Local Life

Quarter of seven. This afternoon I think I’ll swap bridges on my Mexican Fender bass. I heard from Mark the drummer last night. Maybe I could email Mike as well regarding next month. I feel tired; I need my Snapple teas to wake up. Just waiting for sunrise before I hike to the store. I might even buy a Coke… First gray glimmer of daylight is here.

Quarter of eight. Fifty percent chance of rain after eight o’clock. I’ll hazard it without an umbrella.

Eight fifty five. The market has a new surveillance system with a monitor screen toward the front door. You can look up and see yourself in it, though there’s a delay time. The management gets increasingly sophisticated and professional, but to achieve this required money. The interior looks quite Christmassy, with a couple of Santas and a festoon of evergreen. You get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the earth tone wall paneling behind the counter. Three people were ahead of me in line and two in my wake, and it was only eight fifteen. Now I wonder if the example of this business might inspire others to grow up around it and rejuvenate the Maxwell community. For thirty years it’s been very run down, not pretty to look at. Back in the seventies and eighties it was quite respectable, with a nice grocery store and a gas station on the corner of N. Park. There was a cool little deli called Luigi’s that made incredible garbage grinders. But during the nineties, the community went downhill, I don’t know why. Hopefully the little store will do something to boost its surroundings. 

“Empty as a Pocket…”

Eight twenty.

I imagine it’ll be Melissa at the market this morning. I will take my time. I still have to open the blinds in the living room. There’s $169 in food stamps available to me. My utility bill was a killer, so I’m keeping the room temperature lower than before. Funny how I remember old friends, when I’m quite certain they don’t think about me at all. Dave introduced me to the stories of Borges, even lent me his copy of Labyrinths, 17 years ago. I never got past the first two tales, but I liked them. I always resented Dave for his self righteous attitude regarding AA. For recovery, there weren’t many options in the last decade. He would have scorned me for taking a route that cost money, but in my case, CBT was the best choice. I also felt kind of bad for Dave, not having much and martyring himself for it. His younger brother was the spoiled one who got the advantages. My family situation was just the opposite of his. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get along.

Quarter of ten. A rare thing: I caught a mistake at the checkout counter and had to correct it. One of my burritos got scanned twice, just an accident. Usually I don’t consider money very much. I almost never carry cash and I don’t bother with arithmetic since I quit drinking. Numbers I associate with buying beer… I took note of the cloud formations on my pilgrimage to Maxwell Road: large white cumulus ones, and partly sunny. A neighbor on Fremont used to fly a gray blue MAGA flag in his front yard. Now it’s been replaced with the green State of Oregon. More than one house sports a flagpole out front. The remainder of the fallen leaves at the end of my street have been pulverized to a yellow purée, a bit perfidious to walk on. I feel a little silly as a pedestrian around the community, but I know the limits of my income. I could not afford to maintain a car. Besides, I don’t want the inconvenience… I saw Angela on my way back. She was setting up the ramp over the steps for the benefit of people with walkers and wheelchairs. Karen hadn’t arrived yet, so I just said hi and continued on home. Aesop sniffed my shopping bag, but this time there was nothing in it for him. 

Driving to Utopia

Two twenty. My taxi ride to the pharmacy went just fine, and I avoided the rain as it started on the way back. I got to see Shawn, who didn’t recognize me with the mask at first. Jeanine was at the register, but amazingly there was no copay for my Vraylar. The insurance company came through for me again, so the prescription that would cost $1400 out of pocket cost me $0. The parking lot for Bi Mart and Grocery Outlet was quite busy this afternoon. Todd, the cabbie, threaded his way meticulously through the traffic. The fare for the trip came to under $15. I might have looked like a spoiled brat riding in a taxi for the one mile to the pharmacy, but I simply put aside the feelings of guilt. People could eat their heart out. 

Another time, I may take a ride Downtown to the environs of Fifth Street and knock about. I’d like to visit Smith Family Bookstore again; it’s been probably three years since the last time I saw it. And there might be a new shop or two on Fifth Street, though I doubt it, based on the state of the economy and the number of homeless people living in tents beneath the bridge between First and Fifth Streets. Truly it’s a grim sight as you drive by the Washington Jefferson Street Park. My dad and I used to travel through the Whitaker neighborhood to get to Downtown all the time twenty five years ago. And when I was working, I drove home on First Avenue every day; but I never saw anything like the poverty so blatantly obvious nowadays. The so-called invisible people make themselves known, and I don’t blame them. Thus, it would be futile to go Downtown seeking to make the past materialize out of a memory; it’d be a delusion or a wish fulfilling dream… 

Colorful Rocks

Seven thirty.

My sleep was troubled and fitful, perhaps due to what I’d been reading. I’m very sensitive to stories, whether in print or in movies… Now I wonder why so many musicians are fans of King Crimson. I find some of their lyrics dreadful, dealing with mental illness without much sympathy. What’s their point? I don’t listen to much music these days; I’m not sure why. I’m half inclined to go back to bed, because I still feel drowsy. Sometimes I think of those clowns who worked on my house a year ago, and how slipshod they were. Ultimately it was the Portland contractor who was blameworthy for the shoddy job they did. It can be depressing to think about now… I guess I’ll go to the store and see if they have any new inventory.

Nine o’clock. I went to the market and bought a Reuben, cottage cheese, and two Snapples. Vicki’s eyes were on the front door, where she could see a pair of homeless people just outside. I passed them on my way out. Some people believe the homeless choose to live that way, and they could get jobs if they tried. I’m not one of those people. When conditions are bad and times are tough, the incidence of homelessness goes up. This doesn’t substantiate the claims of narrow minded conservatives. Hard luck befalls a lot of people. I’ve been lucky, probably more lucky than clever… Some people care more about “numbers” than human beings. I’m certainly not one of them. All is not gold that glitters. Think of the worthless “rocks” in Voltaire’s El Dorado. Precious gemstones are scattered everywhere on the streets, but in a perfect world they have no value. For reasons of greed, Candide and his friends lose Paradise, packing off a bunch of colorful rocks to the real world. Call it idealism to make this observation. It remains true. 

Where Have All the Schizos Gone?

Quarter after five. Thomas Mann assumes that sickness has moral underpinnings. I’ve always struggled with that opinion, but there’s such a consensus that agrees with him. What we don’t understand we treat with religion. I’m not even sure how to define mental illness anymore, having heard so many perspectives, and none of them superior to another. When was the last time I heard the DSM5 referred to? At least in America, talk therapy has monopolized the field of behavioral health. I never hear anything about psychiatry anymore, maybe because mental illness is too expensive for society to afford. While this is going on, people with schizophrenia and bipolar still self medicate with illicit drugs on the street. Some of them even refuse medication, and we tell them that’s okay. Honestly, I haven’t spoken with another person who has schizophrenia in many months. It’s as though they were running around undiagnosed and unmedicated. Mental illness has become a big gray area, and all because we’ve done away with psychiatry and diagnostic labels. Or is this only my own experience in the past three years? What do we do with our severely mentally ill people these days? Where have they gone? Why don’t I see them anymore? Perhaps they’re all homeless and sleeping under the Washington Jefferson Street Bridge? They seem to have been assimilated into the mainstream, their symptoms ignored and untreated. Is this a good thing or a terrible miscarriage of justice? I only think of the suffering of people with psychosis who don’t get the relief they deserve. There’s something wrong with this picture. But of course, I would have to see some statistics on recovery rates to really know what is happening… 

Tiny Tim

Three o’clock in the morning.

I had dreams of intrigue: of kidnapping people and stealing cars. My nephew Ed came to the house and we did some paperwork together. It might’ve been application for Supplemental Security. In real life, my mother helped Ed with the forms, and he never seemed to appreciate it. His five year old son had leukemia and he couldn’t have afforded the medical bills without government assistance. In the dream, as he left he took a car I had stolen. In reality, Mom made me give him my old Roland synthesizer, which his family sold and used the money to buy a home organ. I always resented this injustice by my mother, and Ed didn’t deserve to take away my keyboard and convert it to an instrument for praising the Lord. Today, it’s hard to say what was right. If Ed’s family was Charles Dickens, mine was probably Scott Fitzgerald. Over time, life has a way of equalizing things. Or at least it makes you think about things with a new perspective. 

Coloring Book / Commodity

Six twenty.

Even before I begin to write, my brain wants to shut down. It’s odd how we refuse responsibility for our perceptions, as if thoughts were inserted. But consciousness is very much an active thing, creating and constructing at will. The sky is overcast: to say this is a fact, but what it means is up to me. I choose to name it good because it suggests cooler weather today. This positive thought accordingly lifts my mood. Morally, we create our own reality. Why is this so easy to forget? Objective reality itself is a coloring book, but we provide the colors from our imagination. The colors are moods and meaning… The atmosphere appears bluish, giving a hint of rain. At times I ponder psychosis: just what is this separation from reality? Does it serve a purpose? It could be an indicator that something is not right… I listened to Aaron Copland in the wee hours and still enjoyed El Salon Mexico the most.

Eight twenty. Sometimes I wonder why I shop at a convenience store every day. Perhaps because it’s convenient? Or maybe part of me longs to be able to drink beer as in happier times. I know I won’t do it, and the self restraint feels kind of good because it is a form of control. It’s almost like a rebellion against myself, and of course I’d be into that. Being rebellious is often what motivates me. At the store a bit ago, I played mind games with myself, thinking of instances where I could feel paranoid, but don’t anymore. And it seems to me that a lot of people have paranoid schizophrenia. They go around blithering about “karma” and “angels” and other bs that they can’t prove yet “believe” anyway. I suppose it helps them cope with life. Then there are some who never stop to think about what they believe.

I was like that once, when I was on a working and drinking treadmill. Nothing else mattered but those two things. It must have been October 2007 when I had a car accident in a drive thru at 11pm. Sandy secretly gave me a black tarantula doll for Halloween. I had to drive a rental car until my truck was repaired. But my poor mind was all over the map in those days. Instead of working to live, I lived to work. Memories from that time are difficult to retrieve; I was such a different person. Money meant more to me then because I got bad advice. Finally my inner voice gained the upper hand and now I’m closer to being authentic. Moiling in survival mode is not for me. It seems like the things we need have a way of falling into our lap if we simply believe in ourselves. That’s the only faith we require.


Ten twenty. I think I’ll play my guitar today, or maybe my bass. Earlier this morning I ordered a new copy of Elizabeth Bishop since I was thinking about her method of writing narrative poems. I want to revisit “In the Waiting Room” and expand on this knowledge. Maybe it can help with post writing. The sun appears through a hole in the clouds. With that, I remember the past decade and make a contrast to today. Life is so much better now. I’ve seen and experienced the damage that alcoholism can do. A lot of people have helped me after I decided to stop drinking. K— is one of them. But it disappoints me that she is anti diversity. I could’ve predicted this, yet still I had to hear her say it. She’s a product of her time and place. Last week I avoided the salon perhaps intentionally due to the recent protests. Her narrowness makes me think of the brutal Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, jabbering about the Napoleonic Code. It is sheer idiocy, but unfortunately it has a loud voice from greater numbers. I had a dream of my sister last night which I can’t remember. She was spouting opinions as usual. Stupid stuff, bordering on craziness, yet people agreed with her.

Eleven thirty. The clouds are clearing off. Blue skies. The same sky as when I was a toddler in Salem. At this time of day, Mom would watch Perry Mason on the tv. On certain days she would go to the bank and the grocery store. All banks have that sour smell of money inside. I don’t know how long my dad lasted in his job at the State Capitol. Less than a year, then he got fired for aggravating people. He had a knack for saying the wrong things and annoying people. It was deliberate: he wanted to hurt your feelings… Aesop is getting anxious about me playing my bass. He dreads it so much.

I played it for a half hour while Aesop waited outside. I was inspired this time and everything sounded great. Something was different today; I think it was hearing the news that Ron just bought a nice new keyboard. He wants to jam as much as I do.

Love of Money

Eight ten.

A cloudy morning that promises another sultry day. Pastor still needs three more singers for Sunday worship. It will sound pretty funny with only two male voices. I won’t preconceive too much, or preoccupy myself. Worrying is just borrowing trouble.

I recall a time at the coast with my brother. He was out or watching tv while I wrote a poem in a spiral notebook with an inkjet pen. It was the first week in September 2007, and the composition of the poem was a decision making process. I said something about building castles in the air, concluding that matter didn’t matter to me. In other words, I didn’t share my brother’s obsession with money. That was the groundwork that prepared me for leaving the industrial job I hated so much. I planned my escape meticulously, and step by step implemented it. This was the first big decision I ever made in my life. The ramifications are still being played out like a ripple effect.

Nine thirty. I ran into B—, the former owner of the market. She was collecting her mail. She’s the same penny pincher she always has been. I can’t help feeling a bit resentful of her for profiting off of people’s addictions, and she did it for 45 years. Think of the alcoholic deaths she contributed to by selling the poison to customers. This morning, she looked to me like a little old witch with long gray hair. “Love of money is the root of all evil.” Funny, but B— wasn’t always that bad. It got worse after they tore down the old shack and rebuilt the store. Her greed has corrupted her mind and body the same way the Ring deformed Gollum in the Tolkien classic. And my brother’s fate has been quite similar. It makes you wonder…

Another Letter

I don’t know if I ever confessed this before, but I know why my family disowned me. It is simply because I don’t work a gainful job for my living. It is a white working class family, which is another way of saying redneck, although that’s derogatory. Whatever, they will always be right in their own opinion. It doesn’t even matter to them that I have a mental illness that qualifies me for assistance. They refuse to believe that schizophrenia is a valid reason to accept benefits. It’s a very stupid attitude to take. There are two Jeffs in my family tree: my brother and my nephew, and I don’t know which one is worse. Most of what I know about my nephew was reported to me by my brother, both of them named Jeff. I have a hunch that the more poisonous one is my brother because he was projecting his own feelings onto the other Jeff. I suppose that if Polly had a choice, she would be a little nicer to me just because she is a woman, with a woman’s sensibility.
Another facet to the whole thing is the way I abused alcohol almost to the brink of death. Now I am quite certain that my feelings about the family drove me to attempt slow suicide. Ultimately I chose to live over making the family happy. Alcoholism is built into my working class family system. This is why Polly doesn’t condemn Ed, her middle son, who drinks way too much and yet has a good job as park ranger. You are an okay person as long as you’re working. Well, I don’t have a job, and regardless of my illness, I am considered worthless by all of them. I think it may be because schizophrenia is a malady that doesn’t show. You can appear normal and still be a sufferer. Therefore they think there’s nothing wrong with me.
Even worse, they think that if I am disabled, then I ought to behave like it. It isn’t fitting for a schizophrenic to have any intelligence at all. I’m supposed to be stupid, according to their attitude.
Well, there you have it. I think I’ve figured it all out. It isn’t that they don’t have a valid point. I can see how they might think that way: it’s their tax dollars paying for my existence, and so on ad nauseam. All this is true. But it’s the malice behind this attitude that really takes my breath away.