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.”
“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.