Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wastin' Away Again In Budweiserville

That's right, kiddies, gettin' wasted at 10:30 in the morning...

Why not! Hair o' the dog that bit me, I say, since I passed out last night after the first 12-pack...

I finally called Ric last night.

He didn't answer and I didn't leave a voice mail message. I called again, an hour later, same result.

About 10 minutes after the second call, my phone rings.

Ric says, "Oh, so you're not dead."

I try to be witty and use the famous Mark Twain quote on him regarding the "news of my demise" and shit.

So, he goes on to talk about all the stupid little things he's been doing all month and blah-blah this and blah-blah that and I sit there and listen to him and wonder, "Why am I bothering...it's just going to be the same bullshit...nothing has changed."

I don't know what I was expecting. But this seemed too easy for him. He needed to think a little harder about our friendship and what it's demise would mean to him. And then it hit me. He doesn't care. He doesn't give a shit at all.

Well then, neither do I.

After this initial conversation, I called him back and proceeded to tell him why he shouldn't be able to "get off the hook that easily", how back in the day, he was the loser I felt sorry for and took under my wing and he without a car or the ability to drive is still that loser, hoping it doesn't rain so he can ride his little bicycle somewhere. (Ya, I know what buttons to push.)

Of course, he then hung up on me.

So I called him back and was re-directed immediately to voice mail (he shut his phone off). Oh, let me tell you, the profanity and vehemently nasty things I said on that voice mail cannot be repeated here lest it burn your eyes out reading it, but let me just say...they were friendship ending words.

After years of Ric implying that he would deploy a first strike nuclear option to our friendship, it turns out that it was I who ultimately pressed the big red button.

I kept the ringer on my phone active all night to see if there would be a retaliatory attack waged upon me, but it just sits there, silently, not a single ring.

So I sit at Mildred, in my fallout shelter, slugging back the second (or is it the third) of 14 beers sitting in my fridge, on this sunny Sunday morning.

Wastin' away, alone again, naturally.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Frontiertown Boot Camp

Here's a video slide show I made with Movie Maker. It's a narration of the FLASHBACK: Summer 1972 post I wrote a couple years ago.

I had a lot more stuff about it written here, but because I went into dashboard to edit a minor spelling error, Blogger wiped out the entire post when I hit "publish post". I'm not going to re-write it. This is not the first time Blogger bugged out on me. I am not a happy camper.

Now it won't let me embed the YouTube code...again!

So you get no video for now until I feel like playing with this, and I don't feel like it right now.

Wordpress is looking better and better by the minute.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thank You For Flying Google Earth Airlines

With air travel costs going up, it may yet again be a year without a true "vacation" in the traditional sense of going somewhere fun that isn't necessarily "local".
True, I do live in "Vacationland USA" the Orlando area of Florida, and there are a ton of fun things to do, but it's nice to get away as an adventure every once and awhile.

It looks like even repeating my short weekend hop to New Orleans that I took last September, may be outta the question since the costs have increased quite a bit. I'm not broke, I could swing a traveling vacation if I wanted to, but so often I ask myself "Why bother?".

So, I've decided to bring us all today on a little cross-country trip via the oil-dependant-free travel alternative: Google Earth.

You can position yourself as if you were in a plane and then spin the globe in the direction of travel. It seems just like you are flying over the geography of the land "below" you. The 3-D imagery is cool too when you are passing over canyons and mountains.

Best of all, it's free. No piddling nickle and dime fees like paying extra for a soda or each bag of luggage. No airline rep looking me over and wondering "How heavy is he anyway? Double ticket heavy?" (BTW, no, I'm not that heavy...at least they didn't charge me for my extra weight last fall, and I was almost 30 pounds heavier then.)

So without further adieu, ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts, stow away your tray tables and place your seats in an upright position...

(FYI, all these pictures are freely available in Google Earth, uploaded by people from all over the world to enhance your visit to either their local area or a place that they, in RL (real life) have visited. So cool!)

First stop, nearby Daytona Beach, Florida.

Here we are in the Houston, Texas area.



Next up, Southeastern Utah.


And Salt Lake City and environs.

Lastly, we arrive at our final destination for today's trip, Portland, Oregon.

Buhhh-Bye!

Buhhh-Bye!

Buhhh-Bye!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Five People You Won’t Meet In Heaven

All these people have these things in common:

1. I personally regarded them as heroes. They are people who have made this world a much better place and are people I respected greatly.

2. They have all been “taken from us” way too early. They epitomize the common phrase “Only the good die young.”

3. You probably won’t meet them in Heaven because either a.) They were right, and Heaven doesn’t exist, so no one will see anyone there, or, b.) They were wrong and because they were atheists, according to believers, they will not have earned their “place beside the Lord”.

Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was one of my favorite books. Being an avid SF (as it was known in those days…to call science fiction “sci-fi” was looked down upon) fan, I was frankly overjoyed at a book which could poke fun at the science fiction genre at a time when, frankly, it was taking itself way too seriously.

In the early eighties, I had been addicted to the Infocom text-based computer games and when a game based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came out, I was one of the first shoppers at Toys R’ Us (yeah, computer games were primary sold at toy stores back then!) to buy it. I remember spending an entire sleep-deprived night to the wee hours of the morning trying to get the babel fish. When I finally did, I exhaustedly jumped for joy!

George Orwell

His books awoke my own leanings towards anti-authoritarianism, anarchy and nihilism. I had first read 1984 as many a student had; as a junior-high English class required reading. I again read it in the year 1984 just for fun since it was getting so much press, especially after the Macintosh commercial.

At the time of my readings, in the midst, as we were, of the Cold War, the dystopian society the book portrays was interpreted to be a cautionary tale of what a Communist World Government would be. I knew better. I saw it, for what I thought was it’s true warning…that any nation’s bureaucratic governing body; bloated, ineffective and corrupt, could slowly adopt a policy of a brutal police state suppressing human rights to “protect” its citizenry, and engage in frivolous and costly foreign wars.

Here we are a quarter of a century later. Welcome to George Bush’s America.

Carl Sagan

I remember having to convince my family; otherwise not into scientific-educational TV shows, to watch his Cosmos series each time it aired. These were the days before VCRs and kids having their own TV…we had to reach a consensus about which program we’d watch each night. I think even my family enjoyed the show. That’s how simple-to-understand and appealing Cosmos was. As a teenager, I held subscriptions in OMNI, Discover and Scientific American. Cosmos further spurred my already-strong interest in science to new heights and that fascination survives in me still, in large part due to Cosmos and its creator, Dr. Carl Sagan.

Years later, Contact, a film starring Jodie Foster would spark my imagination and peak my interest. The movie was based on the Carl Sagan book of the same name. Soon after the film was released, I watched it about 5 times. I created an entire faux website as if it were the corporate webpage of Haddon Industries, the in-movie entity run by a megalomaniacal billionaire played by John Hurt funding the alien-contact project headed by Jodie Foster’s character.

Carl Sagan’s atheism was well-known yet it didn’t seem to deter greatly from his mass-popularity. This aided me in the days I felt ostracized for being a non-believer during the early years of my spiritual (or, literally, lack-thereof) “coming out” phase.

Issac Asimov

The epitome of “galactic empire” SF novels, the Foundation books were, and still remain, my favorites of the genre.

I still envision a day when the Foundation Series, or at least the first three books, The Foundation Trilogy will be made into a movie. Some say, when speaking of Star Wars and other “space opera” films like it, that it already has been done. I say no.

Foundation and the many books in that literary universe speak to the mass-mind of man, and the evolution of human society through many centuries of time. It theorizes that with a precise understanding of psychology, history and political science; trends in humankind’s future progress (or decline) can be plotted and assumed. This “psychohistorical” aspect, arcing throughout all the books, may be a bit too cerebral for the general cinema audience I’m afraid.

George Carlin

Last fall, when I bought my tickets to fellow atheist/comedian Kathy Griffin’s show at the Bob Carr, I noticed on Ticketmaster that there was a one-night performance for the same venue, scheduled in January, of one of my other favorites, George Carlin. I almost bought a ticket but then I saw Wicked and got that instead. Should have taken the opportunity then, but, as they say, who could have known.

I probably first saw George Carlin when he appeared on television in 1975 as the first host of the show eventually named Saturday Night Live. Yes, though I was only 12, I was allowed to stay up to watch SNL. Though his stand-up routine was definitely “toned down” for TV, it was after 11:30 pm and late night TV, then as now, was a bit more racy and raw than earlier hours. And I loved it.

In later years, I watched avidly as George took on all the foes we mutually despised: religion, censorship, authoritarianism, complacent stupidity and right-wing morons. I laughed. And I cheered him on as our valiant warrior of the humanist, rationalist cause.

George died this week and I know, though he is not smiling down on us from a shiny utopia in the clouds, we, the still living who loved him, will keep a little piece of his “spirit” in our hearts.

Hey Liza. What's Up?

Ross Mathews' vlog entries, which he calls Talky Blogs are uploaded on a regular basis to his NBC-sponsored "Ross Blog". Since they are just "slice-of-life" web-cam style video entries and usually quite unscripted and impromptu, they vary between the "just okay" to "downright hilarious". This one definitely falls into the latter and is probably one of his best.

It features Ross talking to the camera (to us, his "Blog Buddies") wondering how he will react if he gets to meet one of his dream idols, Liza Minelli, at a fellow video blogger/friend Sam Harris' baby shower.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the video:

Ross: You can't hear my scream because it's so high-pitched, only Louise [Ross' dog] can hear it.

Ross silently mimics a scream pose.

Louise: (off camera, coincidentally, as if on cue, barks)

Ross: (to Louise) I know!

Ross: (to Louise, now in his lap) Can you say Liza? Liza! Can you say Liza?

Louise: (double bark)

Ross: (to camera) Yeah. She said Li-za...

Louise: (jumps off lap and continues to bark)

Ross: Minelliiii.... She's saying, Minelliiiii....

Ross: If I meet Liza, how do I introduce myself? How do I introduce myself to Liza Freakin' Minelli? So I've been practicing. A lot!

Ross: (to camera, as if we were Liza) Hey Liza! What's up? (chortles and salutes in mock-dweeby fashion then makes a worried face) I gotta do more practice.

A video clip montage ensues. It's backed by a recording of Liza singing "Liza With A Z" as theme music and shows Ross in various locations throughout his apartment as he's pretending to greet Liza in a variety of zany and sometimes humorously-disturbing ways.

Later...

As Ross picks up fellow party-goer and friend the renowned comedian Ant, he introduces Ant to "Big Red" the bright red rental car he is using while "Judy" his Toyota Prius is being worked on at the body shop. (BTW, Judy is not named for Liza's mom, as you might think, it's named for cartoon character Judy Jetson as a nod to, according to Ross, the Prius' futuristic styling.)

Ant: (looking around at the car as he gets in) Is this a Camaro?

Ross: No it's a Mustang. And it's a convertible but I put the top up because you wear a wig.

Ant: (to camera) I wear a wig.

Ross: (to camera) True story.

Ross talks to Ant and reveals that he is nervous about the fact that he might get to meet Liza if she is there. Ant assures him that she is. As the clock is ticking, Ross realizes they have to get going.

Ross: (to car) Big Red! Big Red, take us to Liza! Big Red!

Ant: This is a heterosexual car. The car is going, "Liza? How do you spell that?" If this were a Miata, it would have a pre-programmed button: "Take Us To Liza".

Later, still in the car but "mere moments" from the party, Ant notices Ross' outfit.

Ant: Why are you wearing that shirt? Are you feeling fat?

Ross is wearing a loud, flowery shirt; the kind of shirt that harkens back to the days when Ross was 50 pounds heavier.

Ross: I wanted her to notice me.

Ant makes a face like "yeah like you need that" since, as we all know, Ross is quite flamboyant even without a flashy shirt.

Ant: She was gonna notice you no matter what.

Ross: (laughing) That is so sweet, thank you.

Ant: People on Mars have noticed you.

After the baby shower, Ant and Ross are back in the car. Liza wasn't there. Ross is looking rather sad.

Ant: Are you gonna be depressed like, all week?

Ross: (not convincingly) I'm okay.

Ant: What about if I put on a wig and lipstick...I could do a good Liza.

Ross: (looking at Ant's head) Can you turn your wig around? And brush it forward?

Ant rolls his eyes and says he'll do it, but never (at least on camera) does. Later, Ross asks Ant if he knows what this now means...

Ross: (into camera) Liza, you listen here. The hunt's just getting started.

Ant: Oh God, your gonna stalk Liza Minelli! (now into camera) The next time we tune into a Ross Blog it'll be behind bars.

Ross: I would do it just to be able to see Liza's performance at the trial.

Ant: They don't show up [at the trial in a stalking case]...

Ross: Oh I would insist! I would insist!

Ant: (pretending to be an attorney at this trial) Your Honor, I declare a mistrial!

Ross: (into camera, breaking into cheesy Ethel Merman-esque singing) MIS-TRI-AL!

Ant: (hand-signing into camera as if a director) Scene.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Andy Warhol's Children's Book

As you know, I was (and still am) a huge fan of Andy Warhol while I was studying art in the 80's. My best friend Linda had heard that there was a showing of some new Andy Warhol works at the Newport Art Museum. We drove down to Newport and saw the originals hanging on the walls. In the gift shop I bought a book detailing the collection. It's a cardboard book comprised of cardboard pages, as if it was a children's book, you know?

This is one of the longest held possessions I own. I bought it at the Newport Museum of Art, Newport, Rhode Island in 1984.

Now 24 years later, well preserved, I bring forth my own little slice of Andy, for you to enjoy.

Highest bid I saw so far was $90...it has to get a lot higher than that! This is rare folks!










Saturday, June 21, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: Fall 2004

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 10 - In The Air Tonight

Ric had been stopped, driving his brand new PT Cruiser, just a few blocks from his home in Casselberry. He and a bunch of his neighbor friends who also lived at Reflections Apartments had been celebrating the imminent arrival of the Orlando area's 2nd major hurricane of the season, Hurricane Charley. They needed more supplies for their Hurricane Party so Ric volunteered to make the liquor run. Ric admitted to me later that this trip was also to score some crack cocaine. Not for him, he said, but for one of the other party-goers. Sure, Ric, sure.

Supposedly he had only a "couple" of beers when he got behind the wheel. He said he wasn't drunk during the previous 2 DUI arrests either. I guess it's just bad luck. Actually, Ric thinks it had to do primarily with racial profiling since his passenger was a black guy. Um, most likely it was because he was driving erratically on an evening when most of the area was battening down the hatches, preparing for a direct hit from a major hurricane barreling towards them.

Whatever the excuses, when it was all said and done, he spent the night in jail, and was facing felony charges, as is the case with more than 2 DUIs in the state of Florida.

Within a month of his arrest he'd gotten "lawyered up" and was preparing for a long process of motions and pre-trials. He eased his potential transportation dependencies by moving to Sun Lake Apartments nearer to his job in Lake Mary. Luckily, Sun Lake was owned by the same property management company so instead of breaking a lease, he was able to transfer it.

He sold his car back to Carmax and bought an expensive racing bike to use for his transportation needs. Unlike my bitter attitude regarding my loss of driving privileges and difficulty adjusting to life without a car, he did some slick cognitive restructuring of his mindset and, to this day, he transitioned happily, it would seem, to a car-less bicycle commuter.

Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, a few weeks after Hurricane Charley hit Florida, we citizens of the Crescent City were watching the TV news as an even bigger hurricane was making a beeline directly up the Gulf of Mexico towards us.

As I've mentioned before, all the precursor events leading up to the Hurricane Katrina disaster were presented to the watchful eyes of New Orleans' population a year earlier, in the Fall of 2004, with the approach of Category 5 Hurricane Ivan.

This thing looked ominous. Watching the satellite images of Hurricane Ivan on the TV news, it filled the screen, it was so big. Just like a year later with Katrina, houses and businesses were boarded up, the highways out of town were log-jammed with poorly-coordinated evacuee traffic. I watched as tourists were rushing onto shuttle buses from the downtown hotels to whisk them to the airport to escape the approaching storm.

Even then, before what we later came to learn with Katrina, I saw that the people who had the means, the well-to-do and the tourists, were scurrying away, leaving the potentially doomed city to the poor and downtrodden. I, being most definitely in the poor and downtrodden category stayed in my little house in Gentilly, only a mile away from the levee, and watched through the night as the trees swayed and winds howled around me.

As we all know though, this was not yet to be New Orleans' time. Ivan would skirt by at the last minute and avoid hitting the city or major waterways around the city dead on. Lake Pontchartrain flooded, but not beyond a few hundred feet or so. The levees, for now, held their ground.

The hurricane did cause a minor crisis for me though. Because of the storm, we employees of PMA lost 3 days of work. Three days of income to a person living paycheck-to-paycheck can be devastating. Though I later found out that I may have been able to qualify for FEMA assistance, I didn't know that at the time. It would have been nice if my employers had suggested that.

So I was late for a few weeks with rent, but since we all had lived through it, we knew that sometimes, when you live in New Orleans, your life gets interrupted by a storm.

I knew I eventually had to get a better job if I was going to make it here. Resumes went out, but no one called back. I was starting to get discouraged again.

One night at around 4 o'clock in the morning, sometime in November, I heard the dogs barking. (Three dogs lived on the property. Two outdoor dogs owned by Albert, and Reese, who stayed indoors with Alicison.) Then I heard Alicison telling the dogs to be quiet.

Curious as to why Alicison would be up so early, I looked out my window and saw her washing her car, in the moonlight. She had a plastic bottle of Dawn dish liquid in one hand and a garden hose in the other. She was smoking a cigarette and it hung from her mouth threatening to fall to the ground. She looked dazed and she was stumbling. She would put down the dish liquid every now and then to lazily swish a wet rag across the hood of her car, then she'd pick up the bottle to squeeze out more soap and repeat the same ineffective swabbing of the cloth on the same exact area of her hood.

She was using again.

Ever since I met Alicison she had been a stalwart defender and espouser of the Narcotics Anonymous doctrine of sober living. She was the sponsor for several of the younger members of her NA group. Now, it appeared, she had slipped.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Alicison fell into a tailspin. Albert, and I were trying do light intervention with her, but until she admitted it, it was just assumption, yet the symptoms were obvious. She rapidly went downhill as she apparently used more and more. It affected her speech and body movements. She couldn't sleep and was up all hours of the night. She rear-ended another car and escaped without citation since she fled the scene. Her behavior at work was the same as it was at home and she lost her job. Soon, she was out of money and was begging for me to help her. It was painful to watch as she fell deeper and deeper into a hole of despair, and I couldn't help her. I didn't know how to help her with her addiction and I didn't have any free money to help her with her financial dilemma.

Luckily, by Christmastime, she started to get good counseling from her sponsor Judy and was turning it around. She found a new job and started paying off her debts.

But now, our little complex of households was affected by yet another tragedy. Albert's girl friend, who had just a month earlier left him for a guy who lived across the street, killed herself.

Now, it appeared, it was Albert who was using again to deal with his grief and stress. He missed work and since his drug of choice was coke, he seemed frenzied and wired all the time. And not in a nice way, he became paranoid and defensive, and he kept complaining about everything. Especially money, or the lack of it. He was broke now and since electricity was included in mine and Alicison's rent, was especially critical of our electric usage.

At work, my manager had taken me off of the easy appointment setting project and put me on an actual cold call sales campaign. One that was unproven and would be a hard sell with a likely barrage of nasty rejection. I wasn't ready for this.

Back in Florida, Ric had settled nicely into his new apartment and things seemed to be smoothed out, until the trial that is, for him. I fondly remembered the Lake Mary area where he lived now and how much I loved it ever since the days of my ex-fling Justin back in 1997.

On Christmas Day, I watched outside my New Orleans home as snowflakes drifted to the ground. And accumulated! Though it only amounted to about a half inch or so before it eventually melted away, I witnessed my first snowfall in over 7 years. But I was in the Deep South! It wasn't supposed to snow here!

I was tired of things not being the way they should be.

I needed better opportunity.

I needed stability.

Ric and I talked about the good and bad of it, but I thought I'd give it another go. I remember his couch was actually quite comfortable.

After quitting my job, I packed my things up and got ready to go. I thanked Alicison for all she had done and asked if she could take me to the bus terminal.

I planned on taking the train, on New Year's eve, but the train was delayed due to inclement weather. I would have to wait hours for a replacement bus and it's 15-hour itinerary. Screw that. Luckily I had the funds. I decided to leave New Orleans the way I always leave New Orleans, by plane.

So I found myself descending through the puffy white clouds over Orlando, returning, yes, once again to Florida, on the first day of 2005.

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: Summer 2004

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 9 - Life Out Of Balance

Looking out the bus window, it all seemed oh so familiar. The only difference was that this time I chose a seat on the right-hand side of the bus.

I decided that the events of the past year and a half needed a thematic name.

My mind wondered back to the 80's and the quirky music of instrumental composer Philip Glass. He had one piece, "Koyaanisqatsi", that was particularly jerky, cyclical and had a bizarre "other-worldly" feel to it's composition. In the Hopi language, the word 'koyaanisqatsi' means 'life of moral corruption and turmoil, life out of balance'. Now that summed it all up, didn't it?

I declared to myself, on this warm August day that I was in Koyaanisqatsi, as the Greyhound bus made it's way towards the setting sun...towards New Orleans, once again.

After Ric and I attended Gary's funeral in April, I had fallen into a particularly strong nihilistic depression. Since I was again unemployed, I had plenty of time to brood and, still having money from the iCare job's last paycheck, a good amount of cash to drink up.

I tried half-heartedly to find work, but I found every excuse to avoid that as well. It got to the point where it seemed I just didn't care anymore. Ric wasn't much of a support. He was going through his period of mourning for Gary and I was nominally supposed to be there for him. But I couldn't even be there for myself.

As the weeks went by, they came to pick up the rented furniture and I failed to make rent on the apartment. The phone/dsl was disconnected, then, the electricity. I had no where to go so I was determined to squat it out as long as I could. I slept on the floor, ate peanut butter sandwiches and drank the occasional beer with Ric if he was buying. As the eviction notices were tacked to my door, I ignored them.

I made it to August before I could take the oppressive heat without air conditioning no more. Plus, the eviction notice letters had now been replaced by a Writ of Possession...24 hours until the sheriff's deputies would come to my door to physically remove me.

I called Alicison from Ric's cell phone. The little rental house in the back of Albert's property just recently became vacant. I asked if she could see if Albert would rent it to me. I wanted to come back to New Orleans. Albert was not around to ask, but she'd check with him as soon as he got in. I didn't wait for confirmation, I had Ric take me to the pawn shop to hock my computer monitor for $25, added that to the $80 I had left from a dead-end vacation room job I held for a couple of weeks in May, and, yet again, headed off to New Orleans.

The familiar routine of the bus arrival at Union Station in New Orleans played itself out again. Again, I dragged my luggage from the bus to the terminal. But this time, I actually got a little sleep on the bus ride so I wasn't nearly so tired. Also, Alicison was waiting for me. I had called her from one of the stops to let her know I was coming.

As we drove to the house, she said that she told Albert about my need for a place, and, Albert did need a new tenant, but he hadn't planned on renting the house until he was finished with renovations for it. This could mean months. She knew I needed something right now, so she said I should go and talk to Albert, see what I could work out.

The house had been rented by a fellow NA'er who, unfortunately, had fallen off the wagon big time. He ended up drugging and drinking himself out of work and unable to pay anything for rent. He had been 3 months behind and because he had been a friend, Albert let him slide. But when Albert saw what he'd done to the place, he painfully had to kick him out to the streets.

The place was trashed. Albert was in the process of trying to clean it up when we got there. Empty beer cans, dead roaches, cigarette butts galore. Plates of crusted up food, broken glass, smashed furniture, dirt and just general filth. Oh, it'd be a chore to get this place in order. I told him that if he rented it to me, I could clean it up. Albert was apprehensive to take a risk again so soon after being burned, but I was a friend of Alicison's. Plus, I had already called PMA, the company I worked at before I went back to Orlando last fall and they said I could have my job back.

Albert agreed to rent it to me on the condition I pay him weekly, starting in two weeks, when I'd get my first check from PMA. I was ecstatic. Again, by the skin of my teeth I had escaped true homelessness. But as I looked at the ruins around me, I wondered how much of a salvation this actually was.

It took me the next 2 days of shoveling, sweeping, scraping, scrubbing and mopping but I finally got it looking decent. I went to PMA Monday morning and after the previous months of virtually no income, $8/hr. seemed like a stupendous salary.

