A million strange strangers

Salt Lake was a weird fucking town. I’ve seen stranger, but this had a certain flavor of off. Everyone seemed more or less aimless, glassy eyed, and utterly bored. Granted, this was only within one square mile of the bus station, but it was an interesting thing to view either way. Apparently it is quite the hub of rail hopping and transient kids, crashing in run down apartments or warehouses til some other seasonal job calls to them from far away.

It all started with one little group of self-professed punks…

Pretty sure they "borrowed" over a pack of smokes from me.

Pretty sure they “borrowed” over a pack of smokes from me.

… and ended with the strangest walk to a gas station I’d ever taken (and I’ve taken many.)

The boys above painted rocks with anarchy symbols, cats and a few random squiggles. They bummed smokes, kicked each other in the balls and sold what appeared to be stolen cell phones to a kid we’ll call James.

James was the quieter one of the group, and apparently newer to them all. He was no stranger to life on the rails. I had been speaking with them for a while when James came back from a short walk, coffee and snacks in tow. Having been stuck in this god awful station for 7 hours now without food or the sight of my best friend caffeine, I flat out begged him to show me the gas station.

Note: When you’re doing shit like this, you put far more trust into strangers than you normally would. Asking a nice homeless man to take you through back alleys for a donut shouldn’t be a daily occurrence.

Regardless, I asked, because fuck it. Social conventions suck. Off we go, wandering along — me and my new buddy James.

Except James is a full blown paranoid schizophrenic. I learned this the moment he opened his mouth.

James: “What do you think of Israel?”

Me: “In what c–”


And this continued. For the entire walk. I tried to keep pace with him as he threw his arms up and yelled to the sky along the way to the gas station. Everything was punctuated with  “y’knowhamean?” Too concerned to ever say SWEET JESUS FUCK NO WHAT DO YOU EVEN MEAN? I made do with constant nods of approval and “Yep!” Luckily not everything he spoke of was conspiracy– he was fond of flowers, weed, and the stars as well.

We finally manage to get to this station. I rush in and grab as much crap as I possibly can, swearing silently to myself that I needed enough to ration off as to avoid doing this again. I noted the security guard there was now trapped by his very confusing words, and he gave me a wide-eyed stare as James rambled off at him. I just shrugged and shook my head, offering my best I’m so sorry look. I just wanted to get out of there and back to the mass of people that could be witnesses in case he figured me an Israeli spy and shanked me.

This kid needs help, I thought, as we made our way back through the run down streets and abandoned buildings. I felt bad for him, his family, for his life.

“You know? Isn’t it nice out? Isn’t this great! Most people just like… don’t listen to me, yaknowhamean? They think I’m stupid and I know I say a lot of shit but I ain’t stupid, yaknowwhamean? Right?”

Right there. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. The sun was shining, and the wind blew dust around us. It was cold and alive, and so was he, eager and hoping for someone to validate him. I realized how often this man must be dismissed, passed over, forgotten and written off. He had nobody in the world to just say “you’re okay, man,” and so many must view him as subhuman. He even said so himself: “it’s like I people don’t want me to exist.” I felt like the biggest piece of shit for considering, even for a moment, that I needed to get far away from him. He hadn’t shown any sort of malice, no violence, and even spoke of his deep fear of confrontation.

“You’re not stupid, man. I know what you mean. You’re a good guy.”

I couldn’t think of some great, inspiring speech to give him. I had nothing to offer, standing in the middle of nowhere in my unwashed clothes and dire need of sleep. I was lost too, far from anything I knew, and I felt like that’s all that was needed. It was just us, two strangers with nothing to give. He smiled at me. I smiled at him. We walked back in silence, his gaze on the asphalt and hands in pockets. But he was smiling. We were friends now.

I lost track of him soon enough. It’s a busy station. Eventually, the bus arrived for us all. I rushed into the rear to take the tiny seat nobody wanted in an attempt to be alone with it, maybe sleep some. James was the last one to get on the bus, and not much was left for him. He made his way to the very last seat and quietly, expecting to be turned down, asked if he could sit next to me.

James, despite, or because of, his delusions then became a sort of bodyguard. He saved the seats, kept watch over the bags, and left me to my attempts at sleep.

Then I fucked up.

We made a few stops, and slowly people trickled off. Finally, more seats opened, and there was enough space for us to spread out. James had come back on the bus as we were getting ready to pull away again, and without thinking he would take it the wrong way, I asked if he’d want one of the open seats so he can sleep more comfortably.

To him, right then, I rejected his company. I watched his face go from neutral to utterly dejected in a matter of seconds. Before I could clarify that I was only asking for his benefit, not to get rid of him, he grabbed his stuff and moved to the front of the bus. Every other stop we made, he kept a distance. I didn’t push the issue, and at first I was a little angry. I didn’t do anything wrong, I told myself. He took it the wrong way. You don’t even know this guy, why are you so worried about him?

But I was worried. I felt bad because by then, he was just glad to be able to talk to someone. The other guys he was travelling with poked fun at him and used his kindness, and while it visibly upset him he didn’t know how to stop it. He seemed resigned to it. I couldn’t help but end up protective.

After another night it was time for me to part ways with the group of rail chasers. They were headed off to California to pick berries of some sort, and keep moving along. With them slipped my momentary friend, a crazy fucker with wild delusions. A few people told me was crazy for talking to the dude, but they didn’t even try. I didn’t do anything special or unique, I just talked to a lonely stranger. Maybe it bothered me because I’ve been in his position before, alone and unsure how to communicate that (minus the crippling delusions.)

I hope someone befriended him. I know I don’t owe the guy anything, and he’s “just another stranger”, but it meant something to him to have someone to talk to. It meant something to me to gain his trust when he trusted nothing. So I’m sorry, James. You’re gonna be alright, dude, somehow.


I’m lost, and that’s okay.

This is the kind of chill I only experienced a few times in my life, travelling in winter. Stepping into the snow for the first time sent my skin into a frenzy– I had never known such a feeling.

Now the mornings are just as absent of the warmth I am used to. Walking down the street earlier, every shadowed area was covered in a thick frost. My breath came out of me in a fog. I’m not used to any of it, but it’s perfect. While everyone else curses and bundles up, I rush outside every morning to catch the freeze before the sun comes. I watch the rise over the mountains, see the reflection off the ocean.

“You must hate this, Florida is so beautiful!”

No. No, this is perfect. This is good.

I tell myself this every morning I wake up, or every night I can’t sleep. This is good. You need this. I pass out in a flurry of nightmares and tell myself, no, this is good. I watch people go about their days and lives, and constantly I tell myself. Every day.

It’s a funny thing that happens to you, when your brain has been so improperly wired for so long. You start to believe you are not just depressed, or anxious. You’re just like this, and that’s all there is to it. You’re not broken– you’re fine. It’s what you’re made for. It helps you create art, or words, or keep a distance from others… which keeps you safe. You’re impenetrable except from yourself.

I tried medication, years ago. Multiple kinds, various strengths. It all ended in public breakdowns, mental breakdowns, and a complete loss of identity. I tried to write and came up blank. I stared at nothing and debated the best way to throw myself from my bedroom window. My more recent attempt (many years ago, still) ended with me running from my home and job to live in the woods. I only came to my senses after nearly dying from the withdrawals after realizing I had to quit. (Never take Effexor, kids.)

Now, where am I? Across a country, exploring a world I’ve never known, trying not to let my one asset and curse get taken from me. Fucking brain has yet again turned on me, hasn’t it? Much more sinister fashion this time.

But I’m lost. And I’ve always been lost. All those days spent among friends, be it at my lover Undergrounds, or in Miami, or the streets of Fort Lauderdale… I was never there. You saw me, you spoke to me, you engaged me in various ways. But I wasn’t fucking there. Back, far away where you can’t reach, is that damn voice.

This is wrong. Why are you out here? What did she just say? I don’t feel well. Why am I angry? What the fuck am I doing here?

I’ve let people down by simply not showing up. I’ve stopped responding to calls or messages at various times in my life, only to pop back up out of nowhere. There’s no excuse for that, really — I’m a bad friend. I am, really. I don’t mean to be, and I’ve tried very hard not to. But in the end, I’m gone. I’ve up and left the state, the city, and my usual haunts without a moment’s notice. Turned down friends, missed birthdays.

I am a bad friend, and an even worse person when it comes to self-preservation. I am fully aware of this. But somehow, there are a few people that stick by my side no matter what I do. I never set out to hurt anyone, and I’d never purposefully upset anyone without cause. Maybe they see that. I will never know, because frankly, I’m afraid to even ask why the fuck anyone puts up with it.

Lately, I’ve seen some people I know admit to their problems and take control. I’m so proud of them, I really am.

I can’t do it. 

I’ve seen what happens to me when I try to “fix” things. Therapy. Medication. Special schools. My last meeting with a psychiatrist included these words from her mouth: “Why are you still alive?”

why are you still alive. 


I went to med school to say retarded shit.

God, those words hung in the air over my head and crashed through me. Why? A therapist asking me why? I thought about all the things I had told her– I let it all out that day– and fuck, that’s what she gathered? Not long after came the press devouring the whole “depression is bad, mkay” debate that followed the death of Robin Williams, as if people didn’t notice it was bad before, and I got bitter. Really bitter. Suddenly everyone was an expert on how it felt to be that low, and “why don’t people just get over it?” flew out of the mouths of the masses.

I don’t know where I’m headed. All I can do is move around, have momentary encounters with people, and poof away into some weird little world where I only process music and words on a screen that come out of me in no real order.

I’d like to say I will make an attempt to fix myself. That nobody ever needs to worry about me, and I’ll take some pills and end up just fine.

I won’t. I won’t do it again, because this is what I do. It’s not some sad thing, it’s not defeatist. If I can’t make things, I’m unhappy. Not everyone loses that on medication. I hope everyone that tries to get help finds solace, and can end up better. For some people it’s amazingly helpful, but it isn’t for me. I’d rather be an asshole that forgets to hang out, an asshole that skips town, an asshole with a rotting brain and an uncertain future than what all those pills did to me. But it’s okay.

You can take this as some self-defeating, anti-whatever rant. Maybe it is, maybe it’s just me realizing my only hope is to exist as I see fit. I’m not a great writer, I’m not the best artist, but dammit it gives me purpose. I refuse to lose that.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep riding buses, going nowhere, and writing about it. ‘Cause that’s who I am, and what I do.  I’m sorry.

The mind is a terrible thing.

Around me, every single night, I watch the minor collapses in people as they struggle to keep up with themselves and everyone else. Relationships have crumbled, minds have caved and individuals have snapped from existence. I hear what they have to say, and I try to be as liberal as I can with assistance and advice, should they desire it. I never, ever mind listening to the problems of another, even if it’s not someone I am particularly familiar with.

This is probably a bad problem solver.

What I don’t like is seeing the same patterns repeated in different people, supposed “fixes” that don’t do anything but cause more problems.

I can hint, pester or harangue anyone about their misinformed choices, but in the end, it’s never up to me. It’s solely up to the doer, and they don’t always make the sound decision.

Take the perpetual drinkers. If they have a bad day, it must be fixed with a drink. Then another. Maybe just a few more?

Some people are truly alcoholics and need help. That much is true. Some place themselves there, finding something else to cope for them. Why develop abilities to survive when you can smoke it away? The drug-centrism of this area doesn’t help, and you end up with droves of people falling into anything but facing a problem head-on and just dealing with it.

Then you are led away and eaten.

One person jumps on a drug or drink, suggests it, and it flows through like water. Even the kava bar I posted about before has that sort of ripple effect, with people coming back night after night to just feel that calm it provides. It’s a replacement for something else, as always.

One of the routes that distresses me most is the relationship hopping. I’ve been in the situation myself, but some make a hobby out of it. It’s one thing if you were already unhappy and happen to stumble upon an individual that gives you the feelings you crave (though I never advocate cheating as an alternative) and you go from one to the other. It happens, as much as it is hurtful to the other party. But to dive from one to the next proclaiming them to be the ultimate lover, the only one, THIS IS IT! … every few months. Not a safe plan for anyone involved.

I worry often about the people I know, wondering if they will make X mistake again, or go back to X bad person. I gravitate towards people that are having a hard time– which has put me in very hurtful relationships, so avoid that much if possible– and want to see them do well. I’m tired of seeing the nearly there, the almost, the so close. I know not everyone can get their lives together, but it is a nice thought to me.

The dependence on chemicals to keep sanity is habitual. I wish that wasn’t the case, but also realize that some people just need it. Anyone that has suffered massive panic attacks or mental illness can tell you as much, and the ideas of self-control go out the window. There are some less invasive ways to go about it, but not everyone has the time or control to handle them. I know I can’t just will away a panic attack, so why should I expect anyone else to?

Underneath it all is this deep interdependence on each other, a need for approval and acknowledgement. If upon walking into a favorite place to be nobody greets you, you’d have a paranoid fit inside.  It’s a natural tendency, but harmful in large doses if it consumes you.


Not everyone gets along. In large groups, that is very obvious. You can fake it, but that will only go so far as buttons continue to be pushed. There are always limitations to a person’s ability to remain neutral.

So as I hopped from one person to the next last night, their problems amplifying in my head as they spoke, I wanted to stop time. I wished to place them in the right situations, remove the unsavory things, wipe the bad memories away. But I knew, even with that ability, I wouldn’t. Learning is the only way. They either survive and grow, or they’ll flounder. That’s never up to me, and never will be. All I can do is try to be there.

To my friends in the hard times, I’m sorry. I don’t know if it will get better. I won’t lie and just say it will, because that’s untrue. Some things can’t be fixed. I can’t stop a relative from dying, or your mental illness. Nobody can. It’s unfair to give false hope in any situation. But the only thing anyone can guarantee is that it won’t always feel the same, and things change. The way you handle it changes, and how it will impact.

Now a bad word.

I’m simply glad to have some intelligent, witty and wonderfully broken bastards around. I just wish there were less almosts, and more finally. Maybe we’ll get there someday.


Bitter roots and firewater

Downtown is a breathing beast, be it Fort Lauderdale, Miami or Key West. She’s deadly, but people will go even if they don’t like the options. The allure of alcohol-induced interaction always wins.

Simply walking through Fort Lauderdale’s Himmarshee bar district is a train-wreck of the various stages one can expect of alcohol poisoning. Some people are still flailing around, others are being carried back to the car before they hurt themselves. Most of my downtown friends can hold their liquor (and have many years of practice,) but not all are so fortunate. I’ve had to shove drunken, pilled up men waving bags of cocaine, into a hearse in Little Haiti– long story– and stop serious brawls from escalating to arrests. Other times I’d just kick back and watch as they utterly screw themselves.

There was a time when I found myself crawling on the floor of a random guy’s apartment as my friend had sex with him on a bed, much to my distress. I was about eighteen, and made a note to myself: NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. From that moment, I never had so much to drink in one sitting, or even one week. It was simple to me. Is it a problem? Yes. Should I do this? No. Of course, shortly after that incident I had the aid of my extremely sober then-boyfriend, so it was simple enough. I spent my 21st birthday sans any alcohol or otherwise. It didn’t hurt me, and I didn’t feel like I lost something vital.

After that floor crawl, I began sticking to the company of coffee heads and tobacconists. Quite a few of the people there led sober lives and avoided bars. It spawned my love for coffee houses, and kept with my life plan of avoiding all drugs. I’ve still never tried, or attempted to try, any drug more potent than a cute little weed that grows in the dirt. I’d like to keep it that way.

So this led me to my affinity for recovering addicts. Between self-imposed avoidance and hanging out where they prefer, I’ve met quite a few, and the differences between nights with them and nights downtown are rather grim at times. Recently, I was introduced to a local kava bar in Fort Lauderdale that has a strong base of NA folks. I’ve met some fascinating people there, just like I would at a coffee joint. Unlike downtown– where most of the interactions require a drunkspeak interpretation– there’s no alcohol to create a false sense of community and bravado. It’s just there. Walk into a bar you’ve never entered before downtown, and see how warmly you’re greeted. Walk into this kava bar, and everyone is happy to introduce themselves.

It’s an amusing kind of environment to the point of a recent example, while I was sitting outside smoking with other kava people. A slightly older, obviously party-friendly woman yelled down the hall at us asking if it was a bar. Without a word, we all looked at each other and grinned. One guy tried to explain there was no alcohol, but another told her to head in  and see. She ended up leaving with a smile and a desire to come back for the open mic night with friends. It’s seemingly easier to convince someone to back out of drinking for the night than it is to convince them to leave there to drink.

Personally, I can’t even drink kava. My kidneys won’t have it, but I find myself more than content to just sit with a tea or water. The people make it worth that for me.

So now, when I stomp around downtown (be it to see a friend’s show, or just because) I have even more appreciation for the stark contrast in attitudes. I may not know the full extent of the pain of addiction, but hearing a friend easily say “Yeah, I was a junkie. I screwed up, and I was an idiot,” gives me a little more faith in people’s ability to be brutally honest and strong for their own sake. I’ve never been able to look down on someone for their dependencies, as I’ve almost fallen victim to it myself before I found a doctor that didn’t want to cure everything with Vicodin.

While the amusement of the bars still holds for me, and I will never pass up a chance to watch stupid people do stupid things, I’m also very glad that I have places to run to when it’s too much. My “junkie” friends are some of the most talented and wonderful people I know, and I wouldn’t trade that for a thing. Some people tell me not to trust a former user. For me, this makes it far less likely to trust the person saying so than anything else.

Cat’s in the cradle

This is a different kind of run-in with a crazy guy.
It was purely by accident, and I’ll have to remember this forever, despite my best interests. The hard part about it is that I’ve never even met him.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the crazy, drug-fueled people that have crossed my path in the past, and certainly in the future. I know previous drug addicts, and many I call friends. I know current drug addicts I call friends. Some are alcoholics, other turn to pills, and more snort their choices. I still care about them, and can only hope they will be alright with what they do.
Some, though, I cannot be around. They’ve gone beyond function, roaming the streets and generally just causing havoc. They’ve ruined themselves, families, and even taken lives– or tried to. This man happens to be one of the dangerously ruined ones, the kind that make me look on in fear when a friend confesses a drug “adventure.” You’re only really a few adventures away from being like him.

