Homecoming

March 30, 2010

Isn’t it funny how as the world gets more mechanised there is less and less room for people, for life, for real things? Here I sit at the train station burning to let the writing hands fly, and I’ve forgotten to charge the laptop. No problem – I carry a notebook everywhere I go… oh wait that’s not right – left it behind at home, wanted more space for clothes, a toothbrush, razor, the “basics” of human life I forgot to use because I’m not comfortable having them. Apparently leaving the laptop wasn’t even considered a possibility. I’m left with this rapidly disintegrating notepad, primary purposes; band, book, movie recommendations, poetry, ripping pages out for impromptu business cards. Not exactly the best medium for my epic-length stories nobody actually reads. Nonetheless here goes:

I write for I’s eyes now, because the instant I think about book, publish, author, anything at all about marketing, networking, audience, sales, money I clam up hard and get writing constipation. I’ve been pretty much disabled since I got home – someone turned the creativity machine off – in this environment everything comes back to survival skills. I see this place as a much harder, colder, less human atmosphere now; as if the structures, machines, and televisions have taken over and trapped humanity inside. When NYC is so cold yet so bustling and anonymously alive, it is a shock to see Orange county, San Diego, Santa Barbara – so passive, indoors, climate controlled and isolated. Sitting at a train station is like dreaming – how could public transport be so expensive and yet so terrible? Nobody, 10 people, at a transit hub in a city this size? Where are the vendors, the running children, the pickpockets? My threat sensitive areas work double-time in this sort of place, because it has to be a trap, right? Fuck – pinch me – I’m making this all up. Must be. How can everyone stand to be encased in their private space bubbles to and from cacoons of work, home, fueled by fast food and pushed into ever faster forward?

The barriers we all put up, the public-private divide has grown, grows still, is now too wide for me to leap with these strangers – not for lack of trying. So many people, and I haven’t had a decent conversation with a complete stranger since Nashville and that was cheating – most of them were travelers or musicians. They’re in the eccentric circles, unfortunately don’t represent the world they wander. I’d call it a terrifying realization except that just in coming to this conclusion I also found a worse one – this capsulization, compartmentalization, wasn’t unnoticed or unintended by those around me: most everyone is full aware that they’ve isolated themselves – it’s a conscious decision based on unconscious fear and aversion to risk – America is scared shitless of the unknown, the new, the different, the weird. How can a nation, how can a people, a species survive if they all refuse to adapt to a shifting world?

It all comes back to fear – every story I tell to my traveler friends, to the wild web of dharma bums ends with affirmations, exhaltations of approval, happiness at my accomplishing new and wonderful – whatever it is! Everyone else, the stationary person, asks why and doesn’t understand how “why not?” is the only answer. Tapeworms and parasites scare and disgust, the different are mistrusted, it is the sort of gap as will always exist between those who have lived to the utmost in a moment and those who are afraid to struggle hard enough. Coming from my side, looks like a terrible and cruel fate living so, but they seem to be happy, content, and they’re utterly the same people when we’re together. It is I who have changed, grown wild.

Yet, I’m so happy to be around them, with my dysfunctional family and grown-up-without-me friends because when we’re together it works. We all still get along, interact like people who care about each other. When we reunite like my far-flung friends do whenever we can, like we just did, all is right, ridiculous, and familiar. I’ve been told they call this “stability” – been long enough that I don’t trust the feeling altogether. Comfort in chaos, tranquil when still, I can’t find anything but terror in this constant movement for the sake of movement. I’m wired backwards or everyone else is.

I wonder how people will be in 5 or 8 years when I’m still actively trying not to live their lives – I mean, they find my way of life unattractive too, right? Their desires for good jobs, good TV laughs, cars, clothes, full fridges – those all outweigh desire for the nomadic life I lead; otherwise they wouldn’t be living their way but mine instead! I mean, that’s why I live as I do – the perceived benefits beat out sacrifices for me, I feel contented – not complicated; this is just me acting in my own self-interest like anyone else. These rough crashes into the broke joke yoke are a sacrifice I choose to make so as to live this life. In that regard I imagine my friends have the same “glad I’m not in his shoes” thoughts I do when I try to picture myself as a hard-working, successful not-quite-young individual – car payments, 9 to 5, new possessions – it makes me shiver with aversion, so much greater is my pleasure in my chosen life. Surely they feel the same, right? It is all I can imagine – to have their lot is almost diametrically opposed to what I want, but they’re happy, and we’re all still friends – that’s all that matters, we’re still friends.

Never-random encounters with like minds tell me what I need: I’m not alone. At the train station, the few lingering souls help each other how we can. An older gentleman and his granddaughter come by, playfight, laugh unrestrained. The girl, 3 maybe 4, a miniature African princess in purple and pigtails approaches a woman sitting alone on the next bench, starts a cute kid conversation while hugging her leg. A heartwarming innocent’s smile. Kids don’t fear strangers, have no need. It’s not until later we’re taught distrust, fear, hate – kids do anything, everything until we tell them they’ll die, that the unknown is perilous, the new obscene. Why pretend the children are the only ones who need teaching? If we’re not careful, our myths and beliefs blind us to the world around.

Ten minutes later, a ready-made example of what’s going on in my head walks up and asks a favor. “Please tell me that wasn’t the train to San Diego that just left!” I assure her it isn’t before even looking up – truth is I’m pretty focused here and that train was probably going in the wrong direction, but – no, I’m right. And she’s pretty gorgeous in that way people are when the woman I still think about is so far away she might as well not exist. Desperation gorgeous. Lonely soul gorgeous. First attractive stranger in weeks who starts up a conversation with me gorgeous. “No, we need to be on the other platform,” I point it out with my lower lip, “I was just sitting here and too lazy to move yet.” I’m standing up now, shouldering the bag. “We’ll just walk around to the street, or you can take the tunnel behind you.” “Which one are you taking?” She asks uncertain. “The street – it’s not how we’re supposed to go, and I try to do that as much as possible.” Not much response to that. We walk around the black metal fence separating two platforms – her on the platform, me on the tracks.

“I don’t know when I last walked on train tracks,” outloud to myself, “it seems ludicrous I haven’t.” I get a disapproving stare – “I’m in heels.” she points out. “Too true – not great footwear for this.” and from there I’m playing balance games on the rails and she’s walking her businesslike clip to the benches. The couple I saw from across the way turns out on closer inspection to be a pair of homeless people – their shared shopping car of clothes, blankets, and whatever they deem necessary sits behind the seats, the man charges a cell phone while using it to play country rock songs while the woman sits on a bench reading a battered paperback. I dump my bag, toss jacket and shoes on the end bench and go over to sit with them both – say what you will about transients, but they rarely fail to be good conversationalists. My foil, the businesswoman, sits right next to my things on the end of the bench – she’d be sitting all the way at the corner except that I put things there first and so I grin inward watch the inner battle rage – repressed desire to be as far from horrible disgusting HOMELESS people on the one had, and the impotent ability to ask me to move my precious possessions – as if I gave a fuck about them. Here I am, holey garb and a bag of crap, and her purse outvalues everything I own. She purses her lips and slips in her earbuds – inaction and ignoring reality wins again. The rest of us have a hell of a talk as any humans ought – the overlaps between our lives outweigh the differences, a non-surprise to everyone except those who like to pretend they’re not human and play something, anything – better than facing one’s own unhappy reality.

Jerry and Dona, the two I met, are pretty interesting – Jerry has a cell phone, works when he has to, drifts when he doesn’t. “I’m taking it easy,” he tells me, “Probation ends soon, and I’ve only been out for eight months – nothing serious don’t worry! – and I have to keep it easy, you know? I’m just building things up at my own pace.” At my own pace – by my own standards, my rules – isn’t that what so many of us want, crave after, try to live through? It certainly seems to underly my life. Dona wants to know about me, what I’m doing, but first feels the need to warn me about the cops – “They watch from the other side of the tracks there, by the park. They’ll let us sit here a while, no problem, but if they see you do anything wrong, even walk on the tracks like you just did, that’s excuse to come pick you up. If you’re us, there’s always something – unpaid tickets, little things – that let them pull us off the streets, get us hidden away somewhere. Be careful.” There it is again, my privledge and curse – I can go anywhere in the civilized world, have the right slips of paper and know how to smile and hold myself and dress the right way – I can pass undetected in the world that disdains and tries to bury these people but I can never see how they live. I can never be in their shoes, and I will never be down and out, optionless, on the level they are, have been. I’m fortunate in the sense that it’s easier for me to live and blend in, I’ll never work so hard, but who is to say that their way is so bad? I’m cursed in that I’ll never see it, too busy will I be paying off debts of this other world – I actually can’t afford to be a bum! – what a crazy world.

Both smile, laugh, kid each other back and forth gently. Both tell me they’re living at their pace, are fortunate, live the lives they choose. Jerry and I share a glum look talking about the plight of those driven homeless in worse situations – East Coast bums have it harder than those in sunny Orange. They’re not glue-sniffing hopeless messes, but clean enough, presentable enough, to look innocuous – Suburban camoflage in a decidedly one-sided war. Who are the really fortunate? The businesswoman is showing frown lines and the officeworker complexion that never ought to be found in California, while the other three of us have good-natured grins etching themselves into sun-tanned faces. We’re aging happy, she’s going to work herself old and ugly. We talk about weather patterns and the joys of lying on the beach, and she’s wearing high heels and a short skirt – think it’ll get her promoted? Think the promotion will fill that empty space? Perhaps I’m just projecting my biases onto the world and seeing what I want. One thing is for sure – I melded minds with two saints of the slow life at the train station today, and the woman next to me saw a ratty crazy-haired kid holding powwow with urban savages. The trick is realizing and challenging your own biases – it’s comfortable and easy to pretend one set of rose-tinted glasses show the whole truth.

The train comes, I say goodbyes, lift my bag, we exchange friendly wishes. They both wave at me as I grab my bag and head for the door and somehow despite knowing each other for under half an hour, I feel like they’re friends – they get me anyway. The conductor greets me with a warm “Business class passengers only! You have to go to the other door down there.” – and so businesswoman and I take a walk. “Really know how to make people feel wanted,” I quip. “Just wait until I get in that train and they find out I AM business class!” she replies – haughty indignance. I laugh, settle in to the nearly empty coach on the beach side. Wouldn’t trade places with her either.

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