Friday, May 21, 2010

My phone...

...which is, incidentally, the first cell phone I've ever owned, has a number that was previously assigned to one Wang Lee.

I know this because I received an automated bill-collection call for said person today. Since the message said "...if you are not Wang Lee, please hang up" -- I am not, never have been, and have no intention of ever being Wang Lee -- I followed directions.

That explains a few odd calls I received during the first two weeks I had the phone. Those were in Chinese, and the callers seemed perturbed that I speak only English. My Chinese vocabulary is restricted to "ni hao" (meaning, roughly, "hello") and "Hong qui" ("Red Flag"). Can't have much of a conversation with those....

I don't know what Wang has gotten into, but it can't be good.

On the other hand, I pity the poor fool who eventually gets my former land-line number. They'll get some calls, too, and for a while at least some may not be too pleasant. They'll be in English, though.

But I must say having the little mobile phone has been a gift from Heaven. It certainly suits my current peripatetic lifestyle. Even with its Southern California-based number, it happily sends and receives calls in my current location, which is several states away. It kept me in contact with two Very Important People during my travels on the Big Gray Dog, and has made it possible for a select few others to talk to me.

And it will move with me to my next destination, which will happen in a few days. It simply doesn't care, as long as I hang it on the charger once in a while and regularly feed it fresh minutes.

Hey, look at me: I'm modern at last!

Monday, May 17, 2010

More closure...

...of a mixed-blessing kind.

When I deperted my previous life, a long-time friend with whom I had worked and played often over the course of more than 20 years stopped by my apartment. When he left, his small SUV was full of what I could salvage from the wreckage in the pitifully short time I had to choose what went with me and what would remain for the carrion birds. I picked my most valuable personal books, CDs and a few papers, and what was left of my "professional" research library. All found a temporary home with him (thank you, J. C.).

At his suggestion, I agreed to let him put the work-related materials up for sale. This last Saturday, he called my Secret Number and informed me that he had found buyers, and that I would realize a sum rather higher than my own estimates of their value.

The check is on its way.

This is a major relief, to put it mildly. It is also a sad moment in the transition from the end of the Old into the unknown wilds of the New.

Don't get me wrong. I am in no way tempted to blow some of the proceeds on an expedition to the nearest bar to drink myself into blissful oblivion. Nor am I sitting here staring at the wall and wondering why the hell it All Went Wrong.

But a part of me can't help thinking that this is the ultimate symbol of 24 failed years. They began with another check, for roughly 20% of this final sum, sent to me when a magazine accepted my first manuscript*. After what in retrospect seems a lifetime of ups and downs, good memories and bad, it ended in financial ruin, stress, and a sudden-but-essential departure from familiar ground.

The starting-over process was never guaranteed to be pain-free or easy. That's for Horatio Alger books and cheezy movies.

It must be said that I'm feeling a bit more confident, but nothing like the way I'd feel if one of the umpteen job applications I have so far sent from here had resulted in even the dimmest glimmer of interest.

So almost everything I valued is now gone. All I have left is a handful of people watching my back (more important than anything, in my view), memories light and dark, and a little more change in my pocket.

And I have me.

It's a start....

* And "manuscript" it was: Written on my Remington-Rand electric typewriter, the sheets were full of blobs of White-Out covering typing errors, and probably represented the third or fourth draft of the piece. I was horrified to see it again after the magazine's Copy Editor finished with it, when it had acquired a few ugly blue pencil slashes. Her assurance that it was the cleanest copy she had received in a long time was little comfort; I wanted my maiden effort to be perfect....

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I'm there. Wherever "there" is.

Some of y'all know my new location because we've communicated directly, but I'm going to be vague about it here for now.

I many not have many friends, but those who have been inducted into that category are, to be blunt, the best in the world. Not because I put them there, you understand; let's just say I've been incredibly fortunate to to have them fall into my life.

