Monday, August 27, 2007

Sustainable Dreams

Six months or so after graduating from college, I found a real job as an assistant editor for a global news distributor. I had spent my last four months as a server at a Lebanese restaurant and with this new job came the fiscal freedom of making more than $150 a week. I made a laundry list of future purchases, the top of which, naturally, was laundry detergent. Second, a new wardrobe.

I bought my own clothes -- and not even from a thrift store or yard sale. I actually braved the pre-fab faux community of Crocker Park, hit up H&M and Urban and bought nice clothes for myself. Then I went to Target and bought new sheets for my bed. Eyed the drapes.

Health insurance.
Dental plan.
Weekend hobbies.
Martini bars.
Kobe burgers.
Planning retirement.

But despite the perpetual vortex of standardized living, there were some parts of young urban professionalism that I could not embrace. I did not rush out and buy a car -- though I did, for a minute, seriously consider myself in a VW Passat wagon -- nor will I any time soon. If anything, I became more focused on sustainability, and cast aside the standard notion of car ownership. For the first few weeks at my new job, I took the Cleveland RTA into town every day. Although I enjoyed the feeling of community from taking public transit, I knew I could be more proactive in my morning commute.

Another knee-jerk reaction to getting this job was to rush out and buy a shiny new bike. And I almost did, but my better judgment (read: thriftiness) wouldn’t allow it. Following the advice of one of my more bike-savvy friends, I claimed and restored an old road bike that had been accumulating dust in the basement of my apartment since I had moved in six months prior (and probably long before that). But I hesitated in riding it the five miles into town -- the RTA was treating me well and taking the train was a lot less impacting than riding amongst traffic. Instead I rode my bike to the Rapid station and chained it there until I came back in the evening.

Then one day, I missed the train by about a minute, and instead of waiting for the next one and being late for work, I hopped back on my bike and hit the road. I made it to work sooner than if I had taken the train. I never looked back. Despite arriving to work sweaty and rather exhausted, I felt real good. The cycling commute fueled my sustainability ideals.

About a month or so into my job, I received a packet from JP Morgan detailing my options for a 401(K) plan.

Want your retirement to match your dreams? it asked. Start early.

I sifted through the verbiage and percentages and match programs and fifty-cents-to-the-dollar ratios. I planned for my future. I didn’t leave any money on the table.

The retirement thing got me thinking. I pondered long and hard as to where I’d land in my twilight years. Could I maintain this sustainable lifestyle for all that time? If my dreams were to simply live sustainably, how would those dreams manifest themselves in reality 40+ years down the line?

I imagined myself a vigorous, virile, virtuous, sixty-something renaissance man living with my organic wife and our beagle somewhere in southern British Columbia, possibly on Victoria Island, near Vancouver. I’d have somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty acres upon which I have placed my modest ranch house with wind turbine, solar panels, and wood-burning stove/flatbread oven. I’d have my ‘victory garden’ of lettuce, garlic, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, etc. I’d have a few acres for my apple orchard. Maybe I’d raise one lamb a year to sacrifice for the annual gyro feast that I’d invite all my old college friends to. But it’s more about living on the periphery of the grid, being in a place where I could get some writing done and not feel like I’m consuming more than I’m producing.

I dove a little further into my dream, and imagined how much my grandchildren would hate coming to visit their weird Pap living in Western Canada.

‘He makes me ride a stationary bike for twenty minutes to heat the water for my showers. . .”

‘Whenever I go for a bike ride around his farm, he makes me wear a backpack with a battery in it, so I don’t waste any of my bioenergy, whatever the eff that means. . .’

‘He always makes me pick apples when I go outside. God!’

‘All he talks about is how he biked to work every day of his life to save for this ranch. What a freak. . .’

‘His electric station wagon is pretty cool though. . .’

But this malice is such a long way off. Throughout youth and young manhood, the future was always a rather hazy image -- distorted, shifty, rough around the edges. Now, I look toward a future that I can legitimately build for myself. 40 years is quite a long way. I’m sure that path to a completely sustainable lifestyle will intersect a few art deco jungles, and maybe an inner-ring suburb or two.

For the moment, I can appreciate the decision to join the legions pumping into the city each day, while at the same time leaning -- sometimes casually, sometimes drastically -- toward the periphery.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Here's an oldie but a goodie, from the days of Postmodern Dystopia. Written at a rather low point in my life, April of 2005, this phony obituary was a result of getting dumped while reading Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses -- a dystopic (though stylistically engaging) novel that I took way too seriously at the time.

You can also pick up on some rather obvious allusions to Elliot Smith.

It should be noted beforehand that I hold no ill will towards my parents, nor am I under any notion that they hold ill will towards me; this is a piece of creative non-fiction, and their roles, as with the roles of the others mentioned herein, were intended for comedic value.

This piece should be taken lightly, if taken at all. --RdB, '07

RAVENNA, Ohio, April 20 /Record-Courier/ -- Stabbed in the heart in an apparent suicide, not-so-famed writer R. deBiase was found in his humble Lake Street apartment yesterday. For those who knew Mr. deBiase, this death was not unexpected.

“I’m surprised he didn’t do this a lot earlier,” said acquaintance Ryan Wilkins.

His body of work left behind was considerably less than mediocre, which begs the question: What has he been doing this whole time?

Neither a death note nor Will was provided by deBiase, but in the days preceding his suicide, he apparently sold all of his possessions, which he lumped into a single check for $1,079.23. The money will be split by his parents, who were quite distraught after having spent tens of thousands of dollars in education loans to each receive a scant $539.62 in return. They did mention that his death did come as a bit of shock, but they’d get over it, in time. What they would not get over was debt.

The coroner commented that the method of suicide—butcher’s knife through the heart—was executed with surgical precision, or at least a butcher’s precision.

“I don’t think he even felt any pain,” said Coroner Mike Blasé, “just shock, awe, and death. Seems like a waste. . .that was one good knife. Won’t ever be able to use that one again.”

deBiase’s roommate, Geoffrey Bigler, was not available for comment, as he was out on multiple, simultaneous dates, reported to be getting the most “izz-ass” of his life.

Good friend Justin Hofmann says of Bigler, “Yeah, he said something about getting tons of tang, then how pissed he was at dB for ruining one of his ornament knives. I really can’t blame Geoff for being angry, come to think of it, sucks about that knife.”

The knife was valued at well over twelve dollars, which is set to come out of the check deBiase left behind.

His parents were particularly angered: “I wish he had chosen a cheaper knife, we’re already in debt here.”

If anything, the death of deBiase should prove to us that the most rational human beings ultimately must assess their own sociological worth, and determine if they can be at all beneficial to that society. As a self-proclaimed “rational,” deBiase glanced at himself in the mirror and decided that society was better than he [justly], and that he must rationalize his own existence. In an age of dystopia, we can all respect a rational suicide here and there.

*Inspired by a post of the same name from Tumor Rumors.