Think about it. What in hell does an unemployable-once-addicted-loser-in-love-with-a-misdirected-attitude do for a living? Or too be more exact: What does he do in order to pay the rent and keep himself stocked in organic tofu and baby carrots while living in the lifestyle that he has become so accustomed too?
Going out and getting a decent job that actually paid money was one of the most burdensome and complicated things that I have ever had to do. It wasn’t like there were a ton of people out there begging me to come to their firm and handle money.
“Do you have any references from your last job?”
“Well the District Attorney says Attempted Murder. But it was really just an Assault or at best a slight case of Mayhem!”
“No, no, I mean don’t you have any past employers that will vouch for your character?”
As usual it was not going well. Dressed in some demure costume that wasn’t me, I’d be spastically fidgeting on a chrome and leather couch in some receptionist’s office as the highly perturbed secretary eyed me like a soiled piece of pork on ham hock day.
“You ever thought about a career in ditch digging?”
Strangely enough I had. Actually, I’d thought about it a lot. Out in the great outdoors, sun shining down, nursing a hernia, nursing a Guinness, nurturing a major resentment against society. Yeah, I’d thought about it. Can’t say I much cared for it as a future. But I’d thought about it and when I did it was soon followed by those fleeting thoughts of suicide that had been coming by every so often to visit me.
“I guess I could try the waste disposal position. Just what kind of degrading behavior does that entail?”
The few jobs that I was being offered were not what anybody would consider overt smart career moves or coveted nepotism slots. They were not even bad last minute second choices for most college graduates. They were however the dead end jobs of futility and I was rapidly becoming the favored first choice to fill these positions and I had the nonlinear resume with numerous unexplainable gaps in my employment history to prove it.
“Wow! Portable chemical toilet technician! Say it isn’t so!”
After another insufferable day of misspelling my own name on job applications, I’d wander home through the streets of San Francisco feeling dejected as the endless parade of Mercedes and BMW’s sped by with the REAL PEOPLE inside leaving me trudging along – a parody of a pedestrian out on the sidewalk of life with THE people.
Close to home on the block behind my apartment building, there are no less than three single disheveled male… ah, panhandlers I guess you’d call them. But no, that isn’t right because only one really asks for money. The other two, well, they just sorta sit there drinking and of course the one shouts out a one-sided conversation with the world. The other one just smokes and draws portraits with his body fluids. I’m waiting for some art critic to come discover him and then they’ll take away his chunk of concrete sidewalk and display it in the Louvre across from the Mona Lisa and the next time that I’ll see him will be on the cover of Time magazine as Artist of the Year or something.
He’s got some unknown affinity with the local pigeons who clique up as they crowd around him sharing their chirped secrets until right before he passes out and then he tells them to go home and they do. Whether it’s the numerous hours of lying in the sun or the prolonged months of not bathing, his skin that is exposed has turned a rather rich fertile shade of brown and in the late afternoon when he pulls his knit cap down over his face he sings this song:
“If you walk out on me now. You’ll lose the best thing that you ever had…”
Sometimes I wish I had his confidence.
Though I could never do his job, well, to be more exact, I’d never even pass the initial interview.
“Wanted: Self starter interested in claiming his own territory – low overhead, must be able to drink 211 Steel Reserve Malt Liquor all day and not barf.”
Call me a wuss but even ditch digging seems a tad easier than what those three guys do for a living and begrudgingly I have to somewhat admire their stamina if nothing else. Yet I knew while trying not to end up as a disgruntled shovel handler/dirt technician, there had to be other opportunities for a guy of my qualities to make ends meet and still not dislocate his back in the process. Why was it that I was so adamantly against being a laborer? Did I think I was I too good to get my hands calloused and dirty? Or was it those slightly repressed memories of past lives on some errant construction crew, just one of the guys mainlining dope and hanging off of scaffoldings with heavy machinery that made me want to attempt something new?
But no matter my conscience objections or the apparently prophetic way that I looked at it, I still had to keep asking myself: What was it that I was really qualified to do?
Gunrunning, drug smuggling, document forgery, interstate trafficking and the bank robbery industries, just to name a few, had really taken a downsizing in these post 9 11 days. Not to mention that the State of California was still trying to measure me for that three strikes jumpsuit that they had graciously offered me back in the nineties. So as far as my choices were concerned it was either gonna be ditch digger, homeless person, or… dope fiend? Nah, believe me I’ve already tried that countless times and it had never really worked out. Especially not the last time when weighing somewhere around a hundred and ten pounds I slipped into a Hep C coma and that was it, career over, with a prolonged medical detox stay an imminent probability in my immediate future.
Possibly you’d think that with all this illicit knowledge and my heretical past experiences that I’d be able to pull off a gig as a consultant. Or better yet, how about trying my hand as a counselor to my former fellow dope fiends? Like being a counselor as in the sense of someone to help the wayward dope fiend – not help ‘em be a better dope fiend, but just maybe help him not be a dope fiend at all! Yeah right, what in hell was I thinking? Like there’s really a job like that! I think it’s called either being a really righteous dope dealer or a mortician – both of which were jobs possessed of skills I didn’t have. The mysteries of embalming were just as daunting as the idea of not using all the drugs you were suppose to sell. And anyway what was I gonna tell these said drug addicts? Just say no? Don’t do what I did ‘cause look at me?
Fortunately somehow the idea of sitting around drinking endless cups a coffee and running group therapy sessions without a therapeutic clue while posing as an unlicensed counselor held that almost criminal enterprise feel that I had tried to maintain throughout my life. And as far as I knew no one had done any prison time for working in a rehab while ignorantly dabbling in the psyche of addicts – unqualified or not! This could be it! Me behind a battered desk in a cramped shared office in a grungy nondescript building while vacant eyed junkies wandered in and chatted about the weather, the price of heroin and their next court appearance. Maybe I had finally found my niche in society. Maybe I’d finally arrived at where I was supposed to be.
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Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004 at
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Excerpts from – The Week of the Walking-Pneumonia:
After five unbearable days of a hundred and two degree fever, I was fast approaching a vegetable like state, or more like a baked potato sans the sour cream and chives state—if you will. So in a desperate attempt to stay this unrestrained degenerative progression and hopefully regain my health at the same time, I tried implementing a regime to bolster my immune system by eating better: I ate bananas. Well, three to be exact, like actually bought three down at Whole Foods. So far I’ve eaten one. With the meds or the pneumonia itself, I can’t really taste a thing, so it was just sorta mushy. The banana that is, not the meds or the pneumonia. The meds are crunchy and taste vile if you chew them and the pneumonia goes in a variety of stages. However on a literary high note: from having to counterfeit an untold amount of doctor’s notes for work, I’ve also learned how to spell pneumonia, a word that until recently I’d never had much use for.
I also bought a mo-fo’n immense mango. Did I mention that the bananas were hand-picked/tree ripened/organic from some rainforest type location? Well, so is the case with this mango, which is now sitting on my shelf like a complacent Inca refusing to ripen. That’s sorta one of the main reasons that I don’t like fruit! It’s on its own time schedule. Like sure it’s gonna get ripe at some point and yeah I coulda gotten one that seemed to be ripe. But at a supermarket, even a trendy pretentious overpriced one like Whole Foods, how do you really know with a mango? It may feel ripe with the little bits squishy here and there, but if a hundred people came through and gave it a good squeeze to see its exact state of ripeness? Well, the break down of firmness, the natural disposition of animal/plant/pet type things to please humankind, the world food chain, dominant carnivores with teeth and all and, well, need I go on?
In my opinion fruits are basically spineless posers! No, maybe not spineless. No, maybe more like timid. No, more like ne’er-do-wells, or simpletons at the very least. Going all—“pick me, eat me, I’m harmless, I just sit in trees or hang around the vine.” And then you got the bugger home and what? It just sits on your shelf and meditates like Buddha or something staying that same irradiated green until you first turn your back and then voila! It’s a pool of slime as it biodegrades back into the earth from whence it came, decomposition to compost, dirt to dust, ashes to ashes—end of story! An easy way out if you were to ask me.
I also picked up a bag-o-ricola, “the original natural herb cough suppressant”, so it claims. Because the small/petit almost midget like nurse had suggested I do so as she sent me along on my way back home meandering aimlessly all drug crazed on an azithromycin overdose. And though the ricola are somewhat boastful yet tasteless hard squares they do do the trick when the throat/cough/scratch bit works its way in and I start hacking like Sweaty Spice or whatever that disheveled girl who sings name is. But to tell you the truth I am only too sure that their nutritional value is somewhere below even a banana!
I just got off the phone with my younger sister who called to confide in me her own current health issues and I guess to also commiserate the fact that we’re both a tad under the weather. Seems she’s down with an infected toenail that had to be forcibly removed and—this is where it gets a wee bit dicey! She’s got a case of the hives! Like the one she had for almost a year before (?)!!!! Like who knew? I certainly didn’t! But I have always thought that hives were for people whose health was questionable or at the very least people who are under a lot of pressure from things like stress? Which she is neither. Maybe the fact that she hasn’t been on a Caribbean Sea Cruise in more than a month is finally taking its toll on her psyche.
In the meantime; the organic mango—shithead that it is!—Hasn’t moved an inch all day toward ripening, except for a slight glow of yellow around the scalp of its, well, cranium I suppose? I think that I am going to give it a wee bit of a squeeze and then after it’s recovered from that I’ll bask it in the afternoon sun on the window ledge as a sort of inducement to ripen or start learning how to fly.
As with this concept of acquiring fruit in the attainment of nutrition I’ve also gone to great lengths to keep myself properly fed during this horrendous week—the week of the walking pneumonia, as I like to call it. So I’ve been trying the takeout from the local restaurants and thankfully the new Indian/Pakistani shop across the street has turned out to be quite decent and a tad tasty. I noticed it because all the turbaned taxi drivers double park their cabs out in front of my apartment building to eat there. However, whenever I do go over there they all sort of stop eating mouths agape with varied dining utensils frozen in midair and stare at me sideways as I stumble in and out gracefully accompanied by an obscure score of their Hindustani music with a must-get-takeout-food-trance-like-stupor plastered across my face while sweating like a dope fiend on the jones.
Though I must confess, I really only want to eat simple tofu/vegetable dishes and rice, something about them seems more desirable/palatable right now in my fevered condition. But the sullied Chinese place next to Jack’s sleazy liquor/porno store is very, well, questionable to say it politely. They write the specials on paper plates with a black magic maker and then tape them to the window and some of them have been up for months and are turning a kinda greasy yellowed transparency and insects are getting caught in the scotch tape so that you gotta wonder just how special they really are. Instead I’ve been looking both ways before crossing the street for a little Palak Aloo and Naan and a Mango Lassi or two. And I’ve got to say that their windows are always clean and free of unprofessional advertising.
Obviously having naught to do whilst lying around recuperating but read, eat takeout, consume massive quantities of medication and endlessly think. A new theory of mine has arisen as to the whereabouts or at least the origins of where my newly acquired lung infection comes from. So far the prevailing theory is that I acquired it from taking the stairs as opposed to the elevator; wherein lies the most obvious connection—I am forced to use my hands on such communally touched objects as: doorknobs, railings, walls and any combination of all or at least one of the above. Also, least I not forget to mention, that the ambience of the stairwell is rivaled only by the dank grungy alleyways and loading dock of the building where rats play, junkies and winos overindulge in certain daily habits as well as natural body functions and out on the second floor landing someone has hurled what looks like a very large portion of “stew.” But who can really tell what it was as it has dried up and what the vermin haven’t eaten is now becoming one with the metal staircase. Now I could be wrong here, it’s happened a time or two before, but the conditions hence described sound to me like the breeding ground for a numerable amount of diseases, viruses and your all around cesspool of apocalyptic germs, no?
