In Colorado

The job in Colorado was a news job. But it wasn’t real news. And it wasn’t a real job. Okay, it was and wasn’t.

The job was part-time. And the part-time I worked was mostly doing unethical coping of news from other sources. The publisher liked to make jokes about the news. So, the biggest and worst part of my job was doing news clips. He would send a list of links to the editor. Along with the list were funny headlines. The paper paid for AP news, so I was supposed to look for an AP source. But often I couldn’t find one. In which case, I cheated. I would copy most of the story and put in limited attribution. In my mind this is plagiarism. But no one cared what I thought.

And for the most part he was not really funny. When there was a long traffic jam in China. His headline compared it to local traffic. The freeway from Denver was often jammed. But I was also a reporter. And in this role I wrote about the traffic.

The reporter job was freelance. I was paid by the word. I covered mostly the small towns in the valley. This is the same area where Kobe Bryant was put on trial. But I moved to the valley a few years after. The news I did cover was county government. I also did a couple stories about local schools. And a range of people stories. From art to new businesses it was all in the mix.

While covering the county I got a tour of the local jail. It was an interesting experience. I have never been, and hope to never spent a night in jail. It reminded me in some ways like a hospital. Like a hospital, you are monitored. But it is harder to get out. The county commissioners were being given a tour. And I asked if I could join them: they agreed.

The road stories were also fun. And they were fun in way most people might not find fun. It was a lot of reading of reports. I had to catch up on different ideas. After reading and talking to a few experts one person mistook me for a local. It was an infrastructure story. There were a number of ideas on how to solve traffic. One idea was light rail. Then there was the idea of a bus service. The last main idea was more road space. A couple plans mixed ideas from these three. Most people seemed to agree a mix was needed. They agreed more freeway wasn’t a enough of a plan.

When not working I spent a lot of time outside. This is Colorado. I would drive for hours along dirt roads. Then sometimes I would hike for hours. There was a large mountain by my house. One of the first things I did was climb to the top and look around. I miss the mountains still. Nature is so grand and amazing.

But one night I got in trouble. I drove and parked. Then followed a path and a dirt road. I had looked at the map. And I had a plan. But it was taking me longer than I had projected. And it was getting dark. I called 911 and told them I was lost. Stay where you are, but they didn’t know where I was when I called. On the map the road was mislabled. I didn’t know this until later. And my phone was dying. So I kept walking. Through the dark and chilly night. I found a house with an open garage eventually. I walked up and asked for help. I told them the story and they called the Sheriff. Who came out and gave me a ride back to my car. It was a bit embarrassing.

While in Colorado I saw my family in New York. It was the death of my dad’s sister. Yes, I know, but I never really knew her enough to have a relationship. So I refer to his relationship. My dad paid for me to fly out of the Denver Airport (which is halfway to New York anyway). It was a good short trip. And it was a chance to connect with family I hadn’t seen in years. Family which wasn’t really family in my mind.

While in Colorado I lived in the town of Gypsum. This was the low end of the valley. Vail was at the high end. There were a number of towns in between. One of which was Eagle, where Bryant was in court. The town – or area – I worked was Edwards. My roommate was an older woman. She was a nutty person.

Well, she was still using AOL dialup. She watch The Notebook everyday. I’ve never sat down and watched it from start to end. But I have seen the whole movie. I saw it at her house just as I would pass through. Or linger to chat with her.

I found the place through Craig’s List. And I am grateful for her renting to me. She had a cat of her own. And her cat was not friendly to mine. Later she also got a small dog. She was a good person. And looking back I don’t think I was an easy roommate. But she was patient and always friendly. While I was away in New York she took care of Baby Girl for me.

There were a number of problems. The drive to work was almost 30 miles. It was a beautiful drive. But a long drive. Also, the money I was making wasn’t enough. I was working part-time and freelance. But my pay was $10 an hour. And the freelance wasn’t much money. I was barely making it, and barely eating. I knew I had to get out.

But I am glad to have lived in Colorado. I never regret anything in my life. Because all these moments have made me rich. And maybe if this book sells well, I will be cash-rich. I left Colorado when I found a job in Nebraska. I put Baby Girl and all my stuff in the car and headed east. Of course, I still had things in storage I hadn’t been able to retrieve.

After I left Colorado the paper went under. It was a free paper and the money wasn’t coming in for ads. My editor now works for the other town newspaper. He is still a good friend.

The Long Trip Home

In the next few weeks I crossed much of the west. From North Dakota. Down to Arizona. And west to California.

News was breaking and I wanted to see. In North Dakota the river was flooding. So I made my way there to write a story. When I got there I spoke with some local news teams. I had hoped to write something freelance. But it didn’t work out. Being a new reporter I imagined things would come to me in a way I soon discovered was wrong.

I did get a Labor Ready job though. It was with the city of Moorehead. Inside a large warehouse I helped stack sandbags to be delivered. I worked with the city for a number of days. At the end they suggested I apply for a job. It was a good area. An area I could see myself going back to live. But not at the time.

The flooding had caused havoc along a long part of the river. This was the Red River of the North. Not to be confused with the one along northern Texas border. This one runs north along the Dakotas and Minnesota. This being one of the flattest parts of the country. When the river flooded, it spread out fast.

While I was in Fargo I slept in my car. There was an all-night coffee shop. It had free wifi, so this is where I used the internet. In general Fargo was a friendly college town.

While in the area I took a side trip into Minnesota. The Mississippi River begins not far from Fargo. And I wanted to see the headwaters of the great river. To see its humble origin. By this time I had given up on writing a news story. And my Labor Ready job was winding down. It looked like it would be time for me to leave soon. I couldn’t be so close and not make the trip.

Finding the birth place of the river was easy. Up a small paved path from a parking lot was a small lake. The outflow of this lake was maybe 15 feet wide. But if you dropped a twig in it, the twig could float all the way to the ocean. It would go down the longest river in the country. When you think of how important the river is to our nation. And how long, and wide it becomes. It enters the world in a obscure park, when I was there there were few visitors.

After this short trip I started back west. I wanted to make a stop at Mount Rushmore. I’d been there before. But I wanted to see it again. It was a bit of a race against time. To get there before it got dark. But I made it, speeding across the Dakotas. There isn’t much to see in these states. But seeing Mount Rushmore is an experience. And I saw the monument to Crazy Horse off in the distance and fog while driving. But it was dark, and the park was closed.

After stopping in Wyoming I started back for California. I had graduated but hadn’t done a ceremony. Since I had free time I wanted to be there to walk with my friends. When I got back to Arcata I thought I would stay for the week. But then I got a short-term job and fell in love in a long-term way. So plans changed.

There was an adventure along my path back to Arcata. From Wyoming I drove south to Boulder. It is such a magical place for me. I spent a couple days in town. And I hiked to the top of the Flat Irons. I didn’t plan on staying in town. Though I always think about staying every time I visit. One day I may move to Boulder and stay to live for a while. But this wasn’t the time to think about such a move. In the past I’d taken the northern route from Boulder to California. This time I took the southern route.

It went through the high mountains, and along route 70. I drove right through Vail, a place where I would soon be living. Though I didn’t know it at the time. I got off the freeway and drove along the route I drove many times later in my life. The mountains are amazing, still covered in snow at the tops. I couldn’t have gone to Yellowstone on this trip because of the weather. But the road through the Rockies was clear.

Moving out of Colorado into Utah I found an amazing landscape. There are few words to really tell people what it looked like in front of me. It looked like an alien landscape. It was orange. The rolling land was broken by deep canyons. The colour made me feel like I was on another planet. Like Mars, but it wasn’t red. The ground had little life. Looking around I couldn’t imagine I was still on earth. It was beautiful in a way which I’d never imagined. I had no clue such a place even existed. All my trips through Utah were in the north. And it has its own beauty. But it is flat and grey, and white. Nothing like the striking deep colours of the San Rafael Reef. This magical place was formed under the ground. After being pushed to the surface it was eroded by many floods. These formed the deep canyons and mesas of the area.

Coming west my goal was Arcata. But I had yet another short adventure.

I went to visit my family in Stockton. I’d talked to mother about a trip to see my brother in Arizona. I asked if she could afford to pay for the gas, and I would drive. We took the route through the desert of Nevada. Because I love Nevada. Even though I got a speeding ticket on this trip. It was a smooth drive down. We stopped for the night a couple hours from Phoenix. It was a cheap little hotel in a small town. The bed was comfy enough for me to sleep. Even if the towels didn’t match each other. Mother pointed this fact out.

Once in Phoenix we spent a couple days with my brother. This was the first time in a number of years I’d seen my brother. He was well. We took a hike on one of the mountains in town. But it was hot there, and Mother wanted to return. On the drive back we stopped at the Grand Canyon. I’d also been here a couple years before with my father. I wasn’t sure if Mother had seen the canyon. Either way it seemed like a waste to drive so near and not stop.

The good news about the return trip was I didn’t get a tickets. Some of those small towns have slow speed limits. But we also made a stop in Reno on the way home. Mother’s sisters live there – and yes I know they are my aunts. But I don’t know them at all. So, they are my mother’s sisters. After visiting for a couple hours we made our way home. We drove along the scenic Lake Tahoe.

After leaving Mother in Stockton I made my way home to Arcata. I think we may have many homes in this world. If this is true, my heart will always be at home in Arcata. And Santa Cruz, Yosemite, Boulder.

Like I said. My plan was to walk in the ceremony. Then leave town. And yes my plans got turned around and I stayed for about two years.

Write about home

I was home. But it wasn’t home. Is this why they say you can’t go home again. Walking down the hallway it all felt smaller. Could everything have shrank? Was this the same house. Well, it was never a normal house. But it was always home.

This hallway was a play space for my sister and I. We would wedge our feet on one wall and our backs on the other. Then shimmy up to the ceiling. But my legs don’t fit across this hall. And the ceiling is so close. Hardly the peak of excitement I recall. Sometimes I would drop from the top to the floor. And it was a fall.

