Lives of Quiet Desperation

January 16, 2015

After I quit the job at the newspaper, I needed to save money, so I moved into a cheap apartment building on University Hill. It was an old sorority house that had long since been abandoned by the perky, young coeds who had once resided in its floral-printed halls and was now haunted by the type of middle-age men who commonly stalk said coeds in horror movies.

My room was approximately fifteen feet by twenty, with just enough space for a single bed, a couch, a coffee table, and one of those tiny refrigerators that holds precisely one six pack of beer, four ketchup packets, half a candy bar, and two potatoes. The bathroom and kitchen were across the hall. Both were cleaned once a week by a quiet Mexican family who did not live in the building.

I found out about the apartment from my friend, a full-time journalist and part-time junkie who used to live in the very room I was now occupying. He was forced to relocate when he ran into trouble with his drug dealers, a father/son duo who lived next door. He stiffed the landlord and the dealers during his departure, but neither of them held it against me.

The landlord was a twenty-three-year-old kid who had received the apartment building as a graduation present from his father and was milking us for rent money until real estate prices in the neighborhood rose to a level that warranted selling the property, at which point he planned on moving to Belize and retiring at the age of thirty. He was a nice enough guy, but you couldn’t help but resent his boyish good looks and the baseball cap that was always cocked slightly askew on a messy brown nest of curls.

The rest of the residents were primarily harmless headcases and transients who had just gotten out of jail or rehab or grad school and had nowhere else to go. They were men, mostly. Sad men. Angry men. Broken men. Men who were either on medication or needed to be on medication. Alcoholics. Drug addicts. Control freaks. Weirdos. Losers. They reminded me of that line Thoreau wrote in Walden. “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” I say “they” but I lived there too, so I was one of the quiet and desperate I guess. There are worse things to be.

Occasionally some scruffy-looking hippie would show up with a guitar case and a copy of On the Road and try to turn the building into a commune. He’d post notes in the kitchen about hosting a drum circle in his room with free kombucha for all comers, and then he’d sit in there by himself playing folk songs until one in the morning before finally screaming “Fuck you all!” into the hall and slamming his door. Fortunately, the building seemed to repel these types of New Agey do-gooders and they were usually gone in a month.

On one occasion, a paranoid-schizophrenic with insomnia moved into the room next to mine. The building had no air conditioning, so during the summer it was almost unbearable. I’d sit in my underwear with the window open and a fan on, and I’d still have to take a cold shower every couple of hours to keep from passing out. But this guy was oblivious to the heat. He wore a ski mask, sunglasses, fleece hoodie, long pants, snow boots, and mittens, and then he would rap duct tape around the sleeves and pant legs so there was no skin exposed. In the middle of the night, he would slam the doors of the bathroom stalls for no apparent reason and then rant for thirty minutes about topics ranging from the CIA to the rising cost of milk to the reasons why black people couldn’t be trusted. He was there for less than three weeks before the landlord kicked him out. In a weird sort of way, I missed him after he was gone. When it’s too hot to sleep and you’re lying on your bed sweating and staring at the ceiling and you can’t get enough air in your lungs and all the molecules in your body suddenly start to freak out and you think “Maybe this is what madness feels like,” it’s comforting to have someone around to demonstrate the difference between insanity and a panic attack by screaming that Kentucky Fried Chicken is responsible for faking the moon landing.

The drug dealers and I got to be fairly good friends.  I mean, we didn’t go see Broadway musicals together or anything like that, but they would give me a head-nod in the hall, which was more than they did for anyone else in the building.  The son turned out to be some kind of computer wiz and he hooked me up with free cable and internet access in exchange for my Netflix password.  Every couple of months he would come over to my room and do something on my computer that gave it more memory or made it run faster or some such thing.  I never knew what was going on.  He would just knock on the door, enter my room without an invitation, sit down at my computer, and start typing away at breakneck speeds, all the while talking faster than seemed humanly possible.  He didn’t socialize much, but once he got started you couldn’t shut him up.  He was an unfortunate-looking guy: 25ish, pasty skin that was always moist to the touch, about eighty pounds overweight, almost bald on top with long, black hair on the sides and back, one of those patchy wispy beards grown by those who can’t really grow facial hair but refuse to give up the dream.  During these computer-repair visits, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about their lives.  Apparently, his father had been hit by a BMW earlier in the year, which was a huge stroke of luck.  It messed up his hip real good, but they ended up suing the guy and getting a $250,000 settlement.  However, the lawyers were still figuring out the legal mumbo-jumbo, so they couldn’t collect just yet.  In the meantime, they were holed up here, trying to stay off the street because they owed various drug suppliers money, which they would be able to pay after the settlement came in.  It was all sort of convoluted and I had trouble getting the details straight because he was talking so fast and banging away on my computer, but the gist of it was that I couldn’t tell anyone they were here.  Since he’d never told me his real name, I didn’t think that would be a problem.

