Saturday, May 30, 2015

9 Days in San Diego: A Quirky Tale of Adventure, Pennilessness, Workplace Envy, Loneliness, and Occasional Moxie - Part I

10/14/08: Have $0.22 in the bank.
P. has me running down every two hours to feed quarters into the meter that her BMW is parked at. She gave me $5 in quarters for this; she's in a long meeting today and can't do it herself.
For every silver coin that I nudge into the slot, I think, "That's more than I have in the bank right now... and *that's* more than I have in the bank right now... Yep, and that's more than I have in the bank right now, too."
But at least I'm not in debt. I'm working. I'm moving in the right direction.
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It's been established that J. is the alpha female of the two of us.
In such a small company (or "company"--there are four of us who work full-time: P., J., Z., and me), these distinctions are glaringly apparent and can reshape your self-image.

At a glance, at least, we're two stereotypes. J.'s the blonde, tan, athletic, presentable, perky one, the one who actually knows how to use an Apple computer (I'm winging it here), the one whose shoes and outfits P. incessantly compliments. I'm the shy brunette writer who gets assigned to feed quarters into P.'s meter. I wear $8.99 ballet flats from Target.

Lately it feels like the "writer" part of that equation is eclipsed by my docile willingness to do things like feed quarters into P.'s meter. More and more administrative stuff is being delegated to me; J. insists on taking on all of the "project management" as she calls it, probably because she knows that will look good on a resume and sound all fancy in an interview. This is fine by me (I'm not exactly the corporate-ladder-climbing type), although I do wish my skills were more appreciated, and that it didn't feel like I'm in a lower caste. I'm outnumbered by art/graphic design people here, though (3 to 1; 4 to 1 if you count R. the intern). Not sure they fully realize how crappy and unprofessional their stuff looked, writing-wise, before I came on.

Today J. said she was having lunch with former co-workers from San Diego Magazine. P., a local social butterfly, cooed, "Ooh, anyone I know?" and they burbled about their mutual acquaintances.
I should have said, "Hey, you guys know Columbo? Crack dealer, hangs outside seedy gay bars? Jeff and Roan, the homeless guys who hang out by the Scientology church? No? But they're fixtures on the SD scene!"
(Speaking of the characters I associate with, today I got a text from Jaliv--the guy I met through Columbo; works for Clean & Safe San Diego; invited me into a Jacuzzi once, invited me to Tijuana another time--asking me to join him for a lunchtime drink for his birthday today. I texted him back to tell him I had a job now and was at work, and he didn't seem to believe me.)
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I don't want to be cynical or ungrateful, but a bit of the glitter has rubbed off. (I know--tell that to a Mexican immigrant who works at a slaughterhouse. "Oh boo-hoo, your plush office job in the entertainment industry isn't always as glamorous as you'd thought it'd be. Let me go wash this cow viscera off my hands and then I can get you a tissue.")

I still think my job is cool, and love it when I get to write or go to an exclusive private concert downstairs at Anthology. There are a few cool, friendly, funny guys who work for Anthology (one of them books musicians for the venue, for example), and it's nice to talk to them (largely because it's someone other than the three I work with all day) at the shows or when I go down to their third-floor office to run an errand. (Last night I ran into a group of them at the coffeehouse next to where I live; it's cool to know more and more of the people who hang around my 'hood.) The chef is cool, too--he made a special "pink cheese" (buffalo mozzarella tinted from beets) salad for J., Z., and me at a lunchtime concert the other day. "Another hard day at the office," Z. said as we ate our special salads at the private concert.

But lately it's been head-down, teeth-gritted, no-break 11-hour workdays that leave me headache-y and everything blaring before my eyes, knots in my neck and shoulder muscles, doing detailed, time-intensive tasks (with impossible deadlines) that can wind up being thankless. As much as I appreciate P.'s creative talent and her champagne-bubbly personality, she and I are not on the same wavelength, maybe even on clashing ones.

But god, it's good to be working again. At a place where I'm not elbow-deep in cow viscera.

Yet how quickly I become sulky at the tiniest bit of dissatisfaction at work:
P. received orchids from someone, and breezily asked me to arrange them in a vase with water. As I clumsily arranged the delicate long-stemmed flowers, realizing that I know nothing about the art of flower arrangement, I thought grumpily, "I'm not a goddamn geisha."
(She later rearranged them, I noticed, splitting them up into two vases, the orchids arrayed gracefully outward like a fountain instead of all in a clump like I'd had them.)
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(Wee hours of 10/14 into 10/15): P. won me back at the end of the day with her (sometimes) lovably ditzy personality and the e-mail she sent to the three of us (J., Z., and me) starting out, "Good morning, angels :)" (She e-mailed us morning instructions because she'll be out again tomorrow morning, and she called us "angels" because she thinks it's funny to play "Charlie's Angels" with us--not sure that male Z. appreciates being an "angel").

Tonight I met my first intellectual here (well, self-described "intellectual"), a Russian guy in his late 30s named Vladimir. Geeky (looked sort of like a dark-haired Leonardo DiCaprio, but geekier), studied Russian literature, has a liberal-arts degree from back home--and *hates* San Diego. He's been here for five years; he came because he saw a program on the Travel Channel that made the city look cosmopolitan. He's from Moscow, so he knows world-class, cultured cities... and well, San Diego is not cosmopolitan to him.

I met him when I was waiting for my drink at Starbucks (my dad had put a few bucks in the bank for me, so I no longer have only $0.22 in the bank; I had a frappuccino in lieu of dinner, to justify the drink's cost). I saw Vladimir peering at me. He was wearing a floppy fisherman-style hat, even though it was past nightfall and warm. It made him seem like an old man. He said, "Where are you from?", very direct. I told him, and he made me guess where he's from, asked me to try to place his accent. He said, "It's the biggest country in the world." "Russia?" Yes, he was from Russia--and it's telling that one of the first things he said to me was about the scale of his country.

We started talking and didn't stop for an hour and a half... during which time we moved to a different Starbucks (so we could sit inside; it was crowded in that first one) then (when they were closed) to Borders, where he was eager to show me Moscow. He flipped through a glossy book in the Travel section, then unfolded a huge map (right over this illustrated map of San Diego lying on a display table; he said, "Look: Moscow over San Diego") and showed me where he'd lived in Moscow, pointing out the hundreds of tiny red "M"s that designated Metro stops. His point was that he was from a *real* city, a massive, impressive city. I humored him, oohed and aahed over the photos and the map.

It struck me that this lonely, geeky guy--a guy who probably has a very hard time in his day-to-day life--was seeking to legitimize himself with me, to say, "See? I'm from a *real* city. I'm more than this." He was bursting with pride talking about home, about the movie "Trans-Siberian Express" (with Ben Kingsley) that was filmed in Russia (apparently Kingsley was even smoking authentic Russian cigarettes in the movie, Vladimir noticed), about his favorite native pop stars.

I can't possibly convey the extent of this guy's negativity. He would not stop talking about how much he hates San Diego. (But then, he's also lived in Seattle and hated it, said it's full of "computer nerds.") He says he's stuck here because he can't afford to move (mumbling a litany of weak excuses for this). He's lived in crappy apartments in a few bad parts of town. He went on about his "bad luck," his health problems (some of which were caused by doctors' "malpractice" here in San Diego). But most of all, he eviscerated San Diego, its people, the "lack of culture."

At several points, I got really down. I'm struggling a little to make it here, lonely, trying to stay upbeat in my new city--and he was trashing it mercilessly, almost with spiteful relish. At one point, at (ice cream/chocolate shop) Ghirardelli's (we kept having to hop from place to place as they closed for the night), he told me he'd learned the word "lame" here--he said, "That's what San Diego is: City of Lame." He said the city is lacking an "intelligentsia"--I swear, right after he said this, a pick-up truck full of drunken frat-type boys pulled up at the nearby stoplight, cacophonous music blaring, and whooped and hollered like wild animals. He made a face as if to say, "See?"

He was candid; he said that people are candid in his culture. He thinks people in San Diego are shallow and superficial. This wasn't run-of-the-mill, pouty anti-Americanism--he said that people from the East Coast of the U.S. seem to have "depth," unlike folks in San Diego, and he loves New York.
He said he's lonely here and still has no friends, that he's tried but the culture gap is too wide. (The lack of friends probably has a little to do with his geekiness and more to do with his relentless negativity.)
He seems to need someone to talk to, and there I was compassionately listening to him gripe and go on about his life and lame San Diego and glorious Moscow (and London and New York--"real" cities). He said he'd been "hungry" for "connection." I could feel his needy little tentacles wrapping around me.