Whereas the elevator: though allowing more outright exposure to said communicable diseases by actual human on human exposure, (i.e. read, foraging Crackheads) when not occupied lessens the risk of contamination. Only the touch of the buttons with one index finger outside of the car and inside and without a margin for error only once each for that matter as well as more circulation of air, less barf potential and the fact that the cars are somewhat cleaned on the occasion has brought a lot of points up in favor of abandoning the stairs as a “healthy” enterprising alternative to taking the elevator.
My sister called again—hives and infected toenail. She seems to wanna continue bonding in the mutual certitude that we are both extremely miserable at the same time, another trait inherited from our mother no doubt. And speaking of which my mum also cut in on the call-waiting line wanting all the gory details of my health or the actual lack of it really and then proceeding to tell me what to do about getting better health care out of my medical provider—like getting the test results mailed to me. So, like what? I could follow along when the doctor and I went over them together? I seriously doubt that I could make out what in hell they’re on about anyway. But she did spent a solid ten minutes telling me what box to check on what forms that will insure me to get a copy of all my results! Ah, something to file away for the future I guess. It is apparent from our recent conversations that my mother is thoroughly convinced that I am going through some great change in life. Like what? I’m going gay or something? Male menopause of my left nut? Strict adherence to the Kabala? Seriously that’s what I think she thinks. We’re talkin’ bizarre weird off the wall type stuff implied through not so subtle exclamations. Like she’s psychic or something and has a hotline to my future! Every time I talk with her she refers to this idea that—“I’m discovering myself.” And like I’m not even dignifying it by asking just what in hell it is that she is going on about! I mean I’m dying from a ferocious inhuman virus god damn it! Excuse me a second here as I wipe the spittle from my mouth and attempt to calm down a bit.
Saw the doctor today, he gave me a clean bill of health, says nothing to worry about, even my much abused liver is doing fine. However, after the midget/petit nurse painstakingly recorded my stats, she then drew on a chart and with a subdued flourish accompanied by sullen looks that may or may not have expressed that her mind was now in the process of working. She then looked at the chart then looked back at me as she sighed a sigh of complacency and then she flat out insinuated that I was overweight. Well, like she didn’t come right out and say that I was fat. She just pulled out the xeroxed weight to height graph and ran a florescent green highlighter down the grid circling the intersection of my statistics and then as she thrust it into my idle hands she pronounced me in the not so good area—like in the fat boy zone! I guess that while I was on my deathbed, they just didn’t want to tell me, like they were saving it until I was well! So now I’m at home staring at this pathetic chart of hers—hey, they weighed me with all my clothes on and my boots. Excuses I know, but, like I was 172 lbs. @ 5’10’’. Like it puts me in the fat zone by about 9 pounds and I’ve never been in the fat zone before, or at least not recently! This is really not good. See! No more fruit, too much sugar, no more dairy either, good damn fat globule laden cheeses, no more bread and sugar loaded baked goods, no more tortilla chips simmered in trans fat, no more nothing that tastes good! Its time to go back to the basics and eat tree bark!
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Saturday, October 30th, 2004 at
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Before I lived in the building that I am now in, I lived in what in this town is referred to as a piss-in-the-sink hotel, only this one didn’t have a sink in the room to piss in – only a mildew encrusted toilet down the hall. From the smell of my room, however, that hadn’t deterred the former residents from using the corner by the door as a makeshift urinal or maybe the errant crackhead had once again been busy marking his territory in hopes of charting a new frontier.
