Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Four Moments in My Life When I Asked "What am I DOING with my life?" Parts 1 and 2 (of 4): The Day of the Chicken and The Worst Motel Ever

March 22, 1991: The Day of the Chicken.
It was a rainy Friday when I stopped at a KFC in St. Louis Park, Minnesota on my way home from somewhere. In Minnesota, rain instead of snow in March is a welcome thing but the overall gray gloom of the weather made my Seasonal Affective Disorder worse. This was near the end of my second stint in the Gopher State - the time period I don't talk about mich. I first lived there during my undergraduate days (1984-1988). Then, I piligrimaged to the promised land (Brea, 1988-1990) and received a well-earned master's degree in psychology. I then had one particularly bad panic attack (7/8/90 - dig the numerical pattern there) and immediately packed a U-Haul to come back "home" to Minnesota to find my post-master's job.

Eight months later, I still hadn't had any luck finding that job. I was working three jobs, actually but none related to graduate degree. One Friday afternoon as winter neared its end and I seriously considered a return to California (my parents had a rental property that would soon be vacant in the "good" part of Pomona). Anyway, on this Friday afternoon, I felt it was necessary to buy lots of chicken. I was living alone and I had no real plans for the weekend. I thought to myself, why not buy a giant bucket of chicken? I can eat a little now and save the rest for later, storing it for safekeeping in my refrigerator. After all, this was March Madness time, the second day of the NCAA basketball tournament. The chicken wasn't as much for me as it was for basketball as an institution. By incorporating a giant KFC bucket into my game-watching ritual, I was paying tribute to Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game.

Time passed and all of a sudden I found myself on the floor of my apartment in Minneapolis, with a blanket over me and the TV on. The sky was dark and I felt around for the remote control so I could turn off CNN Headline News which had been bringing my subconscious down. I had no memory of switching from basketball to news. I had fallen asleep on my floor, though I did have a real bed in the apartment.

I began my search for the remote. As I flailed at the floor space around my makeshift floorbed (3 comforters on floor + 1 flat sheet + 1 more blanket on body = floorbed), I felt the chicken bucket. I lifted the bucket only to find the discarded fowl carrion that my binge had wrought. All skin and meat were gone, from every piece; only bone remained. I had no memory of eating any of it. I looked at my fingers; my fingers remembered eating the chicken. From the looks of the filth around me - empty mashed potato container, large drink emitting condensation, a half-dozen soiled napkins thrown around randomly, I participated in a fierce binge.

I looked to the window. It was either sunrise or sunset. I hoped it was sunrise. I looked at the clock. 6:00pm. It was sunset. I  looked at the window again. It was either Saturday and Sunday. God, I hope it's Saturday, I thought. I did not want to have fallen into a 48-hour chicken coma; please let it be a 24-hour sleep. (Yes, this was a possibility. The insomnia which I sometimes suffer today began showing up in '90, '91.) No, it was worse than that. It was still Friday. I bought the chicken at 1:30 in the afternoon. I had consumed 14 pieces of chicken in a 4 hour period and woke up without remembering. There were no other people or cats living with me at the time. It was all me. I moved back to California 11 days later. I became a vegetarian 19 years later.

To sum up: Darkness, disorientation, on the floor, waking up to find chicken carcasses, loneliness. What am I doing with my life?

August 26, 1996: The Worst Motel Ever
It was a Sunday evening. I was living in Amherst, Massachusetts. Those who have heard about my Amherst stint know I was only there for 12 days. Despite such a short stay, I felt the need to get away over the one full weekend I had while I was there. I drove down to visit my friend Patrick in New Jersey. I had a nice time that weekend. There was a pizza place with a jukebox. There was an old-timey drug store where I bought a giant fan for my new apartment. Then, on Sunday, I headed back to Amherst, first making a stop in Greenwich, Connecticut to see my ex-girlfriend. She had moved there from Los Angeles a year prior; she met a young man on the Internet. Things didn't work out with him but she stayed on the east coast, a spry L.A. girl braving the rest of America. Later, she moved to Minnesota (not because I was there, she says) and then Hawaii. She now lives in Wisconsin. We had dinner. We talked. I felt sad. Then, I began the rest of my drive home. I had three hours to go.

Shortly after I began driving, I felt really sleepy. I didn't want to fall asleep on the highway and crash, not with two angry cats waiting for me in a deserted college town, relying on me for food. I didn't have Joe Piscopo to shake me from my slumber. So I decided to stop at a roadside motel. Somewhere between Greenwich and Hartford (yeah I know - that doesn't narrow it down), I got off the highway and checked into what seemed like a decent enough place. I got my key and entered the room. The bed was flanked with not one - but two - machines that allowed one to make the bed vibrate. No reading lamps, just bed vibrators. This amused me; I'd be telling stories about this place.

The red bedspread looked old and faded. I lifted it and tossed it aside because my dad always took off the bedspread in every rented room he found himself in. "Because they never wash it. It's diz-GUST-ing," he would say. I found this hard to believe: so they wash everything else - the sheets, blankets, towels, pillowcases - in a diligent fashion, but they go out of their way to not wash the bedspread? No matter. I needed someone's advice at the moment. I was at my life's crossroads and I was tired. (If you know me, you understand that I have been to many many "crossroads" in my life. Ralph Macchio told me there'd be only one.)

The blanket was a faded yellowish-beige, with not one but two perfect circle holes burned into it,. Horrified, I decided I would use the bedspread as my blanket. First I had to remove the blanket. And underneath the blanket was... a plastic sheet. A clear plastic, see-through sheet. You could see right through the sheet and see the mattress. The filthy splotch-stained mattress. In a queasy panic, I covered it up again with the blanket and picked the bedspread up off the floor. I slept fetally on a small strip of clean yellow-beige blanket, with the blood-red bedspread on top of me for warmth. The plastic sheet horrified me. Why would they do that?

So, these were the three sleeping layers they had given to me:
  1. unwashed bedspread
  2. fire-damaged blanket
  3. see-through insane asylum sheet 
I should have asked for a refund. I had not yet developed the character trait of complaining about every little thing and demanding immediate justice. This trait, since removed from my personality, manifested itself most often at motels and hotels. (Personal aside to the desk clerk at that Hilton in Baltimore's Inner Harbor back in '98: I was an ass. I'm sorry.)

I slept for four hours, waking up in time to avoid Monday morning traffic. I was back in Amherst by noon, cursing my decision to move east. (No offense to anyone who lives on the east coast but seriously - it's like the third world out there, with your dial-up and your uncomfortable chairs.) I moved back to Minnesota three days later. I have not been to Connecticut since that day, nor have I ever seen clear plastic sheets again.

No. I didn't vibrate my bed.

To sum up: Darkness, disorientation, fetal position, avoiding burn-holes and mattress blood, bed vibrators, awkward meal with ex-gf, rootlessness. What am I doing with my life?

The final two "What am I doing" moments will be published tomorrow. I felt that including all four in one blog post would be kind of ridiculous.

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