Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A $400,000 October

Tuesday afternoon I arrived at work to discover we had sold $40 of merchandise. Which was how much we were paying a young man to dance for three hours outside the store in a wolf costume - and $140 shy of what we payed the regular staff to be there to that point. We ended the night at $166, or about $624 shy of what we sold that same day last year. It was a low ebb. We have the staff, we have the fun store, there is plenty of awareness. But we are tracking at about 30% compared to last year. Next week is the Zombie Pub Crawl. If that week is not enormous, that will not presage well a profitable business.

Anything less than a $400,000 October will be the end, likely, of Monster Halloween (in America). $400,000 would mean a reasonable profit to the partners, on their three year investment, the staff would be entitled to a bonus, there would be talk about opening a year-round establishment, which would help vitalize the neighborhood, and I would have a near guarantee of income, for the first time in years. HD Masks would have seed money, and I could finally take this house off the grid. I want to plant hops, fruit trees and shrubs, and a vineyard. I can imagine passive solar as a partial solution to the heating problem at the Washington Ave site. Less than $400,000 by degrees, means there is less likely money to pay me for my work for HD Masks, at any rate according to market value, and I will likely descend into a long cold winters exploration of the nether reaches of consciousness, with my potatoes and my cookies and my seeds, with the house for sale.

Longer term, the Halloween industry is doomed. There are some who say there is plenty of oil, in sand flats and shale deposits, but if it comes to that kind of exploitation, so we can ship oil to China, so they can make and ship us cheap Halloween costumes, then Humanity is without hope of redemption. I sometimes don't know whether to pray for the demise of commercialism, or for the health of our store. It is an impossible paradox at times, the difference between the fossil-fuel derived merchandise we are selling, most of which is destined for landfills, and the need to sell it to support my continued existence in my house, while helping the partners achieve some kind of success.

Wednesday I spent most of the day contemplating the failure of our venture, which would mean the failure of my vision for this house. If Monster Halloween isn't a success, then my judgment for pushing this location is suspect, and I might as well give up this house and drift off into whatever. Late into the evening we were tracking at a third of what we'd done this day last year. Most of the day when I wasn't contemplating the failure of the venture, I was cutting back people's hours, none more than my own, which will be cut this week by about eighty percent. This, with two people Thursday, out of five, not showing up for work. I won't be working much at all the next four days. I suppose it's the mark of a good manager that his business run without him, except that I don't get paid if I'm not working, which means I've managed myself right out of the means to pay the bills. Genius.

In the last hour Wednesday we sold more merchandise than we did all day. A former mayor came in and bought a leg, a vial of blood and some spiders, and a kettle to carry them in. Several beautiful couples came in and purchased costumes. We didn't match last years total but we came a lot closer than we did Tuesday. It was a lot more fun that night than it has been. And then there was a request for the green man to appear at the Renaissance Festival this Saturday. It just so happens I have the day off. That should be fun.


The days off have past. I went to the Renaissance Festival this weekend, and was saddened by the overwhelming commercialism of the venture. Much of the spirit has vacated the place, or so it seemed that day of the Queen's coronation, which happened, though I was on the grounds and did not hear a word about it. In such a Renaissance-age village, one might think everyone would flock to see the Queen, on her coronation. There were no heralds, no jesters, no one calling of the ceremony, to draw people away from the vendors. Yes, the vendors have to make money, just as we do at Monster Halloween, but where has the culture strayed, when even the Queen dare not compete with consumer spending?

That, and there was very little of the heckling like I remember. when I was last there, 25 years ago. It was like some sort of corporate overloads stepped in and demanded, "tone it down!" The pickle vendors were without a voice. We Minnesotans are a touchy people, not to be made fun of. The one guy who heckled me was the dude in the fake stocks, sixty feet from the tomato launching pad. It was a good thing they gave me tomatoes that had already been thrown, because I could have taken the dude's eye out with those leather-hard industrial things, if they were whole. With two left he ripped off his bandanna and flung his long curly locks around, mocking my receding hair line. The last tomato hit the wood just below his head, gobs of tomato guts splashing upwards onto his face and up his nose. The crowd had a laugh. I didn't really want to hit him anyway.

I wore my wood swords. I made them. I saw many other swords, all steal, very nice looking, hardly a man wearing one who looked like he knew how to use it. Puke and Snot were the only ones I saw using swords, but they, the swords, were fake (Puke and Snot, the longest running act in Renaissance Festival history, were spot-on fun.) No one asked if I knew how to use mine. I met a sword maker who makes the only true swords I have ever seen. He picked up the very one I was admiring, to show me. It cost as much money as I have in the world. Which is fine, because I have no desire to cut anyone. What is the sword anyway, in this age when any idiot with a hand and fingers can pull a trigger, and any jerk can lead him?

The green man didn't make an appearance. Though had I known what the day would look like, I would have brought what I needed in with me, and crashed the staff-only after-party. (Thinking about it now, I'm a little surprised I didn't just get myself painted up and crash the party anyway - except that I was a little ill with a nasal infection, I drank too much, and I didn't have any bud.)

It's looking less and less like I'm going to have the money to maintain this house, or take it off the grid, like I've dreamed. If I have to sell it and give up that dream, I think I'll stop dreaming about achieving anything in this life altogether, and simply live. Without this house, then it's not the house, but myself I'll take off the grid - off the rez, so to speak. Who knows where that will lead? I'm thinking now of emptying the house and the garage of everything but my computers, my bikes, my canoe and some clothes. Quite honestly, homelessness doesn't sound so bad, knowing I can live outside too. The potato harvest looks like it's going to be a bust. Too wet the first half of the summer, too dry the second half and I didn't water much. I was shocked at how dry the soil was, when I began the harvest. Shocked more, at how few potatoes there were, and how small. The wine I spent two days making, is ruined. Nothing is certain in this life.

Though I did sample forty of my immature heavenly blue morning glory seeds, last night, in despair, weary of my life (as it is). I've come to a place knowing that no man or woman can do anything to pull me out of the dark place I find myself in, but me. Little happened, until I fell asleep.

If I could dream like that every night, I would be considerably stronger than I am.


Luciddreams said...

It's so very depressing at the end isn't it?

I'm right there with you man, only I have a family to support. A wife and a 16 mo old son. I found myself about to crack up at work, on the streets, where the underbelly of civilization calls 911 out of sheer confusion and desperation. I can see the decline on the streets, creeping, slowly.

There is not much hope to be had. That is not optimistic or pessimistic, just true. The only thing left to do is embrace and accept the end of an age. The slow death of civilization. Like a snail traversing miles of corroding asphalt to finally arrive in a waterless desert.

I found it necessary, to remain in the matrix, for my families sustenance, that I had to get a script for the blue pill. I still know and think the same about the Matrix, it just allows me to operate in it without the anger. That in itself is depressing, but what else are we to do? Marijuana would be great, but society will send me to prison for that happy little plant and I will lose my job and be unable to provide for my meager and modest family of three.

William Hunter Duncan said...

The blue pill? Damn, sorry to hear it. The weed is so much better for you - but THEY can't profit from it without putting you in a cage. Sad thing is, plenty of those who do the incarceratin' know it's bullshit. Nothing but a power trip otherwise.

The best people I know are raising kids, and making plenty of sacrifices for it. That wouldn't be the case so much, all that sacrificing, if there was anything like a village left, but that doesn't scale in this economy.

I'm not so much depressed as I'm simply passing through the negredo, a stage of creative destruction, necessary to life, but the antithesis of the modern drive toward unchanging stability.

I've wanted to keep my house, be the good citizen building the off the grid model in the city. Maybe it's time to let it go, and go rogue like Robin Hood - except for the stealing thing.


Luciddreams said...

Well thing is I don't have an alternative. The alternative would be a disciplined meditation on a daily basis. However, I have chosen to drink rather than meditate. I was basically self medicating with alcohol and cigarettes. That road is not acceptable so I'm doing what I have to do for now.

I strongly considered dropping out of the rat race to live sustainably somehow. I looked into ecovillages and they are great if you have the money to make it happen. What other alternatives are there in this country? I would love to live a subsistence lifestyle, at least that would be my ideal, but how do you go about that? Go to another country? The point is that I am stuck in this system and there is nothing I can do about it. I HAVE to gain my subsistence from this crashing mess because of family.

