I know any time I type the words Seattle Weather in the search engine, I’m in for bad news.
Coldest day of the year, it reads in a bold font across the top of the screen. The weathermen call it a Polar Vortex.
Cold air funnels down from the arctic and covers the Midwest in a subzero haze of snow and visible breath.
I find Cleveland on the map, – 18 degree wind-chills predicted.
Twenty years ago I scoured Little Italy in knee-high snow, circling unplowed Cleveland streets for a half hour with no heat and a broken set of windshield wipers, trying to find a parking space at least close to the top-floor flat we rented in a three-story building at the busy intersection of Murray Hill and Mayfield Road.
I say flat in that it was the whole top-floor we rented, flat across the building.
We had access to the roof from a staircase in a hallway and we stood up there shivering and watching the lake effect snow blow in off Lake Erie.
It covered the city in tons of white that became brown with slush as snow plows buried every vehicle parked up and down the neighborhood streets. A rare empty spot along the curb where a car wasn’t parked would be filled in with several feet of snow. So coming home to a warm apartment meant circling the block twenty times before finding a space, because apparently no garages exist anywhere in Little Italy.
“I hate the cold,” I told my roommate as the snow fell over the city. “This is the last winter I’m spending in Northeastern Ohio.”
I said that every year.
They ended up calling that The Blizzard of – whatever year it was.
I scroll down a bit and read about Seattle.
Temperatures in the mid 20’s, pretty cold for the Pacific Northwest.
A little further down is a picture of last year’s episode when the Great Lakes froze over.
All of that water iced into a land-bridge where millions of Americans could have migrated to Canada if their president didn’t win.
I’m getting soft, I think to myself. I haven’t seen real snow in ten years.
The coffee pot in the kitchen dribbles with the morning’s first cups.
“Doesn’t matter.” I retie my robe and close the weather report. “Nothing’s stopping me from going to the show.
Professor Viceroy lives in my building with the rats and the ants and the other bugs.
He’s a wounded veteran of the war on drugs.
He’s smarter than he looks, but he looks like a slug with decade deep lines covering the leathery skin of his forehead. His name came from his days back in the dope game, when he ran with bleach stains on his corduroys and supported his habit stealing books, reading about every fifth one he took, usually nodded out over an ashtray with a look of death on his slack jaw.
He’s a multiple felon, rehabilitated to the extent of the law.
His belt has teeth marks ten years old but the scars on his arms have all healed.
After a late night, the Professor would drag his shoulder across the hallway wall until he found his door marked Unit # E4.
He lives in there, but… he’s only partially in there.
His stone, emotionless face, his thousand-yard stare, he shaves his head of any hair.
A sidewalk philosopher, he’s the real McCoy, though he can’t understand a lick of Tolstoy, and his knowledge doesn’t come from any university he could claim on a resume.
Under his worn exterior there’s a layer of fatigue that blocks any emotion from making its way to the surface. All but the eyes are protected from the burden of expression; they pierce with intensity, beady little pearls of white flame.
I watched the professor kick a nasty painkiller addiction by nothing more than going to see the bands he loved play live as they came through town. After kicking the sheets in withdrawal, the cravings were strong, and he knew he could take care of anything with one phone call.
So he bought money orders with all the tips he made working at a bar down the street.
Out of sight out of mind.
In the Memo line he wrote things like food and drinks, transportation, ticket price and incidentals.
Instead of sixty dollars on pills, he’d get a round-trip train ticket to Portland.
Hostel beds were twenty-six bucks a shot and he bought one for a couple nights in Chinatown if the band was playing the next two nights in Seattle.
A concert is something to anticipate where the payoff is a little more long-term then crushing up ninety blue milligrams for his nose, and it gave the Professor a specific date to work toward, where a momentary suspension of everything would bring it all together for him for an hour and a half that would pass like a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
He tracked any bands he wanted to see through an app on his phone that told him when they were coming to town. The Professor would go to the show and write it all down from the view he had at the front of the crowd, and from fire escapes and bus stop benches… and he sent it to his friends who were locked up in prison or still back home in the trenches and looking for a way out.
He said it kept him clean to be able to reflect the good life that only looks good to someone who’s sitting in rehab or locked in a cell, regretting the choices they made that got them there, with nothing more to think about than what they’ll do when they get out, and how they’re going to go straight and choose life this time.
His friends would pass the stories around the yard and he got mail from people he didn’t know, saying dude, your shit speaks to me; and that would keep him going, as it reminded him of the person he’d been and never wanted to be again.
Apparently that’s quite a motivator.
I’ve known the Professor for a lifetime of mistakes, back when his shirts had buttons and he shined his shoes, before he slept homeless on the dirtiest carpets in the city, and in junkyard cars with junkyard arms where he lived on spare change and other people’s pity.
I watched him hip his only friends to the poison that led them to prison, and then skip town for a new life on a new Coast on a spur of the moment decision.
Having those friends in the position to where they’d anticipate an envelope of his irrelevant stories, not because they were any good, but out of sheer boredom and nature of circumstance, helped him more than he could express.
His audience perpetuated itself by never learning their lessons, by always being sent back to prison.
Doesn’t make sense to thank a man for that, which is good, the Professor says. He could never put the words together if he had to. His reasons for what he did were selfish. It renewed him somehow to help them get through the kind of Now that seems like it will never end.
They said, “Thanks, it’s when you’re down that you find out if they’re true friends.”
The professor lives in a two room apartment at the end of the same hall I do. Our building is at the corner of a very busy commercially zoned intersection. Mini malls surround us. There’s a hardware store behind us, and a twenty-four hour this and that, here and there, with the convenience of all-night gas station cheeseburgers available anytime. With a ton of fast food joints, coffee shops and bars, and with a grocery store in my front yard, “Why,” The Professor says, “on earth would I need a car?”
He takes the train into Seattle, or the Express Bus if the traffic is right; and he records it all as he follows the moment around a pattern of crosswalks and street lights, maybe staying behind a beautiful ass in tight black pants for a few more blocks than he needs to before switching directions all because the walk sign changed white right in his path at the same time he thought something somehow relevant to the moment.
A professor of synchronistic timing, a straight-faced liar who’s bad at lying.
“Do Watcha like,” is his daily affirmation. “If you even feel like trying,” he adds.
In a series of short story prison-letters the Professor called 50 Cups of Coffee, he set out to spend as much on enjoying life that he spent destroying it on drugs. The idea was that sometime during the night of every show he’d get a cup of coffee and drink it as a toast to finally getting to where he’d been dreaming of being when he was the one passing time in rehab or jail with nothing better to do than to read and reread the back of his candy bar wrappers until lockdown was over.
He’d log the expenses from tickets to hotel rooms to train rides there and back and add it all up from show to show to show to see what would come first, fifty shows and fifty cups of coffee, or the thousands of dollars he’d spent on his habit. Then he’d chronicle the night and the days of wandering the city and the freedom from chains and send them out to his friends so they might do the same, in their own way, when their release dates came.
He made it to seventeen cups before he stopped keeping track of what he’d spent and just started doing it for the love of being clean and passing it along.
“Be the example that you wanted to see when you were there yourself,” he said. “The thanks you’ll get comes when it changes from, “God, how am I never going to do this thing again,” to “Thank God I never have to do that again.”
I think of the Professor as I stand in my flannel robe and morning slippers watching the last drops of coffee fall into the pot. I pour a cup and drink,
To the good life.
To living over merely existing.
To finding the moment where it is
Where you are
To going out and getting some.
“Here’s to the coldest day of the year,” I say.
And taking a sip, I burn my tongue.
Hot Dogs, the Showbox & The Perpetual Now
I’m seeing three fine bands at the Showbox tonight.
Red Fang from Portland is headlining, Torche, and a band called Whores is opening.
I got the ticket the minute I found out about the show, and the six dollars insurance in case it turned out I couldn’t go.
Not going to lie, I’ve put a lot of time in waiting for this date to come and now it’s here.
The new Whores album shows they’ve matured, somehow louder than they were before.
I had tickets to a Torche show when they played a few years back at El Corazon and I couldn’t go because I didn’t know I’d lost my wallet at the Intronaut show and I ordered a large plate of French toast and ate it all before I realized what I’d done.
That’s how I got kicked out of the Five Points Café.
