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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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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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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A Good Day

I woke up just after ten, aching, paralyzed to the bed. My hangover rocked me, and in no way did I originally plan to reach that point of debauchery last night. But similar to the previous Friday, I did, and the next morning I suffered. My stomach was filled with toxins and my head was filled with misery. I needed a few hours to recoup before any plans would materialize.

After a couple hours of lounging, a bagel, ibuprofen, and an ocean-load of water, plans to leave the house appeared imaginable. Porter insisted on rambling over to Dolores Park–the prime mid-twenties weekend-hangout spot– to meet up with people. The weather was delicious and my well-being was lifting, with that, I brewed a small round of coffee and moments later, I stepped outside into the light of day.

The walk to Dolores Park lasts about thirty minutes: trekking up hills, bracing down the vertical slopes, and rolling under the sun. Once we reached the park, we converged with old friends and newly-made friends under the California Palm trees. The park was scattered with groups lie out on tapestries, characters selling joints and truffles, and ice-cream men pushing coolers. The scene was lively but at the same time, peaceful.

My friend, Josh tempted me with beer, but all it delivered was an unsettling feeling in my stomach. I buried the nausea with handfuls of lentil chips and scoops of hummus. Then, I slipped off my shoes and strayed off to play corn-hole.

As the afternoon carried on, Dolores Park filled up and the good times rolled. It was a good day, and most of the time, a good day far exceeds any other wants in life. It eclipses one’s goals, lofty hopes, wild nights, and in addition, compensates for rough mornings.

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The Hero’s Journey

Two weeks ago I was nestled in a Starbucks in Denver, slamming back coffee and jabbing away at my keyboard. A man in his forties–presumably homeless and later confirmed–asked to bum a cigarette off of me, most likely because of my unkept hair and bohemian attire. I don’t smoke, so I was of no help.

About thirty minutes later the same man stumbles back towards me again; this time proceeding to squat down across from me. He claimed he was in need of an outlet, despite the rest of the cafe being vacant. Whatever, I thought, carrying on with making headway on my story. This man, with scruffy facial features and blood-shot eyes, yapped away into his sob story, indirectly attempting to hustle a few dollars for the bus or–now that I think about it–a pack of cigarettes. I listened and then continued back with my work.

A few minutes of silence floated by and he asked me what I was working on. I told him, then he informed me he was a poet, spitting out some titles which I wasn’t familiar with. Well, one thing advanced to the next and the next moment we’re admiring great writers from the past, sharing great fondness. He suggested a book to checkout; I jotted it down, unfamiliar with the title and artist. The conversation subsided and he departed for the bathroom. I wrapped things up, tossed a few dollar bills on the table, and carried on my way.

Well, that man–didn’t catch his name–put me on to Joseph Campbell, and the title of the book was The Power of Myth. Campbell was a mythologist, lecturer, writer, and coined the phrase: “Follow Your Bliss.” Campbell emphasized the hero’s journey, which each person has the opportunity to explore. It’s a call to something–most likely unknown–but there’s an urge to follow it. It’s akin to our intuition guiding us to the next phase of our life. In my case, I recently moved myself, my life, and all of my precious belongings to San Francisco. I don’t have a job, moreover, I’m not certain what I will soon do for work. Nevertheless, something drew me out here. There’s a reason I’m here. Yes, my girlfriend lives out here, but I feel I will be aligning with the next piece of my life.

For instance, last spring I possessed the urge to sell shirts at festivals. I plunged into the investment and rambled out to the midwest by myself. Subsequently, at the first festival I met my current girlfriend. I had no expectations, but an impulse to act on.

Joseph Campbell said, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” I identified that at my previous employment and in turn, jumped off it. And at the moment, my future is in no way etched out, which is somewhat daunting. But after all, it should be: this is my own path.

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Hope

“Do you wanna go for a walk?” Porter asked, slipping on her sneakers.

“Sure, I’m down.” I said.

“Cool, I have to move my car anyway.” She responded, leading towards the front door.

Porter and I shuffled down her front steps onto the dimly-lit sidewalk. I immediately veered right, aiming in the direction of her parked car.

“Let’s go this way. I’m bored of the other way,” She insisted, turning in the opposite direction.

I followed–I could care less which way we went.  We cut onto Page Street and started east, away from her car. Page Street encompasses the iconic Victorian-style row-homes, including some adorned with modern remodeling. Although the homes aren’t enormous or overly lavish, they remain stunning. By far, it’s my favorite architectural aesthetics within the city.

“I wonder how much the rent of these homes run at?” I tossed out, admiring them as my eyes peered from one to the next.

Well, this conversation spiraled downward into the uncomfortable subject of money, specifically, my lack of it. The conversation rolled as each of us jabbed indirect shots at each other: her ignorance of money, my unemployment, etc. We passed block after block, lost in a financial miscommunication in the U.S’ most expensive city.

Eventually we settled down on a bench, keeping silent and staring off in opposite directions, reflecting our different viewpoints. Joggers and dog-walkers passed by, dodging our tension. This scene is common in San Francisco. Moreover, everyone in San Francisco seems to be financially burdened; whether it’s the Silicon Valley CEOs ceaselessly investing in start-ups or the homeless people on Market Street begging for change. What you have is never enough.

Minutes later, I stung the tension with the facts of what is: unemployment expires in April, my heavy bills, etc. And after a little back and forth, we settled on hope. Hope that I will land a livable-salary job at a university, so in turn, I can enroll in classes as well.

Hope. Hope is what Obama preached to the wretched U.S population in 2008. Trump advocated change, “Make America Great Again,” but basically, he insinuated hope. Hope is what downhearted America clenches to, and what leaders and motivational-speakers sell, promoting infinite possibilities. Along with reality, this sales pitch may just be an illusion, nonetheless, life is merely a ride.

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