I was living with my parents, brother-in-law, sister, and their three dogs, one of which was incontinent. It was my childhood home that I’d lived in for over 21 years. I worked a job on a maintenance crew across the street and I didn’t have a car, so I had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning, chug coffee, change, and run to the job before the boss pronounced me “late.” The guys there were all crazy. I didn’t realize it then, but the more they were paid, the less desperate they seemed. Most of the bosses were simply sadistic. Why do guys like me put up with bad situations like this? There is only one answer I can think of that is honest, despite several explanations that sound more plausible. The truth is, I was used to taking shit and change has always been difficult for me. I’d enter the clubhouse and punch in. Then I’d go have some jockstrap coffee. My first three weeks on the job, I was running to the restroom. Then my stomach learned how to handle it. My taste buds have never been the same and to this day, people can’t drink the coffee I make.
I was taking night classes at junior college. They were filled with 40 and 50-year-old women who wanted to get their degree. Psychology was my major because I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what was wrong with the world. This was an exercise in futility, but at the time, I thought I was finding the answers to life’s biggest problems in my liberal textbooks. One of the benefits from taking night classes was that my teacher did it for me. She taught human sexuality. Sometimes I fantasized about her having other jobs. She actually really liked me. I paid attention in her class like it was a religion. Consequently, I got grades that nobody else did. I’m talking A’s in statistics, tests and measurements, and those classes that are impossible to pay attention to for any length of time.
The problem was that class ended at 10:30 PM and then I’d have to drive home. I was using my dad’s pickup truck with the broken taillights. Cars constantly honked at me on the freeway. I drank coffee all day to stay alert, but this only worked until Wednesday; the reason being that I slept in on Sunday to catch up on sleep and then burned the candle at both ends until there wasn’t anything left to burn. Strange things happen when you endure forced insomnia for 3 1/2 years. I’d stop at green lights and go at red lights. Strangely enough, I never got a ticket, but I came close to being beaten in the city by angry drivers who thought I was just an asshole.
I was doing well, but every week I was becoming more tired. I’d rake the sand traps on the golf course and think about how soft they felt. I fell asleep in one until I was jerked awake by a sympathetic golfer. “Are you okay son. You must’ve been partying late into the night. God, I remember those days. I envy your youth.” And then the man in his forties continued with his golf game. I quickly learned that golfers have similar thoughts that are as far away from reality as fantasy writers who think they will change the world with the perfect line. In the end, I valued my bed more than anything. Living without is the best way to appreciate what you don’t have. Just ask the starving artist or the love-sick romantic.
I got home and decided to take a shower. It had been three days. Paint chips kept flaking off the ceiling and landing in my hair. I applied some shampoo and started to smell something foul. I sniffed the bottle; that was okay. I looked at the drain. Brown water was back-washing into the tub. Then a pocket of methane gas bubbled up from god knows where and shit began to fountain out of the drain. I was standing in it. “Dad!” I screamed. I rarely asked him for anything. “The septic tank is backed up again.”
“Well, shower on the front lawn,” he said. I wiped my feet and walked into the 100-degree heat. I applied the shampoo a second time in full view of the neighbors and hosed off.