Origin Stories — Hot Rods, Homelessness and Living on Lizards in the Keys

When given the choice of any two paths, pick the one that’ll make the best story later. I’ve never told most of these, and only do so now for introductory purposes. The story of my life to date is just like yours; tragedy and triumph, loss and gain, toil and adventure. Maybe a little more so than most; you’d be surprised how much living a person can do while constantly chasing death.

But, we all have our origin stories. Those pieces of life, those events which unite and define us. We hold these stories, and share them. Because, in so doing, we share with others who we are. End of the day, money fades and love dies. Material things come and go, and everything burns. Those who’ve lost the most fear the least, because the story carries on. It’s who we are, united in the nakedness of identity born through shared experience.

This is my story. This is who I am.

Maybe you’ll find pieces of yourself in it, too.

Early Life, 1980 to 1993:

  • I was born and raised in the Ocala National Forest. Seventh generation Floridian on one side, fifth on the other. My mother was a nurse (later Union President), and and father an EMT. Ambulance driver. They met while Mom was patching Dad’s broken toe, after deliberately running over it with a cast-iron med cart. Just so she’d have an excuse to talk to him.
  • I grew up wandering through the Forest, alone, miles from home with a home made four foot machete. Other time was occupied helping my Dad build trailers, working on cars and losing his tools while building stuff in the shop.
  • We weren’t poor. At first. Until my Father broke his back in the line of duty, we were reasonably lower middle class. Forever after, it was food stamps, fight to survive and everybody get a job.
  • The first books I can clearly remember reading were the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Pet Sematary, Jurassic Park, The Prince (Machiavelli), The Art of War (Sun Tzu), Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu), Go Rin No Sho (Book of Five Rings, Musashi) and an entire set of encyclopedias from 1958. Except for “Q,” which was missing.
  • My idols were Ben Franklin, Howard Hughes, Nikola Tesla, Andrew Carnegie, Da Vinci, George Carlin and Dennis Leary.
  • Witnessed my first “fag drag” at the age of 12. The truck didn’t see me in the woods as it sped by, with the bloody body of a local gay man tied to the hitch. I thought it was a deer at the time. They left him on the roadside, and police wrote it up as a traffic accident. Heard he had drugs in his system.
  • Realized I wasn’t straight some time later. Today, we’d call it “pansexual.” Back then, it was only something that got you left in a ditch. With drugs in your system.

Fast Cars, Black Coats and Being Wade Wilson, 1993-2000

  • First car was a 1980 Buick Grand National, which I regularly street raced with first a Big Block Olds, then a 500 Caddy. Been building and driving brutally undrivable hot rods ever since.
  • I was a fat kid. Like, extremely. About 350 by 8th grade, peaking at over 500 pounds in Junior year. Got down to 250 by graduation through obsessive exercise and dieting.
  • Got addicted to Percocet at 15, after breaking my ankle and being prescribed 120 a month. Set up a lifelong cycle of addiction broken mostly in the last ten years; but damn. Wrote some great poetry in high school. About this time, I met The Girl.
  • Been continuously employed since 13 years old, usually with more than one job. Held down a position as a full-time night watchman at the Eckerd Camp for Boys through most of high school.
  • Worked the Clinton Campaign twice with Mom. She’d formed a teacher’s aide union, and had become a powerful political organizer. Met Bill, Hillary and Chelsea in 91 and 95. Chelsea was not interested in me, either time.
  • Always loved military aircraft, and designed a new arch-wing for the 10th grade science fair. Got to regionals, beaten by some little bastard whose dad paid for a nice display and leaf blower to test laminar flow turbine angle to rpm. Which was something you could have looked up in any book. BRIAN. Still, pictures were taken of my design by the Air Force, and it was subsequently stolen by an aerospace company whose name rhymes with “Hockheed,” for their submarine-launched surveillance drone.
  • Always worn black trench coats, and listened to heavy metal. But, Britney Spears was a guilty pleasure.
  • Graduated with a 2.8 GPA, turning down scholarships from multiple universities including Duke. Considered Embry-Riddle, but couldn’t afford to live in Boca Raton.
  • Decided to commit post-highschool years full time to sex, drugs, associated crime and street racing. Was only ever really successful at the first three.
  • Ran into house fire to rescue a meth head’s Pomeranian. She kept trying to go back in for it; so I ran in and threw the thing out her window like a football. Dog lost some hair passing close to the burning ceiling. I lost most of mine while standing up to throw it. She died face-down in a puddle during Xanax coma three weeks later.
  • Got shot a couple times. Drowned, overdosed. Beaten, stabbed, run over, poisoned, bitten by black widows and rattlesnakes. Among multiple suicide attempts. Pretty sure I had melanoma twice. It went away.
  • Died a few times. Kept waking up.
  • Decided I was basically Deadpool. Cursed with life and rejected by Death. Not for lack of trying. So, figured if I was stuck on this mudball planet for a few more years, might as well spend it seeing what was out there.

The Fire, 2000-2009:

  • Got CDL at 21, and went over the road driving a truck.
  • Came home between trucking jobs to work construction, auto repair, fire truck assembly, welding, carpentry, towing…and at one point, in-home water softener sales. Was good at it, but decided talking retirees out of their social security checks wasn’t my thing.
  • Got married in 2006 to on-again-off-again-girlfriend who’d been riding with me in the truck. Wedding themed black, white and red. To match the suit I’d picked out, modeled after Agent 47’s in the Hitman video game. Picked up the nickname after high school. Don’t ask. She wasn’t The Girl, but I think we both knew that.
  • Lost my license in 2009 after three driving on a suspended offenses. Offenses which only occurred because of “clerical errors” processing minor tickets for seatbelt violation and driving without my license on me. The state’s “clerical errors” resulted in a five year revocation of my license, and a cumulative 14 months spent in jail. Where I met dozens of other people with exactly the same story.
  • The State’s “clerical errors” destroyed my life. Coincidentally with the Great Recession, I lost my car, job, wife, house and friends. Witnessed a multiple sclerosis patient in Marion County jail, hosed with “Black Jesus” pepper spray and beaten for having an epileptic seizure in Suicide Prevention. Spent the next year swearing to God I’d burn this entire f**king system to the ground, if it was the last thing I did.
  • Read the Bible, cover-to-cover, six times. And on the seventh read, became an atheist.
  • Survived another house fire.
  • Mother taken to hospital for infections arising from hip replacement surgery. She lived three months further. I held her hand as she died.
  • Sand “Puff the Magic Dragon” at her funeral. She sang the song to me as a kid. It always seemed kind of sad and poignant. Took me a while to understand why. The priest had forbidden playing it on the basis he thought it was about drugs. So, I led 200 people in the chorus, just to piss him off. Priest was so pissed off, he wouldn’t even take our money. I thought of that song a great deal afterward.
  • Because it wasn’t about drugs. It was about a little boy, growing up.
  • Mom’s last request: “You really should do something with your writing.”

Starving Writers, 2009-2013

  • Became a freelance writer. First doing product descriptions, later penning automotive technical articles for Demand Media. Where, along with super-editor Pete Gatlin, we started an “automotive union” within the general pool. We were tired of garbage articles, scamming Google’s algorithm for clicks. So, we guerrilla-style organized the first specialist division within Demand Media. The company eventually recognized us as a distinct division; Pete became its first Editor-in-Chief, and I Associate Editor. The company later restructured, following the specialist hiring protocols I myself had written. Then booting both Pete and I out for not meeting them. Demand is now a multi-billion dollar company, and Pete is dead from cancer.
  • In 2010, began writing for a website called “Americans Against the Tea Party.” One of my first articles was on police brutality and justice system reform. It was reprinted in several college textbooks. And contained this line: “The sad reality is that, today, we who call for help may well be summoning our own executioners.”
  • Lived in a trailer with no food or electricity for several years. Built a wall-unit fireplace out of mom’s old filing cabinet. Stole firewood and food as need be. Ran an extension cord from neighbor’s house and used her wifi to scratch out a living, writing for AATTP and fighting the Establishment one click at a time.

Homelessness and Hurricane Hot Rods, 2013-2016

  • Fled to Homestead Florida, to escape non-stop harassment by Marion County Sheriff’s Department. Once you’re in the system, they’re determined to keep you in it.
  • Got a job as a barback at hugely popular local establishment called Stick ‘N Steins. Worked there for two years, paying rent while meeting the only real family I’d ever known. Owner sold Sticks to the City for $2 million. Apparently, the city over-spent on its own overpriced theater-bar, next door. So, they turned this hundred-year-old building into a parking lot, putting us all out of a job.
  • Became homeless. Florida City decided to gentrify the Florida City Campground, and my RV wasn’t nice enough to meet their standards. They showed up with police to force me out onto the street with two hours notice. After two years of paying rent. The RV wasn’t prepared for road duty, so parked on a side street, working for T-shirt shop and pirating wifi from nearby hotel to continue writing online. Sold the RV for $250, and walked 22 miles to Key Largo with what I could carry and two dogs in tow, looking for work.
  • Left dogs with Upper Keys Humane Society. Visited them every day.
  • Noticed there was no Walmart anywhere in the Keys. It was a strict small-business economy; a Darwinian study of the effects of corporatism, compared starkly to the poverty and desperation of Florida City and its big-box retailers.
  • Spent several months living in the mangroves. Ate mostly out of dumpsters, but also learned how to spear-hunt iguana with pocket knife on a stick. Surprisingly good on a rusty kebab with mango, lime and coconut.
  • Got a job changing tires with local company for $25 a day. At least 12 hours a day, busting ass in the burning sun. But, it was money.
  • Saw an ’87 Toyota Supra in the company’s junkyard. Been sitting there for years. Swore that car would be mine some day. They laughed.
  • Convinced them to let me sleep in the back tire room, in exchange for doing 24/7 tire changes. Later, when FHP changed its rules, requiring driver with Class A CDL. In Accordance to the desires of a larger towing company in town. Mentioned I had one, but needed money for it to be reinstated. Company paid for it, and I became their de facto lead tow truck driver. And mechanic. Started cutting their former lead driver out of tows, because he was a dick who was constantly trying to get me fired.
  • Made more. Got dogs back. And A/C in room. Bought Supra, for $125.
  • Spent next 8 months rebuilding car, using parts from junkyard and whatever I could afford from Advance. It was my Escape Pod. Above all else, an 80s Toyota hatchback…basically the most indestructible cars on Earth. The fact that it was a supercar, almost incidental. Occurred…a mechanic, living in the back room of a garage, rebuilding an old Supra. I’ve seen this movie before.
  • Trump supporting company owners told me I couldn’t have the day off to vote for Bernie. And they ordered new shirts, with “Make America Great Again” down the sleeves. I waited till company paid for the shirts to tell them they couldn’t legally make me wear them. I was the only person there small enough to fit into the 25 Large shirts they ordered.
  • Hurricane Irma: Island evacuated.
  • MAGA supporting owners took all the trucks to Sebring, and left me to die. Yes, I could have gone with them. But a girl had just come into the shop needing her alternator replaced, in order to make it off the island. Since we were the only shop left open…elbows deep in her Honda, told them to just f**k off and leave. They did. Never mentioned the fact that there was a ball-hitch still attached to the truck pulling the owner’s personal Ford, or that I heard it go through the oilpan.
  • Spent the next 24 hours thrashing the Supra together out of junkyard parts. My escape pod. Dad asks me “Are you sure you can get the thing running?” Reply: “I don’t know. But at this point, I’m either a good mechanic or a dead one.”
  • Maiden voyage…a 400-mile trip to Ocala, with Cat 5 hurricane just behind. Left in the middle of the night with 60 mph winds knocking down signs. Avoided debris. Car only broke down three times. No problem…hatch was filled with every tool in the shop. And two dogs.

