I have been feeling the need to do something different for a while now. And I’ve even talked over with my friends and family about pursuing various other avenues of interests but I just haven’t gotten around to doing anything about it yet—as I find myself continually making excuses and always having to do something else instead. So today, in a fit of trying something along the lines of change, I strolled down to my neighborhood gym and forced myself to check it out.
It’s located only three blocks away toward the better part of downtown from where I live, where there are some nice trees with less trash on the ground and even some little manicured bushes along the edge of a courtyard in front of the building. The property, amazingly enough even for this neighborhood, is free of anyone living on the quaint park benches or passed out drunk amongst those nice little hedges. Obviously there’s probably a couple a really nasty security guards roaming around all the time and they don’t allow such goings on to prevail.
But none the less it still has a sort of uptown feel to the place. Upon entering through the plate glass front doors, I notice a petit walleyed woman busy talking on her cell phone as she’s manning the front desk and I politely interrupt her to inquire as to how someone goes about joining a gym like this. And she immediately hangs up her cell phone and with a really high voice she says excuse me and uses the phone on the desk in front of her to call for someone to come downstairs – “ASAP”, making me wonder am I scaring her that much that she needs to call security to escort me out? But it turns out that that’s just how they do it here and before she will even quote me a price or discuss money, she hands me an application to fill out and says that someone will be down soon to take me upstairs so that I can have a look around.
And in less than a minute a rather attractive short dark-haired girl arrives to take me on a tour of the place. And as we walked around through the different rooms filled with people working out on various exercise machines, she talks nonstop about the benefits of exercising and explains the different features that this establishment has to offer, all the while hinting that if I just play my cards right they will be at my disposal in no time at all.
“So, are you here to lose weight, gain muscle mass or just get in shape?” she asks.
“I really don’t know” was my first response, and obviously not one that she was used to hearing. And with a little wide-eyed what-do-we-have-here sorta look she says “You’ve been to a gym before, haven’t you?”
“No, not really, lifted some weights, done some calisthenics, played soccer about thirty five years ago.”
“Oh, so you’ve lifted weights before? Where did you do that?”
“On the yard at San Quentin. That was of course before the Department of Corrections took away all the free weights and now they don’t have any.”
This elicits another strange look; this time accompanied by a nervous laugh.
“You see the fact of the matter is that I’ve never been to a real gym before and to tell you the truth I find the whole thing rather stupid and just coming here I feel embarrassed!”
Actually even more so now that she’d shown me those people in that other room running on treadmills with their blank expressions and repressed looks of agony. I can only imagine that if I didn’t live in a dirty polluted city like this then maybe I could jog outside on the grass instead of being like these people barricaded in sterility and afraid of the outdoors.
“You certainly do have an interesting way of looking at things.” She said. “But I come here every day, and I’m not embarrassed by it in the least bit”
“Well you should be and as a matter of fact I’m embarrassed for you! You’re an exercise slinger who won’t even tell me how much it is to become a member so that I too can engage in these zombie like activities in the name of health!”
“Sir I was getting to the financial requirements. It’s just that we like our future members to know everything before we ask them to pay. Maybe this just isn’t for you?”
“Unfortunately I really have no choice.” Is all that I can manage to answer her with as the harsh reality is that I live in an apartment the size of a Volkswagen, I drive to work, where I sit at a computer for half of the day and then drive home and again sit at a computer and write all night. And if I did actually do something in the hopes of alleviating my inactivity. Like as if I was to go jogging around my neighborhood then if some crackhead didn’t try and mug me the cops would probably pull me over to see if I’d committed some crime! Besides, on a good day if I walk more than a block to get coffee I find myself gasping for breath! So give me a break! And what was wrong with this smiling woman? Was my money’s no good here or something?
“Now we do have several plans to choose from. One where a trainer shows you what you need to know, especially for those problem areas. And then instructs you on every step of the way including your diet. Or there’s the Super Sports Center Plan where you get precision cardio-vascular measurements while you work out and we computer analyze the results to program a workout regime just right for you. Or there’s…”
“How about the plan where I give you my money and you leave me alone so that I can just come in when I want to and start trying to not be so self-conscious about being here?”
“Yes that could be arranged. But you’re the one that said that you’d never been to a gym before!”
“Ok, correct me if I’m wrong. But from what I can see I’m either lifting something heavy in that room or I’m with the rest of those people over there jogging in tandem as I stare at those food commercials playing on the television that’s hanging from the ceiling. Like how hard is that to figure out?”
“I think you’ll find that there’s a lot more to exercise than what meets they eye!”
“Want me to show you my cardio vascular?”
“Never mind. It says 24 hour on the sign outside. Does that mean that you’re open 24 hours all the time?”
“Ah, no. Only weeknights and then on the weekends we close at 11 pm.”
“So you’re already lying to me aren’t you?”
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
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Wednesday, January 19th, 2005 at
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Got the frantic phone call Saturday night asking me to come take care of the cats while they were gonna be gone for the week. And yes, its way over on the other side of the city with another half an hour’s worth of traffic. Not to mention that with the weather we’re currently experiencing there’s going to be a lot of perilous crossings through rain soaked streets to deal with. Making it a commuter’s nightmare as other cars vie to cut you off just to get ahead so they can be… What? Home two minutes earlier that night? So in knowing all this I tried using my new found sense of resolve and said no, nope, no can do! But then throughout the incessant dialog that followed it became apparent that there really wasn’t anyone else who would feed them. So I then said “well I guess the cats are going to starve” which didn’t go over too well either. As there was this long stone cold silence on the other end of the line. Like they didn’t know if I was kidding or not, and sometimes I don’t even know whether I am joking or not.
But then the “oh pleases” started and, well, I’m a sucker for feeling needed to the point of being abused. Like just send me in that overextend yourself/just-can’t-say-no-and-mean-it direction and I’m happy way into next week. After all there’s something to be said for being needed and “oh, you’re the only one that can do it” sounds so confidently trustworthy. Though in reality it’s just riding herd over a bunch of frigg’in cats that were talking about here for Christ’s sake. Not bathing the feet of orphan lepers over at Mum Teresa’s. So when all is said and done I’m guessing that there will be no commemorative sainthood medals being forged with my name and likeness stamped upon them depicting this gracious deed!
Saint Fromage: The patron saint of feline feeders everywhere.
But then of course it wasn’t enough to be content with me just driving miles out of my way to serve these mangy beasts their meals. The negotiations now had me house sitting as well. And why you ask? Because the grubby little beasts get fed twice a day! Twice a frigg’in day! And, and get this! They get lonely! I cannot begin to tell you just how this tweaks the strings of my beating heart! The little bastards get lonely!
So Sunday night finds me packing up my meager belongings as well as my dirty laundry. Because there’s a washer and dryer just sitting there unattended and ya think I’m daft and not gonna take advantage of the situation? And here I am mentally compiling a list as to what I’ll need at work and what I’ll need after work. And do I need an alarm clock or do I need to bring my own toothpaste because these people are civilized right! And they go to work and they gotta brush their teeth. But to what extent do I really want to rely on their accoutrements to keep me happy? What if their alarm clock is all loud or worse a god damn wind up contraption from the dark ages that actually ticks and tocks?
Then of course there’s the food dilemma, mine, not the furry little fuck headed cats. And do I gotta buy food for the week? And do they have anything other than slabs of bacon and sausages rolling around their fridge like the proverbial lost tribes of Israel on an Atkins binge? Or is the only available bit of non-flesh going to be a sorry wilted head of iceberg lettuce that’s obviously seen better days as its been hermetically sealed in that veggie crisper drawer down there somewhere at the bottom below the condiments and half drunk bottles of stale red wine?
Anyway against my better judgment I’m in the car driving while the rain is coming down in blinding sheets with gale force winds as I turn onto Kearny Street and head across downtown. Honking my horn and gesturing like a madman at the driver of the car in the next lane over. Who returns the same and cuts me off again as we both try and run the yellow light. Left on Broadway and through the tunnel and all of a sudden its like I emerged into another world. With non-graffiti covered buildings and no flying bits of trash only tree leaves blowing across the street and I can’t see a soul on the sidewalk let alone anyone pushing a shopping cart full of soggy belongings while howling at the moon.
Mercifully; after ten more minutes of being unable to actually see the street or the traffic lights for that matter due partially to my ailing defroster rather than the actual rain storm. I’m finally there and with a sigh of relief I pull into a readily vacant parking place right in front of their building and start to unload my meager gear. And even in this miserable pouring rain I’m all responsible like and so I grab their mail as well as what appear to be a few dozen home shopping catalogs with one hand and then open the front door with the other while precariously balancing dirty laundry and a brown paper bag full of my life.
Fumbling in the dark I go upstairs to the front hallway and the awaiting herd of cats all go Halloween puffy like and just stare at me as if I’m the grim reaper dressed in black and then they shriek in unison and run away in a million different directions! Obviously in need of company and lonely they is! So unbelievably lonely that I don’t see them for the next hour as I’m busy changing out of my rain soaked clothing and putting my stuff up in the spare bedroom. And then slowly I can sense them creeping out of hiding to stare at me from across the room or hovering in the corridors only to race away anytime that I move whether its in their direction or not.
