The Wanderlust Misfit

Don't Run From Anything, Run Towards Everything

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Heavenly Hitchhiking

It was dark when they let me out at an exit about fifteen miles north of Louisville. There was a gas station in sight just up the road. There were many cars going by but the area did not look much populated: the road was long and straight with stretches of bare lots, dilapidated woods and an abandoned auto-garage; an old house here and there with dirt on the faded wood sidings. The gas station was on the left, the same side as the on-ramp, and just before the station was a road that dropped down and wound off into a wooded neighborhood. The moon was out, full and bright so that all was dappled with silver-bluish moonlight and was peaceful. There was a Salvation Army depot on the road to the left and would have been a good place to sleep behind, but as I neared the gas station I could see a cell-tower next to it pushed back a little, and after the cell-tower were fields, soccer fields with low fences and goal nets set out. The fields rolled, running up to the highschool that was behind the gas station and to the right, opposite the cell tower. I stood at the top of the road next to the gas station and looked down it – there was a field to the right behind the cell tower that ran uphill to the soccer fields, and farther down the road was a church, closed and dark save for a light out front. The church was surrounded by tall dark trees. I didn’t feel like sleeping yet and I walked to the gas station.

The station was well-kept, bright and clean. A roof with fluorescent lights above the pumps. Through the front window was the old cashier, packs of cigarettes above his head and the clear cases with the rolls of lottery tickets in them. It was a large store for a gas station and a couple of people were picking items from the low shelves, Pepto Bismol and toilet paper, a person looking for the two-percent milk. I didn’t walk inside, instead dropped my knapsack on the sidewalk on the side of the station and sat down next to it against the wall. I dug from my pack the cigarettes I’d been given and watched the people coming in and out. I watched the cars that drove by and the way the station’s lights gleamed off the roofs and hoods and side panels as the cars past.

I felt easy about the day. I had wanted to get as far as Nashville, if possible, but I was glad how far I’d come. I imagined the very real possibility that I could have spent the entire day at that first on-ramp outside of Columbus, how pathetic and disappointed I would have felt standing there watching night come, having wasted a whole day going nowhere. I would’ve felt helpless and I knew I would’ve turned back. Instead I was pleased in my heart, could feel the gentle pressure of the corners of my lips curving up. I hadn’t come far but I’d made it to Louisville in a day and tomorrow I’d be in Nashville. I put my head back against the wall and exhaled a cloud of blue smoke. The cigarette felt good in my lungs. I hadn’t smoked one since Cincinnati.

I’d yet to come far but I was anxious for the morning knowing this was just the beginning. Tomorrow I’d be in Nashville. I’d get on Route 40 and take that Endless Highway straight west across green plain and barren desert, over mountain and right into beautiful shining Los Angeles. I hoped it wouldn’t take more than two weeks. I hadn’t come far but I felt I could go anywhere. And I had lied this morning – I had been scared. I was throwing myself into the wild without a clue what would happen, if I would get anywhere or if hitchhiking was even still possible. I hadn’t come far but I felt now a reassurance, a reassurance that yes, this would work, I would make it and I saw unrolling before me the long highway and the landscapes I was soon to cross. Tomorrow I’d be in Nashville, onto Memphis and across the Mississippi into Arkansas and Texas and across the desert and the Rockies to the Pacific.

Being out in the world in such a way, when I had nothing to go by but wit and luck and whatever was on my back, this excited my heart and filled me with an eagerness that would not subside. I felt I could go anywhere by the trick of my thumb, could cross states and countries and continents and entire hemispheres without plane or car or even money. Such was the majesty of hitchhiking: the realization that I was not tied down, that I needn’t possessions and bank accounts and financial security. To throw myself to the wild, to the chaos – I forced myself to find and create order in that chaos (this is how one vagabonds) and for that there is no greater analogy than for life, for freedom. This is the only feeling I knew could settle my restless soul, the wanderlust and the vague aching in my chest because I could not find it in me to settle down and submit to the soul-shriveling consistencies of a steady job for forty years living in the same place surrounded by the same people and ideas and conversations.

Finally glad to be alive. But it wasn’t even that, it was more than that, because here I finally understood that all there is is to be alive, that this is life: the myriad of experiences and flavors of emotion all rolled into the very impulse that sent me out there in the first place. Tomorrow I was on to Nashville and I would keep going from there and I wouldn’t stop because I knew now that I could go where ever I pleased and that where ever I went I would be fine and okay because this here is my home, here, at the gas station, and when I got farther down the road that too would be my home, in Bowling Green and Oklahoma City and Albuquerque New Mexico, along the Mississippi and the dried river banks of Texas towns – these too are my home, and the realization burned a blissful excitement in my chest, put freedom and love for the world in my heart because I knew then that all of this is I, is for I and because of I and God would frown if I did not take upon myself the saintly imperative to experience all of it, to take into my heart all that I could with gentle loving hands and declare: This is my home! not an address or a building or a territory or a nation, but this! the Earth! This is where I live and with every ounce of me I am here to enjoy it!

*          *          *

            I got up then and found the cardboard dumpster behind the station. The boxes were already collapsed and I tucked a few beneath my arm. The ground would be cold tonight and it’d be nice having something to separate me from the cold of the earth. I walked down the road and found I could access the fields from behind the church where no one would see me. There was a long hill here and at the top was a warehouse, so that looking from the gas station the warehouse was far behind the highschool. The field was cornered at the bottom along two sides by woods. Here in the corner of the field was a round outcropping of tall shrubs. I knew I’d be fine even in the middle of the field, but I felt safer behind the outcropping; in case someone bothered to look down the field they still wouldn’t see me. I laid out the cardboard and placed my sleeping bag right on top. It was chilly but I had a good sleeping bag and with a hat on my head and my coat as a blanket I’d stay warm. I sat down in the grass and ate a peanutbutter sandwich and a few handfuls of trailmix. When you haven’t much food it’s nice to sleep with a lot of fats in your stomach. It was a clear night and I could see the stars except for around the moon because it was too bright. There was much rustling in the woods and I imagined it to be deer. A train passed in the distance, its whistle announcing its passing. I got in my sleeping bag and pulled it tight around me. My knapsack served as a pillow. I was excited for the morning. I looked up at the endless pricks of diamonds and waited for a shooting star before I fell asleep.

Too Drunk

They had an open bar for Turkey Fest, an annual gathering of an ever-growing group of friends back home. So of course, I was going to drink as much as I could in two hours. We met up at a friend’s house before hand and drank there, caught a solid drunk, and carpooled to the bar. I knew everybody. Literally, these were all kids I’d gone to school with for eight years and there was a lot of catching up to do. Plus, it wasn’t that crowded and everytime I wanted another rum and coke (I’m pretty sure that’s what I was drinking) it only took a moment to wave over the bartender. The open bar went for two hours, ended at eleven. I don’t remember leaving.

At the next bar I can remember snippets, brief moments like vague swirls of dreams. I saw my old roommate and gave him about fourteen hugs. Then I talked to other people out front. Who? I don’t know. I didn’t talk to anyone in the morning, got a ride straight home, and the rest of the weekend I stayed in. I knew I was an idiot, a drunken stumbling bumbling mess  — ‘Someone can’t handle their liquor’ ‘What an idiot’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘Get him out of here!’– Everyone else knows what the hell I was acting like, whether a fool or an ass, and I feel bad about it. These are people I’ve known all my life, will know for the rest of my life. Going around town feels like everyone knows, everyone saw and everyone I pass scoffs and looks away. I’ve ran into a couple people I saw that night and it’s embarrassing, because I know they saw me as a drunken mess and I know that image is going to jump up behind their eyes everytime they see me and they’ll laugh or feel sorry and remember I’m a drunken-idiot mess. And I haven’t a clue what I did. That’s what’s embarrassing, the fact that I don’t know and everyone else does.

Well, hopefully I’ll learn my lesson and keep all this in mind next time.

Urban Wildlife

People travel to the African savanna to take safaris, to see creatures they’ve only seen on TV; company-planned excursions to the outskirts of the Amazon for a glimpse of a lemur and that time your aunt saw a moose in a state park. They ponder all the facts the tour-guides tell them, reading brochures and snapping photos, attempting to soak up the strangeness to forever keep in memory the time they stepped out of their living-rooms, through the door and visited the wild.

But if you’re up to it, you haven’t the need to get on a plane.

Los Angeles (and most other cities) is full of nomads, vagabonds, homeless bums and mind-bent street walkers; gypsies who prowl the streets and beggars sifting through dumpsters, the head-full-of-crack taking half empty sodas from the trash and the discontent youth combing the boardwalk for spare change. Call these the wildlife.

I managed to meet a handful of a people whose own innate discomfort with the world (be this insanity or simply heightened morals) have led them to their only available salvation: the wild. Here are a few of the more memorable folks, in no specific order.

1.) Geoffrey. He wasn’t poor, or even unemployed. Heck, if you’ll allow for a car you could say he wasn’t even homeless. So what was he? Extremely frugal. Geoffrey had dropped out of highschool, never gone to college, and now, at the age of 23 was filming commercials for companies like Apple and M&M Mars. He was making more money than both his parents — he wanted success out of spite. And he wanted to travel. To vagabond, to be precise, through southeast Asia for a couple of years. And so he was saving up; had bailed out the apartment he’d been chipping in for and sold off his belongings, hanging onto a few changes of clothes and his camera, eating peanut-butter sandwiches and dry cereal. He’d been at it for six months when I last talked to him. He’d spent the first week driving around after work to find a safe place to park each night to sleep. It was an abandoned parking lot and he’d been sleeping there every night for a couple of months, before anyone else began parking there. He woke one morning to find the lot full, and for weeks after that, every morning, the lot was full, people in suits getting out of their cars, standing around with coffee talking. There was even a security guard at the gate. For weeks the same car parked next to him and every morning Geoffrey would see the same guy there, and the guy always noticed Geoffrey though it took them a couple of weeks before they spoke. Eventually they said hello and as it turned out the lot was being used for the production crew of Californication. The man Geoffrey was talking to was the director. He thought it was awesome how Geoffrey was saving up: instead of being homeless because of addiction he was homeless out of frugality. Geoffrey got to be good friends with the director, and the guard even gave him donuts some mornings.