It was disheartening to hear the first half of the story. I had actually asked a private investigator friend of mine to look into this, to find out anything I could. All I found were things I half expected, half hoped I’d never see. Drugs. Abuse. Felonies. Broken families, children left with restraining orders instead of a decent life. Nothing I can say was surprising after the stories I had heard, really, but still. Disappointing nevertheless.

So for some time, I hunted for more concrete information. I couldn’t find much, not even so much as a picture. Facebook was useless, and the people search engines gave me a hundred addresses. A lot of homelessness was involved, and tracking down a homeless felon isn’t as easy at it sounds with only the internet available. I decided it was time to take a new route and hunted down some of his family I never even knew had existed before. I managed to get a phone number, and from there, a little more information.

He spent time as a child in the Dominican Republic. He was a highly talented musician, picking up many instruments along the way. Natural gifted all around. Always had a very wicked temper, and a sort of laissez-faire attitude about anything of real importance. Highly intelligent, too. Perhaps a bit too much. Sounded like a rather troubled person, though. That was made obvious by his later mistakes.

Not much came of any of this, though. Not until yesterday when, on a whim, I did another Google search. That’s when the mugshots cropped up all over the place.
First was the more recent– cocaine. Then came trespassing, failure to appear, public intoxication and misconduct. Sometimes there was a home address, most of the time it was simply “at large.” I was, to say the least, in a state of disquiet. I’d never seen his face before, and this was the last way I had hoped to.

I’m a person of silent morality. I may have interesting stories to tell people, but rarely do I let much about myself out to be heard. So my general set of ideals, beliefs, and other such inner makings don’t often get to come out. It’s partially a matter of my own introversion, with a dash of utter fear. I grew up with people disappearing; seldom did they stick around. Investing in others was just a pathway to feeling bad, so I didn’t. But inside, I have a very solid set of right and wrong. I am disgusted by certain actions, like abusing an animal or cheating on a spouse. This gave me the same feeling– but it was coupled with a new sense of revulsion and dismay.

I didn’t expect anything good, to be honest. What I did expect was to feel uncomfortable. I got just that.

My family always had a bit of a problem with me. They didn’t purposefully shun me, but I was also pinned down as a bad child, no questions asked. There were some things that cannot be discussed here, but needless to say it wasn’t always pretty. My uncle was the only real male figure I had to associate with a father until my step-dad came along. My mother never married the man, but he was what I had. His drunken ravings, constant misbehavior, treating me as a horrible person and obvious outsider, and eventual proposition to me for sexual favors didn’t leave a good impression. So now, as I stare at the terrifyingly familiar, yet unseen until now face of my actual father, I am only able to wonder why.

There’s something deeply disheartening about seeing your paternal progenitor only in a mugshot. Somewhere deep in me I sense I’ve seen the face before… my recollection of my childhood is uncanny at times, remembering things from toddler-hood that some people have no capacity to recall. So in there somewhere is the knowledge that this man was in my presence at some point, a long time ago. I see hints of my face in his. The eyes remind me of my own. But what truly hit me was his expression. In most of the mugshots, he’s smirking. He couldn’t care less. In one, however, it’s rage. A rage I know I have seen in my own face, the kind that led him to multiple arrests, and ruined his relationships with family and various others. It’s in me, and I can feel it burning. His fears, anxieties, anger, addictions, insecurities and disturbances are in my blood, and I know them well.

I have my doubts that I will ever be face to face with this man before his inevitable death from his own misdeeds. I daydream of wandering around his town, hunting him down (most likely at a bar) and having a very pathetic conversation that ends in him brushing me off. That’s about the best I can hope for after twenty-six years, I suppose.

A lot of people can shrug these things off without a second thought. For me, though, it’ll eat at me. I’ve always wondered about him off and on, and it consumed me for a time months ago. My own search for who and what I am and will become has been a constant struggle, and knowing of him has been part of the puzzle. It taught me a lot about why I do and act in some ways that confounded me. It has always shown me how NOT to be as a person, for which I am grateful. The genetics in me do not define me, yet they have an impact that is subtle and creeps up on you when you least expect it. The only battle is making sure it doesn’t control you.

Yet here I am, staring at this ruined man that created me, and I can only wonder now: will I attend his funeral?