The main themes of the night for me were:
1. I started to see the city through Vladimir's weary, embittered eyes: passing a bar with dudes watching football and heavy metal blaring, or walking past Hooters... and I didn't like what I saw. It was troubling.
I was quietly upset when he kept going on about his hatred of San Diego. At one point I think he noticed that I was close to tears (it was his negativity on top of other things that have happened lately... the $0.22 in the bank, the uncertainty over whether I *really* have a job for a while, work stress and catty politics, my own loneliness...). He apologized, acknowledging that I'm new here and San Diego is still somewhat exciting to me.
(His San Diego-directed wrath says more about him than it does about the city. He's a pretty grouchy guy in general--he told me about several bad movies he'd walked out of halfway through. Dude, maybe the second half is better!)

2. I'm glad--but being cautious--that I gave him some hope.
Vladimir is a super-smart guy (again, he's educated in Russian literature--at Borders, we passed the Literature section and he said literature is his "religion;" he speaks English fluently albeit heavily accented), but eh, not exactly attractive. He's in a tough spot, being discerning but not in a position to be picky when it comes to chicks. (I'm not 100 percent sure he's straight, but I did catch him looking at my boobs a few times, and that's usually a good barometer of heterosexuality.)

At the end of the night, when I pleaded sleepy and said I had to go, from across the table at Ghirardelli's he took both of my hands in his--but in more of a friendly way, like a human genuinely grateful for a glimmer of connection with another human and a small moment of contact--and told me he'd been so unlucky but that maybe I was his "lucky star." (This was actually the first remotely corny thing he said all night. Being of a stern, stoic temperament, he eschews cliche/trite things like that but did seem to mean this one). He also said he thought I could be his "soul mate," and after only one impromptu friend-date, he was already saying he wanted to flee the city with me (I'd mentioned moving within a year or so). But then, he'd probably hop in the car with Satan if he offered Vladimir a ride out of San Diego.

He jotted down his number, as well as the name of this Russian pop singer, Dima Bilan, and a song by a group called Sladkiy Son that he wants me to check out on YouTube. I feel so sorry for Vladimir that I do plan to hang out with him.
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10/15: I get frustrated when people are too conventional. Two recent examples:
1. Vladimir. He rants and rails about San Diego, bemoans its "lack of culture," its "plastic"ness, its dearth of "intellectuals." But he's closed to what *is* here.
He wants a grand city on a Moscow scale, with world-class architecture, baroque churches to walk past, people in cafes discussing literature and philosophy, internationally renowned theater and ballet happening all the time.

It's not like that here.

But there's Little Italy. There's the bay, and the nightly sunset show igniting the water. There are lots of homeless people, yes, but many of them are friendly and eccentric and endearing, poignant reminders to be grateful if you have a job, a bed, a place to shower, respectability.
I sometimes think about the map of the city that was shown to us Clean & Safe "safety ambassador" applicants, little pins stuck in it designating "our" area--and then the man gesturing toward the outlying regions, where, ultimately, he wants to push the homeless people, into other people's territory, away from the eyes of tourists downtown. So sinister. I'm glad I won't play a part in his master plan.
At night I pass them in sleeping bags. Sometimes I'll recognize someone who, during the day, is garrulous, calling out strange or crude things, but at night, asleep, reduced to a basic humanity, he or she will seem angelic. When I pass a group of them sleeping, I walk quietly, as if I'm passing through a nursery of sleeping babies.
I'm digressing. I can't seem to stop talking about the homeless people here. I don't know why that is.
There's the fairy-light-lined steps of the convention center at night--when you reach the top, you can see out over the bay and the bridge leading to Coronado. There are quirky street-corner scenes--there's the Scientology church with the little groups of protesters out front in Guy Fawkes masks, there are "gypsy goth" kids lined up for a Gogol Bordello show at 4th&B downtown. There are boats in the bay, giant Navy ships from WWII and smaller boats that people live on (such as A. and his suicidal girlfriend, whose lives I got a strange glimpse into that night...). There are palm trees. There's perfect weather, the air so gentle on your skin that you take its perfection for granted.
Vladimir says he's bored with those last two.
There's the girl from Poland who works at Starbucks. She wears a necklace with a palm-tree charm on it. I think of how far she is from home, how her family back home might think palm trees are so glamorous and exotic (my family thinks that, too), how hopeful she might have been coming here. Maybe someone gave her that necklace as a going-away/good-luck gift. I wonder if she's happy, and if not, I wonder whether she tells them the truth when she calls home.

2. J. I get along with her, but she's very much that ladder-climbing type, and lately it seems like she's trying to elbow me out of the way to become P.'s new BFF. She says things to P. like, "What can I do right now to make your life easier?" She makes little lists of "How our office can be more organized." If P. mentions being slightly warm, ol' J. will pop up out of her seat and turn on a fan and point it toward P.

When we're all talking (such as the other day, when P. let us order a pizza and we sat around the table eating it together), J. will chatter nonstop, even if what she's saying is inane, like she can't bear to be quiet for even a second. Like it's a video game and she wins points for making the most noise (kind of like in Rock Band how you get bonus points for randomly vocalizing at the end of some songs). It exhausts me just to be around this.

I'm not into this micro-level Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest scheme here at work. I want to do my job, and do it well. I want to be nice to my co-workers, to listen and care about their lives and share interesting things from my life and make little jokes--but I want it to be authentic. I'm almost physically (or psychically) unable to self-promote and name-drop the way J. does.

The funny thing is, I'm realizing, it seems to annoy P. sometimes, too. P.'s got a genuinely magnetic, funny personality; that's part of why she's been successful despite the lack of bandwidth at her little company-- people like her and want to work with her. J.'s persona seems less substantive--she looks presentable and has the go-getter thing going on and says what she's supposed to say, but it sometimes seems to lack depth.
(Not always, though. The other day, someone mentioned "Sesame Street," and J., whose parents came here from Sweden when she was a baby, said that she and her mom would watch "Sesame Street" together to learn English. P. didn't really respond, but I thought that was a sweet image and would love to ask more about J.'s childhood and family sometime.)

(This is interesting: I think that when it comes right down to being good at what we do, I'm better at writing than J. is at graphic art--at least, P. seems to praise my writing while sometimes seeming disappointed in J.'s conventional, "cliche" image ideas. P.'s won lots of design awards and works in an intuitive, "conceptual" way--different from J.'s more literal approach. For example, for a brochure for a biotech company we're working with, J. presented sample images of businesspeople in suits, in offices. I was going to suggest they do something with DNA double-helix imagery but figured my idea sucked because I'm not an art person--then I heard P. tell J. to try doing something with DNA images.)

Anyway, my point (about conventionality) is: J. does her little suck-up things, and she'll go further in life than I will--to more prestigious professional positions, more money, a bigger circle of friends and acquaintances--but I prefer the life I have. I like being introspective, sensitive, real, having just a few friendships but ones that are high-quality.
I like that I'm able to get on a level, empathetically, with a homeless person and even plop down beside him to hang out for a while (something P. and J. would never do).
I like that I can do some crazy hippie thing like drive across the continent to a brand-new city, not having a job or friends waiting for me there, not having done research about the city (this made the move more poetic to me--the idea of just getting in the car and driving West). This is hard to explain to conventional people.
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10/16: Ugh. Ran into Vladimir again at what used to be "my" Starbucks (I'm considering finding a new one, just to avoid him). I'd just ordered my drink, having scrounged together a few precious dollars, and sat down with a copy of the New York Times, having put in a long, hectic day at work... when I heard his cranky/deadpan voice, in that rolling Slavic accent: "Well hullo there Chreestie."

Naturally, he brought his drink right over and joined me at my table. And naturally, I politely folded up my paper and jettisoned my plans in order to talk with him.
Same thing, ranting about San Diego--his witticism tonight was this name for it: "Suck Diego"--and his myriad health problems.

This time I was less patient, more inquisitive.
He doesn't want to talk about work. I have a feeling he's unemployed, but he won't come out and say it--he says work can be a touchy subject for guys because girls judge based on that. I didn't pry, but asked if he could try to get a better job, so he can save up to move. No no, he has no office skills (can't type, can speak English fluently but can't write it because our alphabet is difficult for him) and isn't healthy enough for physical labor.
Okay, I asked if he could *learn* some skills (typing, writing English). More excuses: He tried a typing class but it was "boring," he tried an English-as-a-second-language class but the teacher wasn't very advanced, he didn't take to it, it was boring and hard.

So, because typing and English class are "boring," he's going to stay in a city he hates and complain, and blame the fact that he has no friends on his status as a foreigner.
There's also his new kidney problem (a result of "malpractice," or, at least, a bad side effect from the medication he takes for high cholesterol). He can't work much now because it will soon take all day for "treatments and doctors' visits." Yet he says he has tons of time during the day to walk around downtown and be on the computer.

I hardened a little and stopped coddling him.
He needs to take responsibility for himself.
He also needs hope--and that's not something anyone else can make him have.
He needs to look at what's around him and see that it's not all bad. You'll find some lowbrow culture and crappy living conditions and "plastic"ness and bad people in glorious Moscow, too; you'll find beauty and artistic souls and good people in Podunk, if you're open to finding it.
He needs to look up and forward. He needs to smile at things--not fake smile, but find little things throughout the day that make him smile. When I'm down to my last nickel, unsure of my employment situation, getting stiffed out of hundreds of dollars by my deadbeat renter, lonely... I still find things that make me smile. I know I'm lucky: I have my health, my mind, people who care about me. Most people in the world have it far worse than I do.

I told Vladimir about a homeless guy I'd passed on my way to Starbucks: missing one leg, in a wheelchair, grimy and muttering to himself. I told Vladimir that, despite his health issues, "at least you still have your mind." He seemed to hear this and yet not hear it.

Here are the videos he wanted me to watch:
Sladkiy Son, "Na Belom Pokrivale Yanvarya"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c-UkE8YQPs
Dima Bilan, "Never Let You Go"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TMpWKNKX_w&feature=related
Dima Bilan, "Believe"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bawnwSYOCFU

Whoa. "Oh Vladimir, I am humbled by this mighty display of cultural superiority!"
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Little heartaches and triumphs at work:
P. has made it clear that J. is her new little apprentice/bosom buddy. The other day, we (Z., J., and I) went downstairs at lunchtime for another private concert a la the Sara Bareilles one. This time the musician was a talented young smoky-voiced guitarist/singer-songwriter named Justin Nozuka.

Here's the link to his performance:

http://www.radiosophie.com/Justin-Nozuka-in-Sophie-s-Lounge-Live-from-Antholo/3134043

There were a lot of young chick fans there. I think they won tickets to the show in a radio station giveaway. After Justin and his musicians played four songs, the girls standing in line for pictures were nervously fluffing up their hair and checking themselves out in the mirrored wall. So funny.

At the show, I sat next to Z., my Filipino-American co-worker. He's such a cool guy, quiet but with that sly, slightly irreverent, dry humor that you sometimes get from quiet people--the kind of humor that takes you by surprise, because it's not the obvious, loud kind that you get from gregarious people. He's not Type A like P. and J., doesn't try to elbow his way into P.'s heart. He just quietly does his graphic-art work, and does it well (designing cool posters, ads, and flyers for Anthology, the local theaters etc.). He and I get along well and make each other laugh. Z.'s on my "unquestionably cool" list with D. (my roommate).

Anyway, before the shows, there's always mingling and networking and h'ors d'oeuvres. Before the Justin Nozuka show, J. and I walk downstairs together, into the area of Anthology where the private "Sophie's Lounge" concerts are held (they're held before a bigger concert that the musician has at another venue later in the evening; a local radio station, Sophie 103.7, holds the shows at Anthology, and a radio deejay does mini interviews onstage between songs--you can see this in the clip at the link above). P. is chatting to someone, sees us approach, and says: "J., I want you to meet someone."

Now, I am standing right next to J. P. does not then say, "And Christie, I'd like you to meet..." I stand there awkwardly, not in on the conversation because I haven't been introduced, feeling like it'd be rude to just walk away. Finally, after the three have been talking for a few minutes, P. almost grudgingly introduces me, as an afterthought. It was very blatant, and very hurtful.

Then it happened again! Just before Justin Nozuka came onstage, J. and I were sitting on a banquette that lines one wall, and P. comes over to J. and says, "J., I want you to meet someone." !! I was right there and didn't know how to even politely handle the situation. What, do I butt in and say, "Oh, and I'm Christie! Hi! Me, too!"? It was just some old friend of P.'s (not, say, a fellow graphic-art person like P. and J.) so there was no specific reason for her to only meet J. and not me. At one point, as the trio was babbling, P. and I made fleeting eye contact, and she quickly looked away. It felt so high school, like P. was the mean head cheerleader and I was the nerd girl getting left out. I think she knows how rude that was. J. is more her kind of gal (artsy, social, plugged into the SD scene, impeccably dressed, says the right things in that cocktail-party-conversation kind of way) and I'm not. But hey, news flash: I don't want to be that kind of girl. I don't say insincere, transparently flattering things to "important" people and then ignore the "little people" of the world.

On Thurs. there was a temporary flip-flop. P. was impressed with my writing, and with how quickly I'd turn out something creative, compelling, well-researched, on-point, and polished. She called me a "rock star" (that's her ultimate compliment). She laughed at things I said.

Meanwhile, J. was scouring image archives for art to use in a brochure (the biotech one)--and to almost everything she'd found or thought of, P. said, "I don't know--that's so cliche." P. kept using the word "cliche" to everything J. found, while loudly praising my stuff.

Also, P. once owned a stationery/gift-wrap shop... she had wrapped up a book for me to mail to Robert Redford/Sundance (the book had something to do with Native Americans; P. did the book design). P. had wrapped it expertly in this eco-friendly paper and tied a brown ribbon around it loosely for an organic, rustic, non-froufrou quality.

J., who sometimes gets involved when she hasn't been asked, said, "Why don't we tie this in a bow?" and tied the ribbon in a bow. P.--who's hypersensitive about aesthetic things--almost shrieked when she saw it. "Who did this?!" she said, sort of joking but sort of not. (I jokingly pointed at J., then realized that was sort of lame of me.) J. came clean and P. undid the bow, noticing that the ribbon was now sort of rumpled. This is all so "tempest in a teapot," but I know J. felt bad, which was a reversal (usually it seems to be me who tries but gets criticized for some minor, well-meaning thing like that).

Things that keep me excited about work: New clients, including the San Diego Art Museum; work for the local theaters (I just wrote text for one of their posters--my words will appear all over town!); P. telling us we can get into any Anthology show for free if we just mention that we work for her; doing stuff like talking to Rolling Stone editors on the phone; P. giving me a fun ongoing writing assignment: to write press releases and original artist bios for the website about all of the musicians booked for future Anthology shows (today I wrote three: one about the Tubes playing for Halloween, one about a bluesman named Tab Benoit--he's also an environmentalist trying to save endangered bayous, one about a soul/R&B singer). I guess she's going to keep me around for a little while. There's been talk of getting me an @[P's company name].com e-mail address. Hmm, promising.
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10/17: The Vladimir chapter of my life comes to an abrupt end.
I agreed to hang out with Vladimir Fri. evening. He wanted to listen to "Russian music" at my place, but... well, for one thing I didn't want to dominate the living room on Fri. night, listening to music with some dude if D. was going to have friends over--and he did wind up having friends over that night, plus, honestly... I was sort of ashamed of Vladimir. That's mean but honest. He's cantankerous and radiates b.o.

Because there was no way to listen to music in Vladimir's studio apartment (he actually still uses a Walkman--yes, a Walkman, that plays cassette tapes), he suggested listening to music at a music store (through headphones), so that was the tentative plan. We met at the Starbucks where we'd met twice before.

I had pepped myself up. I told myself that Vladimir, despite English not being his first language, was capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation (his fluency is truly impressive--he even uses American idioms properly, not sounding as if he's merely reciting phrases from a foreign-language textbook; his speech is very natural although spiked with trilled Russian "r"s). I thought it'd be enriching to have a foreign friend, someone with a truly non-American mindset. I thought it'd be bohemian, like something out of a story or a movie, to hang out with this neurotic, brainy guy--like hanging out with a Russian Woody Allen, like being Annie Hall.
I thought it'd be nice to have a genuine friend (even a geeky, embarrassing, smelly one), someone to call up and hang out with and talk to.

Vladimir and I met up and decided to take the bus to a mall where he knew of a music store where we could listen to Russian music. While waiting for the bus, I realized that Vladimir had a bus pass but I couldn't afford the fare. (It was $2.25, and I had about $0.90 in coins in my wallet! The damn security deposit from my old apartment in Virginia still hasn't arrived at my folks' house, plus I haven't gotten paid at work... and of course my renter's check is never coming.)
Vladimir did a 180 on me.

He looked crestfallen. He said, "Oh, your situation is like mine." (He's unemployed, I finally realized; he lives on $10/one meal a day.) We decided to go to Borders to sit down and talk. There, he pulled out this small map he'd marked up in preparation for showing me a virtual snapshot of his "San Diego nightmare." He'd circled the three bad areas he's lived in here (numbering them 1-3). Then, with a green hi-liter, he'd colored in the Pacific Beach/La Jolla area, where he'd have lived if he'd known the area better before moving here. It looked so petty and pathetic (and obsessive) that he'd done all this.

It gradually dawned on me: He'd thought I could afford to move both of us out of San Diego. That's why he'd made that "lucky star" remark that I'd thought was about my being his friend. He'd been faking that he needed "a good friend"--until I couldn't even afford bus fare and made self-deprecating jokes about how broke I was. There across the table at Borders, I watched his eyes go cold on me. He said, "I thought you could help me, but you're in a similar position." (I'm not, actually--I'm willing to do what it takes to work and make my life better and happier, he's content to stew in his misery.) He almost just stopped talking, slouched over in disappointment. I couldn't take it. I finally told him I hadn't had dinner yet (which was true), and headed home.

I was trying not to cry on the walk home. I felt so disappointed. Yes, he's a geek and it's not the most pleasant olfactory experience to be around him. But I was willing to give him my friendship, and he didn't want it. He didn't want it as soon as he realized I don't have money.
He didn't care that I'd told him I was lonely, too, that I hadn't made any real friends here either. He was too focused on getting out of San Diego, and it cost him a friendship that could have been a good thing in his life.
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10/18: My roommate makes me smile. Right now he's playing that Gnarls Barkley "Crazy" song and singing along in his room with the doors partially open. He seems like he's in a good mood.
Last night he had two guy friends over. They were very friendly, but I didn't join them on the couch, where they were drinking beers and watching (inexplicably) "Rain Man." (I figured they'd want to have a guys'-only night, so I left the apt. to go for a walk after saying hello.) I walked in and saw them, and one of them said, "Did you ever think you'd walk in here and see three guys watching 'Rain Man' together? We were spooning earlier."

D. is so funny--the other night, he was making spaghetti, and I was on the computer, when I heard him chuckling to himself in the kitchen. He said, "Do you think I have enough tomato sauce?" I glanced above his head, inside the cabinet he was referring to--and there are about 30 or so jars of Bertolli's tomato sauce in there!! More than you'd find at a grocery store! He said he screwed up his online order--I think he maybe meant to order 3 but typed a 0 after it. He said, "I wondered why it arrived in two boxes..."

In sharp contrast to all the flakes and creeps I've come across (creepy guys but also flaky people like my boss, who didn't even mention how to log hours/get paid until J. and I point-blank asked her), D. is very high on my cool list. The more I get to know him, the better I like him. We've been watching the debates together--he's very into politics, and he's such a smart guy, and very funny, too. He's a solid, decent, truly good guy. With all the other little frustrations and uncertainties right now, it's comforting to know that at least my home/living situation is wonderful: amazing roommate, lovely neighborhood, low rent to my roommate (and no utility bills!), free Internet and washer/dryer use... a lifetime supply of tomato sauce.

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My time here and my present financial situation have humbled me.
Last night I had just enough for an 89-cent doughnut (no dinner). I knew just what kind I wanted: maple glazed. I walked to three 7-Elevens, and it wasn't at any of them. I actually asked two cashiers when their shipments of fresh doughnuts came in, and went back to one as soon as the new doughnuts were in. I had to sheepishly ask a stocking guy to dig out the kind I wanted from crates of unloaded doughnuts and bread. I savored that doughnut as if it were my last meal.

As I walked around to kill time before the damn doughnut shipment arrived, I felt hunger pangs. Considering the prospect of literally having no money for the next few days, I actually thought (just for a second) about asking some local homeless people if they knew of a blood bank I cold walk to. At the apt., I rummaged around in my tiny wooden box of (mostly cheap, costume) jewelry and found a fairly expensive (to me) crystal bracelet I could take to the pawn shop (the one where I pawned the ring from my grandmother when I first moved here), just in case. I found myself understanding why people dig through garbage cans for food when they're hungry and desperate.

I could have called home *again*, been this deadbeat mooch of a daughter and asked for a little more money, another 20 bucks to get me through (promising, as always, to pay them back as soon as I could), but I was way too ashamed. Being broke and hungry is scary--even when you have the safety net of your family to keep you from being truly down-and-out. I felt like crying, but instead I walked around, took in the sights of my lovely, quirky new city (which has not been ruined for me by Vladimir), smiled at babies and beautiful things I saw.

This morning, without my asking, my dad e-mailed me to say he'd put another $100 in the bank for me. I can eat today.

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