2.) Mark and Craig. These guys go together. They weren’t ‘to-gether’ but I seldom saw them apart. They were close buddies, and that’s how a lot of the guys (and ladies) out there go about it, by having someone to watch their back, because even in a place as laidback as Los Angeles, where even the hungry won’t hurt a fly, you still find the bat-shit-crazies who become ferociously indignant at the most innocent of offenses. These guys hungout a lot at The Talking Stick, a cafe in Venice Beach hospitable to the homeless. They only ever came on Mondays and Wednesdays though, the open-mic nights. Mark was on crutches, a bad fall from a fence that broke his ankle and had him wearing a boot. He was dirty, small jawed and grumpy. Craig was more amicable. The first time I met them I was sitting in the cafe writing and the two of them showed up and dropped there several bags right next to the front door. They were haggard, but they were out there laughing. Craig sat down and spread butter on a roll and Mark attempted to ride a skateboard. I scoffed at this and Craig saw me so I jokingly made the motion for him to shove Mark. Craig shoved the kid with the broken ankle on the skateboard. The open-mic began, terrible covers of The Doors and the Grateful Dead and an emcee who thought he was way more entertaining than anyone should have ever let on. Then Craig got up there, nice black dress shirt baggy and untucked and a dirty pair of baggy Dockers. He got up there and rapped and the place loved it. It was energetic, rhythmic and completely unlike anything anyone did before him. There was a girl sitting behind me by the door. She got up and started swaying around, dressed all in tight-fitting gray sweats, hood up, throwing her body this-way-that and really getting into it. Towards the end of Craig’s bit she’d begun knocking a stool around, holding the top of the stool and rocking it and as Craig picked up the momentum she wound up throwing the stool. She caught herself half-way but it was too late and the stool flew into the luckily empty stools next to it. I liked her. I thought she was mad. But back to Craig. So after he went the lameness continued and I sat there writing and at one point (the cafe was dark) he came over and squatted down next to me. I knew he wanted to say something so I began, ‘that was pretty sweet up there.’ ‘Thanks, I appreciate it. You a writer?’ — Well, this is how he asked me if I wanted to write something for him, which I never did (I was busy). He’d wanted me to write lyrics for him and after the cafe closed we were outside talking. He rapped around a lot, malls and cafes, nothing big, and just kept writing lyrics and trying to get himself out there. He had a wife and a daughter but he never mentioned where they were. Him and Mark had been homeless for a number of years and all he wanted to do was rap. And that’s all he did. I saw them around a number of times at the Talking Stick and they were always out front, their bags next to the door and they were always talking with people, always entertaining a crowd. They knew the usuals and had no problem walking in and striking up a conversation with, whoever. Even complete strangers. It’s how they ate. Call them con-men; they’d get a conversation going and walk away with half a sandwich. That’s better than I’d been eating. I admired it, the brazenness, even if I couldn’t agree with it, but if you’re hungry morals can wait. What I really admired though was the openness, the ability to be so open and truthful with any stranger so as to briefly let them into your life — even it was just a means to an end. He was into drugs though, they both were. You could see it in their pale faces when their eyes hung dull and open pimples wouldn’t heal, just get bigger and more red.

3.) Along one of the main streets was an abandoned auto-dealership on a corner. Right next to the front door, for a couple of weeks these two guys slept there. I never caught their names but we talked a few times. I saw them along the boardwalk one day and they were happier than I remembered. They shouted hey as I approached and said hello. There was a movie shooting going on and behind them in the parking lot was where the production crew was parked. The stars’ trailers were there and so too were tables full of food. They each already had a couple of styrofoam containers of sandwiches and crackers and eggs and bacon (it was the morning) and they told me what they did so I too could help myself. They showed me where to wait, just out of sight next to a bench where I could look normal and keep an eye for the table to be clear without seeming suspicious. That was it. Actually, I stood off to the side and they waved when the coast was clear. I hadn’t my knapsack with me (it was on a roof), and they waved and I casually walked over, took a styrofoam tray and casually but while trying to be quick about it, piled as much bacon and fruit and fried ham and eggs into this thing as I could. My heart was pounding in my stomach because I was new to blatant theft, but again about morals being useless when you’re hungry, and I got out of there and feasted with, Volt, I think, was one of their names, anyway.

4.) Tall Lanky Black Man. It was a rainy morning walking along the empty boardwalk in Venice. When I got towards the north end I began to see garbage all over, surrounding the garbage cans (of which there are many) as if someone had been pulling the trash out of each one. The boardwalk here was full of homeless folks, shopping carts with trash bags full of belongings and piles of dirty clothes. They sat in front of the closed shops, on the benches and the walls and they were all talking and hanging out. Well, a tall lanky black man and this small (by comparison) white man were talking. It was a calm conversation about what they each had to do that day. Then it got heated. The black guy said something about all of the trash and the white guy casually said he did it. The first guy told him to pick it up and the second guy said no, he had things to do. The tall black guy ended up putting his size to benefit, yelling and threatening this other guy who was the sole reason the boardwalk was such a mess, for he was the little asshole that’d gone and pulled all the trash out. I thought he was going to get his ass kicked, the way the black man got right next to him looking straight down at him yelling, shoving him and telling him he was going to pick it all up, right there right now. He did. The little white man began picking up all of the trash and when the tall guy came over to where the rest of the homeless had been sitting watching, the tall guy got much praise. ‘I’m a tall motherfucker. It’s good to put my size to work at times. It gets things done, and that little fucker is going to pick up every last piece of trash, so help me. This is our home. You can’t just come in and make a mess, I don’t care who you are.’ Respect.

I know people have wilder stories. Let’s here them! Comments or leave links, whatever. Converse!

Mainstream Blinded

There were many creatures along the side of the road, among the burst tires and bags of garbage, and as I walked along I watched the bees and the butterflies in the flowers, fat spiders sitting in the middle of their webs and I swatted my way through hovering swarms of gnats.I was walking along the highway in the grass as night came on; the time of evening when the blue sky darkens and all the shadows blend together.  There were no guardrails here and there were fields through the woods on the right. The highway sloped up a slight hill and carved a gap in the woods at the top, and this is where the sun sat, orange and slipping. Traffic was slow here and I wasn’t bothering to hitchhike – there’d been a sign for an exit and I knew I couldn’t have more than two miles to go. I’d get to the exit with some sunlight still remaining, find a place to lay out my sleeping bag for the night, and I would hitch the rest of the way to Louisville in the morning. That was the plan. But, being on the road means living by coincidence and surviving on happenstance… and plans are just peachy ideals that never happen.

Up ahead a long, shiny-red four-door pulled over in the shoulder. I stopped walking and stood still, for a moment eyeing the car. Then I tucked my thumbs under the shoulder straps of my knapsack and ran over.

‘Hey! Where ya headed?’ called a voice as I neared the passenger side. I waited till I stopped running before I answered.

‘Louisville. How far south are you going?’

‘We’ll get you most of the way. Hop in.’ There were two of them in the car. I tossed my knapsack in the backseat and climbed in next to it. As we pulled onto the highway I gave my standard lines of appreciation and we began the standard ‘get to know you’ chit-chat.

Chris was the driver, his friend Bosco in the seat next to him and both were university students, third-year accounting majors driving from Columbus to Louisville to visit Chris’s girlfriend who, per Bosco’s words, was having a party ‘full of bitches and hoes’. The conversation had been plain and sedated, if not awkward, and both of them sat uncomfortably in their seats, not once glancing back. They even came off contemptuous; to add to that their outfits: both wore starched Polo shirts, unbuttoned, Chris in yellow and Bosco in pink, and they both had brown hair spiked up with gel and the spikes bleached blond. Chris wore a visor made of jean material – it was upside-down and backwards, sitting askew on his head. Bosco, he wore a very fine pair of sunglasses, with the sun half under the horizon. The car smelled the way male locker rooms do in highschool, a stuffy concoction of cheap body-sprays. Chris leaned back as he drove, one hand on top of the wheel while Bosco continually adjusted his sunglasses and fixed his hair in the shadowy mirror. They glanced at each other. There had been an uncomfortable pause in the conversation. I was seated in the middle in the back.

‘So you’re a hitchhiker?’ said Bosco, still facing forward.

‘Yup.’

‘Where is it you’re going?’

‘Los Angeles. I’m heading to Nashville first, though.’

‘Why don’t you just drive instead?’

‘Oh, I don’t have a car.’

‘Do you work? or are you in school?’ said Chris, the radio low as he began scanning stations.

‘I studied journalism at WVU, for a while.’

‘That’s a fun school.’

‘You’re into news?’ asked Bosco. ‘What do you watch? I’ll put on Fox or ESPN every so often.’

‘Well, I don’t have a TV, so I go online for news. A lot of independent news sites.’

‘You don’t have a TV?’ said Chris.

‘Nope.’

‘What do you do for fun then?’

‘I’ll read, or walk around. Get drunk at the bar and talk to strangers. I get a lot more done too without a TV. It’s cool.’

‘Are you one of those people who hate the ‘main source media’, or whatever it is you guys call it?’ said Bosco.

‘No, it’s just that they only care about their ratings.’

‘What else are they supposed to care about? If they want to make money they kind of need ratings.’

‘Journalists are all poor. And if you tell the news for money you wind up telling the news people want to hear. Which ends up not being news at all.’

‘That’s dumb. I’d rather watch the news people that’ve been around for decades. At least they’re doing something right.’

‘Hey, am I good to change lanes?’ said Chris. Bosco several times tried tilting his head back and to the side, in a motion that might suggest a person to move their right.

‘I can’t see over there,’ said Bosco.

‘You’re fine,’ I said. There weren’t any cars near us, just red taillights lined up ahead of us.

‘Just keep following this main stream of cars,’ said Bosco. The conversation found a lull then and Chris turned up the radio. The music went… ‘Bump, Bump.. fuck the bitches make mo-nay, Bump, Bump.. make the mo-nay rain awn them, Bump, Bump.. spread the mo-nay like se-men, Bump, Bump.. bring the bitches to the dawg pen, Bump, Bump….’

            ‘Do you work,’ asked Chris.

‘Yeah, I don’t get how this whole hitchhiking thing works,’ added Bosco. ‘I mean, I’ve seen you hitchhikers before but they’re all dirty homeless bums.’ I took this to mean I wasn’t a dirty homeless bum.

‘Yeah, true that. Do you actually get rides? I mean, I probably wouldn’t’ve, I wouldn’t’ve, stopped if I was alone. Just safety, ya know?’

‘Yeah I get rides. Sometimes I have to wait a couple hours, other times not even ten minutes.’

‘That’s ridiculous!’ went Bosco, emphatically leaning forward and throwing himself back in his seat. ‘I can’t believe people actually stop!’

‘What do you for money?’ said Chris. ‘Do you work?’

‘Yeah. I just finished saving up for this trip. I’m going to get a job once I’m in LA so I can pay my way back.’

‘Where do you work at?’

‘Oh, like restaurants, or stores sometimes. Part-time jobs.’

‘I thought you wrote for a newspaper or something? Don’t you work for a newspaper? I thought you said you were in journalism?’

‘I only went for a couple of years.’

‘He dropped out,’ said Bosco to Chris.

‘Why don’t you go back and finish?’ said Chris. ‘Even in journalism you’d make more money than fast-food.’

‘I thought about it, but what I really want to do is to write my own stories.’

‘People don’t read no more,’ muttered Bosco.

‘You should go back to college and finish your major. It’d still help you make more money.’

‘Talk about making money,’ said Bosco, ‘me and Chris here are gonna be owning our own accounting firm in a couple years. Semester and a half till we graduate! Woo!’ they slapped hands. ‘It’s gonna take a few more years, but, we already got a dozen clients hand-picked and a prime location to set up at. All we need is a few more years saving up. We got prime internships –paid internships, which nobody gets– and we’re makin’ bank, brah! Yeah!’ they slapped hands again and butted shoulders. ‘Gon graduate, top class, makin’ shit-tons at Weinstein and Shulberg, know how we do, yeah, yeah. Then full-time makin shit-tons like boss, set up shop and sit back. We gon be loaded, brah! We’re only twenty-one and we got the rest of our lives planned! Get a hello to that! Yeah!’ They slapped hands again, a much more excessive handshake than the last. I was still in the middle seat, my hands folded between my legs. ‘If you ever need a loan let us know, we do that too!’

‘Yeah, I sure will.’

‘People don’t really still hitchhike, do they?’ asked Chris.

‘Oh yeah, they’re still out there.’

‘Why don’t you just get a car and drive to LA? Or better yet, buy a plane ticket?’

‘Too expensive.’

‘It’s not even $600 for a ticket!’

‘Yeah but still, it’s more fun hitchhiking.’

‘Seems like too much work,’ said Bosco. ‘You ever get jumped or raped or anything? I’m pretty sure you would jumped or raped, doing what you’re doing.’

‘Nah, that doesn’t happen.’

‘I’ve heard about it, ya know.’

‘Are you just going to wander around like this for the rest of your life?’ said Chris.

‘I don’t know. There’s still a big world to see – ’

‘What do you do for food?’ Bosco was adjusting his sunglasses.

‘It’s all in here,’ I said, patting the knapsack.

‘Don’t you want nice things?’ said Chris.

‘What if the food runs out?’

‘I’ll get some more.’

‘You obviously must not have savings then, the way you’re living around like this,’ said Chris.

‘I have some. I mean, I saved up to get me there and then I’ll – ’

‘And people really give you rides?’ said Bosco, incredulous, almost annoyed. ‘Aren’t cops supposed to arrest you? Hitchhiking’s against the law, you know. Nobody does it anymore, did you know that?’

‘So I don’t get why you just don’t work instead and buy yourself a car,’ said Chris.

‘Well, I like hitchhiking.’

‘You like sleeping outside and getting rides from strangers?’ said Chris, sarcastically incredulous.

‘Wait,’ paused Bosco. ‘What do you do if you’re left somewhere that doesn’t have a hotel?’

‘That’s what the sleeping-bag’s for – I’ll find a field or some woods.’

‘You can’t do that – you can’t just sleep outside, dude.’

‘Dude, you can’t just get rides with strangers. You can’t. You can’t just blindly trust people and jump in the car with whoever. You better watch out man. I’ve seen shit on the news, movies and stuff. That’s how people get killed, dude. You better wise up.’

‘I don’t get it – why don’t you just stay at nice hotels? They have beds and TV. That’s a ton better than a sleeping bag in the woods, dude. What’s up with that?’

‘It’s expensive.’

‘ – that’s why I’m saying you need money, dude! You can’t just go around all the time being poor like this! Don’t you ever want to have a job and be happy!? Don’t you want to be allowed to retire? If you’re smart you should’ve started your 401k years ago!’

‘Wait wait wait – you can’t just sleep anywhere in fields. There’s laws against that, do you know that? Trespassing laws, soliciting, loitering – there’s laws you’re breaking doing this.’

‘Yeah dude, don’t you get what it means to be a citizen in a free country? It means you have responsibilities, certain things you have to do. You can’t just live outside the system your whole life and expect to survive, or even be happy! You can’t just live on the side of the street, dude. You  just can’t do whatever you want! What kind of country would this be!’

‘Don’t you want nice things? Don’t you want a hot wife and a G7? You should really go back to school, dude. At least then you’ll be allowed have a decent career and maybe even a retirement package. You can’t just do whatever you want – like he said, that’s not what kind of country this is. You need to do like we are, cus we’re doing things the right way, just like everyone else. While you’re out here running around doing whatever it is you do, I’m making something of myself, I’m gonna be different, brah. I’m gonna have nice clothes and a big house and – ’ Chris cut him off.

‘Hey, are there any cars over there?’ Chris had his face real close to his window, peering out of his side-view mirror. Bosco was nodding his head to the right again, the way people with muscular dystrophy do.

‘I don’t know, I can’t tell. Hold on.’ Bosco took off his seatbelt and turned all the way around so that he was on his knees in the seat, facing backwards. ‘I don’t see anything. I can’t tell.’ There weren’t any cars near us, just a line of red taillights straight ahead. Chris was craning his neck, trying to see every which way.

‘Forget about changing lanes dude,’ snapped Bosco. ‘There’s nothing over there. Just follow those cars. Follow the main stream of cars!’ he pointed.

An idea came to me then, an idea whose hypothesis I knew had to be tested.

‘Oh look! There’s an eight-point deer grazing!’

‘Where?’

‘He’s just off the road up ahead!’

‘Don’t be dumb. Nothing’s over there.’

‘Yeah there is, I see him. He’s there grazing.’ The deer truly was there.

‘Nothing lives over there! There’s nothing outside the road, dude.’

‘What are you talking about? There are entire ecosystems over there. The side of the road is teeming with life!’

‘If there was something off of the road, trust me, I’d see it,’ chimed in Chris.

‘Obviously. Just follow the main stream of cars, dude,’ said Bosco.

Jersey Born,

Jersey Bred,

Jersey love till I’m dead.

Back to Jersey

Well, I’m back home in New Jersey. I’ve been here a couple of weeks, slacking off on my blogging save for the occasional short-story — which seriously, I’ll be having them out quicker, I swear!

Being home’s been kind of a speed bump, or more like tires stuck in thick mud after speeding down a highway. I’ve had a blast, seeing my home-town friends and getting irresponsibly drunk at the new bar that’s opened up in town and reconnecting with people I haven’t spoken with in years (though I can’t recall the conversations I’ve had). But still, I’m living at home now, and being in such a comfortable, quaint cozy place sucked out of me the urge to run, which is where I get my drive to write. The house I live in is very clean and proper, peachily decorated with knick-knacks and supplied with all of the modern technological distractions one could have. I have a large family, and we’re all squished into a small house. There’s always a lot going on here, and putting off writing to play the videogames I grew up with or to watch Star Wars and The Walking Dead all day — these distractions are difficult to endure, and being at home takes away my restlessness, fills me with content and the laughable tendency to lounge in comforting luxury. Indolent is what home makes me.

The above is a list of reasons I needed to get away to write; to live in minimalism, with nothing to do but to write. That’s what worked: having absolutely nothing and knowing that to ever have anything, the only thing to serve this end, would be to write. Having all the homely comforts I grew up with put a sludge on me creatively, motivationally. Over the weekends (that included Sunday) for the last couple of weeks I went out drinking, getting deliciously drunk and would spend the next day wallowing around the house with only a hangover to rationalize putting off work. Then I fell into a slump, rationalizing the slump with more bullshit. Then more drinking. Then Thanksgiving, more drinking, more bullshit rationalizing, and then the fear immobilization took hold. Thankfully. I realized I needed to get going again.

The best way for me to get back into writing? Get moving. I’ve been writing in a small room in the family basement, using earplugs to drown out all the noise from upstairs and a sheet serving as a wall to keep me out of sight from all the people walking back and forth. So this morning I got up and went right to the public library, my old ‘between the book-shelves’ stomping ground. I wrote well, and I’m pleased how it went. I’m filled with motivation again. Writing and moving has got me doing just that: writing and moving, productivity and the motivation to pull into existence the future I so desire.

This will continue to be a challenge for me though, and one I haven’t put myself to in a while. I will have the constant threat of complacency, bred from at-hand comforts and entertainment and easy intoxication, the whole of the time I am at home. And I will be at home until I finish these stories and this novel — only then can I get back to the road.

The time to discipline myself has come high and urgent. I must be out of here early enough to begin working, so that I might save enough to take to the road with enough money come the thaw of winter. It’s a race against time, and the discipline I must put myself through can only be of benefit. Each day I must have done a draft of a short-story, with the goal of having a Reason To Run published, at the very most, every other day. I need to blog every day. As well as comment on other blogs, that being the only important way to get traffic. I need to study, reading and analyzing other writers. And I found an online magazine called Vagabonds, an amazing publication, completely free and all about the re-emergence of literature in a new form (and the breaking away from that ever-more restrictive society you sheep are lost in 😉 )

I’m back to work! And it feels very, very good.

The Fringes Get Cold

‘I’m glad as hell I got out of there. I loved it, but once I realized we don’t get sent in for the people no more, that’s when I bailed. Had to. You can’t just keep going along knowing you’re a pawn for someone’s private gain. Fuck that. I AWOL’ed. Ain’t no going back. Never is and it ain’t never easy, either. If it were easy we never would’a let it be taken. But I’ll tell you, it’s worth different things to different people. To me, there ain’t a greater feeling that a woman can’t give you.’

I’d been picked up in Kentucky by Mitch who had been seven years in the Marine Corp. He was a tough looking bastard, wide-jawed with big arms spotted with black tattoos. His voice was gritty, hollow and he cursed a lot. Gave me half a pack of Marlboro Reds.

‘What road you need to get on?’

’71 South,’ I said.

‘There’s an exit for it up here somewhere. I don’t think we passed it yet.’ The turn for 71 was, in fact, back north, back past the exit where the priest had dropped me. Mitch turned around and drove all the way back, back an exit north of where he’d picked me up. He pulled over on the side of the highway before the off-ramp to let me out. I told him, Thanks again for the smokes. He wished me luck and pulled out, made an illegal U-turn across the median.

The off-ramp was a wide turn through brown woods and it took my walking to the top of it before I realized it didn’t end, but joined right into 71 South. It kept going and I hadn’t expected this. Stuck on the freeway. But I was positive it’d be worth it.

Traffic here was slow and wasn’t worth trying to hitchhike, and if a passing cop saw me he was sure to stop. That’s how it worked, hitchhiking on highways. I never fret the stopping cop but I knew there was a warrant for me twenty miles north in Ohio, from a couple of tickets I had refused to dip into my hitchhiking funds for. I wasn’t going to risk it, but I needed to get off the highway, and soon, before dark. I could see the ramp curving up and joining with 71. There wasn’t much traffic. I was going to have to walk it. If a cop did stop I could say, ‘Look, I didn’t have a choice, look where I was dropped off. I haven’t been hitchhiking here, just walking to the nearest exit.’ I could lie and say I lacked identification. I wriggled my knapsack around, adjusted it to comfort and buckled the strap that went around my waist, tightening it.

The guardrail didn’t begin immediately and I walked along just in the grass on the side of the highway. A car gave a honk as they passed. Ahead was a bridge, the overpass for the highway I was just on. A two foot shoulder. That would be the margin of error for the seventy mile an hour traffic and me on foot with my cumbersome knapsack. Two feet of cushion between safe passage and my skull in a windshield. I stood before the bridge to let two cars pass. The wind they dragged tugged me forward. I waited a moment to see if any other cars came around the bend, took a breath and turned and ran, feet falling thud thud on the pavement, elbow scraping along the railing. Below the cars and trucks were shooting out from under the bridge, the whir of tires on pavement echoing beneath me. I kept trudging with my heavy knapsack, half-way across with a horn blaring louder behind me, the car swerving to the left almost swiping the car beside it. The car straightened out as the horn faded.

Whew! I stood and caught my breath on the other side. (Later, when I was at an airport, this knapsack, with all the same items in it, weighed in just under fifty pounds. For subsequent travels I’ve decided to rectify this.)

The highway in front of me was long and gently rising, carefully turning into a bend that took it out of sight behind trees in the distance. The sun was still out, hung far down the highway just next to and a little above the trees where the highway disappeared. It was a cold sun, its rays clear and crystal like thin narrowing shards of glass. The whole highway, the vacant woods and even the sky were all in shade so that, walking along in the shoulder, everything was more shadowy, icier and more lonely and the day felt much later than it truly was. I hoped to find an exit soon. I didn’t want to sleep in the woods. The woods along the side were at the bottom of a very steep hill and looked wet, boggy. There weren’t any signs on the highway. Cars passing at lonely intervals. A tractor-trailer came rushing by, the force of its wind tugging at me, tugging me towards the massive crushing thick black tires and the churning axles. I forced a step back. The truck passed and I climbed over the guardrail to get away from traffic.

The pavement of the highway ran beneath the guardrail and wrapped over the top of the hill as a way of preventing erosion, from keeping the top of the hill from washing away and causing the highway to sink. There wasn’t much room for walking here. A few feet to the right was the beginning of the hill, a very steep and rocky forty foot drop to the foot of the gray woods. Through the trees I could see in the distance a road, a few small houses with wide yards. I felt something tug at my knapsack and Snap! I spun around to see my sleeping-bag hit the pavement and slowly roll to the edge of the hill. I lunged and got a foot in front of it. The bag that my sleeping-bag was rolled-up in had caught on the guardrail, tugging it out the bungee cords that secured it to the bottom of my knapsack as I walked. I took a moment to reattach it.

The ground along the side of the highway where I walked began to rise, climbing up a hill, and as the elevation took me higher the distance between the guardrail and the edge of the steep hill began to close, shrinking until it became impossible to walk besides one foot carefully in front of the other. There were crevices here, places where the run-off from heavy rains had eroded the pavement. Some of the crevices even ran beneath the guardrail and I had to step over them as I walked. The highway was soon forty feet below to my left, at the bottom of a cliff, and the steep hill, perilous with acute rocks and loose gravel, had grown in height as well, so that I now found myself walking along the thin edge of a very narrow and sharp berm. When my right foot slipped down on the loose gravel I held a hand on the guardrail for balance. The hill continued its climb. The crevices were numerous and grew in size, deepening, and the thin trail of pavement which I followed became less and less there, crumbling into the crevices, disappearing in the cracks. I stopped. My eye had caught something. It was dark now but the thing, it glinted, stuck against a crag in the crevice. I went to my knees to peer down and saw an orange hard-hat, the paint faded and browned, covered in dust from the road. There were tools down there too, old and discarded, and gloves and a single, mud-covered boot. I stood back up and brushed my jeans off. At the bottom of the hill I noticed a town had appeared, stores and shopping centers, the lights of cars stuck in traffic along perpendicular grid-planned roads. My foot slipped, the pavement giving way into the wide crevice. The gravel clinked past the helmet and tools. The crevice extended to the edge of the hill and went down quite a ways so that, even though it were night, I could see the loose gravel and a broken hammer spilling far down the side of the hill. The minor avalanche was illuminated by the digital glow of a building that stood at the bottom. It was a tall building, steel and gleaming glass, very official and financial in appearance. All of the lights were on in the windows. It was a tall building but it looked small from such a height. I looked over the guardrail to the other side. The vehicles were toy cars along a ribbon of gray. Headlights like dots slowly moving in a distant fog. I kept going. Kept walking and the crevices had grown wider, crevasses a foot wide that expanded like alluvial fans down the side of the steep hill, merging together so that now that the pavement where I stepped was nothing but a thin, fragile ledge, a ledge perforated every foot by foot-wide crevasses that ate the side of the hill. I continued, relentless and resounding in my head the determination to make it. I stepped carefully, testing each step before placing my full weight on my feet.

The hill climbed higher and turned to sand. No longer sharp rocks and gravel but sand, a magnificently tall hill of soft sand with the same crevasses as before. Far below I could see the town, fast-food and fancy restaurants, shopping centers and malls, hotels with pristine sheets and cable. I imagined folks walking together along the sidewalks under nostalgic street-lights, eating ice-cream and stopping in the stores to browse. Friends meeting at the local pub to flirt with the bartenders and order thick ales. At the bottom of each crevasse was a road. And these roads, though dark at the immediate bottom, were lined with streetlights and the red and white lights of cars. The roads were laid out in a web, so that at the bottom of each crevasse the road angled straight to the city-center. Each road was lined with the large and bright signs restaurants and stores have out in front. They were very small from such a height. There was a circular road in the city-center in the distance where all the straight roads eventually ran; a road circling a cluster of tall, gleaming glass structures. All of the lights on in the windows.

I realized how easy it would be, how easy to sit down on the top of the hill, place my knapsack between my legs and scoot myself down the sand to the city. Hell, I could even walk it. I could get myself a hot meal, go have some drinks and laugh with friendly faces, sleep in a clean bed and be safe and warm and comfortable and enjoy luxuries and simplicity. I could go and have that. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back. The wind in the dark tugged at me on the high ledge and bit my face. I staggered, holding onto the guardrail. Imagined a hot burger and thick ale. How would I get back up? I couldn’t walk back up. No way. There wasn’t a highway here, either. Couldn’t be. Once I was there I wouldn’t get back. Wouldn’t leave. Couldn’t. I won’t.

In the cold, desolate wind, stepping gingerly from crumbling ledge to crumbling ledge in the withering heights. My feet felt like bricks, my legs concrete columns soon to dissolve. My back like a hunchback with this ever-heavier knapsack. The hill grew steeper. I could no longer see the highway. Gusts of wind came cold from the sky, blowing hard and down. Gusts of cold air sucking down the crevasses, pulling at me, swirls of dust around my head being sucked into the crevasses begging me to follow. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I won’t have it! I imagined a homestead in the wilderness. A small ranch with a wife and children. I wondered if I would find this. I thought of a comfortable job at a desk, in a warm office. Suit and tie and bank accounts insurance make sure you pay your mortgage for the car you bought without affording credit debt foreclosures bank statements pay them pay them pay them. I won’t! I refuse the submission of my heart! Refuse the enfeebling of that which sustains my heart-beat! I kept trudging heavy footsteps that I could no longer make light, falling thud… thud on the fragile ledges, gravel crumbling down the soft sand. Gusts of cold, sand-filled wind whipping in desolation, pulling me down. The cozy town at the bottom. I kept going. The hill climbing.

And then I saw it. A sign for a weigh station. The sign towered up ahead, lights along the bottom edge pointing up to illuminate the words: WEIGH STATION. The legs of the sign were stuck far below in both sides of the sharp hill. I walked beneath it and the sign seemed hundreds of feet above my head, hundreds of feet wide. The prospect of rest on the side of the road, on the fringes of town, of finding a place to sit and warm-up and eat food – this lightened me, reinvigorated my morale and motivation and once again I marched with steadfast purpose and resolution, anticipation. I would be able to find someone there! An end to the brutality of isolated misery and tribulation! I am not alone! There would be someone, someone to lend me a hand and get me the hell out of here! I kept walking, faster, excited. Camaraderie. Salvation. Vindication.

I smiled knowing all worked out. The highway had risen and I saw ahead the right lane split – the entrance for the weigh station. I could see the building, the rest-stop. Closer and closer I walked and the fence for the entrance was shut. Closed, read the sign.

Walking

Last night I decided I would walk to LAX; it isn’t a far walk, I saw the map on Google and judged the distance myself: some buildings and streets here, a little swatch of bare ground there, and then the airport. Simple.

Well, it took me two and half hours longer than I’d expected, but I didn’t seem to notice. I have this thing where, once my feet start moving, so too does my head. My shoes’ll walk and my head’ll talk. Feet and networks of neurons wandering simultaneously. It passes the time quickly.

I wrote how, over the past few days, I was feeling rather morose, like stuck in the sludge of despair with no way to pull myself out. Walking turned that around. After about an hour I’d walked far enough south that I didn’t recognize anything around me and felt as though I were walking with feathers. Though, for whatever reason I decided to bring my knapsack with me, and that I regretted (it weighed in at forty-five pounds at the airport). But oh well. Walking gets me high, especially when I’m surrounded by things I haven’t seen before. Even if it’s just Starbucks and pizzerias and mundane city streets, the layout is different, the people are different, the whole place is different and everything feels, just, new. And exciting. And wildly breathtaking. So that after a while I’m looking with diamond-cut eyes turned up at the tops of the buildings and houses in a heart-pounding, nonsensical awe. But everything is absolutely wonderful. And everybody stops to talk.

Try this as a mind-fuck of a thought-experiment. Imagine yourself as being on an alien planet, without having ever heard of aliens or ever having left the neighborhood you grew up in. But the whole time you were desperately anxious for experience. And you find yourself on an alien planet where everything around you, the buildings, the plants, the geography, the creatures, everything is nothing you’ve ever seen before. Let everything absolutely, purely amaze you and fill you with child-like wonder.

Try it. Liquor and pot help.

Walking’s a blast. The mind and the eyes simultaneously scoping unknown regions of space and time and you become enthralled knowing that all exists. What’s down this road? What are they doing in this building? I wonder if they’re cooking dinner or fucking on a new bed? So many places of infinite possibilities. Keep in mind the idea that if you can’t see a region of space, than anything could be going on in there. I wonder what’s behind this door? It’s the reincarnation of Lincoln. Who knows? Wonder at it. And while you’re at it go read Reasons to Run. It’s just to the right   ====>

Holy Water Steaming

I caught a couple of quick rides after Frank dropped me off (just north of Cincinnati) and I was standing on an on-ramp on a busy road of shopping centers and super-markets. Once you are in or near a city it’s very hard to get out because most people are only driving a short distance, going to pick up a gallon of milk or buy a pair of dress shoes for dinner; nobody picks up hitchhikers while running errands. The trick in these situations is to find a ride of considerable distance, to wait until someone offers to drive you out of the city. The morning had brightened considerably and though the sky was still cloudy there were curtains of sunlight that would come down and make me warm. I took off my coat and strapped it to the top of my knapsack. I had a long piece of cardboard that said Louisville on one side and I would flip it over sometimes and it said South on the other side. This way, if no one was stopping for Louisville, I could hope someone would stop for South.

I stood in the mushy grass below an overpass and whenever the traffic light changed a wall of cars and trucks slowly turned onto the on-ramp. There was a wide shoulder here. Mostly I was given apologetic shrugs or a finger pointing off to the side, meaning the driver was quickly turning off . The first car to stop was an economy sedan and the driver said he was only going a couple of exits. I said No, Thank you, I’ll wait for a longer ride. I was still on the north side of the city and I was tired of short rides. I knew I could take short rides all day and not get twenty miles out of Cincinnati. Waiting for the long ride was the right thing to do and I knew that, that’s how I was going to get out of here.

Forty, long minutes later a pick-up truck pulled over. I threw my knapsack over my shoulder and ran up to the passenger side.

‘Hey bud, I’m only going a couple of exits but you can ride in the back if you want.’ The driver was wearing jeans and boots. The bed of the truck was clean, mostly empty and a fine way to travel. The bottom of the on-ramp looked muddy and lonely. I needed to move, something in me too restless for idle waiting. Impatience won out and then I regretted this.

*          *          *

            The pick-up stopped at the bottom of the off-ramp for me to hop out. There was an old gas station across the street, a junk yard at the corner and a few overgrown car lots: I was in the empty-lot side of town where people stare at you like you’re an outsider to be rid of. On top of that there wasn’t any traffic. On top of that, the on-ramp was a very tight, twenty-yard-long curve with nothing of a shoulder to pull over, just curb and concrete walls. A concrete fjord. This was literally the worst place to try and catch a ride.

Somehow, seven minutes later….

An old, maroon Grand Marquis drove down the on-ramp and came to a stop. Red brake lights turned to white and the Grand Marquis began reversing, swerving widely to the left and right as it backed up. The back tires went up over the curb and the car jolted to a stop, the back bumper inches from the wall. I ran over to the passenger side.

‘Hey, where are you going?’ came a high-pitched, excited voice.

‘I’m trying to get to Louisville.’

‘Okay, I can take you a little ways, at least out of the city. Hop in.’ The man collected some papers and a leather book from the passenger seat and placed them in the back. I climbed in and stuffed my knapsack between my knees. The gear-shifter was behind the steering wheel and the man struggled to put the car in drive.

‘I’m Nick by the way.’ Nick smiled and we shook hands. He seemed very kind. Nick was wearing a black suit and he had neatly parted, blond hair that was greasy and the strands stuck together in clumps. He was thin, and he had a youthful, clean face covered in a scruffy three-day beard. Nick had a black collar on, an odd collar with a white tab at the throat.

‘You’re a pastor?’

‘Oh yes. Well, priest, technically. I’m Father Cherobyi from the Church of Ruptured Spirit. But don’t let the title fool you. I’ve been hitchhiking myself, you know. That’s why I stopped. I know how much it stinks to be standing there and nobody is stopping.’

‘Well thank you. It was very kind of you.’

‘I have to make a stop first but I’ll only be a couple of minutes. Then, if you’d like, I know just across the border in Kentucky there’s a few truck stops across the street from each other. I figure you won’t have a problem finding a ride from there. I’ll take ya’ if you like.’

‘Okay, cool,’ I nodded appreciatively. ‘Thanks a lot.’

