My landlord went crazy sometime at the end of June. To tell the background of my summer homelessness would mean attempting to articulate the irrationality of human behavior. Does that sound vague? It was meant to be; partly to spare the landlord in question, and partly to spare myself the wrath of publicly declaring one man’s instabilities and mental aberrations. Though, I am not the type to spare my subjects, in this case, it is only necessary to say that, Craigslist is never good at belying mental illness, until it is too late.
There was a falling out, a necessary eviction/escape, and a moment of surprise for me when I was comforted by the thought, “I have to move out? I am getting evicted? Wait? I can leave and blame someone else for my detachment?” It was wonderful. For me, there has always been some guilt in my inability to settle.
What does that say about me? And what does it say that I take great pleasure in flight? There have been times where I do stop myself and think, “Shouldn’t I just learn how to stay in one place?”
This time, I had no choice. For the first time, my wandering was only partially self-induced. Yes, I could have found another apartment. Yes, it was a “making lemonade out of lemons” situation. Still, I cannot deny the swell of excitement that came over me, when I put my things back in storage and hit the road for the summer.
Here’s what happened, in a collection of shorts:
Falling Off (Somewhere on the Oregon Coast)
I could blame my falling off the wagon on the circumstances, or I could admit that I had (sort of) planned it and was already bored with my success given my newly acquired six-month sobriety coin (my accomplishments are often short-lived). With nowhere to go for my first few days of my road excursion, a friend of mine offered me a cabin in the woods somewhere off the coast of Oregon. In the offer, he failed to mention that he would be bringing six bottles of champagne and there would not be much else to do besides drink and catch-up.
Long story short, I fell off the wagon somewhere near the Oregon Coast. This means that, I not only broke sobriety, but I broke my cell phone and a pair of wedge heels. A few days later, when high-tailing it out of the mountains, I had a momentary looking back on the calm of sobriety, a serenity in the rear-view.
It had narrowed out of sight. This set the tone for my summer.
That night, I was driving through the mountains alone, halfway to Portland where I would couch surf with a few of my nearest and dearest. I pulled off to use the bathroom at a shamelessly creepy townie bar, slid past the bartender and into the bathroom. The dimly lit family style restroom had only one swinging lamp and a patchwork curtain that faced the toilet. I thought, in my own best interests, I should peer behind curtain to make sure no one was hiding or waiting for me to de-pants. Reaching for the edge of the curtain, I pulled it back slowly and found myself looking directly into a pair of eyes. I had to shriek, at the sight of a full-sized mannequin in a sports jersey with a Cheshire cat smile holding an empty can of beer.
Giddy with the content of surprise, I walked out, feeling more awake and prepared for my journey. A lesbian, older than me, sat bleary-eyed, her face in her hand, her elbow on counter, her ass in cargo shorts, slipping off a barstool. She asked where I was going, then invited me to come home with her….
…I continued on…
Too many of my friends have moved to Portland. It is just far enough away to be a travel annoyance and not quite compelling enough to make me want to move there. But, I get it. It is quirky and quaint, and hipster and clean and liberal and a lot of things that, people I like, would like. My first night I stayed with a high-school friend in a high-rise downtown. Despite its skyline presence, views, and luxury tower status, the characters puffing cigarettes outside made me feel like I was in rehab or getting some fresh air outside a psyche ward.
Everyone was getting ready for the 4th of July fireworks and rooftop party. Here are some facts about what took place that night:
1) I spent most of the night convincing a cross-dresser named Crystal that he was a beautiful woman, even if heterosexual men could not see it. He persuaded me to trade outfits with him. Then, he stole my bra.
2) I met a retired Hollywood producer with no stomach. When I say “no stomach,” I don’t mean “skinny,” I mean, “lacking the vital organ,” due to a complicated disease and surgery. Having no stomach didn’t stop him from imbibing whiskey or enjoying the pleasures of a lap dance.
3) Around midnight, Fred Meyers confiscated over $100 from my checking account. For what? This is still a mystery.
4) Someone died. She was at least one friend removed, but, this should give you an idea of the kind of mayhem and debauchery that was taking over the rooftops. Age: 37. Manner of death: Undisclosed. They discovered and removed her body from the high-rise two days after I left Portland.