At the core of our home was a mobile home. A modular home is what some people call them. This is where the famous hall was located. Along the hall we would run at times. And others we would walk in shame. At the end of the hall was the bathroom. This is where we would get our punishment. It was a small bathroom, the kind you expect in a trailer. And now when I walk in I notice the sink is so low.

But growing up it was never about the house. I lived on the land. Outside the door was a world of adventure. Like when I turned the driveway into a city with small roads and little mound houses. Or the many times playing games with my sister and friends. As we got older we played at night. Sometimes we would play hide-and-seek games in the darkness. The idea you could hide in open darkness was new to us. As I got older I learned how to hide in the open light.

At the other end of the hall was a small dining room. But it felt big with the table. This is where I learned how to salt and eat plain avocado. My sister still eats it the same way. And in the kitchen there was a toaster oven. At the small kitchen table before bed sometimes we would make English muffin pizzas. We would put hot dogs and ketchup on an English muffin. Then pop it in the toaster oven. This is what home is about right?

After the regular toaster caught fire we never replaced it. Pop-tarts with icing on them had over heated.

But I also remember eating cereal for breakfast. We would take a basic grain like oatmeal. Then add yeast, and nuts and raisins and sugar and I don’t even remember what else. It was hardly oatmeal anymore. Eating was fun and comfortable for me when I was young. Things are different now.

In the kitchen sink we would get our hair washed. I’m not sure why we weren’t trusted to wash our own hair. But the burn of the soap in my eyes etched in my mind. The kitchen had a window on one side. While it used to open outside. It now opened to part of the house added later. The largest part of the house had been added years ago.

There was a large room, a living room. This is where we would gather after meals. It had large windows and lots of light. The windows weren’t glass. But large sheets of thick plastic. In later years glass was place in the frames. And along the outside wall was a long couch. From this couch you could see the yard. But you could also see the mountains far away. I would sit for hours on the couch. Hours staring at the mountains. And thinking about my life and future. It is here I knew at a young age if I didn’t get married by 24. I would never get married. And I was right.

When I looked out the window at night. I could see the lights from stars and houses. The mountains and the sky seemed the same distance. I could see the small lights on the hills far away. And I could see the larger lights of the stars. Their light from much further away. And I was the one who felt far away.

There was a wood stove in this room. It was used to heat the whole house. A giant wood pile was in the front yard. When it was covered with a tarp, small lakes would form in the low spots after the rains.

Next to the main room was a room we used to play and learn. It was where my sister and I had our desks. Mine was full of drawing from imaginary hotels. I had created my own imaginary chain of hotels. I’d look at maps and find cities. Then make a drawing of a building for the hotel in this city. I already understood you could take money from one place and use it to create more. But I still don’t know how to create the money to invest. I’m not sure how many cities my hotels he conquered. And it never occurred to me as a child to place more than one hotel in a city. Even a large city like New York City.

Our small book shelf was in this room. And it had a collection of Bible stories I wanted to read from the start to the end. But I never did. Even as a child I set goals for reading, and didn’t finish. Maybe it is better than never having a goal?

Out the back of this room was a small storage and laundry room. When I was young I remember it having an old florescent light. You had to wait for it to light up. A big freezer was in this room, where we stored extra food. Some of which was meat from cows raised and killed on the land. It was thirteen acres. Then out from this was a smaller room. It was here the yams were pooped on by the kittens. And I have never trusted yams much since.

Then outside was the trail to the barn. But there was also a shed and a couple small buildings. These were just bedrooms. When young you don’t think about home. Like a fish doesn’t think about water. But then you come back and it is all smaller. And you see things in a different way. It isn’t home anymore. Someone else is living in your home. They are creating new memories. Different from yours. It is their home now.

(I kind of hate this one, but I did spend almost an hour when I should have been sleeping writing it so I will post it.)

New York City

The idea of going to New York City was my friends. Come visit she said. When I left, she told me: I never had someone visit for three months.

I had just left my first year working in Silver Lake. With some of my money I bought a bus ticket. I arrived in the city just a month after Sept. 11. The whole city was still on edge. I met my friends at the bus station. The giant Port Authority Building.

While I was in the city I was one of a group living in a small studio. For most of the time I slept on a small couch. The friend who invited me was a part of a larger group. They were dreamers. And they were artists. The type of people who bring the city to life. My friend worked at a framing shop in Manhattan. She is an amazing artist.

One of my earliest memories was going shopping. I purchased food for myself and the rest. When I got to town my spirits were high. But the weather, problems with my friends, and just life got me down. In general it was a hard time for me. And not for any reason except myself. And depression.

These were friends I had met years before. When I met I felt like we were on the same page. But here I felt out of place. The larger group was one I didn’t connect with on a real level. They were all friendly. It wasn’t them. It was me. I felt different. While there I read Bill Gates’ book. When talking to one of the studio-mates I asked, “would you let Bill Gates join your group?” Based on his book, he sounded like a dreamer too. Now, granted in some ways the dreams were different. But I believed, and still do, all dreams come from a place of value. The answer was, no. The reason was, “he would try and take over.” But, you don’t know – he might not.