There was much traffic on the highway and men in hard-hats and orange vests were working on one of the lanes. The traffic was condensed and would stop and go frequently. Nick’s eyes were squinting in the sunlight.

‘So what’s in Louisville?’

‘Well, really I’m going to  Los Angeles. But I’m going south to Nashville first to get out of the cold.’

‘There’s a storm coming up from the south, I hear. It’s supposed to rain all over. Did you bring a raincoat?’

‘I have a couple of ponchos.’ We were both silent for a moment and Nick had a quaint, peaceful smile that rested askew on his face, his head a little back and to the side. ‘How long have you been a priest?’

‘This is my sixteenth year in the ministry. But I’ll tell you, I never in a million years imagined myself as becoming a priest. I adore it very much, having the sort of order that comes with serving the church. I lived a very hard life – ’ The tractor-trailer in front of us came to a stop and Nick waited for the last moment to use the brakes. We both went forward with the momentum and were pushed back into our seats when we stopped.

‘I love God dearly, we have a very close relationship, Him and I, and we talk throughout the day. Right now even, right now I’m getting to better know God. All you have to do is focus your heart. Yes, I love God more than I ever have, but that doesn’t mean I am without pain. Priests are human too. I hope you know that. The first time I saw Heaven, and I remember this as though it were verse, was when I was in a coma for three days. I saw everyone that I ever knew and this tremendously bright, white, gold light was shining through all of us. Then I was in the Garden of Eden and lush fruits and trees and all of the gorgeous green was all around me.’ The priest was beginning to bore me now. His eyes were still squinting though the sun had gone in. A cellphone began to ring and the priest felt his pockets.

‘Hello? Yes. I’m giving a friend of mine a ride, though. I thought you wanted to meet at the CVS? Okay, I’m on my way there. I’m good to go. Should only take me fifteen minutes. Okay, see you there.’ The priest put his phone away. The cars in front of us were stopped and he waited for the last moment again, braking hard.

‘You see, God isn’t just all around us, but he’s within all of us as well. The best way to get to know God and be close with him is by getting to know your fellow man. Honestly, the best way to connect with God is to open yourself and connect with people. Treat everyone like your best friend. Love everyone like a brother. Then you’ll know God. I’m closer than I ever have been to God, that’s true. But it’s not to say I am without needs. God is within all of us but we also have urges, certain urges that are so difficult to ignore because they are so much a part of us as is God: the need to eat outside of hunger; the need to love only physically and not for your heart; the need to find serenity in the openness through things not naturally within us – urges as such.’ The priest curled his forefinger behind his collar and wiggled it.

‘Before I ever joined the ministry, and this was years ago, but I used to hate God. I would stand in my bedroom, my head turned up and I would – take his name in vain!’ He shouted this last part, his hand hitting the steering wheel on each word. He took a deep breath and settled himself, itched at an open pimple on his cheek. There were many of these, large and red beneath his scratchy beard.

‘I was angry then. This was a difficult time for me. I was angry at God because I couldn’t understand the things He did. I would curse at Him and yell at Him for taking my brother at such a young age. My brother, you see, he’d fallen in with the wrong crowd after his marriage. His wife gave him two caps of methadone and it killed him. She even showed up at the funeral, whispered in my ear that she’d done it on purpose. She wanted his house and car. I made her leave but I’m not vengeful. I know God will punish her in ways I never could. We’ll be getting off here in a few minutes. I just have to get something real quick, and then I’ll take you into Kentucky. I used to hate God but I’m at peace now. I know he has plans bigger than I can ever understand. It’s true that I love Him more than ever but I still have a lot of pain. I don’t touch things as much as I used to, because I know it’s not completely right, but, well, when I was in that coma I was there because I’d tried to kill myself. I thought it was possible to take the pain and the urges out of me and I took enough Oxycodones to kill five men. Then, as soon as they released me I went home and crushed up fifteen more so that I had a three foot line of white powder on my coffee table. Did it all at once.’ We turned off the highway here and onto a main drag in downtown Cincinnati. The sidewalks were dirty and lined with shady corner marts, liquor stores and the sorts of places that sell prepaid cellphones and bail-bonds over caged-in counters. The priest made a phone call.

‘Are you on 14th still? 26 and Main? Man, you guys sure move around a lot. Huh? Oh, he’s fine, just passing through on his way down south. Yes, five minutes.’ The priest hung up. He was noticeably excited now, tugging at his collar and picking at the open sores beneath his beard.

‘I try not to touch things, I swear. I won’t even bother with people my age. The young ones, they have the sweeeet stuff.’

I was becoming nervous now and I asked the priest if I could smoke in his car. He said Okay.

‘And I certainly don’t touch things like I used to but I still have a lot of pain in me and I have to be able to take care of my needs or I’ll wind up in the hospital again.’ With a finger he tugged at his collar. He eyes opened like curtains being raised and he looked me straight in the eye while he said this, while drifting through oncoming honking traffic and drifting back to the right side. ‘I still have these urges and it’s fine and normal we all have them. We wouldn’t be human without them. If we could only ever act good and right and moral we would not be free.’ Cars began honking, we had drifted into oncoming traffic and the priest nonchalantly and without looking turned back into the right lane. ‘In the Bible it is stated that He wants us to be free. He gave us these urges for a reason. Do you get it? God put the Devil in us!’ The priest broke eye-contact and made a hard right-turn, came to a hard stop along the curb. Hurriedly he pulled a New Jersey Devils’ jacket from the backseat and put it on, stashed his collar in the center consol. He quickly reversed back down the street, turned left going backwards onto the main road, slammed the brakes and put the car in drive. The priest drove down another two blocks before pulling over in front of a fire-hydrant.

A high-school aged black kid came up to my window. ‘Yo yo you lookin’ fo TJ?’

‘Yes sir – ’

‘Pull in front of these two cars here. This spot’s hot.’ The priest did what he said and the kid came back over to my window. ‘How much’u lookin’ fo?’

‘Just a twenty,’ said the priest. ‘And if it’s good you can tell TJ he’s got a new customer.’ The kid, standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the city in the afternoon pulled out a small cellophane bag and dug around in it with two fingers. The priest extended his palm out across my chest, in the direction of the sidewalk. The kid dropped two, small, tan crumbles into the priest’s palm. ‘That’s not twenty,’ said the priest.

‘Yeah it is. That shit’s fi’a yo.’

‘Nah, don’t do me like that, brother. I know what twenty looks like, I ain’t new.’ Reluctantly, the kid dug around again and placed a few, smaller crumbles in the priest’s palm.

‘That still ain’t twenty!’

‘Man I ain’t given you n’mo. I’m tellin you that shit fi’a yo. You be good straight with that.’

The priest placed the tan crumbs into a receipt, folded it up and tucked it in the sun-visor. The kid began walking away. ‘Hey hey hey!’ called the priest, quickly getting out of the car. He stopped abruptly standing dead-stiff in front of the car.

‘That ain’t the fuck we do things, motha’fucka!’ The kid had turned around when the priest got out of the car and he was standing tall on the sidewalk with his arm straight out, pointing at the priest. There was a small, silver revolver in his hand. ‘Get the fuck back in the car you stupid motha’fucka!’

‘Alright alright, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ The priest slipped back into his seat. Hands sweaty and white on the steering wheel. ‘I just wanted another twenty. That’s all.’ Slowly, the priest took a twenty dollar bill from the center consol. The kid was standing next to my window now, the bottom of his hand resting on the window sill, leveling the small revolver at the priest. I was still smoking a cigarette and I wasn’t sure where to ash. The kid took the twenty, stuffed it in his pocket. He gave the priest less than he had the first time.

‘You fucked up motha-fucka. Best try a dif’rent approach next time.’ The kid put the cellophane back in his pocket, the revolver in the back of his jeans, pulling his shirt out over it before walked away.

‘Sorry about all of that. I’ll take you to Kentucky now.’ The priest silently started the car, slowly pulled out into the street. He smiled crookedly at me. ‘It’s all true what I said, and if you listened than personal needs affect no other than the person.’

plane tickets and moving again: Replanning

I had been feeling pretty awful, not depressed or anything, just helpless. And I had lost all drive to write. It all stemmed from realizing the helplessness of my situation, that I was doomed to the street and would have to eat out of the garbage or panhandle and beg and that I wasn’t going to find a job because every day out here my clothes get dirtier. That’s what I was down about. I felt I no longer had control, was stuck in this, and this helpless feeling killed all drive to write — that’s how it works. Yesterday I was emailed a plane ticket back home. That changed everything. I didn’t feel proud about having to go back to my parents for help but if I didn’t want to eat out of a garbage, it’s all I had to do. The immediate effect on my mood was stark. As if a black shadow lifted off me I felt myself brighten, excited by the prospect of getting the fuck out of Los Angeles — as much as I love it. The helpless feeling that I’d been mired in washed away and suddenly motivation was driving me again. The only thing — I had to print out the tickets. And I only had one dollar left.

Of course this didn’t go over easily.

I spent an hour and a half in the public library trying to print out the emailed tickets. I had to wait for people to spend 45 minutes on the 15 minute computers, try to get the librarian to show me why nothing was working, argue to get my seventy-five cents back because the printer twice refused to print out a very important section of the email, and finally I gave up, left with half the email printed and only twenty-five cents left in my pocket.

My flight isn’t until Friday morning but I decided I would go today to the airport to work everything out, make sure I’d be able to get on the plane. The walk turned out to be a lot farther than I’d intended (about five miles). GoogleMaps seems to do that a lot to me. But walking lets me sort my head out, and here’s what I came up with:

I’m not proud about taking the easy way out; there’s a part of me that wishes I’d stayed and toughed it out, gotten a job and worked my way back east like I’d planned. But I decided this isn’t the time for that. I need to write, and spending all day looking for jobs and scraps of food isn’t helping. Hitchhiking out to California was absolutely amazing and I in no way regret coming out here when I did. I only wish I’d gone about it differently. What I should’ve done: been a responsible adult for once and actually saved a good amount of money while I was working in Ohio; then, either hitchhiked back east before the money ran out or spent the first week in LA doing nothing but finding a job. What I actually did: blew all my Ohio money on beer and spent the first week in LA writing instead of finding a job. So here’s the new plan: Go back east for the holidays to finish writing The Road Paved With Madness, like I had planned, but this time also finish up the series of short stories. I now get to start all of this a month earlier then planned, which means, come warm weather, I’ll be able to hitchhike back out to LA even sooner in the Spring. After I finish the series and the novel I’ll go back to Ohio, save up GOOD money, then hitchhike back out, immediately get a job washing dishes (not many places hire in the off-season, but come Spring…) and continue to live in the streets. I’m going to go all in, finally. I decided I enjoyed being an ever-filthy vagabond and that is was the being dirt poor broke that got to me, the not-having-food-to-eat. It’s amazing, really, because when you have food hunger is a lot less bearable; when you know you can’t eat you don’t get hungry so often. So, I want to live on the streets but have enough money to eat a little bit each day. So I’m going to work the minimum amount of hours I can. I’m only going to work to eat. Fuck rent. The bushes were free. I want as much time as I can possibly have to write write write and meet other writers and vagabonds and poets alike and wander the streets in a gorgeous daze feeling everything at once with the inside of my chest and only live and write. This is the only way I can see to do that. I’ll work maybe ten hours a week and live and eat and ramble with the wildlife along the sidewalks of Venice. And of course, blog it all.

Wednesday, Nov 7th — Ranting, Lunatics?

Last night after I realized I was stuck on the street, I cracked. I was piss-broke and I cracked and sent an email to my parents asking for a plane ticket home. The plane ticket came through this morning via email. I have to go print it out and hope that my last dollar is enough.

