Case in point: Some of me died today. How am I still living? How do we all go on living? Because its never that bad, and there is always someone that shines the positive with a sentence like, at least you’re not hurt. Yea, there is that, but just because the hurt I feel isn’t physical and bleeding on my face staining my clothes, or rather in your face, its easy to say, at least you are okay, or it could have been much worse. Can it get worse? And I’m here to propose that if it could get worse I don’t want to know.
Tired I might have been, operating without enough rest, sure, but isn’t nearly every responsible working individual at some point in the week functioning on some level of malnourishment or slower pace than the other stellar moments of that week, every week, of every month, because working to live isn’t easy, and living is only possible through spending money that we do not yet have, and even before it comes to us, it has been divvied up by people that do not know or expect to care about our circumstances. So how do we do it? How do we go on not talking about the simple pain of living.
It started yesterday when I turned a corner, making a right up a hill. I parked outside St. John’s hospital in Yonkers, not the riverside location on Broadway but the alcoholism unit on Park, off of Ashburton. It’s a place I simply had never been before. I hit the curb on the way up and made a wincing face that people often make as if they can feel the pain when something that is pricey or expensive drops, cracks, or scratches, because the condition of things is important, whether you are materialistic or not, it just is. It speaks about who you are to others and yourself. It confirms or denies that you can be trusted, that you are a person who can maintain. It suggests that you are a conscientious person who deserves nice things because you know how to take care of them. This simple lesson dates back to the heart of childhood and was the basis for reward when parents chose to buy you something or not.
After hitting that little bump of the curb, I parked. I was waiting for Charlie, we’ll call him fish-mouth. It took him some time to respond to my text, but I made myself useful and started to clean my car. Because again the condition and cleanliness of my car is a representation of how I keep myself, how I feel about myself, and this car being the newest most flashy item I own should definitely be in pristine condition. But we will get into the aesthetics of this later. I picked up the peels of the grapefruit I ate earlier today that were in the door compartment in one fist full and the solo gum wrapper that I knew was in the middle compartment to the trash bin outside. I always lower the window because of the fear that has been engrained in me that my car will auto-lock, whether it is running or not, once I step out of it. An old Honda Accord used to do this to me frequently, so much that I used to keep the spare in my back pocket at all times. Things are different now, of course this was a 2012 Ford Focus. Yes, that is right a 2012, while we are still three months from the end of 2011. How flashy! More than one person, both unknowing of each other have referred to my car as a spaceship from the future, not because it is disc like, but because its so high –tech.
After disposing of the fruit peel I notice a sign on the exterior of the building that says. THIS IS A NO SMOKING PREMISES.
The whole building and the surrounding property, which I am sure includes the sidewalk, seeing as the entrance ramp is on the sidewalk is smoke-free. I imagined why and what it must mean for individuals who are coming into sobriety. Can the smell of cigarettes bring someone back into their days of drinking?
It doesn’t matter, really. I am not going to focus on that, instead I open the door on the passenger side to make sure that there is no garbage on this side of the car. The door opens easily enough despite my paranoia about it locking me out. I sort through some papers, and even arrange the tupper-wares that are in my cooler so that they are nicely stacked, ready to be put into the sink when I get home. Home the place I am dying to be since I have been on the go working since 5:30 am that morning. It was now 7:30pm. I check the tire and the rim, and there was a little damage, nothing crazy but a tiny flap of the tire ridge had come undone and was about a half inch off of the tire itself. There was a little dent on the outer layer of the rim and this piece of the metal, no bigger than a penny, had been crushed to a powdery gray. It hurts a little. I did wince again, but not because I think this is a reflection of me. I, myself do not feel crushed on the outside to a powdery gray but I am annoyed that it happened and that I notice and that I care. I am annoyed because just the night before I was video chatting with Charlie because he lives in Troy, NY and we only see each other as much as we can, i.e. when he comes down here for work (St. Johns) or when he isn’t on a job at all. In our mac-book discussion I complained that this car was a money pit, an unnecessary money-pit at that. Yes, it is shiny with a pearly white finish. The car has a cute little butt, a spacious trunk, swanky black leather interior, a built-in geek squad that guides me to the right store to shop at before I even know who I am shopping for, and what I should eat while I spend the least amount of time shopping. The biggest sell about the car is that its 40 gallons to the mile! I realize that most car-owners dream of such math. But not me, I am just happy to have my very first leased vehicle. Meaning, I was approved and building up great credit. I didn’t want this car, but at my parent’s suggestion, it was time. They thought that with the long hours I work and the time and dedication I out into my career, it made sense that I treat myself to a nice vehicle. What does that even mean? A nice vehicle! Yes, this one would help me locate Indian food, a sprint store, and make a phone call simultaneously and all with voice command, but it did not ask me how I was doing when I entered, nor rub my back while I drove, or keep me awake when I am too tired to drive. It did not clean my tupper-wares when I get in late at night from work and have to get up and do it again in five hours. But when you looked at it drive by, there goes the word nice again. People said more often than not, it was a nice vehicle.
I mentioned to Charlie how these Baby Boomer parents of mine are for lack of a better word, cruising. They made their money, they are ready to retire, maybe not as comfortably as the rest of their generation living in Westchester, but certainly better off than many. The kind of people that throw out toasters because it doesn’t have four slots, and also replacing a coffee machine because now that the fridge was stainless steel it just made sense to have everything else match. They wanted me to live like them.
It’s all about genetics, as the cop said today while my car was hauled onto the toe-truck, but I didn’t get these genes. I don’t have a pre-occupation for nice things, and I don’t care if they match. The cop was nice, he understood that I fell asleep at the wheel, mentioned that he felt for me because he works these crazy hours too, but that it could have been much worse. He said most people get burned on their face by the airbag, and that I was lucky to only get a little red spot on my thumb.
My parents had asked me again and again to think about getting a new car, my dad the poster salesperson at Scarsdale Ford invited me to just give it a test-drive, see the inside, that it was a really nice car. I fought off the temptation, as I was planning on saving for an apartment. I was residing with my parents and it wasn’t easy coming back into their home as an adult, after having lived somewhere else, but these things happen and have happened to many people my age, even some people older than me.
You can stay here, there is no rush they said, its fine you can still save, but drive a nicer car. I caved. Not out of weakness but because maybe the tape and wire attached to it plugged into the headphone jack of my ipod was a little outdated. The inside of my 2000 subaru was a dingy beige, and it rattled a little. But, it didn’t bother me that much, and I don’t know how these sorts of things bothered them, as they never rode in my car, but it again goes back to that whole representation of me in my belongings and their condition.
The spaceship did boost my ego. The new car smell was one that lasted for a long time and can still be retrieved by my olfactory glands. The throwing of dollar bills and loose change for good luck also had a great affect on my feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. It was a brand new car, my first brand new car, my first leased car, and the first time I had anything that was a year ahead of the calendar year!
The focus hummed completely garbage free as it sat parked in a non-smoking side street in front of St. John’s alcoholics unit. My bags that I carry to and from my many jobs are sitting in attention, only short of a seatbelt. The items within their zippers and straps just as organized and ready to be transported whenever I do return home after eating dinner with fish mouth, who just as I was getting antsy shows up. We kiss and hug, exchange chemicals and he tells me to wait a bit longer and that soon we would be on our way. It was much longer, and I did as much as I could in my nice vehicle. I thought about getting gas because I was on empty but didn’t because I didn’t know at what point he was going to pop out ready to go. I considered turning the car off while I waited but remembered my sister saying once, that more gas is spent starting a car than is sitting idle. Gas wasn’t as expensive for me because of how efficient my car was in utilizing its fuel, but gas was still very expensive. A cousin Charlie had mentioned just two days prior to this day, that gas was 77 cents a barrel and that the last time it was 77 cents a barrel, the going price was a dollar less meaning $2.85, instead of $3. He said that’s how he knew the price of gas was going to go up. Not on the consumer end, but that the commodity itself would increase because the consumer would remain unaffected. This is what he was into, buying and trading, selling and profiting, but was now out of work and we had that conversation in the spaceship itself, only then on that beautiful Sunday, it did not have a powdery gray edge to the back passenger rim, and it was being used to transport him to get his phone that he left at an orchard upstate. I offered to drive him because I knew what it meant to not have a vehicle and thought that the least I could do was use mine to help him, knowing that unlucky situations happen to everyone and when they do it is a human responsibility to help out when you can.
I didn’t get gas and I didn’t turn the engine off. Instead I texted fish-mouth a few times waiting for his arrival, getting hungrier by the minute. We finally take off for dinner. I suggested that we go to a friends’ restaurant because it would have been less expensive, whether it be drinks or an appetizer, something was going to be missing from the check and bottom line. My main concern now that I was not living with my parents and footing the bill of my leased vehicle and the insane amount of insurance that is required on a leased vehicle was money. There wasn’t money for things like dinner and wine. It was spent on groceries, tupperwares, and the dishwashing soap needed to maintain this system.
Fish mouth rarely did jobs on his own and our table this evening included his boss. He followed my lead down Ashburton. It was in the matter of .25 of a mile that he was pulled over by flashing lights. I pulled over to wait for him and then he started moving again. He in an F150 sporting commercial plates and in moments time drove behind me unscathed from Yonkers Police. We drove in tandem to only find out that the restaurant was unable to serve us. We did arrive before kitchen closing time, however the kitchen staff itself had disappeared. Was this a sign? Should we have just parted ways. They weren’t planning on spending the night down-state, in fact they were fueling up their bellies to drive back to Troy that very evening.
Reluctant to let fish mouth leave my sight that quickly, I offered we go to the Argonaut diner, an old-time reliable. A lovely French-Moroccan served us with Pickles and cole-slaw, burgers and fries. We had poignant discussions on the world’s financial status, specifically the Euro and transformed an otherwise make-shift late night dindin into an enjoyable memory.
I didn’t get home until 11:30. Worse than that, I had to shower and eventually fell asleep. I woke as I usually do, tending to the normal morning tasks, feeling a little heavy in the head, but that’s to be expected and not alarming. My first session texted me the night before and even a little in the morning hinting at cancellation but only to see my feelings on it, because if she cancelled on her own she would still be charged because of policy. I thought of letting her slide to get the much needed sleep, but that same feeling of not having enough money and the need to make as much money as possible massacred the thought before it was complete. I should have stayed in bed. I took the same route I usually take, a left onto Waring ave, a right onto Bronx river road and then a right onto the parkway. The turn onto the Bronx river nearly scared the life out of me. There was a parked car at the corner that nearly hit me as I turned. I drove for a while with my mouth open shocked that I hadn’t seen it. But surely if that was a spot then a car must be parked there all the time and so why would I have taken that turn any differently than I normally do. I talked it over with myself as my jaw lifted and rationalized that someone must have been desperate for a spot and parked illegally on the last inches of the block.
I considered that maybe I wasn’t okay to drive, that perhaps I was being reckless and needed to pay more attention. I depleted my confidence almost instantly, before I had even entered the parkway. I questioned the rightness of my owning the car, my ability to take care of the car, and god forbid if something happened to this nice vehicle of mine.
It didn’t faze me for long, I sped to get to my session. I am a punctual person, never too early and never late, usually right at the minute or just before the time I am expected to be there, which means that I move fast when in transit. The session went well and confidence was on a steady climb. A co-worker told me I look exhausted. Thank you I responded, my confidence stayed strong. I was on my way out, and as I passed the café, told myself not to buy coffee because it would have been a waste of money. I now needed to move quickly again for the second session of the day.
I remember swerving in and out of the right hand lane on the Hutchinson parkway, as my eyes kept closing on me. I was even thinking about frames to visually explain what I was going through. I saw hundreds of random faces of other drives as they too slipped in and out of zombie mode driving to work. I thought about how we are all in auto-pilot every morning driving and doing so many other things, just pressing on the gas because the foot knows its tilt and holding the steering wheel while we slip into mental to-do’s, present and past. There was one come-to that I remember specifically right after I got onto Westchester Ave. I woke up and realized that I could damage my car for real and that would be terrible. This lease was for a whole other year. Fish mouth and I had plans to move somewhere together. We were still undecided but knew that it would happen in a year’s time and in coming to I told myself that I just had to not let anything happen to this car for another year. I asked why I would say that, I swear there was this exact conversation between my selves, and I answered with, because you are going to crash this car today. I continued to drive shaking it off. I took the right at the split onto Rt. 120, about a mile and a half from my destination. I was sleepy again. The music was as loud as possible, and the window wide open on a cold morning.
I woke up to the scariest bang of my tire popping and the air bag blowing up in front of me. I couldn’t have been driving more than twenty miles per hour but I hit an ornamental rock that people put on their street side property. I travelled to the left side of the road after hitting the boulder on the right. I was on someone’s lawn and scared to death.
The first thought I had was about the car and the money I did not have for damages. I was overcome by helplessness. I thought of my mother and father and felt shame for crashing. I knew when I agreed to get this car that I chose a 1,000 deductable, and it was only last month that Manhattanville College, my graduate school, sent me a refund check for that same amount from a 2010 loan. I hadn’t cashed it because I was just unsure of what to do with the money. It wasn’t free money, but then again it was mine for the taking. The spaceship went into crash mode, broadcast those two words on the steering wheel display and the radio screen. My droid phone had a big red siren on it. The hazards went on automatically and it beeped twice every minute. It called the cops for me, and Harrison police arrived within five minutes. The spaceship wouldn’t turn on even with the officers effort.
The poor people in the house in front of me were waking to sound of my horn. All before eight am, I had avoided one crash, put a woman through a vigourous workout, envisioned some sort of video montage of people driving to work looking like zombies to speak to our work-culture, and crashed my car deploying my airbag.
What happened? he asked me. I fell asleep, I answered. You just fell asleep. I shook my head just as disappointed with the answer as he was. Yea, I just fell asleep. In my head I’m thinking of all the ways I could have woken up the body. I could have just pulled over and did some jumping jacks, or pushups, even a handstand against the car. It was a nice vehicle, right, the least it could do was support my handstand.
I called my seven am and told him how sorry I was that I would not be able to make our session. He was the first person to remind me that I wasn’t hurt. It pained me as this was my second session with him and we were sure to have a kick ass hour. He was picking up momentum for sure and needed this session more than anything. Paranoia was beginning to set in and tears were forming at my eyes. Life without a car would diminish my funds in irreparable ways. I couldn’t do anything without this car, this spaceship; this money pit as I called it for two days, gave something to bitch about. Yes it did cost a lot of money to insure and yes there was the monthly leasing fee, but it was a car and without it I would make no money at all. I was instantly reminded of this horrific threat my mother used to say when I was much younger, I’m your mother, she would shout, I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you right out.
What was I going to do? I called Fish mouth. This was a not-so-smart-idea. He was sleeping but now burdened with guilt that all of this happened because of our need to see each other for as much as we could last night irrespective of the late hour. He did what most boyfriends do when they only have a phone to console you with: soft tones, easy simple sentences and a lot of listening. The EMT’s showed up and they took my blood pressure, asked me again how I fell asleep.
You just fall asleep, there’s no dialog box that prompts you with a question, “Do you want to continue falling asleep, yes or no?” And then when you give them the best answer you can, I was tired, they repeat it, Oh you were just tired. Yep, just tired. He asked me the routine questions they ask before letting you go to make sure that you are of sound consciousness. What day is today? Wednesday Who is the President? Obama. What year are we in? 2011
The Harrison police officer couldn’t take me to my destination where I knew I could find warmth and a phone, and a resting place before figuring out a way to get home, because he has to stay within jurisdiction. How does this make sense? Because of some pissing contest between towns and police departments, people in need, such as myself, have two options, get brought back to the police station, which may or may not be helpful, or stay on the side of the road. I thought that serving the community was part of their job and passion. Since when does Community have parameters?
But it does, and people are self-serving, just as communities as a whole can be self-serving. Last night before I asked the waitress what her ethnicity was I made a guess with myself that she was Greek. It got me thinking about an NPR segment I heard in my spaceship about how Greeks, specifically men are dying by the hundreds and at their own hand. The man speaking with his too early for this topic dry mouth cleared his throat several times and kept using the word epidemic. That there was a dying community of middle aged men in Greece. He said that were taking their own lives because they were finding themselves in a financial and identity crisis, or that the former gave birth to the second. He also stated that due to their religious attachments and traditions that so many of these families were unable to speak about their experiences and grief because no one wanted to admit to having lost a man to suicide. I asked fish-mouths boss what he knew about what was going on in Greece right now. It was un-solicited and a non-sequiter but fish-mouth had ordered a gyro and the waitress looked like she did, and so he answered to the best of his knowledge. To my great surprise he said it in a language I understood.
He said they have no money. That they haven’t had money for some time and they have been asked several times to stop their spending and cut back on healthcare and to figure out a way to tip the scale so they weren’t falling off the deep end. More specifically he explained that we as a country are poor but that right now we are even, we produce just as much as we export, which isn’t good he felt the need to say, but that it was better than the position they were in. The Greeks were still taking siestas and not heeding the great advice being given to them by whom we did not get into. Boss continued about the relationship that the Greeks are taking with the world bank and how even they don’t want to help but they have offered assistance and without shame, these ingrates have been noted as considering two options, taking the handout and not paying back, or letting go of the Euro altogether and going back to their original currency. The conversation quickly went global and we were back at discussing the US. According to the boss, we as a country are not going to get better and that Europe was going to suffer greater losses than the US, because had to account for the losses of 22 countries and worse require each of their cooperation to find a resolve. Helplessness came over me and I ate French fries from Fish-mouth’s plate. Living was difficult but saving money was impossible. You’ll never have money, he replied.
Here a man of fifty-something years, established in his field, with a beautiful home and equity, the love of a wife and a family of four, told me that I will never have money, because just when you think you have gotten over a hill, he said, you’ll have a Wednesday.
What’s a Wednesday? I asked.
If you don’t know what a Wednesday is, you’re lucky, but a Wednesday is when the government comes and takes it away.
Takes it away?
Yep. He said grabbing a mouthful of burger. “Something will surface, and there it goes, all your money, just taken, that’s a Wednesday.”
I still didn’t get it but all I could be paranoid about was that I am working all hours of the day, sacrificing sleep, sacrificing youth, not turning my car off because it costs more to start, not getting coffee because its unnecessary spending, posting my yogi tea quotes on facebook and fridge with sentiments that go something like, ‘work, but don’t forget to live,’ to justify anything I do that might be enjoyable, all to find out that I am still going to be poor, just because that is what we all are, and that it’ll happen on a Wednesday.
Luckily a friend of mine woke up when I called to fetch me from the Harrison Police station. The interior of her car smelled a little like perfume and even less like stale cigarettes but enough to trigger destructive behavior patterns. We bought coffee and cigarettes and smoked as she drove me home. I understood the signs outside the hospital and all of the signs that had been coming to me. This whole thing was unavoidable. It did happen in the best possible way, and I was thankful that I wasn’t hurt.
I had to go to the DMV to purchase a duplicate license so that I could rent a car while my spaceship gets repaired. I misplaced the old one a couple of days ago, of course now that I need it most. I expect to find it soon, maybe there’s a day set aside for when those kinds of things happen. The sky was powder grey, desperate to rain, spitting tiny droplets here and there. In the DMV, the walls are all powder grey too and the floor is a dirty stained grey. My white sweatshirt seemed filthy as I looked down at myself several times waiting in the three hour stretch that it took me to move in lines at a snails pace. When B313, was finally called to window 15, I remembered to be as upbeat as possible asking the clerk how she was. The condition of our belongings may be a representation of us, but a similar lesson just as important was that you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
“Do you want to renew your license while you are here? Its going to expire in December of this year, you might as well,” she suggested.
“Okay, that makes sense, how much is that?” I had the 20.50 already in hand, to cover the 17.50 it was going to cost for the duplicate.
“80.00,” she said. My mouth dropped again. This time I did not recover as I did from that first scare early this morning as I rounded that corner and nearly hit that parked car.
“80.00!” I repeated it three more times.
“You want me to pay 80.00 to renew my license?”
“I don’t. That’s the Governor,” she said.
“It wasn’t always eighty, how much did it used to cost to renew your license?”
“It was 20.00, then 40, then 60, it will go up more the next time you come, she said as if she was giving directions to a stranger. “The states in trouble.”
“80.00!” I said again.
“When you recover, tell me what you would like to do,” she said without an ounce of feeling.
After making my big license purchase she handed me two documents to sign and initial. I did. She took it from me and then slid it back and said, can you please date at the bottom. I apologized.
“I am sorry, I am just in shock, what’s today’s date?”
Today is Wednesday, October 12th.