One of the group was pushing me to drink. Just one he would say. Just one, just one, just one. I would always say no. He made me feel uncomfortable because of this. And I had the strong impression he just didn’t like me. When I spent time with my friend alone I was okay. And there were a few of her friends I got on with too. I’ve never been a drinker, I wasn’t into looking for a party. And I don’t mean this to have a moral tone. There were times living in New York City I wished I was more like the rest of the group. But I wasn’t. And it didn’t feel right when I tried to pretend. When alone with my friend I drank some wine. I trusted her.

I didn’t trust her friend. It is easier to say no one the first drink. What I feared was he would push me to drink one, then two, and three. But my family has a history of alcoholism. And it just isn’t what I want for myself. It isn’t what I believe you need to have fun.

I love my friend dearly. But his pressure and the tone of the group made me feel alone. The more so because I wanted to be a part. Which is rare for me. I felt like this was were I belonged. But I didn’t feel like I fit in. So, I felt like there was something wrong with me. I started to grow away from the group and do my own thing. And it didn’t feel to me like anyone cared. I know this isn’t fair. And was a symptom of the depression.

Right now it is almost 2 a.m. A fitting time to write about New York City. I don’t recall sleeping much. What I do remember was being out all times of the night. There was a 24 hour internet cafe near Times Square. They had an odd price scheme. The price adjusted according to demand. In the middle of the night demand was low. The price was low. This was one of the places I spent a lot of time. I was there on New Years’ Eve.

But I also went to the library in Brooklyn a couple times. My friend lived in the Clinton Hill neighborhood. And I worked at Labor Ready.

I got to know the city working with Labor Ready. You have to find your way to the job sites. The people I worked with were good people. Though they loved to try and have extra hours written on the time card. I never tried it myself, but gained some cash from their efforts. I worked a few moving jobs in the city.

There was one I recall. We went on break and I left my coat, with wallet and money in the apartment. When we came back it was sealed by the Sheriff. The person was being evicted. It gave me a good scare, but I did get my things.

Before I got to the city Labor Ready workers had been at Ground Zero. But rumor was there had been theft. Also the nature of the clean-up was moving away from casual labor needs.

Another job I recall was tearing down a fire damaged building. But we were taking it down one board at a time. It was a bad job. The plan was having trash barrels loaded up with debris. Just the regular kind you buy at the store. Then there were dragged down the stairs. Five flights of stairs to the bottom. Outside a large dumpster was waiting for the buckets where the buckets were dumped. I was on the job for about a week I believe. And it drove me to the point of exhaustion. In the end they asked me to be removed. But I didn’t care, I’d had enough.

Working at Labor Ready at the time took some timing. It also took being a good worker. I was given good jobs because I did a good job. But I also got to the office an hour before they opened. The opening time was 6 a.m. But it wasn’t uncommon to find a line at 5 a.m. Sometimes I didn’t sleep, often I slept little. I am sure this was a factor in my depression.

One time I was riding the subway. I fell asleep and missed my stop. Okay, this happened a couple times. But this time I got off the subway, got on the train going back. I fell asleep and missed it again. I was tired most of the time I was in the city. Once at the studio someone came to pick up something. He wasn’t trusted and I tried to stay awake to keep an eye on him. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t stay awake.

After New Years’ Eve I took a short trip to Glens Falls. The last time I was there to see friends. It was early 2002. When I came back I didn’t stay long. I saved some money, bought a bus ticket and started home. But I had a few stops to make along the way.

When I first got to the city it was all strange. My friend and I had a discussion about the closest subway stop to her house. She was a little upset I questioned her answer. By the time I left I knew the subways well enough to help others. One day I walked through the maze of the Times Square – Port Authority complex of subway stations without getting lost. It was a shock. I told my friend about the experience. While in the city I spent a fair amount of time just walking around. Manhattan mostly because it felt safer. And the grid is pretty basic. A couple night I walked around Times Square. And sometimes during the day.

I told my friend Times Square was a funny place. Because of its location in the city, and the county. It would be easy to do something and be in the national spotlight. You were at the white hot focus of attention. But at the same time there are so many lights. Even at night it is bright like day. And there are almost always crowds walking around. So the average person would be totally ignored. There was something which drew me to Times Square.

I went to Ground Zero once while in the city. It wasn’t where I was trying to go at the time. It was the only time I rode the city bus too. My normal mode of transit was walking and the subway. But while looking for Greenwich Village I ended up at the site. A friend I met there said he was always lost in the city after the attack. Since they were the tallest buildings in the city. He knew once he located them, which way was south. Now they were gone. I wasn’t impressed deeply by the site.

There was an art show which touched me. It was a collection of photos. Personal photos which had been shared. Many were of the skyline before and after the attacks. There were a wide range of images. They showed the way common people were touched by the events. My friend told me she went to the roof of her building and could see the buildings fall.

