Wherein I went to live in a homeless shelter

I wanted to live in the homeless shelter in downtown Pittsburgh because it was about a block from where I worked and I thought the faster commute would make my life easier. The homeless shelter itself had that slight distasteful smell that homeless shelters seem to get and even years later, when the shelters turn into boutique hotels, never seem to get rid of. But the commute was looking very attractive to me. I also thought that living in a homeless shelter would be a good place to meet women. I figured at the time (I was 23 years old) that if a woman was so down-and-out she was living in a shelter then maybe I would be an attractive pick for her. There also seemed something “hip” about living in a shelter.

Years later, when I first moved to New York, it was a different story. At the time I had a roommate on 14th and 7th. We lived in one room about 180 square feet. I slept on the futon on the floor, he slept on the couch. I paid him $300 a month. The kitchen smelled like bad tunafish and I would never go in it. The shower had a constant stream of water coming out of it and couldn’t be turned off. The girl across the hall was engaged to a lawyer but was in lust with Elias, my roommate, so whenever I was not there they were always up to something. He was a strong chess player from El Salvador and made about $50 a day playing chess in Washington Square Park. I had a garbage bag that I kept next to my futon. In the morning, I’d take the suit out of my garbage bag, put it on, and walk to work.

On my third day walking to work, the woman walking about three feet to my right, closer to the curb, was hit by a cab that had gone up onto the sidewalk. Boom! One second she was walking next to me, the next she was on the ground in the street, her body sprawled into an odd shape and bleeding. After it hit her, the cab swerved back and forth before finally coming to a decision and headed straight away as fast it could, abandoning all hope of ever reconciling with the scene left behind. I ran to call 911 on a payphone but as soon as I put the phone to my ear I realized someone had covered the phone with dog shit, or some kind of shit. So now I had shit in my hair and ear and on my suit and a woman was lying bleeding in the streets. I put the phone down but there was nothing I could do. Someone shouted, “she’s dead” and that was that.

A few months later I had a bad fever and was staying home from work. I couldn’t get out of bed for days. One night at about 3 in the morning Elias came in from wherever and told me we had to move in the morning. Apparently he hadn’t been paying any rent to anyone. I don’t even know how we ended up living in the one room we were living in but now we were getting kicked out. So the next morning, with my fever and garbage bag, I made my way over to Astoria and went from building to building until I found a room to live in. My sister helped me buy a foam mattress so in my new apartment in Astoria there was me, my garbage bag with clothes, and a foam mattress. The first night I was sweating so much from fever that the sweat dug into the foam and the mattress was soaked.

By this time I was 27 years old and I had no clue. I know so many young people now so much smarter than I was then. 22, 23, 24 year olds with flashlights for eyes that seem to have their futures plotted out for them and easily move from success to success. How do they know how to do that? How come I didn’t?

For every year since I was 20, the more drama I had in my life, the less money I made. The less drama in my life, the more money I made. Keeping your head down, and incrementally improving in every aspect of your life is directly correlated with zero drama in life. By drama I mean relationship drama, housing drama, family issues, interpersonal career issues, and all of the other things people call each other about when they are complaining and few want to listen. But there’s a fine balance between the two. Without the drama, there wouldn’t be a story. Without regrets, there wouldn’t be lessons. Without fevers, bacteria wouldn’t be killed.

But sometimes on a cold day like today I have my coffee, look out at the Hudson River, and add up my scars. The scars that are packed in and crusted like archaeological layers so that new scars got built on top of the old. I try to count all the little dramas and stories that happened along the way, when I was getting more and more lost, but I can’t keep the numbers straight. I hope twenty years from now I still have new things to talk about. Today I sip my coffee and it’s a bit too hot for me. I’m going to have to wait for a few minutes. I hope today will be a good day.

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