Posts Tagged ‘coping strategies’

Cycling through Four Exfoliations

January 8, 2021

(dedicated to all bike mechanics everywhere and at all times)

to remove or shed (a layer of skin or bark)

So far in my life, as of the writing of this short story, I have completely exfoliated four times by riding a bicycle long distances.

The skin or bark that I shed each time and with each push of the pedals, was the hardened, calloused, persona that formed as I lived through the smoggiest and most acid-rained-on parts of my life. And like a snake or caterpillar, the result is a fresh perception with which to build on. A shiny new outlook and worldview. A new skin (or bark).

Exfoliation 1. Steel City Puberty

The first life-saving exfoliation took place when I hit puberty at 12. After spending 6 years alone and friendless in a sprawled out subdivision isolated from people or interesting activities, I was finally allowed to bike far enough to get myself friends when I turned twelve! The two best friends that I made in the first year of bike freedom lived 6 km and 10 km away.

Most kids didn’t bike very much in Steel City. The TV was there for them, I guess. TV stopped working for me at eight.

I pedaled as carefully as a pre-teen can. As my hardened, alienated skin peeled off, I had to really watch out for cars and trucks as our subdivision was located right next to a busy highway interchange. I still can’t believe I survived all the almost-collisions and near-misses. But I did.

I was a new fruit in town with… FRIENDS!

Exfoliation 2. Back to Steel City

Leaving Steel City for a few years to study abroad, I returned broke and feeling like a failure, finding myself back at the house that I biked away from so many times. Unloved and with no real reason to be there, and carrying all the existential angst of a young adult who can’t seem to grow up and leave home… I was able to steal away almost every nice evening, and do a 16 km loop around Oily Lake.

Narrowly avoiding being hit by impatient truckers and fast-moving suburbanites, I was able to do this loop often enough to make a plan to get a job, save money, and get away again. If I hadn’t biked reguarly during this period, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

And with the terrible bike infrastructure and total absence of bike culture in Steel City, I could have disappeared under a vehicle’s wheels during this period. But I didn’t. Perhaps the danger of almost being killed every ride made me appreciate being alive more. Gave me enough appreciation for life that I got focussed.

I was an organized fruit now, with PLANS!

Exfoliation 3. Post-Steel City Stress Disorder

A few years after relocating to a big city where I knew no one and nothing, I started to experience the aching crisis of panic attacks – a daily horror of heart-attack-like sensations, insomnia, and the budding of social neuroses.

Doctors and Psychologists try to help with words, therapies, advice, and a few happy pills. But none of it really works. There is a deep malaise in my head and these cures just don’t seem to be on the same scale as the terror behind the attacks.

But I find a way to control them in the evenings. Bike rides. Long, four-hour bike rides through parks, along canals, and up mountains. Though the panic still lingers, I am finally able to sleep well. And this leads to a cascading of positive improvements that leads to the disappearance of panic attacks within four years.

I was a more cautious fruit now with… SELF ESTEEM!

Exfoliation 4. Collapse of Capitalism

When I was in my middle ages, the stock market crashed for the fourth time in my life. I was in Spain at the time on vacation, and had to return immediately on the first plane because of what media was calling an “epidemic.”

Arriving in my city apartment, everything had been rebranded as diseased. And because of this, our ability to move around, work at your job, or see friends were all limited in order to save lives. Sit still in a house and save lives.

I always suspect things, and I suspected throughout the pandemic that the real reason for the repressive and anti-social measures wasn’t to save lives through distancing, but rather to save capitalism through lies. It wouldn’t be the first time. Our country was built on the lies of capitalism after all. Less informed people don’t know this about Steel City’s history, and so they are happier than me all the time. Blissful while wearing surgical masks in their SUVs.

Nonetheless, I went along with the repressive measures, giving my government a chance to prove its case. Or, eventually, to reveal that it had lied for some reason other than to steal from people to keep the financial parasite class well-lubed with everyone’s stolen cash. “Perhaps there is more to this,” I said to myself as I put oil on my bike chain, “Whether it’s real or fake, any crisis can be softened up a bit with aerobics and calcifediol.”

So, I biked long-distance almost every day, worked at physically taxing jobs, and didn’t experience the weight gain and profound existential misery that many of my friends did, and that I could have as well. I actually kept my morale up and my body in great health.

I wonder what kind of skin (or bark) I’ll shed when this is finally over. Maybe it’s everyone’s skin that’s at stake this time.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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Kerry McFabe

May 13, 2012

Knowing Me, Knowing You

(dedicated to the children of flawed communities)

Mother’s Day makes me think of my neighbor Kerry McFabe, a skinny guy with low self esteem who lived a few hundred steps from my house. Because he was 3 years older than I was, we were never in the same class, but for a few summers, we hung out fairly regularly. He’s the guy who introduced me to Abba.

His mother didn’t know we were hanging out and no one wanted her to. She didn’t like him having friends over. There were all kinds of adult problems at his house when he was a child mainly because his father was mildly autistic, and to make things worse, received massive amounts of LSD  as “treatment” at an experimental clinic which was eventually shut down.

