023: cal (nanowrimo #3)

after a couple of drinks i left b-side and my nearly passed out drunken companion and caught the bus back to my house. the bus is a fantastic conduit for keeping you humble, because no matter how arrogant or self-centered you might feel, if you get on a bus that feeling will disappear. for a moment you are trapped in a giant steel box with a variety of people, and somebody in this new group will stand out like a sore thumb. for this bus ride it was a drunk or high guy arguing with the driver, or rather, he wasn’t arguing so much as agreeing with her, but she seemed to have had enough of his bullshit and kept telling him to mind his own business. the bus was about half-full and everyone was tired due to getting out of work. people were silent, scrolling through their smartphones and listening to music through their earbuds and, for some insane reason, not listening to this bus driver give the business to this guy. i’ve had this driver before, she’s kind of butch looking, maybe in her 50s, white hair, tough as nails but always willing to shoot the shit with you on the bus. she once gave me and my roommates day passes just because. that was back when bus passes were on what looked like newspaper and every day had a different code. the drivers would stamp the code onto each ticket with a hole puncher. one of my roommates was a nanny for a trimet driver and he would give her a big stack of unstamped tickets, and whoever left for work first would buy a day pass, get the code, text the other roommates, and we would either make a new day pass or just keep the old ones. we even made a board with little pockets on it to keep all of our day passes. it was great. i really miss scamming the system like that; nowadays it’s all computers and it prints a pass with the date and time on it.

at one point by fred meyer a guy tried to get on with an ottoman. like, he lifted a big leather ottoman and tried to get on the bus. he got on, then did the classic “patting my pockets looking for money” move, as the driver kept saying, “do you have any money? cause if you don’t have any money you’re not getting on this bus!” meanwhile the drunk/high guy said to the ottoman, “do you need help?” and the driver whipped back, “SIR, you got a free ride, you go sit in the back of the bus and stay out of this!” the ottoman found about 47 cents worth of change in his pants pockets but couldn’t find anymore, and the driver kicked him off the bus, ottoman and all. she said the guy looked “squirrely,” which he did, and that since he didn’t have a wallet or money on him, that he probably stole the ottoman from fred meyer. she might be right, but who steals an ottoman? who thinks, “man, my living room could use something to pull it all together, if only i had an ottoman and enough money to buy an ottoman.”it was late so everyone on the bus was doing one of those hidden smile moves, the kind you make when you don’t want someone to know you think something’s funny because you don’t want to make eye contact with someone who might want to talk to you on the bus. nothing’s worse than that. the bus is a peaceful time to decompress after a long day of work and also to smell every possible type of body odor imaginable.

after the ottoman incident the bus was relatively quiet for a few blocks before the drunk/high guy shouted, to the driver, “YOU REMIND ME OF DONALD TRUMP. IN A GOOD WAY.” which, of course, set this driver lady off. she was shouting at him all the way to my stop and probably beyond. i always appreciate a good bus drive.

my house is on the edge of sketchy territory, a few feet away from a semi-major street that’s somewhat run down and decrepit. the residential neighborhood itself is nice, but i’m about three blocks away from 82nd, a street lined with prostitutes and car lots, sketchy homeless people in the park, two bars that have had gang related shootings in the past couple of years, and a burgerville. the burgerville is the best part. there’s also a corner store right by my house that i go to far too often. i finally understand why they call them “convenience” stores at least. it’s owned by a delightful korean couple and their whole family. my house has given them nicknames: the mom is called “the mom,” the dad is called stepdad, the daughter that usually works in the evenings is named lucy, but we call her chicken, because apparently the mom calls her chicken, and there is an old woman who works there, also korean, whom we call “team grandma.” we call her that because one time my ex-girlfriend went in and saw two old women working and called them “team grandma,” but although we’ve never seen the other woman since, we still call the remaining woman “team grandma.” i honestly can’t think of a better nickname. there’s also hannah, another sister, and the brother whose hot girlfriend or wife is always there with him. there’s a couple of other non-family who work there as well, but hell if i remember them. for me it’s just the koreans who matter.

my vice routine lately has been to head to the corner store after work, buy a relatively cheap beer and some snacks, and veg out at home, playing some video game or watching tv, trying to write but generally not. tonight was no different; chicken was at the register today. i like chicken–i like the whole family–but i like chicken because i can buy the dumbest shit at the corner store and she will never give me crap about it. i bought circus peanuts once, and circus peanuts are my guilty pleasure. i fucking love circus peanuts, i could probably eat a thousand of them. this have this chalky sweetness that i desire. and they sell little bags of them, two for a buck. they should just label them “diabetes peanuts.” i actually don’t buy them very often because everyone hates circus peanuts and it drives me nuts when people start harping on me for liking something that they don’t like. “you like circus peanuts?” they would say. “but they’re so grooossss!” well fuck you, i don’t care what you think. i don’t complain about your triple soy caramel macchiato from starbucks that tastes like a unicorn’s asshole. it’s fascinating how people get worked up because someone does something different from them. like there’s some objective normal out there. there’s not. chicken is nice because she doesn’t care. she asks me how i’m doing and she bags my beer and my weird snacks without a word. this is how it should be. people’s vices should not be looked down upon.

that night i still had this strange pit in my stomach from the day’s event, and as i entered the corner store i noticed the line of people buying their various vices just like i was: a short, stout black man buying a 40oz and swisher sweets and talking into his bluetooth earpiece as he completed his purchase; a rail thin white woman, pretty tall, older and haggard, wearing a white wifebeater and overalls, carrying a big bag of twizzlers and a six pack of olympia beer; two kids with armloads of candy and soda and looked way out of place; and two skateboarder dudes, probably in their early twenties, both with 40s and this blazed look on their faces. everyone except the kids looked high as fuck, and the kids were probably jacked up on caffeine and sugar. as i hunted for the perfect cheap beer and decided whether or not to buy a hot pocket for dinner, i started wondering about these people and their mental states. were they happy? and if they weren’t, were they planning how they would kill themselves? i found myself staring at them through the big circular window fixed to the back of the store, so chicken and the others could watch customers in the back and make sure they weren’t stealing. it was semi-spherical and so my face was the largest thing in it, the other customers looking like ants standing closer and closer to the horizon.

i must have lost focus because the next thing i remember was chicken standing behind me, saying, “you alright?” i turned to face her. i’m a tall guy and she is not a tall girl so i sort of towered over her. she was wearing a tie dyed hoodie, blue jeans, and sandals, looking up at me with an annoyed quizzical look on her face, as though frustrated that she had to walk all the way to the other end of the store just to get my attention.

i nodded. “yeah, i’m okay.”

“you were staring at the mirror,” she said.

“i know.”

she immediately turned away and started back to the front counter. “well, if you’re gonna buy something, hurry up, we don’t like loiterers.”

i looked down. i had a beer and some chex mix in my hand already.

++

when i left the corner store it was raining. i was thinking about chicken. the girl, not the food. she was cute and i had thought many times about asking her out on a date, but i couldn’t gather the confidence or the energy. the more i talked to her, the more i decided that our lives were too different, that we would have trouble connecting. plus she never seemed interested in me in the first place. sometimes she would talk to me like we were good friends, other days she would keep silent. i guess everyone has bad days but it still makes it hard to suss out if a woman likes you or not. of course … i’m 32. i’m not young. this pining and crushing and not having confidence talk, it should be way behind me. there are 18 year old men who have more confidence than i do when it comes to women. the funny part is, i’ve been in relationships. i have confidence. i think i just lost it somewhere.

as i walked home in the rain i began to question where my confidence went. it had been slipping over the past couple of years, especially after i graduated. college is a great, if expensive, way to meet friends, and after you leave, those friends sort of dissipate into the mists of america. some you see every day and some you never see again. most i don’t see. and i stopped in the sidewalk in the middle of the rain as it dawned on me how alone i was. i don’t know how to describe it other than as a cliche: it was like a ton of bricks unloaded themselves into the pit of my stomach. my mind recoiled with the memory of the woman falling, smashing onto the concrete, the homeless man covering her with a tarp. for a second her face was my face, her body was my body.

i glanced around. no one was near, i was alone in the dark, about 200 feet away from my front door. the rain was fat and heavy, soaking past my dress shirt and my undershirt. but i couldn’t move. i won’t sugar coat the fact that i’ve dealt with depression in the past. i’m an artist, for fuck’s sake–we’re all depressed. but usually that depression was tied to something: being unsatisfied with my writing, going through a breakup, stuff like that. that night though, the day’s events culminated in this sudden ceasing of energy. this sudden realization that maybe it doesn’t get any better, that that woman figured it out now and decided to end her life because of it. and me, well, my life was alright but it wasn’t great. i was living in a cramped house with too many roommates, i worked a job that should be satisfying but wasn’t what i wanted to do, but then again, what did i want to do? every story began as a blank white screen and ended with maybe 50 words on a page, tops. i was single, and moreover, i had recognized the pattern of self-destruction i had wrought on every relationship i was in, a pattern which included me feeling sorry for myself and removing myself emotionally from the relationship while still trying to keep it going, for the woman’s sake. as if that was a good thing. i went to the gym but still ate like shit. i came home from work and didn’t do anything, didn’t go out, didn’t hang out with friends, didn’t do anything to further myself mentally or physically, besides the gym, at least. all of this knowledge buckled my knees. my hair was flat with rain, drops cascading off my eyelashes and nose. this was it. this was the feeling that woman had. the feeling that she could do it, that she could go to the roof of a tall building and jump off it.