One other place I spent time was Central Park. There are a lot of neat little corners. One I liked was the Turtle Pond. I explored a good deal of the park while living in the city. And on one occasion did some walking along the Hudson River. I had seen the city as a boy. On a trip with my father we had taken a tour around the island on a boat. But being back I wanted to see more of the city. It felt like an experience I wanted to soak in as much as possible.

Maybe someday I will go back to the city. I am closer to family in New York now. I should take a trip to see them soon. When I left the city I wanted to visit friends. And then go home.

Stockton People

I moved for college. But I could have gone anywhere. I moved to Stockton for family. There was an idea in my mind. We would spend time together. And we would get to know each other. Be closer. It didn’t workout.

I did spend some time with my sister. I know once we went to my favorite coffee shop. It is almost a chapter in itself. But I was busy with school. My sister was busy with her own life. There is no blame. This is just how things turned out. Rather, I am sure what blame there is, is mine.

In my apartment complex I knew no one. There was a neighbor who had problems. I never called the landlord or the police. But one night someone else did. My apartment was over the carport. You could see in the window a little. One of the neighbor’s friends did once mention: “I always wondered who lived there.”

Then again I was rarely home.

At school I made a few friends. There was a woman I was attracted to in one of my classes. We even went out to coffee. But I think she was younger. And she clearly didn’t seem interested. Over time we just stopped talking to each other. Like so many other people in my life. It wasn’t a choice, but it happened by itself. There were a couple others I would talk to when I saw them on campus. But we weren’t friends. But when I wasn’t in class I wasn’t on campus.

At the tax job I worked mostly alone. Though I did get to know the couple who ran the office. There were some friendly women working in the office too. And we got along well. But not in a deep or lasting way. Once the job ended I never heard from any of them again. Except for the couple. A few years later I went back and had them do my taxes again.

The woman who hired me at the gas station job was odd. It wasn’t her only job. As a result she didn’t need to cash her pay checks. But I can talking to her. Once I used the word “tome” and another time “epistle.” She had told me before how she was so smart. It was the only reason I would use those words. I thought if she didn’t know what they meant, she’d like to know. She didn’t know, and didn’t want to know. And got upset. She was one of the people who know everything. If you agree with her your smart. If you don’t then your wrong and dumb. She never had much respect for the owner. And while there were things he did which were wrong. He did start several businesses in his life. And I’ve never even started one.

There was a younger man who worked there for a while. He did things his own way. Sometimes he knew the right way, and just didn’t care. But he was just young and still growing. He had a lovely girl friend and a child. At some point he got a better job as a painter. He just quit without notice. The owner said whoever hired him wasn’t smart. Because if he quit one job without notice, he would quit another the same way. But I hope things turned out for him.

After he quit the woman quit sometime later. She cashed all her checks and caused the owner a little problems. I am sure it wasn’t as bad as she had hoped. But after she left a Pakistani man worked with me. He was funny. Once I joked about putting my head in the oven. “No, no… don’t do this, it isn’t funny,” he said. And I thought how funny you think I could kill myself like in an electric oven. The doors wouldn’t close with my head in the way. And surely it would take a long time to do any damage. But he was always there, and a good worker. At this point I was doing most of the cleaning. He would give me a ride home.

For a while a woman worked at the store. I had no interest in her. But her sister came around sometimes and we flirted. Then one night I took her to my place. I may have made too much of a point about it not being serious. She was a nice girl. And the attraction was mutual. But I knew I’d be soon leaving town. Her sister had already quit working at the store at this point. And afterward I didn’t see either one of them again. It was a lesson.

The next person I worked with was Asian. He would say, “I’m not racist.” But he was. When he talked about black people he said they were thieves. You can’t trust them, he explained. Maybe he didn’t understand what being racist meant. I got along okay with him at work. We covered for each other. But he wasn’t someone I liked. When he dropped his phone in the toilet – I told him to turn it on. Even though I was pretty sure it was the wrong thing to do. He had to replace his phone.

Once someone brought in a fake $10 bill. After we found it in the drawer we got scared. Getting rid of it seemed like the only solution. Otherwise the owner would be angry. So, when a couple came in arguing he gave them the bill in their change. The couple left. About 10 minutes later they came back. The guy tried to buy something with the bill. My co-worker had the guts to tell him we couldn’t take the bill because it was fake. But the guy forgot who had given him the bill.

Towards the end of my time working there I cleaned less. The owner hired a Filipino man to clean. He wasn’t here legally. A fact I discovered when he gave me a ride home one night. At the store he was a good worker. Focused and hard working. He looked Hispanic so a lot of people tried to talk to him in Spanish. But he didn’t know the language. Some would get upset. I’d explain he was from the Philippines. One night he was giving me a ride home. We stopped at a red light. A cop car was at the signal to our right. I made a joke about not running the red light. Then he did run the red light. We got pulled over and he didn’t have any papers. The police let him go, but said I would have to drive. I drove to my place and then he drove home.