Once, when he as a toddler, his dad tried to bash in Kerry’s head with a shoe, exposing his bleeding skull in the process. Their house was set on fire three times. Twice by teenagers as revenge for Mr. McFabe “intentionally” running over their pet dog with his car, and once by his own mother, who got really stoned on painkillers one day and let a pot full of potatoes boil down to a burn.

Because Kerry was socially awkward and slightly paranoid, kids teased him a lot and even non-bullies called him names like Fairy McFag and Brainiac. But this was nothing compared to what his own mother called him in private. Kerry’s mom was a skinny, nasty woman who used to talk to him in a way that degraded the human experience. I once overheard a teacher neighbor opine that the McFabes were soul-murdering their son – that Kerry was having his self esteem and ability to feel joy sucked out of him.

I would wait silently for him in his porch while he changed from his Sunday School clothes into play clothes. His mother never knew I was there, so I overheard a lot of what she used to say and it was always a mixture of bitterness and impatience, non-stop attacks on his ability and esteem. It was never a joy for him to arrive home.

Whenever he got the guts to defend himself, this would turn into a yelling fight, and I would have to sneak away and then call to see if he was alright.

I offered to defend him in these useless fights, but he told me that I would just make things worse if I said anything, that his mother had a lot of problems, and that he probably deserved it anyways. Kerry walked with his head down and wore a lot of black. But with me and his other two friends, he was loyal and responsive.

Mrs McFabe was a frail,  worn  out little woman, but she had a well-earned triple Dan in psychological violence. It’s amazing how an amazing way with words can be used for spiteful ends just like an amazing karate chop. Even though I’m not a professional psychiatrist, I would say Kerry sustained a considerable amount of small puncture wounds to the ego.

And yet with all the life and joy sucked out of him, Kerry soldiered on, listening to Abba on his headphones.

Many years after leaving home, Kerry was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. While in therapy, he read that music could be used to reprogram a damaged mind because it operates on a different part of the mind than speech. Maybe that pop pastry from Sweden he listened to religiously was medicine, and not just entertainment. Maybe the soothing female voices of Agnetha and Frida helped to reconfigure his pain-filled soul.

Kerry was the first person I knew who had bought a record album, and it was Abba’s second release. He told me that he liked to put on the headphones and disappear into a kinder, more logical world,  filled with synthesizer hooks and Swedish accents.

Last month on Facebook, Kerry sent me a list of songs he used to use as medicine to neutralize some of the more toxic words his mother deployed on him, along with the approximate number of times he was  called each name.


“You antichrister bastard!”
(1872 times)

Kerry’s mom was a practicing, God-fearing Catholic. She was also Irish, so this word might have had less impact than it would have in my French Catholic home. To me, calling Kerry an “antichrister” on a regular basis was full-strength hate speech. Is there anything worse you could be than the killer of Jesus’ beautiful message?

Antidote: I do, I do, I do, I do, I do
(1500 – 2000 listenings)

Like the word antichrister, this song’s title makes a vague reference to organized religion. The  reason it works is because the Abba antidote confirms that there is love inside the listener’s heart, in the same way that the hate speech denies that any love is even possible there.


“You hateful little slut!”
(4212 times)
This one had a double-edge because it introduced sexuality – a corrupting strategy as well as an abusive one – to a child who felt instantly dirty and sinful. Corrupting a child can cause damage long after the verbal abuse has ceased.

Antidote: Gonna Sing You My Love Song
(2000 – 3000 listenings)

This song’s lyrics are about curing the damage caused by an abusive or absent lover. “Still I see that she makes you blue…”  It works well for curing the damage of abusive parenting too, so this song may have actually saved Kerry’s life by reprogramming his inner voice.


“I’m gonna wring your neck/crack your head open/etc. … you poison bastard!”
(2808 times)

His parents threw objects when they were angry and weren’t afraid to bruise, so these words carried some weight. A permanent threat of physical violence is sometimes more effective than actual violence in destroying self esteem and social confidence, so this was actually one of the most difficult hate-bombs for Kerry to diffuse.

Antidote:  S.O.S.
(4000 listenings or until self esteem reappears)

Working class males are made to feel inadequate for not being strong (like Superman or a robot), and this gives abusive parents impunity with their sons. In the meantime, this song was like a silent cry for help – muffled by giant pink headphones in a bungalow in suburbia where no one can hear you scream.


Of course, you might want to listen to a more recent pop band if you’re currently being psychologically tortured by a close family member. Abba may have worked for Kerry, but styles change, and so do the vocabularies of abuse and the songs that are made available to help mitigate it.

And though Kerry grew up to be another Steel City Fruit, it’s likely that his daily retreat into Abba helped him cope with his less than ideal existence in a damaged household.

Kerry hasn’t spoken to his mother in many years, and grew up and became a much better person during this hiatus. Perhaps he was following the wisdom of Abba Mega-Antidote Bang A Boomerang.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

Introducing Qaturday

March 27, 2012

Das Qaturday Introducing

Kittens tell us that true direct decision-making
is the ruling class’s biggest fear



“Real democratic decision-making is a grave threat to oligarchs,” purred the short-haired domestics.

Catmedia – and other propaganda forms like commercial TV and cinema – are extremely important politically.

You see, in a democracy, there is a danger that the majority wake up and realize that their status-driven class-based societies are a failure. This threatens the tiny elite – the 1% – who are the only group that can appear to “gain” from social pyramids. So the most paranoid members of the elite rely on mass media – on entertainment – to keep a large chunk of the population distracted and unwise.

**pauses to sip warm milk from a saucer**

Mass media is deployed to keep the bottom of the pyramid full of dumbed-down worker bees. Sports help keep idle minds married to the idea of social competition in teams of strangers: pyramid-worker behavior. It also normalizes working at abstract tasks with no really productive purpose. This is the modus operandi of status-driven capitalism.

The social dumbing-down that commercial media is responsible for should be obvious to everyone by now – the well of knowledge has been so thoroughly poisoned. So if you haven’t already personally responded to this, you ought to give it some priority. We have to each protect our own mental environments from implanted distractions, and be an example for others who aren’t as cognizant of the stakes.

Media distraction can lead to slavehood. And falling into slavehood is probably the ultimate political tragedy – a pathetic dog-eat-dog existence at the mercy of paranoid torturers with empathy-anorexia.

Catmedia is about erasing commercial media and its manipulative jingles and replacing it with a harmless substitute. Caturday is methadone for the global village.


click for more das qaturday

Wallpaper Sample Books

December 20, 2011


(dedicated to all fathers)

Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.

I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.

My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.

So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.

Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*

So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.

So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.

For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.

Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?

Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.

After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”

The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe.  I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

GW and BW

October 17, 2011


One Friday after Home Economics class, Kirk and I drive out to Big Pond to pick up the most insane marijuana we’ve ever smoked: Rapeseed Bud, it’s called.  “It can fuck you up pretty bad,” Sidney Normandson told us at the high school dance.

After picking up a measured ounce of Rapeseed Bud from a dealer in a church basement, we drive for a short 30 minutes and pick up Sidney, and then drive the hour back to Kirk’s place and fire up the power-hitter. A quarter ounce later, we’re all trashed, and Kirk goes into body stone watching the Expos play the Yankees on television.

Suddenly, Sidney gets a hypnotized look in his eye, jumps up and walks out into the kitchen really focused. Two cat brothers – GW and BW – follow him into the kitchen.

In Home Ec, we talked about the difference between nature and nurture. Sidney explains to me that he is going to torture one cat and spoil the other, and see if it really makes a difference. It’s like an experiment – science.

He looks so concentrated and stressed that I don’t dare try to stop him even though I find this experiment really sick. See, there’s just no point in resisting Sidney’s psychotic need to control: I don’t have as strong a character as he does – even Kirk and I acting together can’t make him budge.  Whenever I disagree with Sidney, he calls me a wimp or a faggot and then threatens to hit me or humiliate me in public. I don’t want to be on the receiving end, so I go along.

Sid spots a blow dryer and a bag of high-end kitty treats sitting on top of the fridge next to a case of empty Pop Shoppe bottles. With Kirk still engrossed in the ballgame, he drops some treats onto the kitchen floor, and both GW and BW go running.

Sidney throws them separate treats farther and farther from one another. When the cats are far enough apart, he attacks GW with the blow dryer yelling things like: “I’m gonna kill you, you little slut!”,”Soooh-eey!” and ” You’re not worth shit, you pissbag!” followed by a few long minutes of : “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!…”

He leaves all the treats in a pile in front of BW and then chases GW around the kitchen yelling “Antichrist! Antichrist!” and cornering him next to the sink.

He plugs the blow dryer into a wall socket, turns it on high, and points it right at the cat’s ear. Wrrrrrrrr! GW curves his back, hisses, and tries in vain to beat back the hot air with his little paw. I’m paralyzed myself, just like GW, and my paws are about as strong as his when it comes to fending off Sidney’s hate-turbocharged charisma.

Through the entire kitty nightmare, Kirk watches baseball and notices nothing else. “Bottom of the fifth, and still no score….”

Finally, the experiment ends with GW running outside and hiding for a few days.

As soon as GW runs off, Sidney pops his smiling head into the TV room and says: “Hey Captain Kirk, want some crackers and cheese?” For Sidney, crackers and cheese are the cigarette afterwards.

I’m not sure if baseball-body-stone Kirk ever figured out how GW got to be so neurotic. He probably doesn’t know or care why BW is so relaxed and confident, while GW – post blow dryer – is a lean loner who rarely seeks affection from cats or people.

Sidney used to fear his father who probably beat him up pretty bad.  But why did he have to take this out out on a little cat? Why not his own son or daughter?

soundtrack bis

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