Things Take Time

You don’t know me and chances are you don’t want to. Why would you want to open yourself up to that much sadness, that much delusion? The fact that I’m convinced I am the Last Messiah, the one that has come to usher in the Final Days and bring mankind home to the Promised Land only tends to alienate me from others. People think I’m bragging. I’m not blowing my own horn, rather I’m calling you home!

It’s been a frustrating journey so far. I received my calling when I was thirty-three, and now I’m fifty-eight. For twenty five years I’ve been banging my head against a wall. By now I have a permanent headache that no pill could possibly assuage. People tell me I’m deluded. I reply, “yes, but I’m much more than that! Delusion is only one of my gifts. I can also imitate many songbirds by whistling, and do a credible version of the voices of many cartoon characters, mostly in the Hannah-Barbera family. The Mel Blanc voices of the Warner Brothers cartoons are beyond me. As a mimic, I’m strictly second rate.

And yes, I am currently homeless, living in a pile of cardboard on the perimeter of a little-used suburban park. None of this is anything to be ashamed about. My time is coming. My glory is yet to be revealed. I must admit, it’s hard to wait. I am often quite sad, but try my best to cultivate gratitude for the gifts I’ve already been given.

If not me, who? If not now, when? It would be pure arrogance for me to conclude that a cosmic error has been made. Things take time.

But I have no time to waste. I’m on an important mission, a mission from God. I depend on Him to assure my success, to handle all the details, to defeat my enemies. Who are my enemies, you ask? Let’s start with the police. Vicious thugs, all of them. Racist sadists.

The simple fact that my skin is brown opens me to their cruelty. I am a target, which is why I keep moving, because it’s harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one. I will move to a different park tomorrow, and up into the bushes of Griffith park itself next week. Birds have nests, the foxes have dens, but I have no where to lay my head.

Or, I could say that I can lay my head wherever I like, because I demand no minimum of comfort to do so. This is real freedom. To not depend on anything in order to do what you want is real freedom and power. I don’t need to feel loved to feel good about myself. I don’t need things to come without effort in order to enjoy doing them. The ease, comfort or swiftness of a journey does not dictate its value.

I travel when and where I like, and don’t expect anyone else to give me permission to do so or pay my way. I’m not on an expense account. If I decide to relocate to Alaska, I can be there in a few weeks, maybe even sooner. Fortunately, I feel no compelling need to do so, but knowing I have the ability to relocate makes staying where I am feel like a choice, rather than a sentence.

Oh, and I’m a woman. Did I forget to mention that? People don’t expect women to take charge of their own destiny. Most men get ahead by conforming to social norms and those who fail to are in prison. Most women are waiting for a man to tell them what to do or take care of them, and a great percentage of them end up in therapy. People have a hard time wrapping their minds around a female messiah. Even today, the notion of following a woman’s guidance is abhorrent to many men and women.

My tendency is to find a man to blame, and that’s every bit as unhealthy as waiting for one to give me permission or rescue me. In fact, it may even be sicker, because fault-finding can easily be disguised as being proactive when it’s really just codependency. I’ll never forget what a sweet old lady told me at my first Al Anon meeting. “Honey, keep the focus on yourself.”

Today, Donald Trump is the great distraction. How can we spare any time or thought for ourselves when he’s barging around like a bull in a china shop, wrecking everything? Maybe when this is over, there will be a zombie crisis, or a massive die off in some unfortunate place emitting streams of refugees that have to be resisted and condemned to a slow death. It could get worse. In fact, it probably will.

I’m lucky I only have to take care of myself. Thirty and forty years ago I had young children at home. Life was much more arduous. Now my biggest problem is boredom. When I’m bored I dabble in addictive behaviors. You can never get enough of what you don’t need. I have to remind myself of that five times a day.

Certain people harbor resentments for many years and find their lives twisted and deformed by them. It takes a great deal of effort for them to see their part. Far easier to see how Fate has dealt them a bad hand and blame bad luck. If only I had been recognized for my genius, I wouldn’t be this bitter old loser today.

I wouldn’t be living in this nondescript Midwestern suburb of a city that never mattered much to anyone. My windows would not open onto a view of a Wal-Mart parking lot. One of those new Wal-Marts, the enormous ones, that contain a grocery store larger than most sand-alone supermarkets.

Even here, I have managed to make a few friends.

I have a friend who might easily be described as “embittered.” He’s a former college professor who was denied tenure and forced to leave after almost a decade of teaching. By the time he thought about starting a new career, it was too late. At least that’s the conclusion he drew. Too late for him. Today he lives in a furnished room and eats his meals in church basements. Although not exactly homeless, he acts like a homeless person, and is quick to point out the sins of those who have done better than he.

Don’t get him started on higher education or politics. Instead, try to get him to talk about the arts, or travel, or the beauty of different women in different places. I would have thought he would have relocated to a third-world country and enjoyed a simple life on social security, but he’s so angry about the fact that he was forced to pay into Medicare for his entire working life and then wouldn’t be able to access that coverage if he lived abroad, that he won’t budge. He would rather nurse a grudge than risk an adventure.

We meet for coffee in the park, having bought take out coffee from a fast-food restaurant that gives a senior discount. I’d rather not find myself cooped up in a coffee shop with him for I know what he thinks of younger people, men with man buns hunched over their laptops, tattooed women on their cellphones. He scowls so hard it’s almost audible, even when he’s not saying anything.

One pleasant autumn afternoon we were sitting on a park bench. Children were playing nearby, and I found the sound of their voices soothing. Ken, that’s his name, said their laughter and shouts made his skin crawl.

“Aren’t those kids supposed to be in school?” he asked.

“They’re too young. That’s a playground.”

“If it’s not whinos playing chess and peeing in the bushes, it’s these damn toddlers crying for mama.”

“I mostly hear laughter.”

“You’re filtering out the essential ugliness around you. That’s smart. Adaptation. Some of us aren’t so good at adapting.”

“Ken, you’re not the grump you pretend to be. You’re just tired and discouraged, and that’s understandable. You’ve got to find some way to rejoin the human race in order to snap out of this funk.”

“I was trying to remember the last time I was full of hope. I think it was a spring morning in 1970. I was interested in this girl and she seemed interested in me. School would be ending soon and I had the whole summer to look forward to.”

“So then what happened?”

“She went back where she came from and married her boyfriend. I got a summer job washing dishes at Howard Johnson’s. Got drunk every night and was sick every morning.”

“Things didn’t work out the way you had hoped.”

“Back then I didn’t waste a lot of time hoping for anything. I guess I sort of expected things would come together for me, but I didn’t have much in the way of plans. I couldn’t help any of my dreams to come true, because I didn’t have a clue about what to do most of the time. Most of the time I was in a fog.”

“And now?”

“Now it’s all of the time.” He sucked hard on his cigarette. Ken is the last person I know who still smokes. When it comes to tobacco, he’s not toying around. “Wonder whatever happened to that girl. Her name was Sandy. Sandy something. Education major. Maybe she married well and never had to teach.”

Eventually, I was able to steer our conversation around to something more upbeat, but I realized that this was probably indicative of the way things were going for him and for our friendship. Eventually, I would reach a point where I would conclude that it was no longer worth it to expose myself to so much negativity.

Back when I was still employed, I had workplace associates who were a mixed lot. Some bright, some dull beyond belief. What set them apart from people like Ken and the other people I say hello to on the street is that these people had somewhere to go every day. They had a reasonable expectation that life was not steady decline. Now that I’m retired, or self-employed, or whatever I want to call it, the people I routinely encounter have nothing to do and nowhere to do it. They are simply hanging out.

The circumstances in which I find myself are created by me. If I want more friends with which I will possibly have more in common, then I have to take action to make them. If I don’t, I’ll have a convenient excuse which I can use to deny my responsibility in my own happiness, but I’m no longer that easily fooled. My problems don’t come from outside myself. They never did, but I wasn’t hip to that fact until recently.

I just wish I had something of offer that other people were willing to pay for. Something to sell. A talent, a craft, some sort of knowledge that would set me apart.

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URBAN WART

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I have found a place in the heart of this decayed city that is quiet, full of promise, wide-open and all mine. Well, I don’t actually own the property deed, but I live here free of charge. Even though I’m surrounded by ruined buildings and debris-strewn vacant lots, they simply serve as a fence to maintain my privacy.

The last inhabitants of the remaining buildings were heroin addicts, junkies looking for some place to shoot up. Their plastic syringes and rusted needles remain. Stained mattresses that have been soaked in bodily fluids and now sprout fresh blooms of black and green mold which are punctured by shards of glass. Vandals have broken all the windows. There is nothing of value in those places to be salvaged.

I have built my own home, a shack made from lumber I have dragged from the periphery. Because my little half-acre fronts onto no road, I am never troubled by visitors. Sometimes a dog will venture onto my homestead, but once he sees there is no one here, he turns back to civilization. My shack is very small and I spend as little time in there as possible. I don’t keep food, so there’s no reason for any creature to break in.

It turns out I don’t need to wash my clothes, because the world is overflowing with used clothing that is given away for free at certain sites. Charities are overwhelmed with the vast amount of cheap clothing tossed away by Americans every week. Rather than label and sort it, they either give it away locally or pack it into huge bales of compressed and highly wrinkled clothing which they put on cargo ships and take overseas. There it is sold for low prices to the poor.

It is quiet here most of the day and all of the night. Sometimes I like to imagine that I am at Ground Zero after an atomic blast. Large portions of Detroit and most of East St. Louis resemble this. There are hundreds of square blocks in Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis that come close. Instead of a nuclear weapon, they were brought down by racism. The problem is very real, but nobody wants to admit to be racist themselves, and when asked to attribute such urban decay to simple racial discrimination, most would rather obfuscate, stating that it’s a complex problem with multiple sources and therefore multiple solutions.

This city, and I’m not really sure of which city it is, for it’s just another urban/suburban fungus that once showed promise it could not keep. The main feature of my neighborhood is a giant Wal-Mart, one of those new ones that seems like a tumor growing out of an enormous parking lot. A few bland apartment complexes lurk nearby, but other than these developments, there is nothing to call a place. No place at all.

But it’s racism, pure and simple that reduced large parts of our cities to rubble. However, when you have no neighbors, it’s hard to imagine racism playing such a big part. I feel more like Robinson Crusoe than James Baldwin. When I’m not sitting in a coffee shop pecking away at my laptop, or cruising church basements look for a free lunch, I’m weeding my garden, which is too big to tend. All this free land got me going crazy with my hoe. My rows are thirty meters long! Carrots, beets and lettuce. I’ve got plans for green beans, but have to come up with a trellis. Don’t want to attract too much attention in case anyone is looking behind the ruined houses and through the vacant lots.

Beans are actually quite lovely and flower at some point in their growth cycle. Maybe I’ll find something ugly to place in front of them, so that no one will become charmed by their beauty. First they’ll come around to look at my beans, next thing I know they’ll be robbing me of the little I have. I don’t have much, but I’d rather not have them take it. My drawing supplies. My sketchbook. It’s hard enough to keep it dry in my haphazard shack with the sometimes leaky roof.

I keep the little money I have on me at all times. I no longer have a phone, computer or camera. Everyone else has those things and they’re constantly using them, so the world is not suffering for my lack of selfies or social media posts. It took me a while to wean myself off that illusion of connection, and now that I’m free of it, I’m not tempted to go back.

Am I lonely living alone in a vacant lot? Not in the least. If I want companionship, all I have to do is walk a few blocks. Even in inner-city America we have coffee shops. Of course, if you’re black they may ask you to leave after a few minutes, because even up North, it’s still America.

I’m white. People don’t lock they’re car doors when I approach stopped traffic. I noticed that when a black man my age and size did the same, you could hear the car door locks pop shut like popcorn. Pop pop pop! I’m told I sometimes could pass for a hobo. Something about my clothes, hair, the way I seem to have just crawled out from bed. I could also pass as a college professor from a liberal arts school where they let you create your own major field of study. Lesbian pottery.

I remember what it was like to try to pretend to be someone I’m not. For years I sought to fit in to places that didn’t want me and where I would have been miserable if they’d made the mistake of hiring me. Thank God those days are behind me.

Newly Scrupulous

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If everything came easy, life would be pretty boring. Fortunately, there’s always plenty that doesn’t simply fall in our laps. In fact, if you’re pushing yourself even a tiny bit, you’ll soon come to a wall. You’ll have to stop and regroup. You’ll have to read that paragraph again and maybe even once more, just to understand it.

Leonardo daVinci carried his Mona Lisa painting around with him and worked on it when he found the time. It’s not a big painting, and he wasn’t a great artist, but he put in the time and it paid off. He’s still famous to this day, and his painting is the star attraction at the museum in which it’s displayed. He wasn’t in a hurry to finish it. If I weren’t always in such a hurry, I’d probably end up doing more quality work, but I’m always trying to win some sort of imaginary race with myself.

Now that I’m aware of my slapdash tendencies, I can decide to control them. I can decide to slow down and become careful. “Scrupulous” has never been my strong suit, but maybe now I can veer in that direction. I just bought a new software program to process audio recordings for I plan to narrate books, as there is a booming demand for audio version of text. I set about asking advice from people who were already doing this job and at least mildly succeeding.

Like everything nowadays, it’s a home-based activity. As an actor, you don’t get to walk into a recording studio anymore and have a professional audio engineer take care of you. You are the engineer. You buy the microphone. You build the booth to house it from echo and extraneous noise. You master the final recording and send it off to the client.

This is democracy in the marketplace, but like most innovations the transition has not been smooth. There are no more editors and proofreaders that come with electronic publishing. You could hire them, but the expense would be yours, not the publishers. Many of the books I audition for are written more poorly than many high school essays I’ve had the pleasure to grade. So far, there is no gate and no gatekeeper. It’s up to the marketplace to decide.

To Inspire, Amuse, or Invite Derision

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You can’t really expect me to be in full control of all my faculties now that I have two billiard balls implanted in my head. They’re in the mid-brain, just behind the eyes. About the size of a billiard ball, but hollow and therefore lighter, they change the path for electrical nerve transmission and stop the seizures I had grown accustomed to dreading. I have not had a seizure since the surgery.

The downside is that it’s very difficult for me to read for more than a few minutes. On the other hand, I seem to play the piano better than ever before. Pieces that I learned fifty years ago have come back with little effort, and my repertoire is so extensive now that I could play non-stop for hours. I can even improvise a bit.

Thanks to audio books, I can keep up on my “reading” but lately I find that hearing someone read prose just sounds like a poorly produced radio play to me. Why not go whole hog and put on a show with actors, music and sound effects?

Or better yet, why not just start a YouTube channel where I free associate off the top of my head? Surely my abilities in this area could grow and a regular audience for my shows developed. My random and spontaneous utterances are probably the equal of most. If I fail to entertain or inspire, then I could become the object of derision, again a form of public service.