Stick-shift by Kelly Grieve [Catechize #1]

Welcome to your new artistic fix.

Stick-shift by Kelly Grieve [Catechize #1]

Working-class western Pennsylvania

Editor’s Note: We at Beautiful Losers Magazine are proud to introduce our newest staff member, columnist Kelly Grieve. Kelly will be writing a column for us entitled Catechize. Enjoy!


What exactly does the next generation stand to inherit when the previous ones all advocate toil? Wage slavery is real, it is now and it is stealing the precious seconds of our lives and the very existence of our loved ones away.

My uncle Gary was a mechanic that worked like a dog. It was his choice to fall asleep on a living room chair, his biceps perpetually pulled his arms to slightly flexed, even while asleep. Those muscles never fully extended, thrown above his head as though he were in a state of unconscious vigilance. Ready to spring out of that chair, haul ass out the door to his home’s adjacent two car garage. He’d man that lift all day and into the night to fix all manner of minor hiccups or massive overhauls, meanwhile dealing with customers’ various demands: poverty stricken hicks, pompous uppercrusties of a small rural city in western PA: cranky flatbed chauffeurs, junkyard vultures and perhaps the most covertly infuriating obstacle, official regulation. He did it all to give his wife and three sons a comfortable life.

For eight years, I was MY uncle’s “body mechanic” – his massage therapist. I can still feel his leather bound motor oil soaked fingertips. I can recall the way he’d wince and can replicate that sound he made when he had a burning sensation near the acromion, or when I’d hit a trigger point in his calves. He’d watch a Steeler’s game while he got his massage or an old western for the two hours I’d typically spend doing deep tissue and neuromuscular techniques to keep his parts moving and his engine running.

My visceral memory of his musculature is so vivid to me even now, and it’s been seven years since he died.

He died because he obeyed the tenets of the hardass, blue collar work ethic. The years spent holed up breathing caustic fumes, smoking to unwind, pain pills for the taking to dull the aching would in time only damper and even then I could not take his pain away.

Seven years since I stopped believing I was a healer. Just after his last session in 2010, I broke out in a full body severe skin rash that winter and even when it backed off after a month, was still present on at least a third of my body for the colder half of every year for the next four years. At the end of the fourth year, my husband, daughter and I moved to the southeast coast. Going on our third year here and its gradually clearing a bit more each year.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve grown an entire new epidermis since then as my skin still has trouble healing every little cut and the recovery is very slow for larger bites and burns. But it always reminds me of him.

Was this philosophy admirable? Your gramps and dad would tell you it was. The conservative hayseeds of my hometown will tell you it is. The generation before me grips tightly on this self sacrificial mentality, this martyrdom. His middle son would say, “he was stubborn” and he nailed it. Stubborn to the point of his own demise.

But he fully knew this. I know because in one of the last few sessions I ever had with him, he was especially serious. Throughout the entire time I grew up, my uncle was telling dirty jokes, generally being shocking, perverted, shifty and even downright sexist. But he was a grease monkey Robin Hood at heart. He’d overcharge a rich bastard to give an extra car part to a poor one. He was never better than anyone. He believed in me and my gifts and he invested his hard earned insufferable cash into his knuckle grinding niece. It didn’t matter to him if I rebuilt engines, I maintained him.

Yet no matter how much I urged him to take time off, a break, a vacation, hell even accept welfare to keep his life I couldn’t save him from the destructive societal mentality.

As an effective therapist, it’s vital to trust your intuition of reading energy. I won’t ever forget the intention he put forth in those last sessions we had, when he placed his hand on my arm and leaned into speak to me as he occasionally would, his way of telling me a secret. He earnestly dropped his voice a few notes and implored me, “Don’t use your body for work like I have, use your head, buy a store, sell shit. Don’t do what I did.”

I’m a coward. I couldn’t walk into the funeral home that day for his viewing. It was a day or two shy of the winter solstice, I stayed out in the car with my friend and daughter. I was in tears, petrified to go in, to resist touching the body I had so many times before only to cave and admit his spirit was gone. He didn’t want me to remember him that way. I didn’t want to remember him that way. Had I walked in, I would have to resist choking back the anger I had at this corrosive American culture from the hurting souls in my family who didn’t deserve it, who needed my love so much then. But I was too mad at everyone in this country for passively accepting this bullshit that “hard work pays off”.

In the end the price wasn’t worth it. There were other ways, he wanted me to know that. He wanted me to learn the lesson he couldn’t.

I wish I could say there was some sort of closure here. But the raw rubbing truth is that it’s still an ugly reality and this thinking remains a chronic mental illness in nearly every direction I look, except at my daughter.

The thriving shaming stops here. The expectation of watching our children shed their time away layer by layer to buy into this scam ends with us. What kind of psychos think anyone should “work their fingers to the bone”. If I abided by that philosphy, I would never be able to work again or I’d be dead and my child would have to live her life traumatized by that.

I’m not encouraging laziness here. I’m advocating intelligence, foresight, planning, calculated risk and logic that nourishes a vibrant philosophy called “the pursuit of happiness”. Why give our children lives just so they can feel them suck and die? There is something very demented and fundamentally anti-life with this mindset.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Beautiful Losers
Never miss an update - a poem every wednesday.
We respect your privacy.
%d bloggers like this: