29 June 2016

LISTEN: This is an announcement about DUDES DONE WRONG. OK?!

It will be held this Thursday, June 30th, at Lone Fir Cemetery, which is like, I don’t know, five or six blocks from my house. I am going to wrap myself in a blanket and walk over there with two bottles of wine I bought from a gas station at 8:30 p.m. We will be watching something Cool and Spooky and Weird on my modestly-sized laptop. I am not going to tell you what it is. You’re just going to have to show up, man. And hey, there will be subtitles. The subtitles will be written in the same font I use on this very website, which is Gotham, which will be CAPITALIZED and bolded!!

Bring blankets!!! Bring food and beverages!!! Bring your cute little butt OK!!!

I know a good cluster of graves beneath a tree where we can watch this shit. Also, I am probably going to bring a huge thermos filled with tea, now that I think about it. Hmm. Maybe some other stuff.

Anyway:

soul

Yeah baby!!!! See you there!!

29 June 2016

Man, what the heck! I said I was going to update once a day, and here I am, takin a god darn nap!!!

Actually: I have a really bizarre schedule. You see, I go to work at 10 p.m. and I get out around the time the sun is rising. I don’t think I need to tell you this, but it blows. It means I sleep till the afternoon, and then I wake up and Do A Bunch Of Time in hopes of leaving the state of Oregon. I have made a lot of progress! I mean: I’m talking to people in California about jobs and whatnot—jobs that would pay me a living wage, and let me write stuff, and so on. Hell, maybe I’ll even make enough money to visit my family sometimes. Some of them are, uh . . . gettin pretty old.

Anyway: That’s why I haven’t posted anything. Though hey, I did finish a big essay-thing today . . . it is on my computer . . . I think I just need to edit it. Yeah.

Also: I ditched the titles. The titles stressed me out, man. I missed doing shorter posts, and it felt dumb to title something that is like two sentences in length. It made me feel like everything I put up had to be at least a thousand words, which is dumb too. I’m not doing that. I’m going to do short stuff and I’m going to do long stuff.

And: Somehow I am off for the next three days, so tomorrow and probably the day after that I am going to hole up at Southeast Grind and do some stuff on this website. I have a lot of plans. I have not had time to work on those plans because for the last two weeks I have gotten home from work as other people are waking up to go to work. What a bummer, man. But then, show me somethin that ain’t.

Oh: If you want to hang out with me at Southeast Grind, just come on over. I’ll be near the wall, away from the windows. Whenever I sit by the windows I burn like hell on one half of my face / neck. So yeah just come sit down with me. You can wear headphones or whatever. We can talk sometimes if you want to, otherwise I’ll let you be. The baristas know me and sometimes they give me free food, so you can have some of that food too. Hell, you can have all of it.

OK Yes Bye!!

27 June 2016

What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me—into us—clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.

I just finished reading ‘A Scanner Darkly’ again. Man, I dig that book. That last time I read it, I had a girlfriend and a car and a salary, and regularly went grocery shopping, and so on. In short: I was dumb and soft. Now I am, maybe, a little less dumb . . . and certainly not soft. “Chewed up,” is how I’d put it, I reckon . . . maybe “flea-bitten” and “time-rotten” too.

Anyway: Lord! What a book. It’s one of those books where someone says, “Hey, whatcha readin’?” and you tell them. And then they say, “Oh yeah—I think I’ve read that. I don’t remember anything, though.” And you say, “Um,” because, for God’s sake, how do you forget an experience that consumes dozens of hours that are real fun and cool and, more often than not (forgive me for using this word) profound as well?

(People say this about ‘Moby-Dick’ and ‘War & Peace’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ as well, which is mind-blowing to me.)

((Why not just say you haven’t read it? It’s OK if you haven’t read a book, or watched a movie, or whatever. And anyway if you really want to, there’s still time—until there isn’t, of course. . . .))

Anyway: I like it so much because you’re mostly inside Bob Arctor’s dreary head as he slowly goes insane. And you know, I’m willing to believe a lot (. . . maybe all . . .) of the things Bob Arctor thinks and sees, even when he’s really losing it, cuz it sure as hell ain’t wrong to me. Often I nodded along vigorously to long passages, vibrating with a weird fraternal sadness, and saying aloud: “Oh heck yeah, brother.”

(“Brother”—my brother, Philip K. Dick. I hope you’re OK, dude, wherever it is you are.)