“God damn, I’m living in the lap of luxury” is what I’m thinking as I’m putting my dirty clothes into the washing machine and then checking the refrigerator for snacks. And while cranking up the furnace’s thermostat I’m just plain digging on the fact that I can walk form one room to another and still be in the same flat. Where if I was at home and I did this I’d be down the hall in my next-door neighbors crib and that’s a scary thought. A very scary thought especially depending on which neighbor’s apartment it was that I’d be invading.
Meanwhile the storm shows no signs of abating as the rain continues thundering down on the skylights above me and I’m contemplating watching cable on the giant TV in the living room or sparking up the bad boy iMac in the den. When all of a sudden with a loud click type grand finale of a sound it all goes black and I’m standing there in the dark thinking. “Just because I’ve got every available light and appliance in the entire house turned on did I overload the circuits?” However when I look out front onto the street I notice that the whole block is dark without a light on anywhere. And as I open the window to investigate further someone who must be one of the neighbors yells “The powers out! Hey everybody, the powers out!”
Like no shit its out and if this was my neighborhood it be loot’in time! Though out here in this nice neighborhood, one void of liquor stores on every corner, I think that they’d call it something more along the lines of home invasion.
But anyway, here I am in a large pitch blackened house without a clue as to where there’s a flashlight or candles and I can feel the cats scurrying around in front of me like a pack of wildebeests as I search for some sort of illuminating device. And in the hall closet there’s a huge dry cell battery flashlight but its dead to the world without even a slight glow to the bulb and after searching for a good twenty minutes all that I can find are some of those little votive candles that give off as much light as a cigarette lighter. So I light a few and put them in the living room and now I’m sitting on the big overstuffed couch thinking that this does indeed suck and even more than I had imagined that it would!
Naturally one by one the cats start slinking into the dark cold living room on the pretense to be near me or at least in the hopes that I’m really gonna be able to do something about this dilemma of ours. And a few of them climb onto my lap or plop down almost on top of me. Probably to suck the body heat out of me as a survival technique and while they’re licking their lips I can almost hear them contemplating whether I’d make a nice big snack once I become too weak from starvation. While the other half of the brood are circling the outer perimeter like sharks on a blood trail all the while sizing up how to slit my throat in the easiest least complicated way possible. And its right about this time that I start thinking that even in the dark I should feed these boyos and once and for all prove my usefulness as a human can opener with opposable thumbs and all.
So with only the light from a small dripping candle to guide me I am more than a little surprised to find a note on the kitchen table, no, let me rephrase that. It’s a frigg’in hand written instruction manual on cat feeding and everyone of these little bastards quirks and phobias are there pinpointed in minute detail like a clinical analysis for me to follow as if I’m really gonna cater to their little kitty whims!
“They’re just fucking cats!” I scream to no one in particular. However I am only too sure that if I did bellow it out the front window that “mister next door neighbor” would be quite interested. It just sort of seems that he likes to communicate extremely obvious things in this sort of uncouth manner. Yet my howling only sends all the little hairy beasties scurrying in a mass hysteria of claws scraping on hardwood floors as bits of errant fur fly. Unfortunately I’m starting to smell something unpleasant and it is then that I follow my nose to the cat box in the corner of the pantry and in the slight glow of my one waning votive candle there appears to be a major conspiracy of overflowing cat turds. As one or maybe all of the happy felines in a group get together has somehow shoved most of the litter out of the box and onto the linoleum floor.
And you know? Thoughts of how things just couldn’t be getting any better seem to be floating through my mind right about now. As by the ever dimming light I’m busy scooping up piles of cat shit and bits of sticky litter. With what looks like a large slotted spoon that I’m hoping with its proximity to the litter-box is used for such endeavors. And its moments like this where I know why I don’t have any kids of my own. Or pets. Or any friends for that matter. And then like a sign from some ancient primordial god the lights flash back on and I am only too sure that this is going to be one of the longest weeks of my entire life.
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Tuesday, January 4th, 2005 at
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For some reason this morning I can still see the moon glowing through the fog of the overcast sky and its like a foreboding omen or something as I walk down Third Street on my way back to the apartment building. Must a been some kinda night out here last night. There’s trash and empty liquor bottles all over the place and in the middle of the intersection there’s a torn pair of women’s red panties and one black stiletto high heel shoe.
Apparently in an aggressive attempt at urban renewal someone saw fit to overturn a couple of newspaper kiosks and now there’s so much paper strewn about that it feels like I’m walking on a slightly soggy carpet. And seriously! What’s with the crusty old pairs of sneakers hanging by their laces from the telephone pole wires? So far on Stillman Alley alone there’s gotta be six or seven pairs hanging over the middle of the street like wayward holiday decorations only they’ll be up there way into the next century and in celebration of what?
Cultural diversity at its best I guess.
I can hear my name being shouted and kicking it in front of Jack’s liquor store at 8:30 in the morning drinking some sort of glowing red type liquid out of a paper cup is none other than one of South of Market’s finest – Johnny Boy Walton. So as in a “greet the neighbors/hang out with the locals” type of gesture I cross the street and stop to hear what it is he’s got to say this cold December morning. Staccato like through the mist his words come out in a rhyming ditty bop kinda pigeon english that he interjects with involuntary spastic inflections between the syncopated beat that he continually hops and dips too. Though admittedly it must only be pounding away in his head as I can’t hear a damn thing but the morning traffic as it goes by.
“Yo Braw! Draw ya brakes now brudder! Gotta smoke?”
And as always it takes a few seconds for what he just said to decode itself and I tell him for the thousandth time that I don’t smoke anymore and we both look at each other and then at the ground where there appears to be a whole head’s worth of hair lying there in large discarded strands. So I kinda indicate it with a movement of my chin and really not expecting an answer I say “Like what’s the deal here with all the fur JB?”
At which point its his turn to nod toward a pile of what looks like discarded clothes and mumble something about Clara “hating on a bitch” and apparently because she hated on her she “shanked her weave off.”
And the only really odd part here is that what he said makes sense to me. Not that Clara’s need to de-weave someone necessarily made sense but that I understand what he is saying and can actually follow the continuum of his thoughts as I now see that this ragged pile of clothes is improbably wrapped around someone that’s trying to get up. And maybe they’re only getting up because they heard their name being mentioned and as I’m starting to comprehend that this stirring pile of soiled clothing might be Clara I’m hoping that my head of hair isn’t in the least bit offensive to Clara’s sensibilities or that for some reason she’s gonna all of a sudden start hating on me.
“Bitch deserved it! She come back I git her!”
And with that statement said, some woman, whom I’m gathering is Clara though I can’t see her face as she’s all sorta hunched over like raises herself off of the sidewalk and swerves around the corner and is gone from my sight.
“Clara?” I ask.
“Best head on turd street.” Johnny Boy says.
“Whoa now JB!”
“Only a five spot!”
“That’s Ok, man, that’s Ok! More than I wanna know mister urban pimp!”
Obviously this discussion is starting to digress in a decidedly downward manner but what kind of dialog did I really expect I was going to engage in with someone drinking codeine cough syrup mixed with red wine for breakfast?
Thankfully the screeching sound of an aluminum extension ladder being raised mercifully cuts short our conversation and we both turn to look at a couple of guys steadying a ladder against the outside of my apartment building while another one starts climbing upwards and none of them look like they’re maintenance men or even painters for that matter. And right about this time I’m starting to really get stoked that the building is now full of cameras instead of a few inept security personnal like it used to be as apparently someone has figured out the glaringly obvious flaw in the management’s new plan of defense and it looks like we’re now being besieged from the outside via ladders!
“Nathan” says John Boy.
“Nathan and his Bras. Come ta get they shit. Evicted dey waz!” He says.
Ok, so this is how they’re doing it these days! Now instead of having to pay that last month’s rent and then being allowed to get back in and collect what meager possessions they had been forced to leave behind. Former tenants, and this is only if they lived on the lower floors, will now just exercise their right to eminent domain and bypass that pesky financial requirement as well as some minor misdemeanor laws regarding private property and do it themselves. Of course this won’t give any of the local crackheads any ideas because even if they were paying attention or even had enough energy to attempt such a feat it wouldn’t matter because they’d of already sold off any aluminum ladder that they might have stolen to the recycler for dope money. But none the less I’m still glad that I have moved to the “courtyard” side and finally those rusty strands of barbed wire that hang haphazardly all over the back of the building have come in handy for keeping out intruding trespassers especially the one’s who come equipped with really tall extension ladders.
Meanwhile Clara must have found something else of interest to hate on because she’s screaming way down at the other end of the alley and waving her arms about and maybe I’ll just be taking this opportunity to be getting back to my apartment. So I nod a fond farewell to Johnny Boy and making sure not to walk under the ladder, bad luck you know, plus they seem to be precariously balancing a small sofa two flights up – and all nonchalant like with not a care in the world I stroll into the deserted lobby of my apartment building.
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Friday, December 24th, 2004 at
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