Monday, April 27, 2009

Ian

After working with the mentally retarded, i decided to spend one more slice of my life directly helping others. I signed on as a special services assistant at West Windsor/Plainsboro H.S. in New Jersey. "Special services" is euphemistic language for "special ed", which is in turn euphemistic for "handicapped/slow". My assignment was to spend one school year as personal aide for a ninth grader named Ian, who had a nervous system disease which confined him to a wheelchair. He had limited use of his hands and spoke haltingly. He was bright, good-natured, and funny. When i think about the other assignments i could have received (there was another wheelchaired student, and two positions assisting teachers in classroom situations)...well, good fortune was mine, as Ian and i became comfy with each other very quickly.
Mine was an autonomous position. Ian was in normal classes, and i accompanied him throughout the day. I took notes, tutored, helped with written tests, and assisted in the bathroom and cafeteria. He was in many respects just a normal kid...he procrastinated, liked junk food, and wanted the companionship and love of his peers.
He motored his electric chair around well, allowing for occasional independence, which was fun for him. He was big, around 200 pounds on a long frame. He was catheterized, so bathroom visits meant simply emptying a packet strapped to his leg. One day his catheter slipped out, and i was glad i had enough strength to maneuver him on and off a toilet.
My fellow special ed teachers were a fun lot. Joan was a new teacher and new wife. Had she not been married, i think she would have pursued me romantically. As i suspected we weren't right for each other, it was just as well. But it was nice, we trusted each other and kind of shared an unspoken "secret". My best buddies were Louise and Tina (no Gilligan jokes, please). We were close in age, played practical jokes on one another, and ate our lunches together in the special ed office. I started out with a crush on Louise, but by the end of the year it had shifted to Tina.
Among Ian's teachers, my favorite was his brash and bright-eyed science teacher Toni. I actually learned things in her class i had missed in high school and college. At the end of the year, she and Rennie, the head of the special ed department, presented me with a "cutest butt" award. So innappropriate, it makes my eyes tear with happiness.
In many classes, i didn't need to take notes, as Ian would get them copied from another student. With the free time this gave me, i ended up crafting notes and lines for what would become my first play, "Jahd".
It was during this year that i learned something about myself. I can have an intense, open look, which can be misunderstood. I found out from the vice principal that twice that year, a female student thought i was looking at her inappropriately. I had no clue whom they could have been...it troubled me, but the V.P. handled it with compassion and restraint.
The most memorable experience of the year turned out to be the fire drill. Special ed is the one department which was alerted of fire drills ahead of time, because of students like Ian. That seemed a curious policy, for how is one to learn about one's preparedness for the unexpected, if the test itself is expected? When the alarm came, Ian and i were on the second floor. I knew that in an actual emergency, taking the elevator wasn't an option. All the other teachers in my department would have taken Ian on the elevator, but i decided that if we were going to simulate an emergency, we would learn about those conditions, and no other. I told Ian i was going to carry him out of the building. He was a tiny bit unsure, but the teenager in him quickly took over. Adventure!
Have you ever lifted 200 pounds of mostly dead weight into a fireperson's carry, then carried that weight down two long flights of stairs, and out of a huge building? I'm guessing you've not. By the time we reached the ground floor, the building was deserted. We went out the nearest exit. Ian was having a grand time. After the stairs and thirty yards of flat ground, my tank hit empty (i'm sixty pounds lighter than Ian). Even though protocol called for us to go further away from the building, i set him down about fifteen feet from the door (in an emergency, i would have had the adrenaline to carry him further). I didn't let on that i was pooped. Some of the students saw us, and as it looked pretty exciting, i think he got a little bump in secondary peer glamor.
On the last day, I stayed after school, chatting with everyone in our office. I had told them i would be moving on. Everybody left, one by one, until it was just Tina and i. We talked and talked, until even the janitors were gone. She told me she had sensed my crush on Louise. I asked her whether she had sensed my crush on her. Her eyes widened, and she said no. After laughter and many more words, we found ourselves rolling around the office floor, kissing. We began a very nice summer romance. She ended up steamrolling me, but that's life.
In the years since, i've been quick to knock this experience off my resume when i'm streamlining, as "teacher's aide" isn't an overly juicy title compared with my others. In some respects, that year did pale a bit in comparison to my previous two with the mentally retarded. But i did some good things for a wonderful young person, and for a month or two i even got the girl.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bank of America

Someone once said you never learn who your friends are in good times, only in bad.
Bank of America is not my friend, and it took identity theft for me to find this out.
It's a shame too. I maintained a credit card with them for nine years, with no overdrafts and no late payments. Based on this, they showed me great "love". They repeatedly raised my limit, from $1000 to $15,000 at the end, though i never requested any raises.
But last month, without so much as an inquiry in my direction, they revoked my card when a black mark appeared on my record. The black mark turned out to be a fraudulent Chase credit card which had been running in my name since 2007, with a history of late payments and an outstanding balance of $5000 when it was shut down a couple months ago. Since this discovery, another fraudulent card, with First Premier, has also appeared. Someone out there has three bits of information on me: my name, DOB, and SS#. I've begun the process of clearing my record, and Bank of America has assured me they'll take me back if i do so. But if and when my name gets cleared, they'll never see a penny of mine again.
The way they summarily dropped me was disappointing. I can appreciate that action was called for, but in this era of identity theft, one's actual record with the bank themselves should be part of the equation. They readily admit that my record with them is spotless, so perhaps a more reasoned response would have been to drop my credit limit to some modest figure, $500 or so, until i can clear my name.
But that wasn't even the worst thing they did. They soon sent another notice, saying that they were raising the interest on my remaining balance to 25%.
At that point, all i could be was embarrassed for them.
The people at my local branch couldn't even offer me an address i could send a letter of disappointment to.
I've learned some things about banks in all of this. One disheartening conclusion is that they are to some extent complicit in all this nonsense. If all it takes is three bits of information for banks to give their money away, they're obviously not overly concerned with stopping it from happening.
I'm not sure how the credit unions figure into this, perhaps they're being and doing what they should. Although i am mystified by the "90-day" fraud alert they employ. What's to stop something bad from happening on the 91st day?
Another thing i've taken away from this experience is how frustrating it can be to have to deal with these problems only by phone and letter. Does your own bank have a living human being you can speak to, about your credit card? Or do all such inquiries get shunted off to a faceless drone at the end of a phone?
If i ever do go searching for a credit card again, i'll make sure that the bank i sign with has a human face i can talk with for every aspect of our dealings.
Of course, it's possible that i'm becoming another version of my grandfather, who never again stepped foot in a bank after the Great Crash of '29.
Perhaps there are good banks out there.
But if you have any dealings with Bank of America, know that they're taking your money.
And they are not your friend.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Growth Horizons

When i graduated from college and pondered a life in the theater, it occurred to me that while the arts are a noble and goodly undertaking, there was also an aspect of the full-time actor which might be the tiniest bit self-indulgent. So i decided to spend a piece of my life directly helping others.
I hit the want ads and found Growth Horizons. They were hiring vocational skill instructors for the mentally retarded. The next day, i was employed. They ran a warehouse that serviced eighty clients, handling basic assembly contracts that came from the business community. The warehouse was divided into higher and lower functioning sections. I took over one of the lower groups. Our most steady work was packaging nails into cardboard boxes. We assembled the boxes, weighed out one pound of nails, and sealed the boxes with a sticker. Our clients were aged twenty to eighty. In addition to MR, there were some who had MH (mental health) issues. Most of them had spent the bulk of their lives in huge state-run institutions, which had been disbanded only a few years before, for inhumane conditions. Any "problem" clients in these institutions had been taught violence, so violence was how they dealt with the world. About 15% of our clients fell into this category, so in addition to CPR, i had to learn self-defense (in practice, i defended others moreso than myself). My teenage brothers loved to make fun of the "pivot and parry" techniques i practiced on them. In real-life situations the techniques were helpful, although there's always an element of chaotic improvisation when violence is unleashed. Clients got paid for their work, usually a few pennies per unit. Which made for anywhere from a couple bucks to eighty bucks a month. Not much, but when you've got no monthly expenses, it ain't nothin'.
I loved my group. They were the least productive in the warehouse. There were only a few who could handle weighing, and a couple with the dexterity to do stickers. But they were mostly happy and willing.
