Thinking

August 5, 2010

I wrote this a while back, after meeting back up with my good friend Matt when both of us had tried and failed the west coast thing.  It’s not happy – my writing rarely is – but I do like the sentiments expressed.

Thinking – truly thinking, pontificating, expounding, whatever – is a bit more difficult than it sounds. There are so many mental blocks to deep thought, so many distractions, annoyances, small needs that interfere with the process. Bodily functions take charge over the questions of existence – what a pity.

Even more, there are the man-made interruptions, the ringing phone, the neighbor’s music, the little chirp of iPhone yelling “pay attention damn it!” – there are thousands of these little pests, gnatting around and stinging wherever we lie unprotected. Still, it’s possible to post up in a hammock outside or a tree, turn off the devices of fake-world importance, and just think for a while, and that’s what I intend to do today.

I don’t have work for once – I asked for it off so that I could say goodbye to a traveling friend and not have to be in bed early. We went down to San Diego, hung out at bars and the beach, met some Irish girls and a South African singer, and watched open mic night. It was bittersweet, I don’t know where Matt and I will ever cross paths again, and though our shared history is timeline-short, it is simultaneously experience and memory-long – we are the sort of friends that can only come into being by shared adventure. We hugged goodbye in the middle of the street in Pacific Beach, and that was the end of that.

Something he said last night got under my skin though, enough so that all the drinks and dreaming couldn’t pull it out. We were talking about Los Angeles; her vast shallows of wannabe stars pretending to be the characters they want to play, when Matt turned to me and without pretense let this one fly – “They’re a bunch of liars – that’s what separates them from you and I. They pretend to be like us because it serves some purpose. We just wander because that’s who we are.”

It’s just who we are – hopeless romantics, drifting souls, forever on the road even when we’re standing still. We work best in transit, moving from place to space to state to mood. To remain stationary is to stagnate, to fall apart really. Yet here I am, same place, same space, as I was 3 months ago when I abandoned the road and got immobile. What has happened to this traveling soul?

To start, I’m much less poor (though still overall in the red) – after taxes I make some $600 a week, an enormous, ridiculous sum to me. I was marveling earlier over how I can pull money out of any ATM and it isn’t just a withdrawal against a credit card I can’t afford to pay. In practice, I never actually can do this because all of the money I have is tied up in paying off the bills from when I was just running up oweance, but hey, it’s nice to see the pile of debts subsiding a bit.

The cost I pay in order to pay off my bills is paid in time, energy, and sanity. I work one of my nightmare jobs – 48 hours a week, 4am to 12:30pm Monday through Saturday, overtime near-mandatory some days, business dress, doing motherfucking data entry. Here’s a brilliant idea – let’s take a world traveler, a hitchhiking adventurer, and shove him into a climate-controlled closet. Then we’ll pile on near-completely useless work, the sort that sandpapers heart and soul – just heap it on him. Nothing he does should make any damn bit of difference to anyone, and hopefully what little good he does is so diluted by layers on management, middle-management, upper-management, mid-upper-low-management, and the like that even should he strive to work hard and do better than asked it will never be acknowledged by anyone. Now surround him with an office-load of people so different from him that they might as well be another species – busywork junkies – shake well, and observe.

I struggle to stay motivated.

I struggle to get out of bed most days, as the phone alarm chirps “Wake up motherfucker, it’s time to go do that thing you hate!” and the warmth of bed is countered by formal pants and shirts I wouldn’t be caught dead in anywhere else. The human body isn’t supposed to get up and go sit in a chair for 8-12 hours a day, hidden from the sun, forbidden to pull the blinds or open a window. Instead I stare at a light bulb, sorting, scanning, keying in documents as if it made one iota of difference to anyone, anywhere, ever. “$12.50 an hour,” I think to myself, “$100 a day, a bit more if I work overtime. That’s $600 a week, give or take, and at this rate I should be out of debt in about…” (Scribbling on the notepad, carry the 7…) “8 months.”

Fuck my life.

No, wait, scratch that – I can’t even say fuck my life because this isn’t living at all. It’s dying slowly, the essence of what I absolutely do NOT want to do with my life, what I criticize in others, what I swore I would under no circumstances do once I got back home. Yet here I am, the hypocrite, the critic of the self-serving, circular, pointless existence whenever I see it, living exactly as I tell others not to.
The worst part is that I don’t really see an out. I’m not free until I don’t owe money. I can’t stop owing money until I earn enough to pay off my creditors. I can’t do that until I work some job long enough to earn the money to pay off my creditors. The economy sucks, so I’m competing in every instance against more qualified candidates – it took a month solid of job searching just to find the one I have now! Frankly, I don’t think there is a way out of this without refusing to play and just leaving, which, you guessed it, costs money.

When did we sign away our lives like this? Isn’t there some way to live without doing the things I hate day in and day out? It’s not like I’m gaining some vast convenience and reward for my labors – I can’t do the things I really want to, won’t any time soon, and even then I’m just gaining some small measure of temporary freedom in exchange for the vast skull-fuck of debt that ensues whenever I return. When you can’t even leave without owing them in the end, you’re not free and never will be. The money, and the need for it, isn’t going away. I can cut my consumption (not much more than food, water, oil, shelter at this point) a bit more, but the truth of the matter is that I’ll always need to pay for my existence just like everyone else. How I come about the means to do so – that’s where I still have some freedom.

It comes down to this – I need something, some job, some source of income, that doesn’t make me feel like a rat on a wheel every moment. They do exist, I’m certain, as I’ve found a few from time to time. Still, I’m complicating things because I want my job to support me, not the other way round. I’m sick of this notion of work being the central focus of one’s life! Jobs don’t define you any more than do hairstyles, and since we’re not forced into styling our hair that probably defines you more than a job you need in order to survive. I want to be mobile – I need to travel, to move, to explore and expand my universe – any job needs to take that into account. As is, the only times I get to branch out are when I take off after work one day, spend my day off doing something interesting, then skip a night’s sleep to get back to work again. It’s like committing mental suicide, inch by inch, as my brain turns to mush at work, gets abused on my free time, then rewarded by sleepless nights on the way back to square one!

It’s not sustainable, in any sense of the word – not the temporary job nor the extremely wasteful office (we burn reams of paper, piles of money, and shittons of electricity every day) nor even the attitudes involved – there’s nothing noble, nothing gained in swallowing your desires and loves before diving headfirst into a job that kills you slowly. All of it is just a measure of the weakness of your passions, and the strength of your self-delusion. It will come out, either an anger-quit after a bad day or a mid-life suicide or a late-life stress induced cancer, or perhaps in the very end, as your life fades and you realize you’ve succeeded in denying yourself everything that truly mattered in life, and now you’re alone and a failure.

There is no life when you deny yourself everything important to you – it matters not if your ideal life is far from the mainstream, well outside the “normal” of fake society. If you aren’t doing what makes you happy, fulfills you, propels you into tomorrow, then you are wasting your life, and that is the greatest crime. I know this because I’m doing exactly that, and once I was doing exactly what I wanted. The difference is immense, gigantic beyond words – it is all that truly matters to be happy, and yet I am not doing that. I am actively working against my aims, submitting inch by hard-fought inch into a life that is so pointless, so empty, so stupid and destructive that I question continuing every day. Why do I spend my precious life supporting a society I am fundamentally at odds with?!

I don’t have an answer for that. Perhaps I am simply too stubborn to die, too angry, too determined to be validated by the universe. Perhaps I still hope that I can find my answers, and know that to give up searching is the only thing I cannot do. I know what I need, what I want, what I cannot live without, but I do not know how to get it. That is, at the most basic level, what I lack – not motive, not drive, not goal, but connection between here and there – the ligaments and connective tissues of my life aren’t holding, and I don’t know what my next step is.

I can’t stop wandering – if I am certain of anything it is this. San Diego is mild, pretty, warm, full of beautiful people and wonderful weather. I will always love to visit. I cannot stand to live here any longer. Everyone I loved before I began wandering plans to stay in this part of the world, and I know that I am forever anchored by memory, by family, by love and friendship, to this place. I just wish that I could enjoy it more. Perhaps the secret is just to stay mobile enough that I can enjoy every visit without feeling trapped into the hyper-expensive, shallow, vapid, overtly and covertly elitist, racist, prejudiced society of southern California. I won’t miss this place when I go – only the people here who make it worth staying in.