"Home" is the second bedroom in a smallish but elegant place. It feels like "home" -- a word longtime readers of my babblings may remember I use in place of "house" or "apartment" sparingly at best. This feels like home; nowhere I have stayed in my adult life has qualified for that word.

Well, there was one other place that was damn homey, but my residency there was brief and ended rather poorly. 'Nuff said.

So all I have to do now is find a job, my own place and clear up a daunting number of details that make things "difficult" (in this case, that word ranks as the classic understatement of the year, if not the decade). Then, I'm good to go.

Being in a place where I'm anonymous (to everyone but my kind hosts) and unreachable (to anyone but the very few who have my phone number) is a Good Thing. I am in contact only with good people. If you are blessed with a life where friendship, compassion and happiness are the rule and not the exception, you may not understand what an immense relief that can be.

Getting here was an experience. That's two massive understatements in one post! I could write a book about 30-plus hours spent riding The Hound from Los Angeles to, well, here, via such happening burgs as Quartzite, AZ, Lordsburg, NM, Van Horn, TX and points east, and I may. At a minimum, the 17 pages of semi-legible notes I scrawled over the course of my journey -- had to do something to keep myself from losing it completely along the way and, aside from calls to and from two of my last connections to sanity and humanity, scratching out notes about what I saw and felt was all I had -- will make a hell of a blog entry or two when I am a bit calmer and can look back with some detachment.

I'm a writer, you know. It's a disease. Hell, I bet someone was taking notes as the Titanic went down....

Not much more to say for the moment. I'm where I think I need to be and, even if it is only temporary and in time I'm cast adrift to venture Elsewhere, I needed this.

I got it, and I'd call that a damn miracle, one brought about directly by the efforts and goodness of four people. I don't want to hear ANY complaints about my mentioning them often here. Gratitude is not the most common emotion for me; I hardly know how to express it properly...they (and you) will have to put up with it.

A cowboy song keeps echoing through my head, as it has since approximately the time I passed through Pecos, TX. It's the only cowboy song that ever made it into my (now gone) collection of recordings, and the only one for which I know the lyrics. It was performed some time in the 1940s and, thanks to changes in society since then, its lyrics have made the transition from okay for kids -- for whom it was written -- to hilariously inappropriate. My mind played it over and over as we crossed endless miles of desert.

If I can ever find another copy, I'll have to make an MP3 and figure out how to post it here. I have it memorized, but y'all do not want to hear me sing it.

That has nothing to do with anything. But so many things I think about fit in that category.

Which means it's time for me to close this.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Is this how a lemming feels just before...

...he takes that last step over the cliff?

PARENTHETICAL WARNING: Long entry ahead. Fix yourself a drink before reading. Or two drinks.

The past five weeks have been strange. An understatement, really; they have been like a stay -- temporary, I hope -- in Hell.

First there was Eviction Day, April 3rd. I grabbed stuff, almost at random, and threw books, music and a few vital papers into a friend's car so he could store them for me. A lot was left behind for what a writer friend so aptly called the Eviction Vultures.

Then two weeks in a cruddy motel spent in a fruitless search for a job. Any job. I shared the premises with drug dealers and ladies involved in commercial transactions of the timeless kind. There were no doubt a few drifters, too. Like me.

After that, three weeks at the Ancestral Pad, now occupied by my sister. We have never really gotten along; when she told me to come bunk there, I thought she had mellowed. Nope. It has been a miserable time, with repeated bouts of sullen anger, threats to drive me to the nearest homeless shelter at that very moment, and constant reminders that she was making a Big Sacrifice by letting me draw breath in her space.

The house was worse. From the outside, it stands apart from others in the neighborhood by virtue of its rotting shingles, 35 year-old paint job and wildly overgrown yard. Inside, it puts the Collier Brothers' Manhattan pad to shame.

Of the four bedrooms, one is accessible. The rest, like the living room and dining room, are packed floor-to-ceiling with boxes of, well, stuff, piles of detritus, books and magazines purchased over a 20-plus year period and apparently never read, and bags, papers (some dating back years) and plain old shit. The only usable pieces of furniture in the living room are a couch (where I slept) and a tiny desk where my sister's laptop lives.

