Archive for the ‘Trauma Central’ Category

After surviving the Infamous Strip Club Controversy of 1999, I’ll NEVER go to one of those places with my married friends again!

In dysfunctional families, children are often assigned “roles” by their parent(s), and once cast, there’s nothing kids can do to shake their “part” in these poisonous plays. Once my younger brother was born, my parents cast me in the role of Scapegoat (also known as the “Problem Child” or “Rebel”), and I was blamed for all of my family’s problems, and was routinely punished for things I did and didn’t do. But what does all this have to do with an unfortunate incident at a strip club? you might ask …


Enter my old friend Biff, who’ss not a foolish man. He’d been to Trauma Central (aka my childhood home) enough times to witness how my parents and brother treated me, and he also saw how these experiences imprinted themselves upon me. My nervous awkwardness in social situations must have radiated some sort of “Scapegoat Vibe” that attracted angry and belligerent assholes who needed to make me the focus of their rage. Case in point, the time Biff brought me to his house for a party and his sister’s drunk, jock asshole boyfriend and four of his equally drunk, football player goons tried getting in my face, saying, “Hey Ribner! Why you being a dick?” Again, I hardly had enough time to be a dick – whatever that means – since we had just walked in the door and had said nothing to those guys. Like I said, it was the Scapegoat Vibe.

Flash forward to 1999: I was freshly divorced and Biff wanted to take me out for a couple drinks to cheer me up. As we were driving down Pierson Road, he asked me where I wanted to go and, as a total joke, I said, “Foxy’s.” Anyone who remembers that ramshackle strip club off Pierson Road would know I was joking. It was a shithole frequented by gangsters, thugs, and strippers who were so ugly, they needed to pay the customers to watch them dance. Instead of picking up on my sarcasm, Biff said we should go to a strip club, and he insisted upon a more “upscale” place on Dort Highway, a road notorious for its massage parlors and street-strolling sex workers. No sooner did I say, “I guess …” and he matted the pedal and sped us off due south.

I wish I could tell you that we had a rip-roarin’ time, but our night amounted to two former musicians way past their prime catching up on each other’s lives. We sat so far from the stage that we couldn’t tell the silicone from the cellulite, and both of us declined the repeated invitations for lap dances and even more in the VIP room. Just before we left thought, a thought suddenly popped inside my head – call it intuition or even a sinking feeling – and I realized I needed to clear something up with Biff.

“Do me a favor,” I said.

“What?” he replied.

“Promise you won’t tell Muffy (his wife) that we were here.”

“She won’t care,” he insisted.

“Just the same,” I said, “I’d rather you didn’t tell her that you were here with me. Okay?”

“You worry too much,” he said.

And so the matter was settled … until I visited Biff’s brother- and sister-in-law. They informed me that Biff confessed our little rendezvous to Muffy, who promptly went off the rails. The biggest bone of contention was whose idea it was; Biff blamed me, whereas I maintained that he was the one who pushed the issue. Knowing Muffy like I did, I could almost hear her shrieking about me “ruining her marriage,” getting louder and more hysterical as her tirade continued. At precisely the point when her voice reached a near glass-shattering crescendo, Biff would step in to calm her down, playing the part of the beleaguered guy torn between being a good husband and wanting to help an old friend. This guy’s a saint, I tell ya!

Needless to say, I promptly ceased talking to my so-called friend after this debacle, though I’m sure the little shit isn’t losing any sleep over it. He orchestrated that situation with the precision of a Swiss watch, getting out of it exactly what he wanted: revenge against his psycho-bitch wife for whatever slight she might have committed, while deftly shifting all the blame onto his cigar-chompin’, beer-swillin’, skirt-chasin’ buddy with a penchant for raunchy punk rock music … in other words, the perfect fall guy.

Well played, Biff; well played, indeed!

I hate it when people are successful. I mean really really hate it, like vehemently. Well … I used to, anyway.

These feelings started when I was young and have shadowed me like a creeping phantom my entire life. Their source: my childhood home, aka “Trauma Central.” My parents thrived on maliciously comparing me to my peers and making sure I came out the loser. I call this “Success Shaming” and take it from me, it’s one of the worse fucking things you can do to a kid.

Back then, the neighbor boy Stevie was my biggest nemesis. No matter what we were doing – basketball, baseball or fucking tiddly-winks – he always did it better than me. “Look!” my dad would bellow. “He’s making a fool out of you.” My mother was also happy to remind me that Stevie would never bring home bad grades to his mother. And more than once, her banshee-like voice shrieked, “When Stevie’s mother says ‘jump,’ he says, ‘How high, mom?’” The result: I fucking hated Stevie … and all the other “Stevies” who came after him.

The Success Shaming continued during my teenage years. Every friend who stopped by was made the shining example of whatever it was I wasn’t doing well enough. Somebody always had a better job, better clothes, and better direction in life. No matter what they were doing, it was always infinitely greater than the miserable existence I was struggling to eke out for myself. At first, I tried to best these wunderkinder; but eventually, I gave up. By my senior year, I deeply resented “success and everything associated with it.

As an adult, I was a seething volcano of dark emotion each time someone got a promotion, got married, or bought a new house. I would secretly wish they’d end up in divorce and bankruptcy. I’d nursed this rage and hatred inside me for so long that it came to define my identity. It would feed upon itself and continue to grow until I couldn’t think rationally anymore … and then I’d start having thoughts so dark and violent that I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my therapist.

But then one day, I broke the cycle.

I wish I could pinpoint whatever it was that inspired this change. At best, I can say that it’s probably a part of this journey of self discovery that’s forced me to confront the many ugly and monstrous aspects of my personality. I’ve traced this negativity to its source and it’s always Trauma Central, but the healing work is mine and mine alone to do. As a result, I now find myself wishing everyone the best in life and truly meaning it. By doing so, I’ve come to see and appreciate my own successes, too. It’s a great feeling!

One final note: four years ago at my son’s baptism, my mother compared my suit to that of my best friend and son’s godfather. She loudly criticized the fact that the jacket’s shade of black was not an exact match as that of my pants, while my friend’s suit was a perfect match. She added, “If only you could’ve seen yourself; your friend outshined you a thousand times over!” Instead of getting angry and hating on my friend’s amazing choice in menswear, I turned to my mother and said, “I’m so glad you’re here to be a part in your grandson’s baptism.”


Posted: July 14, 2014 in Trauma Central

What used to be 3am Thoughts is now Trauma Central. But why would I do such a thing?

Well, 3am Thoughts was not as unique as I thought. I came up with the term to describe those strange, stream-of consciousness ideas that have a penchant for bubbling up from my subconscious during the wee hours of the night. You know, “I’m having those 3am thoughts again …” Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s coined this term – after some intense research, I’ve located scads of blogs with variations of “3am Thoughts” in their names and URLs, and there’s even a website that uses the term as its address. Suddenly, my deep, unique, and mysterious idea didn’t sound so deep, unique, and mysterious anymore. So I changed it.

But why “Trauma Central,” then? And what could that possibly mean?

While those two words create an interesting nickname, there’s more to Trauma Central than just that. Trauma Central is what I call my childhood home in Flint, Michigan. Looking back, it wasn’t so much a home as it was a factory, and one that was more productive than any of the auto shops in and around Flint at that time. But we didn’t product vehicles at Trauma Central; we churned out monsters instead … ugly, maladaptive, egocentric monsters dressed in ill-fitting human skins, capable only of the most ruthless pursuit of their own grotesque self interests. Since growing up in this dysfunctional environment filled with parental narcissism and extreme sibling rivalry shaped who I am and my writing, I thought it only fitting to rename my blog in its honor. Plus, it just sounds cool. (Trauma Central; go on, say it! You know you want to.)

So welcome Trauma Central to the blogosphere. Like this page’s previous incarnation, it will continue to host to those uncensored thoughts that often visit me in the wee hours of the evening. It will also feature my weekly “Flintspired Writers” series, which as its name suggests, highlights upon a different writer from the Flint, Michigan-area each week. In addition, I plan to share my “True Tales from Trauma Central,” a dark and twisted autobiography that allows me (and you) the opportunity to dissect those things that I’ve experienced as a child/teenager in hopes of better understanding the seemingly senseless madness that I endured for decades. It’s my way of making sense of it all … and perhaps finding kindred spirits who’ve suffered similar torment.

So wipe your feet on the “Welcome” mat, come on in and have a seat as things start to get real … traumatic.