Back on the Road, 2016 to Present

  • Got job laying pipe for natural gas company. Had to stay in town. Girl I loved, The Girl, fallen into drugs and prostitution at the hands of her pimp/husband. Who was basically Jerry from Rick and Morty, but with meth.
  • Stayed close to her. First, by getting back on drugs myself. Second, by becoming the Forest’s “Uber for Dope Fiends.” Over several months, paid off, threatened or turned in every single one of her dealers.
  • Got shot at. Again. Supra still has dent in right quarter panel.
  • Lacking any dealers who would sell to her or weren’t in jail…The Girl got on methadone, and got her life straightened out. Sort of. Till Meth Jerry screwed up her life again, and she wound up in jail. He got killed, later. Thank God. But she was at least safe in the State Pen. So, I went over the road again. Dog in tow.
  • Been driving truck ever since. Spend most of my money supporting family, and paying Dad to rebuild the old house.
  • Since been to every great beach in the country. Eaten all the best food from Miami to Chicago to L.A. Driven the backroads through every major city and most small towns, in every state in the country. Stayed at the best hotels, drank the finest booze at the hottest clubs. I’ve raced Deal’s Gap in a Kenworth, in the rain; driven the Malibu canyons as fast as I could, to catch sunset over the Pacific from a mountaintop. Dated the hottest girls I know, invented a bunch of stuff, solved global warming, met Senators and Presidents. Even quit smoking. Sort of.
  • Now, I’m running for Congress to save the world.
  • And you’re reading this.

That’s my story, to date.

So, how much of it is yours?

The Next Chapter — The Part Where we Save the World

It’s funny how little we think about life in the moment. This is the first time I’ve even tried to summarize it. Over these long, long 39 years, I’ve come to realize that blessings come in years lost to time; the cumulative blending of a thousand sunsets over peace and contentment. Days spent simply living and loving. Maybe even a little bored.

Assume so, anyway. Guess I wouldn’t know.

I’ve never really looked back like this, because I don’t look back at all. The stories we live are in the next chapter. Not the last.

We all have our own stories. Our own unique paths through life. I’ve always chosen the hardest path. The one that’ll make the best story later. And the one that may pay off greatest. I do the right thing when I can, the wrong thing when I have to…and figure out everything between.

Just like everybody else.

This is who I am. Take it or leave it. I regret nothing, and make no apologies for anything. Ever.

Nor should you.

Left or Right, liberal or conservative, Trump supporter or BernieBro…we’re all part of the same system. Subject to the same injustices, the same Establishment, living the same lives, mirrored across that chasm of manufactured differences. We are the working class in this country. And black, white, immigrant or native, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight…we are the lifeblood of this thing called “America.”

My story is unique. Just like every other. But I’ll bet if you got this far, you’ve found bits of yourself within it. Little threads, those little pieces that join us together across space, time, politics and class. This is what unites us. Defines and unifies us.

As we spend life chasing death, so division chases mankind; and there’s too much living to do to waste time on either. There’s just too much to do, period.

So, here’s hoping you found some of yourself in my story. As I have in many of yours. Because, end of the day, it’s all the same tale. Of life, love and loss…in this one nation, called America.

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