They took my ID until I came back and paid, but I was in a blackout and forgot, and by the time I went back they’d already thrown it away. So I tipped the waitress from that night twenty bucks and sprained my ankle jaywalking on the way to El Corazon, but they wouldn’t let me in without an ID so I never got to see Torche, which probably worked out in my favor since my ankle was in pretty bad shape… and that was before the adrenaline wore off from a twenty block walk to the show, then twenty-five more to where I needed to go to catch the last bus south. By the time I finally sat down my whole foot was swollen and blue.
I couldn’t imagine the effect of wedging myself against the stage and having the whole crowd stomp on it before the night was through.
I missed a good show though, I know.
But now I’ve got another chance to go.
Red Fang I’ve seen a bunch of times and they’re always worth twice the ticket price, so I’m pretty excited about the whole thing. No twenty degrees is going to stop me from standing alone in front of the stage with no one to talk to for the hour it’ll take for the show to start.
I find a clean pair of jeans and cinch them to my waist with a black leather belt, and pull on an old Helm’s Alee tee-shirt, a size too small, for a tight first layer that will stick close enough to keep me warm.
Next is an extra-large long-sleeve thermal shirt, grey as cigarette ash.
I tuck both shirts into my jeans and throw on a maroon-colored tee-shirt with Rage Against the Machine written across the chest in plain white typewriter letters.
A tight black skull-cap yanked down over my ears, some shoes, and I’m ready to go.
My girl gives me an up and down once-over and flattens her lips.
“Wear two pairs of socks,” she says. “Your feet are going to freeze on the sidewalks.”
Sliding on the heavy black winter jacket she gave me as an early Christmas gift, I know it’s a good idea.
I kiss her on the lips, then the cheek, then the forehead.
“Have fun. Be safe. I wish I could go with you.” She frowns a bit.
“I know babe.”
I got a paperback book of J.D. Salinger’s short stories from a girl who studied English in Germany. It fits perfectly in my back pocket and keeps my attention on the bus ride up Pacific.
The sun goes down too early in the winter.
The street lights are already on, with a haze of squabbling white lines in their glow. Otherwise, in the dark, it’s impossible to tell it’s snowing. I stand underneath an overpass, hands in the pockets of my winter jacket, waiting on a connecting route; cars rushing up 24th, their headlights too bright to stare at, their heaters all on high.
My fingers are numb after ten minutes and I’ve got to keep switching which hand I hold the phone with, shoving the other one in my pocket as I look online for a place to buy gloves near the venue.
Doors open at eight, show starts at nine.
When the 594 Express arrives I’m standing by the bus stop sign, rubbing my hands together, waiting in line to get on.
The bus pulls up and I sit in the back.
We’re downtown in no time.
Twenty five minutes goes by and when I look up from a Salinger story called The Laughing Man, Seattle’s skyline is all lit up and shining from the maze of freeway interchanges we’re on south of the city.
Then it’s all the way up 4th Avenue with the reflection of my face staring back at me in the bus window with a smear of buildings behind it.
I get off at Westlake, Fourth & Pine, and turn my ear buds down low to still hear the city sounds and walk with warm toes through crowds of people in skull caps and winter clothes.
The wind bites my face down Pine to Pike Place, and the venue’s right there across from the Market.
I show up wearing new gloves, ten minutes to eight and nobody’s in line yet. A block down is a coffee shop where I get a large drip, then walk back to the Showbox, and still nobody’s lined up.
So I buy a hot dog with cooked onions from a sidewalk vender and pause before eating it to reflect on where I was then and where I’m at now.
I nod my head to the good life, standing alone in silent nostalgia on the sidewalk, steam from the extra onions heating my nose, with people like Chris and B&E Brad, Mikey from Pittsburgh, my boy Kevin, Shoestring Johnny and a few others on my mind. People I knew on a different Coast, in a different life.
I drink several hot gulps of coffee from the paper to-go cup in the name of ten years off the dose.
The hot dog is your basic five dollar sidewalk dog, six if you want cream cheese. Toasted bun, caramelized onions, not much in the name of size and taste, but leaning against the outside wall of the Showbox, standing under the marquee, listening to Whores run through an old classic for sound check, I ate the best dog of my hot dog eating days… people just walking by up First Avenue like big shit wasn’t going down inside.
These times when reality suspends itself and the moment is naked in front of you, and there’s nowhere in the world you’d rather be than right where you’re at, and when everything feels like a movie and you’re totally immersed in what’s going on around you, the sense of Now becomes a palpable thing. This Now is the glue that holds the Professor’s cure together; finding it in everyday situations. When the band comes out onto stage and the crowd erupts and the sound pounds and rolls and all that electricity flows through him, he’s one hundred percent there; he’s totally present, and no part of him is on auto pilot. Like a sunset over the ocean, once it’s pierced the horizon and begun to disappear, there’s a finite moment of awareness that exists until it’s gone beneath the water.
The fact that the moment ends both defines and destroys the Now.
It’s always now but it feels like Now is always ending somehow.
My coffee substitutes a glass of champagne as I toast to that magical elixir that turns unimaginative hot dogs into glimpses of life affirming clarity. I drink to the naked moment, the palpable Now, then throw away the cup and watch a bunch of bouncers in black jackets and skullcaps beefing it up at the ticket counter, waiting for a line to start building as I stand,
free to move about the cabin,
a slave to nothing, answering to no one.
Just a regular schnook.
The Bottomless Cup
Only a few people have gathered, standing around in black jeans with lit cigarettes sticking out of wiry beards, and with tattoos on their faces and hands. There’s a pale girl with holes in her pants and purple hair. She’s drunk and dancing with a street lamp about five shots down on that fifth of tequila in her trunk.
When my phone rings it’s an old friend from out-of-town. I decide to walk around the block to try and stay moving. It couldn’t have taken more than four or five minutes but when I get back to the venue there’s already a line down to the corner of Pike.
“Fuck.” I take my place in line behind a rhinoceros faced punk with flared nostrils and greasy green hair.
Then I remember the bar next door to the Showbox has an inside entrance to the venue, and as long as you buy a drink you can hang out inside where it’s warm and they’ll let you into the show before they open the doors to the sidewalk.
“That’s why there was no line,” I think under my breath. “Of course they were all inside. It’s goddamn freezing out here.”
I look around. There’s a few people approaching but they’re not dressed like fans of any of these bands. So I jam my hands into the pockets of my pants and leave my place in line and try the bar that used to be The Green Room, but is now apparently under new ownership.
It still looks the same inside as I open the door to a 3X sized black tee-shirt with SECURITY printed in white letters across the back. The bouncer wearing it has a head like a wrinkled potato. He’s sitting on a barstool with his back to me, blocking the door.
The last of a herd of people are filing by him into the show.
He nods at them and turns to me, his brows strained over his yellow eyes.
I dig for my ID but it’s tangled in a ball of crumpled money and toothpicks and sugar packs and wrapped together by the wires of my ear buds so tight that when I pull it all out I’m standing there holding a ball of wadded up cash and twist ties.
“I’m a grab a drink real quick before the show,” I say, riffling through the mess.
“Get a drink inside.” He nods toward the back of the line.
“Do you still do that where if you buy a drink you can get in the show early? I’ll buy two.”
“We already did that.”
I can see on his face if I’d have just come at him with my ID ready I’d have gotten in no problem.
I untangle my license and stuff the rest back in my pocket so as not to be walking by everyone with a fistful of money, even if it is mostly crumpled up ones.
The back of the line has now wrapped around the corner and is headed up the sidewalk of Pike St.
So much for being right up against the stage.
I take my place in line and inch forward a little at a time until I get back up to security. By now I’ve got my gloves off, my ticket in my hand with my ID; and my nose, cheeks and fingers are numb from the cold. At the door I fill a plastic basket with anything metal… my phone, pocket change, my money ball and ear buds, my battery charger. There’s a metal detector, a security wand and a pat down and I’m in the place, shaking off the cold.
I push by hordes of people buying tee shirts and pass straight by the bar. Normally I’d grab a Shirley temple and walk around talking to strangers, but today I lay my jacket on the stage directly to the left of the center microphone and wait.
It’s me and about seven or eight other people lined up directly along the stage, and I ignore them all, as well as the seven or eight hundred more that come in the door behind me.
Instead of socializing, I put my ear buds in and prop my phone up on the stage behind the center feedback monitor, and kill an hour watching the new episode of History Channel’s Vikings on an app that lets me watch cable television on my phone. The next time I turn around there’s a hundred people or so behind me, talking, laughing, shouting.
I can’t hear them over the sound of medieval violence.
The drum kit and amplifiers, cords and mic-stands wait patiently along with us until the guys from Whores come out onto stage and plug in.
They make a whole lot of noise for three people.
Once the first note sounds and the cymbals crash over the thunder of the crowd, I know that all of the hassle of getting downtown and the long process of connecting routes it’ll take to get home is worth it.
Time is suspended in a glory hole for my soul.
In the still of the moment I am whole.
A furry of feedback and roaring distortion, familiar screams and frenzied motion, I’m overtaken by movement with a bobble head and a full chest.
The first set is better than I’d expected, and I’d expected a lot from these guys.
When they leave the stage I stand wait for the next band, Torche, to set up and run through their sound check.
They come with a rolling sound that pounds like lumps of sludge tumbling around in the dryer. The crowd jars me into the stage as the first notes ring and I’m overcome with power. Fueled. Cleaned. Renewed. I am lifted. The audience churns with electric flesh and each kick of the drum punches my chest with cannon ball force. The guitars wail like a toaster in a shower stall and I’m consumed with gratitude to be free of the chains I kept myself bound in for so many years.
I think of all of those friends I know who are still down in the dirt and bleeding and wish they were here with me.
But I know if they were I’d never be where I am.
No words can confess the gratitude of not being at the mercy of my meddlesome dark side. A vibration lifts me and I rise to the ceiling, above the crowd of people and the singing, above the venue and the city until Seattle is nothing but a bunch of tiny lights in the nighttime below me, and I merge with eternity, thankful for the opportunity to have broken free.
By the time Red Fang takes the stage the floor is packed and my comfortable elbow room has been replaced by shoulders to shoulders. This is the band everyone’s come to see. This is the name out on the marquee. Red Fang are local boys, somewhat. Portland.
Pabst Blue Ribbon heroes, well-loved in this town and the next.
Their sound leaps from the speaker stacks straight into the ears, raping the dead air with deafening precision. From the first song to the last I’m bent over the stage and dry humped by eight or nine hundred sweaty bearded men in skull caps and black denim as high voltage hysteria electrifies the people behind me.
I won’t lie, at times I thought I might be crushed.
The stage in my crotch, my face on a black speaker box, and my hands jammed down on a furry of thick black wires, I’m so close to the band I can smell the beer seeping from their pours, and it smells like the sweet stench of salvation.
These are the moments.
Unrestrained. Free reign. Shackle-less and unchained.
Breathe it in while it lasts,
Because it never lasts long enough.
I dreamed for decades of being where I am right now, back when I was neck-deep in the tar pits of Youngstown, Ohio. I had suffered my arms’ hunger. I had clawed to get out. Spent. Depleted. Absent and weakened, I’d torn down any trust I had in my hometown until I was in a position that I’d rather start over homeless in a strange city and work my way back up being clean, than live any longer in the depraved obscenity I called a life.
The geographical cure only works if you’ve had enough… and only if you don’t go back to doing the same shit you were doing when you left.
The weight of eight hundred bodies behind you, pushing toward the same wall you’re up against, the power struggle to remain there without being ripped back by any number of greasy long-haired truck mechanics in cutoff tank tops and steel toe boots, and the threat of being kicked in the mouth by shirtless stage diving fans fueled on alcohol and adrenaline with amphetamine feet flailing behind them as they jump… it’s a violent place, the front row. Not as violent as about three rows back though, where the pit churns with angst and flying fists pumping in an orgy of aggression and gritted teeth. I can’t even turn my head long enough to look at it without being slammed back into the stage with the force of ten Roman gladiators. The crowd is so violent with energy, so packed and excited, that I can’t even reach in my back pocket to snap a picture of the band with my phone.
Eventually I find it easiest to just lean my whole upper body on the stage and support my weight on a forearm. This puts my face directly on the speaker of the guitar monitor. My eardrums recoil before submitting to the inevitability that I’m pinned down and nothing is going to change that.
In any other situation, this position would put me into a fight or flight panic with fists swinging and feet scrambling to get out.
Instead my grin stretches earlobe to earlobe. My head and body rock with rhythm. I’m a buoy in the ocean’s waves, helpless to its force, alive with the eternity of the moment inside.
After the show, the rhythm guitarist bends over and hands me the setlist and smacks a few outstretched hands of some maniac fans. Then house lights come up and the crowd thins out and I can breathe again.
A stampede of black tee shirts files for the exit and I make my way outside where seventy or eighty of them stand around smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk. The cold hits me like a panic. I walk past them, my breath rising above me, and pull my skull-cap down over my ringing ears. The silence outside seems so quiet it’s loud somehow. Sweat drenched but still warm as toast in my new winter coat, only my nose and cheeks froze on my twenty block walk to the Five Points Café, right there by the Space Needle.
Inside, it’s warm and smells like hamburgers and bacon. I sit on an empty stool at the counter and pull up a menu. The waitress walks by and I order a coffee.
The place is loud with all of those afterhours barflys trying to talk at once.
A spindly kid with a slender unshaven face and beer breath gets up from the seat next to me. He starts toward the door then stops, says something I can’t hear, and then turns back around to pick up the backpack he almost forgot on the stool next to where he’d been sitting.
“That would have sucked,” I said, nodding toward the bag.
“Eh, they make more.”
“They make more what… backpacks?”
The kid hikes the bag onto his shoulder and leans in close to my ear as if I wouldn’t be able to hear him, and in his barroom voice he says, loud enough to be heard over Lou Reed blaring from one of the best jukeboxes in town, “My uncle used to say that shit all the time… they make more… of anything… so like… don’t sweat it, you know? You lose a book, they make more. Lose your girl, they make more. Lose a backpack… you know…”
“They make more, yeah,” I said. “I like it. So… don’t worry so much.”
“Yeah, fuggetaboutit.” He almost shouts the words over the music and the noisy customers. “I live my life by it. Gotta have a code.”
I smile and nod. The waitress brings coffee.
“What’s your code?” he asks me.
I answer without thinking about it. “Do Whatcha like.”
“And do you?” The kid wipes his nose on his sleeve and zips up his jacket.
“Does the pope shit in a church? Whatever the fuck I want.”
“Way to be.” He yanks a blue stocking cap over his head. “Way to be,” he says again as he leaves.
I eat a plate of bacon and eggs, hash browned potatoes and toast. Then fifteen minutes later I order an English muffin with extra peanut butter and I wash it all down with six hot cups of coffee.
Breakfast is my favorite meal and I eat it all day long.
The first bus I need hits 3rd & Pine at 3:32am. I pass the time with another Salinger story and a conversation with a pudgy black-bearded man in thick glasses that just left the Showbox too. I recognize the wristband. We talk about music as he dips his sausage in the syrup of his French toast. At ten after two I pay my bill and buy an extra-large tee-shirt hanging on the wall above the bar that says, Don’t Be A Dick.
“Nice,” says the stout man in glasses. “Words to live by.”
“That’s my code,” I say, laying down a ten-dollar tip. “Key to world peace right there. If everybody just wasn’t a dick to each other we wouldn’t have wars, famine… we wouldn’t have racism or violence… we wouldn’t need prisons, nobody would fight over religion. Just don’t be a dick, you know?
“Don’t be a dick, huh?”
“Just don’t be a dick, man. That simple.”
“You should be in politics,” he says. “I’d vote for you.”
I carry my coat to the men’s room and pull the tee-shirt on over my other shirts. From the urinals in the 5 Points Café you can stand with your dick in your hand and look, through a glass-covered hole in the wall, out over the space needle through a periscope positioned on the roof. I watch the elevator climb to the top, then wash my hands and ready myself to brave the cold.
Downtown Seattle is the perfect size, large enough to be a big city but small enough to cover on foot if need be.
I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.
I look down at my phone and realize the clock I was going by is set to bar-time, so when I get to 3rd & Pine I have twenty minutes to wait out in the cold instead of five. I call my girl on the phone; she says she just got home from work a few minutes ago. At the top of Post Alley, I stand for a long time and look out over the Puget Sound. A giant Ferris wheel stands still, lit up directly in front of me. Nearby smokestacks cough up steam as white as the breath coming from my mouth. It seems to glow in the frigid night sky.
By the time the 124 bus comes I’m tired and spent and ready for bed. My ears are still ringing and my feet are raw. I feel like I’ve been beat to shit.
My whole body is numb and hurts, but staring out over the water at the twinkling lights along the shore, as the wind-chill dips into the teens, I know there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than right here, talking to my girl on the phone and shivering in the cold, my teeth chattering so hard I can barely speak.
No matter how low the temperature drops it still won’t be half as low as I sank to hit my bottom. No amount of gratitude can sufficiently cover how I feel about not being there now.
I’m on a Rehab high that never came down, and I’m kept afloat by passing it along.
My worst day up is better than my best day down, I’ve heard people say. Though I can’t agree fully, I get their meaning.
Savor the moment when the moment is good,
And it will always be there to draw upon.
I thaw out on the bus with the nameless ghosts of Friday night.
For those with nowhere else to go, it’s a warm alternative to sleeping outside. For six bucks you can get eight hours.
“Been there,” I think, pulling the book from my back pocket. I pick up the same story I’d been reading, but end up just staring out the window at nothing.
At the end of the line, I take the link to the airport and wait outside underneath a tiny spotlight on the bus stop sign that lets the driver know I’m there.
When the 574 Express comes by heading south, I get on and sit in the back.
At 24th & Pacific I get off.
Nearly six in the morning and I still have forty minutes to wait for the Route 1 bus down Pacific Avenue.
I stand outside with my jittering shoulders, rubbing my hands together to stay warm.
“Fucking Saturday schedules. Takes for ever to get anywhere on the bus, why don’t I have a car?” I swear under my breath.
Public transit has always been a lynchpin of the Bohemian starving artist lifestyle I romance to mysef. Since I don’t know many people on the West Coast, and I really don’t have anywhere to be that I can’t walk to, anytime I’m on public transportation, I’m just floating around exploring new territory, taking trains to Seattle or Portland for no reason, balanced on a series of instants, taking them as they come. Hurl yourself into the unknown and anything can happen. But now, with this chilling weather and these Saturday schedules, a forty minute drive is stretched into an agonizing three-hour ordeal.
Just as I’m annoyed, a handicapped man, literally cut in half, wheels over and asks me for a cigarette.
“I quit,” I say. “I don’t smoke.”
His torso ends just below the ribs. There are no legs, no stumps, no hips, no genitalia… just some tubes leading to a few bags attached to his wheelchair. He’s got a dirty blanket over what would have been is lap. It doesn’t cover much. I give him my last three dollars and tell him the gas station on the corner opens six a.m., and at least he can get a hot coffee.
We talk a bit and wait in silence for a long time. Then he wheels away without a word. Watching him leave I’m ashamed I’d gotten so annoyed with my circumstance. It may be a pain in the ass to get home but at least I’ve got a warm place to go home to.
It’s well past seven in the morning when I get there.
I open the front door to my building. A blast of warm air hits me in the face. As I walk down the hall I lean against the wall and drag myself along until I hit the door at the very end of the hall marked Unit #E4, and I go in.
Exhausted, I undress and flop into the bed next to my beautiful girlfriend, still vibrating from a night of excitement. I look at her skin in the soft morning light, her full lips and naked breasts. One’s own bed is their ultimate safe space. Finally warm, I close my eyes, content where I am, and with nowhere I’d rather be.
I wake up to a sharp knock on the door. I answer it and a delivery man stands with a brown box in his hands. I sign for it, bring it in, and open it. It’s a Christmas gift from my sister in Youngstown, an expensive bean grinder with a pound of choice coffee.
Couldn’t have been better timing, I’m just about out.
My eyes still sleep heavy, I examine the bag. There’s a picture of a zipper printed over a zip-lock seal where I’m supposed to tear it. EZ Open, it says, and I know right there I’m going to have problems opening it.
I yank at the sides, and turn it around and pull at the flaps. I swear at it and wrestle it to the floor and end up tearing the whole side of the bag open, ruining the stay-fresh zipper.
My girl harasses me over my inability to open anything that’s supposed to be easy to open. Popcorn bowls, the ones with the tops she has no problem peeling off, end up having to be taped back together when I do it.
As the beans grind and the first pot of the morning is bubbling out, the kitchen smells of fresh coffee, and I begin to wake up, already formulating the new letter I’m about to start writing, as soon as I’ve got a full cup of coffee in front of me.