No Surprise

Nine forty.

I just looked at the forecast for next week: sunny every day. Aesop is nosing through his dry food, playing with it. He wants water, so I tell him 18 minutes and he understands me. Today is cloudy but it isn’t dark like the wintertime. I’ve bought my two Snapples and things to eat for the day. I had some trouble keeping my bandanna on my face; the knot in back kept coming undone and I feared the whole thing would hit the ground. I stood in the parking lot farting with it until it was safe. The store offered two kinds of potato salad, one from the deli next door and the other one packaged by a larger company. I went with the latter because I knew it had sweet pickles and pimento. Melissa said she was looking forward to a nap after work. 

As I approached the parking lot from the sidewalk I thought of my old Scottish friend, a person with excellent common sense with whom I shared an interest in cognitive therapy ten years ago. During that time I ordered a book from a local shop called Tsunami on Willamette in the south part of town; the book was Cognitive Therapy of Schizophrenia. The same day I went to pick it up I realized that my heat pump had quit working. The outdoor unit crashed and I was without air conditioning after that. I was always penniless due to my alcoholism and couldn’t afford the repairs. So today, when I ran my card in the slider at checkout, it was no surprise that I had money. I think good things happen to people who don’t abuse substances, for whatever reason. It could be magical or maybe it’s simply natural, but either way it’s good. 

Poverty Sucks: a Letter

My appointment with Heidi didn’t happen today; she called in sick this morning. So then I had the afternoon to myself and I wrote more in my blank book. I came close to a minor discovery regarding the way my mother brought me up to be the person I have become. Above all, she demanded honesty from me. Also I was raised to despise money and the moiling and grubbing people do to acquire it— which may have been unfortunate because I learned that money is valueless. I guess sometime this morning I’ll be getting my stimulus payment. I should hold onto it to put towards some new gear for the band, perhaps better recording equipment or a PA system, etc. I have all the bass guitars I need. This morning I set up my old white SX bass with a view to giving it away to the guys in the band if they’re interested. It’s an old knockabout axe I bought myself ten years ago for only one hundred dollars. Today, the same product new goes for three hundred dollars. Maybe I’ll just take it to practice next time and then leave it at Mike’s house when we’re done.

Again today the weather was very beautiful. Another thought I had deals with my recovery from alcoholism: whether or not it happened by the grace of a higher power, such as a God or maybe even Jesus Christ. Perhaps it wouldn’t be ludicrous to think so. I also look at the face of nature in these days since the election of Biden and regret that it has lost its divine luster. Maybe it’s just my imagination? What do you think of that? I’m looking forward to going back to church this weekend to see all my old friends. My new shoes arrived this noon hour: extremely lightweight and possibly rather flimsy, but very comfortable. I doubt if they’ll last very long…

Still another idea of mine regards my life of dire poverty. Usually I don’t consider it very much. How did Baudelaire put it? The old paupers nourishing their vermin? There’s also a poem by Yeats where a beggar scratches for a flea. But as I always say, there are better ways of being wealthy than with money. I look around me and the other guys in the band don’t have a lot of money either. Mike plays a drum kit he bought in 1988. And two of Ron’s keyboards came from thrift stores, also his amplifiers. Our studio is a glorified toolshed, though comfortable enough. It seems to me that some of the best artists have been poor, like James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Baudelaire was rather indigent as well. Wealthy people such as my brother look down on us with contempt and call us names. But in the end, the truth is that you can’t take your money with you. This reminds me of the Grimm’s fairytale in which a rich man is admitted into heaven, and what a celebration there is in his honor! I’m pretty sure my brother never read that one. It is very difficult for the wealthy to go to heaven from the point of view of a peasant. I guess the truth is relative after all.

Impecunious

After eleven o’clock this morning I headed out on foot to Bi Mart to pick up my cholesterol medication. On the way I passed the plot of land where my old elementary school had been torn down. Not one stick of it remains standing, and a sign says the new high school will be built by 2023, thanks to Eugene voters. It’s a little ironic that I voted for the new school, but I didn’t know that they’d be demolishing Silver Lea Elementary, where I attended during the 1970s. Also, doing this forced the resident Japanese immersion school out and into the building for Colin Kelly middle school over on Howard Avenue, a distance of a mile or two from Silver Lea. So I walked by the field of dirt enclosed by a chain link fence and thought of how the world was running down. People set their minds on the future without considering that nature may not be able to sustain human life someday soon. My grandnephew’s wife is pregnant with their second baby, and I ask myself why on earth would anybody want to bear children at a time like this. Even Polly thought the same thing. Travis and Riley must not be very smart, but I’m not surprised at that. Another sign that bothers me is just the quality of the sunlight in our atmosphere that has definitely changed since I can remember. The sun shouldn’t be as bright as it now is, and especially not at the end of March. Things are not the same anymore, not at all promising for our future. And then there is Pastor’s selfish concern for his church on more than one level. I don’t really understand the politics of the synod and the larger Lutheran church, but there’s a lot of money involved.

Then I continued on to the Bi Mart on River Road and observed the people wearing their silly masks. My prescription cost me nothing, and then I sat down on the bench outside the walk up window to gather my strength for the walk back home. Life all around me seemed like such a desert, everybody so scared and also so sterile and isolated from each other. After resting up, I went home the same way I came. The lyric to “Nights in White Satin” came to me:

Gazing at people, some hand in hand
Just what I’m going through they can’t understand
Some try to tell me thoughts they cannot defend
Just what you want to be you will be in the end

The Moody Blues. When I got home I crashed out for an hour from fatigue. Later I did some writing in my blank book, but no reading today. I discovered that I’d like to drink beer in order to feel more human again. But I’m strong and brave enough to gut it out every day and stay sober. Close to five o’clock I took another nap until about nine.

And I guess that was my day. Please pardon my pessimism today regarding the future of human life on earth. But there’s no way to flip back the calendar and turn back the clock. This is the world we created, so now we’re stuck with it. And the cause of our demise has been short sighted self interest, our greed for more and more for ourselves and the ones we care about.

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.