Another City, Not My Own
When I go out and about, especially on the Metro bus lines, my only form of reliable transportation, it seems that all around me people are disengaged from their physical environment, staring at their smartphones and pad devices. I do not own either. I have a cheap AT&T Go Phone, a pay-as-you-go affair, which I cannot keep supplied with adequate air time. It’s tough without a telephone but those are the breaks. I do not enjoy cable television either, making do with streaming programming on Netflix when I can afford a one month subscription. For entertainment and white noise I listen to NPR every day until my ears bleed on a desktop terrestrial radio with an unreliable signal up here on a steep hillside surrounded by dense woodland.
AC at home for warm afternoons like today? No dice. I would not even have adequate heat if not for the contribution of a space heater by a good friend, though it does sometimes pull on the substandard electrical wiring in the house but that’s what you get for five hundred bucks a month, which is what I can afford and no more, wiring from 1929 that may erupt in flames one dark, cold night. At least I’ll be warm.
Clean clothes to slip into in the morning? Depends on whether I can afford the special laundry detergent for hand laundering in the kitchen sink. I do not go to the mall for new clothes. I go to the Salvation Army Store on San Fernando Road in Glendale and sometimes purchase socks and tee-shirts from the Dollar Store or the liquor store on Riverside that sells a six-pack of tube socks for $4.50.
I cannot disengage from my environment like those folks with their cool gadgets and ear buds. My environment is too real, too demanding, too constant, uncomfortable, and full of distractions and deprivations to simply unplug from, though often I do wish so terribly that I could disengage from it and take a vacation, spend a few days at the shore in, to borrow from the late, great Dominick Dunne, another city, not my own. Eating in a nice restaurant every morning for breakfast and evening for dinner would be a dream. I have not enjoyed a sit-down meal in a decent eatery since late last year when my friend John Shannon (another great Irish-American scribe like Dunne) took me to lunch. I have not had anything resembling a vacation since 1999 when I was on a working vacation in San Francisco while co-producing and co-writing the feature documentary “Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes.” In later years I would live in ignominious squalor in run-down residential hotels, the sort with the dirty communal toilets and showers down the hall, in San Francisco’s North Beach district, the former Barbary Coast and still a pretty cutthroat affair with more bad poets than you can shake a cheap drink at. And there are plenty of cheap drinks to be had in North Beach because strong drink and fumes is what people survive and thrive on there.
It wasn’t always this way but over the last year my medical co-pays for my various chronic conditions have exceeded my ability to pay if I want to make good on my rent and at least the past due on my utilities. The ghost of too many residential hotels and dives and flophouses has instilled a fear in me that my rent must be paid every month over and above all things, including food. And speaking of food, when I have food cravings, as we all often do, there’s usually not much I can do about it.
For 13 long years I have been struggling to understand how Social Security Disability and Medicare thinks I can survive on my monthly stipend check (especially after a $100 deductible every month for Medicare) unless I earn at least $1,000 a month in supplemental income; my monthly book royalties, on a good month, are about sixty bucks. With the exception of an assignment for an essay here and there (the last being a Kafka and Orson Welles piece for the L.A. Review of Books and Salon earlier this year) I no longer pursue freelance journalism work because getting money owed from clients since the recession hit in 2008 is like squeezing blood from the proverbial stone. I’m simply too ill to chase a paycheck around for six to eight months. I’m back in the short fiction marketplace and expect more success there in the coming year but that’s then and this is now.
Now I am hungry. My stomach is delicate from an ongoing detox of a five-year dependence on prescription painkillers. It is eggs that I crave now; and despite my best efforts at fundraising since early this morning, eggs do not look like they will be on the menu tonight unless I steal a chicken from the backyard of one of my Hispanic neighbors. (That’s not a slam, some of our neighbors have chickens and roosters in their back yards, that’s life in Echo Park, keepin’ it real).
This represents the first writing I’ve accomplished today because without my gauze bandages I cannot clutch a pen. The bandages would cost me about ten bucks at CVS. I do not have ten cents, let alone ten bucks.
I forgot where I was going with this. I am tired and frustrated and defeated. And hungry and in need of clean clothes and a glass of cheap wine and a few hours without worry. And sometimes that’s just an impossible objective to achieve.