Friday, June 20, 2008

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.

No comments: