Part IV of the multi-part post from Summer 2007.

Part IV

The week of September the 10th was relatively uneventful. Work continued to be hellish. My mood stabilizer, Lamictal, has not worked worth a tinker’s damn. I have remained stressed-out and irritable.

I missed my group meetings on Tuesday the 11th due to rain. I played phone tag with my case worker all week. Thursday I got up too early and went over to my therapist’s office earlier than I needed to, but the session went well. Right after I got home my friend Gary came by, bringing me some correspondence I wanted to check for a future project. I’d not seen Gary in two years.

Work on the 15th was exceedingly hectic and stressful. After I locked the front door at 4:30 my manager wanted to talk to me:

–Were you, like, really stressed-out today?

–Oh, very much so. Beside myself with stress.

–I thought so. There were at least two times I saw you frozen before the computer screen, as if you had completely forgotten every procedure and function of the register.

–That is absolutely correct. I did.

–Well, this concerns me.

–Well, I just cannot handle hectic situations and all this noise. And for that matter, I still haven’t recovered from work Friday. I’m still exhausted from that!

–Well, this wasn’t a hectic Saturday. This was actually a very normal Saturday. And from here on out they’re only gonna get worse. And the stereo is gonna keep playing, and the phone is gonna keep ringing, and women are gonna keep having loud conversations, and kids are gonna keep running amuck and screaming. And you’re gonna have to deal with this.

–Well, I can’t. This is just how I am and how I’ve been for years. Do you want me to start looking for a job elsewhere?

–Well, no. I like having you here. I like having you work here. But you need to find a way to deal with this, because I can’t have you having a meltdown all the time. But I don’t think I could design a training simulation of Saturday working conditions, so you could practice this and try to get better.

–No, you couldn’t simulate the chaos and noise and confusion. One of my conditions is Adult ADD. I cannot take a bunch of stimuli bombarding me at once. I get “flooded,” to use the official term. I get over-loaded and start shutting down. But there’s nothing you or I can do to fix it. I was on Ritalin for a year-and-a-half and by the end of that time it had me bouncing off the walls.

–Well, we need to see where you are with this in a month.

–Well, I’m telling you now, I don’t believe you or I or anyone can fix it. I just don’t handle hectic conditions and noise well.

And so there’s that crap to worry about now. I’m stuck in this job, I can’t afford to quit it or get fired from it, I can’t stand staying in it, I have no immediate prospects for a new one, I spend all my time stressing out on the job, or dreading or recovering before or after the job. Plus if I got a new job it would have to accommodate my psychological treatment schedule.

Sunday the 16th I spent still stressed out and nervous. My scalp has once again sprouted pimples and boils in response to my stress. In the evening I watched Fellini’s “Intervista.” Monday featured diarrhea in the morning and the usual work bullshit. I got into a phone conversation with an elderly customer and wound up offering to find him legal help for his various troubles. My case worker gave me a ride home and we got caught up on my condition and paperwork.

On Tuesday I headed south for four group meetings. I arrived about 45 minutes early and found a lovely, upscale, and over-priced coffee house right across the street from the classroom building. It had low lights, Mid-Century Modern furnishings, and jazz on the sound system. Just my kind of place. It was maybe 50 yards and a million miles away from the shit-hole where I was to spend the next four hours of my day.

When I walked into the classroom building the receptionist was engrossed in You Tube, watching the video Kevin Federline made of a drunk, stoned, and ignorant Britney Spears, holding forth on her belief in time travel, among other things. The receptionist told me, “Hey, you’ve got the same glasses as Benny Hill! You even look like him!” Now I don’t think I look remotely like Hill, and I don’t remember him wearing glasses, but I played along and gave the Benny Hill salute, which sent the portly little gal into hysterics.

Then, apropos of nothing, the receptionist announced to me and to a rather deranged woman next to me, that, “You should never listen to the song ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ by Foreigner when you’re single, ’cause I did when I was single and it always made me cry.” I didn’t bother to mention that I’d been single for almost 44 years and that song never made me cry. Now various works by Damien Rice, on the other hand….

The chief episode of the day took place in the Anger Management group. A grown black woman was acting like a surly child. Since she was the most willing to discuss her problems and most everyone else was sitting around like lumps, I asked this woman several questions. I thought I was being helpful, trying to get to the root of her problem and maybe see if I could derive insights into my condition by studying hers. To be wholly honest, I was also showing off. Proving that I had every bit as much knowledge of psychology as the group leader provided a much-needed boost to my self-esteem.

To my great surprise this woman, who spent the entire meeting speaking as if on the verge of either screaming or crying, turned to the group leader and denounced me, saying, “This guy is really pissing me off, asking all these questions like my therapist does! If he’s got all the answers, trying to figure me out, then what’s he doin’ in this group? If he’s in this group he’s got problems of his own he better work out before he goes trying to fix me!” Shortly thereafter the woman said she had to go outside and cool off so she wouldn’t be tempted to attack me. Apparently she is angry all the time, and resorts to physical violence quite a bit. (She seemed like she would be better off incarcerated, for her own good and society’s.)

When she left the room the guy sitting next to me gave my a tap of solidarity on the sole of my shoe, as if congratulating me for finally running the crazy bitch off, but that had not been my intention. When she finally came back I mostly sat quietly and took notes, only commenting again right at the end of the meeting.

After all that I had a quick, cheap, and excellent late lunch at a Mexican restaurant (South 1st is known as Austin’s “Mexican restaurant mile”), then prowled some stores in the neighborhood. I slipped in to a New Age store and asked if they had any Sound or Vibrational therapy items, but they were unfamiliar with the discipline. I went by La Resistencia bookstore, saw nothing I wanted (I have more books in my Theology sub-section at home than they do in the whole store), and got a contact high and sore lungs from a joint someone left, still burning, in an ashtray in the back hallway.

On the 19th a high school classmate whom I’d not seen in 25 years came into the store. While it was fun to see and talk to him, I was deeply embarrassed for him to see me, after all these years, doing no better than working in a fucking store as a clerk. I hated to think he’d go home and tell his siblings that he found me in such reduced circumstances. Needless to say, when I spoke with him I made it sound as if I’d only lost my good dot-com job only recently and not six years ago.

On Thursday the 20th, as I was leaving the house to go to therapy and run errands relating to the bureaucratic red tape that ties up my medical treatment, I found a work crew armed with sledge hammers loudly breaking up the concrete on the landing outside my front door. It’s a good thing I hadn’t planned on sleeping in.

The landings on the 2nd and 3rd floors of my building consist of several layers: concrete, plywood, wooden structural trusses, and then another sheet of plywood, which form the ceiling of the landing below. Apparently this winter’s ice storm and the near-constant rain in June and July helped rot out the plywood layers and do damage to the trusses.

Friday I got on the bus, realized I was going to be late again for another wretched weekly staff meeting, and began to have a massive panic attack. I felt on the verge of tears for no particular reason. I got so overwhelmed and stressed out that two-thirds of my way to the store I got off the bus and left a message I’d not be coming in.

Ah, but what about my manager’s demand that I get a note from a doctor? Well, I mentioned on the message I wasn’t going to a doctor, but I’d try to get my case worker or therapist to call him about my condition. They called back, and it seems my case worker will be able to get me those things.

After an uneventful day of work Saturday I went to see “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Bob Ford.” I enjoyed it, it had a very European, art-house feel to it, and the scene preceding the train robbery was for me worth the price of admission, but the movie ran for 2 hours and 40 minutes, and at least eight people in the audience walked out, something I’d not seen done before. Needless to say, once I got home I tore up my living room looking for my book about Jesse James, so I could read more.

Before the movie I went to get a drink and some candy at the concession counter. Ahead of me was a male/female couple, both morbidly obese, both of the sci fi/fantasy geek mode, who took an enormous amount of time deciding what candy they wanted, then changing their minds, then changing their minds yet again as if this was a life-altering decision. Most people take less time deciding to buy a fucking house than these two.

The fucking theatre was filled with these types, because perched dead-center in my auditorium when I arrived was another fat Harry Knowles-wannabe, talking loudly to his court about movies, saying that he considered “Star Wars” to be the greatest movie ever made, and that he rates all movies against the standard of how close they come to being like “Star Wars.” He opined, “Most movies, needless to say, fall very short of the mark.”

Well, good luck with that, you fat asshole. Now shut your blubbery pie-hole so I can watch the fucking trailers I paid $8.25 to see.

Then in walked a couple who sat way up in front—a leggy blonde more than a little on the slutty side and a considerably older male Yuppie asshole—the kind of guy who probably orders a special coffee with a ridiculously long name at his corner Starbucks. She was in a slinky black dress and he was in a charcoal sport coat. They seemed way over-dressed for the multi-plex.

And then they started making out, but in a pretentious, artsy-fartsy, Yuppie kind of way, as if they were trying to re-enact scenes from movies. He reached back and scooped up a handful of her hair and looked as is he was weighing or assessing it. Then he delicately placed his fingers at her chin, jaw-line, cheek, and brow. I didn’t know if he was about to sculpt her or give her a root canal, but I finally growled, “Hey, fer fuck’s sake, get a room!,” but the effect was lost because the trailers started at the same time I spoke up.

Sunday the 23rd I slept in, Monday was another dull day of work, Tuesday I went to four group meetings in South Austin (and talked to the receptionist about the infamous “Leave Britney Alone” video on You Tube), got a letter by my doctor from my case worker in East Austin, went by a pharmacy in North Central Austin—only to find they didn’t take checks, then went by Central Market. Tuesday also featured a day-long depression, two minor panic attacks, and a sense of being on the verge of tears—something I finally fixed when I got home—I played some sad music and let the tears flow, then knocked myself out with a Clonazepam, which I knew would also mellow me down for the following day at work.

Wednesday the 26th I almost twisted my fucking ankle on the job: I was taking out the garbage and a bunch of boxes and stepped in a pot-hole and fell down, letting out a stream of obscenities that would not have gone over well inside the Christian bookstore where I work.

Thursday I met briefly with my case worker. I got to witness a fender-bender while waiting for a bus—a batty old man ran right into a car, then backed up, hit it again, and so on, like he was playing bumper cars. I was told later he’d had a seizure behind the wheel. After I met with my therapist I got so hot waiting outdoors for buses I scrapped my other plans for the day and finally got my Ativan prescription filled at the grocery store by my house.

The Ativan? Well, it does seem to calm my anxiety somewhat, but it leaves me very sleepy, indifferent, and rather like a zombie. I feel like I’m walking through life with cotton in my ears. A co-worker said I seem calmer and don’t snap at her and my other co-worker as much—something I wasn’t aware of doing in the first place.

Some months ago Austin was hit with an afternoon rain storm so severe that traffic lights got knocked out, several accidents took place, and drive-time traffic was more snarled than usual. My evening commute, which normally takes about 20 minutes, took more than an hour. Those of us stuck on the bus—passengers and driver alike—were almost bonded by the crisis. We felt, as it were, like survivors in a lifeboat after our ship had sunk.

One of the passengers that day was a friendly, if morbidly obese, overly-talkative, and none-too-intelligent woman, who insisted on introducing herself and trying to get to know everyone. On subsequent commutes she has spotted me hiding behind my book and come over to talk.

She has learned, for example, that I like movies. Her tastes in movies run to fantasy and bad sci fi—the sort of crap James is into. I’m more into foreign films and documentaries. And when she asked me to describe the last movie I’d seen and I did so, she looked bewildered, as if the description was more than her tiny little brain could handle, and she creased her jowly face and said, “You’re into some pretty weird stuff.” And then, quoting Jeremy Irons in “Absence of Malice,” I replied in a sepulchral voice, “You have no idea.”

And so on this particular Friday she rather baldly announced, “You know, I really wanna see a movie. Would you like to see a movie Monday?” I refused to let this woman become more familiar with me. I didn’t want to know her in the first place, and she already knew more about me than I cared for her to. So I declined, saying there weren’t any mainstream movies playing that I wanted to see.

Later, when I mentioned this to James, he made the typically obnoxious suggestion that I should a) take this woman up on her offer, and b) pursue a relationship with her. I was disgusted, and angrily explained that I didn’t want to know or “date” her, that fat women don’t appeal to me, that she was dull and ignorant, and that I didn’t want people to see us together and think, “Hey, look at those two lard-asses together.” I added that for much of my life people have suggested that since I’m fat, the best that I can hope for is to date a fat woman. I said that the last thing I wanted at this point was a fucking relationship with anybody of any description, but especially with someone who disgusted me. And James, predictably, said, “Oh, you just don’t want to date her because you’re a fag.”

Sure, James. That has to be it. You’re always right, aren’t you?

And still people wonder why I’ve withdrawn from the human race.

When will people learn to just leave me the fuck alone, that I don’t wish to be bothered?

Anyway that same Friday evening, the 28th, I went to the neighborhood art house to go see “December Boys” and found a band playing in front of the theatre and a line stretching around two corners of the building. Lo and behold, I had walked right into opening night of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival. There’s got to be a joke in there somewhere about life being like walking into a gay film festival, but I’m too sedated now to think of one. Suffice it to say, the crowd had the lobby, um, “packed,” and they made a hell of a lot of noise in their auditorium, which was right next door to mine.


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