Journal Entries for December 2011.

DECEMBER

Thursday, December 1st–I applied for all sorts of welfare benefits with the Texas Health and Human Resources Department, or whatever the fuck it’s called. This was hugely embarrassing….

Friday, December 2nd–I woke up this afternoon with a powerful need to piss, got up, did so, got back into bed, and cut the shit out of my knee on a spring that had busted through my mattress.

It hurt, but I went back to sleep. I didn’t discover how badly I’d cut myself until I finally got up. I later stripped my bed, located the spring with surprising difficulty, yet failed to cut it off. I eventually flipped the mattress to the other side and hoped for the best. Being a bachelor, I saw no need to bother laundering the blood out of my sheets.

I got up, walked Belle in the drizzle, and think I heard some asshole frat boy neighbor call me a bag lady.
I dropped off some bills at the UPS Store and bought stamps, then got some food at the dollar store.

Later, I learned that Tom H__, father of my friend David, died the other day at 76. I lit an online candle and put his name on prayer lists for the Sisters of St. Paul and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Saturday, December 3rd–It rained most of the day. I spent much of my time reading.

Sunday, December 4th–There was rain pretty much all day. I finally finished Denton Welch’s amazing “A Voice Through a Cloud.” I started “Dream I tell You” by Helene Cixous.

Monday, December 5th–

Tuesday,  December 6th–

Wednesday, December 7th–Today was the day for Tom H___’s funeral.

James told me he was coming into town and said he might come by and take me to my appointments. When it came close to the time for him to do that I got a bad feeling and called him. It turns out he had two other errands to run before he met with me. He hadn’t bothered to calculate how long they’d take to do, and it became obvious to me he couldn’t do them and get me where I needed to go in time. He tried to palm this onto me, and made the specious claim this wouldn’t be a problem if I had a cell phone. I was furious.

I left the house, checked the mail, got a check, cashed it at the bank, took a bus into town, dropped off some books at the library and checked out more, took another bus up to Hyde Park, saw a neighborhood newspaper that announced the death of one of my Citysearch Freelancers, ate at the New World Cafe, strolled around, ducked in briefly at Fresh Plus, then waited around outside La Dolce Vita gelato and espresso place for my Professional Writers of Austin networking meeting to start.

I don’t know as I made much of a showing at this meeting, as they asked what I’d been doing since March and had nothing much to tell them. There was one guy who seemed fascinated by my stories and thought I ought to post them on a blog. He gave me his card, and turned out to be a recruiter. I need to check out his job site.

I told them about that realtor this summer who wanted me to wear so many hats. They laughed and said they’d had similar things happen to them–employers wanting something–or too much–for nothing.

A lot of them spent a long time talking about social media. The coffee house was very loud and I couldn’t hear much of what anyone said. I left extremely depressed. I’ve been sore and exhausted all day from the long walk involved.

Thursday, December 8th–I woke earlier than usual for my phone call with the gal from the welfare office.
Because I have no money they like to expedite the process as fast as possible.

As I figured, I don’t qualify for TANF (Temporary financial assistance for my bills) because I have no kids. I also don’t qualify for Medicaid for the disabled, though that is the thing that’ll take 45 days to process.

I do qualify for Food Stamps, but what I send them will determine what kind I get. I can automatically get three month’s worth one time only over the course of three years, OR if I get a doctor to prove a diagnosis of disability I can get six months worth, with an option to keep renewing. The latter is necessary to prove my ability to work is impaired, as otherwise, work is required for Food Stamps. I would also need to register with the Texas Workforce Commission. TWC does provide some sort of training, but what kind I am unsure.
They weren’t much help on my agoraphobia or other psychological problems. I explained I didn’t get much out of MHMR, and it turns out the clerk used to work for them and she said that that’s a common observation–that MHMR is pretty ineffective.

They suggested I look into applying for RSDI, a form of disability benefits through Social Security. (I later learned this is the same thing as the next-to-impossible-to-get SSDI.)

…I need to get them all the info within ten days. I also need to get a doctor to confirm the disability–be it an MHMR doctor or my current one. I called MHMR to get the ball rolling, then, cross-eyed with exhaustion, I went back to bed.

As far as applying for disability benefits, it might be better to get an appointment with a licensed psychologist and have him test me so he can say, “Yes, this man has agoraphobia, etc.” It might carry more weight.

And SSDI cases almost never get approved without the help of a disability lawyer.

James sent me a link to some County services. I need to read more in depth on that.

The clerk on the phone today said my case is by no means unique. She does have well-educated people applying for benefits and having trouble finding work. She dealt with someone with a Master’s degree the other day. And as far as TWC goes, she does encounter a lot of people who have been having the same trouble as I have–lack of qualifications for decent jobs.  So she implied the training available included stuff for better than just low-wage manual labor jobs.

I did mention that I still wanted to have a career and not just become, for lack of a better term, a “professional disabled person,” and I heard her typing after I said that.

So, the game plan:

1) Gather paperwork to send to SNAP (Food Stamps) and MHMR to get extended benefits.

2) Apply with TWC to see what they can do about training. (Although my problems getting out of the house might complicate that at this point.)

3) Look into County benefits, if any. (James’ experience is they don’t help financially unless you’re already way behind, which won’t help if I have an eviction notice on my door.)

4) Look into applying for RSDI.

5) The only thing missing is I’m not getting treatment for agoraphobia and other problems, which directly have a bearing on my getting out into society, especially since I keep having panic attacks, getting angry, or feeling like I’m about to burst into tears in public.

After my nap, I walked Belle, went to Petsmart, bought dog food and treats, then got some stuff for myself at the dollar store.

My friend Don, former […] Music Editor, former full-time and current part-time rock drummer and also now successful realtor, is a co-founder and former president of the SIMS foundation, a local charity that offers low-cost mental health care for local musicians. There’s also a group called HAAM–Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. These groups exist because musicians tend to have little or no insurance. They have hugely popular fund raising concerts, etc.

Anyway, I told Don I wish there was a similar group for Austin’s “creatives”–writers, artists, and actors–and he thought it was a great idea, very easy to do in this town, and might help me get out of my shell. He said SIMS/HAAM would certainly co-operate with something like that. I know Matt brunches every weekend at the cafe at Whole Foods with the city’s movers and shakers. If I could get him to return calls I might bounce the idea off him.

Anyway, it doesn’t affect me immediately, but it’s a thought.

Friday, December 9th–….

Saturday, December 10th–….

Later on I finished reading Helene Cixous’s “Dream I Tell You.”

Sunday, December 11th–

Monday, December 12th–

Tuesday, December 13th–I dreamt I was in front of a tall, old, red brick office building in Dallas. There were fields and vacant lots all around. Different sections of Dallas were off in the distance.Though I dreaded the long walk, I decided I’d best walk over to the old downtown part of Dallas, that I’d be more likely to see interesting things there.

A black guy in his 20s or 30s offered me a ride, and strangely enough, I got in. he pointed to a road bridge and said we were headed that way. I got suspicious. this isn’t where I wanted to go. We got to the bridge and I saw a sign that indicated we were going to “Toymoor” or “Troymoor,” which was a notoriously dangerous rural area of Dallas, populated with blacks who were known to kill white people. I began crying loudly, “You’re taking me to Toymoor! Why? Why do you want to kill me? You don’t even know me!”

I then found a long, printed slip of paper on the dashboard and read the account of what was to happen to me. This guy would kill me with a blunt object–I forget what it was called in the article, but just at that moment the guy pulled out a tire iron and set it down on the dash.

We arrived at his remote, run-down farm. He was in no hurry to kill me. He did get onto me a bit because I had neglected to take his car stereo out of his car and bring it into his house and set it up there. (I guess I was supposed to figure that out on my own, without instructions.) This was his only source of music. I think I passed out in one of the rooms from fear and exhaustion, because I remember the next morning, wondering when he’d finally kill me….

Then there was a dream where I watched a little black girl child born into illegitimacy, then develop quite rapidly, until she was speaking in an articulate, rather adult manner while still a baby.

In the next dream I walked in, with a good number of friends, to a sort of upscale Denny’s-type place that specialized in breakfast foods. The manager saw me, thought I was there to apply for the host/maitre d’ position, and told me I was hired. Though I needed a job, I didn’t want to work there, so I just ignored him.

A little later someone came over to tell us our table was ready, the manager saw me, told me rather sharply to “seat these people” (my party), and I just accompanied them and we all took our seats.  I sat at one end. One of the gimmicks at this restaurant was they left hamburgers or sandwiches at your places or on little shelves built into the backs of your chairs, for you to enjoy as appetizers. But if you took the sandwiches with you or ate them, you’d still be charged extra….

Wednesday, December 14th–It was a short day. I got up, walked and fed Belle, ate, read in Chesterton in the living room for awhile, then my eyes got tired, and I went to take a nap at 6pm and wound up sleeping for eight hours. It misted or rained much of the day and night.

Thursday, December 15th–I received an invitation today to join the Austin Pink Hat Meet-Up Group, for women under 50. I have to assume they just sent out a mass invitation to all Austin-area Meet-Up members.

Friday, December 16th–I dreamt last night that I hired an assistant.

This was odd, seeing as I’m broke and have no income. But my assistant helped me in my activities, drove me around, cooked and cleaned, was a sounding board for my ideas, did my legwork for me, and all sorts of things like that. Something of a cross between a friend and employee—Watson to my Holmes, Archie Goodwin to my Nero Wolfe. (About all I would need from a human significant other, for that matter.) The weird thing is the assistant’s sex kept changing back and forth from male to female and back again.

This morning I went to the UPS Store and mailed off paperwork to the Food Stamp and MHMR places, then called the former to tell them they’d probably not get the paperwork in time for the December 19th deadline. They wouldn’t give me an extension, but did note I called.

I began to sink into stress and depression….[I received several pieces of bad news.]

My head was aching….Then James piped in with more discouragement. I was practically in tears. I almost cried after coming back inside from taking Belle for a walk.

Saturday, December 17th–

Sunday, December 18th–

Monday, December 19th–It continued to rain today. It’s been raining a good deal lately. I finally finished Kurt Vonnegut’s “Look at the Birdie.”

Tuesday, December 20th–

Wednesday, December 21st–Today I dreamt that all the important books were downloaded into peoples’s head. It took me a long time to remember the name of an important book I wanted to read. I tracked down the person who had the book in her head, only to discover that someone in charge had erased her memory of the book. Some evil, important force was deleting all the great books systematically—but who was behind it? There seemed to be plenty of crappy books left behind, so most people didn’t notice there was a problem. I woke up before I could investigate any further….

Thursday, December 22nd–….

I gathered up a bunch of old clothes that I’ve mostly not worn since I moved into this apartment 7 1/2 years ago, and stuffed them in plastic bags so I can take them to the bin on the corner, donate them to charity, and free up some room in my closets.

Friday, December 23rd–….I did, however, get some Christmas cards, including one from one of my Basset fancier friends, who sent along $10 so I could buy Belle a treat! At last–Belle would have a Christmas after all! I lugged the two heavy bags of old clothes over to the donation bin on the corner, then went to Petsmart and bought Belle a stocking filled with treats, and a candy cane-shaped chew the length of my forearm.

When I got home I gave her the cane, and she ate half of it before I even noticed. I finally took it away when she wasn’t looking, because I don’t want her to overdo it and get sick.

Saturday, December 24th–Well, it’s official–Christmas is going to suck this year….It’s perfectly in keeping with the overall shittiness of this goddamnable year. I am just beside myself with anger.

At least Belle gets a Christmas, which is all that really matters.

Sunday, December 25th–I finished Hunte Yuang’s “Charlie Chan: The Untold Story Of The Honorable Detective And His Rendezvous With American History.” It covers a lot of ground, including biographical profiles of the real-life Chinese-American detective who inspired Charlie Chan and the mystery writer who created him.

It discusses 200 years of Hawaiian history, with an emphasis on white versus non-white race relations, life in a Chinese village, the Chinese presence in America from the Gold Rush on, the laws that were enacted to discriminate against the Chinese, Asian stereotypical figures in Nineteenth-Century America, including “John Chinaman,” the Siamese Twins, and Bret Harte’s “Heathen Chinee” Ah Sin, Charlie Chan in books, films, and other media, the background to and influence of that other Chinese fictional icon of the Twentieth Century–the villainous Dr. Fu Manchu, early Asian actors and actresses in America, the actors that played Chan, the use of “Yellowface” in Hollywood–that is, white actors playing Asian roles, the reception of Chan in both America and China, American nativism, the influence of Orientalism on American thought, how the Cold War caused an anti-Chinese backlash in America, and the reaction of Asian-Americans towards Chan in recent decades.

The author even provides glimpses of his own life story, from a childhood in a small Chinese village, to protesting in Tiananmen Square, to working in a small Chinese restaurant in Alabama, to grad school, and finally globe-trotting as a successful professor. Amazingly, Huang manages to discuss all these matters in about 300 pages. The chapter about the Massie rape-murder case in 1930s Hawaii was especially fascinating, and a shocking incident about which I’d not heard of before.

Monday, December 26th–….

Tuesday, December 27th–I slept late, well into the night…..

Wednesday, December 28th–I got my checks, but didn’t get the mail until late.

Thursday, December 29th–After taking care of Belle I went to the bank ATM, deposited a check, took some money out, went to McDonald’s for French fries, apple pies, and a mango smoothie, was given a Dr. Pepper instead, went to Barnes and Noble and bought the latest issue of “Afar,” went to HEB, discovered I didn’t have enough to get all the groceries I’d collected, left some on a shelf, and just managed to squeak in under the line with pennies to spare.

I got home, over-burdened with the weight of the bags, and stressed out. Belle barked her head off when I returned. I walked her, showered, and finished Ian Fleming’s “Doctor No,” my last book of the year. I concluded the bedroom carpet does indeed have mold, and tried to figure out a cheap, dog-safe method of cleaning it.

Friday, December 30th–I puttered around and watched a Charlie Chan movie: “Black Magic” (aka “Meeting at Midnight”). I also spread lots of baking soda over the mold and piss stains in the bedroom carpet.

Saturday, December 31st–I got up close to 9pm, walked and fed Belle, ate, vacuumed the bedroom carpet, then scrubbed it with hydrogen peroxide and hot water. At midnight I kissed Fred’s picture and then Belle (who had been sleeping). I started the first book of the year, Jean Genet’s “Our Lady of the Flowers,” but soon grew tired and went to bed around 4:22am.

My 2011 Reading List
This mostly represents my reading from April through December, as I didn’t read much the first three months of the year. (I spent March writing a 928-page book of my own.)

Antoine de Saint-Exupery–The Little Prince
Bill C. James–Jim Miller: The Untold Story of a Texas Badman
Glenn Shirley–Shotgun For Hire: The Story of “Deacon” Jim Miller, Killer of Pat Garrett
W. G. Sebald–Austerlitz
John Fante–Ask The Dust
Knut Hamsum–Hunger
Knut Hamsun–Dreamers
Christopher Isherwood–Christopher and His Kind
Christopher Isherwood–A Meeting By The River
Christopher Isherwood–Mr. Norris Changes Trains
Christopher Isherwood–Good-Bye To Berlin
Christopher Isherwood–Prater Violet
John Fante–The Brotherhood of the Grape
Aldous Huxley–Crome Yellow
Evelyn Waugh–The Loved One
Julia Child–My Life in France
E. M. Forster–Where Angels Fear To Tread
Dore Ashton–About Rothko
Caroline Seebohm–Boca Rococo: How Addison Mizner Invented Florida’s Gold Coast
Evelyn Waugh–Vile Bodies
Christopher Isherwood–Lions and Shadows
Kurt Vonnegut–Deadeye Dick
Philip K. Dick–Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Kurt Vonnegut–A Man Without A Country
Dorothy L. Sayers–Clouds of Witness
Saul Bellow–Ravelstein
Nancy Horan–Loving Frank
Adam Bertocci–Two Gentlemen of Lebowski
E. L. Doctorow–Homer & Langley
Erle Stanley Gardner–The Case of the Lame Canary
Kurt Vonnegut–While Mortals Sleep
Zane Gray–The Fugitive Trail
Marguerite Duras–Writing
Aldous Huxley–Along The Road
Hilaire Belloc–At the Sign of the Lion
Erle Stanley Gardner–The Case of the Fabulous Fake
Dorothy L. Sayers–The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Denton Welch–A Voice Through A Cloud
Helene Cixous–Dream I Tell You
G. K. Chesterton–As I Was Saying
Kurt Vonnegut–Look At The Birdie
Yunte Huang–Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History
Ian Fleming–Doctor No

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The Impending Crisis in Content.

I fear I will soon be facing a content problem with this blog. I am running out of material to post. I recycled much from my old blog, I’ve posted several years of journal entries, and two almost-complete books. I really should have parceled out “Withholding” in smaller doses–it would’ve lasted longer and probably been less of a burden on my readers–not that I have all that many, according to my site stats.

What I have left are seven months of journal entries, and my largely unpopular Paris book. After that, I may have to go back to posting abstract photos.

I have something of a love/hate relationship to the books I’ve written. Sometimes I’ll look one of them over and find it amusing and clever, bordering even on the erudite. Then I’ll finish reading some truly great book, and feel I am even less than an amateur. Yes, my work is often pessimistic, cynical, misanthropic, bitter, angry, vulgar, and profane. But also I think I too often sound naive, childish, wide-eyed, clueless, unsophisticated, provincial, and cloyingly sentimental.

Of course, some of this is due to the unsophisticated society in which I live, and the rather plodding, incurious people who have always surrounded me. I live in a place where people would rather kill a deer or go to a high school football game than look in on an art exhibition or attend a foreign film. I’ve always felt out of place in this culture, or, as the most perceptive of my therapists once pegged me, “a stranger in a strange land.”

I try to fill up my mind with only the finest of intellectual nutriments, but even these influences have failed to bring my work up to the level I desire. It doesn’t help that poverty and madness have caused my world to shrink, and my journal entries are devoid of all adventure, and include only monotonous lists of my daily routines, films watched, and books read, as well as the fears both trivial and substantial that seem to me so enormous, and the petty and often imaginary feuds and squabbles that I’ve turned into Miltonian conflicts between the forces of good and evil.

“Withholding.” The End.

A blog posted on December 9, 2007.

–Friday–11/2/07–My 44th birthday. Hip-hip-hoo-fucking-ray.

Any calmness I felt about my situation the previous day thanks to my therapist’s calm and sane talk was dissipated today, as I continued to worry about things. And it was not enough that I was making myself sick–James had to pitch in.

–I can’t talk long–I need to go out and start looking for jobs, and drop off my application at Starbuck’s.

–Why do you wanna do that for?

–I don’t wanna do it, I have to do it, to get some money coming back in.

–Well even if you started a job today it’d be 2-to-4 weeks before you got paid.

–What does that matter? I need some kind of income rolling in.

–You should learn how to live in poverty like I do.

–Poverty? You have a fucking paid-off townhouse. I do not want to be and will not be homeless and lose all my stuff. My stuff is the only thing I give a shit about anymore anyway.

–Well why do you keep applying for shitty jobs you hate and that make you crazy, that stress you out, that you can’t do well, and that you’ll probably quit or be fired from quickly?

–Because that’s the only place I can find work! I can’t find work in the fields I’m good at!

— You see, this is why your friends don’t want to help you-you never listen to the advice they give. Austin is the biggest writer’s market in Texas.

–Probably.

–Trust me–it is. And I could find you plenty of writing jobs in Austin.

–Okay, name me five. Five jobs right now or in the next few days, that are hiring.

–I didn’t say I could find you five places that are hiring. And I didn’t say I could find you jobs that wouldn’t make you crazy. I’m not inside your head, so I can’t know….

–Well stop playing fucking word and semantical games and name some places.

— “Texas Monthly,” the “Chronicle,” the “Statesman”….

–Yeah, yeah. I know all those usual places. But they’re never hiring, And they already have a backlog of applications.

–When have you ever seen those places advertise openings?  Never ever. They don’t advertise. You should know that by now.

–Well, what fucking good is that list? You’re just stating the obvious. And you’re naming places that never hire.

–Well, maybe you’ll have to become a better writer.

–Fuck you! I am a good writer! That doesn’t have a fucking thing to do with it.

–Well, you’re just setting yourself up for more misery applying for these crappy jobs.

–Well I know. But what fucking choice do I have?

–Your choice is to get a job in writing.

–Dammit, it’s not as easy as you make it sound!

–I wish I could kick you in the nuts every time you apply for those type of jobs. Those jobs are just going to increase your depression and hinder your treatment.

–I would rather get kicked in the nuts than work any more of those jobs.

And so needless to say, I spent the afternoon of my birthday in a serious, serious depression, but I think less because James was provoking me than because I knew he was right. But I didn’t know how to fix the problem and break the cycle of shit I’ve been in all these years.

I went to the Starbuck’s. While I waited to drop off my application I noticed how busy it was and how painfully loud the music was. This would not be a good place to work. And none of the other places where I picked up applications had much going for them either. Each place was just a new version of hell, in different clothing. Every one of them seemed noisy, hectic, and involved using a cash register….

–Saturday–11/3/07–Sleepy. Depressed. And my ankles and shins are still killing me from that last job. The prospect of taking another shitty job just overwhelmed me. I took some meds and went to bed at 8pm.

–Sunday–11/4/07–After many interesting dreams, I finally got up around 2:30pm. Again I was overwhelmed with depression over my job prospects and the idea of doing more retail bullshit. I tried to fill out some applications, but could only get so far, plus I kept making writing mistakes, blacking out what I’d written, and so forth.

On one application it asked what I liked least about that proofreading job. There were so many answers I could’ve given but I just wrote “The hours (3rd shift).”  It also asked what I liked most about the job and I wrote “Nothing.”

I wanted to sob unceasingly, but I couldn’t even force that out….

*******

A blog posted on December 9, 2007.

–Tuesday–11/6/07–I got up early and bused it downtown. At the stop at 9th and Colorado I was listening to my little radio when I became aware of a woman yelling at me. I figured the fact I had my headphones on was a good enough excuse to not answer her. But I soon realized she wasn’t yelling at me–she was just yelling. I eased back about 50 feet away from her. Then she began stamping angrily at some invisible pests on one segment of the sidewalk, then looked all around and yelled louder, then barked like a dog. She was really losing it, to the extent I think she probably should’ve been locked up.

My first stop was the medical card place. I always leave there in a tearing, bloody rage, and today was no exception. Since the inefficient cocksuckers won’t transact any kind of business over the phone, I had to go AGAIN physically there to set another fucking appointment which won’t be until fucking December, when I’ll have to physically go in YET AGAIN. Plus I’ll have to bring along the same fucking stack of documents I brought in when I was there three fucking weeks before, as well as a fucking form filled out by my fucking former manager explaining that I no longer work at his fucked-up store. The reason I have to do all this bullshit is, of course, that I got fired and so my income level has changed. If I get a job between now and the appointment date, my new supervisor will also have to fill out another fucking form, so they gave me a spare just in case.

I was ready to hit someone when I walked out of there, and headed over to yet another bus stop. There was a drunk (at 9:30am) middle-aged woman there arguing with her boyfriend. I was waiting for her to start messing with me so I could bash her in the skull with my radio. But the bus soon arrived and the ride back into downtown was uneventful. I took another bus south and someone was kicking repeatedly on the metal panel against which I was leaning, so I thumped the panel back hard with my elbow.

I showed up at the place where the group sessions are held, just in time for the second hour of the art class. The project was to do a collage illustrating how we saw our “Higher Power.” I found this next to impossible to do with the same pile of shredded magazines that have been pawed-over for art projects the last few months.

At first I looked at a travel magazine for pictures of cathedrals, but in truth I found the assignment rather obscure and perhaps even poorly thought out: how, in fact, does one portray God with magazine advertisements?

So I settled for images of qualities that I considered important–pictures of dogs, to represent unconditional love, a photo of a guy working at a computer in his underwear–symbolic of how uplifting a good job well done is, and conversely, how miserable a bad job is. I found some pictures of bed–my shelter from the buffetings of life, and even a few pictures of mosques, even though I’m not a Muslim.

One of the group leaders came over with a picture of a statue in a beautiful Oriental garden, saying she heard I was looking for religious images.

–Oh, that’s a Kuan Yin, right?

The group leader was astonished.

–Wow, you really know your stuff. The Goddess of Compassion, that’s right. How did you know that?

–I study comparative religions.

–Wow. I’m from Malaysia, and there’s a huge statue of her there where people make pilgrimages.

I never really finished my collage–in fact, I only managed to tear some pages out. But on the sly I was mostly tearing out pages of magazine stories I wanted to read later at home (the architecture of Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray on the Riviera, boutique casbah hotels in Morocco…).

But one guy–one guy–he baffled everybody…well, at least everybody in the room who wasn’t zombified from their meds. He made a collage of his Higher Power entirely out of images of Harleys. The group leaders had no idea what to say about that. Normally they can come up with something supportive to say about the lamest and most foggy-brained efforts of the most mentally-unsound patients, but this time they were gob-smacked.

This guy explained that the collage did not represent his Higher Power, but said he had once owned a motorcycle, and had known a lot of Harley aficionados, and to them owning and riding Harleys was a way of life, but he stopped short of saying that it was for them almost a religion. (Of course, I’ve known weird fuckers who regard wearing Birkenstocks and flip-flops almost like a religion, or at least a tacky cult, but that’s another rant.) At any rate, the links in this guy’s chain of logic seemed tenuous at very best.

During my Anger Management group (where it turned out I was the angriest person in the room, with an unscientific and self-applied rating of 9 out of a range from 0 to 10) the group leader asked a new guy a question and wanted to write his name on the erase board, and she thought he said “Rollen,” when in fact he said, “Roland,” which for some reason threw her, and I got impatient with her difficulty over the name and almost spouted out,

–You know, like “Childe Roland to the dark tower came…,”

 but I held my tongue. I do tend to show off so much in those groups that I really have to pace myself. In the Health group one of the leaders announced an art show that was being held at the State Hospital featuring work by former patients, and that got me off on a tangent about Louis Wain, the turn-of-the-century British artist who, after being institutionalized with schizophrenia, began drawing very bizarre representations of cats.

I talked to James after I got home and he finally decided to clarify terms for me, after I’ve been screaming for months about it. He finally defined what he meant by my being “responsible” for all my problems:

–If somebody on the bus hauled off and smacked the shit out of you and injured you, whose fault would that be?

–His.

–If you don’t go to the hospital and get your injury treated, whose responsibility is that?

–Mine.

–Exactly.

–And I am getting treatment for my problems and trying to fix my fucked-up life.

–Yes, you are.

My problem was the way James was saying it, it sounded like he was claiming it’s my fault my life is the way it is, and despite my screaming at him over and over, he only now decided to explain himself.

*******

A blog posted on December 23, 2007.

…–Thursday–11/8/07–A busy day. On the way downtown on the bus a young woman told me all her problems–lack of housing and health care and so forth, and I gave her the names of four agencies she could go to to get those things.

At my second bus stop an off-duty bus driver came up and started talking about his love life, how that now he’s in his 50s he thinks he’s too old to bother with most womens’ bullshit. Then during the last third of the ride he held forth on religion and how important it was to get right with God. The conversation was actually more interesting than I’ve made it sound….

As usual my therapist and I covered a lot of ground, and we also discussed these job-training programs (and after the appointment she called me with information on other programs, though after looking at the websites I’m not so sure they’d be helpful). She did say, however, that I really don’t need to be getting any more stressful jobs, as they are just making my symptoms worse. She suggested I supplement my contract work with something quiet and stress-free, possibly even something boring….

–Saturday–11/10/07–Monday–11/12/07–I spent these three days writing the first installment of my latest writing contract job.

–Tuesday–11/13/07–Today’s main project was going across town for a doctor’s appointment. Three hours on the bus all told. And when I got there the doctor had gone off to a meeting and hadn’t bothered to call me and cancel. I met with a nurse, but nothing really productive came of it. When I left the clinic I put on my headphones and the first song I heard on the radio was, appropriately enough, “I Wanna Be Sedated.”…

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A blog posted on December 23, 2007.

…–Wednesday–11/28/07–Today I met with a doctor for my three-month follow-up on my crazy pills. He suggested I keep the Vistaril on hand if I ever needed a sleeping pill, but to switch to Fluvoxadine for anxiety. He also gave me a prescription for my thyroid medication, which I had run out of.

My case worker had to accompany me downstairs to attend to more bureaucratic matters with the pharmacy. As the elevators doors closed her eyes grew wide and she clutched my elbow:

–This is the first time I’ve been in an elevator since I got stuck in one over the Thanksgiving holidays.

–Yikes.

–Have you ever been stuck in an elevator?

–Not that I recall….But I did get stuck in a toilet stall in the Louvre once.

–Oh, well that’s a much better story.

(My case worker says she enjoys hearing me expound on the events in my past and present because I “organize them into neat little chapters.”)…

–Thursday–12/6/07–I reported to my therapist how, apart from my quarrels with James, things are going extremely well, that my freelance/contract work seems to be falling into place, and that I should soon be back on my feet financially if things keep going the way they are now. She was almost beside herself with happiness for me. She was surprised things came together so quickly….

–Sunday–12/9/07–Sunday–12/23/07–Despite all the crap that’s gone in recent months and years, especially the crap that I’ve posted in this multi-part piece, things are going superbly right now. The change came at the beginning of this month. I’m actually happy for the first time in years. I am keeping very busy doing writing work that pays better than anything I’ve ever done. And the work is expected to last at least through the end of 2008. And I’m finally making plans for the future.

In our meetings the last few weeks my therapist has been offering some pretty amazing insights on a dream I had. My meds are pretty disappointing; the side effects include serious dry-mouth that chokes me in my sleep. I don’t know whether the meds are contributing to my good mood or not….

*******

I continued going to therapy. Since I used a low-cost clinic that charged a sliding scale, and most of the therapists employed there were students or therapists who were just about to take their licensing exams or had just completed them, my therapists usually only last from eight to twelve months. Then I’d have to start all over and tell my stories to a new therapist….

I had another therapist who was a Jungian, and a reader of great literature, so we connected well. He understood how I see my life as the unfolding plot of a novel. He saw me as a Faulknerian character, such as Quentin Compson or the Reverend Gail Hightower, trapped by my family’s ghosts, unable to move forward. He liked to quote Faulkner’s line from “Requiem for a Nun:”

–The past is never dead. It’s not even past….

My friend Jeb e-mailed me, saying that I should consider working from home, doing freelance writing for his company. Within a few weeks I was finally making some good money. Though I have by no means resolved my financial problems in the years since, I did seem to turn a corner when I started working from home. I thought I had possibly broken out of the cycle of dead-end jobs at long last. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see now if that’s true.

I wish I could be more optimistic about that, but it feels almost like a drug or alcohol problem. I’ve managed to stay off the stuff and on the wagon all these years, but I’m still terrified that something will happen that causes me to take that bad habit back up again.

Before the end of the 2007 I arranged to have a meeting with my Case Worker, Maggie, at our usual spot—the cafe of a supermarket near my apartment. At our meeting Maggie was very surprised at the change that had come over me and how quickly I’d transformed from lost soul into an apparently happy man, filled with hope.

–It’s like the difference between night and day! Your whole look and aspect is different. You’re talking directly at me instead of staring at the floor. You seem wide open and direct, whereas before you were all withdrawn. Even your posture is different. You used to be all sunken down into yourself, with your back bent over, almost parallel with the floor. Now you’re sitting up straight. You seem almost happy. You seem…I don’t know…like you’re finally free!

*******    

THE END

[Some Final Thoughts:

First, I realize that the book is much, much too long, though I am unsure what to do about that. To divide the book into two or even three volumes would rob it of what little drama or driving force it has, and to severely cut it down would mean I wouldn’t get to say everything I want said. I don’t expect I’ll get any decent advice about this problem either, since the negative reactions to my Paris book (which were either hostile or indifferent) have disabused me of the idea of ever again submitting my books to my friends for their constructive criticism.

Second, as I’ve said before, a great deal of this book has been censored for the time being. Though the omitted material explains a great deal, and makes much clearer certain developments and motivations, and also changes to tone of the book somewhat, I cannot now include it. Some readers from my older blog will understand the reason why. Even with character names changed and my own removed, I am sufficiently paranoid about telling the whole truth. You’ll just have to wait for that to come out.

Third, I find the current ending, if not dishonest, then at least inaccurate. At the time I wrote it, I had reason to believe that better times were on their way, and that the two main problems I discuss in the book–career/finances and the censored issue–were about to finally be resolved. This turned out not to be the case. So I don’t really have a proper stopping place for the story.  I must find a happy ending in these aspects of my life, and only then can I go back and add an ending to this book.]

“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part VI.) (Some of this has been posted already.)

[This is the next-to-last installment, by the way.]

A blog posted on December 9, 2007.

–Tuesday–10/16/07–I had more bureaucratic bullshit to attend to today in East Austin. I had been told weeks ago to apply for a medical assistance card. Because the bureaucracy is so fucked up, I wasn’t able to set an appointment over the phone–I had to go there in person a few weeks back, just to set the appointment! And so the appointment was for today. I was early, as usual. I tried to kill time at the branch library next door. I checked out the architecture of the place. The extent and quality of their holdings left a great deal to be desired; I daresay my own library is more thorough, certainly in many areas. I really wanted to sit down, but all the tables were occupied by homeless people, and I didn’t particularly want to sit next to any of them, so I went ahead and headed over to the medical assistance office.

Like many of the buildings in this public health system, this one was a sty. It smelled badly and everyone was coughing and failing to cover their mouths. Three women had children who couldn’t stop crying and/or whining. My appointment was for 1:20; they finally waited on me at 2pm.

I was granted the card–sort of. There is a sliding scale because I do have an income, albeit a miniscule one. I was told if my income or other conditions change, I’ll have to come by again, set another fucking appointment, and then come by yet again for the appointment. I was enraged to learn this card does not cover my regular doctor or pharmacy, that I am expected to go to their shitty doctor in the middle of God-knows-where, on the other fucking side of town, and also use their remote-ass pharmacy, which means either operation would be an all-day affair for me.

I was in a foul fucking mood after this, having wasted my day on this bureaucratic bullshit, to get a card and sub-standard services I don’t even want. I am getting really fucking sick of dealing with these bureaucracies and hanging out in shitty parts of town, as I knew three months ago I would. Worst of all I am angry that I’ve been in this fucking program three months and have not improved in the slightest. I don’t feel even remotely better than I did in July, my circumstances and income and work situation are still lousy, and I still am as depressed as ever and wish to God I was dead….

–Wednesday–10/17/07–Another shitty, stressful day at work. My manager was away on his honeymoon, thank God, but his supervisor was there breathing down our fucking necks. It got to the point, during the afternoon, when I just had to flee to the peace and quiet of the restroom, drop my pants, sit down, and air myself out. I doubt I could get through any workday without getting a little cool air to my nethers at some point.

Still, the days at that cursed little store just drag on and fucking on, with no relief in sight, because I’ve not seen any notices for any other jobs that I could do that would be less of a physical and mental strain.

I think The Smiths said it best:

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now
In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

–Thursday–10/18/07–I had an early meeting with my nurse, to try to get her to change my useless anxiety meds, but she just suggested I take them at a different time of the day.

Still, I do love downing all these pills morning, noon, and night. It provides a sorely-needed seedy, Neely O’Hara-like glamour to my otherwise colorless life. And they make for some fascinating dreams….

*******

A blog posted on December 9, 2007.

–Friday–10/19/07–I still haven’t shaken my cough. I coughed so hard that at least twice I almost choked.

The manager’s supervisor was still in town. And she proved herself a Grade-A bitch today. She got rather bossy with me. But she wound up getting a lot worse than she gave. It seems she wasn’t ready for the hectic and punishing pace of this store, of working at a cash register and dealing with pushy customers, rather than sitting on her ass in a nice office. So needless to say I was thrilled for the brass to see how rough it is for the grunts.

I kept myself amused trying to think of when I’d submit my resignation….

In addition to my cough and that bitchy supervisor, my chief irritations today were olfactory in nature. A co-worker has taken to wearing really strong perfume lately, and it irritates my allergies. And the new guy they hired has a serious B.O. Problem. Everywhere he goes he leaves behind the scent of spoiled lettuce. (I think that metaphor is stolen from Joyce.)

B.O. Dude was also trying to hold his own with me on the subject of classical music, but stumbled badly when he referred to a piece of music–in this case “Trumpet Voluntary”–as a “song,” despite the fact the human voice appears nowhere in it.  Anyway, I was explaining to him that the performance on the CD we were playing was a little too schmaltzy and not entirely faithful to the actual composition, as the ending was performed quite differently than I’d ever heard it performed before, not to mention that said ending was played painfully sharp….

*******

A blog posted on December 9, 2007.

–Tuesday–10/23/07–I went to three group sessions, lasting a total of four hours, but was too groggy with meds to put in a fifth hour. And anyway, I feel the group leaders at this place tend to treat the patients like retarded children, which may be fine for the other patients, but I find it insulting.

Speaking of retarded, there was a guy in the art therapy class today who had something wrong with him, be it retardation or something else. Either way, something was not quite right. He announced he was an angel, visiting from heaven, and since the assignment today was a self-portrait, he drew himself flying amongst the clouds in heaven. (I did a rather awkward drawing, from memory, of a photo James took of me sitting in front of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. The group leader asked what we’d learned from the assignment; others said they learned they need to love themselves more and such-like, while I said I needed to take some art classes in order to improve the way I draw the human form.)

Anyway, I was coughing like a fiend, when the retarded guy said,

–You know I’m very religious. Would you like me to pray over you and try to bless your throat?

Deeply embarrassed, I decided to be polite, and said,

–Uh, sure. Go ahead.

Then he came around to my side of the table and asked me to bend my head backwards. I did so, and he began muttering a prayer and moving his flattened hands in front of my exposed throat. When he finished he sat back down and said,

–Okay, your throat feels better now, right?

And I had to admit,

–No, it feels about the same….

–Wednesday–10/24/07–Another chaotic day at work, because the computers were down most of the day, as they have been for much of the week.

The shop where I now work has the worst, most illogical, and user-unfriendly software it’s ever been my misfortune to use. It turns out the software was designed by some shit-head who married into the family that owns the corporation that owns this shop, a family of which my manager is a member. So for some stupid reason this blinds them to the software’s faults, and they are quick to defend it, apparently regarding a slight against the software as a criticism of the family.

And my calling of the designer a “shit-head” is not because he designed such shitty software. No, a few months back he came down from the home office to add some programs to the system here in Austin. A couple of times he got stuck waiting on customers, including one regular customer who didn’t recognize this guy and asked if he was a new employee. I said,

–No, he’s our computer guy from the home office.

Sounds like an innocent enough description, right? Well, it turns out he later grumbled to my manager about this, saying he was not the “computer guy,” but the “Director of On-line Services,” or some such nonsense. People in this fucking company take themselves way too seriously.

My manager has been off the last two weeks on his honeymoon in China. (Who the hell goes to China for their honeymoon other than Chinamen?) On the one hand it’s been hectic with the store being short-handed, but on the other, it’s not like he really does much while he’s in the store. All he does is sit on his ass in the office, play on the computer or work on his on-line college courses, and gab for hours on end with his supervisor. Occasionally he’ll emerge to assign us busy work, then go take a long lunch. So over all, the advantages of having him gone have outweighed the disadvantages.

The day before he left I waited on an older couple who bought two bibles for their grandchildren,and wanted their names stamped in gold leaf on the covers. I took their check and noticed their surname was “Broz,” and said,

–Oh, like in Tito?

[The late dictator of Yugoslavia, born Josef Broz.]

Delighted, they squealed,

–Yes!!! Oh, my God, how did you know that?

–Well, my history degree has to be good for something.

So these people had some questions and specifications, and it got to the point where I didn’t have all the answers. So I went back to the office, to find the manager, naturally, hiding out and goofing off. And to make a long story short, I wound up going to and from that fucking office at least six times conveying messages between this couple and the manager. I was furious, and wanted to tell that punk,

–Will you get off your lazy ass and come talk to these fucking people?!

But today we were again short-staffed, the manager not allowing on the schedule for the possibility that anyone might get sick–but then again, managers seldom do that. They like to keep just a skeleton crew on hand.

A co-worker who used to work in a pharmacy kept hearing my racking cough and hacking, and noting that I’d had it for about three weeks, concluded that I either had bronchitis or pneumonia and was probably running a fever . She offered to drive me to an after-hours clinic after work, but said that since she can’t afford to get sick I shouldn’t get too close to her. She wiped down all the phones I’d used, gave me a Sudafed, and gave me a simple clerical assignment I could do seated off to one side.

For part of the day I felt dizzy, unable to focus my eyes. I considered going home early or even going to lay down in the office on the floor. But I somehow made it through the day and got to the clinic. Both nurse and doctor checked my breathing, had me breath in a smoky mixture while sucking on a tube (I forget what this device was called–wait–a nebulizer), then sent me across the building for two X-rays.

My temperature was said to be “sub-normal,” a word that delights me. Having a temperature over the normal level usually means you’re running a fever; while a temperature under the normal level often means you’re fighting an infection.

Both of my ears were also said to be clogged up.

The diagnosis was bronchitis, with a degree of asthmatic breakdown thanks to twenty years of smoking. I got a note excusing me from work, but sadly, only through Sunday. I was actually a bit disappointed I didn’t have pneumonia, because I’d rather be seriously ill than have to work at that fucking store.

The cause of my illness? Maybe the cat’s dander, but I’m beginning to doubt it. The doctor seemed to lean more to my regular exposure to sick people at the MHMR clinics or on the buses.

I later read that if you don’t give yourself the time to fully get over bronchitis it can turn into pneumonia or something equally as bad.

My co-worker took me by the grocery store/pharmacy, the latter having two of the three prescriptions I needed ( I learned you can’t even buy glass thermometers filled with mercury anymore–everything’s digital now), and not long after I got home, showered, and got fully doped-up on my meds, I was groggy and ready to sleep, which I did for about twelve hours.

–Thursday–10/25/07–I called in and canceled all my appointments for the day, as I’m highly contagious. I got up groggy after sleeping twelve hours and was ready to go sleep some more.

Indeed I did sleep all afternoon, and got up drenched in sweat. My temperature was 97 Wednesday night, but was 95.9 Thursday evening, which was not a good sign….

–Friday–10/26/07–I slept much of the day, waking for awhile at mid-day, reading, then going back to sleep. The pharmacy called to tell me my last prescription was finally in, so I walked outside for the first time in two days and began coughing and hacking like a fiend again, to the point I was almost choking again. This happened again in the store, where I was choking so badly tears were pouring out of my eyes and my mouth filled up with water or foamy spittle or something and I had to rush to the bathroom to spit it out….

*******

A blog posted on December 9, 2007.

–Saturday–10/27/07–Again I slept much of the day, doped up, but was disturbed by the fucking door bell ringing repeatedly. I do not consider this door bell a luxury but rather an annoyance, as I hate its sound almost as much as I do that of a ringing phone. I also hate the fact that just anybody can get to my front door and bother me; I wish the bridge that connects my apartment to the parking lot was a drawbridge.

Anyway, it turns out the disturber of my peace was the dowdy gal.

A few years ago, when Fred and I moved to this apartment and would stroll around the grounds several times a day, I couldn’t help but encounter some of the other residents. Some were more talkative and outgoing than others. And among the overly sociable were an old lady named “Sarah,” and her young friend, a dowdy, homely gal of undetermined age. They seemed to hang around together a lot. Sarah insisted that if I ever needed anything that I should call her, and gave me her number. But I never remembered her number or her name.

The dowdy gal, whose name I’ve never learned either, has always given off the disturbing vibe that she liked me in a romantic way, though I definitely did not reciprocate her feelings. Once she gave me a ride back from the grocery store and her car smelled like mothballs and a not-so-clean old woman. Sarah, on the other hand, also gave me a ride once, and her car smelt perfectly okay.

So a week or two after Fred’s death these two decided to come see how I was doing. They came by during the day and rang the fucking door bell. Unfortunately, I was working the graveyard shift at the time and slept during the day. Their visit came right in the middle of my sleep cycle. I tried to be polite, but also explained my schedule. They then seemed to understand not to bother me during the day. As it turned out, the interruption was such I had trouble getting back to sleep and went to work even more exhausted than I usually am.

And so today I was sleeping heavily, trying to get over my illness, when dowdy gal rings my door bell again. She asked if I’d “heard about Sarah.” I said I didn’t keep up with anything that happened in the apartment complex. She explained that Sarah had died earlier this month, that she spoke briefly with Sarah’s daughter, but that she didn’t know Sarah’s last name and couldn’t find out any more information. I was too sick and sleepy to have much of a reaction other than to say that was a shame. Then the dowdy gal tried to draw me out more into conversation, and I repeatedly mentioned that I was ill and gave off hints that I didn’t want to be bothered. I tried in vain to palm the kitten off on her. I just wish to hell there was a way I could get this gal to leave me the hell alone.

After this unwelcome visit it took me awhile to get back to sleep, but sleep I did, and when I woke up I felt a lot less congested, my cough had largely gone away, and my nasal passages were clearer than they had been in weeks. My temperature was back to 97. My ears were still stopped up, I still had some junk in my nose, and I planned to keep on the medication for awhile. Mostly I was very disappointed that my illness wasn’t more severe, didn’t last any longer than it did, and that I’d probably have to go back to that fucking job again Monday.

Ah, but it seemed I judged too soon. When I got in the shower I began coughing again, and didn’t really stop after that, to the point of having one of those choking coughs again….

By the time I got ready for bed my temperature was back down to 95.2. Despite the fact I’m only supposed to take four Mucinex pills every 24 hours, I took two more around 2am. It’s not so much that I want to get well and have to go back to my job as that I’d like to breathe again and get that crap out of my chest….

–Tuesday–10/30/07–The first anniversary of Fred’s death. I got up a little before the time in the morning he died, lit candles and incense, and went into Fred’s “Dressing Room” to pray, then went back to bed. The previous night I had posted a message to the folks on the Basset Hound newsletter summing up my feelings about the first year without Fred. The sweet and caring responses from the other members the other members made me cry….

–Wednesday–10/31/07–I went in to work today, still sick, after a week with bronchitis, somehow managed to put in a full day, went to clock out, and my manager fired me.

He said,

–I really hate to have to do this, but I need someone who can handle the stress and hectic pace of the store on Saturdays, and you can’t do it. You’ve been a hard worker, contributed a great deal to the store, and I will give you very excellent references if it’s for a job I think you’ll do well in. And I’ll make sure you get your last check.

I gave him my keys, bade my co-workers farewell, gave the manager a firm handshake, and left.

On one level I wasn’t surprised–he had said he was going to give me a month to show whether or not I could handle Saturdays. And I was out sick for three of the Saturdays in October.

But I figured I’d be stuck there until after Christmas and would quit after that. I wasn’t entirely expecting he’d fire me. But my face registered no surprise.

Well, enough about that, I need to find work fast, preferably something that’ll bring some money in while still allowing me to get my treatment, and that won’t drive me too crazy.

Of course, I’d rather be fired for something I can’t help than for some dumb mistake or fault I can help or control.

After work I went to the movies. I figured I might be broke for awhile and this might be my last chance to go to the movies for some time. I saw “Into the Wild,” about an idealistic young man who chucks his well-to-do background, gives his savings to charity, burns the rest of his money, and goes on a 2 ½ year odyssey, wandering around America, and eventually living in the wilderness of Alaska where, thanks to his near total ignorance of woodcraft and survival techniques, he dies of starvation….

James said that [a friend of his] had asked him,

–B____? Wasn’t he the cool little dude that wore bow ties?

(This is a reference to the fact I wore a bow tie and a blue Brooks Brothers blazer to a wedding back in ’03.)

James said,

–I miss that B____, the B_____ with the bow ties, the B____ with style and panache. What did you do with him? Why has he been replaced by the miserable, depressed, anti-social, angry, bitter hermit?

I replied,

–Well, he hasn’t been replaced so much as put into storage until the Bad Times pass.

“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part V.) (Some of this has been posted already.)

*******    
Part VI

The morning of Saturday, October the 6th I was walking to work when over by the supermarket I heard a cat crying. I looked around to see if the cat was stuck in or under something, but couldn’t actually see the cat at all. I was about to go on my way, but then decided to check again, and this time found a frightened little kitten stuck at the top of a tree, I tried to coax her down, but she seemed stuck in a pattern: she’d climb down one branch, then climb back up another one. I was especially worried, since there was a power line next to the tree. And even if she did manage to get safely down, the street 25 feet away was as dangerous as a super-highway.
The tree was growing in the backyard of an interior decorating firm’s office. I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. I considered calling the Fire Department, but I was afraid they’d take too long and probably charge me for the service.

So I just stood there, gesturing and coaxing, whistling, smacking my lips, until the kitten came down to a limb that I could reach and pull down.

I set her on the ground and she began twisting around my legs. I figured the best place for her for now was my apartment, so I headed back there, with the kitty wrapped around my neck like a python. Inside I gave her water and tuna—she lapped both up in a manner that indicated she’d not had food or water in awhile.

Nevertheless, she looked very good: no apparent fleas, clean eyes, nose, ears, fur. She’s white with black and grey tabby spots, a grey tabby tail, and ears and the top of her head also grey tabby. She’s very tiny, with a small mouth and nose.

Very quickly she took up the trick of reaching out with her paw and delicately knocking my glasses off my nose.

I spread newspapers on the bathroom floor, left the food and water dishes in there, and left the light on, and shut the door—almost. (I have so many books piled the outer door jamb that the door won’t fully close.)

I called work and said I was running late and would be in as soon as possible. I was an hour late and nobody said anything. And the way I figure it, a cat’s life is worth more than a shitty $7.66 an hour.

As a result of this new development I was in a fairly good mood all day. And then two bonuses: 1) I was assigned to finish processing the shipment back in the comfort of the office, far from the noise and bustle up front; and 2) the manager went home early.

After work I ran into Mike A___, whom I’d not seen in a few years, and he gave me a ride. He asked what I’d been up to and I told him about the Bi-Polar Level II diagnosis. He joked,

–That’s just like you, B___—having to be one step over everyone else!
I said,

–Well, it’s not like it’s a better version of Bi-Polar, like “Bi-Polar, Version 2.0.”

A few hours later I went to the supermarket and got some canned and dry cat food, some jingly cat toys, and a disposable cat box (Just in case someone puts up a flier announcing a lost cat). Still, turning into the pet aisle after all this time made me tear up.

I had some poorly-cooked Chinese food, then headed home, feeling a bit excited about seeing the kitten again. Then I saw the vet place where Fred had died, and I started crying. I realized I didn’t really want this kitten—I still wanted another Basset, and even then, none of them would ever replace Fred.

I got home and found the kitty had broken out of the bathroom. I sat down to check my e-mail. The kitty climbed up my leg, then knocked one-third of the stuff off my desk, before becoming fascinating by the computer, stepping all over the keyboard, and batting at the icons, the cursor, and so forth.

I learned via e-mail that a Basset, whose health everyone on the Basset newsletter board had been following closely as he alternated between somewhat decent and seriously bad health, had passed away today, so I began sobbing. I called my mom to tell her about the cat, and began crying over Fred some more. Then I cried after the phone call. And in the shower. And while typing….

Sunday I slept late, and spent most of my waking hours getting the cat out from underfoot and picking up stuff she’d knocked over. She has a bad habit of standing between my legs while I’ll trying to piss—I’m afraid she might get hit with a stray stream. She’s also started jumping up on top of my boxes of books and files, which is a good way for her to get hurt.

Every time she does something cute or affectionate, I begin sobbing, thinking about Fred.

She filled up the disposable litter box in one night, so I went to Petsmart and got her a new one and scanned the lost and found board there and on Craigslist to see if anyone was missing a kitten. James initially suggested I just take care of the cat until I find someone else who wants her….

Sunday night the cat kept me awake by “making biscuits” by my face, on my chest, and elsewhere, then doing a Nureyevskian Grande Jeté over my face and onto the rug.

Monday I felt dull and depressed, with a nasty cough developing in my chest.

Monday was the day the government insists on celebrating Columbus Day (I hate the “Monday Holiday Bill” almost as much as Daylight Savings Time) holiday, so we had no mail delivery. Therefore we had no visit from the guy we call “The Sweaty Mailman,” who manages to get every piece of mail that comes into the store sopping wet with his excessive and nasty perspiration.

I was looking forward to seeing the cat when I got home, but wound up spending my first few hours home crying.

Tuesday the 9th I had an appointment with a nurse, who took me off that fucking Ativan (twice daily) and put me on Vistaril (three times daily) for my anxiety, yet doubled my dosage of the useless mood stabilizer Lamictal from 100 mg to 200 mg. I explained to the nurse and my case worker that my condition hasn’t improved at all in two months, although I’ve stopped thinking about suicide all the time. Now I just feel hopeless and utterly devoid of a future.

I wonder why it is my care-givers seem so much more optimistic about my chances of fixing my life and tangled brain than I am.

In the waiting room I cried a bit in front of my Case Worker when talking about Fred.

After the exam my case worker took me downtown so I could get my free bus pass, declaring to all the world that I am officially “disabled.” And when I got home I learned of the passing of another friend’s Basset Hound and began crying all over again, while the kitty kept trying to jump onto my lap or perch on my shoulder.

I did take the kitty out to see the balcony today, but she wasn’t as interested as I thought she’d be. She only wants to be where I am—at all times.

James asked me if I’d taken her to the vet yet for her shots or dropped her off with a shelter or agency.

–And what am I supposed to pay for all these shots with? My charm and good looks?

And as for taking her somewhere I was too busy running around town attending to my official business as a crazy person to do that.

I think I’m coming down with something—maybe a flu or bronchial infection. I greatly look forward to it. It would be a vast improvement over the horror of my job.

Tuesday night I was sitting in bed, getting ready to put things away and go to sleep, when I heard a clatter in the living room, followed by the sound of something falling over. I sternly called out, “FRED!!!,” in order to get him out of whatever mischief he was into and to come join me in the bedroom. The word had scarcely left my mouth when I realized what I had said, remembered that Fred was in fact dead, and that it was the cat that was knocking around in the living room. And then I fell into yet another fit of crying and sobbing.

Before I retired on Tuesday night I took a capsule of Vistaril—my new anxiety med—and it knocked me on my ass, to the extent I was too groggy, doped-up, and out of it to even stand up straight Wednesday morning, much less go to work. I called in sick; I barely remember the message I left, other than that I said my reason for not coming in had nothing to do with my now-raspy, rumbling voice.

The pill bottle had said to take a capsule “three times daily as needed.” So I figured I would take one before bed, one upon waking, and another at noon, since noon’s about the time things start getting crazy at work. So like an idiot right after calling in sick I took another Vistaril capsule (25 mg), as well as my new morning dose of Lamictal (200 mg). I was knocked out until 12:30pm, when I was awakened by the computer automatically rebooting. (It had gotten a new update or something.) I got up to see what the problem was and to see if the power was still on, then went back to bed, sweating profusely, and slept until 5:30. Upon waking I noted my cough had gotten worse. Then I left a message for my case worker to find me a new prescription that would actually allow me to function….

Anyway, despite being loaded with purported anti-anxiety meds, as soon as I woke up Wednesday, I went into anxiety and annoyance overdrive as the cat started jumping around, getting underfoot, and knocking things over. As much as she clearly loves me, and despite the fact she stayed curled up by my side all during my drug-induced sleep, she is also a tremendous nuisance. I am tired of being clawed. I am tired of having to repeatedly move her out of my way. She’s also going through kitty litter and litter liners almost daily, and I can’t afford to pay for them.

James’s wimpy whining and presumptive attempt at ordering me around notwithstanding, I decided I needed to find a new home for this kitten, and called my vet’s office to see if anyone had reported her missing. The office was closed and the phone wasn’t set up to take messages. I then checked on-line for the various local agencies that take in cats, but most seem to be booked-up right now. I wanted to paraphrase Henry II:

–Who will rid me of this troublesome pussy?

*******    
A blog posted on October 14th, 2007.

Well, I’ve written at length about my state of mental health, but my physical health isn’t much better. I’ve had chest congestion and a racking cough for the better part of a week. An allergic reaction to cat dander? Perhaps.

Thursday night I had to prop my head and torso up in bed so the crap could slide back down my throat and I could stop coughing long enough to get to sleep. I went to work Friday even though I felt terrible, took some Musinex (which I keep calling “Mucasil” for some reason, and still hacked all day. Friday night/Saturday morning I was coughing until 3:30am, when I got up, left a message on my shop’s answering machine that I would not be in, took some more Musinex, as well as one a Vistaril, and slept like a bastard. (Vistaril is the latest anxiety med they put me on at the “nervish clinic;” I took some Tuesday night and it knocked me to the extent I called in sick Wednesday as well, and was out cold until 5:30pm. I’m supposed to get a new anxiety med this next week.)

Anyway, today, Saturday, I was up until about 5:30am, when the meds finally kicked in, and I slept off and on until about 7:30pm. I got up occasionally to piss and let the cat out of the bathroom so she could run around and stretch her legs.

I’m still coughing, especially if I have to bend over for anything. (Of course, in the world of work, you’re being bent over all day, symbolically at least, so it’s good I didn’t go in.)…

When you sleep under the influence of as many meds as I’ve been taking lately you get some amazing dreams. Today I had quite a few. In one I had finally concluded that my step-brother had indeed tossed all the belongings I had stored on the property where he lives now and where I spent my wretched adolescence and I was about to take my revenge, legal or otherwise.

In another I had finally taken the plunge and committed myself to the State Hospital for a time. They had assigned me a bed, but not a room. I had a bed on a staircase landing in the creepy old Main Administration Building.

I was in bed, covers pulled up, eyes half-shut, pretending to be asleep so no one would come bother me. Fred was with me, naturally, and I had my arm around him. Doctors, nurses, and attendants were coming and going, stopping to talk, and then shift-change came, and there were people everywhere, going up and downstairs, and then an attendant came over and asked me how I was.

Maybe that’s what the afterlife is like—reunited with my beloved, but stuck in a noisy madhouse. And doesn’t a staircase landing, a place that is neither here nor there, somewhat suggest an image of Purgatory?

After that I dreamt I was watching an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show” and Andy was having psychological problems and wanted to check himself into a mental hospital for a time, but since this was the early Sixties he realized that if he went into a mental hospital and the public found out his career would be effectively over and there would be no one to support Opie and Aunt Bee, so he was secretly consulting with advisers as to what to do….

*******    
A blog posted on October 30th, 2007.
Fred B___, One Year Later

Today marks one year since my beloved Fred passed on.

It’s been a rough year. In fact—and I’m not wallowing in self-pity when I say this—I can’t think of a single good thing that’s happened since Fred died. For the first six months after he died I had violent crying jags every day, up to four times a day. These stopped being a daily occurrence almost exactly at the six month point, but they still occur with great regularity.

People tell me the pain will lessen, will cease to be so sharp and raw, and that all that will remain will be happy memories, but I’ve not yet found that to be true. Some days it feels like Fred only died a couple months ago; other times he seems like a part of the distant past, so that I have trouble remembering what it was like when he graced my life with his silly ways, beaming smile, and steadfast, loving heart.

Any of you who have experienced grief and loss know how uncomfortable others are made by your grief. Their tolerance and supposed sympathy for you has a very brief shelf-life. Your grief reminds them of things they’d rather not think about, of questions they’d rather not address. So it should not be surprising when I say that my family and friends have largely failed me in my grief. My tears make them uncomfortable, or in some cases, they find my tears tiresome. (“Oh, great, here he goes with that again!”)

A college friend, whom I’ve not seen in eighteen years, was horrified to learn I keep Fred’s ashes in a box beside my bed, and that I kiss a photo of Fred atop that box the first thing when I wake in the morning and the last thing when I go to bed at night. This guy suggested I dump Fred’s ashes in a lake and “get on with [my] life,” that continuing to mourn Fred is unhealthy.

And here we get to the crux of the problem: Fred was really the only thing I had going in my life, the only thing I had to live for. Without him, all I have is my grief. I don’t feel like I want to give up my grief, because without that there’s nothing.

I’m sure that some of you, reading my posts over the last year, have read between the lines and figured out that there was more going on with me than I was saying. Indeed, for the last year I’ve had a long, drawn-out nervous breakdown. I know doctors don’t like to use that term now, but to the extent that a person can have a nervous breakdown, I had one.

I’ve wallowed in guilt that I didn’t do enough for Fred during his lifetime, that I left him alone too many times, that I allowed him to be put on Rimadyl when I had grave misgivings about its safety, that I frivolously spent money in 2005 that could’ve gone towards top-flight treatment for him in 2006, that I didn’t sell my belongings to pay for his care, that I didn’t exhaust every possibility for him when he was sick, that I waited too long to put him to sleep.

Around March or April I quit that graveyard shift job I’d started two weeks before Fred died, the job I’d had to go to when I should have been at home tending to Fred, keeping him company, the job I was working when I came home one morning and found Fred stuck on his side in his own urine, unable to right himself, barking himself hoarse for God knows how long. I blamed the job for Fred’s suffering, I blamed myself, I blamed the forces that made me get that job when I should have been with Fred around the clock.

That job never stopped reminding me of Fred’s death. I used to go to the bus stop in the morning after my shift and cry for the better part of my half-hour wait; today I can’t pass that bus stop without turning my head away.

So I quit that job, did some lucrative contract work for a couple months, then got stuck in another low-paying job that I hate, that I am now trying to squeeze out of. I have all but begged my manager to fire me.

In August I was diagnosed as having Bi-Polar Disorder Level II (having been diagnosed—and treated with no success–with Depression in 2003 and Bi-Polar I—or Manic-Depression—in 2004). As I have no insurance and very little income I had to seek help with the county mental health system, which means I get to go to scary parts of town and hang out in clinics with ex-cons and junkies. I go to group therapy sessions which haven’t helped. I take medications which haven’t helped. And I go to a therapist once a week; I enjoy that, but I wish the sessions were more frequent. I have practically no hope that I’m going to get any better, that I’ll get my mind right or my career back on track.

At the beginning of October I saved a kitten that was stuck up a tree and took her home. While she was affectionate, she was also rambunctious, mischievous, and destructive. She tore my house apart and bit and scratched me several times a day as part of her idea of fun. The first few days I had the cat, every time she’d do something cute I’d burst into tears because it would remind me just how much she wasn’t Fred, of what a poor substitute for Fred she was, and of the fact I’ll never see Fred again in this life.

To make a very long story short, I was having a lot of trouble finding a home for this kitty. She was stressing me out exceedingly and even making me angry with her behavior, which put me, her, and my home in danger. The idea that I could be angry towards an animal—and certainly that I was capable of swatting one, which, yes, I confess I did a few times—made me feel like a monster. I felt as if I’d let down the high standards I’d maintained with Fred, that I’d failed Fred and all the animal kingdom somehow. And on top of all this for much of October I’ve had a racking cough which was diagnosed last week as being bronchitis.

Fortunately, on Monday the 29th, a vet assistant friend found a home for the kitty, though she’s so enchanted by the cat she’s considering keeping her herself. Either way, I was told she’d give me progress reports. And wouldn’t you know it, after the house became empty and silent once again, I somewhat regretted giving her away, even though I knew it was for the best.

[The kitty lived with my friend for one month, but eventually bit through a wire and was electrocuted to death. I was devastated.]

The same day I had a talk with my Case Worker. She asked what was it about Fred’s death that hurt me the most, that was prolonging my grief. She told me to answer without thinking or analyzing first. I blurted,

–The loss of unconditional love given and received, and the fact I’ll never get to see him again.

Even a year later, I can’t believe that’s he’s really gone.

*******    

On October 31st, one day after the first anniversary of Fred’s death and two day’s before my forty-fourth birthday, I returned to work, more or less over my bronchitis.

At the end of an unremarkable day I went back to the office to clock out.  My little sawed-off runt of a manager furrowed his brow and assumed that look shallow people get when they know they’re supposed to look serious. He cleared his throat and addressed me in a voice an octave lower that the one he normally used:

–J___, I hate to have to tell you this, but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you go. The Christmas season’s coming soon, and that’s our busiest time of the year, and it stays that way through the end of Easter. And I can’t have someone who can’t handle working the register, who freezes up when he can’t figure out the software, or has a meltdown when things get busy or hectic or noisy. Now you are a hard worker and you have done some excellent work and made some great changes that have really helped, but I hired you because I need someone to work the register. I hope you understand, and I wish you success in whatever it is you want to do.

I turned to him, and with eyes like cold poached eggs gave him a look that showed I was truly unfazed, then extended my hand, and in a tone of voice that probably to him sounded a bit too happy, said,

–Well, thanks!

I shook hands with Elaine and shook hands with and embraced Fay. They told me to take care. I had some books and holy cards on hold, but I didn’t have the money to buy them, so I left them behind.

Like most of the jobs I’d had the previous few years, this one had lasted only five months. I’d had a strange and hopeful feeling it would end in October.

I went home excited, my head in a cloud. Sure, I was worried what I’d do for an income now, but I couldn’t get over my dumb luck in finally breaking out of yet another jail. I posted my news in a mass e-mail as soon as I got home.

I called my Case Worker, Maggie, and left her my good news on her voice mail. I think she was concerned that this dramatic change would trigger some dramatic psychological reaction….

“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part IV.) (Some of this has been posted already.)

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 fifty 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 second and third 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….

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….

*******    
Part V

Saturday the 29th was a waste. Sunday I tried to clean the living room, with little result, then had a big crying jag. After two months of treatment and one month of medication I don’t feel one iota better than I did back in July. Monday, October 1st was more work bullshit….

Wednesday—skip it.

Wait a minute—there was an odd incident that day.

After work, I got my Slurpee and headed for the bus stop. There was a pretty good crowd there, and I began to pace furiously back and forth, as has been my habit all my life whenever I’ve gotten impatient. After I’d drank about one-third of the Slurpee I looked up and saw a boy—maybe 13 or 14—pacing around as well, practically imitating all my moves.

Then I continued to pace and he followed suit. I finally stopped at a spot on the sidewalk where the building on the other side of the street cast some shade. I propped my hand on my hip and began to peer down the street, looking for the bus. Then I saw the boy had also stopped, and was standing fairly close to me, looking worried. I felt a bit paternal. Would I one day have a son who try to imitate my mannerisms?

I finally turned to my left and said,

–Are you okay?

–Umm, yeah.

–I just asked ’cause you seemed upset about something.

–Nah…mmmm….

Then the kid walked off and stood a distance away.

I had no idea what that was about. But I told James that story that night and his theory was the kid probably thought I was a cop.

Thursday the 4th I was on my way to my therapist’s office, crossing a vast, sun-baked parking lot, walking with my eyes completely shut, my headphones on, listening to a Devendra Banhart song called “Now That I Know.” I giggled because it felt like such a Wes Anderson moment:

Now that I know
The way it goes
You gotta pay back every penny that you owe

Twelve years old
In your mama’s clothes
Shut the blinds and lock up every door

And if you hear
Someone’s comin’ near
Just close your eyes and make them disappear now

Years away
Finds me here today
On my own, always on my way now

So I send my friends
Gifts from where I’ve been
Something for the hand they’re never there to lend

Better keep those eyes
Climbing paradise
And don’t pretend you won’t reach it in the end now

Dearest dear
I know you been here
Why’d you run tell me why’d you disappear now

That you’re not
Here with me
Seems to be the only time that I can see you clearly

I may not know
How to treat or give you what you need
But I am a gentleman who says what he means now

And now I sing
Upon my knees
And praise the kindness of a gentle breeze

I see it swell
Like a story in me to tell
Told years away and past my baby dying

So you raise them up
To heaven always hell
they’re unaware, share, give a hand to help son

Oh you give them away
But they’ll come back to you someday
Wanna know why nobody was ever there to help them

And no it ain’t fair
And if God forbid you care
It’s enough to get you in a whole lotta trouble

Oh realize
It ain’t wise to idealize
Or put your life in the hands of any struggle

Never renounce
Or ever claim to be
And never buy that freedom just ain’t free now

Ella sang
Sifting in the sand
Like a hymn within to help us understand

Heaven awaits
We’re making our stand
Glory bound and sparrow in our hand

(At first I thought the song was just pretty, but after I looked up the lyrics I realized how applicable they are to me.)

Therapy went well, as it always does, though my therapist is focusing on the work/career aspects of my illness, and I had another agenda in mind. It doesn’t matter—I’m in no hurry and we’ll cover everything sooner or later….

Then I went home, watched TV, thought about work, and started crying again.

Friday the 5th was pretty typical. I woke up tired, began the day with dread, got to the back door of the store at 8:30am, praying 5:30pm would arrive soon, then slid into boredom for several hours. When the delivery truck finally arrived I leapt into action, slashing open the boxes and piling books on a cart to take up front to price and process.

I got very over-heated doing this, and though I kept turning the thermostat down, I could never cool off. My co-workers didn’t notice the heat, but I felt like I was in a kiln.

During the course of the day, some crazy old woman called the store three different times over the space of several hours, and talked to one of my co-workers, then me, then my manager. She muttered jibberish like Boomhauer on “King of the Hill.” We never did figure out what the fuck she wanted from us. Needless to say, I was the least patient with this old bag, and tried to get her to get to the fucking point. The more unintelligible she got, the louder I spoke.

The manager, on the other hand, remained calm with her and seemed bemused by the whole exchange. Afterwards he said that it was crazy incidents like that that made him love working at this store. I shot him an incredulous look and said,

–It’s calls like that that make we want to hunt down that old woman and go after her with a pick-axe!

As the day dragged on, I got irritable, and after being interrupted by customers wanting me to ring them up and the fucking phone ringing off the hook, I was more than a little jangled, and snapped at a co-worker. Not long after that, though, I cracked a joke and slipped into a phase of dullness and exhaustion.

The new part-timer, who I hoped the manager hired to replace me, came up and asked if he could help me with the shipment. I knew if he tried to shelve the books he’d put them out in a manner contrary to how I wanted them and out of order, so I told him to empty the rest of the book boxes and start bringing them up to me, because I was pricing and shelving books at a pretty fast clip and the cart was developing gaps. After that I had him break down empty boxes and take them to the dumpster—a chore I never enjoy. By the end of the day I had single-handedly processed and shelved almost the entire 27-box shipment in about five hours, despite the fact that I was physically drained by the heat and was very sleepy. Oh me, oh my—such proud and productive and useful work for a grown man with two fucking university degrees!

From there I slipped into yet another mood—anger—as some fat bitch and her cue-ball-headed husband dragged ass around the store after we’d announced we were closed and I had very loudly locked the front door, smacked down the “CLOSED” sign, and began heaving a series of very audible sighs. By the time these idiots left I was in such a state I was this close to storming into the office, quitting, and telling the manager to go fuck himself, but I held back, and sank into the dread of the next work day. By the time I was on my bus home, I was on the verge of tears, and during the last leg of my commute I was figuring the logistics of what it would actually take for me to commit myself for a few weeks to a psychiatric hospital.

I was back to garden-variety worry and dread and sadness by the time I got home.

This is my fifth week on the mood-stabilizer Lamictal. At first it made me constantly irritated and irritable in a very concentrated way. And that effect hasn’t changed much.

This is also the end of my first week on my anxiety med Ativan. It calmed me at first, but no more. It does still keep me sleepy, though. I’m pretty fucking mad that these prescriptions are so fucking useless, and will be even more so if they can’t find something that’ll work on me. I meet next Tuesday with a nurse to see how my meds are working out. I expect I’ll have a great deal to tell her.

“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part III.) (Some of this has been posted already.)

A blog posted on August 15, 2007.

I’ll try to keep all of today straight.

James dropped me off in East Austin. I met with yet another case worker, who talked to me for about an hour and added more info to my online file. She was a bit off-putting, because she had one of those weird Peter Falk-type eyes.

She set me up an appointment on the 30th with a doctor and gave me the number of my case worker, but I have no idea when I’m to meet with the latter. Guess I’ll have to call her.

This is embarrassing, but apparently they’re putting me on disability, despite the fact I’m employed, because I’m not not on Medicare and couldn’t afford the meds otherwise. So apparently that will be extra money coming in, though I don’t know when that will start. She said some people get $700-$900 extra.

[Note: This never came to pass.]

(Now killjoy James tells me they might not actually give me money, but might just pay my drug bills, which really doesn’t help with the other expenses. I frankly couldn’t care less about how they pay for my meds.)

I do have the right to refuse to take certain meds, like if they want to put me on one I’ve had a bad experience with, such as Wellbutrin.

Most of the groups are NOT at this location in East Austin, but are instead at a third location down on South 1st. I had told her I’d wanted to sit in on some sessions today and she suggested the group that was meeting at 11 down south. Then she mentioned there was a Bi-Polar group meeting at this location at 1pm. I said because of the bus I wouldn’t be able to make it to both–which would she suggest I go to–and she said Bi-polar, so I only had one group meeting today.

I think my Case Worker might be over Northwest Austin. The social worker called to ask about groups in my area, but didn’t get me a good answer. They don’t have a master schedule/calendar of all the groups in town. Weekend groups will start in September.

I will be expected to take 6-8 hours of classes a month–not 4-6.

I mentioned I was uncomfortable with and even scared of some of the people I’ve seen in the lobbies of these clinics. She confirmed these were indeed the people in the groups and if I couldn’t work comfortably with them, then I could be re-worked so I could just do one-on-one sessions. I told her I may regret saying this later, but I was for now willing to go a little beyond my comfort zone and try it out if it will help cure me, adding I can always opt out of the group stuff if I get too uncomfortable.

I went into my whole job/career problem thing, and they may be able to find me people to help me and counsel me on that.

My meeting with the social worker was over at 10:30, so I needed to kill some time. I went up to Cisco’s, a little greasy spoon breakfast and lunch place I’d never been to, a favorite of neighborhood folks and politicos. LBJ used to go there. I couldn’t afford food, so I just got a Coke and proofread my book. The Chief of Police came in while I was there.

I went back for the Bi-Polar meeting. Only one other person was there–an older woman who had a profoundly screwed-up life. I was amazed she was still alive: She was a Bi-Polar, diabetic, Crohn’s Disease-suffering, alcoholic, drug addict, smoker, paranoid-schizophrenic who hears voices. Germophobe. Has been raped a few times. has done time for drug possession. The last time she tried to cook she passed out, almost burned her apartment down, and woke up in the hospital. When she has depressive spells she either hides in her apartment or goes out, gets drunk, does coke, does crack, has unprotected sex with strange men, has fights and gets angry. Ex-husband is on heroin. Son is a home-bound, unemployed schizo who doesn’t bathe, has never had sex (the one thing she admired about him), and stays in front of his computer eating crap and playing computer role-playing games, except when he’s in the bathroom. I joked she should never underestimate the importance of time in the bathroom.

If I were her I’d definitely have killed myself.

And no, hearing of her awful lot did not suddenly make me feel I have no problems or that my life is a blessed rose garden.

The group co-ordinator mostly read to us from a hand-out on what Bi-polar is, asked a few questions and let us talk, and said, “Uh huh” a lot. She did say we both seem to have a good handle as to the identity of our problems and are good at self-analysis.

Went downtown, left a note for Paddy at his office at Capital Metro, then ran into him several blocks north, he bought me lunch, then took me by his office again and showed me around and told me more about that job opening up there. Then he dropped me off at church before 5:30 and I didn’t get the bus home until 7:35.

I will scan you some of the sheets I got today, but am too tired and need to start winding up for bed. I have three days of hell ahead of me.

*******    

A blog posted on September 10, 2007.

WHEREIN I HAVE A FACE-OFF WITH DEATH

Monday, 10th, September 5:45pm. I was standing at the southeast corner of Burnet and Koenig waiting for my bus home. Traffic was snarled by road construction.

A siren ripped and a south-bound ambulance brought the traffic to a complete stand-still.

Five minutes later I was startled when a motorcycle cop turned on his siren and made a sharp left turn, also heading south.

I went back to sucking on my Slurpie.   

I also looked south, waiting for a sign of my bus.

I suddenly looked over my left shoulder and saw the Grim Reaper a few feet behind me. He’d just crossed Koenig…also heading south. His head was bowed, no doubt in a gesture of reverence to me.

I don’t know why the sudden appearance of Death surprised me so much, because he can be one sneaky son of a bitch.

Don’t ask me how I can tell this, but I noticed that Death appeared to be in his late twenties to early thirties and Caucasian.

Death was dressed in a black cowl, with an impenetrable black veil covering his face. In one hand he held a long staff, surmounted by a plastic caramel-colored skull. Under his robes he wore blue jeans and athletic shoes.

I gathered Death had just left one of those role-playing game geek-fests at the comic book store nearby and was going home to his parents’ house to fondle his six-sided die, eat pizza, and watch “Stargate” reruns.  

Death crossed Burnet and headed out of sight. His spectators were left at a loss for words.

A poor black guy turned his back on Death, shook his head, looked at me, and said,

–Ho-kaaaaay!

And all I could manage was,

–Hmm, normally I see the Grim Reaper on my way to work, not on the way home.   

The black guy didn’t understand.

But this was not my first encounter with Death. Not by a damn sight.

When I was seven or eight I met Death in my bedroom one night.

I had turned off the light, completed a standing broad-jump from the door to my bed (my method for avoiding getting grabbed by the monsters under my bed), slid under the covers, and took off my glasses.

I am nearsighted as hell, and considered legally blind without my glasses.

After a few minutes my eyes became acclimated to the dark.

One tiny shaft of light peeked through a break in the curtains and illuminated the front of my desk.

And then I saw him–the Grim Reaper.

I was terrified. Too scared to call my mother or to leap for the door. I knew if I made a sound or even the slightest movement he would reach out and kill me.

As the time passed details of his appearance became clearer–his broad-brimmed hat, his skull, his cowl, his bony fingers clutching a scythe and an hour-glass.

My heart pounded. I knew I was seconds away from dying–I saw the sands rapidly running out of the top of the hour-glass.

And then…doubt.

And then…perception.

The well-defined lineaments of the Grim Reaper went fuzzy, and in their place there assembled a much different form: a two-foot tall stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh that I had left in my desk chair earlier in the evening and totally forgotten about. The “cowl” turned out to be Pooh’s red jacket.

This is what happens when a seven-year-old’s favorite artist is Albrecht Dürer.

*******    
A blog posted on October 11th, 2007.

“I have to turn my head until the darkness goes….”
–The Rolling Stones, “Paint It, Black”

Part I
I’ve not blogged in awhile because I’ve been busy tending to my shattered mental health. That business has dominated the months of August, September, and October.

My workdays have fallen into a dull pattern: I wake to classical music at 7am (6:30 if there’s a meeting). Sadly my wake-up music is seldom a fanfare. I take ten to fifteen minutes getting up out of bed, after mentally doing an inventory of my body and hoping to find myself sick. I stand up to see how my legs and aching ankles are doing, go into the bathroom, piss, wash, get a drink, brush my teeth, shave, comb my hair, dress (I don’t iron my clothes anymore—I don’t care how I look at that fucking job), make my lunch, eat a bagel, check my e-mail, pack my backpack, put on my shoes, go to the box of Fred’s ashes and kiss the photo atop it farewell, check the stove to make sure I didn’t leave it on, leave my apartment, trudge on sore feet out of the complex and down the sidewalk alongside the road, hoping not to find any animals killed (the sight of a dead skunk made me cry the other day), go into Randall’s and get the papers and some food, make small talk with the clerk, go to the bus, board, pray from my little 1920s prayer book, read the papers, pray that the day will be over with quickly and not be too hellish for me, think how much I dread going to work, get off the bus, cross the street, unlock the door, sign in, refrigerate my drinks, piss, do the morning’s chore (vacuuming, glass polishing, book-keeping), straighten the books in the book section, prepare the store for opening, and select music that won’t annoy me too much for the store stereo (a harder task than it sounds).

Then I waste eight or nine hours of my life that I’ll never get back peddling mostly useless merchandise to tiresome people, wolf down a bland lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit cup, and chips in thirty minutes—a time allotment better-suited for a kindergartener’s lunch than that of an adult–go back and work at the grindstone again, unpacking books and statues and Precious Moments figurines and over-priced reproductions of paintings, entering them into a computer whose keyboard is way lower than my waist, feeling my back and legs and feet and ankles getting more and more sore, and get a few pointless lectures and assignments from my 5’4” manager, who is a decade-and-a-half my junior, as well as the company president’s nephew. By 1pm I am physically exhausted and my brain is totally worn out and barely capable of processing information.

Then I devote a lot of time to even more pointless acts of busy work, like counting greeting cards. If it’s Friday I unload a shipment of about 27 boxes of merchandise and process them all by myself. Later in the day I get a 15 minute break in the afternoon if anyone remembers to let me have it, collect all the garbage in the store and take it to the dumpster, clock out, un-tuck my shirt and leave if I’m lucky, or stay an extra half-hour doing the books if I’m not, then I walk the block to the corner 7-11 where I hand $1.40 to a kid who looks like Elvis Costello in exchange for a 28-ounce Slurpee, down it before the bus arrives, board the bus and get greeted by the friendly driver in dreadlocks who always calls me “Chief,” read until a large, talkative woman boards and drags me reluctantly into conversation, until we finally de-board at the same stop.

I trudge home, get the mail, unlock the door, erase a phone message from a solicitor, check my e-mail, shower, fill the tub full of Epsom Salts and soak, write, have a good cry, pop some pills, go to my room between 10pm and 1am, read, pray that God will bring all these horrors to an end or finally, mercifully, kill me, then shut off the light, take off my glasses, kiss Fred’s photo again, and hide under the covers.

This happens every working day of my life. And still, no one understand why I wish I was dead.

And so on the 7th and 9th of August, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I went down to one clinic, in the southeast part of downtown, got signed up, entered “the system,” and was diagnosed with Bi-Polar, Level II. During that first morning I was convinced I would not be able to be helped in that dirty, unpleasant building, and I gave up what very little hope I had. There were several times I wanted to bolt out the door but didn’t because James was there, to shame me into staying, if nothing else.

On the 15th I did more signing-up activities at another clinic, in East Austin, then attended a group session, for Bi-Polar sufferers. I was rather annoyed to see the group leader mostly read aloud from a print-out, but she did encourage the two of us at the meeting to tell our stories.

By this point I had told what I’ve come to call “The Story” several times. This is a summary of what’s happened to me in the last six years, commencing with my traumatic lay-off from the only decent job I ever had, and climaxing with my nervous breakdown following the death of my beloved dog, Fred. I have grown tired of telling The Story, and am eager to move along and tell the other tales of my strange and disturbing life.

(People in my program are required to put in 6 to 8 hours a month of group sessions, case worker sessions, and medical sessions, or the computer will automatically spit them out of the program.)

I will refrain from describing the stories I hear in treatment, in order to protect the privacy of the other patients….

Later on during the 15th I met with my friend Paddy to get more information on a job he said was coming open at his agency. But in the following weeks, the job evaporated as quickly and as mysteriously as it had appeared.

The week of the 20th was rather busy. On the 20th itself I met my case worker for the first time and we hung out in the café of my neighborhood supermarket and talked for an hour.

On the 21st I went to South Austin and attended four group sessions. The interior of the building where these group meetings were held stank of insecticide. I made a reluctant visit to the men’s room to take a whiz and found boogers wiped on the wall and standing vomit in the trash can.

Welcome to my nightmare.

The first session was “shoe box collage.” I felt like a real loony sitting in on this, then decided, “What the hell, I’ll just have fun with it.” But I wondered… should I follow instructions or should I make a collage that’d make me seem really crazy and alarm the group leaders? Should I do like Christian Slater and Winona Ryder in “Heathers” and underline the word “Eskimo” to emphasize its cryptic significance in my life?

The object of the exercise was to take a box, then clip pictures and words from magazines and catalogues on the table, and paste on the outside of the box those words and images which express our outer, public selves, and paste expressions of our secret, inner selves inside the box. Those who didn’t want to reveal themselves were asked just to make pretty pictures, and at the end of class we’d vote to see if we wanted to talk about our creations.

I knew I was in trouble from the get-go: Spread all over the work tables were magazines and catalogues: I started thumbing through the newer furniture catalogues not so much to find pictures but to price furniture.

Then I had great difficulty finding images and words that I thought perfectly expressed my inner and outer selves.

About a decade ago, before e-mail was popular, I went through a period where I sent a few select friends letters that I had composed using headlines and captions from newspapers and magazines. Taped onto the page, they rather looked like ransom notes, but if you knew me and the circumstances of my life well enough you could make sense of the messages, and would probably have laughed your ass off as well.

So I applied my design principle from those old ransom letters to this project.

I found a box–a Little Debbie snack cake box–(symbolic of my addiction to junk food!)–flattened it, so there was no inside nor outside, but rather a two-sided plane, open to the scrutiny of the world, then cut off all the lose ends.

On Side One I put the following: a print ad for M&Ms candy with the figure from Munch’s “The Scream” reacting in horror to the sight of an M&M playing hopscotch; a sick Golden Retriever, his head resting on a pillow and topped with an ice bag; a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel asleep in his dog bed; a stuffed bunny rabbit standing on his head with the words on the page reading “healing” and “Play’s the Thing;” a picture of the Louvre and its Pyramid in the Cour Napoléon, with the caption on the page “Away We Go;” and in the center, a Basset Hound sitting in a tub, awaiting a bath. My captions included, “THE PROBLEM IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK,” “‘You are not in control, and you must regain control,'” “CAN WE REALLY BE PERFECT?,” “A Man of Many Colors,” (and next to the Louvre) “A Movable Feast,” “The Weight of What-If,” “‘The impulse…to prove oneself superior to others,'” and (next to the Basset) “NOW OR NEVER,” and “What Now?”

Side Two featured these images: A Charmin toilet paper ad, with a big bear snuggling up against a roll described as “Soft on the outside, Scented on the inside;” an oil-caked penguin held by gloved hands and getting his feathers brushed clean; Abraham Lincoln and a beaver sitting in a kitchen looking forlorn, with the caption, “your dreams miss you;” a ridiculous photo of George Hamilton in a cowboy outfit, eating a snack cracker (symbolic of my failure to be a “cowboy,” so to speak, of the vast disconnect I feel to my Texas origins); and a happy dog being walked, looking up adoringly at the bottom half of a man, with a bit of a woman on the side, and bearing the caption “Redefined.” The captions state, “A Storied Past,” “VOICES OF THE FALLEN,” “The Move From Hell,” “Message From A Departed Son,” “After The Reversal,” “any day I’m here could be the day I die,” “HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?,” “What Are You Hungry For?,” “Rethinking the Unthinkable,” Just Tell Me What I’m Supposed To Do,” “You promised to take care of me. I don’t understand the ‘if I can afford it’ part,” and under the caption “your dreams miss you:” “You can never have too many.”

All in all a pretty telling piece of work, if I do say so myself.

I’d not finished my project by the end of class, so I took it and the clippings I’d not yet attached back home and finished it there.

After that class I went to an anger management group. But they didn’t talk so much about anger as they did the dangers of stress. I spent a good portion of the hour lecturing on my own experiences, talking directly to the group leader and over the heads of the other participants, who seemed too dazed to notice what was going on anyway.

From there I went to a group on health and nutrition. This was held in a room used primarily for arts and crafts and games. There was a smear of dried blood on the table top. There were also art supplies everywhere, as well as two items that struck me as personally significant: a box of dominoes of the same design and from the same manufacturer as the set my grandfather used to own, and a completed jigsaw puzzle of the Cour Napoléon of the Louvre. Was someone trying to tell me I belonged here?

If so, I’m not sure why. The group leader read from a print-out, listing facts about diet and nutrition I was already well-familiar with. About the only thing I learned was that my intimidation with the cooking process, my inability to follow through with a recipe, might be connected to my mental condition.

During this class the leader, to spice things up, asked different people if they’d like to read. Most of the people asked were barely literate, and it took forever for them to get through the text.

I was asked to read twice, and did so in a booming, properly-enunciated voice. It was quite a show; I sounded like a broadcaster. I have no idea what I said, because I was so busy concentrating on my performance.

When I grew bored I busied myself editing and proofreading the grammar of the hand-outs I’d been given.

At every session I went to that day we were joined by a skinny man who didn’t really pay any attention to what was going on in the classes; he just sat reading the Bible and muttering. I noticed several times that his Bible was sometimes upside down.

At the beginning of the health and nutrition group he tried to sign the sign-up sheet with an “X,” claiming his mother had told him it was a perfectly legal signature. He wanted to argue this with the group leader. Why, I have no idea, because he’d signed his actual name on the sign-in sheets of the previous two classes.

And at the end of the class we were all given evaluation sheets. This guy wrote “BUSh” at the top of his sheet and drew a huge circle around the entire page.

My last group was for people with substance abuse. The leader was a big, burly man with long white hair and a gravely voice. He talked rather like Chris Farley, and whenever he’d come to punch lines he’d add on more gravel.

I kept wondering when and if I’d be exposed as a faker, a poser, and a tourist, because I really don’t have any substance abuse problems, or if, on the contrary, the group would assume I was lying and insist I was concealing my addictions and being dishonest. As it was, nobody cared enough to ask and I didn’t talk all that much. The subject of the meeting was fairly interesting, though, comparing and contrasting healthy types of love to “addictive love.”

Did I mention there was dried blood on the floor of that meeting room as well?

Afterwards I took the bus back downtown. On the way there I passed the State School for the Deaf and saw a big banner advertising their production of “High School Musical.” I then tried to imagine how and why deaf people would perform a musical….

On the 22nd I had to come in early to work so the company president, my manager’s uncle, could hold a boring and pointless staff meeting, wherein he droned on and on about last year’s sales figures and this year’s sales projections–as if hourly wage slaves would give a shit about such nonsense. (I work at a store that sells Christian gifts, books, and church-ware.)

The president was a prim, uptight, and humorless man. Had he not been Catholic I’d have described him as Puritanical. I don’t imagine he’s ever enjoyed himself a day in his life. (Did I mention he used to be an accountant?) Since his is a family company, it’s run the way the family wants it run; new ideas and suggestions to improve efficiency are not entertained.

The president also was quite frank about his racism. Someone discussed better cultivating the Hispanic market, and asked if we ought to try to get some merchandise from Mexico. He brushed aside that suggestion:

–The Mexicans who come into this country are trying to get away from the filth and the squalor down there and improve themselves, so they want better stuff–American products. We tried ordering some goods from Mexico before and it was all just crap.

All morning he stood around with his arms folded, breathing down our necks as we tried to work. This naturally made me anxious and accident-prone. I sought refuge in the break room during lunch, but he came in and tried to start a conversation. He found out I was born in Houston and mentioned he’d lived there four separate times in his life, then added,

–Yeah, I bet Houston’s really gone downhill since they got all the vermin from New Orleans to move there after Katrina.

Now I’m a pretty serious misanthrope, but my God, you’d think the president of a Christian-themed business would be a little more guarded about expressing his racist opinions, wouldn’t you?

*******    

Part II

On Thursday the 23rd I showed up at the East Austin clinic, to attend a mindfulness class given by my Case Worker. This was actually extremely helpful, and taught me some relaxation and breathing techniques.
I’d had bus trouble and was afraid I’d be late. As it was I was early, and got to spend some quality time in the lobby, where I saw, among other things, a woman with no arms. Her hands hung from her shoulders like epaulets, and flopped like rubber kitchen gloves.

I ate lunch downtown at Las Manitas; that’ll probably be the last time I’ll get over there before they move. Afterwards I explored the new “Second Street District,” which is quite chic.

I then was seized with the powerful need to take a dump, but couldn’t think of any buildings in that part of downtown that had bathrooms that were either clean or open to the non-paying public. Finally, I went to the new City Hall, and went through the laborious process of emptying all the crap from my pockets and putting that and my backpack through a metal detector, but was rewarded by a delightful, knee-weakening bowel movement, expressed in tax-payer-funded luxury.

I was feeling ambitious, and eager to help myself some more. And anyway, what else did I have to do with the rest of my day off–go home and cry? So I hopped a bus south to go to the South Austin clinic for another group session.

I showed up at least an hour early for the group meeting. It was listed under the generic label of “Support Group.” I wanted to sit down and read, but the main room was filled with a really desperate group of homeless men watching a supervised movie.

I was finally directed to a room full of couches, where I was told my meeting would later be held. A group of men were loudly discussing the particulars of their treatment. I found the cleanest section of a dirty couch, and sat down. The upholstery felt greasy to the touch.

I opened up “Hadrian VII,” my latest volume of bus/commuting reading, a 1904 novel about a bitter, anti-social, unsuccessful writer who, by virtue of some strange twists, gets elected Pope. I remember I bought the book years ago after reading its last lines:

–Please pray for the repose of His soul. He was so tired.

Eventually most of these Jaspers cleared out and I was left alone with a talkative giant with jack-o-lantern teeth, a Benjy Compson to my Jason Compson. He was holding forth on movies, saying that

–”Fantastic Voyage” was a masterpiece of movie-making.

I thought,

–Dear God! This is just like talking to James!

The group started 30 minutes late and ran for 90 wretched minutes. I had considered walking out before it began. The group leader was a current or possibly former patient.

And the meeting turned out to be for Bi-Polar sufferers. But they didn’t have a sign-up sheet, and I later learned this group wasn’t even part of the program I’m signed up for.

This group turned out to be the most useless I have attended. They even spent about 10 to 15 minutes exchanging lame jokes. I didn’t talk much. The meeting was dominated by one woman who, whenever someone would try to talk or bring up another topic, would invariably interrupt and talk about herself. She had a really downer personality. I couldn’t help but wonder if I seem like that to other people.

After this fiasco I walked over to San Jose Church down the street, and explored the buildings and grounds.

Friday the 24th was a typically stressful day at work.

For several years now I’ve been seeing things out of the corners of my eyes, often at night. These seem to be figures darting around. I think they’re just optical illusions.

James says these are a supernatural manifestation called “shadow people,” and in fact, once commissioned me to research and write an article on the subject.

Since I’ve been seeing these things a lot lately, I mentioned this to one of my co-workers (the unstable one), and she said very matter-of-factly,

–Oh, that’s just the Devil you saw.

–The Devil?

–Oh, but that’s a good thing!

–Why is seeing the Devil a good thing?

–Because that means you’ve caught him—he can’t do anything to you.

On the morning of the 25th I rose from the breakfast table and was seized with an incredible pain in my back, as if I’d been kicked there violently. It hurt so badly I let out an awful scream. I moved stiffly and with great difficulty all that day at work, yet my fucking manager saw fit to make a sarcastic joke about it at the end of the day, implying that I was faking it. That night I took a Vicodin for the pain.

I spent most of the 26th in bed in pain. My in-box was full of awful news. A woman who knows me from the on-line Basset Hound newsletter I subscribe and contribute to has a dog in the final stages of life. Her descriptions of her dog’s condition sounds all too much like those of Fred at the end. And to top it all off this woman just learned she herself has cancer. Then another woman connected with this newsletter went to the doctor feeling poorly and they found two cancerous masses in her brain. They didn’t even let her go home to pack a bag–they rushed her into the hospital that quickly.

Then another friend wrote telling of how her friend had lost her two-year-old son–he’d been run over by accident by his great–uncle. I was saddened to hear this, but lost it when I saw the pictures of what a cute kid he had been.

All this news really wore me down and I started getting crying jags. Bad news and grief and illness make me think of Fred, and so I began bawling all the more. And then I started shaking and feeling very weak and anxious and on edge. By evening I was overcome with panic attacks and physical and mental exhaustion, and unable to face another day of drudgery and being on my feet, so I took another Vicodin and called in sick before I even retired for the night.

