Wednesday, June 18, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: February 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 1 - And Away We Go!

I watched simultaneously out of my large east-facing apartment windows and on the TV screen: the bright flaming exhaust and billowing plume of the space shuttle as it lifted off from Cape Canaveral some 30 miles away. What an awesome sight! The live view was totally unobstructed as it rose above the treeline beyond my apartment complex, framed by palm trees in the foreground.

As it rose higher and was soon out-of-sight (in real life view; on TV they switched to a higher zoom lens) my spirits rose with it. It was a bright and sunny morning and this take-off made me feel that, for me too, things were going to be A-OK. Finally, today, I felt less depressed and frazzled by my crushing financial burdens.

But instead, my situation crumbled again over that next week as I was unable to hold down my crummy low-paying job.

As I was drinking myself into a daze, sulking over my dire straits, I turned on the TV to see that the inspiration for my previously buoyant mood, the majestic Space Shuttle Columbia, had also met with failure. Though in a more tragic and spectacularly grim way.

With the down-right depressing news coverage of the Columbia disaster, I spiraled further into a funk of despair. To me, this drama was not one I was sharing with the rest of the world, it was a personal metaphor for what I was going through.

My personal tragedy had begun almost five months earlier. The mental stresses of trying to come to terms with my alcohol abuse and dealing with the punishing obstacles imposed by the State as a result of my DUI conviction had finally broke my spirit.

On a whim, and for ludicrously illogical reasons, I walked away from a good paying management career with a Fortune 500 company.

Initially I had all the confidence in the world I'd land something better. Something more convenient to accommodate my transportation setback. Instead, I found that I had irrevocably burned bridges, was faced with severely limited opportunities, and was layering ever more psychological stress onto myself, impairing my decision-making abilities.

Not to mention I was burning rapidly through years of solid financial gains. In the single season of Autumn 2002, I had plummeted from a secure, middle-class management-level professional to a struggling entry-level part-time telemarketer, earning below poverty-line wages.

After a series of failed low wage jobs, I moved here to Reflections in Casselberry just a month earlier in order to escape the excessively high rents I was paying at my luxury apartment complex Park Central. But even this new rent at $630/month was still hard to raise with these low wage call-center jobs in the area.

Now I became more and more convinced, as the jobless days rolled by, that I was being held back by two oppressive impediments.

One was the responsibility to come up with money for rent, electric and phone bills...if only I could stay relatively "rent free" somewhere 'till I got back on my feet.

The second issue, which I saw as a direct contributor to the first, was my scarce transportation options.

When I moved to Reflections, I thought that the Semoran Blvd. bus route, running both North and South every 30 minutes, would be adequate to connect me with virtually any job location in the Orlando area. But, as I found out, the other routes connecting to this one were not so prompt and frequent. The Semoran route didn't connect directly with the downtown hub either, so my connections were limited.

I decided that not only would I benefit greatly by staying with someone while I "got it all together" again, I should also think to the transportation arrangements I would need to live with over the next 4 years of my license revocation. Perhaps another city altogether? A city more compact and less the perfect example of 20th/21st century urban sprawl that was Orlando.

I did like my little apartment though. It was clean, bright and, though small, it fit all my furniture.

But there were downsides. The rent was rapidly becoming out of reach, much as Park Central had become, as I perceived my income opportunities dwindling. The apartment above me housed this family of 3, including a small child who was occasionally noisy. Their footsteps pounded heavily overhead nearly all hours, as well. (How they fit in there is beyond me since it, like my apartment, was a 450 sq. ft. "Junior One Bedroom")

Lastly, though I saw it as a great benefit in the beginning, it was soon determined to be a bit of a pain: my next door neighbor was Ric.

When I was looking to "run away" from Park Central a month before, I liked the complex Ric lived at in Casselberry, and, since there was an apartment right next door to him that was vacant, I opted to apply for it. I had visions of "Seinfeld", living right next door to my best friend. Not always the best. Especially as these were stormy times between him and Gary. And the walls were paper thin.

But I wasn't making many logical decisions this winter, was I?

I swallowed my pride and begrudgingly made a desperate call for financial assistance to my parents. I hadn't called them in months. My mother had pissed me off after my trial and subsequent jail time during a phone call by insinuating I had to take responsibility for my actions. I wasn't ready to hear her aloof and "holier-than-thou" attitude so I hung up on her. Now, during this call too, they were both pissing me off royally. My father had the gall to ask me if I thought about living in a homeless shelter and she was trying to repeatedly point out what I should have done to avoid the predicament I was in. I gave up, told them I'd never speak to them again, and hung up on them.

I was screwed, and I knew it now.

After hanging up on them, I looked at the cell phone in my hand and thought to myself "This will probably be disconnected soon".

I was 3 months late on the cell phone bill. I hadn't paid anything on the electric bill since the initial moving deposit and it looked like, according to the math I'd done, I wouldn't be able to pay this and next months rent, putting me effectively into my second eviction within a few months. My credit cards by this point had already bitten the dust, and my 2000 Ford Focus had, just weeks early, been left abandoned by me to be reclaimed by the repo men. In just over the span of three months, I had accumulated over $30,000 of debt which was due immediately. And I had less than $100 to my name.

Ric couldn't put me up...no room. He later said it was Gary who talked him out of allowing me to stay with him.

I thought about my friends Rich and Claudia, but so much time had passed since I saw them last at their wedding about 4 years earlier.

My friend Chris had moved to Tampa, and we weren't in touch anymore.

And going back to RI? I still remembered the New London Syndrome. Outta the question.

My only other Florida friend was Jay who had moved back to his hometown of New Orleans in 2001. So should I try and stay with him? In New Orleans? Didn't he "owe" me for putting him (and that cat from hell of his) up those few months in 2000 at Lee Road? It was time to call in some favors.

I called Jay. Small talk, yada, yada. Then I told him about my situation. I asked him about staying with him for a while. He immediately said it was fine with him, but, since it was Regan's house, she would have the final say. He went and asked her and after what seemed like an eternity, he came back and said that she okayed it but she was uncomfortable about it. I promised him it would be for as short a time as possible until I got a job and found a place of my own.

I went into "crisis mode" and started getting ready for the move. Gary let me have a huge suitcase he no longer used and whatever fit in it was going with me. Those things that didn't, would not. I left most of the bigger items to Ric and Gary and threw boxes upon boxes of smaller things in the dumpster. Some items as old as the self-drawn maps and other documents of my longtime Nastralia hobby. Others were items usually cherished by most people, like a framed, glassed portrait of my parents.

Ric offered to buy my Greyhound bus ticket to New Orleans. Before I left, I again called Jay to make sure it was okay I stay with him and Regan. It was. But I'm sure he must have been wondering why I thought moving 1000 miles away would be better than trying to fix it where I was. And, frankly, I asked that myself too.

Like the lofty feeling of hope and optimism that was building up in me that day of the shuttle launch, I just had a gut feeling this was the right move for me.

I just hoped that unlike Columbia, my dream to make a new go at it in New Orleans would not come plummeting down in a great ball of flames.

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