But all this is just school and work. While in Stockton I found a cute little coffee shop. And there was a cute girl there too. A couple of them to be honest. But one I had my eye on more than the others. A small group of us would hang out at the coffee shop. One of the guys I had known while living with my mother. He had lived downstairs from her apartment. At the coffee shop we hung out. I took a lot of pictures. It was about this time I got a good camera and started taking a lot of photos. Camera phones weren’t common at the time. Taking selfies had not become a national past-time. I still have those photos.

The girl lived down the street. She was younger than me. At times I thought there might be a potential. A couple times we went to her house. She lived with her father. Once I kissed her on the cheek. But then we spent less time together. I was wrong about the potential. And it was okay. It was a bit disappointing for me. But I wasn’t planning on staying in town long.

In my experience there are moments which bring people together. They form bonds and groups. Small networks of people and relationships. But then the moment passes and people drift away. When I got to know these friends it was summer. I had more free time. Then school came and we all had different priorities. One of the girls went to my college. When I saw her around campus we would spend some time together. But age does make a difference.

The name of the coffee shop was Lola’s. It is closed now. A good friend of mine came to visit one night. We went to the coffee shop. We had also spent time together in Boulder. While in Boulder we were often at a place named Lolita’s. She mentioned the odd fact.

One of the oddest friends I had in Stockton was LJ. He would come to my job at first. And it was okay to chat with him at work. At work I feel like I am a different person. I put on my friendly customer service face. But there is some security there, because they are just customers. But one day he called me on my cellphone. One of my co-workers had given him the number. And at first I was pissed. It was a stupid thing for him to do. But me and LJ did become good friends. He was gay and hoped I was gay too. Not the first and not the last time. But I told him I wasn’t and he respected me.

Well one time he saw a photo of me. I was laying on the grass. The camera was over my face when I had taken the image. Like someone looking down on me. He told me this was what he had always wanted to see. Kind of crossing the line, but he never pushed things beyond flirting. Thinking back I am sure being a black gay man in Stockton was an odd existence. When I moved out of Stockton he helped me move – and lost his van in the process. This is a story for later.

There were a few other people I knew from the gas station. A lady who worked for the police department in dispatch. She came in every night for iced tea. This was a perfect example of the customer service me relating to someone. And there was a girl who talked to me. She seemed to take a fancy to me. We got together outside of work once. But it went poorly. I don’t recall the details. But she wasn’t the kind of person I felt with which I had much in common.

When I left Stockton, I left them all behind. I tried to keep in touch with LJ, but it didn’t work out for long. Once settled in Arcata I was busy again. And we never really got very close. There are few people in my life I have gotten very close to, including family.

Stockton

When I left Yosemite I was down. It was a dark time for me. A lonely time. I felt broken. And like a small bird forced to fly before it was ready. But I took my broken wings and learned to fly. I’d like to say I learned to live so free. But I learned to live in fear.

I hated the way the job ended in Yosemite. And being pushed out with no net. In a way I have been running from this moment ever since. I have focused hard on always having a job. On working hard. I hate looking for work. And the idea of being out of work again scares me. There have been a couple times I have been unemployed since. And I’ve took the first thing I could find. Actually working at Walmart was not the first thing I could find. I worked at Labor Ready for months. Walmart was a calculated choice.

I remember while moving listening to news of the tsunami in Asia. In a way it helped me to see my life wasn’t so bad. I had packed all my things. I rented a van and drove it to Stockton. I had the van for the weekend and thought I would need to find a storage unit. But I didn’t.

I looked up ads. While in a gas station I asked if they were hiring. The woman told me to come back the next day. I called about an apartment. And I called on a second job. Then I applied for school. It was something you could do online.

On Sunday I interviewed for the job, and was hired. Then I got the second job as well. I recall talking to the woman about the apartment. She said it was impressive I was able to find work so fast, and enroll in school. I think it helped me to get the apartment. It was one of the best places I have lived. It wasn’t all too expensive either. Though I don’t recall the rent.

So much to cover and where to start. Well the apartment was a studio. But it had a decent sized kitchen and bathroom. The bedroom was a fair size, for me. I had much less then. It was in a small two-story complex. All the doors opened into a courtyard in the middle. Two locked gates controlled access to the courtyard.

One of the funnier things which happened at this apartment involved my rug. It was old and dirty and I kept it just outside my door. But this was inside the courtyard, behind the locked gates. One day I went outside and it was gone. There wasn’t really any place to look. And I was short on time. So I rushed on my way to class. While riding my bike to school though I saw a figure sleeping on a bench wrapped in my rug. I figured someone must be pretty desperate to sleep in a rolled up rug. On my way back from class I found it on the bench and took it home.

The community college in town was one of the best times of my life. When I had been in school before I failed. Well, I passed, but just barely. And I had never enjoyed school. Even during my time at Bethany it wasn’t a joy. But this time it was a joy. And I was doing great. The teachers were great. The students were great. And it was sad for me to have to leave when I graduated. I always felt like I wanted to complete my education at San Joaquin Delta Community College. But I couldn’t. I was there three semesters. The first was the best in many ways.