Did you know that once, a long time ago, PKD was recovering from an impacted wisdom tooth, and a woman came to his house to deliver pain medication, and she had on around her neck one of those Jesus fish necklaces—and he perceived that the fish was emitting a pink beam of light into his head, which he said was “an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind. It was almost as if I had been insane all of my life and suddenly I had become sane.”

And, he said, the pink beam, which had come from God, or an alien satellite, or some other such thing, granted him strange arcane knowledge,  such as visions of the future, and being able to detect a birth defect in his infant son, and so on. Sometimes the dude would slip into a mental state where he could read and write Koine Greek.

Um!

You know what: I one hundred percent believe this, and don’t doubt for one second that it is true. I myself have had similar experiences, though not quite this profound (hah!!). But then, there is still time to have one as hot and tasty as Philip K. Dick’s . . . until there isn’t!! You can’t wait on these things to happen, though. They either come to you or they don’t. I just hope I’ll know it when I see it.

I wonder: What vessel will my particular transcendentally rational mind choose? I would really dig a purple beam of light, just in case anyone or anything is out there listening. Though hell, I certainly won’t be picky about it. You gotta take what you can get, as far as those things go, and maybe a lot of other things besides.

Uh, anyway: I’m gonna let Bob Arctor finish this post for me, because, god darn it, I really do like that guy:

He had brought with him an ability to see things as funny no matter how bad he felt. Everybody in the circle clapped, and, glancing up, startled, he saw the ring of smiles, everybody’s eyes warm with approval, and the noise of their applause remained with him for quite a period, inside his heart.

Wait—no. I’m going to end this post with a picture of Philip K. Dick holding a cat:

dick-cat

21 June 2016

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There are built-in bookshelves near my bed. They are pretty deep. I had things in them, and then I took them out again. I put those things inside boxes that I hope to move 600 miles away very soon. Now the shelves are empty as they once were.

Early this morning Dante jumped from my face into the lowest shelf. I woke up a bunch of times, mostly from nightmares, and when I stared up at the ceiling I saw his little head in my peripheral vision. He always seemed to be awake when I was, and he was always watching me. Dante is weird as hell, man. He has his own little life going on parallel to mine, and I can only ever guess what he’s thinking about. Maybe he just finds it interesting to watch humans sleep.

18 June 2016

uhohspaghettios

I have been watching the time, and have been making this awful face every time I see another minute pass by. They want me to be somewhere in a half hour. It’s a five-minute walk from where I am, so I have twenty-five (now twenty-four as of three seconds ago) minutes to do whatever it is I do here on Hawthorne Boulevard. Man, this place is Snoresville. I don’t wanna go out there. I’d rather stay right where I am with this big cup of coffee and this bizarre dumb music reverberating off my living room walls.

Dante is not on my shoulder anymore. He found something better to do, and I don’t blame him one bit.

D’ye see the junky pile of boxes behind us? Inside those boxes are most of my things. I reckon all that’s left is the few pieces of furniture I own (a desk, a small bookshelf, another small bookshelf, an apple crate) and my clothes (three pairs of black jeans, one pair of purple jeans, 10 black T-shirts, a denim jacket, a leather jacket, a fur coat). I’ll toss that stuff in the van when I have good reason to go rent that van. I hope that’s soon. I am doing everything in my power to make sure that is soon. In fact, I have diverted all my limited time and resources to getting back to California. It won’t be all that difficult. My Bay Area babies are excited I’m coming back. I just gotta find a job that’s worth a damn.

You know: I really do like that place. And I really did need to be away from it. Though, I don’t wanna live in Oakland again, if I can help it . . . but there are dozens of cities in the Bay, so we’ll seeeeeee~

Last night I was regaling my friend Kerwin of the early Oakland days, and how weird and cool they were. Man, that was a hell of a thing. Kerwin said: “By the time I got here everyone just wanted to sullenly sit in the dark and watch movies.” Yeah. That’s because everyone we knew started to really act like they were in their thirties, which they were. Though hey, who am I to say anything about that. I too spent most of 2015 sullenly sitting in the dark and watching movies. (Uh . . . and maybe a good chunk of 2016 too.)

I am not going to use the word “renaissance” . . . but maybe when I return I can shake these creeps around a little and make them remember they’re alive. Hah! They’re good people . . . they’re just older, and tired, and maybe they feel like they’ve seen enough. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone they’re wrong about that. We can still have us a good old time anyway though.

Time’s up! I have four minutes to put my shoes and jacket on and get to walking. Lord help me, it’s going to be a rotten time, though I don’t suppose there’s much I can do about that now except enter a Zen-like state and stay there as long as possible. The thing about an unshakeable fate, even a small one like this, is that you have to accept it and glide right through it until you’re free again. What else can a person possibly do? I will seek to rid myself of it completely when I am outside of the thing again later tonight. Yes, OK. Putting on my shoes now.

16 June 2016

I have decided that from now on this website is going to be updated at least once a day. It’s gotta be, man.

Also: I made this thing in about an hour tonight. I am going to expand upon it soon!!

Also: I have written like six or seven little one-minute videos. As soon as my buddy Ella gets back from Florida we are going to film them~~

Also: Dante was depressed for a week, and then the other day he coughed up two huge hairballs (onto my jacket), and since then he has been acting like a kitten. Whoa! That’s cool as hell. I wish I could do that.

Also: I am about to open an online store???????

ok good-night!!!!!!!!

16 June 2016

BREAKING NEWS: NOT DEAD YET

Well baby, the results are in, and it looks like I’m not going to go blind after all. My doctor—an ophthalmologist, don’t you know—told me this just today. This was after seven hours of testing. One of the nurses told me I took “every eye test under the sun.” I have written a longer thing about this. I guess I’ll put it up tomorrow. Spoilers: I have 20/20 vision, aced a color gradient test (that thing ruled), and have excellent peripheral vision. I do have “small yellow dots” in the back of my right eye, which I thought was my good eye, but ol’ Doc What’s-His-Face said these are genetic, non-specific, benign, and are the eyeball equivalent of freckles.

So what gives??

Who knows, man. My doctor found nothing abnormal in my eyes. He said they are “completely unremarkable,” which I think is the only time you want someone to tell you that your eyes are unremarkable. He said it was likely a thing that had appeared and quickly passed on . . . or was brought on by stress, which sure does seem plausible to me. In fact he kind of scoffed at the paranoid death sentence my optometrist gave me! A thing I learned today is that ophthalmologists don’t take optometrists seriously. They think it’s kid stuff. And hey, speaking of eyes: just about everyone in the office damn near rolled theirs every time I mentioned optometry. Whoa! That’s . . . kind of interesting, actually!

Anyway: I also got some lab results back from a clinic I visited, and despite my cartoonishly gloomy worldview, I am a perfectly healthy 28-year-old man. My blood work was good, my urine was pure and beautiful, and my doctor looked around this here body of mine and said, “Right on, dude.” Hey, all right.

I have boxed up half of my things. And my friends in the Bay Area are sleuthing around in a spidery way for houses and jobs for me, which is so very nice of them. I mean I’m doing that too, but I’ll be god darned if they ain’t helping me out! Hell, I’ll live in the Bay Area again. When I really think about it, that place is where All The Stuff Is as far as my life is concerned. It’s a big huge weird place and I’ve been everywhere in it. I just needed to be away from it for a while. I’m OK now. And for God’s sake, I know so many good people there. I gotta get back to those people. I need those people!

I did some detective work, and it looks like I can rent a minivan for about $150. Gas and coffee and a big bag of Fuji apples would be another $50 or so. I’ve done this before, you see. I got rid of a bunch of stuff before I left Oakland, and then I got rid of more of it when I got to Portland. So if I could fit all my earthly possessions in a luxury minivan eight months ago, I can most certainly do it again. I’ve said it many times before, but the drive takes about ten hours. It is a nice drive. I’ll drive the van, and Dante can watch all that Oregon scenery from the passenger seat. Yeah.

I just looked outside, and it appears the sun is coming up. They gave me eyedrops today that are going to keep my eyes dilated for five whole days. I have to wear sunglasses even when I’m inside. It’s gonna be real weird, man. Though hey, that’s all right with me!!!

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11 June 2016

The rumors are true: I’m outta here. I can’t cut it. I can’t make the thing work. Oregon has no jobs to speak of, and Lord knows I’m bored out of my mind having no food and no money in this super-hip neighborhood that, try as I might, I don’t understand the appeal of. And let’s face it: I was always more California than I was Oregon. I’m sorry if that sounds obnoxious, dude, but it’s true as heck.

I have spoken at great length to various representatives of the city and state that I live in, and the situation seems dour. They seem just as surprised as anyone else that this pocket of the world has gotten hugely popular overnight. Hell, I just moved here because it was a half a day’s drive up from where I had been before, and it seemed nice enough. But then of course tens of thousands of other bummed-out creeps just like me had the same idea, and there’s hundreds more getting off the bus from some midwest nowhere every day, so here we are, huh.

If I really wanted to, I could sit down and use math to prove my standard of living isn’t as good as it was in Oakland—which I always have to remind myself is part of the Bay Area, which is frequently cited as hands down the most expensive metropolitan area in the entire country. So, yes, another obnoxious statement: My life is quantifiably worse than it was six months ago. The only thing I’ve got going for me is that I can fearlessly walk the streets alone at night. But then, so what? I still have bills to pay, and my refrigerator is still going to be empty when I get home from aimlessly brooding!

How did this happen? I scream-wonder. If you had asked me how I ended up here in the first place, I would have told you, “Well, I reckon I just wanted to be able to go somewhere to save a little bit of money.” Fat chance, baby! I began to realize that I had stepped into yet another pit of money-eating quicksand when I realized I worked with a girl who has a master’s degree. And that everyone else supplements their income by growing and selling pot. The gig is all just song and dance to them! They make their real money secretly. I mean, that’s just America for ya, though hey, it sure didn’t make me feel any better about anything. Also, whoa—I definitely didn’t realize how bad state taxes were here. Federal included, Oregon ice-cream-scroops out a quarter of my paycheck in taxes. Uh! How is anyone supposed to Be Alive here? (Or anywhere??)

It’s a bad beat, no question. And I’m not going to stick around to see how much worse it can get. So much for that. I lived inside of it as long as I could. It’s time to head south again, and try my luck at something else. I have many friends in the Bay Area, and God knows these lovely people are always trying to help me out. A few of them have said to me: “Put in an application here, and I’ll do what I can.” Well, why not? That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Be it the Bay Area or Los Angeles, or wherever else has jobs, that’s where I’ll go. Fleeing Oregon for California because Oregon is too expensive? Hah! Whoa. What??

Before I go back to whatever it is I ever do: Thank you to the Belgians for sending me Belgian eyedrops! I can’t read the wording on the label, but I dripped the stuff into my eyes anyway. Unfortunately my eye problems are retinal in nature, but I’ll be damned if these drops don’t bring me a little relief anyhow. And thank you to the Brit who sent along some scratch and a letter of encouragement. Thanks, dude. I definitely bought a whole bunch of peanut butter with that. And thank you to Tracey and Ella, who helped me out with groceries. Good God. You really are all fine and wonderful people. I don’t deserve such good friends!!!

I should know if my health insurance application finally went through early next week. Then I’m going to see a retina specialist, and then I’m going to get my eyes fixed. I have mentally prepared myself for the more-than-likely scenario that I’m going to have to get shots in my eyeballs. In fact, if that is the worst thing I have to endure, then I’m ready to have a thin sharp rod shoved into my peepers. My dad has gone through it a few times, and he says it’s not all that bad. I told the retina people, “I’m worried, man. My optometrist doesn’t even know what it is.” And the guy on the other end says, “Oh, we’ll know what it is.” That made me feel a little better, I guess. He told me my appointment will last three to four hours. I reckon it’s comprehensive as hell. I just hope I don’t have to pay for it.

And then, hey presto, I’m going back to California.

Once, many years ago, I told my shrink that I wouldn’t be seeing him for a few weeks, because I was going to be visiting my buddies in California. He had been my age in the 1970s, and so I guess the first thing that came to mind when a sad person told him they were going to California was that Led Zeppelin song. He said, “Goin’ to California with an achin’ in your heart, huh?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Yeah.” And then I got up and left.

Well: There you go.

06 June 2016

FRAILTY AT THE EDGE OF OBLIVION;
or, “SYMPTOMS MAY INCLUDE
VISIONS OF THE GRIM REAPER”

•   •   •

Yesterday I took a piece of lint-covered gum out of my pocket and ate it anyway. I don’t even care anymore, man. My diet consists entirely of spinach, cabbage, and gruel. I have lost seven pounds in the last month. Despite working full-time, I have negative money left over at the end of the month. What a fine time to be an American citizen!

My left eye twitches every few seconds, and the center of my vision is blurred just enough to drive me insane. My right eye, which is my good eye apparently, attempts to compensate for this new abnormality, but this only makes it worse. I have never in my life had vision problems before. I have taken to wearing an eyepatch until I can afford to fix myself, which might not ever happen, given that no matter what I do I can’t get anyone to give me health insurance.

