Day 1

I arrived at the San Francisco Care and Rehab facility a few minutes after nine. It was pouring outside and the entrance door was locked. I held my face up to the glass door to decipher if the secretary was in there or not. No dice. It was, after all, President’s day, a national holiday, and for some reason, my first day at this job. A Chinese nurse practitioner strolled by and fortunately, our eyes connected. He pushed open the door for me and I stepped into an empty lobby, with no secretary and no idea where to go next.

I poked my head around the corner and there was a cream hallway leading both ways. It didn’t look promising. Therefore, I pushed the up-button for the elevator and pulled open the metal guard door. I came out on the second floor and it was much more bustling: elderly hanging out in wheel chairs, random beeps and alarms ringing, and practitioners scrambling up and back. Who would have known paradise was only one floor above?

I went over to the nursing desk and asked for Lana. A moon-faced male was loitering around the table and he immediately greeted me as my orientation host. Then he escorted me away, back down the hallway and into a patient room with two twin beds, a tv, and a single young woman waiting. She was here for orientation as well, but for volunteer work. “I hope I like it,” she said. “I just can’t stand marketing anymore.” Can’t we all.

The host instructed us to watch a stack of VHS training videos covering extensive topics such as abuse in the workplace and OSHA standards. Nonetheless, he had some trouble getting it going. As he fumbled with the set-up, I began to slump in my chair, coming to grips with my new reality. After rerunning the tape, he got the video moving. This film showcased the best acting and transitions the 80’s had to offer. The building, I was stationed in at that moment, was constructed in the 80’s.  And nothing in the whole place showed any signs of remodeling.

A few hours later the host reappeared with another Chinese practitioner to retrieve the girl next to me. She departed with them and I was left alone to a black TV-screen and a still room. The next thirty minutes were filled with despair and melancholy surrounding my new found, rather, rediscovered role in life. Eventually, I needed anything to break me out of this low, so I fled into the hall to find someone who could help me locate Lana

Shortly thereafter I connected with Lana and she led me down the hallway, pass a large room of elderly, and into the business-office room. The room was stuffed with four desks, rows of filing cabinets, and loose paper and sticky-notes everywhere. My god, I thought, I should have just stayed in my previous room. She pointed to a desk to sit behind and I settled in above a jumble of stale pastries and opened envelopes. In front of me were two other employees, both sagging behind their desks. Things were getting heavy.

I sat there, scanning around at the room. Chinese floral curtains. Dust particles dancing under the luminescent lights. Umbrella waving out of the recycling bin. Lana promptly jumped on a call, hollering in Russian to whoever was on the other end. Her colleagues seem unrattled, glued to their screens and seats. Both of their facial expressions displayed a blank look of acceptance to a life that never was. Then Lana crossed over and stood behind the male with a mustache, most likely in his early thirties, telling him to take me to the copier room. I needed to make copies of my passport and driver’s license for hiring purposes.

He dismissed her initial order but after she bothered him more, he eventually just got up slowly and drifted over to the door. He glanced over at me, without introducing himself, and I rose up and followed him out.

“So,” I said. “How long have you been working here?

“Um, like 7 months,” he said, pacing ahead of me.

“How do you like it?” I asked.

“It’s okay. Pretty good,” he responded swiftly. “So this is the copy room.” He departed the room before I could squeak in anything else.

The next three hours consisted of a blur: aimlessly staring out from behind my desk or wandering from office to office, delivering documents. Then Stan, the Russian Controller, cut into my hazy fog: “Hey you want some lunch?”

“Uhh, yeah,” I said. “Sure.”

He beckoned me towards the door, and I hurried along the bleak tile-floor to keep stride with him. I slipped into the elevator before closing, and we took it down to the kitchen. When we arrived, the kitchen was basically closed, I mean, it was 3 p.m. But Stan had some pull, clearly, and convinced the chef to whip up two dishes.

“Fifteen minutes,” she hollered at us.

With that, he nodded his head at her and smiled crookedly at me as we exited the kitchen, almost like we just pulled some depraved heist in broad daylight. We road the elevator back up, and I sunk back into my slumped position. Fifteen minutes later, a dinner plate with a flat piece of fried chicken in the shape of a heart, a handful of mashed-potatoes and diced carrots, was propped on my desk.

“Here you go,” Stan said, winking. “Enjoy.”

Clearly it was hospital food, targeted at the elderly, nonetheless I was hungry and anything was considered edible to me at this point.

I scarfed down the food and discarded my plate to the upper right corner of the desk. The food wasn’t filling, but it would catalyze me through the final hours of the day. I mean, I was counting down the time and I figured there was no way I would be here past five. But fuck what I know, I thought. This lady, Lana, told me there was no dress code but everyone in the business office was wearing identical business attire. She told me I could compose my own schedule, but it appeared that everyone started at 9. And she said my duties would be manageable, but as I read down my endless job-description, I felt overwhelmed. What the fuck did I just get myself into? I thought.

Just upon 5, I overhead a shuffle of papers and bags being swept off the floor. These two empty bodies may not know how to speak, but can certainly decipher the time. The older woman tucked her head down and beamed straight out the door with a quick wave of the hand. Then a Chinese man walked in, asking Sean about the bank reconciliations.

“Mark can help you with that,” he said. “So yeah.”

Then he shrugged his messenger bag over his shoulder and dipped out. Sean did not give a fuck—not one–after all, could you blame him? This job showed no promise from the get go, however, you reach a deep, dismal trench in your life when there’s no point in reversing your tracks, so you just plunge your head under, despite the high chances of drowning. I took the plunge, for good or ill.

A wide smile painted the Chinese man’s face and he talked very slowly and deliberately. It got to the point where I started to question his judgment of my intellect rather than his English-speaking ability. I also wanted to jump ship, already, so I pushed the conversation along, attempting to fend off his requests. But soon he pulled out a thick red binder and laid it in front of me, followed by an even bigger blue binder. What the fuck is this? I thought. I had to cut him off, a misunderstanding due to a language barrier wouldn’t shut him up; it might just push him farther into his deep, slow dialogue.

So, I did what any exhausted and dispirited and trapped employee would do: I began packing up. I mean, it worked for Sean, so the odds were in my favor. The Chinese man continued to slowly unravel words out of his mouth, meanwhile, I was on my feet, jamming loose, orientation papers into my bag. Soon enough, my knapsack was strapped over my shoulders and I was clenching an umbrella in my right hand. It was time.

I fled down the hallway and took refuge in the elevator. Moments later, I was back outside, dodging the sparse raindrops. Day 1 was complete and I had the immediate desire to avoid Day 2 at all cost. I could haul down to San Diego, I thought, or if things fell through down there, then just keep trucking south to Mexico. Start over again, completely.

It’s more common than you think. Nowadays, employees skip from job to job all the time, just hoping this new gig will be a perfect-ten landing. Typically, it doesn’t transpire, therefore, they stay around and hang out and dread the job for six months to a year, sometimes even less. And during this whole bland period, they’re scheming new ways to make a living: “Well I always wanted to be a nurse.” This vicious cycle continues to loop round and round, without any awareness from the person stuck in it. The work world is a misery, so I share sympathy with all the other lost ones just trying to find home.

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My Encounter

I rode in a Lyft from my place (Haight) to Chinatown around dusk last night. I got dropped off in front of a noodle-house on a busy street, restaurants lining my side and 20-story hotels towering down on the opposite side. Porter texted me, informing it would be another ten minutes until she arrived. Therefore, I strayed off under an awning of a Chinese restaurant, staying out of the way.

I wore a rose-printed button-down and a pair of brown pants. Hanging from my sides were two sports-bottles, concealing wine because our arranged restaurant prohibited alcohol. I gazed up at the blue-bulb Christmas lights dangling from the awning and composed photographs in my mind. Then I was jabbed out of my escapism by an intruding question.

“What are you doing out here?” asked a 50-something-year-old man, sporting round, brow-bar sunglasses, stripped, loose linen pants and a cardigan.

I glanced over at him and said, “Just waiting on someone.”

“Oh, someone?” he checked, raising an eyebrow. “Not just anyone?”

I laughed, “Nope, ha, waiting on a friend.” I glanced to my right, trying to avoid the situation.

He proceeded to walk away for a few steps, then stopped, looked back and said, “Well, I’m staying in that hotel,” pointing across the street, “if you are looking for just anyone.”

I smiled, nodding my head. Then he carried on his way up the block. I proceeded to shake my head, laughing at the absurdity of that confrontation. Then I glanced back up the block, and about thirty yards away, he stood in the center of the sidewalk, staring in my direction. Is this fucking guy watching me? I thought. Then following that thought, the man proceeded to pull down his sunglasses, making his intentions clear.

My god! I thought, this man is a fucking creep. I swiveled my head around, feeling uncomfortable on a crowded street, like I was being hunted. I yanked out my phone from my pants-pocket and aimlessly tapped open random apps. Nonetheless, my mind remained fixated on the predator. Was he still there? I thought. I had to look.

I peeked to my left and saw the man’s back facing me, he was walking up the block. He’s leaving, I’m safe, I felt. I eased up, rocked my head back and gazed up at the lights. My mind was wandering to more trivial thoughts like my days living in China. Then my eyes drifted away from the lights, following the cars’ tail-lights trailing up the street, then along my sidewalk and boom! There he was, hunched over, peeking behind the indent of a restaurant stone wall. Holy shit, I thought, this man is relentless.

I pulled my head back, again, refraining from making eye contact. He’s there, I knew, no need to verify. He’s waiting to see who I’m waiting for, despite my “someone” will not make any difference to the bizarre situation. Porter must be close, I thought. I don’t want to subject her to this depravity and perverted behavior, though, she must encounter it more than I can imagine. This city–better yet this world–is infested with sexually-deprived, shameless pigs who will ignore all decency for a brief flicker of entertainment for their hungry eyes. It’s comical and twisted.

A couple minutes later I spotted Porter waiting on the opposite side of the crosswalk. I strolled down towards her, away from the man. We hugged and kissed; certain the man witnessed my “someone.” Then I pulled her away and led her around the corner of the block.

“Let’s go for a stroll and down this wine,” I said, flashing the two bottles in my hand.

“Sounds good to me,” she said.

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banana pancakes

The alarm rang off at 6:00 a.m. I slowly cracked out of my paralyzed lying-position and a few minutes later rose out of bed. This time was early for me, these days. I staggered down the tight hallway and veered left into the kitchen. It was Valentine’s Day, and I ran across town yesterday, scooping up breakfast items and other holiday treats. Porter would be rising in an hour, maybe later, therefore, I better get moving.

The day before I gathered strawberries, pancake mix, bananas, chocolate chips, eggs, sausage, potatoes, orange juice and champagne. This meal wasn’t going to be just breakfast, but a downright feast. Disclaimer: I have no experience making pancakes. Yet, I provided myself with some extra time for a trial run, however, the process turned out to be just as straightforward as the directions on the side of the box.

Nearing 7, the sausage was sizzling, the pancakes were browning, and the home-fries were almost touching a crisp. Then I overhead Porter’s door squeak open and her footsteps pounce down the hall.

“Hey!” I said. “You shouldn’t be seeing this.”

“Are you making breakfast?” She asked. “I woke up early to go out and get you bagels.”

So we were both holding our plans under wraps, but we settled on the grandiose amount of food I already bought. Porter joined me in the kitchen, and I turned up some Bob Dylan to jumpstart our morning. Then I popped open the champagne at roughly 7:10 and mixed up some mimosas.

It’s not frequent we devour large meals to kick off our days. We soon hit our limitations not long after we sat down and ate. Valentine’s Day, like many other holidays, has transformed into a consumer holiday, capitalizing on the love and care between individuals. Although I do feel corporations and companies exploit the customers by jacking up the prices on these days, I nonetheless advance with the orchid purchases and dinner celebrations. It’s an addition to the recognition of the love shared.

We all have lives to carry out, outside of our relationships, and sometimes we become entrapped in our day-to-day affairs. I feel these holidays, allow people to intently focus on the special people in their lives, even if it’s just for a special meal in the morning or at night. It’s a tribute of gratitude to them, by simply acknowledging what you deeply feel for the other. It’s a more open opportunity to be vulnerable and express honest feelings; not that they can’t be displayed on any other day, but holidays are a marked period of reflection.

Porter and I scraped up our plates and stored away the leftovers. She had to get moving, so I proceeded with cleaning up the dishes. We arranged to meet in Chinatown after work to grab some noodles and wine. Holidays are also a time for eating well.

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I came to the ocean

Fort Funston camps right below Ocean Beach at the end of the Great Highway and, geographically, at the bottom left corner of San Francisco. Lots of dogs and their owners congregate in these parts, but not many venture down the rocky, muddy slope, which takes one down to the shore. With the towering cliffs, shielding one from below, and the abandoned gratified, concrete structures from World War 2, the beach feels desolate. Therefore, I came here on Friday to get away from it all.

Packs of crows danced hundreds of feet above me and one hawk soared in the wind. The sun was dropping and in about thirty minutes it would disappear. Just like how’s there’s a constant cycle of ocean water flowing in and out, another day was flowing out for a new one to come in. With that, I drifted down the beach, with the water engulfing my feet and the clean, ocean air purging out my mind.

I fell into a pattern of taking life too serious, or rather, attempting to make my life more serious. This behavior that I clenched on to may be influenced from social-conditioning, but it rests more in the self-centered space of the inherent ego. I can trace back my rooted thoughts of finding purpose or passion to senior year of high school, when we needed to pin down our future academic endeavors in college. I recall scrolling through the long list of majors, and nothing struck me as my calling.

These thoughts would fade away, but always resurfaced now and again. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until these past six months that I actually had an extensive period to sit, contemplate, and analyze a future career or life of purpose. With my clinging to label myself as someone, I clenched life with both hands and hoped to strangled an answer out of it. Well, to my disappointment or rather, my ego’s, my search failed and was recently aborted.

At this point, I disregard the notion that everyone has an innate life purpose. In fact, I’ve dumped several of my past beliefs. I picked them up when I was in a fragile place, weak and down and dispirited. Nowadays I scan around the internet and notice that a lot people, who are hurting, hang onto spirituality or religion. These sources of truth attempt to provide facile answers and remedies to a complex, mysterious life. We all want the answers. We all want the truth. But I’ve discovered it’s better to relinquish these needs, and instead, embrace the mystery of life.

I mounted a long, windy staircase, which was engraved in the cliff, and peeked back at the Pacific Ocean. The ocean runs to the horizon, and, to my knowledge, there’s no more answers out there than here. With that, I came to the beach not to find anything, but rather, to discard what I’ve picked up.

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Man on the Run

Life has a comical way of twisting things when all seems well. Yesterday I aimlessly wandered through Golden Gate Park with my friend Josh. We had the entire sunny day to waste away and that we did. Porter, my girlfriend, flew to Denver for the weekend. With that, I crashed in her room, as I have been. Later on, Josh and I grabbed a drink at a local bar. We then cut our separate ways as the sun dipped down to end a pleasant day. My reality was sinking in and, exteriorly, it seemed like my life was coming together. Yet, once I returned home and squatted down on the couch, things crumbled beneath me once again. I was given the boot by Porter’s roommate…

Eviction shakes up one’s nervous system. You resort back into survival mode: there’s no time to think, only time to act. I scrambled across the kitchen-tiled floor to Porter’s  bedroom, stuffing my belongings into my suitcase and gathering all of my non-perishable items.

I was back on the move, again. When I moved out to San Francisco I accepted the fact that stability and consistency would most likely not be present in my life. I mean, moving from place to place reignites the spark in life, but at the same time, it can be depleting. I aim for a manageable balance, but most things are out of my control.

After I filled my car back up with my belongings, I rambled around the block, uncertain of my destination. Then I rang up Josh–my only other contact in San Francisco–and he invited me to come on over. I secured a spot to sleep, at least for tonight.