And so as late summer eased it's way into fall, I got reacquainted with the Big Easy. It felt like a pair of comfortable old shoes. I got used to my daily routine of catching the Elysian Fields bus to Canal Street every morning, passing through Gentilly and then through the edge of the Ninth Ward down to the French Quarter. Then I'd walk briskly down Canal to the St. Charles streetcar.

Work was simple appointment setting for a health insurance provider, no selling. The office was neat and professional. No scamminess here, it was all on the up and up. I was making friends with my co-worker Dixie and was trying to flirt with this guy Chris, but I think he was too closeted to pick up on it.

On pay day I'd occasionally treat myself out to a night out in the Quarter, patronizing the gay bars Oz and Bourbon Pub. Usually though, after work, I'd take the bus ride back to Gentilly, stop in at Ferrara's, the little grocery store on the corner of Elysian Fields and Robert E. Lee, buy a couple of beers and walk home to watch TV.

Yeah, I'd cut down somewhat on my drinking. I had to. Rent took up about 80% of my income, so I had only about $40/week for spending money. But I didn't neglect my "Metairie Chicken" runs on Saturday afternoons. Couldn't live with out them. And, truth be told, I usually tried to save enough cash to buy a 12-pack for Saturday nights. Life was simple, but it felt good.

Once again, it felt like things were looking up for me.

But meanwhile, back in Florida, Ric would be embarking upon his own personal "koyaanisqatsi" when tragedy struck his life again. He got arrested for his 3rd DUI.

Friday, June 20, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: April 2004

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 8 - When All The Birds Are Singing In The Sky

"...Happy Birthday, Dear Michael! ...Happy Birthday To You!" sang my co-workers and managers as they presented a homemade birthday cake with candles...

I had gotten this job over four months ago, soon after the Thanksgiving holidays. I had arrived back in Florida only a week or so before and was staying with Ric, sleeping on his couch. I had impressed Ric with finding this job so fast. And I impressed myself with having the good fortune in getting a job that was easy, fun, relatively close-by, and, most importantly, paid well.

This business was a mail-order pharmacy specializing in home deliveries of nebulizer equipment and mediations. I was hired as a sales rep, calling prospective new patients from a list of diabetic supply customers of our sister company. Since they knew us, they were very warm leads. The sales were easy and the rejections mild and logical.

I clicked right away with Sue, the boss and her best friend Helen. They chit-chatted almost all day long, seeming to never do any work. (My first exposure to a small office environment as opposed to a huge corporate call-center.) We soon became a regular trio, going out to lunch together everyday and gossiping about all sorts of things. It felt comfortable and it was fun to go into work each day.

Before long, I had saved up enough money to move out into my own apartment. I signed a lease at Cypress Springs in Fern Park in early January. I rented brand new living room and bedroom furniture the day after I moved in from Aaron's. The bus transit to work in downtown Winter Park only took 45 minutes each way...absolutely zippy for public transportation.

Things were certainly looking better.

But then, little cracks started to appear in the delicate placid ice I had been treading on these past few months...

When Sue hired a new sales rep to work along with me, I didn't feel threatened at all...at first. Especially this lady...an older gal in her 60's named Marilyn. She said she had done sales before, but she was so phony sounding in her approach, I chuckled to myself when ever I heard her spinning her pitch from the cubicle next to me. And her computer skills were, well, no existent. She was constantly asking me for help with the simplest computer tasks. Sue got fed up with her computer illiteracy so much that she began just printing out names and numbers from the leads in the database. Sue confided in me only a week after hiring her that she feared she'd have to fire the "sweet old lady".

But Marilyn had spunk, and determination. She worked on her phone approach and figured out her niche...she was the same age as most of these leads, and that was her "in". Sure enough, once she found her groove, she started picking up more and more sales, and was soon out performing me. We worked our own territories so we weren't truly stepping on each others leads, but I knew that the top performer of the two of us would gain better leads assigned by Sue. I was especially lusting over the lucrative states of West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, with their thousands of trailer trash Medicare recipients and retired coal miners afflicted with Black Lung. (Isn't medical equipment sales "special"? Well, after all, our company was called "iCare"..."Your sickness and welfare hookup is our gain!" That's what our motto should have been.)

Before long, she was the new "darling" of the office, and I was playing second fiddle. My ridicule and contempt for her showed, despite my efforts at concealing it, and before long, she sensed it. She complained to Sue that I was short and condescending with her, and Sue had a "sit down" with me. I was no longer being invited to go out to lunch. I wasn't "one of the girls" anymore.

Ric was having a tough time of it during these days. As if Gary's illness wasn't enough for Ric, he got the news that his father was dead. His father who was, like Gary, suffering from terminal cancer and dealing with severe pain, used his police issue revolver to commit suicide.

Things at my new apartment were on the downturn as well. I soon found out why the rent was so cheap, and why they even rented to me, a person with several evictions on their credit report, in the first place. It was a cockroach haven!

Within a week of moving in, I noticed the smaller light brown German roaches in the kitchen cabinets. And soon, the one or two sightings here and there turned into several, running around, every day. I called the office and they sent the maintenance guys. They squeezed a lump of some brown gooey paste up under one of the suspended ceiling panels, and that night, as I sat at my computer watching...they started coming out, flocking towards it. First a few, then wave after wave of them. Luckily I was drinking so I was a bit numbed to the gross out shock of this roach invasion. Plus, they were the little German species. They don't freak me out that much, just are a pest.

Within a day or two, the bait had seemed to have done it's job. I couldn't find anymore of them. But oddly, I didn't find many dead ones either. It was as if something had prospered from the decimation of a smaller species and capitalized on their demise to take over their territory and eat their remains as food.

After a relatively bug free, month, in March I started to see what creatures had taken up the eco-niche...

The Age of the Palmetto had arrived. And it was dawning in my apartment.

Yes, now I had enormous dark-brown Palmetto roaches popping up everywhere. These guys DID freak me out. I was afraid to open anything or look under anything. It seemed whenever I did, there one was.

By the time my April 9th birthday rolled around though, these problems seemed to be getting better. Marilyn and I had patched things up and we were getting along better. Sue saw that things were better between Marilyn and me and she became nicer and friendly again. Ric had gotten over the feeling of betrayal and loss he had about his father's suicide. And the roach sightings had diminished. With the warming weather, it appeared, they were starting to head back outdoors, where this variety of roach supposedly preferred to be anyway.

Then suddenly, and without warning it seems, the gods had decided to turn my world, yet again, upside down.

Sometime after my little office birthday party, I had made an off-hand remark about the homemade cake presented in my honor. I mentioned while it tasted good, it looked terrible. I later found out that the cake was made by the owner's teen aged daughter. The owner, whose office was right down the hall overheard my remark.

When I got into the office on the Monday following that weekend, Sue called me over. She said that the customer service department of the sister company was getting a flock of customer complaints...leads I had called, saying I was rude to them. She said that the owner was very concerned about this. Also, she called a meeting later in the day, and cautioned everyone that they should be careful what remarks are mentioned when conducting office chit-chat. She said the owner overheard "someone" say something which hurt his feelings.

It didn't come to mind until weeks later when thinking back over these events that I pieced this together. At the time, I thought the "complaints" were some sort of a mistake, and that the remark the owner heard was something I remember Marilyn saying one day about his Mercedes and how rich he was.

To add insult to injury, a day after this incident, I had been out drinking with Ric the night before, and, being hungover I called in sick the next morning. It had been about my 8th "sick" day in four months.

After we nursed our hangovers, I went with Ric to the local Carmax dealership as he traded-in the old Lincoln Town Car he bought from Gary (the car they fought over for months and months) and bought a brand-new 2004 PT Cruiser.

We drove the PT Cruiser to Mineola to see Gary. He looked like a concentration camp prisoner now, but his spirits and strength were relatively good on this day.

Without telling his mom or hospice nurse who were in the other room, we "stole" him and took him for a short ride in Ric's new car. I sat in the back seat and we helped Gary into the front passenger seat. He smiled faintly as we rode along with the sun setting on the horizon. The warm breeze billowed through the fragile wisps of what remained of his hair.

Ric and I looked at each other in the rear-view mirror. We were crying our eyes out.

This would be the last time Gary would smell fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun.

When I got into work the next day, I noticed a box on the front desk, with an envelope on top of it. It said "Michael". Hmm. Was this for me? Not sure, I didn't touch it. When I got to my cubicle, it took me a second or two to notice, but then I realized...all my personal possessions and decorative items were gone. I tried to log onto the computer, and it wouldn't let me. "Oh shit!" I thought.