I have called dozens of 1–800 numbers, and have talked to dozens people about it, but no one can really tell me why my health insurance applications were denied. One guy said that I “failed to provide proof of income.” I told him I had never received notice. He said a letter had been sent to an address I have never lived at. I wondered aloud, to myself and maybe to him as well, how I could have possibly done anything about that. I asked if I could still enroll anyway—that I had a paystub in hand, and could at a moment’s notice get it to him—and he said he wasn’t sure if it was too late or not. I felt really sad just then. I told him my eye hurt and that I needed to see a medical professional of some sort, possibly a few of them for different reasons, and I imagined him shrugging as he referred me to yet another bureaucratic nightmare that I don’t have the mental fortitude to deal with right now.

I walked over to my bed and put on a sleep mask. I had only been awake for five hours, most of that time spent on the phone trying to get someone to care about the state of body, but I went to sleep again anyway. My eye was hurting too much and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I thought that maybe if I was asleep I wouldn’t feel so bad anymore.

I had a dream. It is a dream I have been having a lot lately. In this dream my right front tooth breaks while I’m eating or staring at it in the mirror. In real life, my right front tooth is a crown, and I really did break it when I was in high school. I have this constant fear of it breaking again. I’ll wake up from a dream, and touch my hand to my tooth to make sure it’s still there. I have been doing this for ten years.

•   •   •

This next part is not a dream, though it may as well be:

Ten years ago, I was a senior in high school. I was a two months away from graduating. At that point I was hardly ever going to school. I was too busy driving around late at night, and avoiding authority figures, and sleeping in my car in parks and behind gas stations while I was supposed to be completing my final coursework.

I knew a girl named Megan. She was my good buddo. I had a big ol’ crush on Megan, though Megan didn’t have a big ol’ crush on me. I don’t think I knew that yet. At any rate she seemed to like having me around, and I liked being around her too, so I went over to her house whenever she asked me to.

One night, on a school night, I was at Megan’s house with a few other creeps I knew around that time. We were jerking around in her basement. We were laughing like hell about God knows what. I do remember putting on her mom’s high heels, and clacking around on the hardwood floors. At some point we all got on the trampoline. We were having us a good old time that night.

And here is a crucial point in this story: All of my friends had big ol’ crushes on Megan too. She was real pretty, and she was real funny too—which, as any fine American will tell you, is a dynamite combination. That night one of the creeps I was with was my friend Brent. Brent was not immune to Megan’s Megan-ness either. He had a crush on her too.

Brent was laying it on thick. He really wanted Megan to know he liked her. I don’t know whether or not she liked him back. After we got off the trampoline she stole his shoes and ran around with them so that he would have to chase her. Maybe that means she liked him. Or maybe she was just the sort of person who got her rocks off stealing other people’s shoes.

In the darkness of my mind I remember her mother telling everyone they had to leave, on account of it being so late. We still had to pretend like we cared about getting up and going to school the next day, and so we pretended to.

I can see Megan standing on her porch. She is waving and asking me to do my impression of Marty McFly one more time. I say, “Doc, are you telling me you built a time machine out of DeLorean?!” She laughs. Brent and I start walking to my car.

And then something stupid happens: Brent, who was larger than me, jumps on my back with no warning—maybe to impress Megan somehow, who is now already inside. I don’t have time to brace myself and so I lose my balance right away. I fall to the ground, into a grassy slope in her front yard, with Brent on my back. His weight pushes my head forward into a pipe. What in God’s name is the purpose of this pipe? I wonder later. What was this damn thing doing in the middle of the yard?

I fall face-first into it. I feel no pain. I push Brent off of me and call him an asshole. My mouth is numb. I reach for my front tooth but it is missing. I have already swallowed more than half of my tooth, which had been immediately pulverized by the impact, and turned into dust. I taste blood in my mouth. The dust is coating my tongue. This image and that feeling will haunt my dreams for the next ten years of my life.

I turn to Brent and ask him if I have a front tooth, and he makes a horrible face and tells me it has broken. I run over to my car and flip down the visor mirror. I have one perfectly normal front tooth and one jagged vampire fang. There is blood splattered all over my face. I shriek. I tell Brent that the least he can do is drive me home. He gets in and does just that. I stare at the tooth in the lighted mirror the whole ride back. When I get home I sink into a deep depression and force myself to fall asleep.

My dentist didn’t have any openings the next day, so I hid in my father’s basement for a week. I practiced talking in the mirror and looked like a bumfuck yokel. I covered the windows and wrapped myself in a blanket and tried to disassociate. I wanted to forget that I had a body, and that a part of it that I liked was broken. I was stupid and vain and dramatic about the whole thing. I was also a teenager.

