The Death of a Dream

Before I get into it, just know this is a long read. And it talks about PTSD and its affects on the mind. If this can be triggering for you, please continue to read with that understanding in place.

Also, the drama llama is strong here. I hate drama myself, it causes me anxiety, but I feel the need to put forth my side of the story. I feel there has been a gross mischaracterization of me and my wife.

There is also an adage, that one should not argue with idiots, as they will bring you down to their level and beat you with their experience. This is a cautionary tale I present as case in point.

This is the story of a High Functioning Autistic Man, a Narcissist, a Man-Child, a Pathological Liar, and a Misogynist. There is one other person in this story that I believe has been mislead, that I will call ‘T’.

The High Functioning Autistic Man is myself. Another term for someone such as myself, which is no longer officially used in the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, is called Aspersers. That is me. With a Mensa-level IQ (officially tested by a licensed PhD Psychologist), I sought out a dream, to own a hobby store. Being Autistic, I have hyper-focused interests, such as building plastic models.

The story started at Hobbytown in Cedar Park. With my autistic mind, I helped take that store from doing about $600,000 a year in sales, to one that was going to do near $2,000,000 in a year. I single-handedly earned the store a 6 foot tall Gundam reward for the Gundam sales it was doing. Man-child worked for the company for 10 years, and pathological liar was working at the store or year or two before I got there, and the store was a mess and just hummed along at the paltry $600,000 a year. That is, until I got there. I will admit that the owners of Hobbytown saw my efforts, and at least recognized it. This was all due to my autistic brain.

At its core, Autism is a communication disorder. People like me struggle with understanding many communication skills that neuro-typical (NT) people take for granted, because neuro-typical people have these skills innately through both nature and nurture. The latter meaning that NT people can observe adults in their lives, and learn and reciprocate these behaviors without effort. It comes naturally, so NT people tend to take such skills as granted.

For someone like me, it is a struggle. I had to be taught social pleasantries, such as saying thank you appropriately. A skill which I did not learn until I was about 10 years old.

I am not going to delve into this too deeply for this post, I just wanted to lay out who I am a bit, because it comes into play.

Each person in this drama, save for T perhaps, had it explained to them that I was autistic, or had “Aspersers”. For me, since communication skills are already a deficit, it is hard to convey what this actually means, but they were given the information and they had the ability to research it. They would have found that many remarkable people in the world also have this “disability”, because many times along with this impairment (that is due to the way brains of autistic people are wired), they also tend to be exceptional in other areas. People like Albert Einstein, Elon Musk, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Mozart are all confirmed or suspected of being a high functioning autistic.

While my own skills may not reach to the heights of the above mentioned people, like I said, I have been tested as having a Mensa-level intellect, meaning I have been deemed, at least through tests, as being Gifted.

This fact allowed me to design a hobby store from initial concept to what it was until the doors were closed. All the feedback on the store was overwhelmingly positive. While there were minor inputs on how the store took shape, the lion-share of concept and execution was done myself. I had the vision, because that is the way my brain works.

What I lacked was the financial means to make it happen. So I had to open the doors to others who I was able to energize in the dream. What I also lacked were the social skills to “soothe” these people in ways they needed to be soothed, socially. I will admit that their largest complaint was the lack of communication from my side. But, that is my disability. I struggle with this every day of my life.

At this point, you the reader may step back a bit and think to yourself, that I seem to be communicating very well in this blog post. And yes, this is a strength I have. And it is a very common trait of high functioning autistic people. They (and me) tend to do very well in written communication. It is the inter-personal interactions where our disability really shows. And some people, like a narcissist, rely heavily on inter-personal communication. From my point of view, if I tried to have this conversation in person, I would likely seem disjointed, confused, and perhaps even deceitful, since it could be perceived that I am telling half-truths and just holding back information. Due to my lack of social communication skills, my brain is just not able to serve up this info in a manner that is conducive to back-n-forth in-person discussions.

One last factor I need to discuss before getting to the meat of the topic here, which is the death of Ground Zero Hobbies, is that I am also diagnosed with chronic PTSD. While I am an US Army Veteran, my PTSD came by way of a traumatic childhood living with a father who is diagnosed as 100% disabled by the Veterans Administration due to PTSD from his time in the Vietnam War. My father was a combat officer, a person in charge, an authoritarian figure. He was assigned as an advisor to the South Vietnamese, which means he was training them how to fight. To keep this short, the training effectively were live exercises. I have read personally his reports to the VA what he did in Vietnam, and basically it was hellish. As an example, he was involved in an incident where his team and the South Vietnamese soldiers he was training had a enemy prisoner, and while flying in a Huey high up, that prisoner was shoved out of the helicopter to his death by the South Vietnamese. He was involved in operations that were extreme, and not the “normal” tour of Vietnam. The irony is that he would lie to his friends (made after he resigned his commission) that he was in the Special Forces, but he was not. Yet his actual experience was that of what is called today a “special operator”. He did what special operators do, but without that tab on his shoulder.

Like I mentioned, my father was/is an authoritarian type and is a narcissist. In brief, a narcissist is someone who has a pattern of “self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, a lack of empathy and .consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration.” They also tend to be extremely manipulative. I grew up, as an autistic child, already at a deficit in social communication, under this environment, and to layer on top of that, his combat-related PTSD. If anyone reading this understands combat PTSD, you have a glimpse into the environment. I explain it as an environment of chaos, from my perspective as someone who is autistic, it was. Also, those who are familiar with VA disability ratings, my father was rated as 100% disable due to PTSD. He came out of the Vietnam war with zero injuries. The closest he came was getting some shrapnel in his canteen from a miss-dropped friendly bomb that he called in himself. The VA determined he was 100% non-functional by society’s standards.

As a result, I have chronic PTSD due to verbal and emotional abuse from my father’s behavior. And what this means is that I have a severe PTSD reaction to people who behave in an authoritarian or manipulative manner. My reaction can often be to my own detriment, as I can often go into trying to please the aggressor, because that was my number 2 coping tactic, my number 1 coping tactic being to go into flight mode.

So far I have been talking about myself, because I want to lay out who I am and the role I have in the death of Ground Zero Hobbies. I can run a business just fine, but my error was bringing in people who I did not know how to deal with as business partners, who in turn, rather than being prudent and savvy business-minded people, became in my view, no better than manipulative children. My personal weaknesses were attacked, and attacked hard, rather than being the support I needed to help the business succeed.

Why did I involved such people? In short, I needed funding to make the dream happen. Sadly, they turned that need for my dream into a manipulation they hung over my head, as if the funding was the be-all and end-all of the business. And in the short run, that is true. But in the long run, it was the vision that I created and enacted that was the heart of Ground Zero Hobbies. Customers did not come into the store being “wow’ed” by the amount of money that was spent to make the store happen, rather they were in awe in the store’s implementation and execution, and to some extent the vision. In hindsight, I would have been better off with a slow gradual buildup of funding over years to make the store happen. But my fear was another business would have beat me to the punch in Cedar Park, so I sought out immediate funding.

Now, for the other players. First, I will start with the man-child. He was the first one to help get the funding we needed. But almost from the start, the nay-saying started, and I had to fight against that. As an example, the money was going fast, there were a lot of expenses that were not related to getting inventory into the store. The man-child nearly threw a tantrum saying that if the store opens with the pathetic amount of inventory it had at the time, he would be too embarrassed to attend the store’s opening and would shun it. So I started to put more money into inventory.

However, this caused another issue, which I own as an error on my part. We hired some initial employees to get the store ready. And as such, we had a payroll to meet. We needed the manpower to get things done. The man-child, pathological liar and myself had no means to get all that needed to be done on our own, physically. All three of us were over 50. The man-child’s solution was to use unpaid labor in the form of friends. Being that we were legally a business however, I had to explain how illegal that was, but he seemed not to care. He let it go, but he was all about not spending money on people, and that we should go the illegal route. But that was my call, we would do things legally, and I hired employees. Unfortunately, being the “pleaser” I am (which is what some PTSD sufferers do) I tired to both cover payroll and get inventory. A balance that caused me to miss the mark. We had a false start, and payroll was missed, and inventory flow stopped. I should note that part of payroll, the pathological liar was being paid handsomely, $4000 a month gross. I barely paid myself, less than half of that, and I also had to make sure man-child’s loans he took out were also paid.

At this point, things were already looking bleak. While I had to “layoff” the employees we hired after only a month, but continued to pay the pathological liar, we were running into a daunting challenge. The space we rented for the store was an empty box, and needed to have essentials like bathrooms added. This cost was going to be $129,000, which we had to front. The landlords would eventually pay about half of that, but with our initial funding of about $175,000 almost out, we were in a tight spot. So tight that in order for me to pay pathological liar’s wages, man-child’s loans, and the bills we now had such as for electricity, I had to use my own personal reserves and rent money to keep things going. Long story short, I and my family were eventually evicted from where we were living because I believed in the dream, and felt once it got started, my family and I would be fine going forward. I once explained to man-child I was evicted, but that did not seem to faze him, he just whined about his loan payments, which I went to extremes to help make sure they were paid.

A side note is that man-child is involved with a significant other who whispered false conspiracies into his ear about me, further eroding how man-child felt towards me. He began to get suspicious and accusatory regarding me. My lack of social communication skills only exacerbated that.

To solve the money issue, I reached out for more funding, as I had posted on our Facebook page, which you may have seen. Securing more funding was not easy. Retail stores are not looked upon as good investments, even though they actually are. And the recent pandemic even proved that hobby stores have some invulnerability against downturns for other retailers, as hobby sales sored during the pandemic.

Luckily (or so I thought at the time, it turned out to be the worst decision I made) I located an “investor”, the narcissist. He knew nothing about hobbies, had/has zero passion for any hobby, save for running businesses. That was/is his sole hobby. And at first, he was really amenable. But I view that now as a manipulation tactic. While this is my own opinion, I think he pegged me as a rube to take advantage of. I think he had visions from the get-go of running and owning the store. It was just a matter of time to work it to get it to that point. Part of the ploy was to get his credit cards so embedded with the company, we had to rely on them. He insisted on using his liberal credit card limits. For those who do not know business, the way things should have been done, is that investment monies should have been deposited into the business bank account and purchases made from there. But again, I am a pleaser sort, I don’t like making waves, as I have an innate fear of displeasing those who are domineering, like my father was.

It was not long, however, that the narcissist true color came to light. Again, due to my inadequacies of social communication, I spent a paltry $200 on something using his credit card, after spending thousands upon thousands on his cards otherwise, and he flew into a rage. He called me and threatened a lawsuit against me. The conversation was one-sided, I did not have a chance to speak before he hung up. Narcissistic behavior to a tee.

He later apologized, and we talked about it. My wife at this point even explained to him about my high functioning autism. I believe he took this to mean I was mentally deficient, based on his comments to my wife. He started not to look at me like an Elon Musk or a Mozart, but as someone who was incapable. Reminder, I have a Mensa-level IQ. Some of my IQ test results are in the 99.6% percentile. 99% percentile is considered exceptionally gifted. But I think he just looked at my weaknesses, and then started to attack them. My anxiety level started to go through the roof, but I just attributed to working hard. I often worked 14-18 hour days, and if I was not at the store working, I was at home on the computer working.

Side note: The pathological liar, in contrast, being paid handsomely, worked 8 hours days. At first he was just an employee, so that was fine. But later he was added as a limited partner, with zero dollar investment, meaning he would get a piece of the profit pie now, and still only put in 8 hour days. Again, that was the pleaser in me. In contrast man-child did work without expectation of pay, as well as the narcissist. The narcissist would even comment how I was out-working him, and he was a workaholic. Well, I was, I wanted the store to work.

My effective payrate for all I put into the store was around $9.50 an hour, yet later I would be accused of self-dealing, which is a term to mean that aside from giving myself a appropriate wage as a business owner, I was accused of also giving myself monetary “bonuses” without regard to investors. During this whole time, I was barely able to pay my bills. But accusations by man-child, who is retired military and gets disability and retirement payments, by the narcissist who owns multiple businesses and professes a mid 6-figure income, and the pathological liar, who again was being paid handsomely, and is the one who got the most funds out of the store’s pot, so-to-speak, out of anyone from the business bank account. Pathological liar was making bank, compared to his previous job, and even managed to refinance his house and purchase a new car because of the pay I was paying him, again a pleaser move on my part.

The above is a digression, a bit of a rant, so apologies for interjecting them here, but I had to get those facts out.

The big problem arose when this severe anxiety I was feeling induced a life-threatening medical event. I nearly died. And it was during recovery that the narcissist and the misogynist pounced (I am not going to delve into it, but I call the misogynist as such because he has a habit of thinking he is funny while making highly inappropriate anti-women jokes)

The narcissist and the misogynist attempted a coup. My wife, who is co-owner, was left to keep things running. But the narcissist and the misogynist wanted to wrest control away from her (and me for that matter) through extreme pressure. One of the tactics was to threaten lawsuits for all investors. Thankfully, my wife who presents a normally nice and people-pleasing demeanor, is actually a fierce fighter. She cannot be manipulated. And she road-blocked them, which I am sure infuriated them. It is my opinion that the narcissist, either by design, or just his instinctual narcissist behavior (meaning, it is just how he acts, even if he does not acknowledge it to himself) was inflicting actions upon me that by design (instinctual or otherwise) that increased my levels of anxiety. I was the prey, and I was being hunted. I created the vision of the store, and that part was done, so now was the time I needed to step away. The thing about autistic people though, once they start a project they are hyper-focused on, until it is done, they do not want to stop. So we were now in conflict.

Almost right away after this attack on my wife to coerce control from her failed, we hired a law firm. We also started to limited access and control that was given to the limited partners, as they used these as inroads to sink their teeth into the store’s operations and management. It should be noted that limited partners in a partnership are not supposed to engage in these activities. But, another mistake I made in a people-pleasing act, was I named the narcissist as “business manager”. The idea was to give him the tasks of using his masterful narcissistic skills in the company’s business dealings. When I yanked this back from him in reaction to his attempt to gaslight my wife and take control of the business, he became infuriated. At this point, he declared open war through a lawyer representing all of them against me and my wife.

Fast forward to last week, on Friday, a decision was made to close the store early at 3pm. The only people who are authorized to close the store earlier than the stated hours are myself and my wife. So if you have read this and gone by the store, it closed based on the actions of the limited partners, in violation of the partnership agreement they all signed.

You may then ask why don’t my wife and I just reopen the store. This is where the dream dies. The company has no money left, the actions of the limited partners forced us to spend money (such as on lawyers) that has left the bank account dry. We cannot pay employees, and cannot run the store ourselves. Medically I am not in a position of doing so without it being a danger to my own life.

Also, this may be an extreme consideration, but man-child is angry, pissed. He is also a CCW holder. Quite frankly, based on our last in-person interaction, I fear he will just pull his handgun and shoot me if I say the wrong thing or act in a way that displeases him, which I am bound to do because of my social impairments. I do fear this type of outcome, even if it is miniscule, as quite frankly such outcomes are commonplace in the news. People may think this is paranoid thinking, but it is how I honestly feel.

Now for the laughable part. My wife and I decided that ultimately, it is not worth fighting for. My health and the hard work I put into the store, making my vision a reality, that passion is gone. So after trying to rebuild the business after the attempted coup, that properly puts the limited partners in a passive role, which they have been fighting, I relented and offered them a buyout. This apparently infuriated them, which to me shows an extreme lack of business acumen and that they are refusing to negotiate. They would rather burn the store down.

The reality is though, is that they have a plan in place, and I know what they are planning to do. There will likely be a hobby store, eventually, at the space where Ground Zero Hobbies is. The have the financial means to force things to go their way, and we do not. The store was our sole source of income. And without the means financially to fight back, we lost.

Just know that it just will not be Ground Zero Hobbies, since I own the rights to the name and the dba. I also own the soul of what the store was going to be. Any new store will lack that soul, and I just want this be a record for the type of people who may be running a new store at that location in 1890 ranch. I also own this domain, so I should be able to keep this message here for a year or two, or maybe even indefinitely, if I so choose.

For anyone reading this that is a fan of the store, thank you so much for your support. We have many fond memories of interacting with the customers and will always keep those moments in our hearts. My wife and I are prepared to move on to new adventures, much wiser for the experience. We are God fearing and believe that God does not close a door without opening a new one. And already, we are seeing those new doors in the distance. Part of it is advocating for Autism and PTSD suffers, which is why I laid bare so many personal details of myself. This is a stepping stone.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Connor Chenoweth

Owner, Ground Zero Hobbies, LP

Emails can be directed to admin@groundzerohobbies.com
Nasty, puerile, accusatory, trolling emails (etc.) will be archived by an impartial party without being read by me or my wife.

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