It was Tuesday night, and some drunk asshole was midway through a karaoke rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” when I began to fully comprehend Portland’s supposed “whiteness problem.”
There was a weakness to the man’s voice. I knew that he was soft and unchallenged, as are most people in this city. He was a man who wore square-toed shoes that matched his belt because a men’s style magazine had told him to. He was full of sour notes, and belting out one of the most unkaraoke-friendly songs I could think of. He was so loud and so bad, and so lacking in self-awareness, that I began to ask questions of myself and the decisions I had made that lead me to that very moment. In short: I was creeped out, and I was afraid.
I wasn’t at the bar itself. I can’t hardly afford to feed myself, much less occupy some godawful bar designed to feel sterile and frictionless. No, I was next door toiling under hot fluorescent lights with the rest of the working poor, making overpriced sandwiches for the tasteless hacks who would soon get on stage and sing virtually every song Alanis Morissette has ever written.
What’s the plan then, Ryan? Move to a new city every two or three years and work in a God damned kitchen until your hands fall off, and your mind rots from within??
• • •
I wake up every day, usually quite late. I submit five resumes for jobs that would actually pay me a living wage, and cover my medical and dental visits, and not make me hate myself quite so much, and on and on. I write emails to friends of friends who could potentially lift me out of this dark and terrible place, and they’ll reply once or twice, and it’ll look like maybe they can help me out, and then I never hear from them again. This has happened to me dozens of times in the last year. And as far as the resumes go: I may as well be feeding them into a black hole while the Grim Reaper bellows in the deep.
As I told someone today: I am just educated enough to feel ripped off, and not educated enough to actually do anything about it. I have a worthless degree and I live in a spiritually-bankrupt country full of used-car salesmen. I live in a time and place in history where a couple of Belgians visiting from Brussels offered to buy me medicated eyedrops because I can’t rightfully obtain them at the drugstore down the street.
The future’s uncertain and the end is always near, all right!
• • •
On my desk I have made a list of things I would buy if I had money. I don’t know why. I daydream about it sometimes—about doing meaningful work, and making just a little bit of money off of it. I know that most people on this planet have a bad beat, though I can’t help but fantasize about some semblance of stability.
A YEAR SUPPLY OF CAT FOOD.
I did the math and this would cost me something like $700. That’s just fine with me. I worry about having enough money to feed Dante all the time. Of course the dude will never go without, though hell, that doesn’t stop me from worrying! In the past, and right now even, I have forfeited my own need for sustenance to make sure he gets to eat. Lord! I would stack up all those cans in my basement, and cross at least one fear off my list. . . .
A BIG-ASS SUPPLY OF TEA AND COFFEE.
Wait—doesn’t that stuff go bad? Or not taste as good the longer you own it, or something? I don’t know, man. I’ll set aside some money for them anyway.
A SHELF TO PUT MY CLOTHES ON.
Right now my clothes are folded in neat little stacks at the foot of my bed. I could probably get one of these babies for $10. Maybe I’ll just build my own. As I have mentioned before, right here on this very website, I have a bunch of wooden palettes in my basement, and Lord knows they’re just sitting there waiting to become something else.
A NEW PAIR OF SHOES.
I figure I have maybe two or three months left with my current pair. I wear the same kind of shoe I’ve worn since I was 13 or 14, which is the Adidas Samba. It is a good and sensible shoe! I guess I will just keep on wearing them forever.
A HUNDRED AND SIXTY STAMPS.
Forever stamps come in packs of sixteen, so hey, all I gotta do is buy ten of them. I think that comes out to a little more than $70 or so. . . .
FIFTY PAIRS OF SOCKS, AND ABOUT AS MANY PAIRS OF UNDERWEAR.
I’m all good on underwear—I stocked up back in Oakland, when I had some scratch—but I reckon if I got fifty of them I would be good for the next three or four years. My socks, of which I used to own many in great colors and textures and so on, are full of holes. I guess I really am a hobo now!!! When do I get my union card???
TEN PLAIN BLACK T-SHIRTS.
You can never have enough of these hot little babies. Or uhhh, I can’t, anyway.
THREE WEIRDLY-SIZED LIGHTBULBS FOR THE BIG-ASS LAMP IN MY BEDROOM.
I bought this thing when I first moved here, before I could envision how broke I would soon be, but don’t you know, I got the wrong size lightbulbs for it . . . and now I’m too broke to do anything about it. Damn! It’s a nice lamp, too. Right now it is a coatrack.
A WEIGHT BENCH FROM SOME DUDE ON CRAIGSLIST WHO ABANDONED HIS NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION TO GET IN SHAPE.
I’ve been talking about this for years. I could probably get a bench and full set of weighs for like $150. Whoa!
I’m starting to think this is never going to happen! I want to ride it at night when everyone is asleep so I can Disassociate and Be Alone and Feel All Right.
A BUNCH OF SOAP AND TOOTHPASTE AND TOILET PAPER.
I love this stuff! I’m also tired of running out of it.
A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF INCENSE.
Though I guess a year or two of it would suffice!! I love this stuff too. I have a good time hanging out with this stuff.
• • •
OK that’s it for now. With a half decent full-time gig I could probably afford to get these things with one or two paychecks. I’m living a lean sort of lifestyle these days, sometimes out of necessity, though I have quote unquote philosophical reasons behind it too. I don’t need much, though hell, these things are good and useful, as all inanimate objects should be, and they would serve me for a long time. I was telling someone recently that all you have to do is knock these things out quick and you’re in a good place for many months and sometimes years. And then you get on with it, and do the other thing, whatever that may be—which for me is a whole lot of walking around in the dark, and occupying dark rooms with dim lighting and soft music, and absolutely no human voices.
In fifteen minutes I have to go to a place and do a job I was qualified to do in high school. It pays all right, but it’s not going to save me from anything, if anyone can ever be said to truly be saved. I can at least feed my cat and buy toothpaste. You see I remember the era of my life when I truly became an adult, or something close to it anyway, and that was when someone stopped being concerned with the state of my teeth. It’s all on me now, baby. I gotta take care of these teeth. It’s the least I can do to keep this flesh and bone in the three dimensions I reluctantly move around it . . . until I can’t any longer! It seems like maybe I’ll never get a break, despite all my efforts, but I reckon it’s too late to do anything else.
I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this city. Maybe not long at all. I’m so bored. I feel like I’m submerged in a bath of lukewarm water. There are worse fates. I can imagine quite a few. Hell, I’ve lived some of them.