The hotel itself, a large blue and white painted blight of a building, was hung with a misnomer of a name – The Soma Inn; and even by Folsom Street standards its bedraggled populace of dope fiends, hookers and petty thieves made it stand out amongst the small businesses and trendy night spots of the South of Market area. Next door was a popular all night rave whose sound system’s constant thud coupled with the random flickering of my room’s twin four foot long florescent lights up on the ceiling made sleep at night somewhat torturous if not impossible. Most evenings around 3:00am with my head pounding in tandem with the bass, I’d go outside and push my way through the partying throngs of inebriated club goers and wander over to All Night Donuts on Fourth Street and hang out in its calm gray formica and stainless steel environment. Mindlessly ingesting sickly sweet crumb donuts washed down with past-dated cartons of chocolate milk or overdosing on some soggy vegetables mired in an industrial type teriyaki sauce served on a bed and I do mean a bed of sticky overcooked white rice.
Usually by four in the morning the place would be deserted and in desperation for some companionship I’d flirt with the woman who worked behind the counter. She was a bit older than me, but she was still very beautiful, crazy insane, but beautiful. After we dispensed with the customary pleasantries, she would usually tell me about what it was like when she took the boat across the Pacific Ocean to this country and then our conversation would somehow always degenerate into talk of opium and she’d get this dreamy look on her face, one that I could relate too and we’d kind of sit in silence, both of us, sort of with our own thoughts as the clock on the wall flipped its numbers from seconds to minutes and then I’d have to change the subject and talk about anything else that I could think of. I’m sure she sensed that it really wasn’t a healthy subject for me to dwell on and while attempting a different conversation she’d grab her cup of tea and come sit with me at one of the tiny tables that were in front of the glass donut case where we’d try talking about the weather or old movies that we’d seen. We had a strange connection of sorts and I guess that’s why she’d confide in me about her past or maybe it was that universal junkie attitude that all former addicts share, but still it was somewhat profound and a tad bit intimate and at the time our moments together were about the only somewhat healthy human contact that I had going in my life.
Living back at the hotel was insane. I was trying to keep it together, stay out of trouble and somewhat make it and apparently I was the only person there who had those kinda of high end goals and who wasn’t on general assistance, the FBI’s most wanted list or busy putting a needle in their veins. It would be an understatement to say there was a deeply entrenched vortex of lowlifes that made up the small community of tenants, and everyday it was glaringly obvious that I wasn’t planning on joining in and becoming a part of it.
After the sun set unbelievable feminine looking trans-sexual hookers appeared roaming the dark corridors and between tricks would hang out in the downstairs lobby applying their makeup. This one tall blonde in particular would make kissy noises anytime I walked by, much to the disapproval of her prison tattooed boyfriend who gave me mad dog looks that I ignored. In the room directly next door to mine was the building’s aspiring speed dealer. He constantly played bad techno music in competition to the drone of the neighboring nightclub while it seemed every other resident pounded on his door at all hours to buy more of his product.
Across the hall was an elderly black woman who was still plying her trade on the streets and when she wasn’t would be out in the hall leaning against her room’s doorframe dressed in a sheer black semi-see-through slip drinking gin and moaning about the loss of her babies while Marvin Gaye accompanied her lament from the stereo speakers on her bureau – the battered faux wood grain one in the corner covered with cigarette burns and empty liquor bottles. After propositioning me at least ten times a night she’d pass out with her legs sprawled on the floor of the hall so that we would all have to step over her on our way out or to the bathroom, or as was much more the case, impeding the flow of jittery people intent on buying more speed from the sweaty gentleman next door to me.
On particularly busy nights, like on the weekends, my upstairs neighbor would try and sell parking spaces to the club goers outside by the curb in front of the hotel and I never really understood how that worked or why in hell someone would pay him for the privilege to park their own car on the street. One night I came home and pulled my tattered Honda into a spot right in front of the hotel and stumbling toward me in a vodka infused mutation, he demanded money for me to park there. I kind of stared at him with my sideways slit-eyed approach as I slowly closed my door and locked it until he realized it was me and there wasn’t much future in trying to get some money out of the situation. I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted living there before going all the way insane, but just as it was really getting to me, a friend of mine called and said there was a vacancy in her building and that if I didn’t take it she would personally come over and after smacking me in the head, she would move me out herself! Consequently one afternoon, before I had to go to work, I packed what little clothes I had, my laptop and my box of books and moved and thankfully never went back.
Now I live in a somewhat better environment only because there are miles of brightly lit hallways to wander, no shared bathrooms and a security guard at the front desk who sleeps at night while all the derelicts attempt to gain access. Not only that but I actually tend to know some of my neighbors and most of them aren’t trying to get me to pay for sex, just give them money for drugs, and when called on actually act in a sociable way when doing so.
These glaringly obvious differences are now only atrocious memories but none the less I am still rudely awoken out of my thoughts when Natasha knocks on my door uninvited, a walking poster child to eating disorders, she glides herself into my apartment. Her perpetual “I’m about to cry because life sucks so bad” expression is on her face as she folds her impossibly skinny body onto my bed and turns her head and pouts. At twenty-three she feels that there really isn’t much excitement that life has to offer her and I keep telling her that she’s right. This is it! This is as good as it gets! This is reality and we are all stuck with it, but I don’t think it has settled in yet. She continually looks for ways out, like drugs and alcohol and screaming at the moon all night until the sun comes up in the morning, but to no avail. She is stuck, just like I told her and no matter how many nights she waitresses down at the Hard Rock Café, drinks herself into a slurring stupor or spends hours looking at little shiny objects, life and all that that entails is not going to change.
We talk awhile; it’s all about her therapist, her anxiety, her boyfriend, her work and, of course, how hard her life is. She’s under a lot of stress. From what? I do not know? But she says she is and that is why she can’t eat! She’s nauseous, she’s tired, her neighbors make too much noise and work has gotten way too stressful. After awhile there are sudden awkward moments of silence as we are starting to run out of conversation because we are starting to run out of things about Natasha to talk about and she senses this and it is time to go, besides, her boyfriend is waiting in her room down the hall, she just needed to get out and talk to someone who understands just how hard it is out here in the real world. Bye-bye, miss you, kiss in the air and the door closes and I wonder how I became that compassionate person that understands so well. Last time I checked I wasn’t that understanding, but hell I guess things have changed.
In her wake I can see the encroaching nebula of dust that’s constantly coming under my door from the hallway and it’s close to impossible to sweep it up as the flow is non-stop. I’ve tried and it pretty much drove me crazy, to the point where I just opened the door and swept all the dirt back out into the hallway. Of course this was just as the building’s super was walking by and before I could get the door closed his leg attached to a big black work boot blocked it open. What in hell was I doing he wanted to know, and you know, I’d seen other tenants doorways with their little piles of dust just sitting there and thought how crude they were. This was of course before I’d really lived here for any length of time in my building and I really didn’t know what to tell him. Saying that everyone else did it didn’t seem to really be the answer; after all, they probably had the brains not to do it during the day when he’d be around lurking in the hallways. Just admitting that I was cleanliness challenged was not, I was sure, what he was looking for. So, I just acted dumb, mumbled something about not being able to find my trash can and getting to it later and he went away, putting my name on some list at the front desk no doubt. That list tallying up all the black marks against a tenant so that the next time they purge the building of no goods my name will be at the top highlighted:
Urgent/Hallway Defiler/Must Evict!
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The phone rings and I know its Stephan in his apartment upstairs pacing in an unemployed frenzy. We’re gonna head out into the city and see what’s out there today. Anything’s preferable to sitting here in the obsequies of my neighbor’s stereo even the rejection of the girls we’ll try and pick up. And the fact that I tend to feel that this small room is home no matter the surrounding populace or the deafening audio barrage is somewhat comforting, otherwise I’d be hard pressed to think that there really was any change at all in where I live.