Facebook Most Foul:
On Fear, Family, and the Frailty of It All
by daniel yezbick
The perverse repressions, insistent idealism, and glamorously shallow nature of face-chats, twitter feeds, and related virtually forums have long fascinated and bewildered me as a writer, a father, a professional, and a human who craves interaction, interpretation, and debate with my own kind.
I admit that I have blithely pasted family snapshots, goofy asides, and quasi-witty blurbs about life, the digi-verse, and everything onto my face-feed for years, but it always bothered me. Somehow, the social compact that allows us to share, bear, or sympathize with others is superannuated and overdetermined in the decadent Bermuda Triangle of Post/Like/Comment.
If you overstate your enthusiasm or you overdo your happy news, you are a Richard Simmons on steroids or an arrogant braggart. Your “friends” growl privately at your success, envy your vacations, or marvel secretly at the gargantuan depth of your naiveté. If you draw attention to controversies, politics, or perverse truths, the good folks who straddle the face-fence, shun, spurn, or ignore you – afraid that they might be getting too close to someone who is mutual friends with Karl Marx, Ron Jeremy, or Alex Rodriquez. Still worse, dare to post a negative, tragic, or depressive commentary and watch the virtual boardroom divide itself into a cosmic ragnarok between E-couragers (“Hang in there!”, “Thinking of You!”, “Our Prayers are with You!”, “There’s a light at the end of that tunnel!”) and Media Mourners (“We are so sorry!”, “That’s always how it happens!”, “I hate those bastards, too!”, “That’s just like what happened to me/my uncle/patient/student/neighbor/friend/child !”).
Either way, there is little comfort and even less sincerity in the strange set of cybersympathies that results. So, what’s a full-blooded, socially conscious, computer considerate individual to do? Do we share our true feelings and harsh truths or simply drape all of our news and musings in carefully crafted condoms of cryptic euphemism?
In many cases, I simply decide to lie. Recently, however, it’s been pretty tough to stay on the eternally, intensely, irrationally sunny side. I’ve wanted to rant, cry, spit, and rave like never before. I have considered posts so devious and subversive that I know they would cost me friends, both real and Faceified. Sure, I have an enormous amount to celebrate in terms of family, career, and general well being, but there have been other factors – dark, angry, pathetic, and perverse that have insisted on healthy release. In effect, I want the world to know but I don’t know how to tell them. That’s an unusual and downright debilitating conundrum for a writer and, perhaps even more so, for a teacher of writing. Our Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, LinkedIn, and Academia profiles are too much with us, late and soon. We dare not tarnish their splendor, charisma, and vanity with something as ambivalent, uninviting, and unproductive as bad news and harsh truth.
Thus, I have turned, perhaps out of cowardice, mayhaps out of cunning, to a more earnest, elegant, and avant-garde forum for the circulation of dangerous ideas and marginalized memories. So here, LoCA, is something quite unique in Cybernetia: a blazing black hole of virtual dark matter built upon the colossal inertia of the universe’s utter disregard for our perpetual hunger for encouragement, inspiration, and positivity. May the faithful beware and let the cynics shudder as they wish. I find I truly need the catharsis that comes with unleashing the Ten Things I Never Post To Facebook.
- Yesterday my father, who is 79 and slowly descending into Alzheimer’s, confirmed with me that he has been talking to the pictures of his grandchildren as if they were alive. He showed them a movie and laughed with them as if they were there. Then, when he tried to give them snacks and they refused to eat, he became discouraged, sad, and dejected. He asked me why they never speak to him or acknowledge the gifts he gives them all day long. He said they never seem to enjoy being around him.
- Last Monday, I started paying bills for my father out of his accounts. I have been sending the necessary papers out to financial institutions, state agencies, and service providers for the last several days. Today, however, I realized that he owes so much on his home that it will be impossible to keep it up for much longer. More than anything, he wanted to live out his days in that house. My mother and grandmother and great-grandmother’s ashes are buried in the backyard. Growing up, he always wanted me to take my children to the place where he raised me, summer by summer, walking through the jack pines, watching for eagles and foxes, and strolling along the Huron for Petoskey stones. In the mid-1990s, my father refinanced the country cottage he had struggled for decades to pay for in order to remodel it as a year-round retirement home. The finance company sold the mortgage more than seven times in ten years and gave him one of the most exploitive and irresponsible contracts my financial friends have ever seen.
- Last weekend, I went to visit my father, who lives alone in rural upper Michigan, and take him to his new doctors for a full physical. It is a 14-hour drive, and I planned the trip alongside a conference at Michigan State University to justify the extra days away from work. When I got to his house, I watched him talk to pictures of people who were not there. He gave presents to ghosts and shared snacks with some strong memories. Then he asked me to help him figure out where his tax refund had gone. When I accessed his bank account online, I discovered that he had accidently written his monthly bills too early. Nearly a dozen checks had bounced, including utilities and mortgage payments. I spent almost four hours on the phone explaining the situation. Most people understood. A few insisted they were going to contact collection agencies. (He received a collection letter two days later.) When I was done on the phone and the computer, he said that I was working too hard and that I needed to relax and spend more time with everyone who had come by to visit.
- Several days before I went to visit my father, he had called to tell me he had found his car battery dead for the fourth time in a month. He called AAA, but they refused to help him unless he paid $50 cash because they had been to his house too often since January. He had no cash and called me panicked, confused, and worried. Eventually, we got through to his handyman friend who agreed to give him the jump he needed to get to town for groceries. Yesterday, I received his friend’s bill for $53 for towing and battery services.
- A week ago, my older cousin called me. She talks with my father often and thinks of him as a third parent. Many times in the past few years, she has helped with every manner of crisis. She wanted to tell me that my father owed over $100 for another emergency battery repair. I got the auto mechanic’s number, called, and confirmed that my father would stop by to pay him soon. When I called my father and tried to explain the situation, he refused to pay the man because he did not receive a bill from the mechanic after he had gone out of his way in the middle of a snow storm to retrieve a new battery and rescue my father when he had been stranded.
- About eight months ago, my father called to tell me that someone from his life insurance company had driven from Indiana to upper Michigan to speak with him about his policy. He was very excited and hoped that this might mean he could perhaps relax his extremely tight budget or improve his legacy for his grandchildren. The nice man told him to sign some papers and he did, though I had warned him to be very careful about signing anything at all. The nice man drank some of my father’s lemonade and went away. When he sent me the papers, I took them to a lawyer friend who said it was the worst insurance policy he had ever seen. My father had “lived too long,” and according to the first page of the policy, the company was exercising its right to refuse to pay his estate unless he raised his premiums to over $700 per month. He had paid on the policy every month without interruption since March 1987.
- My father lost his first house, the one I grew up in, to foreclosure shortly after my mother passed away in the hospital after failing to recover from complications resulting from abdominal surgery. He had lived in the same house in Northwest Detroit for more than 30 years and had paid it off twice. He had tried to sell it several times when my mother was alive, but the underwriters refused to accept the offers they received and twice they even reneged on emergency “short sales” when the real estate market was collapsing. In the two decades since I lived there, its value had shrunk to less than $2,000. He cried when we moved him to upper Michigan to live alone in the home where he and my mother had hoped to retire in peace and simplicity. My cousin recently told me that the mortgage company had sold his home at auction for $46,000. My father, who worked full time for over 40 years as a college teacher, currently has less than $5,000 in his bank account.
- Before he was forced to move in 2008, I tried to help my father with his finances after my mother died. I discovered that his credit cards were out of control, that he could not pay his two mortgages, and that he was in real danger of terrible legal repercussions. It took two years for my wife and me to convince him to consider bankruptcy. We hired a bankruptcy lawyer who mitigated a lot of the humiliation and saved him from a great deal of harassment. My father sometimes thinks this lawyer stole money from him.
- My mother died six years ago this coming March. Since that time, my father does not go out very often and the solitude has altered his perspectives on life in terrible, sometimes unpleasant ways. He watches the Weather Channel uninterrupted for hours and has long conversations with the anchors, especially the ones in purple shirts with matching ties. He says they are nice men who treat him well. He despises anything advertising Insurance and loves the funny husband in the background in the new KFC commercials.
- I try to call my father every day to make sure he is safe. After my mother died, I called twice and sometimes three times a day. Now, I try to call on the way to work because the communication is difficult and I don’t want it to upset my wife or my children. He is hard of hearing and the Alzheimer’s generally gets in the way of any mutually satisfying conversations. Sometimes he gets mad at me and I am not sure why. He often frustrates me and I try not to lose my temper. Sometimes it is too much and I wonder what could have happened differently? There are many terrible days and some funny ones. I know that it is all getting worse and that it will soon be over. It makes me tired, sad, and nervous a lot of the time, but it is not right to say such things on Facebook.
What I did post on Facebook:
“Had a productive weekend seeing family and friends at the Michigan State Conference. Spent time with Dad and got to promote the new book to some eager colleagues.”
The post received 17 “likes,” 1 “share,” and 1 comment: “So Jealous.”