Monday the 27th was my third or fourth time to call in sick that month. I called a clinic and arranged for one-on-one sessions with a therapist, to be conducted every Thursday afternoon for the foreseeable future. My case worker had given me brochures on two clinics. One was closer to my house, but allowed a maximum of only thirty visits. The other clinic, the one I decided to go with, has no limit to its visits. I suspect it may take more than thirty visits to get me on the straight and narrow.

That day I received an e-mail from another woman who knows me from the Basset Hound newsletter. She wrote asking if I would be interested in taking a Basset she’s been fostering. The Basset has had some trouble socializing with other dogs and sometimes growls at people, but is over-all very sweet, and despite having apparently come from an abusive home, is desperate to love and be loved. She said the head of the local Basset rescue group thinks this dog would otherwise be unadoptable and should probably be euthanized, but my friend wanted to see if I’ll take her first.

I’m still weighing the case. A few people have advised me that I have too much going on with my own psychological problems to take on a dog at this time, and part of me agrees with that, but I also think a dog would be a good thing for me. Plus I’d hate to have this dog’s blood on my hands.

I should mention that because of my current financial situation there would be no adoption fee for the dog and the rescue group and my friend would pay for the dog’s food and vet bills until I get on my feet again.

This story is still developing….

On the 28th I had a simple errand to run: sort through some IRS papers, go to the bank, make a deposit, make a withdrawal, walk across the parking lot, get a money order at the grocery store, then go next door to a mailing place and mail my payment to the IRS.

But this process stressed me out unbelievably, as I tried to sort out what document went where and how much money was to go this place or that. And during the process I saw a cricket in the middle of the grocery store, took pity on him, wrapped him in my hanky, put him in my pocket, and after finishing all these IRS tasks, let him lose in a patch of grass. My exertions were such I went home and slept the rest of the day.

On Wednesday the 29th my manager gave me a quick employee evaluation of sorts. Basically I outlined my current duties and he mentioned a few things he wants to teach me before the next evaluation in December. I didn’t bother to mention that I don’t plan to stay that long (God, I hope my treatment schedule doesn’t force me to stick with this fucking job just because other jobs might not accommodate all the time off I need).

But as the evaluation was wrapping up the manager brought up the subject of my calling in sick so much:

–You’ve missed three Mondays in August and I think at least one other day as well; I don’t have to explain what that seems to indicate.

–Yes, actually you do, because I’m not following you.

–Well, generally when an employee calls in sick on Mondays after the weekend on a regular basis it’s a sign of drug or alcohol abuse.

–[Snorting with amusement and contempt] Well, that’s clearly not the problem, but I did tell you I’m getting treatment for Bi-Polar, Level II, didn’t I?

–Yes, but if you call in sick again you’ll need to bring me a note from a doctor.

–Well, normally when I have these problems that cause me to miss work I don’t go to a doctor for them.

*******    

Part III

The following day, August the 30th, I had an appointment with a physician connected with this program I’m in. Also in attendance were my Case Worker and an Asian doctor who didn’t say one word the entire time–he just smiled and wrote things down.

My Case Worker sat with me awhile in lobby before the appointment.

I told her about the manager asking for a doctor’s note. I also told the doctor of this later. All my Case Worker said was,

–Now this is the job you’ve been planning on leaving anyway, right?

(James says case workers never really take stands, just often mirror what the patient says and act supportive.)

I told my Case Worker about my crying jags and my depression the previous Sunday, about missing work, anxiety, that woman who offered me the dog, and some other things I’ve forgotten now.

I told her I’d set up weekly appointment with therapist. I said I wish I could go more often, but she said I needed time in between to work on healing.

I then went back in to the office area and was weighed (252 lbs.) My blood pressure was 122/73.

Then they had me open my arms as they took a tape measure to my chest. I was tempted to say,

–I’d like single-breasted with side-vents.

My Case Worker looked alarmed at the doctor when I said I’d been worried and had even put off getting treatment because I didn’t want to be counseled or drugged into being happy with living my life as it is now, a drudge in a low-paying dead-end job. I know mindfulness (which she teaches) and all that often involves living in and accepting the moment–including “radical acceptance.” I said I want my life to change and improve–I have no intention of trying to be happy under my current circumstances.

We discussed much: my childhood seizures, possible abuse by biological father, my concussion, my depression from 1983 onward, my nervous breakdown over Fred, my childhood psychiatric treatments, my IBS, OCD, ADD, math disability, aversion to driving, “flooding” from ADD, Ritalin usage, all my depression meds, my germophobia, anxiety, anti-social behavior, excessive sleeping and eating, whether I had any history of alcohol and drug use, my irritability, sensitivity to noise, the fact I am single and childless, my recent patterns in jobs and how I get and quit them, my panic attacks, and how I don’t feel like an adult. I gave them the names and numbers for the three doctors I’ve had since 2003 as well as the shrink I briefly visited.

I mentioned about how my head and brain sometimes feel like they’re overheating or like a boiling kettle and he attributed that to anxiety–not a tumor or anything, as James had so helpfully suggested.

The doctor asked about my manic episodes and I explained my manifestations of anger in all shapes and forms, my spending sprees, and my extreme irritability. He asked how long my manic episodes lasted and I said they could last for minutes to a few days and then switch over to depression in as many minutes or days. Sometimes I said depression approaches like a thunderstorm–I see it coming but can’t stop it– other times it just appears.

He asked about how I panic before work and how I react once I get there.

I was in the doctor’s office for 90 minutes. My Case Worker had to leave after 70. I have to wonder if they wrote my whole deposition down. Occasionally I caught my Case Worker looking out the window or the doctor looking bored and rubbing his eyes or pinching the bridge of his nose.

I’m to meet with nurse in six weeks and the doctor in three months.

The doctor gave me samples of Lamictal, staged in doses of various sizes, to use as a mood stabilizer. I was concerned, as type-face of the med looked familiar and I wondered if I had taken it before with bad results.

Lamictal’s side-effects include forgetfulness, rashes, and depression. The drug is often given to Bi-Polar and seizure patients. The doctor also gave me a prescription for Ativan, which I am to take for anxiety. He had considered Depakote as a mood stabilizer, but said I might put on weight with that.

He noted that I get stressed on Sundays prior to work, and suggested I get out of the house then. I didn’t get a chance to tell him I’m always so physically exhausted from two days at the store that I don’t have the strength to do anything.

I must’ve seemed like I was talking 90 mph (which is a symptom of mania), but I wanted to give everybody as much information as I could and I didn’t feel I had enough time to do so.

Downstairs in the lobby I had to set some appointments, but not before I got to stand for some time behind a young man who’d shat his pants.

I began worrying about the Lamictal, that I had taken it to ill effect….By the time I got home I was fighting back tears I was so worried about this fucking medicine. I really didn’t want a repeat of all the bad side effects I had between 2003 and 2005.

On the 31st I made the first of several aborted attempts to fill my Ativan prescription, going first to the pharmacy at my corner supermarket. I had to wait a half-hour, while the lady pharmacist waited on the phone trying to find out what agency was or was not going to pay for my drugs.

As time passed I got more and more irritated…and observant.

A woman came up to a pharmacist and asked,

–What aisle for the thermometers?

And I was tempted to bark out,

–Why don’t you try looking up your ass?

A little boy came out of the men’s room with his daddy, and loudly greeted his mother by saying,

–I SAT ON THE POT AND I GO POOP IN THE POTTY!!!

After that I got up to stretch my legs, and was amused to find at the end of an aisle (what they call an “end cap” in retail) a big cardboard display for weight-loss supplement Trim Spa, adorned with air-brushed photos of a lithe and healthy Anna Nicole Smith, who has long since been converted into worm-fodder. The advertising slogan, above Smith’s loopy signature, was “Be envied.”

Yes, Anna, the dead are the only ones truly worthy of envy. No one can hurt you anymore, you dim-witted, pill-addled, big-titted rascal.

On September the 4th I made a long-delayed visit to my regular doctor’s office to get blood-work done, but because I have “rolling veins” (my veins are shallow and retreat from needles—supposedly this is common in people with chronic illnesses or dehydration or low blood pressure) the nurse poked a hole on the inside of my left arm and had no success, and finally got the blood from the back of my right hand.

My manager is a firm believer in the necessity of wasting the staff’s time. Though we have a staff of only three, he tries to have a staff meeting every week, as if there’s actually enough news to impart to the staff with that great a frequency—news that cannot be conveyed by means of a memo on the bulletin board or him just walking up to the front counter and telling us. This means that every Friday I get 30 minutes less sleep, yet am paid a whopping $3.83 for my trouble.

The catch is, if there are other events during the week, the meeting can get canceled, which leads me to believe the point of these meetings is not so much the conveyance of information as the flexing of muscles, the expression of management’s supposed power over the staff, the notion of “I am your Boss, your God, and I can hire you and fire you and I can also waste your time if it be my will.”

So on the 5th we were expecting a huge early morning shipment from the home office, and so we were scheduled to all come in 30 minutes early to help unpack all this shit. It turned out to consist almost entirely of Christmas items and boxes of candles—virtually nothing that we needed right now, and certainly none of the merchandise that would actually be selling RIGHT NOW if we had it in fucking stock.

So I arrived early and annoyed, went in to sign my time card, and saw on the calendar that the delivery had been rescheduled for noon…and the manager hadn’t even had the common fucking courtesy to call me and tell me there was no need to come in early after all!…

After work I headed south to the Dobie Theatre to see “Rocket Science,” a quirky film about a socially awkward teen with a fucked up home life and a profound stutter, who joins the debate team in order to impress a girl he likes. It reminded me a great deal of a film from a couple years ago–”Thumbsucker,” about a socially awkward teen who sucks his thumb when feeling stressed and who joins the debate team in his search for identity.

I could sympathize somewhat with the hero of “Rocket Science,” because 25 or 26 years ago I signed up to audition for the high school play because I saw a girl I liked was auditioning too. I reasoned that if we were both cast then I could spend a lot of time in her presence after school at rehearsals and on long bus trips to drama contests. And during that time I could win her over.

I had initially considered trying out for a small role, since the lead role was all but sewn up by this arrogant transfer student who had extensive theatrical experience doing Gilbert and Sullivan in summer stock. But at the last minute I read over the lead part, found it fit me like a glove, decided to give it a try, and auditioned for it instead.

Not surprisingly, I got the starring role, while the girl I was into landed a minor job on the crew—along with the transfer student. In short order my one-sided romance was competing with my need for self-aggrandizement, Eros battling Ego, with the latter eventually winning, as it always does with me.

On the 6th I had to get up early and take a couple buses to the East Austin clinic to attend to some bureaucratic matters affecting my treatment. Suffice it to say an explanation of what that was all about would be lengthy and boring. But I finished early and then had to bus it to my first one-on-one therapy session in Northeast Austin. I was very early, so I explored the neighborhood, then went to the office. The building was nice, and there weren’t a bunch of scary-looking people hanging about, as there are at those other offices and clinics I now have to frequent.

The waiting room for the therapy clinic was dimly-lit and pleasantly furnished. It didn’t smell of piss or shit. AND they had the stereo tuned to a classical station. I went to the window of the front office and saw no one in there; I assumed they’d gone to lunch.

The station was doing a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, who had died overnight, and was playing his recording of “La donna è mobile,” (“Woman is fickle”–appropriately enough), so while I waited and regretted never having seen Pavarotti live, I started mouthing along the words in Italian, even singing faintly in a few places. Luciano and I had both reached the “Muta d’accento” High C in the second refrain when the receptionist came out and caught me enraptured; I was worried she thought I was talking to myself.

(By the way, I have only two degrees of separation from the Maestro—he was once interviewed by an old boss of mine.)

I took an immediate liking to my new therapist, and in 50 minutes managed to fill her in on many of the “Astonishing Tales of B___” from November 2, 1963 to September 6, 2007. I have high hopes for our association; I only wish we weren’t limited to just one session a week.

I am sure all these folks will be able sooner or later to fix my troubled brain; what worries me is whether or not anyone—myself included—will be able to fix my fucked up life and give me the kind of lifestyle I am so desperate to have.

The next two days were spent on the job, and as a result were an almost complete waste. The 8th was so hectic and stressful I almost broke down in tears at the cash register. And at some point some ignorant little kid asked if a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was in fact a porcupine, this conclusion drawn from the spiky appearance of the beams of light coming off Her person.

One day a co-worker and I were discussing our efforts at confronting people who are cruel to dogs. I mentioned how recently I was in my supermarket parking lot and saw a big Retriever in a car, albeit with the windows down. Since I always have paper on my person I wrote a note–

–Please don’t leave your dog in a hot car. He’s wearing a fur coat.

then left it under the windshield wiper. I’m sure several people saw what I’d done, because I’d only been in the store for two minutes when some employee got on the loud-speaker and announced,

–Will the owner of the car with license plate number ABC-123 please go out to the parking lot? Your dog is in distress.

And I heard hundreds of voices all over the store respond with a hurt,

–Awww.

I hope the asshole learned his lesson.

My co-worker told of a similar story, only she found the prick inside the post office and told him off.

At this point my manager looked blankly and said,

–It’s just a dog.

I wanted to bludgeon that fucker to death on the spot. Few sentences get me angrier than that one. And my manager forfeited then and there any chance at my regarding him as a decent human being. And then, amazingly enough, a few minutes later he was saying how he and his new wife are considering adopting a retired and rescued racing Greyhound. They’ll probably be the types who’ll dump the dog at a kill shelter as soon as little “Kelsey” and “Kamaron” pop out.

I took the advice of a co-worker and bought some Epsom Salts and soaked in my bathtub filled with that and warm water, in an attempt to rid myself of some of the aches and pains that come from working on my fucking feet all day. And I must say the treatment helped somewhat, and afterwards I was so relaxed and gelatinous all I wanted to do was glide into bed.