit again, he’s gone.” The messages continued all day as Nick and Sam discussed what to do with me, and I read everything. I wasn’t the only person they were talking about. Todd was viewed as the suck who was working for less money than he was worth. Nick started looking for other writers to replace me, and I was glad. I would continue to receive payment until the last day, at least that was the plan.
“I’m bringing another writer into the project,” Nick said at the next meeting. He was in contact with a woman from the Seattle area that he wanted to hire. The next day he was bitching through email that she had told him to contact her agent to arrange a deal for the job. Nick lost his shit when he demanded to negotiate with her directly and she stopped responding to his messages. He didn’t handle rejection very well. I was still the only writer he had to work with and the demands I was making were viewed as obscene. Don’t waste my time. Focus on the show. Finish one thing before going onto the next. No, I’m not writing your books for a show that hasn’t been thought through yet. If I’m working on more than one show then you are paying me an equal amount for each show. we had come to a crossroad and neither of us would budge. We stood there going nowhere and that was where the show would stay until something changed.

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