The Blind Painter (Zion State Park, Utah)
Utah is strange and quiet, almost unremarkable. I hadn’t been back since I was pulled over last summer doing 90 in a 65. The officer, scanned the innards of my vehicle from the passenger side window, then said, “I’m going to mark you down as going 75, not 90. And I’m not going to report that this is a construction zone.” He looked confused when I pulled a feather boa from my glove box in attempt to find my title and registration. To be fair, I had just left Vegas.
It’s not that I don’t want to pay the speeding ticket, it’s that I don’t know what county or city issued it. And I can’t find the paper version. I have been worried about a warrant, but this was a year ago, and, I really never thought I would ever be back in Utah. Unrelated, I went out with a lawyer recently who offered me the following promise: Baby, if you stay with me, I will take care of all your warrants. Never such sweet words have been whispered
I spent the majority of my road trip through Arizona and Utah with a 25-year-old lady traveler I met immediately prior to my eviction. Recently back from doing volunteer work in Africa, Leila was also on a road trip (cross-country from New Jersey through the Midwest to Washington, down the California coast, then through Texas and back to New Orleans where she would start grad school in the fall). Our lives intersected appropriately and so we forged a bond—in wandering, compact suitcase packing, and trunk crunching. Despite the restlessness of our pairing, there was the mutual reassurance that we were each on an appropriate “life path.”
I liked her because she kept deodorant in the glove box.
Leila did the greater part of our travel arranging, mostly because I am getting too comfortable (lazy) and if it were up to me, we would have ended up camping illegally or in some dingy motel off the interstate. It was because of Leila that I landed at a cozy bed and breakfast nestled in the foothills of red rock outside of Zion State Park.
I wouldn’t have known that the bed and breakfast owner was nearly blind. He moved effortlessly through the floors of his B & B home and the kitchen (though in hindsight, he always let his wife pour the coffee).
The walls were lined with paintings, shifting between a stark and vibrant realism and muted impressionism. When I asked about the work, he explained that the Monet-like landscape paintings took over when he had lost his sight to diabetes.
It occurred to me that, the opportunities to pursue our passions are not infinite. Still, there is hope in seeing the transformation of a blind painter.
Raven and the VW Van (Sedona, Arizona)
First of all, the drug bust was not my fault. Neither was the arrest and truth be told, I was only involved because I was jealous of this vagrant’s Volkswagon van. It was something out of a 70’s porn, or what I imagined people drove to Woodstock. There was a bed in the back lined with Mexican serape blankets, Christmas lights and a disco ball. Jerry was in his late fifties though his children were older than me. He was skinny and tan, weathered as a desert man should be. When he asked how old I thought he was, I lied and said 38.
I wasn’t flirting.
I met Jerry because he was friends with the main act at a small bar on the outskirts of town—a young guitarist with long hair that fell into his eyes (who I was flirting with). He introduced himself after the show: “I’m Raven, but you can call me Peter,” although I’m pretty sure it was the other way around. Raven was only 22 and had the passion of an untrammeled, not-yet-weary artist, a spirit I am partial to. After less than an hour, he let me take over the mic in a freestyle rap and with the help of some others we miraculously stumbled through every verse of Edward Sharpe’s, “Home…”
“Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my ma and pa….”
In crossing deserts, it is unlikely that you can pass through without meeting some desert folks. If you know desert folks, you will know what I mean when I say this: people from the desert seem noticeably distracted all the time, like they are looking through you, or past you, their eyes tracing a slow-motion car accident or a beautiful woman.
Strangely though, I think they want to be found. Some of these souls, are like a desert rose, out of place, but rooted and unfit for transport. Raven asked if I thought he would fit in L.A. or San Francisco or New York. And I told him, he could make it: he wrote beautiful songs, and his lyrics would speak to people. Perhaps he could make it, if he ever saw past the desert skyline.
Jerry wanted to show me the van and I followed him, picking through sundry items and trinkets he collected throughout the years. Leila pulled me from the van with the sobriety of fear and took me back to our small motel room. The next day, we found out on Facebook that our new “friends” had been arrested for mushroom possession.
Another Psychic (Sedona, Arizona)
I visited a psychic in Sedona who I expected to provide vague assessments of my character and offer generic advice on life’s dilemmas. She told me, 1) I would have a major decision to make by August, and 2) The answers would become clear to me before I had to make that decision.
I only had one question and that was where to go, if anywhere. Again, I faced a turning point, where finding “home” remained a possibility and an end.
I should have mentioned earlier that the underlying tension of my summer was not falling off the wagon, or recovering from my break-up, or the reality that I was torn from the security of my San Francisco home. It was that in the upswing of chaos, the excitement led me to think that this was all fateful, that it was meant to happen, to drive me somewhere new… or old.
This is always a question…do we move on, or just go home?
The psychic told me not to worry, that my spiritual guides would reveal the answers in time. She also told me about her visions of me: a wild horse, one with too much freedom in a way that being unbridled can make us question everything.
Somewhere off of I-94 between Minneapolis and Milwaukee
This is the last place I saw myself (in life or on a summer road trip). I spent four days at a kitschy water park resort with a cabin full of family. Now, I am not one for theme parks, or indoor water parks or places that generally seem ripe for on-the-run interstate pedophiles, but I must confess, I lounged on the lazy river, threw myself like a giddy child down water slides, and even bit the tongue of my cynicism as I watched families in droves, drunkenly careening down mini-streets in golf carts.
One night, while sitting around the campfire, my three-year-old nephew managed to catapult himself over a lawn chair and into the fire pit. The chaos that felt like hours, transpired in mere seconds and halted when we lunged; dozens of arms swarmed to save him.
Quickly drawing his body from the flames, his fragile limbs were limp with shock and his soft, baby skin was scalded to nearly third-degree burns. Despite the very different lives we lead and physical distance of our family, there was a unifying force at this instant: the rest of the world shut down and it was just us, under a blanket of stars, trying to mollify the pain of our own.
There is primordial energy of fear and panic in the desire to protect the ones we love.
In less than an hour, my nephew’s screams were quelled, and like any resilient child, he recovered in days, then weeks—scabs formed, scarring, not likely. He will heal, and I will remember the startling instant, with the backdrop of a transient interstate, as we were cut with pain and love and fear we were family.
The Redwoods (Northern California)
The following week, I had to be back in the Bay Area for the wedding of one of my closest friends. The ceremony took place in a forested area thick with redwoods.
The wedding was a fateful intersection of lives and many worlds colliding. The bride is one who has seen me from different angles—we lived together in Minneapolis, New York and San Francisco. She is the same woman I lived with after I called off my own wedding and continues to be someone who reminds me that, despite where we may be in the world, people and relationships are the only reality that matters.
Incidentally, the announcer had set up equipment with speakers that boasted through the tallest trees. There were instructions to be seated, that the ceremony was about to begin. The stentorian male voice sounded imminent through the redwoods and momentarily made me stop, look up and want to answer, “God?”
At that moment, I wished life direction could be so easy: if only spirit voices guided us with the clarity of a Bose speaker system.
The Public Library (Menlo Park)
I am storing my things at a friend’s house in Menlo Park where I also occasionally sleep. To perform my work and writing duties, I found myself at the local public library intermittently throughout the summer. The public library is a space, where the unemployed, retired, wandering or homeless will find safety and a place to rest. Sounds of distraction inside the abode include whistling, snoring and even the occasional domestic brawl.
Outside the Menlo Park library, in the shadows of a magnolia, there is a man in his late sixties who deftly plays the recorder, reclining on a plastic tarp next to a shopping cart and swaddled in a nest of old clothes. On each library visit, I pass him, and every time he asks me to share his waterbottle and a spot the shade. He is another fixture that has provided some comfort in knowing, that I can always return.
Sometimes, I have the urge to carve my name into a tree or a park bench.
It occurred to me that it doesn’t matter where I go… that home is built upon people, much more than place and that, most importantly, decisions cannot predict endings. In many ways, none of it matters: we just have to move forward. Summer and psychics can bring clarity, if this is true.
With my things in storage and an indeterminate window of time where place does not seem to matter. I have embraced my inner-wild horse and let go of the fear of not knowing what is next.
And now, off to Berlin.