Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Four Moments in My Life When I Asked "What am I DOING with my life?" Part 4 of 4: The Valentine's Day Massacre of Misfortune

Don't forget to read parts 1 and 2 and part 3 of my woe-is-me whinefest. Now, in honor of Valentine's Day...:

February 14, 2009
Remember last year... last Valentine's Day? It fell on a Saturday, which means the day before was Friday the 13th. And as I wrote the other day, my cat Seymour had just passed away on the 11th last year. So, with this set up Valentine's Day 2009 wasn't shaping up to be one of the best.

Due to reasons I can no longer remember, I postponed a trip to Chicago planned for that weekend. I had planned to see my cousin Sharif and to forget about my status as a 40-ish single man on that most romantic of fake holidays, Valentine's Day.

Despite my postponing the Chicago trip for the second time (there would be three more postponements), my cousin, in a very helpful and empathic gesture, suggested I take a road trip up north, to San Francisco. That way, I could mourn Seymour among caring familiar people, while at the same time getting away from home. He arranged for me to stay with his friend Audrey.

I had done this before... take the long drive up the 5, spend the weekend socializing with Sharif's friends (which almost always meant watching lots and lots of TV because Audrey always sprang for the HBO AND the Showtime and really what else is there to do in San Francisco?), and then drive back on a Sunday night asking myself if I could have just done the same thing in L.A (the answer: "Yes but it wouldn't be as much fun.")

Then, on Friday the 13th, my car started acting up as I drove to work. The "check engine" light was on and it mysteriously stopped running while I waited at a stoplight. (Short aside to Honda: Your game is over. Your cars are so mechanically unreliable that any aesthetic superiority you may have once emitted is forgotten, locked in the vault of my (un)consciousness like my lost affinity for bands like Styx and Possum Dixon. I am never buying one of your crappy Honda crap-cars ever again.)

I got the car started again and took it to the reliable Mr. Yu down the street from where I work. He told me what was wrong and said he could fix it. I didn't really understand what he said but... as with everything involving the CR-V and Mr. Yu, it would be ready at 5:00 and it would cost me $260. Okay, that's $240 more than I could really afford but if I pick up the car by 5:00 and rush home to pack, I could make it to SF by car by midnight.

At 5:00, Mr. Yu gave me the bad news. The car would not be ready until 6:00. Also, the timing belt needed replacing very soon. I asked if an impromptu 800-mile round-trip drive starting tonight would be imprudent. He gave me the classic Mr. Yu look, indicating moral and mechanical superiority, silently emitting the message that I would be taking my life into my own hands. Did I mention it was raining hard? There was no way I could drive to San Francisco. I'd be spending Valentine's Day alone in my Hollywood apartment, staring at the misty rain with only the ghost of Seymour keeping me company.

(Yes, I know about Lily, my other cat. But she doesn't really keep me company so much as hide in closets and on top of laundry baskets, skitting away like a bunny when she hears approaching footsteps.)

There was one small detail I just mentioned that represents the most important part of the story. It's the one variable that sent Valentine's Day '09 up to the top of the Misfortune Chart. The car was not ready at 5:00. It would be ready at 6:00. What was I to do between 5 and 6? Well, it was dinner time and Yu's garage was just a block away from the college campus where I work. I was very close to the campus food court that housed the new branch of Wahoo's Fish Tacos. Yum. Wahoo's. That would make me happy.

Inexplicably, I ordered chicken - not fish. A quesadilla. I ate half of it right away and the rest of it in the car after picking up my car, as I braved the Friday night traffic home.

Chicken. Not fish.

Around midnight, as the 14th began, I began experiencing the stomach pains. I thought it was just excessive heartburn. But no it was worse. Was I finally paying for my lost KFC weekend-in-one-night in '91?

Yes, I was. The vomiting began in earnest, at 3:00 in the morning. In a way, it felt like that was it, there would be no more. But with food poisoning, there never is just one trip to the bathroom, crawling on all fours because standing just wasn't going to happen.

Before I finally fell asleep around 5:00am, I threw up two more times. I should have had the fish. After the final time, my head was clear and I could stand... and walk without dizziness. I got it all out of my system. Good.

The next thing I knew it was around noon and my phone was ringing. It was my mother. I told her about the food poisoning. She must have felt some sympathy because for only the second time in the three years I lived in Hollywood, she drove from the Inland Empire into the City to see me. Seymour's death wasn't enough to do it. But Seymour's death PLUS debilitating food poisoning did the trick.

Minutes after I got out of bed, ready to shower, the inside of my body struck again, purging itself of what was left in the stomach. That's GOT to be it. There could not be anything else in there.

Mom and I ran some errands. We went to Rite Aid and got medicine and saltines and Gatorade and light bulbs and everything I needed for the apartment. We went to the vet's office where she took care of what was left of Seymour's vet bill ($822 and you couldn't even save him? No - you give ME $822.) Eventually, she drove back to La Verne and I decided my system had stabilized itself, that I was better.

By 9:00pm, it had been nine hours since the last episode. I had successfully consumed saltines, bagels, fruit, and Sprite. I was feeling better. Physically, if not psychologically. The parade of sympathetic Happy Valentine's Day Sorry About Seymour texts from ex-girlfriends, non-girlfriends, and the ex-wife was in full swing. Laurel checked in from Minnesota, Alex from Long Beach, Michelle from some restaurant on the west side, the one whose name starts with a J wrote from a few miles away, someone else texted from the Central time zone, and I think there may have been one other one from Long Beach.

My memory may be playing tricks on me. The texts may not have all come at once; it just seemed that way. And it was very nice of all of them (you?) to think of me. But the sheer magnitude of all the stuff that had happened in the past few days got to me. The medicine may have played a role too. I began to feel dizzy. I slumped on the couch and tried to lose myself in a movie (The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn), only to find myself feeling my stomach stir again. Oh no. Not again.

All those other times, I could make it to the bathroom. Not this time. I dropped my body to the (hardwood) floor and tried to roll myself to the bathroom. I only made it a few feet when I vomited something that was 90% Sprite and 10% other stuff. All over my living room floor.

I just stayed there all curled up, not in an attempt to get fetal but to avoid the pools of body detritus that lay on the floor from inching toward me. Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was only a few minutes, I felt strong enough to crawl (yes, crawl) toward the kitchen where I could get some paper towels with which to clean this mess. No paper towels. Then, I crawled to the bathroom where there may be some left over paper towels and, if not, I could use one of my rejected towels (i.e., the towels that I was in the process of retiring.)
Most of the towels I owned at that time were in the washer - wet, waiting for the dryer. In the bathroom, I realized that there were no more paper towels and the rejected towels I had used to clean up the mess from that morning had been thrown away. I had nothing with which to clean the living room floor.

Don't get me started on mops. They weren't an option. That's all I'll say.

Did I mention that my mom and I bought everything I needed for the apartment that day? Except we forgot paper towels.

Well, I did have one thing I could use. Toilet paper. And that's what I used. Two full rolls did the trick. The floor was eventually clean. But let me stress something: When you find yourself unable to stand, writhing in pain, stuck on a cold wood floor on a rainy Saturday Valentine's Night, cleaning up bile and vomit with massive amounts of toilet paper, you find yourself at a low moment in your life.

So, to sum things up and to end this sad sad story: Broken car, canceled trip, chicken again, food poisoning, throwing up, death of favorite creature ever, soiled towels, The Break-Up, sympathy texts from the exes, and cleaning up vomit with toilet paper: What am I doing with my life?

Purple postscript: I spent the following day - Sunday - in bed all day, watching movies and slowly starting to feel better. Monday was a holiday from work (great timing - I spent the entire three-day weekend sick, all from food I ate at my workplace.) But I felt good enough to leave my apartment, thanks to a helpful visit from Alex. She took me out to lunch and I successfully kept all of my food in. I hung out a bit at home that Monday evening before realizing the overwhelming suckiness that the weekend represented. I had to get out. Even if it meant driving around in the rain (pouring rain!). I had to get out on my own. I dressed warmly, gathered my umbrella and backpack-with-laptop and strode defiantly toward my car, which had not been driven since Friday night. As I approached the car, I senses something wrong. My driver's side front tire was completely utterly totally FLAT.

But, as I mentioned, I strode defiantly. Fuck it. I'm not letting this flat tire stop me. What did I do? Did I change the tire, employing the full-size spare strapped manfully to the back of the CR-V. No. I just started the car and drove.... my rims rolling on the wet asphalt all the way to the 76 station three blocks away. I pumped my tire full of air. I drove to Peet's for coffee and thinking and reading. I drove home, believing I had stared Satan in the face and emerged victorious, that I had reached the nadir of low points. And maybe I did.

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