One day, Son Drug Dealer knocked on my door, and when I opened it, he rushed into the room and slammed the door behind him.  “Don’t open that door for anyone,” he said.  I said, “Um…okay.”  He had shaved his head to the scalp and his beard was gone, and he was carrying a green backpack.  He said, “Can I trust you?”  I said, “Probably not.”  He ignored me.  “I need to leave something with you for a few hours.”  Before I could answer he launched into this story…

He and his father were making a drug delivery in Denver.  They’d been laying low for months, waiting for the lawsuit money to come in, but now they were behind on rent and they needed some cash.  So they agreed to run some heroin across town for this guy.  They picked up the heroin and then drove down the street minding their own business when a cop behind suddenly turned on his lights.  Father Drug Dealer started to freak out because he was on parole, and going on drug deliveries while you’re on parole is, well, bad.  The son was driving the car and he pulled into a church parking lot.  He didn’t know what to do.  He couldn’t let the cops catch them with this bag of drugs because his father would go back to prison and then they’d probably never collect that damn lawsuit money.  So the son waited until the cop got out of his car and started to walk toward them…and then he gunned the engine.  It just so happened that they were right next to an extremely busy street.  But they caught a lucky break in traffic.  They just missed two oncoming cars, jumped a traffic island, and took a screeching right turn.  In the meantime, Father Drug Dealer threw the heroin out the window.  They tore off down the street, took some rights, some lefts, and ended up in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  They ditched the car there, got on the bus, and came back to the apartment.  The car wasn’t registered in their name, so the cops couldn’t trace it back to them.  The only problem was that there was now $800 worth of heroin lying on Colfax and Son Drug Dealer had shaved is head and face to disguise himself and now he was going to take the bus back to Denver to see if he could find the drugs and he needed me to do him a big favor.  He looked me intensely in the eyes.  My heart began to hammer as he slowly started to unzip the backpack. I looked around the room for weapons. He reached inside the bag.

“Can you watch my cat?”

He pulled out a black-and-white kitten that could easily fit into a teacup.

“I just got him a few weeks ago.  His name is Grub.  My dad is staying with a friend until this all blows over, and I’m not sure how long this will take.  I don’t want to leave him alone.”

I managed to nod my head and croak, “Sure.”

So for the next seven hours, I sat on my couch reading a Philip K. Dick novel while Grub napped quietly beside me.  Son Drug Dealer returned after successfully finding the bag of heroin and making the delivery. He put Grub back in the bag, shook my hand, and returned to his room.

Two months later Father Drug Dealer had a heart attack and died.  A month after that the lawsuit check arrived in the mail.  I never saw Son Drug Dealer or Grub again.

Advertisements

The Rumpus is a wonderful website that publishes smart pop-culture writing. Recently, they accepted my essay, “Everybody Cut Loose,” about how the strange correlations between my life and the movie “Footloose.” I hope you like it.

About four months ago, I went to the Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, where a soft-spoken doctor with warm hands punctured my scrotal sac with a sharp hermostat and sealed off my vasa deferentia, a procedure commonly known as a vasectomy. Several weeks ago, I took my semen to a local lab and found out that Dr. Warm Hands did her job well; I am now officially unable to procreate. My fiancee accompanied me to both events, and when it was over we celebrated in a manner befitting such an occasion (that’s all the details you get, perverts).

I decided I didn’t want to have children about fifteen years ago. There’s no seminal event that caused this decision; I simply thought about all the things I wanted to do in my lifetime and having kids wasn’t on the list. People sometimes ask why and I used to go through my reasons (over population, financial hardship, diaper changing, etc.) but now I just shrug and let them make assumptions. Because you shouldn’t need a reason to not want children. There are already plenty of them on the planet and many are not being properly cared for. If you don’t want to add another one, people should just say “Good enough” and leave you alone.