I went to Sue's office and asked her what was going on. She sat me down and told me that I was being let go. Attendance. Customer complaints. Office morale. Yada yada. I didn't try to beg for my job. I saw in her face. It was over.

A few days later, after Ric and I had gone out drinking at the local bar, Ric woke up to the sound of his cell phone ringing.

We both looked at each other and had a sickening feeling who it was. Sure enough...it was Gary's mom.

Gary was dead.

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: Fall 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 7 - On Death and Dying

As I made my way back to New Orleans on a Greyhound bus yet again, the trip this time seemed to go by a little more quickly. It's probably because I was still feeling stoned from the prescription pills I stole from my father a couple days earlier.

I arrived this time, early the next morning. Alicison was already at work so I knew I had to wait until she was off work at 6:00. But it was only 9:00 in the morning, and the sleepless bus ride combined with the pharmaceutical crash was wreaking havoc on me. I needed to sleep. And I needed it now.

I could probably have found a spot to crash in the bus/train terminal, but I didn't want to be harassed by the cops.

I looked through the yellow pages and found a listing for a $50/night hotel not far from the terminal. It was only a couple miles down Tulane Ave. but with my luggage, I couldn't walk it. Figuring it would only be a nominal cab fare, I took a cab. When I got there, the cabbie said "$26". Huh!? It was not further than a couple miles. Any cab ride to or from the CBD where the terminal is located is a flat rate $26. Shit. That chewed into my scant reserves deeper than I expected.

The Hotel Capri. I could tell from the outside this was a "no-tell motel", flea-bag crack hotel. It was only a couple blocks from the OPP, Orleans Parish Prison...the equivalent of county jail. When I got in the room, my assumptions were totally confirmed.

There was a card taped to the side of the phone on the nightstand. It said "You must notify the desk within 5 minutes of arrival if you want a refund." I'm sure more than a few hapless vacationers opted to pick them up on that offer.

The decor was 1970s distressed, the bed, while made, sported just a warn fitted sheet, top sheet and thin blanket, all a shade of off-white caused by age and filth. The cheap cigarette-burn dotted nightstand had spent condoms and a rusty razor blade in the drawer. Along the baseboards were more spent condoms and a couple dead roaches. The door had a huge dead bolt and frayed wood frame, splintering away from multiple past break-ins where it had no doubt been kicked in. I wasn't sure if the brown shag carpet was brown from dye, or, other agents. There was one dingy towel in the green tiled bathroom, but at least the shower ejected a good forceful spray and the water was nice and hot.

After a quick shower, I shaved my 3 day old stubble, crawled into bed and slept. The sounds of police sirens and the sunshine streaming in through cracks in the window shade attempted to keep me awake, but my body would hear none of that. At 10:00 in the morning, after being awake for more than 3 days straight, I was finally down for the count.

I woke up around 5:00, feeling quite rested. I called Alicison at work from the hotel. No answer. I left a voice mail message that I was in town and she could reach me at the Hotel Capri. Hour after hour went by. No call. I kept calling back, leaving more voice mail messages. She finally called back around 9:00. By this time, I told her that I'd go over to her house in the morning, being I had to walk since I didn't have any money left for a cab, and I wasn't gonna walk with my big bag of luggage at night. I was paid up for the night here anyways.

In the morning, I got to her room, and we waited 'till Sandra's office was open to have her show me the available room. Alicison and I talked about Dan, her estranged husband.

While I was in Florida, Dan had gotten sick one day and was brought to the hospital. They said it was the flu, sent him home and within a few days he was dead. Some rapid spreading bacterial infection in his brain. He was only 55. Alicison was convinced that blame lie with the doctors for misdiagnosing the illness, as well as discrimination against treating and admitting him since he had no medical insurance. His ashes were in a cardboard box on the coffee table 2 feet away. She couldn't yet afford to buy a vase to put them in.

As far as renting from Sandra again, luckily, when I had left suddenly in May, I was paid up, so, other than having to apologize for not giving her notice, there were no problems with her renting to me again. Except for the fact I didn't have any money to put down right away as down payment.

She waived down payment since she knew me. I went back to my job again at the grants place working with Alicison. The owners there liked me. They especially liked how I didn't have to lie too much when ripping off the "customers". Not much had changed.

Within a week or so I had forgiven my father for booting me out of his house. I knew he was going through enough right now. I used the phone at work to call and check how things were going with mom. He told me that she had died two days earlier. They were planning on cremation and no formal funeral observance.

I eventually upgraded to a bigger vacant room in the boarding house. This one had it's own private bathroom. Alicison got mad at the owners at work a month or so later so she quit. She got someone to buy her dead car and bought a used Honda. By September she had moved into a "real" apartment in the nicer Gentilly neighborhood near Lake Pontchartrain after landing a good paying collections agent job in Metairie. She still hadn't bought a vase for Dan, but, overall things were looking up for my bud Alicison.

The day I knew would eventually come finally hit us remaining workers at the grants place. The last Friday in September, Laurel, one of the owners told us in a group meeting that today was our last day. The business was closing it's doors. They were being forced to close due to legal concerns. (Yeah, what she didn't say is they were closing to avoid being raided by the FBI and locked up for interstate telephone and mail fraud...a federal offense.)

So, yet again, I was unemployed. It took me a couple of weeks to find a new job. In that time I failed to make rent with Sandra and though I promised her I'd pay her what I owed, I moved in with Alicison in Gentilly. The arrangement was awkward. Alicison had gotten a golden retriever puppy which she named Reese. The dog was friendly, but, it was too friendly. It never left you alone. Also, since she lived in a studio, I had to sleep on an air mattress on the kitchen floor.

The new job didn't pay nearly as well as the grants job, but it seemed easy and secure. It was just a few blocks away from the grants place in Uptown on St. Charles. This was 1 long bus ride from Gentilly to Canal St., then a short distance on the St. Charles streetcar.

I had been calling Ric usually once a week or so and the conversations were the usual boring small talk and updates on mundane news until one day in late October...

When I called Ric, he seemed upset. He told me that Gary, who had been complaining of stomach pain and couldn't hold down any food had finally agreed to be seen by a doctor. The first doctor diagnosed it as stomach flu, sent him home and told him to get some bed rest. But the pains continued and he was now losing a lot of weight.

After seeing a second doctor, the diagnosis was significantly graver. Gary had cancer of the pancreas. And it had already advanced enough to be terminal. The doctor gave him six months to live. Gary was 25 years old.

Ric wondered if I were interested in moving back to Florida so I could be there for moral support. I was devastated by the news, but after trying a return there just a few months before, I was reluctant to pull up roots yet again. I was just getting acclimated to my new job at PMA on St. Charles and was looking at apartments for rent in Metairie. Plus, I had come to love my new hometown of New Orleans and accepted it with all it's quirks and foibles.

But as the weeks went by I grew bored of this new job and frustrated with it's $8/hr salary. I was not comfortable about the temporary living arrangement with Alicison, and I think she was weary of it as well. I started to think more seriously about Ric's offer. I did miss him, and I especially wanted to see Gary, well, before he left us.

So just before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd give Florida another go.

"This time it will work out for the better. It has to." I thought to myself.

I bid my "goodbyes" properly, this time, to my job and to Alicison.

Alicison's landlord, friend and fellow NA'er Albert drove me and my trusty ol' luggage to the airport.

And once again, I flew back to Orlando.

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: July 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 6 - DeLand Daze

My father came and picked me up at Ric's house the next day. He was pleasant and didn't seem overly depressed. We talked about mom, the fact that she now had her second leg amputated due to blood clots and gangrene complications of her phlebitis. He said she looked bad and the doctor's couldn't seem to stop her wounds from getting infected.

After I got my stuff settled in at their half of the duplex they rented in DeLand, we drove to the hospital where mom was staying. As I walked into the room, I saw her passed out on her bed in a drug-induced sleep. She was a legless torso, covered in a pale blue blanket, shriveled to the size of a toddler. Her hair was straggly and appeared white. Her face was a skull with wrinkled skin stretched taught, her mouth agape and her eyes half open.

She already looked dead.

I excused myself and made my way out of the room, down the hall and to the bathroom. I closed the door behind me, leaned over and balled my eyes out.

A few minutes later, after I had my emotions under control, I dried my tears and returned to the hospital room. My father understood. He knew.