So it is, I made the decision to seek the easy relief. I'm not smoking or drinking now. I figure I'd use this as a crutch and learn how to live without those vices. The last thing I want is to be dependent on a pharmaceutical. The doctor said this was not habit forming. It works with dopamine rather than serotonin.

The alcohol was shackling me into a schedule of doing nothing but drinking on my days off. This is the fifth day on the pill. Today I went out into my garden and reclaimed it from the crab grass and weeds that had taken over. Pulling grab grass from clay soil is a bitch. I pulled crab grass for hours with equanimity. What is that worth? The only lasting side effect at this point is constipation, but I'm hoping to combat that with the kraut and kimchi that's been fermenting in my kitchen for months.

Not trying to justify my decision so much as paint a picture. The old me, before family, would just pick up and move, change my life, and smoke marijuana. That is not possible. Let me as you a question WHD.

How do you think you would feel about things if you took away the marijuana from your life?

William Hunter Duncan said...

How would I feel? Bored. I would dream intensely for about two weeks, and then I would be fine, if a little less creative. I have quit at various times in my life, and then I return when I realize just how un-mystical life seems without it, how dull.

Effin' Crabgrass. Yeah, I've pulled it out of clay soil too. No fun; and one of my favorite things is pulling weeds, attending to the minute details (particularly after a good cookie).

I have an affinity for the booze too. Runs in the family. No good for family though, drinking too much, like all day on your days off, as I can attest from a childhood with an alcoholic adult in the house. What was it the oracle said? All things in moderation. That goes for the bud as well.

Eco-Villages? There will be true villages again someday, but not until Americans go through the hell of Empirical collapse, forced to let go of so much that makes us hyper-individual consumers.

mwk said...

Hey gents, please allow me to butt in on the conversation.

I am in a somewhat similar situation, being in my late thirties, and single with no kids, just me. I have what they would call a 'good' (stable) corporate job that pays well, but sucks the very life out of me. In order to deal with this loss of integrity, not to mention the utter meaninglessness of it all, I tend to drink and eat far too much for my own good. I have gained 80 lbs since taking this job 4 years ago, have become so unhealthy that I am starting to worry that diabetes and heart disease will soon be comin' a calling. Obviously this situation is no good, and I know deep down that something has to change.

So my plan is to head to Peru in early 2012, spend some time volunteering at a Ayahuasca Temple/Permaculture project down there and do nothing but decompress and allow my soul heal and some joy to come back into my life. After Peru? No idea. Serve the creation, somehow, someway, but I have no concrete plan. This lack of a plan is causing problems with my fearful, frightful ego, which insists on a plan, the safer the better. It also insists I think once, twice, nay, a 1000 times a day about the wisdom of quitting a good stable job (most likely the last one I will ever have) when the economy is flat-lining.

And so I drive myself crazy, thinking over and over about what to do. Paralysis by analysis, as they say.

Some (most) days I'm afraid that my ego will win out and I will cancel my Peruvian trip and just stay at my job, and save a bit more money, but at the price of my soul. I worry that I will spend the rest of my days in the 'Wasteland'; having traded my dreams for a steady paycheck, for the illusion of security, and for the simple ease of conformity. But then I'll read a blog post from a kindred spirit out there and realize that I'm not crazy for wanting to quit my pointless job and that the truly insane thing to do would be to continue to spend my time making more widgets. The last thing this world needs is more fucking widgets! It needs allies. It needs a little bit of that old magic back.

Thanks for the reminders.

William Hunter Duncan said...


When I first went to work at a cozy corporate job, I was told about the corporate 15 I was guaranteed to gain. So I went on what I called my grow, gather or kill diet. I lost fifteen, then thirty. I quit that job to follow a woman to Northern Cali. I wrote a book about that. When she kicked me out, I started this blog.

Leaving that job was probably the best decision I've made in my adult life. But then, I've been absurdly poor ever since. Having turned my back on the economy for awhile, the economy has disenfranchised me. As far as the economy is concerned, I'm practically a ghost, and I don't know that I will ever be able to remedy that. Maybe, maybe not.

In fact, it seems the economy is about to disgorge me. That said, I wish I could join you in Peru. I would very much like to disappear into that forest for about three months, in the care of a shaman and the Ayahuasca. But that would require I be divested of this house, or by some miracle, that I could finance both. If I have any money come early 2012, I'll be surprised.