I used to get really adamant about the whole thing, acting as if I was being harassed by all the breeders out there, but then I got over myself and just went with the shrug. Honestly, there simply aren’t that many people who care anymore. This isn’t the 1950s. If you don’t want to get married or have a baby, no one passes out from shock. They might ask you a few questions because they’re curious, but is that really such a hardship? Personally, as a part-time narcissist, questions about me are my favorite kind of questions.

And, yes, before you go there, it is different for me because I am a man, but it’s not that different. My fiancee gets more questions and raised eyebrows than I do, but no one’s scrawling “Be Fruitful and Multiply” on her car window in blood. The most annoying reaction she gets is from Baby Boomer women who often tell her, “Oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older,” as if a twenty-seven-year-old woman’s brain is just not developed enough to make such decisions yet.

In the past couple of years, there have been a variety of articles on the subject of not having children, often opinion pieces. I wanted to be supportive of the sentiments expressed by these writers (solidarity amongst childfree adults!) but I just couldn’t relate to their stories, which basically attempted to equate the purposefully childless to repressed minorities. They spoke about vicious rumors spread by their coworkers and accusations of selfishness from their conservative relatives. Maybe this is happening in their world, I can’t say, but it’s not happening to me. When I told my small-town Christian mother about my vasectomy, she said “Oh, my.” Then there was a short pause, followed by, “You should put some frozen peas on it.”

Ironically, these articles about the harassment of the childless have spawned harassing Internet comments and blogs from conservatives who have called couples who choose not to have kids “self-absorbed” and “anti-life.” Perhaps this proves these writers were correct all along in stating there’s a subculture of intense hatred toward people who choose not to procreate, but I don’t think so. It feels more like the usual inflammatory rhetoric spouted by political pundits that gets re-posted over and over on Facebook, making it appear more widespread than it actually is. In the end, the people forcing this conversation don’t seem to realize the rest of us simply don’t care whether they want to have kids or not. It’s none of our business.

For years, I’ve been talking about how you can understand the Baby Boomer generation by watching all the Rocky movies. Well, the theory has finally been published at As It Ought To Be.

Whenever I move to a new city, I make sure there’s a good bar within walking distance from my apartment.  I don’t mean a club or a discoa bar.  There has to be a long piece of polished wood that you can carve your initials into and a stool in the corner that fits your ass just right and a no-nonsense bartender that will either laugh at your corny jokes or tell you to shut the hell up depending on the mood they’re in.

And a jukebox.  A good bar most always has a jukebox.

We moved to Austin sight unseen, and while the Less Abrasive Pessimist had a variety of practical concerns about the size of our new apartment and whether or not it had working plumbing, all I could think about was where I was going to drink.  Things did not look good at first.  We live in North Austin, which is not the “cool” part of town.  That suits us just fine, as we gave up on cool years ago.  Now we’re just shooting for “acceptably weird.”  There are a lot of car dealerships and furniture stores near our place, and while I don’t mind living next to establishments peddling sofas and sedans, what I really wanted was a nice dark place to bend my elbow.

The Less Abrasive Pessimist found some bar called Buddy’s Place on the Internet.  I didn’t know anything about it, aside from the fact that it was less than four blocks from our apartment building, but that seemed like a good place to start.  So I got gussied up in my finest T-shirt and blue jeans, and we set off at around 8pm on a Tuesday evening.

SIDE NOTE: It’s always best to scope out a new bar on a weekday.  That way you get to see what the regular clientele look like.  Sure it’s nice when the hipsters and sorority girls drop by on Saturday night, but who are you going to be drinking with when you get kicked out of the house on Monday morning?  That’s the real question.

It was a small, square building not much bigger than a Cracker Jacks box.  The outside was painted sky blue and there was wobbly neon sign near the road that looked like a lawsuit waiting to happen.  There was an image of John Wayne stenciled on the wall and a cartoonish drawing a pony-tailed man with a cigarette in his mouth and a mischievous look on his face.  I could only assume this was Buddy.

There were five people sitting at the bar, and when we entered they all turned around at the same time, as though they’d been practicing all week for just such an occasion.  A big man with a handlebar mustache and tinted glasses bellowed, “Y’all got  any good stories?  We done told all of ours and now we’re bored.”

The Less Abrasive Pessimist tightened her grip on my arm.  I said, “Not really, but I can make some shit up if you like.”