Yesterday after I showered at St. Joseph’s I signed up for a meal. I’m hungry and sick tired of peanut-butter sandwiches. I walked to St. Joseph’s this morning and the man at the counter gave me directions to a small restaurant a few blocks down. You can’t see the ‘restaurant’ from the street but it’s on a corner and I saw a couple of street-sleepers straggling around to the alley. I followed. In the back of the building is an overhang and then a door with a metal-bar gate. Some people were waiting around the door, sitting or standing and looking worn-out weary. A woman in front of me walks over to the gate and the man sitting closest to the door stands up and holds it open for her.

‘What, are you just opening it because I’m a woman?’ She puts her hands on her hips.

‘I’m being a gentleman!’

‘Yeah, but you’re not opening for everybody, obviously.’ She juts her hip out to the side.

‘You can hold it for me –‘ The man holds it open and I walk inside. The ‘restaurant’ is one room the size of a two-car garage. Tables are set out, napkins and utensils and chairs, but the room lacks the comforts and furniture, the nick-knacks and picture frames of a for-business restaurant. The place looks bare, naked. I see a man walking around setting out cups and I get his attention.

‘You have to wait outside. Are you signed up? Okay, yes, what we do is we have everyone wait outside and then at 9:30 we open the doors. And you can sit down where ever you want, we’ll bring the food out to you. All we ask is that you clear your place.’

I walk back out. More people have arrived. I walk through the crowd by the door and into the alleyway to smoke a cigarette. The woman is still arguing about the door. Her face is dirty, she’s mid-forties and she has thick, blonde hair past her shoulders. She’s wearing a jacket and a skirt, skinny smooth tan legs. She’s surrounded by men. They’re bickering about the differences between men and women, serious but joking in a flirtatious sort of way. She had a big mouth that didn’t close and she’d egg them on, then they would volley retorts and gender-specific insults, and the man who had originally held the door open, he wouldn’t stop talking and the woman would put her back to him so that she was facing the other men, twirl her hair and make her hand talk in mimicry. Then she’d say, “Yeah, right, Okay. Whatever. Mm-hm. Sure.’ She was loving it, egging them on to keep their attention, soaking up the attention like a school-girl being flirtatiously teased by the popular boys.

Along the back of the building was a fence. There was a man sitting here, perhaps twenty-seven years old. He had an average build, brown hair, a friendly face, and his t-shirt was worn thin and ripped wide around his neck, his baggy black pants covered in mud and ripped along the back of both pants from foot to knee. He was sitting on the fence talking and talking between periods of sedated concentration, but there wasn’t anybody in front of him.

‘How is it in the desert? How is the Salt Lake? Can you transmute for me? Transcend and send me the energy because I have none.’ He sat there talking as if it were an ordinary conversation, his face relaxed and serious. ‘Can you reach the Death Star in my dimension? I’m stuck here, transmute me the energy.’ Then his eyes closed and his elbow rested on his lap, his hand upturned as if a bowling ball were placed in it, his fingers straining against an unknown force and his face tightening to a strenuous grimace, his whole body began to shake. Then he relaxed. ‘I could not receive it. The energy was cut off by an unknown force. Destroy all life-forms in the empty void.’ Destroy all life-forms in the empty void. That really got me.

For breakfast we had Spaghetti Obama. I sat next to a tall black man who wasn’t much older than thirty-five. He told me he used to be a boxer. He was very friendly and spoke with an accent so that I assumed he had immigrated here when he was a teenager. I forget his name and he told me that boxing, that being in the ring and trying to read the other boxer while being punched, that this had knocked something loose in his head so that he could now read everyone, feel them, he said. He explained it like being in the woods and searching for someone or an animal. You can’t see them but all of your senses are heightened and you see over here and over here, everywhere at the same time. You cannot see but you can feel it, you can feel them and where they are. That is how it is, he said. He proceeded to read the three of us at the table with him. You, he said to me, you are out there. You, you will never change, and you are uninteresting. We all laughed.

Tuesday, November 6th

The job hunt is turning out worthless. And I’m just about out of money. Walgreens and Freebird Burritos have both told me I have the job, pending the return of my background checks. Freebird Burritos has been waiting TWO WEEKS for my background check. They emailed the head office, or whoever is in charge of the checks, and it turned out they never received it. So although I’ve been guaranteed the job, I can’t start there for another week at the least. Walgreens. It sounds like I passed the piss-test but them too, waiting on this damn background check for over a week! I”M HUNGRY! Just hire me already. Fucking bureaucracy bullshit. I went back to the Brick and Mortar restaurant, talked with the assistant manager (who was young and very attractive with a sleeve-tattoo, that’s the kind of cool-ass restaurant it is) who said she’d email me tomorrow about the job, busing tables. Only problem is the restaurant is about two miles from the marina and my clothes are really getting grimy — I don’t know if they’re expecting me to look clean and nice. I have one dollar left. I spent the other dollar on a loaf of bread and you bet I’m still looking through trash cans for food. Awesomely, I found half a pack of cigarettes in one of the garbages.

Here’s where I stand: hungry and worn-out, penniless and grimy and ready to get off the street. It takes a toll on you, the helplessness of the situation like a tide of stagnant sewage water that keeps rising when your feet are stuck in the mud. Sitting at the Talking Stick with my laptop I sent Marcia a text via Facebook.

‘hey. what time do you get out of work tonight?’

‘What is your cell phone not working?’

‘Nope. Out of minutes. I was going to see if i could come back to your couch. only for a couple of days though, i’m getting a plane ticket back. I stopped by earlier but i didn’t see your car so i figured you had work.’

‘Yeah… my couch isn’t available though… Sorry.’

‘Eff! what is someone else staying on it?’

I considered this the end of our friendship. I don’t know exactly what happened but it was very disappointing, disheartening. Knowing that I now had nowhere to turn and was stranded to the streets. Perhaps she thought I was using her for a place to sleep. Maybe she really took it hard when I told her she was overly pessimistic, a ‘debbie-downer’ with a total lack of self-esteem whose negativity was driving people away from her (I’d only said this to her after she’d lamented how her roommates kept moving out on her. She didn’t understand why and after spending a few days thinking it over, that was the conclusion I’d derived). Or, maybe it was because I told her I would totally sleep with her roommate, who she hates.

But mostly I think it was disappointment. I think she was imagining me as a sort of ‘knight in shining armor’ who was going to come make her happy, take her out to dinner and be real romantic and such. Text messages and phone calls over the past year and half have led me to thinking this. I think she was anticipating a romantic relationship between us, and once she realized this wasn’t going to be, that’s when she began to pull away, took back the offer of me riding her bike and soon thereafter, sleeping on her couch. This is all a bummer, but honestly, she herself was quite a bummer so I cannot say this is the most terrible thing, but it is saddening that I’ve lost a friend. Seems that changes in the past two years were not surmountable.

I’ll go curl up behind the bushes now.

Monday, Nov 5th — Surprise!

I’ve been worrying every morning that someone is going to see me and call security, or, even worse, the cops. So every morning as I’m crouching behind the bushes waiting and listening I see in my head how my sleeping bag and clothes are going to be gone when I return in the evening, how the hole in the bushes is going to be patched up, or how there is going to be a group of concerned citizens waiting for me with torches and tasers ready to fry the homeless kid.

This is the worst part of the day. The sun has just risen and the marina glows orange. The bushes are thick so that only a little light gets through and I’m crouching there in the dim shade, unable to see the promenade or if anyone is coming. All I can do is listen, listen and wait, hope for the coast to be clear. I hear two people coming up and I sit still, letting them pass. When I can no longer hear their squeaking shoes I make sure I hear nothing else — it’s just the rocking of the yachts. The branches swish and rustle as I crouch through the opening in the bushes and hop down from the wall; my sneakers make a smacking sound as they hit the promenade. Damnit! I’ve jumped out right in front of a woman walking her Scottish-terrier. Quickly I take out my cellphone and pretend to be busy, pretend there’s nothing wrong here; a nonchalant elbow resting on the wall. ‘Hey Mark, it’s Brian. Yeah. I checked the sprinklers, they all seem to be fine. Yup. The nozzles and pipes, got ’em. Check.’ The woman’s mouth fell open, red tongue white teeth, and she used her hand to close it, walking by with a quickened pace and never taking a second glance. She had jumped when I came out of the bushes and this rattled the big brown sunglasses on her over-tanned face. She left her glasses stay crooked on her face and she kept walking, too surprised to even look back. There’s no one else out yet and I get away without being seen twice. But I’m going to have to start waking up before the sun, I suppose.

I have a white plastic bag with me with peanut butter and bread in it. The St. Joseph Center, where I’d visited yesterday, opens at 8:30 and I planned to get there and see if they had showers. Their webpage said they did. I get down there around eight o’clock and I sit out on the front steps and make myself a couple peanut butter sandwiches, saying hello good-morning to the passers-by. Well-dressed employees are walking in and out and there is a couple homeless people gathered around, waiting for the center to open. One of the guys, he’s drinking a coffee and he’s one of those obviously insane homeless you see. He’s talking to someone who isn’t there, walking around doing stretches with his morning Starbucks in his hand while his other hand, the fingers gently dance and prod in the air as he talks and sings.

At eight-thirty I walked inside. ‘Hi, what can I do for you?’ asked the security guard at the desk. ‘Is this a homeless shelter?’ ‘We have services for the homeless.’ ‘Are there showers here?’ ‘No, but if you’re looking for showers, you can go here, to the St. Joseph on Lincoln.’ The guard slid a business card across the counter. ‘Where on Lincoln?’ ‘Just go out here to Rose, go all the way to Lincoln and make a right. It’s… two blocks down, on your left.’ ‘And they have showers there?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Awesome! Thanks a lot!’ I was looking filthy and  I realized I need to clean up before trying to find a job.

The St. Joseph Center on Lincoln is a featureless, square building with the front windows and door barred shut. It’s on a corner and around the side, in the back, I can see a handful of dirty-clothed people mulling around smoking cigarettes. I walk to the back and find the door, go inside and get in line. I’m standing in a square room with folding chairs lined up, a few tables to the side, and a line of homeless people waiting to check in at the front desk. The front desk is a podium with a computer chained to it, a young man with glasses taking everyone’s information. The podium is in a doorway and behind him I can see more rooms, a counter with a sink, cabinets and a telephone. There’s a security guard in a t-shirt standing next to him. I sign in, tell him I need a shower and to do laundry, and he tells me the shower is full for the day but that if I’d like to wait I can shower if someone doesn’t show up. Also, the washing machine is broken. Ok, fine, I say. Would you like to sign up for a meal? No, that’s okay. The man gives me a funny sideways eye when I said no, as if he all of sudden didn’t think I was homeless.

There were a few people I recognized, whom I’d seen walking around or hanging out at the boardwalk. Most of the people here were older, mentally deficient drug-abusers but there were a few younger people my age. I thought about saying hello, introducing myself and perhaps befriending a few people, but I was in my head, introverted and not in the mood to open my mouth. I watched the people come in and out, lolling about in line, feet up in chairs sleeping with jackets over their heads. This was a colorfully despondent bunch. Bicycles laden with spare toaster parts, filthy clothes and grime-stained duffle bags, baggy, ripped clothing and the smell of weeks’ old body-odor like a crusted layer of stench that reaches the nostrils with a head-shaking backyard-rotten stench. When the bathroom door opened you could smell the stale piss, and also I saw there was a shower in there. I grabbed my plastic bag, which was filled with toiletries as well as my breakfast, and I went in, shut the door and hurriedly showered. I was only in for five minutes, but still there was a banging on the door. I showered quick and cold, got dressed and slipped out the back door. Outside there was a skinny black man sitting on the curb, smoking a cigarette and yelling to nobody about the dangers of public urination.

 

Sunday Night

I kept my eyes open for food on my way to print resumes. I’d gotten thirsty, and with my water bottles empty I stopped when I noticed a fast-food soda cup with its top and straw sitting on a newspaper dispenser. I opened it. It looked clean, no junk in it and it was Hawaiian Punch. I took a sip. Mixed heavily with vodka. I thought about it for a moment, decided against it, and put it back down.

At Office Max they had a display of candy next to the register. I dropped the plastic bag I was carrying right at the bottom of the display and, after handing the employee my thumb drive for him to print from, I pretended to look through the bag and quickly knocked a container of gummy worms into it. Then stood back up, and feigned the realization that my wallet had been in my back pocket after all. I walked out feeling a little haughty, pleased with my craftiness… at stealing a thing of gummy worms. A bit lame, but I’m hungry and broke and I’ll take what I can get. But now, just like the Sunday prior, came the enticement of lascivious pleasures and I decided to delve into the Dionysian.

On my way back I picked up the Hawaiian Punch and walked over to the beach. I got a buzz while I watched the sunset and devoured the gummy worms.

When I’m drinking I often have quick thoughts, single lines that pop out of nowhere (or everywhere) and I’m often compelled to write them down. These lines usually have a strange way of describing the general feeling I’m in at the moment. Here’s one of the lines I jotted: The only ones who deserve everything are the ones who have truly had nothing. To get deeper into it, I’m going to go ahead and say that that line is an admittance of the perceived undeserving of so much prosperity, security, comfort and luxury. But this is all the topic of another post.

When I got to the promenade there was a nearby yacht with older folks hanging out on the deck, drinking and talking. I had to wait around for them to disappear, so I sat down on the bench and spent an hour filling pages in the notebook. Then I crawled into my bushes and slept away my drunk.

Sunday, Nov. 4th

Click-uck… tsssssss  

I’m laying in my sleeping bag in the dirt, using my coat as a jacket and my eyes open, wondering what the hell this sound is, and why I’m getting wet. Then I realize. I jump up and frantically look around, grab one of my gloves and stick it over one of the sprinklers that have just popped up out of the dirt. I can’t find the other glove. I’m getting soaked. Fuck it. I yank the tarp out from under my sleeping bag and pile it on top of the other sprinkler that’s getting everything wet. Then, wet sleeping bag and wet face, I lie back down and go back to sleep. That was five in the morning.

When I woke up again the sun was well in the sky. I got dressed quick as I could, pausing whenever I heard someone walking by. Climbing out of the bushes was a bit trickier because one of the sprinklers had built up a puddle in the bushes where I was getting in and out. I peeked out, waited till a jogger went past, and quickly hopped out. I walked over to Marcia’s apartment building where I was keeping my knapsack on the roof. I had that dim worry in the back of my head that someone was going to find it but I pushed it aside and sure enough my bag was fine, still hidden beneath the air-duct. I knew hardly anyone ever went up there and the bag was out of sight from the patio, and no homeless people, besides me of course, could ever get up there without knowing the pass-code. Worry for nothing. I dugout a plastic bag and threw in bread, peanut butter, water bottle and notebook. I wasn’t planning on job-hunting today. My legs were aching from foot to butt, stiff and sore from walking so much last night and I figured I’d take it easy, eat breakfast on the beach, nap, read, write, whatever I felt like. And I had to get more resumes. And sew my pants.

Other than sore legs I was feeling pretty good. I was getting good at the vagabonding. Last night had been a lot of fun, stealing pastries and old pizza and leftover soy beans. Walking down Venice Boulevard towards Abbot Kinney I kept my eye on the trashcans, and sure enough there they were: soybeans in a plastic container. It appears people in Los Angeles like to sell soybeans and nobody likes to eat them. I grabbed the container out of the trash and dropped it in my bag. I sat on a grassy knoll by the beach and made a couple of peanut butter sandwiches to eat with the soybeans I’d found. I finished up and walked over to the beach.

My pants, which were light gray and getting noticeably filthy on the thighs from the sweat of so much walking, were splitting open at the crotch. I’d sewn them up once before and out of laziness let the hole keep growing until it was all too large for decency. I laid out the small micro-fiber army towel Tony had given me and sat down to sew my pants up. It took about an hour and a half. Sitting there in short-shorts my glowing white thighs caught quite the glowing red burn. No big deal. I sewed the crotch and the hole in the front and got dressed. I was in bad need of a shower, I was getting filthy from sleeping in the dirt and I knew this would make it all the harder to find a job. A couple days before, after sleeping on the cement, I wiped myself all down with baby-wipes, the shower-in-a-napkin miracle. I had brought a bar of soap with me and I was going to shower under one of the shower heads they have outside next to the bathrooms, but I wussed out. I put my pants back on and went over to Office Max for more copies of my resumes.

Actually, I took a detour on the way to Office Max. I wanted to check out St. James in Santa Monica to see if they had showers. I saw online they had services for the homeless. What I didn’t see online was how they aren’t open Sundays. Not a big deal. 8:30 Monday morning I’ll be there. I took Rose East till it met with Lincoln. I was still keeping my eyes open for possible food and as I was walking down Lincoln I came upon a plastic bag sitting on a wall behind the bus stop. No one’s around. I open up the Styrofoam box inside the bag. Chinese food, still warm noodles and general-tsao’s. I’m real happy, now. I walk down the block in case the owner returns and I sit down and I feast for lunch, the food still warm and deliciously filling.

I don’t know how people go hungry on these streets — Pastries, pizza, whole dishes of beans and full containers of Chinese food. And I’ve been thinking that if it ever came down to it, and I’d have to be very hungry because I don’t like begging or panhandling, but as a last resort I could always stand along a block with a bunch of restaurants (of which there are plenty) with a sign that reads Please, Leftovers. I would get food in no time, and good food at that. I don’t know how people go hungry in this city. Honestly, people waste so much food in this city that it’s disgusting.

Well, okay, I guess I do know. There is an Hispanic man, tall with a flat face and simple, friendly features, black hair to his shoulders who roams around the Lincoln-Washington area with a shopping cart. He wears yoga pants. I saw him sitting on the sidewalk today with his cart today when a mini-van pulled to a stop along the curb. The driver rolled down the window offering food. The homeless man said Yeah! like a kid who beats a high-score, but he just sat there. The driver didn’t know what to do, the homeless man said Throw it, the food was in a container just that clearly throwing it would send food all over the sidewalk and the homeless man. Do you want it? Yeah! the homeless just sat there, staring blankly sitting cross-legged in yoga pants and a faded red shirt. The driver shook the food shook, the homeless man sat there, and eventually the driver pulled off.

This is why people go hungry: Because people abandon their retarded children like they do three-legged puppies.

Parenting FAIL.

Night Three

I had a good night sleep last night. Thankfully. The bushes kept me warm and the overhang kept the dew away. Better yet, no one bothered me and the dirt was a hell of a lot more comfortable than the concrete from the night before. I woke up at eight and got dressed, being as quiet as I could and standing still whenever I heard people approaching. I decided to leave my sleeping bag and a few other things, namely clothes, behind the bushes and to keep my knapsack on the roof of Marcia’s building. Her apartment building has a stairwell to the roof with a small patio that no one ever uses. I figure I can safely keep my knapsack up there, hidden behind the air-ducts. So, when the coast was clear I tossed my knapsack out of the bushes and hopped out after it. I looked around real quick and luckily nobody was around to see this. I dropped my knapsack off at the apartment building and sat down for breakfast. As I sat at the picnic table munching on my peanut butter sandwich a woman came up. She seemed startled to see me there, eyed my knapsack suspiciously. She had a ring of keys in her hand and went to open a storage closet next to the stairwell.

‘Do you live here?’

‘No. I’m just visiting someone on the third.’ I said this cheerfully, hoping it would disarm her. I was talking to the landlord’s wife. They live inside the building. She asked me then to help her move a box and that was it, no more questions. I finished breakfast, stashed my knapsack behind an air-duct and went back on the job hunt.

I walked a mile west into Culver City to deliver an application and nab some more candy. Then headed south with a notebook full of resumes and got onto Abbot Kinney, a main strip in Venice Beach full of novelty shops and swank restaurants and cafes. I walked all damn day. Visited at least thirty different restaurants and cafes and stores.

Seven o’clock and I was in Santa Monica, not far from the famed pier. It was dark out. Walking around I’d seen many people with badges hanging on their necks. I came up to the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel on Ocean Ave. The front of the building was strung with banners of production companies and movie titles. People with badges were streaming in and out. I went in. There was a movie gala going on, the whole place full of movie writers and producers and whoever else in involved in these things. I wandered around the lobby and the lounge and everywhere, people in suits and sweater-vests and shiny shoes talking about movie scripts and drinking expensive beer. I didn’t blend in at all. I had on an Emerica t-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a crinkled notebook emptied of resumes. I wandered around and scooped up a few beers and two whiskey on the rocks, grabbing them real quick in passing whenever the owner of the drink wasn’t looking. Outdoors was a wide pool with flood lights, tables on either side. There was a hot-tub. The large patio was terraced with two lower levels. These had tables and couches on them centered around fire pits. Back inside, and a little tipsy now, I found a cart full of pastries and real quick grabbed four and dropped them in my notebook. I found another beer, the stairwell, the fourth floor, sat on a couch overlooking the ocean and the Santa Monica Pier and feasted.

On my way back to the marina I took Main Street and Abbot Kinney again. I stopped at a little pizza joint and found a hardly eaten slice of pizza — bbq chicken and red peppers. (I’m making myself hungry typing all this.) I passed the restaurant called Firehouse on Main Street. The whole way back I’d been ducking into restaurants to see if there were any empty tables that had yet to be bused. I didn’t get lucky. So as I was passing the Firehouse I see in the window, near the front door, a dish of soybeans, untouched. I ducked in and sat down and started shoveling bbq-sauced soybeans into my mouth. The beans were tough and stringy and I couldn’t chew them fast enough. A small Mexican man appeared at my side.

‘Is this your food? What are you doing here?’

‘I’m just finishing up.’ I took another forkful, chewing laboriously. Another, taller Mexican man, came over.

‘You can’t do this! This is not your food! Get out! What are doing? You can’t just do that!’ I heard people at another table laughing, surprised.

‘Sorry!’ I grabbed my notebook and took off.

I slept well last night, until five in the morning. When the sprinklers went off.

October 28th

Last Sunday, not this past Sunday but the one prior, I was feeling kind of down about not finding a job, somewhat lonely in this new city of mine. I did a bit of job searching, gave up figuring it was Sunday afternoon and not many places are open anyway (every place was open but I needed a way to rationalize doing nothing productive). I had seventy dollars left. I took a twenty out of my bank, which is a pocket in my Carhartt coat, and went to the liquor store.

Here was my plan: pint of cheap vodka, whatever greasy food I could then afford, watch the sunset and delve into my Dionysian Desires and feel happy for a while.

It was gorgeous.

I took off my shoes and rolled up my pant legs and plopped down in the cool sand. I ate a delicious greasy gyro and felt filled. I drank some of the soda and filled the rest with as much vodka as I could, put the top back on. The bottle was in a plastic bag and I drank that quick while the sun set.