It is filthy. Dirt runs in long streams across the floors, cobwebs dangle from the ceiling, the kitchen and bathroom are simply vile. Foul. The shower doesn't work, and obviously has not for ages.

PARENTHETICAL YES-I'M-FUSSY NOTE: In order to feel even remotely clean, I had to take what used to be known as "whore's baths." I feel grubby right now, and have felt that way since arrival.

Inevitably, the moment arrived when I could no longer remain here. And so tomorrow, I depart.

This is where incredible good fortune comes into the picture.

Two very, very kind friends have offered me a place to stay. It is not in California, but is rather in the state where I have long hoped I would end up. Not the town I would have picked had I been able to move unrestricted, but second-best.

They tell me the job market is better there -- unless I moved to Michigan, it could hardly be worse! -- and are being simply wonderful about taking me in despite my straitened circumstances.

What will I do at the end of the 32-hour bus ride that begins tomorrow? I don't know. Whatever I have to do is my best guess. I worked as a janitor long ago, and suppose I can do it again if I must. I'm quite certain I will not return to the specific area of the writing racket I engaged in for 24 years. I won't do freelance word-smithing of any kind, except to supplement a steady job.

See? Even old (or, as a sweet, beautiful lady put it when writing about me recently, "aged*") dogs can learn new tricks.

But I will write. It's a compulsion, if no longer a career for me.

I'm not afraid of what comes next. Nervous as a cat on a major caffeine high, yes. But not fearful. Both of my continentally separated friends have assured me, at separate times, that they have good feelings about this move of mine. I trust their judgments.

In my younger, invincible days, I would be anticipating what is to come with delight. No less adventurous now, but affected by a two-year battering that left me, for a time, on the brink of wanting to simply jack it all in, I look ahead with more caution, and understand how steep and treacherous my path is going to be.

I've been at the bottom, Jim. I can climb back up. I will. It is a challenge. It might even be fun.

Though it may be days, weeks, even months before I can do it, I will be writing about my upcoming adventures, from the bus ride (this is my second big trip on the "Hound," and I know from experience there will be plenty to see) through each step of way to contentment. I's what I know and love.

And what of my friends? K. and J. have been at my side for years. During the worst moments of the recent disaster, K.'s warm, caring voice on the phone and help have kept the last strings of my sanity from snapping. She is beautiful by any measure, and I have treasured her friendship since the time it began. J., too, has been of immeasurable help and a source of wisdom (even if occasionaly twisted wisdom, which is the kind that suits me best. He is my brother.

I have known S and K to be good people for a long time; I am looking forward to getting to know them better.

Most of all, I am looking forward to the day when I can treat each of them with even a fraction of the kindness they have extended to me, the day when I, back on my feet again, can say to them: "look what you've made it possible for me to do, and feel proud of yourself!"

At this point, I have to say I have learned who my true friends are. And have learned who doesn't make the grade, friend-wise. Some surprises lurk on both lists....

I would name all four of these life-saving, life-giving, unselfish people, but won't now. They know who they are. I'm heading toward two of them now; I expect to see the other two, one on each coast, in the near future. I feel as if I'm destined to enjoy their company again, and believe Fate will give me time and opportunity to do what I can to make them feel unreservedly appreciated. Loved.

I'm jumping off a cliff** tomorrow, somewhat blindly and with less preparation than I'd like. But, unlike those poor bastard lemmings, I know I will make a soft landing.

I'm happier than I've been in months. I have a destination. I'm eager to find out what comes next.

* Ooooh, that hurts! Couldn't she have said "mature" instead? Damn, I may have some high mileage on the ol' wheels, but I'm not ready for the to take the Big Dirt Nap yet!

** Yes, I know this, when combined with my allusions to "hitting bottom" and "climbing back up" equate to one hellish non-sequitur, but this is my journal, folks, and I like the allusions, so you'll just have to groan and bear it.