Before rolling out to California, I anticipated myself sleeping in my car some nights. I did it last summer, and frankly, enjoyed it. San Francisco, however, is not the safest place to be sleeping in cars, unless you park on the outer edge of the city.

Josh lives in a co-op with seventy other people in the center of the city. His room is practically five by five feet, with just enough for a twin bed and a workstation. With that, his room would not be available to take refuge in. Nevertheless, there’s a communal living room with couches, which would turn out to be my resting place. The room is wide open with surround-sound speakers and ping pong; it also connects to the kitchen. Therefore, residents are constantly funneling in and out. In a nutshell, this spot is by no means ideal, but at this point, I’ll take anything.

My days on that couch will most likely be limited, as residents will begin to wonder and question about the duration of my stay, like my last place. Then I will be back on the move, fleeing in search of shelter. I am a man on the run.

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My Visit to the YMCA

The Presidio YMCA sits near the edge of the San Francisco Bay, looking right at the Golden Gate Bridge. To get there from my residence, I have to roll down Masonic Avenue for a mile, cut left onto Presidio Avenue, pass through the Presidio Heights–an insultingly-rich neighborhood–and down through the Presidio Forest, letting me out only a quarter of a mile away from the  YMCA facility. Total travel time: about 15 minutes.

I’ve been trying to move with this impulse to be healthy: limiting my meat intake, overpaying for organic food, wine over beer, etc. Therefore, working-out coincides with this courageous movement. Back in Pennsylvania, I was assigned as a member on my dad’s YMCA family membership; he receives a free membership for teaching weekly adult swim-lessons. Last week, however, I was informed my mom replaced me on the membership. The YMCA limits only two adults per family membership.

In addition, most YMCAs grant free access for visiting members from other branches. Nevertheless, the YMCAs in San Francisco charge a $5 fee for visiting members, after all, this is San Francisco–here nothing is free or cheap for that matter. Nonetheless, my being a desperate and depraved and now-former YMCA member, I tried to finagle myself in. After all, $5 can help cut down my $64 parking ticket I received two days ago. Anyway, the conversation rolled somewhat like this:

(I walked through the wide-open entrance doors, eyes connected with the staff members)

“Hey there. How’s it going today,” said the college-aged YMCA employee.

“Good,” I said. “I’m visiting San Francisco, and I’m a YMCA member from Pennsylvania.”

“Gotcha–welcome,” he said. “Do you have your YMCA-card?”

“No…but I should be in your system… I was here in November.”

“Ok then, what’s your name?

“Mark Rothman.”

I’m scanning the lobby, feeling like a cracked-out fugitive trying to hide something.

“Ok, found you.”

“Great,” I said. ” So–I’m all set.”

I quickly break eye contact and step to my right, aiming for the locker-rooms.

“Umm–there’s a $5 entrance charge.”

I pull back. Fuck, I thought. I’ve been caught.

“Hmm, that’s weird,” I said. “I’ve never been charged before….are you sure that’s correct?”

The college-aged, soft-spoken employee glanced at his manager who was standing to his right.

“Hey–there’s a $5 charge, right?” he asked.

“Yep,” said the manger, looking down at the boy and then glancing at me.

I leaned forward and rested both palms against the white desk, bringing attention to the seriousness of this matter.

“$5? Wow–is this a new policy or something?” I gasped.

“Nope. It’s always been like this,” said the manager, holding his stance.

“Well, I’ve never been charged here before–so I’m pretty confused,” I said, shaking my head.

“You should have.”

“No other YMCA does this. I’ve traveled across the country, touring the land and working-out, and never has a YMCA demanded money from me.”

“From my knowledge, all of the San Francisco YMCAs charge visiting guests.”

A brief pause ensues…the college boy stares at the ground and the manager holds his eye contact with me. I proceeded to scratch my head, appearing dumbfounded by the entire situation. But they weren’t budging.

“Can I talk to a director?” I asked.”Look–I’m out here for um..business..um, and it’s going to put a dent in my wallet if I need to keep paying $5 per visit. So let’s see if we can work something out.”

“Yeah–hold on. I’ll talk to her now,” he said.

The manager came out from behind the desk and paced across the white-titled floor over to an office door about twenty feet away. He cracked the door open and poked in his head, mouthing something to her. Then he glanced back at me and asked, “How long are you going to be here?”

“Like 3 weeks. Maybe 4,” I said.

He poked his head back in the office. I overheard a chuckle. What are they laughing at? Me? I thought. Then he removed himself from the office and pulled the door shut.

“She says she can do $50.”

“My god! $50? That’s basically ten visits,” I said, waving my arms in the air like it was the worst news I’ve ever heard.

“Sorry, that’s all we can do,” he said, securing his spot back behind the desk.

I gazed around the vacant lobby, trying to grasp some type of last-ditch effort. I could try to just make a dash for it, I thought. But I would most likely pull something; it’s been a while since I’ve worked out. The manager hopped on a call, and the college boy sat there, frozen, staring straight ahead at the computer screen.

“Fine–I’ll come in just for today,” I said, extending my credit card out to the employee.

“Ok–so that will be $5,” he confirmed, pulling my card away.

My credit card is scratched up on the back, so it usually requires a few swipes to actually process the payment. After a few attempts, he handed back my card.

“All good?” I asked.

“Yeah–you’re set,” he said.

With my official release, I put my head down and curved around the desk, heading down the narrow hallway. Then, when I was almost out of reach, I heard: “Which YMCA do you belong to?”

I turned my head back and said, “Spring Valley YMCA…it’s in Pennsylvania.”

“Ok–that’s fine. But just so you know, it’s $20 if you weren’t a visiting member,” he informed me, feeling like a true-American enforcer of rules and regulations.

“Gotcha,” I said, turning my back to him.

He made his point and stood up for himself. After all, he must deal with depraved schemers trying to slip in on a daily basis. At the same time, he must feel some sympathy towards us. I mean, if you’re really trying to cut the system for a mere $5, you must really need it. But then again, why are you living in San Francisco……

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Love Letters

I slumped into a creative withdrawal yesterday morning, unable to string some sentences together. My mind wandered, as always, bouncing around from nonsense to more trivial clutter. Eventually, I woke up staring at a blog article, one of those trite lists detailing twenty things you must do in your twenties. God damn it–this is what I’ve come to. You know it’s bad when you’re actually searching this garbage, merely to avoid whatever you’re suppose to do. Well, this article derailed me even more, nonetheless, some value yielded from it.

The #20 item one must do in their twenties is to write their future self a letter (yeah, I read the entire article). I recall doing this exercise when I entered high school and later receiving the letter right prior to graduation. The letter was somewhat embarrassing, but also reflected an honest introspection. Therefore, recognizing how much I’ve developed in this past year, I figured what the hell, let me wipe my soul onto a one-page letter. So I began.

Letters, in my opinion, are the most personal form of communication. Someone can confess their love or problems over the phone or through text message, but when one formulates their thoughts and emotions only to splatter it out onto a page, that truly evokes real vibrant emotion. For instance: numerous books have been published just on authors’ compilations of letters. Letters deliver insight into the real man behind the pen or typewriter. Furthermore, the process is arduous: requires time to think and time to write, no matter how competent of a writer.

I signed my name, dated it, and stored it away deep inside of my mac folder, only to be opened years away. I felt fulfilled, and actually, galvanized to write more letters. Then, it was patently apparent what to write next– a love letter. Love letters require time– much more time than all other letters. I mean, love is a process, which unfolds and develops over a period, and contrary to mainstream belief, it is not instantaneous. With that, love letters undergo a similar procedure: an unrolling of your feelings, exposing your true, vulnerable identity and rich emotions for the other person.

In a nutshell, I’m not finished. I attempted to do it in one sitting, but that try became futile. Revisions and editing were ceaseless, only to be left with some unorganized feelings. As I stated previously, it’s a process. So, I’m back at it again today, sculpting away, applying syntax with the hope that it might just graze the surface.

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