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A New Place on 18th Street

I’ve always been a moody dude, but lately it’s gotten ridiculous. Depending upon the hour – and sometimes upon the minute – of the day, I swing from one emotional pole to the next. Rage at my recent financial collapse, anxiety that my overly-sensitive, creative soul, trembling in the wind, will never find a home in the professional world, and writ-slitting despondency, when I’ve realized that I’ve sent out a dozen resumes with two typos. For writing and editing jobs.

In the space between mood swings I distract myself with complicated job search plans that essentially boil down to three phases: long-term, mid-range, and oh-my-fucking-god. Long-term means I filled out a LinkedIn profile, since the only responses I’ve received as of yet from Craig’s List jobs are three internet scams, and it’s clear that I will find work the way everyone else in the world finds work: through people I know.

The emergency, oh-my-fucking-god phase means I swallowed my pride long enough to shake a couple of hands and pick up an application for seasonal work at a large national chain, and dragged myself to another national chain to fill out the application over a cup of coffee. Which was when I heard a voice over my shoulder:

“I sometimes think I should just make like several dozen copies of those.”

I looked up and found an acquaintance, a recent transplant to our fair city, a few years younger than me, smiling down at me. He pointed at the application.

“I can’t tell you how may of those I’ve filled out.”

Frankly I welcomed the interruption, and leaned back so we could chat a few minutes about our shared misery. At least, I thought of it as shared misery until he said the following words:

“So, yeah, I’ve been living out of my car.”

End shared misery. End self-pity. Begin other, more complicated emotions.

Being a somewhat private guy from the Midwest, I was hesitant to poke too forcefully into his circumstances. He told me a little, but his face stayed guarded, the way your own face would stay guarded should you find yourself in a similar situation. He made a point of saying he wasn’t looking for hand-outs, and he also made a point of saying his pride had sometimes cost him a night or two on a friend’s couch.

I found myself at a loss for words. I wanted to help him, but didn’t know how. The only thing I could think to say was “Where do you park at night?”

“I tell people I live at 18th and Noe,” he said, with a wry grin.

“The cops don’t bother you?”

He shook his head. “I just have to get up early every day, otherwise I wake up to someone peering in at me.” He sipped his coffee. “It makes dating interesting. The other day this guy asked if we could go back to my place. We ended up fooling around in my car. I asked him if it bothered him, but he said it was sort of dirtily romantic.”

I couldn’t help dwelling with fresh perspective on my own more fortunate situation, a situation that just an hour before had led me to a very dark place. My circumstances hadn’t changed, but in the space of 24 hours I’d swung like a deranged monkey from one wild branch to the next, around this same set of circumstances, my view changing with each swing, my breathing and heart-rate, too.

The older I get, the more I see that this is one of the secrets to happiness: a change in perspective. If I was going to come up with an aphorism I might say something like, it’s not what life hands you, but how you look at what life hands you. But I don’t do aphorisms here so just pretend you didn’t read that.

But this is why – when you are sunk in despair, dressed in your pajamas, scrolling through Craig’s List for a golden ring of opportunity – it’s a good idea to get out of the house, to give yourself the chance to stumble across others doing their best in trying times.

I still didn’t know what to say to him. Of course later one idea came to me; I should have just asked him, “What can I do?” and let him supply the answer, the answer his pride would allow. But that afternoon we just shook hands, and gave each other a kind of what-the-fuck-are-you-going-to-do shrug that said more than any words we could manage, at the time.

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