My mother was awake now and when she saw me she seemed so happy. After all, I'd talked on the phone with them, but I hadn't seen them in almost 2 years. She wasn't too lucid though and as she tried to conduct a conversation, she wavered in and out of consciousness and had to repeatedly ask what we were talking about.

Over the next few weeks, my father would visit the hospital every day. Some days I'd go, but most I ventured out looking for work. I wasn't sure what would happen when her time came, but I knew I should try to make some headway towards more independence in preparation. At nights, my father would buy a 12-pack of Busch and we'd share it. But for him, with his lifelong abused liver and multiple prescription tranquilizers and muscle relaxers, just a few beers put him over the edge. That's when he let his true emotions out. He cried about mom and punched the wall. He cursed God and yelled that it should be him He should take, not her.

DeLand had poor prospects for employment. There was a call-center not half-a-mile's walk from the house, but, unluckily for me, they weren't even taking applications at this time. I rode the Volusia County public bus system all the way into Daytona and found a job there. That one lasted throughout the week of training, but once I got out on the floor and had to become re-acquainted with cold call telemarketing again, I left for lunch and never came back.

Now having lived with my father for about 3 weeks and still unemployed, I knew it would be just a matter of time before I became an added burden for him. I was running out of money, and with all my mom's medical costs, I knew he didn't have any to lend me.

I found another call-center office not much farther down the road from the first one. But this was another "vacation room". I didn't care. They were hiring so I took it. I had to. I had no other options.

My mom had been moved to a nursing home, but her condition was deteriorating rapidly and she was soon placed on hospice care. It was near the end.

The pressures of my own situation and that of my parents were getting unbearable for me. I started drinking the hard liquor my father had in the house. Before long, in the course of the next few days, I had drained the gallon bottle of cheap vodka stowed away in a kitchen cabinet and replaced the liquid with plain tap water to cover up my theft. I stole from the prescription bottles in the bathroom medicine cabinet, too. Soma, Vicodin, Percocet and Ativan...popping them like candy, washing them down with screwdrivers. Pill and booze filled days rolled into knocked-out nights, thanks to the ample supply of Ambien as well.

On the first day of training at my new job, I decided to have a little relaxing drink before going to work. Along with a few pills. I couldn't feel the effects right away so I took more, and more. And another drink, and a third. By the time I got to work, I was stumbling. In training class, the instructor called on volunteers to read the script we were studying aloud. I raised my hand. I opened my mouth and started to speak but all I heard was gibberish. I was slurring my words so badly, I couldn't even be understood. My co-workers were trying to suppress giggles and the instructor called in one of the managers. Though I must have reeked of booze, and I was clearly drunk and stoned, they didn't fire me. I told them I was on pain relievers for back pain. They let me go home saying I could come in tomorrow after I had time to sleep it off. I never returned.

I came home to find that my father had been home while I was at work to eat dinner. He had bought more Busch beer and it was in the fridge. I drank all the beer he bought and popped a couple more pills. I watched TV and started to feel sick. I made it to the bathroom, but I didn't make it to the toilet. I threw up all over the bathroom floor and sink. Then, somehow forgetting I had just vomited, I left it all there, walked back to the living room and continued to watch TV.

When my father got home from visiting my mom in the nursing home later that evening, he asked why I wasn't at work. I lied and told him they fired me because I was late. When he saw the vomit in the bathroom, he figured out what was really going on. He knew I had no money so he wondered how I could buy alcohol. He checked the fridge, his beer was gone. He checked the bottle of vodka. It looked full, but being all too familiar with the tricks alchies pull, he checked it...tap water. I was too stoned to care. He yelled and saw it had no effect on me. He screamed that he couldn't handle this stress while he had to deal with his dying wife. He went to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.

The next day I was still stoned from the pills and hungover from the booze. I made an attempt at cleaning the bathroom and succeeded in getting it a little cleaned up. Around noon, my sister and Jan showed up. They were there to take me somewhere...anywhere. My father had called them telling them what I'd done. He couldn't deal with me anymore.

I knew I couldn't stay with Ric, so I called the only other friend I had. Alicison in New Orleans. Leaving out the part about the drugs and booze, I told her I wanted to return to New Orleans needed to stay somewhere. She had no room for me in her little rented room, but she checked with Sandra, the landlady of the boarding house. Sandra had a small room available, but it wouldn't be ready until a few days from now.

I asked Alicison if she could put me up for a day or two and she agreed. My sister and Jan drove me to Casselberry. I needed to stay in Florida for one more day in order to pick up my one week's ($95) paycheck from the job I had in Daytona. Ric agreed to let me stay over for just one night, then he'd drive me into Daytona to get my check and it'd be to the Orlando Greyhound station from there.

So, again, I boarded a bus and embarked on that long, lonely ride to New Orleans.

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: June 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 5 - Shattered Dreams

"There he is," I thought, "I wonder if he'll see me?"

Earlier this evening, I had flown into Orlando from New Orleans, took the 45-minute long Lynx bus ride to Casselberry and here I was. Sitting on my luggage under the stairs by the front door to Ric's apartment, sipping the last bottle of a six-pack of beer.

It was night and I was shrouded in the darkness of the stairwell. From my position, I watched as Ric parked his car in the nearby lot, walked up the path to his door, unlocked it and went in. He hadn't even for a second glanced in my direction. Though I was in darkness, if he had looked, he would have seen me. After he closed his apartment door, I got up, looked back towards the stairwell to be sure my luggage was hidden (I needed to first gauge his attitude before I sprung it on him I was back "for good"), and knocked on his door.

The second he opened the door and saw me standing there, I looked in his face and knew it was cool. I had a place to stay. For a while, anyway...

Weeks earlier, while still in New Orleans, I had hinted to Ric during our phone conversations that I might be looking to return to Florida. Though he never said so, he hinted that if I were to move back, I might be able to crash on his couch for a little while.

Why didn't he agree to this arrangement back in February? Well, back then Gary was effectively living with Ric in his little "Junior One Bedroom" (re: studio) apartment. And they were nearly constantly fighting all during that time. So they had (after I had already left for New Orleans) broken up for a while (again) and Gary moved back to the house his parents owned in Mineola.

The break-up was short-lived and they were "back together" within a few weeks. But Gary stayed out in Mineola.

Gary was with Ric at Ric's house every weekend though. Ric would make the long trek out to Mineola on Friday nights, pick up Gary, who, like me, didn't drive due to a revoked license, and brought him to Casselberry. They'd spend the weekend together, then on Sunday night, Ric made the trip back to Mineola to bring Gary home.

Meanwhile, living with Gary in Mineola, was Robert, Gary's "ex" boyfriend. Huh!!?? You are no doubt confused. Well, honey, so were we all. The whole arrangement was quite bizarre.

Anyway, what it boiled down to was there was a little more room in Ric's apartment now.

And, like the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, I think Ric missed me since I had left Orlando.

I assured him I would only stay for as short a time as possible.

Over the course of the next few days, I hit the pavement and searched for a job. I found again, that my options were quite limited. I submitted resume after resume. No return calls.

I was living off the roughly $900 I had left after airfare back to Orlando and it was dwindling fast. Ric took a nominal $300/month for me staying with him, but I was continuing to splurge on bar hopping.

One night, Ric, Gary and I had been out drinking at the Irish Pub, a neighborhood dive. We got very drunk and Ric and Gary started to fight. Not unusual. But after returning to the apartment, the verbal screaming between the two of them got physical. Gary started ripping up pictures of the two of them and Ric pushed Gary across the room. Gary fell into the living room window and the window burst out spraying glass everywhere. Amazingly unhurt, Gary came back throwing fists at Ric and suddenly I got into it with Ric, defending Gary. Things calmed down for a while as we each retreated to a separate area of the room and drank more beer. But since Gary kept up the verbal taunts and I was yelling at Ric too, Ric got fed up and in a rage, picked up the glass coffee table top and threw it at me. It missed me and smashed onto the living room floor, shards of glass flying everywhere.

Unbelievably, no one called the cops. We calmed down, went to sleep and the next day Gary and I cleaned up the place. When Ric woke up, we all just went on like nothing ever happened.

Later that same weekend, we all sobered up fast and embraced each other in support for Gary who found out that his father had keeled over dead from a heart attack.

I eventually found a low-paying "vacation room" job that seemed a little less depressing than many of the others available so I took that. But, being an obvious dead-end, and, something I hated, I abandoned the job after about a week.

I didn't tell Ric, I figured I'd eventually get something else, but I didn't want him to get pissed at me for quitting a job and having nothing to replace it.

Well, the job actually called Ric's phone (which I had put on my application) to find out if I was ok (since I hadn't shown up for a few days). I didn't expect that. Usually these boiler rooms have such a high rate of no-call, no-shows that they never call to find out why you left.

Ric was livid...not so much that I had quit the job, but that I tried to deceive him into thinking I was still working there. He gave me until the end of the month to find a new place to live.

As the end of the month approached, Ric made sure to communicate that he wasn't kidding, he wanted me out. I was fast running out of options so, having no other choice, I called my parents.

My father picked up the phone, and rather than being stand-offish because of the way I spoke to him last time I'd called in February, he seemed happy and relieved to hear from me.

"Your sister and I have been trying to reach you for weeks, but we didn't know where you were. Your phone number was disconnected...", he said.

"Yeah, well, I couldn't afford my phone so I cancelled the account." I explained.

He continued, "I was so worried I wouldn't hear from you before it was too late."

"What do you mean?"

"Michael, your mother is dying."

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: May 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 4 - The Dog Days of May

As April progressed into May, a few changes occurred:

I hardly saw Jay anymore. He was presumptively busy on the weekends, the only time I had for leisure since I worked 10 hours a day and it took over 2 hours to get to work and back on the buses.

Our friendship had been damaged by the ill feelings over the ferret incident and others (like me ignoring Regan and Jay's demand that I not bring snacks up to the loft while I was living there...turns out he went up there while I was at work one day and found an empty snack-sized Frito's bag. So when I came home that evening, I saw it taped to the ladder with a hastily scribbled note from Jay scolding me, like I was a child, for disobeying their "house rules". Granted, I had snacks up there before seeing the rat that one night, so after that I understood why they didn't want snacks up there...but all that says is that they knew they had a rat infestation problem and rather than pay for an exterminator, they just modified their eating habits...again, critters ruled their household, not humans.)

The days were, just like in Florida, starting to heat up. But, being more urban, with all that concrete around, it felt hotter in New Orleans.

Sometime in the first week of May I was moved to another room in the "complex" of boarding houses the landlady ran in order to do renovations. Turns out that even though the weekly rent stayed the same, I was being "upgraded" to a larger room, and, the TV in this one had basic cable. Woo hoo.

I started to become good friends with co-worker and neighbor Alicison and we would occasionally go to the neighborhood breakfast joint on Sunday mornings, Betsy's on Canal St. This place is a local favorite for it's down-to-earth attitude and huge portions for cheap, cheap, cheap.

Alicison (yes that's how she spells it, BTW) had split with her husband who was in rehab, but they would occasionally get together every now and then. She was hoping they could get back together, but she knew he had to "work the steps" and become better adjusted in his recovery before they could even think of a reunion. Alicison was, herself a recovering prescription drug addict and a big proponent of NA (Narcotics Anonymous). I hadn't yet "come out" to her about my problems with alcohol yet. (Of course I was forthright about being gay, I don't have any compunctions about that.)

Aside from sharing breakfast, we sometimes took the bus to the Quarter and walked around there. (She, at this time, was also relegated to public transit since her car, parked across from the boarding house, was inoperable and she couldn't afford to get it fixed.)

Another pastime that I took up, which eventually became a weekend ritual was what I would eventually term "Metairie Chicken". This was a multi-bus journey all the way to neighboring town Metairie, primarily to eat lunch at this little Chinese restaurant off Veterans Blvd. The all-you-can-eat buffet featured this dish - Peking Chicken in a Savory Brown Gravy. This chicken, along with their fried rice and lo-mein reminded me of the fabulous food of Chan's in Woonsocket. I've searched and have found no other restaurants offering the same preparation style as this place. The day would usually include a visit to nearby Clearview Mall to watch a movie at the AMC theater.

It was a chore keeping in touch with Ric, since I had to use the pay phone on the street corner. And in the neighborhood I lived, this phone was likely the contact point for the local drug pusher. Oh yes, I was in the ghetto. But much of New Orleans was a run-down ghetto. And it wasn't restricted to any one racial profile. Alicison and I were just two of the many poor whites living in the ghetto among people of all races.

But Ric and I did keep in touch. He would tell me about the trips to Busch Gardens he and Gary would take, the days spent at Universal, and playing tennis at his apartment complex.

Towards the end of May I had saved up about $1200 and was seriously looking into getting a real apartment, but again, I got the gut feeling that I needed to make a bigger move...

I was getting sick of my job, with it's long hours and depraved atmosphere, ripping people off day after day.

I missed people who I considered my "real" friends, Ric and Gary. And I missed us hanging out together and I remembered all the good times we had.

I began to think I hadn't taken job hunting in the Orlando area more seriously and had given up too early.

On Memorial Day, I took the city bus up to Six Flags. I'd been here before with Jay on opening day in April, and even much earlier than that back when I vacationed here in 2001, when it was called Jazzland. This time I was alone. And to me it was another metaphor for how my life had turned...lonely and trying to make do in a sad and unattractive theme park.

As I rode the mediocre rides, I kept comparing the experience with Orlando theme parks, and, well, this place just couldn't compete. I was homesick for Florida.

So the next day, without any "goodbyes", I packed my bags, took a cab to the airport and flew back to Orlando.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: April 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 3 - The Rat Race

It wasn't long after moving in with them that I found out that my roommate/hosts, Regan and Jay were quintessential night owls. They didn't need to wake early for their respective jobs so they thought nothing of playing music and chatting away with each other 'till the wee hours, every night.

I, though, had just gotten a job that started bright and early at 8:00 in the morning. With no car, of course, I had to get to work by walking 1.5 miles and riding the RTA, New Orleans' public transit service...notorious for treating a schedule as if it were merely a suggestion.

I had gotten the job fairly easily, with a brief phone interview and a quick meet n' greet, I was in. And, comparatively, especially for Louisiana, it paid well...with average commissions: $500/week. The catch? Well, it was, how shall I say....um...a scam.

Oh not a scam to us employees of this discreetly-located, small Uptown office. I was worried about that, of course, especially after the fiasco of the "vacation room" jobs in Orlando. The money for us was real. For the folks calling though...

Here's how it went down: The owner, John, put little ads in cheap free publications like Thrifty Nickle and Pennysaver. The ads were put in the "Financial Opportunities" sections of the classifieds. They weren't much different than the other scams along side of them. Instead of offering thousands of dollars to "stuff envelopes" and the like, his ads offered the "opportunity" for you to obtain a federal government grant to fix your home, start a business, go to college, etc.
The ad gave a toll-free number to call where readers would be able to find out if they might qualify for these free government grants. That number...called us...and we were ready.

This job was strictly commission, and though they didn't say that you had a "quota", it was the kind of sales job where the management didn't have to state that there was a quota. If you made sales, you stayed. If you didn't, you were fired. Simple as that. In the financial predicament I was in, I needed to STAY. Period. So I did what I had to, to survive.

This was no slick corporate call-center with "quality assurance" and "monitored calls" and shit. It was a fucking ghetto-ass boiler room! You could lie your fucking ass off. You could tell these fucking losers who were stupid enough to believe that they would get the fucking "hook up" any, fucking thing! As long as they paid the $195 fee. That's right. If they would cough up their fucking bank's routing number and their checking account number and agree "on tape" to give us almost two hundred dollars to get nothing but a 5-page photo-copied guideline on how they can complete a government grant application, with no guarantee to get it, we would get paid.

So for me, the incentive was to make as much money as quickly as possible because:

1. I knew the job wouldn't last. This place would be shut down eventually.

2. I needed to get out of Regan and Jay's house. It was getting really bad...

"Finally," I thought one night, "They went to bed. Now maybe I can get some sleep!"

"I needed to be sharp and witty to scam suckers in the morning, couldn't Jay and Regan empathize with me?"

Now that they had gone to bed, and the lights were shut, I was able to finally let my Benedryls take effect.

As I lay in my mattress, up in my sheet-shrouded loft, I started to doze off.

Suddenly, I heard a scratching sound.

As I opened my eyes I could just barely make out this shadowy "thing" skittering slowly along one of the beams of the rafters over my head. As my eyes adjusted I could see what it was...

It was a rat!

A rat as big as a small cat!