There was John, who was non-verbal and grumpy. He mostly wanted to be left alone to nap the day away. He wore a hockey helmet because he had limited balance and dexterity. On occasion i had to help him in the bathroom (and that includes wiping).
There was Sheila, who was verbal, but so shy you would never know it.
There was Marcia, who was semi-verbal, and a pistol. She would playfully take a smack at me whenever i needled her. Once in a while i would offer her a hug, and she would almost blush. After a year, she worked up the nerve to hug me (one of the instructors opined that she had a monumental crush on me).
There was Charlie, a Down syndrome client who affirmed every loving Down stereotype.
There was John K., a thin, semi-verbal fellow with thick glasses who sometimes had a crusty exterior...but in that warehouse, a crusty exterior was often simply a defense mechanism. I quickly learned that he was one of the most gentle souls i would ever know, and he and i shared a very special connection, despite the fact that i could only understand about a third of his words.
There was Linda, who was non-verbal and somewhat maniacally wide-eyed. Once in a while she would get upset to the point of screaming and hitting her own head, but if you got her going in a happy direction, she would nearly hyperventilate with excitement.
There was Peggy, who was mildly verbal, confined to a wheelchair, and simply a classy lady...you could tell she had never been near an institution, and had a family who loved her.
There was Randy, the most childlike client in the place. He spoke in coos, like a dove. He was small and thin with pale skin and red, curly hair. We had to always keep an eye on him and his boyfriend from a higher functioning group, Brian, as they would try to meet in the bathroom for sex. I felt guilty about policing that behavior, but i accepted that if you made one exception, a barrel of monkeys would be let loose.
There was Cindy, who was quietly and patently disagreeable. She was non-verbal, but this may have been because she was intelligent enough to know that she couldn't be understood. She looked at the world through narrowed eyes, and wore headphones because she was sensitive to sound. She was capable of violent outbursts, but didn't do so often, as it was easy to spot the buildup signs. She would slowly approach and lightly tap her target with one knuckle. Harder taps would follow, until it was an all-out attack. I only saw it escalate that far once, which makes me think it was at least partly a defense mechanism. After a year, i got her to the point where she would give me a little almost-hug, with her eyes staring elsewhere. Her case workers blatantly took advantage of her nicotine addiction, implementing a system which rewarded work and good behavior with cigarettes.
There was Keith. He had surgery scars on his head, and pronounced his "R"s as "W"s. He was a favorite among the instructors, because he was sweet, and fun to mess around with. When you were joking with him, it would take him a few seconds to catch up. When he got it, he would exaggeratedly smack his head as he laughed and said "Oh Wob!" He then might try to give you a little spank. He was probably the most verbal client i had, and he took joy in being able to talk with me, and ask me real questions from time to time.
And finally, there was George. I can still remember the shape of his pearlike body as he hugged me. He was an older man who didn't hug everyone, but he and i always seemed to understand each other. He would talk to me for minutes on end, which was impressive, as i only understood about 10% of his words. I would just smile and comment on whatever the gist of his energy was. He treated me like i understood everything he said. He had thick, thick glasses and colitis. Once in a very long while he would get annoyed, and go off on a grumpy tangent. But he'd never stay grumpy long, not while i was around. When i think of hugs, and that at times i've been one of the more well-hugged people you'll ever meet, i think of George.
The other instructors were wonderful. In a near group was Cindy, who was laid back and fun, and had a little almost-romance with me. She decided to have a child that year, though she had no male in her life. I almost offered to be the biological father. In the other near group was Joyce. She was outgoing and funny, with a huge heart. She was engaged, but nursed a not-so-hidden crush on me. Further off, there was Big John (think Ossie Davis), Harry (Malcolm X), and Chuck (big, peaceful hippie). There were two wonderful client supervisors, Bill (cousin Eddie) and Tyrone (Magic Johnson). They covered our groups when we took breaks, and made everyone's life a little more light and fun. There was the nurse, Mary, as caring as could be. There was the resident goofball, Paul the forklift guy. His brash sense of play covered a big heart. He took great joy in needling the clients endlessly, to their exasperation and delight.
In the building's offices, the rest of the staff toiled. Steve and Beth were in charge, and they were about as wonderful as anyone you'll ever meet. I had a tender romance with Linda, one of the case workers. I had my very own desk, which was funny and fun. For social reasons, breaks were as enjoyable as the work itself.
There were other clients who will always be unforgettable. There was Jerry, a manic blind man who would hurl himself up and down when he was scared or angry, causing danger to himself and others. His spring-like jumping was undoubtedly a defense mechanism...i try to imagine what being blind in that warehouse would have been like, and it's almost too frightening to think about. He looked forward to connecting with me whenever he could. Talking him down from hysteria was sometimes a little comic.
Another blind client was Stuart. He was enormous, and thoroughly gentle and enjoyable when calm. But i think he had mental health issues, for his violent episodes were extreme and frightful. His buildup was his "wiggling". If you saw him start to wiggle, you had to react very very quickly, to take him somewhere solitary. On those occasions when his escalation wasn't diverted, he tossed eight foot metal tables around with ease. Paul was great with him, he would sing wiggle songs and shout out "Stu, i saw you wigglin'!" Stu would smile and insist, "No, you didn't see me wiggle...not gonna do no wigglin'."
And the client who instilled the greatest fear of all? A tiny woman named Joanne. She probably had the severest mental health issues in the place. Her violence was extreme, frequent, and mostly unpredictable. Her group station was the only one with a padded carpet, to cut down on bruises. There may have been voices in her head. Her eyes would wander as she talked with you. She could speak, but her words came out mangled. Under all that, you could tell that there was intelligence and a desire to be loved and understood. But every single client walked on eggshells when she walked by.
There was Michael, who resembled a gorilla in physique. He was beatific when calm, with his starry eyes wandering. But he would get to whispering to himself, and suddenly ka-blam, he would attack a staffer or client with all his sighted might.
One of the highest functioning clients, and i can't remember her name, was a little slice of brightness and fun i always felt a rather soft electric response to. It was a strange thing to admit, but one day Chuck and i were talking, and we discovered that we both had a big crush on her. I suppose i could claim the attraction wasn't sexual, but that'd be a lie. She was just so sunshiny and purely wonderful. I am both relieved and sad that i never faced the temptation of meeting her in the real world.
Anyway...i began working with my group. There was always a balance to maintain between production demands and the desire to teach. After a year, our production improvement was marked and impressive. I received a merit citation from Steve. And one day, just when i felt my efforts were finally paying off, he called me into his office and asked me to take over Joanne's group (it's telling that hers was the only group not identified by a staffer). She was so intimidating that they would bring in a new instructor, and after a couple days, or even a couple hours, they would walk out, never to return. I had a better seat to observe this than anyone. Joanne was just relentless. Whenever she had an outburst, three or four staffers would run to the aid of her instructor. They would wrestle Joanne to the ground, then hold down an arm or leg for three or four minutes. This happened at least once a day, disrupting several groups. Understanding Steve's predicament, i hugged George and John goodbye. In retrospect it was an obvious move, but i'm grateful that Steve had at least tried to find another solution. A few months before, Joanne's group had taken over the mantle of "least productive group". When she said my name, "Rob" came out as "Chubbie". Her spoken English was so maimed that all her staffers had to learn some sign language. To this day, i will occasionally sign "work all day" or "stop kicking" at random moments. My first day with her, i let her and everyone know that things would be handled differently. She attacked me, i took her to the ground, and pinned her torso and wrists. Other staffers came running, and i shouted them off. From then on it was just her and i, and after a few months, the incidence reports revealed that change was taking place. The frequency of her attacks was dropping, to one or two a week. The intensity was also diminishing, and after four or five months, our floor time was down to a minute or so. Sometime during this period, Beth shared an interesting theory. She said that Joanne's attacks had an element of repressed sexuality in them, and that her wrestling with me was a way of sublimating some of that energy. She definitely grew an affection for me...on the peaceful occasions when she hugged me, you could tell there was love. And the less violent she became, the more she was able to express her silly side...she would even curtsy once in a while.
There were times when my speed saved myself and others from considerable harm. Once, Joanne hurled a 15-lb. metal scale at Marcia. I leapt, batting it away with a forearm. Another time, i glanced up, sensing movement. My hand shot up, and a coffee mug smacked into my palm. It would have hit my head directly, and to this day i don't understand how i reacted so quickly...it seemed like my reaction was milliseconds ahead of my cognitive awareness.
My reflexes failed me once, though. I was watching my group and Joyce's for a few minutes, standing with Michael. I was relaxed, and thought he was too. Way too late to do anything about it, i saw him strike. His open palm came crashing down on my head.
After six months, and a merit citation for my work with Joanne, i decided it was finally time to go. They threw me a party, i said sweet farewells to all, and ended one of the most fascinating chapters of my life. I soon realized i had some empty time before my next adventure, so i decided to spend it working as a residential staffer in George's home. There were four clients, and i got my first taste of cooking for a big group. George was never childlike...he was in some ways a very conventional fifty year-old man. So perhaps it even surprised him that he was able to express a kind of tenderness for me that i've never felt from another male. Or maybe even any female, for that matter. After six extra months of George hugs, i moved on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

soggy bottom boy

The roof is leaking.
No, really.
Yes, i realize that my life is starting to sound a bit like a country song.
It all started last Friday. After about 24 hours of rain, drips began coming through the overhead light fixture in the center of my ceiling. I pulled my mattress away after a minute or less. My landlord Henry sent Shane the handyman. He looked at the roof, said it needed to dry before he repaired it, and that he'd be back tomorrow. By evening, two more spots were dripping, the larger of them a big bubble that had a steady stream of water coming out. If the rain had continued overnight i'd not have been able to sleep, as the bucket would have needed replacing every twenty minutes. I also realized that if another storm hit and someone wasn't here, the entire apartment could flood. A two-inch water bubble had appeared on the wall, above the electric wall heating unit. Kinda hard to put a bucket under a wall. I pierced it, and worked it dry like a big pimple.
So far, inconvenient, but such is the adventure of life.
On Saturday Shane didn't show, and i got Henry on the phone. We were expecting three days of rain starting Monday, but had all weekend to get fixin' that hole. On Sunday i went off to work, being lifted by and losing a wrestling match to a woman in a bikini on video (is this not a fantastic country??). I'm assuming the clip will end up online somewhere. It was my second such gig. I had done the first one for $20, kind of on spec (and well, because, well, wrestling a scantily-clad, strong woman doesn't "have" perks, so much as "is" a perk). The director, "Kasey", told me i'd get more money on future gigs. She loves me for my personality and because i have 1.9% body fat on a muscled 140-lb., 5'10" frame. On Sunday i did not get more money, however. I think Kasey justified it because it was a short shoot, but i'll not be manhandled so if she wants me again (except by the semi-clad woman, of course). At a thrift store near Kasey's, i spent $6 of my loot on a Mike & the Mechanics cd and the new Annie Lennox disc. I also passed a bag on the road, and something about it was strange, so i doubled back. There was an NYFD T-shirt inside, with the tag still attached, so add that to the day's haul of $14 and two cds.
I got home, and there was no sign that any work had been done. Since Saturday morning, i had been unable to get Henry on the phone. I called him, and later in the evening i finally got a text message saying "i see you called, what's up?" With a storm coming in the morning, "what's up" was not the sentiment i'd been hoping for.
And please, dear reader, check my reponses as you read along. I'd like to think that i've not acted in an alarmist way, but if anything, i've been notably restrained. If the rain continued for three days, i was facing no sleep for three nights. Plus the spectre of a flood, if i had to leave for work (which i did, on Monday). At the time, i wasn't even thinking of other scenarios...friends have since told me that more dire possibilities include electric fire, electrocution, and a collapsed ceiling.
On Monday morning, i got Henry on the line. His attitude was that he would get to the problem when he could, and he re-invoked the need for the surface to dry, implying that the repair might have to wait for the (three-day?) storm to pass. I was a little stunned, and told him that if something weren't done by the time i got home, i would get on the roof myself with wet/dry sealant. He took a little shine to this idea, and asked me my rates. I couldn't even wrap my mind around "rates", and told him so (in my mind, i told him that the time for that brilliant idea had been the sunshiny day before, not when i was off to work in a rainstorm). Before, when i had broached the idea of checking out the roof myself, he assured me i shouldn't, for insurance reasons.
I spent forty-five minutes trying to get everything in my room off the floor, then biked to Manhattan for a moving job, as the rains fell. Hard rains. I called Henry again to say that i would be a bad choice for the job, because of my relative inexperience and because it needed to be taken care of right away. He got a little curt, and denied the urgency i was suggesting.
Then, what was scheduled as a three-hour work day extended to eight hours. Normally i'd have been delighted, but i experienced something that day for which i have little frame of reference to relate it to. Stress. Physical manifestations of stress. Understand, my combination of temperament and how i've structured my life has literally resulted in me being an almost-stranger to stress, or certainly of stress that one can feel physically. It's nearly fair to say that never in my adult life had i experienced what i was feeling. It was a twisted feeling inside, and when the time came when i should have been very hungry, i felt no appetite at all.
Sensations like these may be familiar to you, dear reader. It makes me understand why so many of you are constantly hurting one another, and yourselves.
Stop doing that, okay?
Anyway...i got home after my long day, not knowing what i would find. Henry had said that Shane's assistant might come. There are indications that nobody came, but...there was no disaster. There was a little water in the three buckets, but no sign of flood. I learned that my flatmate Stanley had emptied one full bucket. The rain continued a bit longer, and the bubble on the wall was joined by many others, most of them small, but one which was a foot long. I got Henry on the phone, still temperate in my approach. He said that the assistant had probably been there, and that he himself had come down with the flu. I told him to rest.
So today i awoke, knowing that the time for patient inactivity was past. Storm or not, i would be on that roof, sealant in hand. Happily, the day passed without any rain.
And my roof is newly sealed, as best i could.
There weren't any egregious holes, so the problem may be somewhere i couldn't even see.
But for now, i'll hold my breath a little, and wait for the rains.
Don't get the weeping fiddles and pedal steel guitar out, though...if appetite is a good indication, i'm fine. For the past forty minutes, my stomach has been screaming "finish the article, finish the damned article!"
Loving you all, from wet Bedford-Stuyvestant...

Friday, April 3, 2009

sensualist dream

I'm in a blizzard, freezing and famished, so hungered that it hurts. Suddenly a figure looms before me, wrapped in furs and reaching out a hand. We stagger through the storm to a cave. Inside, a blast of warm air knocks us back. In the midst of hot spring-fed pools, my guide lays me down and removes our clothes. It's Gabrielle Reece. Missy and Katarina Witt emerge from a pool, and the three of them carry me to the waters and immerse me. They wrap their naked selves around me, until i'm warmed through and through. Arthur Jarrett's executioners pull me out and dry me off, then run out into the storm. After that, everyone is naked. Amanda appears and leads me to a fur-lined chair, where Vanessa is waiting. They sit me down between them. As they hold and hug me, Jill appears and massages my back and head, her breasts brushing my neck. Cammie and Randie sit before me, and administer to my feet with oil. Randie uses just her hands. Cammie pours oil on herself, then runs my foot across her chest. Michelle runs in, settles into my lap, and bounces. Tanya Roberts and Jolene Blalock bring trays laden with delights, and feed me. They have Kellogg's Apple Raisin Crisp with unsweetened coconut milk. They bring maui onion and roasted garlic & herb Dirty potato chips. They bring honey, blueberries, macadamia nuts, Snyder's honey barbecue pretzel chunks, and Dad's tomato potato pie (with soy cheese). While i eat, a woman in a mask does performance art. Orion women dance, and Lyle Lovett sings. They bring BLTs with soy bacon, and both Dad's and Aunt Joyce's mashed potatoes. Kathy kneels before me, eyes sparkling, and happily fellates me. They bring my brother John's tofu stir fry, Girl Scout samoas, and Mom's monkey bread. Linda appears, kneels over me, brings our mouths together, and passes from her tongue to mine a piece of Chocolate Bar pretzel-chunk dark chocolate bar. While the others play volleyball and swim, Linda, Amanda, Vanessa, and i fall asleep...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

a new home (continued...)

In times of unhappiness or stress, we all seek our "comfort food", whatever that might be. For me this past month, that's been lots of "West Wing". Computerless and almost jobless, there was no shortage of time. I pecked at a poem with pen and paper, and wrote a few not-ends, but it's funny how hard it is to go back, once you've gotten used to a new technology.