That got a big laugh, and we were immediately accepted by the inner circle.  Names were exchanged all aroundand then quickly forgotten.  For the rest of the evening, I was either Dave or Dan or Hey You, and the Less Abrasive Pessimist was Juanita for reasons unknown.

There’s no hard alcohol at Buddy’s and no beer on tap.  If you ask for a menu, the bartender points to the ceiling, where there are about a dozen bottles and cans hanging from plastic cords.  You can bring in your own bottle of whiskey if you are so inclined, and there’s wine on special occasions.  What constitutes a special occasion at Buddy’s could be anything from an engagement announcement to the purchase of a new pair of boots.

There’s no food at Buddy’s either, but they don’t mind if you bring in a bag from the Taco Cabana across the street, as long as there’s enough inside it for everyone.  There’s also a very nice woman named Jazelle who comes around once in a while and sells tamales at $10 a dozen.

If you don’t want to pay for your drinks, you can try your luck with the dice.  One dollar buys you a roll—six of a kind gets you a free six pack and if you get ten you win the whole pot, which is currently somewhere in the four figures.

Behind the bar there’s an erase board with a list of customer names and birthdays.  Below that there’s a bumper sticker that says “Unattended Children will be Sold as Slaves” and just to the right there’s a sign that reads “If you are grouchy, irritable, or just plain mean, there will be a $20 charge for putting up with you.”

There are two men’s bathrooms.  The normal one that most customers use, which has seen better days, and the secret one that everyone who frequents Buddy’s knows about.  And if those are both occupied, you can always step out the back door and relieve yourself on the Dumpster.  In the women’s bathroom, there’s a colorful shower curtain hanging on the wall for no apparent reason and on the mirror alphabet stickers spell out the message “YOU ARE SO PRETTY.”

There’s a no-smoking sign behind the bar, which means the owner, Jackie, will ask you if you’re bothered by cigarettes, and then light one up before you have a chance to answer.

Jackie is the new owner.  He used to be a bartender, but when Buddy passed away, Jackie bought the place.  There’s a photo of Buddy behind the bar, and he looks a bit like the quirky badass grandpa in “Lost Boys.”  If you turn around on your bar stool, there’s a picture of Jackie on the wall wearing a blonde wig and holding on to what appears to be a stripper pole.  The staff really enjoys pointing it out to new customers.

The walls are filled with pictures of employees and regular customers, although the line between employees and regulars is a bit blurred in Buddy’s.  On any given night, you can find most of the off-duty bartenders investing their tips back into the business one bottle at a time.

There’s a mannequin dressed as a cowboy, and in the dim bar light he looks incredibly real after half a dozen Budweisers.  His name is Jasper, and periodically the staff will set him on a stool with a beer in his hand and then watch as new customers keep glancing over at him with curiosity and fear.  According to legend, one night after a few beers a regular had an hour-long conversation with Jasper.  There’s an ongoing debate over what they talked about, but Jasper’s been pretty tight-lipped about the whole affair.

It’s not an expensive bar.  Beer is $3, pool is ₵50, the jukebox plays three songs for $1, and there’s a $5 charge for whining.

Oh, yeah, there’s a jukebox.  It’s filled with country tunes, most of them of the old school variety.  George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard.

There’s also live music at Buddy’s.  They don’t have a stage exactly, but there’s some open space next to the shuffleboard table where a band can set up, and the Christmas lights on the ceiling provide a nice ambiance.  On the back wall hangs a Confederate flag with the silhouette of cowgirl on it and the words “Redneck Woman” over the top.  If you’re lucky and happen to be around on Friday night, you just might hear Son Geezinslaw fronted by Dwayne “Son” Smith.  It’s just Smith and an excellent steel-guitar player that sounds like the reincarnated ghost of Don Helms.  There are usually about twenty people in the audience, and requests are welcome, although not necessarily obliged.  What many in the audience don’t realize is that Smith is the son of the famous Austin-based duo the Geezinslaw Brothers, which toured extensively for forty years starting in the 1960s.  They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Jackie Gleason Show and even had the privilege of opening for Elvis.  My favorite songs by the Geezinslaws are “Blah…Blah…Blah” and “Help, I’m White and I Can’t Get Down.”

On that balmy Tuesday evening, “Juanita” and I stayed at Buddy’s until around midnight.  Toward the end, there was just us, the bartender on duty, the bartender’s boyfriend, an off-duty bartender, and a bald Canadian with a hockey fixation, and we had a grande time.  We got drunk, we heard good stories, and we listened to good music.  I was sold on the jukebox selection and decor, and the Less Abrasive Pessimist fell for the variety of small dogs constantly roaming around the bar begging for treats.

And when it was time to stumble home, we agreed that we’d found our bar.

(Click here to read Part 1 and/or Part 2)

Things you need to know before reading this blawg:

Number 1: I am bad at directions. No, that’s not quite right. How about this? I am terrible at directions. Actually, that still does not accurately describe my shortcomings in this particular area. OK, OK, I’ve got it. Ready? If “directions” were “making inoffensive public statements about Jews” I would be Mel Gibson. That about sums it up.

Number 2: I can drive perfectly well, but I haven’t owned a car since 1999.

Number 3: I mentioned that we have a cat, right? And I also happened to casually indicate that she might possibly be a demon spawn from another dimension, correct? OK, just checking.

Number 4: The Less Abrasive Pessimist and I both hate driving. H. A. T. E. She gets road anxiety; I get road rage. It isn’t pretty.

Number 5: When I get bored, I have imaginary conversations in my head. These usually start out as fairly innocuous chats with people I know or people I would like to meet or random inanimate objects. However, if I get really bored and tired and stressed and trapped inside the tiny cab of a truck traveling down an endless flat road with the sun shining directly in my face for ten hours at a time and small-town radio preachers telling me the world is going to end because Obama uses the wrong kind of spoon to eat his breakfast cereal, the conversations in my head start getting a little…weird. Just FYI.

Number 6: Google Maps says it’s about a 16-hour drive from Boulder to Austin. It took closer to 20 hours. (See Numbers 1,2, and4)

So we finally gave up on the moving company and rented a truck. And since there was no way in hell that The Less Abrasive Pessimist was going to drive it, and since it was my fault we were in this mess in the first place, guess who got behind the wheel. (See Number 2.)

By this time, we were more than ready to leave. We were like those neurotic tigers at the zoo pacing back and forth in their cramped cages. We wanted out. It was late notice on a Monday, so finding help was difficult, but we were soon joined by our musician friend Nate Cook, lead singer of one of my favorite bands The Yawpers (this pathetic plug and two Budweisers were his only compensation), and Mother Less Abrasive Pessimist.

We had obtained some prescription tranquilizers from our veterinarian for the journey, and The Less Abrasive Pessimist and her mother managed to force one down the throat of our agitated kitten. An hour passed. Nothing. If anything The Tempest was even more energetic than usual. So we gave her another one. Still nothing. But we couldn’t wait any longer. I told The Less Abrasive Pessimist that if the tranquilizers didn’t work on the cat, she could always take them. She was not amused. It was time to go.

The truck was loaded and we were on the road by 4pm. Not a great start, but at least we were moving. Our new landlords had expected us to show up and sign the lease on June 1. It was now the 3rd and we had more than 900 miles of road between us and our new lives.

When I got in the truck, I immediately noticed a fat housefly trapped inside the cab with me. I thought about rolling down the window and setting him free, but then I thought, When is a housefly ever going to have an opportunity like this again? He only lives a few weeks, and he’s going to travel almost a thousand miles in that time. He’ll be a legend in cyclorrhapha history! The Christofly Columbus of insects!

So I put the truck in gear, and we began our adventure!

We got two miles down the road, and The Less Abrasive Pessimist was forced to pull over. The cat was running laps inside the car, yowling like Fran Drescher receiving a rectal exam from a far-sighted proctologist. Apparently, the cat didn’t like the position of her litter box. So The Less Abrasive Pessimist adjusted it to Her Highness’s liking, and she calmed down.

And now back to the adventure!

We hit bumper-to-bumper traffic immediately in Denver. It was move three inches, slam on the breaks, move three more inches. The vein in the side of my forehead began to twitch. The cat kept crawling on top of the boxes in the back seat, and every time The Less Abrasive Pessimist hit the breaks she took a header. I love that animal, but it was still pretty funny to watch.

Finally, after about thirty minutes, the traffic opened up and we were on our way. I’d brought a selection of my favorite CDs for the journey, and I consulted Christofly on what to play. It turned out we were both Johnny Cash fans.

Observation: Johnny Cash proves that the supposed chasm between liberals and conservatives in America is not as wide as we think. Everyone listens to Cash, and he sings for everyone. “Man In Black” is basically a Marxist anthem, and I’m certain “Ragged Old Flag” is being played at Tea Party meetings across the country as I write.

The open road sucks. This is my humble opinion. Songs have been sung and stories told about wagon trains besieged by Indians and intrepid pioneers mauled by bears, but nowadays it’s just a series of gradual right and left turns with the occasional thrill of passing a slow-moving truck with cow butts poking out the back end. After about five hours, it gets to the point where you think a Sioux raiding party or a rabid grizzly would be a welcome change of pace.

Christofly agreed. It was amazing how much we had in common. True, we hadn’t yet discussed things like the Middle East or Obamacare, but there was plenty of time for that. We were trying to keep it light. I’d filled a Coke cap with soda, and placed it on the dashboard for him. Christofly had stopped slamming his head repeatedly against the windshield and was now sipping genially from the cap. We were having a grande old time, two brave journeymen cruising down the highway with the wind in our hair…or antennae or whatever.

We drove through Colorado and the gun barrel of Oklahoma before finally reaching Texas. Oklahoma roads are terrible. We were in Oklahoma for less than an hour, but the whole time it felt like I was driving on Ryan Gosling’s abs. But as soon as we got to Texas, the roads were as smooth as Ryan Gosling’s hairless buttocks.

There was a wind storm at dusk that was incredibly surreal. The sky was cobalt blue and there were all these giant windmills along the highway that were slowly turning like enormous robot drones on some desert planet. Thousands of them lined up in perfect rows. It was freaky.

Finally, we decided to call it a day at around eleven, and we pulled in to a Best Western that accepted pets in the town of Dumas. My guess is the name is supposed to be pronounced like the French writer, Alexandre Dumas, but I’d bet my right arm the locals will tell you they live in Dumb-Ass without a hint of irony. It definitely looked like a town called Dumb-Ass.

Observation: Texas has some great town names. My favorite were Roscoe, Wastella, Fluvanna, and Lawn.

I couldn’t sleep. Perhaps it had something to do with the long drive or the excitement of the journey or the strange hotel room or the five cups of vanilla-flavored coffee, but I just stared at the ceiling as the hours ticked by. The Less Abrasive Pessimist had no such problem. She was snoring like an asthmatic walrus (albeit a cute asthmatic walrus) as soon as her head hit the starched pillow. The cat was still up though. By this time, she was so tired she was staggering around the room like a drunken sailor on shore leave, but there were strange corners to sniff and furniture that had never been jumped on and cabinets to stare at creepily, so she fought to stay awake in order to perform her duties.

After a refreshing three-hour nap, the alarm screamed bloody murder and I stumbled bleary-eyed into the bathroom. I obtained more coffee and we got back on the road. Christofly and I attempted to get the conversational juices flowing by talking about the landscape. We agreed that all these little Texas towns looked the same. One church, one post office, and one bar. But they made you slow down to 30 miles per hour to pass that one church, one post office, and one bar. I suggested that if you stopped at any of these facilities, there would be a small family of emaciated citizens waiting there with a net and a shotgun. “Now you’re gonna pray, have a drink, and send a letter…or else!” they’d say. Christofly agreed.

After jawing a bit more, we put in Johnny Cash again and had ourselves a good old fashioned sing along to keep the blood pumping. We were really getting into it. It was right at the end of “Folsom Prison Blues” when I looked in the rear-view mirror and noticed The Less Abrasive Pessimist’s car wasn’t behind us. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time it was behind us. I then looked at my phone and saw that it was on vibrate from the night before. There were eight missed calls, three voice messages, and two text messages. And it was right about that time I passed a road sign that said, “WELCOME TO OKLAHOMA!”

I’d driven almost an hour in the wrong direction.

Now there are many things I could tell you, dear reader, about how this happened. The phrase that comes to my mind is “sharing valid reasons,” or as The Less Abrasive Pessimist likes to call it, “spreading the bullshit.” For instance, I could bring up the insomnia again from the previous night. Or I could tell you that before checking in to the Best Western we’d pulled up to a La Quinta on the other side of the street, and in the process I got turned around. Or I could remind you that my sense of direction is like Mel Gibson making public statements about Jews. Or I could talk about all those little Texas towns that looked exactly alike (turns out they looked like the same towns from the night before because they actually were the same towns from the night before, but let’s not quibble over details). Of course, none of this explains why I failed to notice my future wife honking and flashing her lights at me for thirty miles. Or why I drove on for twenty minutes after she gave up and pulled to the side of the road, thinking I would immediately notice her absence and check my phone.

I could make excuses for all of this, dear reader, but I’m not the type of man to pass the buck. Nope, “take responsibility for your actions,” that’s my motto. So I’m going to put the blame squarely where it belongs: Christofly.

You see, we had an agreement. I would take care of all the driving, snack purchasing, music playing, and temperature modulating if Christofly kept just one of his many eyes on the rear-view mirror. That was his only job. But Christofly was the jealous type, and he’d gotten it into his little fly head that if he could get rid of the Less Abrasive Pessimist, we could be roommates in Austin. Never mind the fact that I’m a mammal and he’s an insect, or that he had no way to pay his half of the rent, or that he would be dead in a week. None of that mattered to over-possessive little Christofly. So when The Less Abrasive Pessimist pulled to the side of the road, he saw his chance.

I tried to explain all of this to The Less Abrasive Pessimist, but she seemed to think we needed to get back on the road immediately. She had a point. After all the delays, I’d promised our new landlords we would sign the lease before their office closed on June 4 at 5pm. It was now June 4 at 11am, and we still had to drive an hour just to get back to Dumas. (The name of the town was now definitely pronounced Dumb-Ass in my head, but for more personal reasons.)

I called the new landlord and told them we were still on our way, but it looked like it would be past 5pm when we arrived. She was very kind. It sounded like she said she would leave our apartment unlocked with the keys inside, but the phone kept cutting out and I couldn’t be sure. I decided I’d heard that the apartment would be unlocked with the keys inside.

Meanwhile, Christofly and I were not speaking to each other. He had betrayed my trust, and I was not in a forgiving mood. I glared silently at the road, while he tried to get my goat by crawling all over my face. I just ignored him.

Christofly said he wanted to listen to Paul Simon, so I turned on a local country station instead, knowing he would hate that.

Observation: For all its hard-nosed bluster, country might be the sappiest genre of music out there aside from teen pop. When they’re not talking about their pickup trucks or threatening to put a boot in bin Laden’s ass, there’s a lot of romance on the country airwaves. “I’m gonna find me a new way to light up an old flame,” “In all the world you’ll never find a love as true as mine,” “If you’re callin’ bout my heart it’s still yours.”

The great thing about listening to local radio stations is that you get to hear about the local news. For instance, in Roscoe, Texas, a man named Conway Alvarez died recently at the age of 78. He was a prison guard who was survived by his hunting dog and his sister. His wake was being held at his favorite bar, which also happened to be the town’s only bar. This was reported by a deejay simply named Stumpy.

Things were going along just fine until we hit a detour. And then another detour. The first detour worked out OK, and we were routed back around the the proper road. However, on the second detour, they failed tell us where to go, and we ended up on a frontage road next to an empty field. We turned around a few times, consulted the smartphone, and finally found our way back twenty minutes later.

We were hungry, so we pulled in to a truck stop cafe to eat a bunch of starch and meat. By the time we finished, I had gout.

Observation: Texas toilets are literally larger than Colorado toilets.

Observation: There’s a reason Texas toilets are larger than Colorado toilets.

By now we were several hours behind schedule, and it did not appear as though we would get into Austin until almost midnight. I tried to call the landlord and relay this information, but only managed to leave a voice message. We drove. And drove. And drove. When night came, we were alone on the road, aside from the giant semis, which were lit up like carnival floats after dark.

And then, just when I was starting to lose all feeling below the waist, we finally passed a sign welcoming us to Austin. Christofly and I cheered and high-fived, an act that unfortunately sent Christofly careening across the cab. But he shook it off and we laughed and laughed and laughed. It had been a long journey, and although we’d had our differences, we decided to bury the fly swatter. We were friends again, and I promised to share our new apartment with him, although he was not allowed to regurgitate on our food.

We pulled up to our new apartment complex, found the right door, and turned the handle.

Locked.

I almost cried. I texted our apartment manager, Brooke, and she bounced right over, as if letting people in to their apartment in the middle of the night was her favorite part of the job. We thanked her profusely, blew up an air mattress, and fell asleep.

When I got up the next morning to move our stuff, I opened the truck door and Christofly Columbus flew out before I could stop him. He zoomed up into the bright blue sky, excited to explore the new land he had discovered.

(Click here to read Part 1 and/or Part 2)

(Read Part 1 and/or Part 3)

Things you need to know before reading this blawg:

Number1: After three years together, the less abrasive pessimist and I got engaged at the same cemetery I took her to on our first date. This was surprising news, to say the least, for my friends and family, who had started to compare my relationships to M. Night Shyamalan movies: in the beginning they’re filled with promise and intensity, followed a lot of ominous foreshadowing in the middle, and everyone leaves disappointed in the end. We’d been engaged less than four months at the time of the move, and I’m certain there were those who were expecting me to screw it up somehow, myself included.

Number 2: We have a one-year-old cat named The Tempest. She’s half Siamese and half Paranoid Schizophrenic.

Number 3: Neither of us had jobs. (This blawg is being written about events that have already taken place, hence the past tense, but it would be more accurate to use the present-tense verb “have” in this particular situation.) But we’d saved up enough money to pay the rent for a few months while we searched for employment.

Number 4: I just want to remind the reader about that whole cheap-vs.-lazy thing from the last blawg. Here’s where it becomes relevant…

In the past twenty years or so, I have moved approximately fifteen times. Each time I simply pack my belongings into a rental car (not a truck or a van…a car), throw away whatever does not fit, and drive to my new home. The only time I’ve ever altered this routine was when I moved to Prague for a year, and in that situation, I brought two bags on the plane, one for clothes and the other for books. I have never purchased a single piece of furniture. Instead, I simply leave my old furniture behind, sleep on the floor for a few months at my new residence until a neighbor decides to leave a mattress next to the Dumpster, then I drag the mysteriously stained rectangle up to my bedroom, plop it on the floor, wrap a plastic cover around it, and take a nap. Couches, lamps, bookshelves, tables, and televisions are obtained in a similar fashion. Sometimes, coworkers or friends’ mothers hear about the way I live, gasp, and donate entire bedroom sets. But that’s rare. More often you can find me sitting on a lawn chair in my living room, eating cold SpaghettiOs straight out of the can with a plastic spork, and glaring psychotically at my laptop.

For some reason, my new fiancee did not see the advantage of moving halfway across the country with just a toothbrush and a worn Billy Joel CD. So plans had to be made. Plans that involved doing work. Plans that involved spending money.

The cheapest way to move was to rent a truck and drive sixteen hours south to our destination. I’ve had some bad experiences with U-Haul in the past, so I looked at Budget and Enterprise. The cost of a truck was around $600 or so. Add the cost of gas for the truck and the less abrasive pessimist’s car and the total would be around $1,000. But we also had to load our belongings on and off the truck ourselves. Not good for the lazy side.

A friend recommended I try a website called uShip, which allows you to enter the details about your move into a profile and then movers all over the country can bid on it. This satisfied my lazy requirement, but when I entered the information, the website told me my best bid would probably come in at around $2,500. The cheap devil in me balked. So I restricted the maximum bid to $1,200 thinking it would do no harm if no one wanted to accept it. This was a little more than the cost of renting a truck, but it would also be less work. It was the perfect balance of cheap vs. lazy. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Several weeks passed and no bid. Finally, when the profile was about to expire, I received an email from a company called Gatz Shipping. It was a small, family operation out of Idaho, just a man named Jeff Gatz and his wife. They were moving someone else to Austin and wanted to add our belongings to the trip. Sort of like killing two birds with one moving truck. I said that sounded great to me. I gave him my number and he called immediately to work out the details. He said he would pick us up at the end of May and we would be in Austin by June 1 to start our new lives. My fiancee was a bit dubious, but since she’d been dreading driving two vehicles while trying to control our spazoid cat, she finally came around to the idea. I was a hero!

The long story of how Mr. Gatz thoroughly and unapologetically screwed us can be read here. The short version is that he never showed up. It would have been bad enough if he simply told us he wasn’t coming, but he kept telling us he would be there until several days after he was supposed to be there. The less abrasive pessimist picked up on the pattern early and suggested we find a rental truck on May 25, which would have kept us on schedule. However, I did not want to give up on my dream of being lazy. So I told her I was certain Mr. Gatz would come through for us if we gave him more time. May 26th passed, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st. We entered June and still no moving company. I’d gone from hero to heel in a housefly’s lifetime.

To be continued…

(Read Part 1 and/or Part 3)

%d bloggers like this: