I woke up feeling much as I had every morning for a while; worried about money. I made myself a cup of tea, ate a banana, and checked the balance of my finances online. I did the math and made a credit card payment on a card near its limit in anticipation of the check I’d be getting the next day, wondered about how I’d have train fare to get work the next week, showered, and walked to a hotel in Berkeley that was having a hiring fair.
I was delighted to see that AM/PM had a 20 ounce cup of coffee for 97 cents, and sent a text to my girlfriend reporting my delight. She replied that she’d found five quarters, and I spent the rest of the walk thinking about how good finding a dollar twenty-five would make me feel. The line for the hiring fair was ridiculous, it stretched out the front door of the vacant storefront, an old Ross that I’d stolen socks and pants from in headier times, around the corner and most of the way down the block. There must have been a hundred people inside, and hundred more in line. Construction workers were cutting up the sidewalk across the street, and my hour in line was marred by the hellish noise. By the time I reached the front door, I really had to piss.
A man in a suit standing in front of a “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS” sign handed me an application, and I spent a frantic fifteen minutes filling it out, putting an asterisk at the bottom of the previous employment section to add the hotel experience I’d had five years ago. My completed application qualified me to stand in another line behind about sixty people for an on-the-spot interview. I thought about my chances of getting interviewed and still making it to the job I didn’t have enough hours at on time, and also weighed my intention of getting to the diner near my job before noon to drop off an application. After fifteen minutes, ten people had been interviewed and I had to get going. I left my application with a man wearing a red tie who shook my hand and thanked me for my time.
Waiting for my BART train to depart, I decided I didn’t want to apply at the diner anyways. The cost of taking the train across the bay into San Francisco was one of many things breaking my budget, and I tried to convince myself I was making a prudent move in limiting my search for a second job to the East Bay. A girl running to get on the train dropped her cell phone down onto the tracks and started freaking out, which made me realize I wasn’t having the worst day ever, I just really had to fucking piss. There was a Japanese guy on the sidewalk outside of BART in San Francisco wearing this amazing purple and white jacket that said something to the effect of “Mickey Mouse is the leader of the Disney gang”, and giving him directions brightened my mood a bit.
An interesting thing happened at work when a girl recognized me from my days as a cafeteria cashier in college, but walking to get a burrito at lunch my mood soured again. A woman asked to borrow my lighter, and after handing it over she said “Thank God! I’ve asked five people…people are too healthy these days. Not smoking anymore…” This led me to a debate I’d been having about quitting smoking to save money, and I thought about how backwards it was that I wasn’t thinking of my health at all. My feet hurt from all the walking I’d been doing lately, and, still thinking about that dollar twenty-five, I gazed longingly at the gum stains and broken glass on the sidewalk, imagining they were all coins, and how if they were, I could collect enough to buy myself a new life.
After work, I didn’t feel like going home, so I went to the library and sat started reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Holy fuck, if you ever want to feel worse about life, read about a holocaust memoir. It took me nearly an hour to get through the preface and the introduction alone, and as I sat crying and staring out the window at Civic Center, I thought about how to measure ten million people. The population of San Francisco is about a million, and so many people come into the city every day, tourists and workers, that I’ll estimate that around noon it’s safe to say there’s a million people there. Think about the entire city of San Francisco being killed at noon, then fully repopulated by nightfall with people shipped in like animals on railroad cars to die at noon the following day. Imagine that happening for ten days in a row, and then another million people showing up on the eleventh day, going to the bank and doing laundry and writing letters and walking down Larkin Street and whistling, do-dee-doot-doo-doo.
I went for a walk to drink some malt liquor and try and reconcile the waves of emotion passing through me, and passed a crowd of people leaving a church with a smudge of ash on their forehead. The malt liquor was putting me in a more optimistic mood, but I still didn’t know what to make of it. Does Ash Wednesday mean anything to me? Should it? Should I find other people’s faith encouraging? On BART, there was a man who looked to be in his late thirties sitting with a teenager who kept making barking noises and unintelligible utterances. I moved over to them asked the older guy if the retarded kid was his son. No, He’s My Brother. Oh. Do You Take Care Of Him A Lot? He sighed. Yeah, My Folks Are Getting On In Years. Does That Barking Ever Get Annoying? He regarded me for a moment, let out a short laugh, and said Yeah, I Gotta Admit It Does, But What Are You Gonna Do?
I had been giving a lot of though lately to the sentience of people who I can’t communicate with, because some friends of mine had had a son a few weeks earlier. I found myself looking at their baby and being driven nuts wanting him to grow older so I could talk to him, find out what he liked. I asked the guy, Do You Ever Wonder What He’s Thinking? This he did not appreciate. I Know What He’s Thinking. He Can Communicate Feelings, And He Has Them, Feelings And Desires And Fears, Just Like The Rest Of Us. I felt like an idiot. I took a seat at the other end of the train. The night before, I’d been riding the train home from work with my friend Chris, who had told me his eighteen year-old cat was in declining health, and he was wrestling with the notion of putting her down. His opinion was that since he’d never had any damn clue what the cat was thinking, who was he to think she’d be happier dead than alive and in pain?
That night, I stood and looked at myself in the mirror, alive with my feelings and desires and fears, and thought again of the guy in the Mickey Mouse jacket, and Elie Wiesel and the ten million, and the Catholics, and the retarded kid and his brother, and of Nolan, my friends’ baby. No need to make sense of it. I slept on it all.