i didn’t want to kill myself, i just knew that i could do it, if i wanted to. something about that logic made me practically nauseous. fortunately, the two old homeless men who literally lived in a dumpster were outside, across the street, just sitting in the rain and drinking four lokos. i nicknamed them waldorf and statler, like those muppet show muppets in the balcony. waldorf had a mustache and long gray hair, always wore a camping hat, and could speak in full sentences. statler, on the other hand, was smaller, really skinny, and spent most of his day dealing with delerium tremens brought about by extreme alcoholism. he was a super depressing guy to walk by during the day, because he would always ask for change, which you knew he would use to buy beer. i know homeless people just want to be treated like human beings, but this guy wasn’t a human being anymore, he was a buzzing time bomb. i could never tell what he was saying, as he spoke slowly and slurred his words. i didn’t know what to do with him. i had run into homeless people in the past, especially when i first moved to portland, and i went out of my way to help them, short of giving them money. i still give homeless people money if i have cash on me at the time, but i know it’s not the best way to deal with homelessness. but the longer i stay here, the less of a fuck i give about them, because they’re everywhere and they’re all dying and they all want my money. i can only do so much; i’m not mother teresa.

anyway, they were sitting on the curb and waldorf shouted, “why are you standing in the rain?” at me, snapping me out of my reverie. i looked over at them; statler was passed out, and as usual i couldn’t tell if he was dead or not. the rain let up a bit, more of a mist than rain, even. i didn’t acknowledge them, instead opting to walk briskly home and hope my roommates weren’t there.

++

my roommates were there. there was allen, a short, fat man who somehow spent more time playing video games than me. he constantly wanted me to play coop games with him on the ps4 downstairs, but that would require spending time with him, something i was averse to do, especially at the time, coming down from my depressive episode. allen was sitting on a bosu ball, lightly bouncing on it absent-mindedly and playing halo something or other, i didn’t even know. on the couch were travis and kurt. travis was a tall guy and barely ever spoke. he loved rubik’s cubes and was always playing with one, and none of his shirts had sleeves. he seems to hate shirt sleeves. his face was an unkempt mess of pubeish facial hair, and his eyes had that sad look of someone who was tormented in middle school and never figured out how to get past it. kurt was the most sane one of the group, he was a friend of mine from college who decided to move to portland a couple years ago. he was a relatively average guy, always wore sweaters over button up shirts and khaki pants. he worked in IT for some big insurance company downtown and spent most of his time scrolling through reddit and helping old men upload cat pictures into their emails to send to the receptionists they were trying to seduce. i’ll never understand old men.

as i entered, travis’s dog, leopard, began yapping at me. leopard was a little westie and cute as all getup, but she loved to bark at whomever entered the house. she was like a loud, annoying butler. she was also twelve years old and had bad eyesight, so i didn’t fault her for barking at me. even when she got close and realized it was me, she kept barking as if to say, “cal is here! everyone! cal! it’s cal!”

travis and kurt were watching allen play halo or whatever and barely paid attention to me enter the room, despite me being soaked and looking pathetic. kurt ended up glancing at me. “hey man, you get caught in the rain?” he asked.

“yeah,” i said, feeling a tenuous break in my voice. “it started coming down hard on the way back from the corner store.”

“damn,” said travis, in his baritone voice. “i left my windows open.” yet he remained seated, turning the rubik’s cubes sides over and over. he could solve it in seconds flat, he just liked turning it in his hands for something to do.

allen, without looking, said, “cal! come play” and he said some game i had never heard of nor remember to this day. i politely declined, using my drenched clothing as an excuse, which they all were fine with. i then headed upstairs to my room to change.

my room was small and embarrassed the shit out of me. i was 32 and i was living with three roommates who were all around my age but acted like they were ten years younger. having spent some time working for the firm, i began to enjoy adult life. i liked dressing well, going to a restaurant for lunch, waking up early and going to be on time. i liked the routine, even if i felt it gnaw at me emotionally. i didn’t make enough to move out, however, and the rent in portland was increasingly like crazy due to all these californian transplants who moved their cushy tech jobs here. i was essentially stuck in my living situation and it drove me nuts.

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