Amazingly, given how motivated by self-interest we all are, treating ourselves well is a skill that most of us are simply pathetic at. I do my best to not be so. Shortly after i arrived at my new home, even though i was in arguably the worst financial straits of my life, i gave myself some treats. I spent $20 on seven cds (it's so wonderful to have "On and On" in my life again, and the original "Sail On, Sailor" for the first time), and the same amount on a Star Trek dvd set. This last was my final purchase using my Bank of America credit card, as my card was shut down the next day. I've apparently been the victim of identity theft. I'm awaiting the report from the credit bureau, but preliminary evidence suggests that someone's been mortgaging a house and leasing cars in my name for years, and making late payments while doing so. My own record is pretty close to spotless, so don't think i won't remember how Bank of America turned their back on me. They admitted that my rejection had nothing to do with my record with them...indeed, over the years, they've gone out of their way to keep raising my limit, though i never asked for it.
It's funny how the timing of it all went, though. Having that card the week i moved...well, it was probably the single time in my life when having credit helped the most. Since i couldn't get my old landlord on the phone to give my new landlord a reference, he asked for four months rent in advance, instead of two. Mom's loan didn't cover that, so the $500 cash advance i took from my credit card covered the difference. It also was the means by which i stocked my cupboards when i moved in.
Then there i was, suddenly with no credit, a few singles in my pocket, maybe $20 in the bank, and three days before my next job.
But i was fine.
Here are those many little reasons why i knew almost immediately that i'd be moving out of my last apartment sooner rather than later. I knew it wasn't a "perfect" fit when i moved in, but i had been facing a deadline. And i don't regret a moment of it all...being the only white in a black neighborhood during the Obama election was singularly right.
1) Bike travel distance. It wasn't prohibitive, an hour or so to most parts of Manhattan, but almost immediately i was aware of how much nicer living just ten minutes closer would be.
2) Subway proximity. It was a good mile away. I didn't mind this for my sake, but for my visitors.
3) Most of the restaurants were meat and fried food heavy. I ended up frequenting only one, a Chinese place.
4) There was a glitch in the mail, and i'm guessing i received only half of that which was sent to me while there (so if you think i've been spurning your offers of publication or group sex, try me at my new address).
5) There were no organic food shops, coffee shops, or much in the way of thrift stores.
6) The rent was on the upper end of acceptable. I'm now paying $400 a month, and had i been paying that rate at my last place, i'd have an extra $1000 now. After this bleak financial winter and my housing crisis, i'm in almost $5000 debt, so that $1000 would be nice to have.
7) The lines of communication with Shelly were damaged almost immediately. We had nice moments, but...i remember the time i told her that someone had eaten nearly a whole jar of my peanuts. She called me a liar. Thereafter, though i almost never mentioned it, my food disappearing was a constant. Not every day, but every week. I don't think it was the kids, either. Most of it was out of reach for Tarlik, or things used for cooking. And Melissa asked when she wanted something. It was perhaps mostly Shelly's friends. There was a fair deal of traffic in the house.
8) I had spent the previous winter in substandard heating, so heat was maybe the first thing i asked about before i moved in. Shelly assured me it was fine. The heater was in one of my closets, but very quickly she asked me not to run it often, as her bill had been ridiculous the previous winter (i think she was being charged incorrectly, a condition which continued this past winter...she got a $1000 bill, even though i was running the heat only a few hours a week). She also told me that the noise of the heater kept her up at night. Often the heat wasn't a problem, as we had units above us and below, but there were many nights when i accepted being too cold, out of consideration for her.
Anyway...despite all that, i did love being there.
As for my new home, it's twelve minutes closer to Manhattan, the subway is three blocks away, there is a veritable cornucopia of restaurants nearby, i have a door to my own little backyard (admittedly shabby at present, as are the neighboring yards...they look a tiny bit like a war zone...but i've got one lovely little tree near my window, and i've asked the landlord for grass seed), and all for $100 less a month. I've now met the other couple, too. They're quite young, and they seem nice enough, if a little reclusive.
There are signs of domestic unrest between Stanley and Robert, but...such is life, sweet readers, such is life. It's a banquet with no menu, a pool with no lifeguard, a party with no chaperone. Eat, drink coconut juice, be merry, and make love.
There are no guarantees. But trust yourself, and try not to be afraid of anything.
Except maybe wolverines.
I love you all.