It’s January 3 and I’m still here! I managed to get through the holidays (actually Christmas, my birthday, and New Year’s Eve…aka the Trilogy Of Stress) without doing anything drastic. I don’t really get those thoughts, at least not often enough to be concerned. And I’m not much for resolutions at midnight. One, I’m already asleep and I’ll be damned if I’m going to drag my ass out of bed just to testify to a mirror that I’ll lose weight next year. Two, my resolution is ongoing; to get out of this revolving door of uncertainty. It’s like the worst game of Let’s Make A Deal ever. Wayne Brady allows me to choose a door and it’s always a Zonk. “Rick, behind door number 2 was a development deal with the OWN Network, worth $500,000! But let’s see what you chose instead…Aw it’s another week, MAYBE, in the Santa Ana Motor Lodge. Your stay includes dirty sheets, restless sleep until a police raid next door wakes you, and insects you didn’t even know existed. Thanks for playing.” So adding a mountain directly behind the mountain in front of me doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Anyway, I guess others have reset the clock of life because it’s a new year. I got past the Trilogy Of Stress (Remember, no “Happy”…just “Hey Rick, Birthday!” will suffice, thanks), and I’m still chugging along. So let’s get the year started right with a story of someone who gave me reason to hope.
I think what surprises me the most is that there are still a good number of people who will perform acts of compassion and kindness without prompting of any kind. They are people who have no particular reason to care about you or your situation, but care they do, however limited the caring may be. They’re not going to offer you the guest room in their house once Mom goes back to Wichita, but still…
A few days before Christmas I noticed something . The driving income had consistently been going the wrong direction. Where a month ago it had been possible to reach $115+ in about 8 hours, it had now dropped to about $90, meaning I had to add 2-3 hours of delivering avocado toast and Cajun fries daily to stay sheltered.
Note: For you math fiends out there who quickly discerned $90 divided by 8 is $11.25/hour, so theoretically I should ONLY need to add 1-2 hours per day, all other things being equal, you are correct. BUT my eight hours of driving were already consuming the prime delivery hours, so you need to take into consideration that working from 2-3 AM might bring but one delivery. So you’ll find yourself in a freezing car, for you can’t waste precious gas running the engine just for a little warmth. You make a mental note that after your next drop-off you need to retrieve the testicle which froze off earlier. I digress…Essentially you figure your hourly rate will drop (like previously mentioned testicle) to about a SWEET $8/hour, meaning about 3 additional hours to stay sheltered. Nice try math majors.
Having taken a mere one day off over the course of an entire year was taking its toll. I was goddamn exhausted. And looking towards the higher holiday rates terrified me. I didn’t have the energy to get the extra time in, and the holidays were closing in fast. I started preparing a Plan B, meaning what things in my room would be discarded, and which would get packed into the Camry, along with a shedding Cracker (So sorry about the little white hairs in your spaghetti Ma’am). A real sense of dread was starting to wash over me. I walked into the front office to make my room payment. The woman behind the desk was punching my data into her tablet, ready to re-key my room (when you’re homeless, as opposed to a tourist, the card key must be renewed daily. It’s how motels ensure you don’t become a squatter). I lamented in a muted, shamed tone that their holiday rates were going to be brutal. It wasn’t so much a complaint as it was a comment. I couldn’t blame the law of supply and demand for not considering my monetary policy.
I had expected the typical, “Yeah I guess that can really suck” or something similar. Instead she gave the slightest of sympathetic smiles and said, “Let me see what I can do”. She started punching in more data with the expediency of an old Buddhist monk figuring out a complex math problem with an abacus. She lowered my rate. She did this for the next seven days. Her grand finale came on New Year’s Eve, when the rate was supposed to be about $120. I had been sweating NYE for over 2 weeks. She lowered it to $79. I went back to my room, relieved. Her random act allowed me to survive (one of the FEW times you’ll hear me use “survive” without mentioning a burning building, war, or weather catastrophe) New Year’s Fucking Eve!
I’m not an emotional sort, usually. I have too much to do to allow sadness to dominate any part of my day. The last time I cried was 7 years ago when my father died. But when I got back to the room, the dams burst. Here was someone with no reason to give a shit about me. I’m sure she’d heard every sad story known to man many times over. But for some reason, in a seemingly random act of compassion, she took pity on ME…Rick. There wasn’t an opening sniff, or build-up of tears; the baggage of sadness, anger and frustration (a horrible name for a 70’s rock group by the way) of the previous year and a half was coming out, and it can best be described as an uncontrolled wail. It went on for a 15 minutes, followed by a heavy sigh. Then it started again. It kept up for nearly an hour. It was my release valve. Poor Cracker didn’t have a clue. He was giving me this, “Oh shit. We out of food?” bewildered look. That evening I laid my head down on a pillow of dried snot (sorry for the visual). If you’re wondering why I didn’t turn the pillow over, then you haven’t been paying attention. The reverse side was worse. The emotional release was similar to a scab you’d resisted picking for days, weeks, and then one day it flakes off on its own, and there’s fresh skin underneath. My mind turned to those who may be on the brink and haven’t told anyone, and there’s no kind stranger to pull them back. It’s not mental illness; it’s the human condition. No man is an island, indeed.
I’ve always been terrible at accepting gifts, favors, anything. I’d much rather be the giver. But I knew in this case I had to do something for this lady; this middle-aged, tattooed, Hispanic angel. She didn’t seem to be the type with a budding stand-up career, so I couldn’t just write her a couple of one-liners about LA traffic. I had received from my mother 2 gift cards for Outback Steakhouse. I hadn’t eaten there in months and was really looking forward to a couple of simple sirloin alternatives to my regimen of fast food. The two meals would become one meal. I took one of the gift cards to the front desk and asked if she had been to the Outback a few miles away. She replied she hadn’t but she and her husband had always meant to. I reached in my pocket, and handed her the gift card, with the sincerest “thank you” I’d ever uttered. Nothing else needed to be said. She knew exactly what I meant and smiled back with a polite nod. There are times in life where less is more; where you should say the minimum, shut the fuck up, and take in the moment. This time at least, I’d handled it correctly. I turned and walked out. I had a shift to get to, but knew the sun would rise tomorrow.