I saw my dentist the following week. He had worked on my teeth since I was in elementary school. Now that I was eighteen he inexplicably started talking to me differently. He found a way to insert “fuck” and “shit” and “ass” into nearly every sentence he spoke. He told me his new dental hygienist had a great ass. I supposed this was what it meant, to him at least, to “talk like an adult.”

He had me open my mouth. He examined the serrated stalactite that was once my tooth. “Aw hell, this li’l fuckin’ thing? Shit, man. This is nothing. I’ve seen way worse, trust me.” He took out a little plastic wrapper that had a tooth inside. It was whiter than my other teeth by far. It looked like a Chiclet. He told me I would have to wear it for a month while my permanent crown was made by “some hippie dudes down the street.” Then he took dozens of pictures of my perfectly intact left tooth. He said they’d mirror it and make it match. No human eye, he said, would be able to detect the difference between the two.

I said, “All right then.” He glued the Chiclet into my skull. The dental cement, he said, was strong—but not strong enough to withstand a whole lot of wear. He told me not to eat with it. I told him I wouldn’t. He held a mirror up to my face. I grinned menacingly and saw the fake tooth. It was like a spare tire in my mouth—like a little donut wheel: ugly, and unlike the rest, but hopefully only for a short while.

A month later I got a call from my dentist saying my crown was completed. I drove to the office where the “hippie dudes” had made it. The place was being renovated so the guy met me at the door. He was in his forties and was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I suspected that my dentist considered a guy like that to be a non-square, and thus, somehow, lumped him into a great big nebulous sub-category of humans that were superficially different than him.

The hippie dude lead me to the back and showed me my crown. It really was a perfect copy of my left tooth. He told me that making a crown involves more artistry than science. He gave me the crown and said my dentist would set it for me. I thanked him and drove to my dentist’s office.

My dentist removed the Chiclet. He cemented the hell out of the new crown, cemented it right into my skull. He held the crown in place by creating a sort of vice grip with his gloved hand. Soon it became part of me. His hygienist, the one with the great ass, handed him that little hyper-laser tool they use to lock in sealants. He fired it up a few times. It made the inside of my mouth glow blue. He set it down and picked up the drill. I protested, but he said it was necessary to sand my bottom teeth so the crown would fit properly. It made a violent, terrifying noise. I screamed inside my skull. It didn’t last long. The whole process, from start to finish, took maybe ten minutes.

I asked him if I was set for life, pending some horrible accident, and he told me I’d get maybe ten or fifteen years out of the thing. “Though, by the time you go to get the next one, dental technology will likely have advanced to the point where you can keep that shit till your dying day. In fact I’d bet on that happening.”

A week later I was at a restaurant with my girlfriend. I had started dating her in the time between the incident in Megan’s yard, and my new crown being created by some cool dudes in blue jeans. I didn’t like her at all, and she didn’t like me either. That day we were joylessly eating sandwiches. We were hanging out in a sort of sad perfunctory way. I bit into the toasted bread and felt the bottom of my crown hit something hard. It licked it and it felt off. I asked my girlfriend if anything looked any different. She studied it closely. Listlessly she said: “It looks like maybe it chipped a little.”

I went back to my dentist. I told him a sandwich had chipped the bottom of my brand new, very expensive crown. “That’s crazy. There’s no fuckin’ way that happened.” He had me open my mouth. “I don’t see anything. It looks fine to me.”

My tooth was definitely chipped. It wasn’t a big chip. When I slid my tongue across it I could feel the smooth little break line. I didn’t do anything about it. It would have been too expensive to fix something so minor, so it stayed that way for a decade.

•   •   •

TEN YEARS LATER

Alone at night, and miserable as hell in a city three thousand miles away from where I was born, I sat in the darkness of my bedroom wondering about my life. I had just made a sandwich. I had toasted the bread and everything. I was very excited to eat that sandwich, because it would be my only meal that day. I was, and still am, consuming less than a thousand calories a day. It felt good to put something inside the great big emptiness of my body.

I took one bite. I felt something hard in my mouth. I spit it out onto the plate. It was white and glassy. I figured some foreign object had ended up a stowaway in my sandwich. I picked it up and held it up to my desk lamp. I knew right away that is was half of my front tooth. I put my hand up to my face and felt around for my crown. It was sharp and jagged. I walked into the bathroom and smiled into the mirror. I groaned. My tooth was broken. It was a perfect diagonal break. I wondered if I were dreaming. I decided I probably wasn’t dreaming. Mentally I added the event to my growing list of things that are rapidly making my life less and less worthwhile.