God I need to hit the open road soon. Another few months and I think I’ll really go nuts. That’s the problem with thinking – it takes you places you’re actively trying to avoid. Maybe that’s why most people don’t do it.

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A Bright Future in Sales

April 28, 2010

I’ve been busy, not doing much in the way of fun but at least getting my feet back under me. This past week I did a metric fuckload of interviews, broke my personal oath to never work anything that required me to wear a suit in the process, but as luck would have it I managed to bail out of that noise quickly enough.

Actually here’s a fun story – last Thursday I had a reply to one of my endless resume submissions from a company downtown. Despite not knowing anything about them or their business I did an interview, didn’t honestly give a fuck about them because of the suit thing, so of course they loved my “confidence” and invited me to start Monday. Desperate for money and deeply foreboding I said sure.

Cue ominous music.

I almost didn’t go – it pretty much came down to my mom, Natalie, and my bank account telling me to get the fuck over myself. Money is important for survival they keep telling me. Don’t be an idiot. Besides, the salary offered promised to get me out of debt in a matter of months, and on the road faster than unemployment and I really do like not some bank’s bitch.

Monday bright and unhappy early I put on the whole jacket, tie, stupid shoes kit and went in to the office. I don’t even know to describe the loathing I was feeling for myself; I was pretty much ready to keep driving into Mexico, but I eventually hit the office and went inside to see the super-perky future coworkers.

“no fucking way” said the inside voice. “this is goddamn ridiculous.”

I was right, but I wish I could say I’d gone with instinct and walked back out. Instead I went inside, played fake Monday cheerful with the rest of the place, and got assigned to job-shadow a guy named Mike. We did that smarmy “hey nice to meet you person im going to be require to spend a lot of time around” greeting, got into his car, drove back north.

Mike was the first person in this whole scheme who actually told me what they did. Here’s the short version: we were going to drive to an area, park the car, and start walking into businesses one by one asking them to order office supplies from us. I’d just signed up to be one of those direct-marketing fuckers that the entire world wants to kill on sight. Pay comes on a straight commission, the salary and benefits in their ad having vanished, and work days would be 7:15am to 5pm, business professional dress required. All salespeople use their own cars and aren’t recompensated for jack fucking shit. I would have jumped out of the car window right then except for 2 things – first I really wanted to not die jumping out of the window on the highway and second there was this little thought that said “there will probably be a funny story at least.”

We drove into a business park in Mike’s “T” or territory, parked, and started walking. We pretty much just chose a direction and then followed the “tight to the right” method of walking into every single business in the righthand side of the world asking whether they would like to buy some office supplies from 2 guys in suits. I’m sure I didn’t help sales, because I was looking at faces exactly like my own would be if some asshole guys came into my work at 9am and tried to sell me something – on top of that, I agreed with them! Still, people are naturally polite to suits (which is why we’re wearing them) and we’d always manage to get just past that it’s-awkward-to-just-throw-them-out threshold before making our pitch.

Here’s how it goes:
Smarmy salesfucker – “Hey happy Monday” (big ole shiteating grin)
Victim – (confusion, polite smile) “Hi, can I help you?”
SSF – “We’re here to talk with whoever in charge of ordering your office supplies.”
V – (slow creeping horror) “Umm… That would be me. Some variation of no.”
SSF – “Well, we’ve got this great deal…”
V – “No.”
SSF – “Can I ask you some questions? (No pause) When you do buy office supplies, where do you usually get them?”
V – “Wherever is cheap and close.”
SSF – “and what if I could get you them cheaper? Would you be interested then?”
V – “No.” (please go away now very evident in body language.)
SSF – (Ignoring his victim) “I’m going to prattle on about some more shit and keep you from your work…”
V – “please god save me! (or) GET OUT (or) Sorry, very busy, leave now.”

It was soul-crushing. I hated us after 10 minutes, and we did 6 1/2 hours. The only thing I can say tempted me about this job was the inevitable supply of stories ending in “and then the secretary snapped and tried to stab me with a letter opener” sure to result from being the least-welcome man on Earth.

Mike was a cool guy though – he was pretty much my exact foil, a conservative, risk-averse, capitalist who desired little more than to get a steady job, a little wifey, and settle down to live the dream of corporate wage-slave suckery. Can’t say I understand him, but to each his own. Oh, and get this – 2 hours in, when I’m questioning whether I ought to just run screaming, he told me he had turned down a teaching gig in Korea to work this job. Not kidding – foreign teaching gig, door to door office supply sales. How often can you say you’ve met your exact opposite?

We did the power lunch, where I was forced by business park geography to break my fast food fasting, ate shitty tacos and talked pyramid schemes, I mean company advancement, I mean pyramid schemes. Essentially you work 50-60 hour weeks for $400-600 per week, grind yourself to death and hope for a promotion. After a year if you haven’t killed yourself, you can hang the tattered shreds of your soul on a $100,000 per year paycheck – or at least that is what the advertising says, and I trust advertising as far as I can spit a mouthful of office supplies.

What I do know is this – we talked to people in 93 different offices, from corporate banking headquarters to small-time startups to family-owned businesses. We saw a hundred vacant places, a catholic university, a WWII veteran’s museum, and about 25 psychiatrist’s offices. We talked to CEOs, secretaries, accoutants, a televangelist, and one poor guy who took the wrong smoke break.

And in all that time we sold not a goddam pencil.

Straight commission work – we made nothing. We lost money, since we both drove there, and I left my sandwich in my car, so I bought lunch too. We got a lifetime supply of unhappy glares, and I wore a fucking suit too.

On the way back to the office Mike was pretty glum, so we got red bulls and listened to country rock as I tried desperately to convince him to get out of the job, out of the country, out of his own life really. No dice – some people aren’t ever going to climb outside of the box. After talking with the boss and thanking both he and Mike for their time I quit as politely as possible and drove home.

I couldn’t believe people actually live like that -still don’t – and I had to blow off some nervous “what-the-fucking-fuck-is-wrong-with-this-world?!” energy so I ran to the rock climbing gym and threw myself up some walls. It’s kinda like 3-D chess, but hurts more when you put pieces in the wrong place. Whatever – it’s my current therapy. Did well, got up a couple walls I hadn’t managed before, met pretty girls and their rock-climber boyfriends, and eventually I was telling this same story to the manager and marveling over how people can let their awful job consume them so deeply.

That’s when he offered me a job.

I’m no idiot – I took him up on it immediately, and supposedly I’m starting soon. Combined with a waiter gig at a restaurant that’ll be opening in the next few weeks, it looks like I’ll manage to fit into the employed-broke-writer-working-below-his-skills stereotype, which is close enough to be a stereotype, but still not true. I’m happy with it, it lets me climb for free, and will surround me with happy, healthy people who don’t work 60 hour weeks for $600. The best part? Once I factor in gas costs I’d be doing 12-hour days for roughly McDonalds wages. Fuck. That. Noise!

Nothing left to do but celebrate with frozen yogurt and new rock climbing friends. Small victory for staying free, money I don’t have, but rarely does anything taste sweeter!

Ps – I’ll add a photo of me in a suit whenever I get over my present revulsion toward them enough to play dress up. I owe Marc that at the least!

The Situation Thus Far

April 16, 2010

Dramatic title, I know.  Really, I just need to write something, anything here and I’m sick of being negative so I’ve by and large refrained from posting anything at all.  It’s hard all over, as the saying goes, and I’m trying not to spread my black moods any further than I absolutely must.

It’s difficult.

There’s a lot I’d like to write about, but without a resolution I really can’t make a story of it.  I’m going to give it a shot anyway, but it’ll probably come out sadder than intended.  No matter – I’m home, got here 3 weeks ago give or take, and I’ve finally carved out a niche in the ole’ homestead.  My room, the one that was mine 5 years ago before I moved out, had become the storage warehouse, semi-permanent office, guest room, and who knows what else.  When I first got here it felt kind of like moving into a mausoleum to my childhood – old trophies, diplomas, bags and boxes I never unpacked; the whole schebang.

Try moving back into your parent’s house after being a wandering bum for a year plus – it’s like attending and presiding over your own funeral, the one everyone else skipped.  I couldn’t do the “here’s your whole old life, the one you never were all that excited about and now can’t stand” thing at first – just getting up was paralyzing.  I’d wake up surrounded by boxes and just close my eyes again, hoping the next time I opened them I’d be in Colombia or Guatemala or even my shithole casitita in Honduras.  No avail.

Still, I’m not so hopeless as to be controlled by my own mess – I just kept living out of my backpack the last weeks as I tore the hell out of the room – shoved 20 years of kids books, schoolwork, paintball shwag, boxes, bins, photo organizers, sacks, socks, dressers into “attic,” “donate,” “toss” piles and now I’m sitting quite happily in a room that is pretty much the cleanest in the whole house  so long as I ignore that one corner where all the art supplies I don’t know how to deal with are.

The hallway full of pillows, blankets, TVs, monitors, and boxes also requires a certain blind eye…  Small victory, but it was weeks in coming.

In this atmosphere I need the small ones to keep me sane, because the big ones just aren’t coming.  I came home to a warzone – there is just no nice way of saying it.  Parents not talking to kids, one brother locking himself in his room all day and wandering the house all night.  Arguments in proxy, anger and fear and hopelessness everywhere.  The love was gone, and nobody seemed to be looking for it.  I hadn’t realized just how bad things were until I was thrust into the middle of it all.  Things are bad.  They were worse when I got here.  That’s my small victory.  Talking is still minimal, there are still angry outbursts, a recent death in the family, our car  carrier trailer got stolen, things are broken and nobody has time to fix them… It’s rough, but we’re making due, and that crucial family cohesion is coming back bit by bit.  Doesn’t make me feel any less of a shithead for leaving right as things started going downhill.

The job hunt is a joke.  Every day I throw applications into the abyss, expecting fully that they’ll never return.  Once every few days I get a near-automated response and that cruel mockery just sends me raging.  Nobody is hiring.  I’m damaged goods in the eyes of corporate America – all the same things that made me an ideal employee in the traveler world, being bilingual, having a wide variety of experiences, being adventurous and open-minded – those all work against me here.  “You left before,” the unspoken accusation, “why would you stick around in our awful entry-level positions that sap the life out of you for peanuts?”

Good point.  Why would I?

The ball and chain.

A credit card debt bomb, fuse slowly inching down, sits at my feet.  Frantic actions are being taken, giant Hurt Locker-esque suits being donned.  Chase is dumb enough to offer me another credit card, zero percent for a year?  Guess what BofA?  Fuck Y’all I’m going with the cop out!  Cain in Nicaragua, eat your heart out – this is your debt-rodeo riding strategy to a T.  Small victories.  Still, with no income the minimum payment is a wall of solid granite looming, and my steering is locked, brakes are out.  I’m heading for a collision and can’t keep my head above water.

Postponing the inevitable, hoping for an out – I feel like that’s all I see going on around me these days.

People are really fucking grim!  We don’t smile in the USA, not on the level of slum kids or homeless men, nor on the level of street tailors or beggars in the streets of Nicaragua.  We’re so unhappy that I can’t help but feel it – a one-two punch in the gut – hollow eyes and a frown as you drive past.  Nobody walks, the people live inside in Southern California, in the beautiful sun.  It’s all just so foreign to me, I can’t bear it.  Where are the adventurers?  Where are the rebels?  What happened to the happiness of being broke and outside, the joy that comes with just doing nothing?  The people here don’t have it.  They wear rebel T-shirts made in sweatshops, listen to the indie bands in the cars they still owe payments on, keep their eyes straight ahead and heads down – don’t make any sudden movements.  It’s like everyone is on their tiptoes because daddy is drinking and we don’t want to make him angry.

I’m such an outsider now that I can’t even find people to talk to about these sorts of observations.  The vast majority don’t notice because they’ve never known anything different, the few who do are cowed into submission by the sheer mass of the topic – “Things sure are fucked up around here there days, aren’t they?” – you have to sneak into discussing the topic, slide around the edges, paint the elephant’s toenails but for fuck’s sake don’t anyone point out that he’s standing here in the room with us!  There’s just a general desire to turn a blind eye to the basic truth of what’s going on here.

Americans have forgotten what it means to be free.

Freedom requires danger, and we’re so risk-adverse that we’d rather run to our trucks than set off fireworks in a field.  I’m looking at you, guys who fled the festivities a couple nights ago because we fired 2, two, dos, one-two rockets off into the air!  BANG theeeeewwwwBOOM and that’s it.  The police might come, sure, but if you’re so worried about the cops finding you and arresting you for shooting off firecrackers that you actually bail a party…  What’s the point of living any longer?  You’re worried about losing your job?  Perhaps the question needs to be asked – where have all the jobs gone, that you are so terrified of losing yours?  Where did those bailout funds go, if not to keep Americans employed?  Why do the top 10% own 50% of the wealth?  Where’s my bailout?  Hard questions, but until we look at root causes we’re just going to permit our government to give the rest of our money to the rich.  So long as we’re divided, so long as we’re convinced the poor are the ones getting handouts, we’ll never question the order of things.

My brother freaked out at me the other day for giving a handful of change to a dirty guy sitting on the freeway offramp.  “Please.  I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it.” reads the sign.  “Thanks brother,” he says, the first real smile I’ve seen in a  week on his lips.  “You have no idea how little people give these days.”  My brother next to me yells – “Don’t give him all that!  Look at all those quarters!  He’s faking it, he could just get a job  if he needed money.”  I see his eyes, hard and dark, and think of long days  spent smoking cigarettes and drinking instant coffee to keep the belly full.  He doesn’t get it – he’s never known anything else – the TV tells him that the homeless are dangerous, the beggars all fakes and liars, and who is he to think otherwise.  We all believe our programming until we step outside of it and see the Potemkin village for what it is.  Fear, anger, ignorance, bred on lies and false histories – I  can’t help but feel that this place is going down down down unless some voice of reason and sanity can step in.  The racism and rah-rah USA blow up dem terrist undercurrent is terrifying.

If Barack Obama can be tarred as a socialist (hahahaha really?  Fucking hell…) and Justice Stevens as a liberal lion, then Ronald Reagan becomes some champion of the left, because he was more liberal than both of them.  He was a crazy right-wing nutjob in his day, and now he’s to the political left of Barack Obama.  What hope is there for reason and honest discussion when the far-right party is being tarred as socialist by the fascists?  I think Frank Llewellyn wins my heart today by pointing out on CNN that Sarah Palin was the most socialistic candidate in the 2008 elections.  I only wish that more Americans would get outside the states and see what a real live socialist looks like in the wild.  Err wait, as I was told recently “I don’t care what they do outside the country – they’re not Americans!”  Right, you get em.  The old jingoism still knocks me for a loop when I see it.

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to get super-depressing and ragey  in this?  Whoops.

The shining light of this whole return has come from a good friend I knew since Kindergarten.  He and I have taken up hiking, bouldering, free rock climbing, and just hanging out – it’s pretty much all that keeps me sane these days.  When you’re 10-15 feet up a rock wall with nothing between you and hard ground except that knobby rock in your hand and crack you wedged your left foot into, there’s no thinking.  There’s no debate.  Only action remains at that point, only exertion and climbing and breathing and the next move.  It’s my style too – personal accomplishment, no point to it really, and it requires a certain strain of insanity that I find rather endearing.  Endorphins, Adrenaline, a healthy dose of fear, sweat; shake over ice and serve cool.  It’s the sort of cocktail I’m all about these days, given that I’m too broke to buy booze.  Ah well, I could do to be healthy for a while.  That’s the happy-haps for me now, and yes, I really just did write “happy-haps.”  Sometimes it’s just one person or one small gesture that makes all the difference.  I only hope mine work so well.

Oh, and the internet is EVERYWHERE.  Seriously strange.  I’d gotten so used to it being tiny little pockets strewn across the world like gems, and now there’s a 10 foot wide deadzone in the far end of the house and everyone complains.  Funny stuff.

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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