I don't know how I avoided screaming and freaking out, maybe it was the Benedryls, or the 6-pack I had drank, or the fact that, well, this was so apropos...I'm sharing my hovel space with a rat, but I just nodded to the rat, rolled over, and went to sleep.

This rat incident was not the worst problem at Regan and Jay's house.

They were starting to rapidly tire of me and wanted me out.

One morning as I was descending the precarious "ladder" that was my entryway up to my loft, my bare foot stepped into a fresh pile of ferret shit.

Jay and Regan, especially Regan, were fanatically in love with their little smelly rodent pet ferret. They doted on this creature every freakin' minute they could.

After hopping to the counter to get a paper towel to wipe off the shit on my foot, I walked over to the ferret, in it's playpen they had built for it, and, calmly, not loudly at all, told it that pooping on the floor was "bad".

Within seconds, Regan stormed out of her room and screamed at me, "Never raise your voice to 'bleepshit!'" (Whatever the fucking animal's name was, like I remember!)

I tried to explain to her that I wasn't yelling at it, but was trying to verbally provide a bit of discipline so the pet would not be the master, the humans would.

Um, needless to say, Regan saw me as the devil from then on.

Regan screamed, "Don't you see? She [the ferret] left that poop for YOU to step on because she doesn't like you here!"

Can you say personification?

Within a week or so, as I came home from work one day, I saw Jay standing on the porch, smoking a cigarette. Though Regan didn't allow him to smoke indoors, he usually went out back, not here, in the front. I knew something was up.

Sure enough, he said that he didn't think the arrangement of me staying there was "simpatico". Odd word to use, I thought, but essentially, it meant I had to make arrangements, and fast, to get out.

I was hoping to wait another couple of weeks. I had saved up about $800, but I knew I'd need more for down payment and rent on an apartment. Now, I could see, I wouldn't have time for that.

So I found out about a room for rent from a co-worker, Alicison. It was in the same house she was staying at since she was separated from her estranged husband who was struggling with alcoholism. She herself was a recovering drug addict. It was a small room, with a portable TV (rabbit ears, no cable), a mini-fridge and shared bathroom, no kitchen. $125/week. With a one weeks deposit.

Regan eagerly helped me move my stuff over in her car. It would only be a few blocks away, but I wasn't going to be in her house, abusing her precious ferret anymore.

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: March 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 2 - Mardi Gras in New Orleans

I stared out the window of the bus as I leaned my head back and sighed. The sun was setting over the horizon and the shadows were getting long and dark. It seemed that the encroaching twilight was an inspiration to everyone on the bus, young and old, poor and poorer, homeless, and those nearly homeless, to settle in and speak in hushed tones. Thank you, twilight, I needed peace. My nerves were frantic.

I was setting out to start over fresh, in a new city, with 1 suitcase and 1 carry-on bag filled with some basic clothes and limited personal possessions, $85 cash and not much else. No job, no family, no employment prospects and no home. I'd be staying on a mattress laid out on the floor of my friend Jay's home, and it would be an uncomfortable and temporary arrangement to be sure.

It had been just three years earlier that I drove the Ryder truck that Jay had rented (but couldn't drive since he lacked a license) to move him to New Orleans. During that trip, down this same highway, I-10, he had startled me by letting out a rather loud whoop of joy when we crossed the border from Florida into Alabama. He was ecstatic that he was finally out of Florida. He felt that everything that had gone wrong in his life in the past few years was attributed to his time in Florida. Now, watching as the bus passed by the "Welcome to Alabama" sign, I felt the same way. I was free! Uncertain about what lay ahead, but at least it would be away from the evil dominion of Florida.

Many long sleepless hours later, we arrived in New Orleans. The bus had left Orlando in the early evening and now it was nearly midnight of the next day. My fellow bus travelers were an interesting lot. Very different crowd compared to the airline travelers I was more familiar with. It seemed everyone had some hard luck story. There was one guy who was staying on the bus to it's final destination: San Diego. If the bus stayed "on schedule", he'd get there in about 3 more days! Man, no wonder only the desperate travel this way!

I called Jay during one of the stops a few hours earlier and let him know we were going to be a little late. We ended up being 2 hours late. Since it was arranged they would be waiting for me at the bus station I searched everywhere but couldn't find them. Soon I was one of the only people in the terminal. I figured they drove back home and would be waiting for me to call when I got in, but I didn't have anymore change with me for the pay phone and no counter or concession was open to break a dollar bill. So, within a few minutes of arrival in New Orleans, I had to "go native" and I begged for change. A cabbie at the cab stop took pity on me and gave me a couple of quarters. Here I was, in the middle of the night, at a gritty, rundown bus/train station, homeless and panhandling.

Finally, after calling them, Regan and Jay came to pick me up. Though I was dead tired and all I wanted to do was get to sleep, we drove first to this small shop in the Quarter so they could pick up some Po' Boys. I got the cheapest variety available, a French Fry Po' Boy (French fries smothered in brown gravy and stuffed into French bread...yum!)

After getting to the house, we ate our late night dinner and Jay showed me that he had set up a mattress with sheets up in the loft. The loft was this little tiny half room that was accessed by this rudimentary ladder. Once up there, you couldn't stand since you were among the rafters of the roof. It was open to the kitchen and "great room" below but Jay had given me extra sheets so I could rig up some make-shift "walls" for a bit of privacy. Hey, beggars can't be choosers, I was happy to have anything. And after that long bus ride, I just wanted to plop on that mattress and sleep forever.

Over the course of the next few days, I would come to relish sleep as a rare commodity. You see, I had arrived at a rather busy time, both for New Orleans and Jay. It was 4 days before Mardi Gras.

Being not from New Orleans, I didn't know that Mardi Gras encompassed much more than just the Tuesday before the start of Lent, it was a whole "season" of partying and festivities for weeks before the actual Fat Tuesday. And I had landed, broke and tired, smack dab at the height of the final frenzied weekend of Carnival.

There was no time during these days to look for a job. What's more, no job would want to do much hiring until Wednesday anyway. In New Orleans, everyone took their partying seriously, and not much else.

Over that long weekend we visited Jay and Regan's friends and family non-stop. It was kinda cool, but so other worldly. Shucking oysters at 3am with Jay's friends, blaring music, drinking it up from afternoon to the wee hours every night. I was stilled worried about my future and how I'd be able to get back on my feet. I wasn't in the mood for hedonistic pleasure seeking. Boy, was I in the wrong place and the wrong time. Right now, I was in the Bacchanalia capital of the world!

On Sunday, Jay and I went to help his friend Rick set up his floats for the Krewe of Mid-City parade, one of the longest running and most revered parades of the season. And I say "his" floats, 'cause, well, they were. Ricardo (Rick) was the designer of all the floats in the parade. For our assistance, Jay and I got to ride in the back of his pickup truck in the parade. We were right in front of the Marines marching band, so for the next few hours, we got blasted with the rousing horns and drums of the "Halls of Montezuma".

It all culminated to a head on Tuesday: Mardi Gras proper.

Jay was a member of the Ducks of Dixieland, a subset of the Krewe of Tucks which had it's own walking parade through the Quarter on Mardi Gras day. The group had it's gimmick in that every year, they were dressed up as ducks. And, each year, as ducks, they marched under a unified theme, usual a parody of some kind. This year, the theme was "Ducksasters!", a portmanteau of "ducks" and "disasters".

Each member came up with their costume depicting a famous historical disaster, as ducks, of course. Some choice costumes included one guy as a big hurricane-caused wave hitting the nearby city of Galveston in the year 1900. (Oh, don't you know I thought of the irony of this eerily prophetic theme a few years later in the wake of Katrina!)

Jay's aunt and uncle were the two halves of the Titanic. And Jay had created an elaborate bed with himself, as a duck, in the bed, eating a box of saltines. The joke: Crumbs in Bed...get it. What a disaster! Eh, it was original, gotta give him that. And the costume was truly well-crafted. He does have talent. It must run in the family though 'cause I thought his aunt and uncle had the best, most artistic costume. I wish I had pictures...

We had great fun that Mardi Gras, but deep down, I was anxious to get back to normal. I yearned for the grind of a day-to-day full time job since I wanted money and independence.

Fortunately, the day after Mardi Gras, I lucked out and found a good paying job and was hired right away.

But as the sobriety of the comparatively fun-less Lenten season now embraced my new roommates, they became bogged down by their own troubles.

And I was soon to become one of them.