With great sadness I returned to my room and attempted to eat the rest of my sandwich. The little vampire fang, newly exposed to the world for the first time in ten years, was extremely sensitive to even the smallest change in temperature. Breathing made it ache. On top of that, I couldn’t eat without my front tooth. It was too severe a break. I threw the sandwich away and sedated myself so I could fall asleep.

Next day I called four or five dentists in my neighborhood. All but one refused to cement my crown back onto its brother, who was living a lonesome life inside my mouth. They told me it was “impossible.”

The dentist who did agree to see me said it was no sweat. They fit me in at three p.m. I drove over a half hour before my appointment and filled out a single page of paperwork. I handed it to the receptionist. She said, “How are you, Ryan?” And I gave her a hideous toothy grin, saying, “I think you’re looking at it.”

A nurse lead me to an examination room. She took a look at my tooth. “We can fix this,” she said. “It may not be permanent, and it may not be super strong, but we’ll get you all fixed up.”

The dentist came by a few minutes later, asked me to smile, and said the same thing. He said mounting shards of a broken crown was like “trying to fit two pint glasses together,” but that a quick and dirty job would buy me at least six months if I was delicate with it.

“I can make you a new crown—a real good one, even.”

I inquired about gold: “I heard gold is tough as hell. Could you make me a gold tooth?”

“Like . . . like a straight-up gold tooth? No porcelain veneer over it?”

“A solid gold tooth.”

“Sure. I could make a green tooth if that’s what you really wanted. I can make it whatever color you want.”

“I want a gold tooth.”

“If you’re not concerned with the appearance of a gold tooth in your mouth, then sure.”

“I’m going gold.”

“I can make it. You just let me know and I’ll make it.”

“Uh, give me a few weeks to get health insurance.”

I took out the tooth shard, which I had stored in a little plastic container in my pocket. The dentist held it up to the light. “It really is a perfect break. You couldn’t have hoped for a better way for your tooth to split in half.”

He glued it back into my skull. He used the little laser tool to seal it. He reminded me about the gold tooth, said he’d make it whenever I called him up. He was very friendly. He shook my hand and stepped out of the room. I heard him tell the nurse to only charge me for the procedure, and not the X-rays, and to give me a discount. Well, gosh. There you go. It still cost me $130 that I didn’t have.

•   •   •

A week later the vision in my left eye had got progressively worse. Or rather the blurriness stuck around, whereas before it had appeared intermittently, and was ghostlike. Mysteriously, there was also a dull ache in my left testicle that wouldn’t subside either. And then I experienced what I have determined was something resembling a UTI, which apparently is pretty rare in men. I weighed myself and found that I had lost seven pounds in thirty days. My body was conspiring to destroy me.

And so: with failing eyesight, and phantom testicular pain, and a possible urinary tract infection, and a duct-taped-together tooth, and the diet of a fifteenth-century peasant, I set out to solve my health issues one at a time, in order of importance. I started with my eyes. With no health insurance I made an appointment with an optometrist in St. Johns, near the Cathedral Bridge. I told them I was uninsured, and they said to come on in anyway.

A few days later I showed up in St. Johns. I was twenty minutes late. They were very kind to me at the front desk anyway. The three women working there were covered in tattoos. I immediately formed crushes on all of them. They gave me a cup of coffee and had me fill out a single page of paperwork, which was just a health background. I wrote that I had no chronic illnesses, and there were virtually none in my family either. My current bout of bad health, I told myself quietly, was due to my near-constant state of poverty, and the fact that I lived in a morally-bankrupt country where money and material possessions, and the rabid desire to obtain as much of both as possible, outweighed the human lives that were casually discarded in doing so.

I turned in my paperwork. One of the nurses took me into an examination room and performed a few tests on my eyes. She numbed them with drops, and then did a “puff test.” She asked me when was the last time I’d seen an eye doctor, and I told her it had been over twenty years. She refilled my coffee and left.

The optometrist came in thirty seconds later. We shook hands. She saw that I was holding a cup of coffee. She asked me how I took it, I guess to make small talk, and I said: “Black, just like . . . uhhh, my heart.” I cleared my throat. “Actually, I think I’m just kidding about that last part.”

She did a few more tests. I read big letters and tiny letters with my God-given eyes, and then she put a huge machine over my face, and I read a few more lines of random letters while she doubled and tripled my vision. She told me I had 20/20 vision with no need for corrective lenses. I then had to distinguish on what side of a white light a thin red laser appeared. I aced this too. She told me I most likely didn’t have a brain tumor. It was the best news I’d heard in months.

