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  LIFE AS A LOSER #119: "HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER."  
   
   
 

 Almost two years ago, I was interviewed by The Village Voice. The story was about dotcom kids — who had become accustomed to ludicrous salaries and affluent lifestyles — being thrown onto the street with little to show for their efforts when their respective dotcoms crashed.

(Iím realizing that recent Loser readers, those who donít remember the column in its Ironminds incarnation, might not have any idea that this whole series was once a part of that dotcom hysteria. Well, it was. For full background on the chaos, read this. That should get you up to speed. That will be the last link I put in here. Promise. This is not a weblog. We return you to your regularly scheduled programming. This coffee is VERY HOT; please use caution. We will not be undersold. The top ledge is not a step. Kid-tested, mother-approved. Lather, rinse, repeat. Youíre not gonna pay a lot for this muffler. Made with 100 percent natural ingredients. As seen on TV.)

The VV story, like just about everything written about the dotcom era, is hilariously dated, full of angstful twentysomethings fretting about how they canít believe their new offices donít have private masseuses. But thereís a little quote at the end that continues to resonate.

ďI really donít know where Iíll go,Ē Leitch said. ďI might stay here with some friends in the city. I have uncles in Philadelphia, so I might head there.Ē

According to Websterís, a drifter is defined as, ďOne who drifts (hey, thanks, Noah), especially a person who moves aimlessly from place to place or from job to job.Ē

Well, for a substantial number of months, friends, I was a full-fledged drifter. I donít mean someone who moved around a lot on some sort of voyage of self-discovery. I mean someone who had no money, no place to go, nothing to do, absolutely zero worldly possessions. Iíll put it this way: Youíre reading a column by a former homeless guy.

I had nothing to my name but two suitcases full of clothes and books, and a cat carrier. Letís track those months.

October 2000 — Months behind on rent, I cry mercy and take a two-month sojourn to my cousin Dennyís home in Mattoon, Illinois. There, I eat his food, drink his beer, tie up his phone line, and sleep in his guest bed. I contribute nothing but tens of thousands of words for a book that will likely never be finished. Income during this period: $0.

December 2000 — Fearing that if I do not head back to New York when I had initially intended, I never will, I spend my last $65 to hop a Greyhound bus from Effingham, Illinois, to the Port Authority in New York City. It is a 25-hour trip, with stops in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and some other condemned properties I mercifully slept through. I do this even though Iím fully aware that when I get to the city, I have no money, no job, and nowhere to live. Income during this period: $0.

January 2001 — Out of options only a week after arriving, I finagle my way into my girlfriendís apartment in Brooklyn. Even though we hadnít been dating long and didnít know each other well enough to survive a drive uptown together, let alone sharing quarters, we convince ourselves it will work out because, heck, she canít just kick me to the street, can she? There, I eat her food, drink her beer, tie up her phone line, and sleep in her bed — well, for a week anyway, when I am then kicked to the couch, justifiably. Income during this period: $0.

Early February 2001 — She kicks me to the street, because, yes, she can. Scrambling, I plan to stay on a friendís couch for two weeks. I last a week, because ďitís getting crowded in here. You understand, Will, right?Ē Before I leave, I swipe some stray beer and food. Income during this period: $35, thanks to a used bookstore.

Mid February 2001 — A friend is invited to stay in a SoHo loft for two weeks that is manned with 36 cameras sending a live feed to a Website. (Will people in 10 years really believe what it was like here during the dotcom craze? Itís hard for me to fathom, and I was here.) This is a fascinating sociological experiment, worth documenting for the raw audacity of it, but this is lost on me. Iím just ecstatic that it has a full bar, a shower, and, most joyous, a washing machine. I contact my uncles in Philadelphia and tell them I have nowhere to go and that I may need to move in with them for a while. An hour later, I am interviewed by The Village Voice. I then speak to a friend in New Jersey about staying with him for a week before heading to Philadelphia, and he agrees. Months later, I will borrow a sizable amount of money from him, which, to this day, I have not yet paid back. Income during this period: $5, in change, swiped from the Webcam house ownerís dresser. I make a mental note to pay him back. I have not.

Late February 2001 — The day before I am to leave for New Jersey, fate intervenes. Not only do I learn I have been offered a job, but, upon a visit to a friendís house, I learn a neighbor has a spare room for a month that I can rent, and she doesnít even want the money upfront. I call off my friend in New Jersey and my uncles in Philadelphia, gleefully plop my suitcase and cat carrier on her couch, and declare myself home.

April 2001 — I find an apartment on the Upper East Side. A week after I move in, I am laid off. At my housewarming party, a friend points out that when she went through her datebook, she found four different addresses and three different phone numbers for me. Various temp jobs bring me to a new apartment, which brings me to my new job, which brings me to now.

I have lived in Inwood, a nifty residential neighborhood at the northwesternmost tip of Manhattan, for 10 months now. I have a stable home, awesome roommates, a bed, a desk, a computer (which doesnít work, but no matter), and even a litter box. I am as stable as I have been since I moved to New York in January 2000. But Iím still finding it difficult to shake the habits of a drifter.

To wit:

Over the last two months, I have slept in my office four times. This is not because I have been working all that diligently; I just wanted the air conditioning. I lay my head on my briefcase and crawl under my desk. My daily meal typically consists of the complimentary cereal my employers graciously provide.

My room has no decorations on the wall. My books are stacked on top of one another against the bed, as are my CDs. The roomís only light is a desk lamp borrowed from my roommates. I have a closet, but the majority of my clothes are folded neatly in a suitcase. If I feel a night has gone too late and I donít feel like catching the long subway ride home, I simply pass out on a friendís floor.

Recently, I had a busy day. I had work until 2 p.m., a job interview at three, and a softball game at six. This required three different sets of clothes. Rather than plan accordingly, perhaps making sure the outfits were where I needed them ahead of time, I simply folded a suit jacket, tie, pants, dress shoes, a T-shirt, sweatpants, and cap into a suitcase. I then dragged it across the city from point to point. This led to the inevitable moment when I had to explain to the woman I was trying to convince to give me a job why, exactly, I had brought carry-on luggage into her office.

This column is being written at work, simply because itís where I happened to be when I came up with this idea. The last six columns have been written on my roommateís computer, a friendís computer, a Kinkoís, a hotelís ďBusiness Center,Ē here at work, and on a notepad. That column was then read over the phone to a loyal friend, who graciously typed it out for me. It is logical for a writer to, lo, have a ready-made area where he produces his work, but a drifter has neither the time nor the resources for logic.

In this economy, one never knows how long any job can last or when weíll be tossed out with no severance and no parachute. I cannot say that financially I have prepared myself for this possibility Ö but I assure you, I know that I can handle it. I am quite resourceful. Thatís one way to look at it, I guess.

Hey Ö thatís a nice couch you have there.

 

*BT*

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