Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Seventeen

Posted by ilbebe on December 24, 2008

At a certain level, some have said, the meaning of life can be reduced to pondering what one is going to eat next. In the United States, many of us are fortunate to have the resources, both mentally, physically, and financially, to consider several options nearly every time we ask ourselves this. Against this background, perhaps Billy Joel said it best: Darling, I don’t know why we go to extremes.

In the spring of 2007, I was fired from the job I’d had as a law office file clerk for nearly two years, so I took a job doing pizza delivery. That job turned out better than I ever could have dreamed; cash in pocket every night and all the pizza I could eat, plus it completed my spectacular devolution from promising young college graduate to guy doing a job that doesn’t even really require you to speak English in just under five years… I was content in nearly every way imaginable; in fact I was gaining weight for the first time in a year. After having that job for three weeks, my car was stolen and I had to resign my post.

I’d had travel plans for the summer of 2007 lined up for many months, my original scheme had been to save up money and quit the law office around mid-June, with three months of travel my reward for sticking it out at that hellhole for so long. Some tickets had already been purchased, so I figured fuck it, apparently God doesn’t want me working, I’ll just go into credit card debt to finance this shindig. And the summer, by and large, was a blast. But then there was me, drunk in Chicago, telling a friend I felt lonely a lot, especially when couples left bars together and I stayed. Then there was me, at a friend’s unofficial bachelor party, eating the remainder of his recently seized dog’s psych meds to see if something interesting might happen. Then there was me at that friend’s wedding reception, putting a cigarette out on my best friend’s shoulder just because I wanted to hurt something.

Finally there was me, broke and starving at a highway rest stop somewhere in Oregon, finishing Bill Ayers’ memoir Fugitive Days and crying my eyes out. I’d invested part of my last forty bucks in two packs of cigarettes because I figured smoking would be an acceptable substitute for eating until I got back to California and could borrow some money from a friend or my mother. I’m alive, apparently it worked. Taking your literal last dollar out of the bank is a strangely liberating experience, and tears and cigarettes make excellent appetite suppressants.

If only I’d started smoking before September 11, 2001. I remember that morning very well. I awoke, showered, finished labeling a tape I’d made of the first two Cake albums for a friend, threw the tape in my backpack and headed to school. My first class of the day was being held in the campus library, and I saw an easel with a notepad that read ‘CNN on in room xx’ as I walked in. I recall thinking, what a great service, to have CNN on every morning so people can watch the news if they want to.

An hour later I staggered of the library, numb. I don’t what I would have done with myself if I hadn’t been slowly moving through the university quad when a fellow came through playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. Finally the tears came. Bless that guy. He reminded me that I was safe and clean, and I think of him often now when I need to focus and get things accomplished. This book is for him, in a way. I went to the cafeteria to get something to eat, and a friend told a story about his pal in the army and a strange encounter with a Cambodian prostitute. Later that day the girl I liked called and invited me to a barbecue to celebrate the cancellation of the rest of the school day, and at that barbecue, I held her hand for the first time. Three days we made out in a movie theater, and I’d have to say that all things considered, it was a good week.

The next time tears were able to suppress my appetite was less than a month later when my roommate’s father killed himself, distraught over many things, including but not limited to money and a growing sense of unease stemming from the attacks of September Eleventh.

The next time Amazing Grace really moved me, it was February Tenth, 2006, at a memorial service for my best friend’s mother, killed by complications arising from a fucking spiderbite through neglect and mistreatment by her insurance company. Later in that service, my friend Chris sang a stunning rendition of All You Need Is Love, and I was so glad my mother was there next to me for support. I might have lost it otherwise. I was talking about that day with my best friend last year, and he said I can’t even listen to those fucking songs any more. I think that’s a Goddamn shame. Those songs are for you, Casey, as they were for your mother. They are our songs, and no one’s passing can take them from us. Fucking death rituals.

Then again, I have eaten some great food at funerals. If you are ever buried alive, eat the dirt and let the worms shit in your mouth, and perhaps you will be rescued, perhaps you will live. If you feel buried alive, remember that you are not. Have a sandwich, listen to a song that makes you cry, and sing along. Hug a stranger; you might get assaulted, you might not. Close your eyes and know that no one can tell you when to open them except yourself.

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