I’ve seen the sun rise over the Atlantic. This was the first time I saw it set over the Pacific. It was, well, pacifying: The bright yellow orb slowly sinking and I could see the space between sun and horizon slowly shrinking. As the sun got lower it grew dimmer and I found I could stare at it, could see the roundness of the sun and as I stared at it the sun turned purple, everything else pink. Awesome. And for the first time I saw the column of light the sun lays down across the ocean like a column of satiating Heavenly-orange light coming right at me. I sat there and got drunk. I saw the sun meet the ocean and slowly slip bright burning red into the depths. Afterwards I got up and walked around. I felt wonderful and I talked to many people, including a man who had been on the pier all evening photographing the setting sun. He was from New York and we talked a while. Standing on the pier the leftover sunlight was a dim glowing, blood red splotch along the horizon. It disappeared finally and I stood out on the pier and looked back at the beach and Los Angeles. To my left, the north, I could see the black outlines of the mountains against the dark blue sky. The mountains were mostly black save for a few places that were well lit. I saw Hollywood like a blanket of lights that ran up the side of the mountains. West of this the mountains were again black until another blanket of light was laid along the side of the mountains. I could even see the threads of these blankets, strings of lights roughly parallel, following the contour of the mountains. Then again it was black. Along the coast to the north, where the mountains jut west into the sea and form the northern boundary of the cove where Los Angeles sits, there was a thin line of lights here along the coast. It was all black until a little nook of lights. That was Malibu. To the South was a smaller mountain with the lights of Long Beach. I thought this was real cool: to the southeast was a line of bright dots in the sky, planes streaming in, coming into the airport. The line never ended. I stood there and watched as stars would brighten until I could tell they were moving. Then the stars, or planes, rather, would swoop in these long curves and fall in line and glow brighter and brighter until they disappeared behind the skyline.

I’m liking Los Angeles more and more.

Second Night Camping Outside In Los Angeles

The marina in Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles looks like a tree. There is one main waterway used for coming in and out and along this are several branches on either side. Along one of these branches is a public promenade, brick with a lovely view of all of the yachts. There is an apartment here, an upscale apartment building about ten stories tall and the length of two football fields. The buildings are lined with tall, thick bushes that have an overhang above them. I posted yesterday that I had found a way into these bushes and that there is a good four feet between the bushes and the wall. This is where I am going to be sleeping. There are lights every so often that are placed in the dirt and behind one these lights there is somewhat of a hole, a place where the branches of two bushes don’t quite meet. This is where I slipped in. Last night I got to the promenade around ten, waited till the coast was clear, heaved my knapsack into the bushes and threw myself in right behind it. The bushes are up on a four foot wall that has these green, squishy plants (I have no clue what they’re called) that droop over the wall. I crushed these somewhat and I’m hoping no one notices. I climbed in to set up camp. I have a tarp rolled up with my sleeping bag and I decided to use this to keep me out of the dirt, lying my sleeping bag on top of it. The tarp crinkles like every other tarp and I had to stop and be still whenever I heard people coming by. I got myself set up, grabbed my copy of A Farewell To Arms, my notebook, the roach and candy and crawled back out of the bushes and found a bench on the promenade that overlooked the marina. I re-rolled the roach, got stoned, and had something akin to a panic attack. Here’s what I wrote while sitting there:

There is a long dock in the marina lined on both sides with white, showful, fifty foot yachts. On the glittering stone dock just beside each lazily rocking yacht is a knee-high octagonal column. These columns have small yellow lights that show the beginnings of the arms of the dock which people use to access their yachts. As I’m sitting here writing I am alone. My sleeping bag and other belongings are behind the bushes that line the apartment to my back. This is a very proper, upscale promenade of little, manicured dogs and sweatless joggers. I can’t wait to see the reactions I provoke when I crawl out of the bushes in the morning.

    I’ve been thinking of a plane ticket home. It sucks out here. The vagabonding, at least. Perhaps I need to meet other vagabonds to show me the ideas. Or maybe I just need to dive into it like all the jumps to the fringe I’ve taken. I still have some money left and the real fear is this running out. I’ll see how it goes tomorrow and decide whether or not to wait this out until I find a job. Or if I should try to repair things with Marcia and be open with and see if she’ll let me stay till I get a job and therefore a room.

    Also, very importantly, after smoking that roach from the sidewalk I became sickened about the thought of living on the street. It was anxiety, the nervousness, that helplessness; that feeling that juggles in your stomach. All this disappeared when I began to write. Writing, which I do from the Universal, restored my Individual. This is very profound, because does not the Ego come from the Id? Did not the Founder of Hell fall from Heaven?

The point from this is that I was feeling as though I had lost control, as if I were no longer in control of the events that carve my destiny, therefore helpless. I felt without a will. Writing vanquished this feeling. Writing restored my Ego. I find that very interesting.

Homeless? Or Just Camping Outside In a Big City?

Last night I decided to turn down the offer from Couchsurfing. I would’ve only been staying there one night and I didn’t want to delay what I saw as inevitable. So, after going back to Marcia’s one last time to gather up everything and to pack my knapsack, I headed out beneath the lights of Venice Beach to find a place to ‘camp‘. — You’re never homeless when you realize the whole damn planet is here for you to live on.

So it isn’t being ‘homeless‘, it’s just that ‘you’re camping outside in a city for a while and your tent happens to be a tarp’.

My plan was to scout out the marina, see if and when a patrol boat went around, and then find a boat far enough out of sight that I could sleep without being disturbed. To get to there I took the bike path that goes past the bird sanctuary, hoping either I could get over the fence and into the bird sanctuary (I saw industrial-sized rat cages in there) or find a place off to the side of the bike path. The bike path is lined with bushes and there’s a small hill before one long fence that separates the bike path from private backyards. The whole area is dark and quiet and I saw plenty of bushes and trees that would’ve hidden me from sight and made decent places to ‘camp’. I thought about leaving my knapsack here while I went to explore the marina but I saw a couple of old food containers lying around with empty 40’s: classic homeless refuse. I’m by myself out here and I’m not sleeping anywhere near crack-addicts or the otherwise mentally-disturbed, let alone leaving all my meager belongings somewhere where these fine society-folk congregate.

I kept an eye out for places to hunker down, mentally marking the woods near a road-work site, dark spots on the beach and a little nook formed by bushes and tennis-courts. I made it to the marina around eight and people were out everywhere, out for dinner and out to get their shoes shined or whatever else the well-off and fancy do. Point is, there were a lot of people walking around and a kid with a big knapsack isn’t inconspicuous: getting onto a boat won’t be possible until much later at night. I told myself I’d wait till the morning when I could stash my knapsack somewhere safe and then go explore the marina. I went back to the nook I’d spotted.

The nook was just off the sidewalk, up a small hill of shrubs and behind a line of six-foot-tall bushes. The bushes began where the wall of a round, concrete building ended and I could see a small gap between the bushes and the wall for me to slip through. I hadn’t any idea what the building was, it was circular and concrete and had no visible doors or windows. On the other side of this building, though, were a couple of tennis courts, and behind the bushes the cornering of two fences from these tennis courts formed this nook. All of this was out in front of a very expensive looking hotel, one you would imagine had marble floors and chandeliers and famous people snorting very expensive cocaine from the asses of very expensive hookers in a hot tub in a crystal suite on the top floor (praise to the specifics!) This nook of mine was a twelve by five-foot concrete slab hidden from view from the hotel and the street. Better still, I didn’t see any empty 40’s or bags of trash.

I had way too much fun setting up ‘camp’. I felt like an eight year old building a blanket fort in his living room, except that I was twenty-four, had only a tarp and string and a sleeping bag, and was in fact sleeping outside in a city instead of a living room. But still, fun it was. I spent at least half an hour testing all the different ways I found I could string a tarp to a fence. I wound up stringing two corners of the tarp about waist-high to the fence on the right and tied a third corner to the fence in front of me, but way down at the bottom of the fence.

I stayed warm in there and fell asleep rather quick,  but every so often I’d wake up with a sore hip or a sore elbow and have to shift around on the concrete till I got comfortable. And traffic kept coming by, which I’d expected, but I was hoping that from hearing it for the past two weeks in Marcia’s apartment it would have become something like white-noise. The brief periods of silence between waves of traffic were tranquilizing and I imagined a long stretch of empty pavement and streetlights in the dark and this is how I fell asleep. Until I woke again to shift around. I felt safe here, something I’d realized was very important, because the next morning when I went back along the bike trail I saw several people covered up sleeping. In a round thicket of rose bushes on the side of a hill and under a willow tree (it looked very romantic) I noticed a burrow had been carved out and in the opening I could see a purple bag. Someone was sleeping inside the rose bushes that I was so going to sleep next to.

I spent all day trying to find a job. Walgreen’s went well and the manager said she was going to hire me and then she mentioned I needed to take a drug test. This is when I realized I wouldn’t be a dazzling Walgreen’s employee after all. I spent the rest of the day hunting out places of employment and places of head resting. My spot to sleep tonight? Along a promenade on the marina is an apartment building with thick, tall bushes in front of it. There’s about four feet of space between bush and wall. That’s where I’ll curl up. Luckily, I found a big round roach on the sidewalk and stole some candy from the dollar store. Maybe I’ll be happy when I go to sleep tonight.

— Check back in a day or two for the next story in the Reasons To Run series.

Turns out I’m going to be HOMELESS

It sounds like I shall soon be sleeping in the streets. My tenure on Marcia and Isabelle’s couch has come to an end as Marcia’s mother is coming to visit and is taking over the couch. So, what to do? Well, I went on Couchsurfing.org and put up a request for a couch. There are a couple of different ways to find couches on the site; you can send out requests individually or put up a request for everyone to see. I did the latter, though probably the best way would be a mixture of both. Instead of trying to find a couches for one night at a time I set my duration for one week from November 1 to November 8. How many responses did I get? One. And it was only for one night.

But not to worry, my friends! I’ve been somewhat looking forward to living out on the streets, living outside and communing with the environment and generally doing whatever I want with my days. But begging, that’s not something I plan to do. There are plenty of places to find food: dumpsters behind restaurants (especially sandwich shops where they throw out sandwiches they screw up), you can walk into a restaurant and ask to wash dishes for a plate of food, you can walk into a restaurant and sit down at an empty table and help yourself to left-overs, or once in the restaurant you can scrape all the left-overs from the all plates you can and scrape them into a box and sit outside and feast, and continental breakfasts at hotels. Or you can steal. Fortunately, I have a job interview at Walgreen’s tomorrow so fingers-crossed that goes well and then I can just eat their food!

Where am I going to sleep? I’ve gone on Craigslist and tracked down lots of cheap housing where I would share a room or sleep on the couch and chip in with rent. That’s an option, but first I’m going to need that job. Another option is sleeping in a camper. Walking around Venice, and especially on Venice Blvd, I’ve seen a number of campers with For Sale signs. I’m hoping once I get a paycheck I can convince one of these people to let me pay to sleep in their camper. We’ll see how that goes. Other than that, I’m glad I’m in Venice Beach and not Downtown Los Angeles. There are a lot more places to sleep outside here and I’ve been mentally noting places this past week.

Here’s what I’ve come up with: under the pier, on the beach, in the grass by the beach, in the back of a pick-up truck at a car dealership (I thought this one would be particularly fun), in the bird sanctuary on Washington Ave, off to the side of the bike path that runs around the bird sanctuary, or in any patch of grass that I see. I know the code to get into Marcia’s apartment building and there’s roof access there, so I could always curl up on the top of a roof behind some air-conditioning units. I have a tarp rolled up with my sleeping bag and tarp tents are always very warm and cozy. Also, curiously, I’ve noticed that many of the homeless around here sleep beneath lights, whether streetlights or the lights over the front doors of shuttered businesses. I’m not positive but I think they do this to ward off trouble —  sleep in a dark, isolated place and you’re an easy target for theft, or a quick butt-fuck. I’m going to try and find fenced-in places to sleep. There are a number of large gardens around that are fenced-in. One of those would be perfect.

This site has a lot of great information and tips about vagabonding the streets.

So if you’re wondering how the hell it goes living outdoors in the City of Angels, check back in the next couple of weeks!

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