It was at Delta I had the first math class I really enjoyed. The teacher just explained it all in a way my mind understood. For the first time in my life I liked math. And he gave me advice I didn’t take and still regret. He told me the next class I should take was Calculus. But I was scared and took Statistics. A bad choice. Another teacher at the school I enjoyed taught Health. She also taught some other life classes. I took as many as I could from her. It wasn’t the subject. She was just a great teacher. The kind of teacher I would like to be someday.

My day always started early with class. I had to rush out the door. After class the first year I worked with a tax preparation company. My job was simple. Dress as Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty and dance around for a couple hours with a sign. I would listen to music and dance and wave the sign. It wasn’t a great job. But it was a job and the people running it were good people. I rode my bike, and at first didn’t lock it up. But towards the end of my time there it got stolen. I had to buy another bike. I had saved money from Yosemite, but it was a lot of money wasted.

The second bike was also stolen actually. I had it parked in front of my sister’s house. It was on the porch, away from the street. I don’t know you could even see it from the street. But it was stolen. I still think it was one of her ex-husband’s friend’s who stole the bike. Then I was riding an older bike I got from a friend. It lasted for a while, but wasn’t great. Once while rushing to work I managed to wreck it and flip over the handle bars.

I went home and tried to get ready for work. But my wrist started to hurt. Being a guy about the pain, I tried it ignore it. But it was throbbing worse and worse. Finally I called my sister and asked her to take my to the hospital. It felt like it was broken. At the hospital I couldn’t sign papers. I couldn’t do much. But my sister was helping me. “It makes me feel like a diva,” I told her.

My wrist was put in a wrap. Riding a bike was out of the question for a while. Then when I could ride I still didn’t. I was a bit scared. At some point my bike disappeared again. But I didn’t care.

The job at the tax company was a good job. It was part-time of course. The ride from home to school was 1.5 miles. From school to the first job was about three miles. From home to school was north, and from school to work was north. But between the jobs I turned around and went over five miles south. I worked at a gas station in Downtown Stockton.

The gas station job was paying me well enough. But the owner could be a real ass sometimes. There are so many stories I could tell. Once he was yelling at me and a co-worker about something. A man walked out with a fountain drink. “Did he pay for that,” the owner yelled. We looked at each other and both said, “yes.” Later I asked my co-worker if the man had bought the drink. He didn’t know and neither did I. But we agreed if we had admitted it, the owner would just yell more. The owner used to pump his gas for free. Now, I understand this could be illegal. But he may have adjusted the costs in the backroom in a way to make it legal. One day he was on his way to the bank. Pulling out of the driveway he ran out of gas.

Maybe the biggest episode was a guy who paid for his gas and forgot to pump it. He came back and the gas had been pumped. It was $20. I called the owner, who was upstairs. His first response was to make sure I didn’t tell them he was upstairs. Then said don’t give him anything. The man was upset and wanted to talk to the owner. But I told him he wasn’t available. This went on for some time and I called the owner again. He could hear everything. He knew the scene going on, and again he told me not to let the man know he was upstairs. Eventually the man left the store. After the man left me and my co-worker were talking about it and mentioned the owner was upstairs. Then when he walked out of the store I heard someone say, “he really was upstairs.” The whole thing bugged my not because he was right or wrong. But because he was such a coward. First of all I would have come down and dealt with the problem myself. But I also would have been inclined to give him the gas. It could have been a scam, but it didn’t feel like one. And sometimes you have to take a loss to keep up appearances.

The job was simple really. Turn pumps on and off from a board inside. We made coffee drinks, some iced drinks and some sandwiches. Then of course there was the cleaning. When I started I had to mop the whole store. It was a real chore to get it all done. And I never really got done on time. But I worked hard. Later he hired another man to do the cleaning.

But I did prove the owner wrong once. It was a drink we made. For some reason the size of the cup had changed. We had been shown to fill the cup to a line. But when the size changed this wasn’t the right amount. One day he came down and told me I was doing it wrong. So I measured out the amount I was supposed to add. He agreed it was the right amount. And I put it in the cup and I was right.

It was just a gas station job but it was stressful. We didn’t sell alcohol, which made me happy. People would come in, scan the coolers, look confused, and scan again. Then I’d just tell them, “we don’t sell alcohol.” The owner had a business before, and it made him sad to see people lining up to buy alcohol at 6 a.m. He could also be a good man.

The woman I talked to when I got hired was strange. She had a second job and didn’t need the money from the gas station job. So she never cashed her pay checks. She told me she was doing it to screw over the owner. I bet your confused to how this hurts the owner. But I was confused to how someone could be so petty and vindictive. When she left the job after several months she took all the checks and cashed them at once. This of course emptied the owners account.

I stayed at the gas station job until I left for university. After I left someone broke into the store. The owner watched the video obsessively and finally saw a way to catch the man. But in the end the owner went out of business and I hear he got a divorce. I never liked the man, but it still made me sad. He was trying his best like we all are, and he did give me a good paying job. When I was leaving he told me when I was a success I could look back on working at the gas station. He was a part of the success. I think it gave him some pride and he was right.