She dilated my eyes, saying it would take fifteen minutes for my retinas to fully open. “It’s going to get very bright in here for you,” she said. “I have some sunglasses if you need them.” I said I was all right, fine like this, and so on, and she left me alone in the room to feel all jittery and tripped out in semidarkness that would soon become brighter.

Gradually the light in the room did indeed become vaguely uncomfortable for me. I lost focus of things close and far away. I got up and looked into a mirror on the wall. It looked as though I had ingested an entire cauldron of ayahuasca. My pupils were huge empty zeroes.

When the optometrist returned, she wheeled out yet another machine. I rested my chin on a plastic platform and she looked into my eyes. She turned on handheld light and shined it into my pupils. It was excruciatingly bright. “Your pupils turn into little pinholes when even the smallest amount of light enters them, my friend.” Well: there you go. That explains my need for dim lighting, and my sensitivity to oppressive overhead lighting, and my great love of darkness and nighttime.

“Some people have a lot of pigment in their retinas, some do not. It seems you don’t have much pigment. That’s perfectly normal.”

“All right then,” I said. “Hasn’t bothered me yet, and I’ve been here for almost thirty years.”

And then she looked deep into my retinas—all the way to the very backs of them. And she told me she saw something odd there. She had me go into another room where she took a series of photos of my retinas. I had to focus my eyes on a blue target. When it turned red, I had to pull back. I needed to make the target green. I figured the correct placement of my head, and she quickly took the pictures. We went back into the first examination room and studied them under various filters.

“You see here,” she said, pointing to a cluster of white flecks inside the deepest layers of my eyes, “these are abnormal. In fact, I’ve never seen something quite like this, especially in someone so young.”

She showed me a picture of a normal retina. It looked different than my retinas.

“You have some sort of inflammation going on in there, more on the left than on the right.” She circled some gelatinous globes of eyeball-stuff with her finger, which was fortified by a spiderweb of thin veins. “See this? This looks a little off.”

“Um.” I didn’t know what she meant, but I took her word for it.

“It could be nothing, it could be something. You’re going to have to see someone who specializes in retina imaging.” She leaned in close, and, in a low voice, perhaps to cushion any embarrassment I might feel from the words that she was about to utter, said: “You should get health insurance before you see them. That’s going to get expensive very quickly.”

“Oh, OK. Man. So you have no idea what it is?”

“I really don’t. And I don’t want to give you false hope, or scare you either. So I can’t say for sure. All I can tell you is that you need to see someone about this just to be sure. I’m just general care. A specialist is what you need.”

“Yeah. I gotta do that.”

“Have you seen a doctor recently? When is the last time you had a physical?”

“Probably over three years ago. I’ve been trying to get a physical for that amount of time, actually. Even in California, my insurance wouldn’t cover something as simple as a physical. I’ll tell ya, this country sure don’t care if you die.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty bleak, huh? Still, you should get blood work done. The inflammation might be caused by something like a systemic virus. There’s no way to know for sure today.”

“Whoa, baby. OK.”

“Don’t freak out, just see these guys whenever you’ve got coverage.” She wrote down a phone number on a Post-It note. “I’m going to tell them you’re coming, and send them the images of your retinas. They’ll be able to tell you exactly what it is.”

“Man. This blows big time. Though, hell, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. But then when is that not the case?”

The optometrist lead me to the front desk. In a low voice she told the receptionist to only charge me for the visit, and not for the retina images. The visit and all the tests cost me $140. I put it on my credit card, and groaned big time internally, knowing it would probably take me three months to pay it off.

The receptionist printed out a receipt for me. “With your eyes dilated like that, it’s going to be a weird couple of hours.”

“It’s . . . hell, it’s going to be a weird rest of my life, man.”

She laughed. “Yeah, tell me about it.” It was the best response I could have hoped for.

“Do you need sunglasses?” said another receptionist. “We have disposable ones.”

“No, I’ll be fine. I have some in the car. Though, hey, if you see me walk into a lamppost, or get hit by a bus, feel free to call 911.”

I stepped out onto the sidewalk. If it was a nice day, I had no way of knowing. For me it was a sun-blasted nightmare. It made me nauseous, having my eyes filled with all that godawful light. Blindly I walked across the street. I looked around. It was a great big blur. Nothing looked familiar. I figured I had gone the wrong way. I crossed the street and returned to where I had just come from. I forgot where I was and why I was there in the first place. I closed my eyes. I stood there for a long time. I took a piece of gum out of my pocket. I held it up to my dying eyes. It was covered in lint. I put it in my mouth. I crossed the street again.