Blessings on your journey. If you actually give yourself over entirely to this, you will never be able to go back. There will be changes you want, and others you do not. But if you are true to your core, you will find your way. Just remember, the more absurd and paradoxical your life becomes, the more healthy you probably are. Or something like that. (Really, I'm just jealous.)


William Hunter Duncan said...


Reading through these comments again, outside of work, I just wanted to let you know, I mean in no way to disparage you for your choice. Better the pill, than for you to burn yourself up in your rage. Your son needs you. So does your wife. So do you, and it's hard to see anything when the rage comes on.

God knows I have raged; I still do sometimes, and I would a lot more probably, if I were an EMT and had to deal directly, daily, with the misery of others, already so prevalent and increasing. I think what you need to remember is, that your rage is not going to heal anything, not the world or your family or you. And my saying it I know doesn't mean shit when you're in it. Best of luck with that.

Kim chi. Yum.

Luciddreams said...

WHD, you are wrong about one thing; your words do mean something to me.

Rage? Yes, I suppose so...I just had the thought that my descent if from a warrior class. A people dispossessed and forced to fight to have life. I imagine in a different time this energy I have would be channeled toward the fight and it would serve me well. The fight for freedom and the righteousness to be found therein. The fight for justice. To rise against the oppressors. Who are the oppressors now?

It's a fight that is futile...resistance is futile at this point. Now a hopeless defeatism settles in to my soul paralyzed by the knowledge that there is nothing I can do about any of this. It's all wrong and the anger wants out to correct the injustices...finding no outlet it turns in on itself and consumes me in the process. I suppress all of that, or did before the blue pill, with the numbing effect of alcohol. I know that rage will heal least not in this world. There was a time where it did, when the enemy was reachable.

MWK, I'm reminded of the story of the Buddha's enlightenment. He had to leave his wife and infant child, a kingdom that was his, the lap of luxury to become a mendicant monk. Spiritual liberation demands devout and complete devotion. People like Eckart Tolle are right with the whole "now" thing...but in a world that demands ego it makes it a bit more complicated to achieve. There is a good reason why monks spend their entire live's in meditation in pursuit of enlightenment. Because that is what it requires. Before my family I was close to joining a monastery in Shasta California, Shasta Abbey, I had gone as far as to contact them to ensure I had a place. I chose to give secular life one more chance and that resulted in marriage and then child. The way I see it now, for me, is that this life is now one of service to family. That is the lesson that faces me now. Maybe next time I'll escape the matrix and find a Bodhi tree to reach enlightenment under.

I'd like to tell you to go for it because I wish that I had. Retrospects a bitch. Now I love my son more than anything in this world and leaving will never be an option. Mainly because my father pretty much disappeared from my life when I was 4. I think South America is where I would go if I could go. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales (Bolivia's presidnet) are doing good things. I think South America is trying to achieve some type of social government. At least there is still plenty of refuge by way of jungle. I say go for it man. I mean if it's just fear for yourself keeping you back. However, it's clearly much easier said than done.

William Hunter Duncan said...


I know well the process you speak of, the urge to fight for freedom from this oppressive state economic domination, the futility of that urge, and that energy then directed back at myself. It has taken me a long time to undo that process of self-immolation.

As to Chavez and Morales, I'm fairly certain both men would kill me, if I were a fixture in either State. Both men are tyrants, for whom that phrase you have from Jefferson on your blog, that thing about no truth being withheld from the people, would be deeply uncomfortable. I suspect what you would find, if you were in Bolivia or Venezuela, would be the same hideous institutional corruption that collapsed the Soviet Empire, and the same sort of purging that made that Empire possible.

As to the Buddha, I consider him an epic narcissist, and a hater of women. And enlightenment as a refutation of material existence, a fraud of epic proportions.


Jeff Z said...

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering (is the eightfold path)

Who said that? The friggin' Buddha.

I have to call you on that one. Whether he was an epic narcissist or a hater of women, I have no idea, but he wasn't a fraud of epic proportions.

He's one of the few who has considered the same questions that you and the others in the comments sections are asking now, and was brave enough to live his way into an answer of some sort. I won't call it 'the' answer, because frankly I don't think there is one.

But the question of whether it's better for a man to live alone, with integrity, or to abandon integrity for family- the essential question being asked here (and one I feel pretty keenly myself at times)- that has been asked before. The answers have been unfortunately institutionalized in religion and have mostly lost their meaning.

This is a fcked-up time we are living in, but not without precedent. It's instructive to see what the kids who benefited from the wealth of previous empires did and thought as their riches were taken away. It has been the catalyst for some great thought- as is the time we're living in.

Floating down the river or going into the Peruvian jungle is worth doing- probably the best path to take. But it's a path- not a destination.

What I found out as a piss-poor traveler in my 20's was the truth in the saying 'wherever you go- there you are.' You can change the venue, but the internal issues stay the same. The place to travel is inside your head. I brought my own b-s with me and wondered why I kept having the same issues. I figured out, after trying not to for a long time, that there were a lot of things that I had to confront, rather than run from. I'm still learning that lesson.

Like luciddreams, I often feel both trapped by and completely in love with my family. I've chosen that path and now have to give myself to it. You have more choices- but I think it can be more difficult to have too many choices than too few. The fear of making mistakes is greater.

Life means suffering, man.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Jeff Z,

Life. Suffering, yes. Joy, also. It is like the path of light: both a wave and a particle.

I think Luciddreams and his 16 month old and his wife would be a nice addition to that 1000 acres, yes?

One does dream. A village...


William Hunter Duncan said...

Jeff Z et al,

and by the way, suffering and joy, in more or less equal parts, if one is clear about it - in my experience.


Luciddreams said...

Jeff Z, I'm with you on the Buddha trip. I've always resonated with that particular message. I'm a believer in the perennial philosophy..whatever manifestation that takes. My interest has been peaked in the Druid thing...nature...yeah that's perfect. I just have a problem with the whole psychodrama dressing up and drawing pentagrams in the air bit. JMG does a good job justifying all of that.

Knowing the truth and applying it to your life in a disciplined and dedicated way is quite another. It takes meditation to tame the ego. But I'm very much with Jeff on the Buddha deal...gotta consider the time...that was what 4000 years ago? And there were female monks during his time which was unheard of. There is a sutra dealing with this issue somewhere. I'll see if I can find it.

Jeff Z said...

I just re-read my post and I sound a bit preachy. I guess I have a bit of my dad in me.

But I stand by everything I said about Siddhartha.

Life is a mix of suffering and joy, but when we experience a lot of joy, we don't usually ask 'why'- we just experience it. And take it as a given. The suffering makes us ask 'why' and has been the fuel for a great many philosophical and theological thoughts.

There's a lot of suffering embodied in your last post and I just wanted to respond- not with preachiness but with some sort of understanding- and also to say that I know you're someone with a lot of integrity and sense of honor and really feel tied to Monster Halloween. But at the end, it's just a way to make money.

Whether or not it makes money, life will go on-- for you and for the partners and employees. They will have other business ventures, and I imagine so will you.

You are an intelligent and thoughtful person, and that makes living in the world as it is- in the state that it's in- a lot harder. I think intelligence is a liability rather than an asset right now. After the peak, that should reverse, but that still may be a while. Don't give up in the meantime.

Also- I second you on the thought that it would be really cool to have everyone in this forum on the 1000 acres you've talked about. I've dreamed it too. Living a life of self-sufficiency surrounded by good folks- yeah. For now, just a dream- someday it may mean survival.

Lucid- thanks for the reinforcement on the Buddha. Good luck with the job and the kid. I really like reading your posts and am in the same boat, but in a soul-deadening office job instead. Anything to stay afloat until the storm passes.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Jeff Z e Luciddreams,

As to my comment about the Buddha, perhaps I have confused the Buddha with Buddhism as it was practiced before it was candified by the West (as it is easy to confuse Jesus with Christians.) Perhaps I simply resonate more with the bodhisattva, who are said to return to this Earth out of love for it, and us. Perhaps as Rudolf Steiner suggested, the Buddha received a cosmic upgrade and is pacifying Mars, though evidence suggests that may not be the case.

Perhaps I think it is not the awareness of oneness that is flawed, but the doing away with meaning in the material that often follows, as the awareness of the quantum level sometimes leads to the dismissal of that which we can touch and see and feel.

As to the accusation of women hating, for all its passivity, Buddhism has always struck me as having a particularly masculine energy.