Most of the time I was in Stockton I was moving. In fact there weren’t many moments I had free. But after my first semester there was some time. During the summer I didn’t take classes, so there were more. The last day I was in Stockton was odd. School was done, and I had quit my job to move. I had nothing to do, no pressing obligations. And then I moved. The move itself turned into an adventure for another story.

A Room to Write exercise on Death

You know you will die one day. Well, we don’t always know do we? It is something we think of as far away.
Do babies know about death. When did I first think about death? When I was very young I drank some water with poison. It didn’t hurt me, but I remember thinking it could kill me. And I didn’t care. I feel like I have wanted death as much as feared it. Of course it is one thing to say you want to die, when the chances are you won’t. And another when the chance is high you will.

Do you ever think about killing yourself? It is the mental health question everyone asks. I’ve always thought about killing myself. And I still do. I’d thought like Sylvia Plath I would do it one day. Not for any reason but being bored. And tired of thinking about killing myself.

I’ll be crossing a bridge. Walking along a cliff. And in a moment, I’ll be gone. Why? Why not? I’ve told people a simple story a couple times. A wise man wants something written on a ring. It should make him happy when sad and sad when happy. The answer is: this too shall pass. Nothing lasts and nothing changes. We come from dust and if you’re ready to go back to dust. Why not?

Okay, put your phone down. I’m not going to answer any crazy calls. And given this had been in my mind for almost 35 years, chances are I won’t die. Soon.

And I wonder, about death. This whole piece isn’t at all what I planned to write. It was an exercise from Room to Write. I was going to imagine my own death. But then I starting typing and I knew I already had.

High school was rough, and I didn’t kill myself. Being homeless was rough and I didn’t kill myself. I’ve been through a lot and I haven’t done myself in. I even read The Bell Jar twice, and Girl Interrupted twice. And I didn’t kill myself. Though I still love Plath’s logic. My favorite painter is Van Gogh.

When you read this is must sound dark. But tonight I don’t feel dark. There have been nights when I wanted to sleep and never awaken. Once I took sleeping pills to make it happen. But they didn’t work. Another time I bought alcohol and sleeping pills to try it again. But I changed my mind. One more day, one more day, one more day. But one day I’ll give up on tomorrow.

They say when people really want to die, they don’t pontificate about death. I guess the fact I’ve written so much points away from my desire to die. There have been times I’ve felt my life was in danger. And I took steps to be safe. But some of those events were the result of poor choices. Like drinking water with a cleaning toxin. Choices I made not wanting to die. But not caring. I wonder at the last moment, if I had to choose. What would it be.

But we don’t get a choice. Our brains are not wired to give us the choice to live or die in the moment. When you are faced with a risk – your brain takes over and keeps you safe. I’ve felt this was the case for me before.

And I guess it is a matter of how I would die. Shooting oneself can be so messy and unsure. What if you don’t blow off enough of your head? What, oh yeah, a gross thought to be sure. But there you are thinking about how good your life was when you could move. How good things were when you weren’t bathed by someone else.

And if you jump. How high is high enough? Maybe it would be really scary as the ground races towards you. Do you really want to die in a state of terror. Sure, when you are at the top. And you see the view. The wind is in your hair. Things feel good and the choice feels right. But on the way down fear takes over doesn’t it?

Pills. Which pills? And you know if you don’t take enough they lock you up. They say, tut tut poor guy. They take away your knives and your belts. You’d probably lose your job. No one around you would ever see you the same way again. You’d be the one who tried to kill themselves. And no one wants to be that person. Because I think people would express concern. And people would be friendly. But they would also push you away. Because they would feel guilty and they wouldn’t want to be close if you tried it again.

Right, so I couldn’t cut my wrists. I’m weak when it comes to pain. And I know it isn’t quick. This not being quick holds the same trouble as pills. Someone could find you and stop you. And to be honest if I ever were to kill myself I wouldn’t want someone to find me. I wouldn’t want to scar someone else.

And yes I would feel bad about people left behind. But really when I am depressed I don’t think anyone would care. A voice in my head just tells me no one would even notice. What about my job? Of course they would notice. But is work the only thing worth living for in this world? Not for me.

There have been times I cut myself off to see if people would notice. I think to myself, if I died who would notice and when? But I use Facebook all the time now. Of course there was a period when most of my posts were preprogrammed quotes. I programmed them out months in advance. I guess being alone is what makes me most feel like going down into the basement forever.

But I know the voice is wrong. There is a better part of myself which knows people care. Yes, even people at work. They would care about not just my not working, but about me. And there is family – not close and far away. There are a few good friends in my life. I fail at being a friend to them, Simone, but they still love me. There are probably more people than I know who are touched by me. Not in the It’s A Wonderful Life sort of way. But in an ongoing way.

See, things are looking up. Right now my mood is good. Of course the scary part of all this is mood. The sun comes out and dries the rain. Life is full of green grass and flowers. But then the storm rolls over the hills. The little spider falls down the water spout. Life is cold, wet and dirty again. And tomorrow isn’t worth waking up for.

Okay, I’ll go to sleep now and you go to sleep later. And really, don’t call me tomorrow. Well, you can Simone.