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The Black Tea Letters

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Jan. 17th, 2004 @ 05:55 pm
A homeless blind man just tapped his pathetic institutional cane past me, asking in what appeared to be a genuine tone if we had any change for him to get some dinner. He was wearing a pair of deep blue jeans patched in the seams with duct tape. On his back was a coat obviously meant for a much smaller person, as the sleeves barely covered his arms. The coat was adorned in back with a picture of a tiger's head and various silk screened japanese characters. I was standing in the doorway holding onto the poles at the time, and I moved my foot so he wouldn't hit it with his cane. Several one dollar bills in my wallet were more than willng to help the poor limping bastard, but in the end I just stayed out of the way and kept my mouth shut. I wasn't intimidated in the least by this person, I get hit up for change all the time from various hustlers, panhandlers, cripples, and homeless people. But the point is that even when this pathetic soul couldn't see me, I shrank from him and shunned him so that the dollar bill in my wallet would go home with me instead of him. Maybe he was a hustler or a faker and just wanted the money for booze, who knows. But if he WAS blind and just wanted some money for food...

I'm riding the Red Line, the section of the L that traverses nearly the entire vertical axis of metropolitan Chicago. It starts in the rough southern neighborhoods and works it's way North through the downtown district, up through the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhoods, and finally to the rich north suburb of Evanston. I take only the last leg of this ride, maybe fifteen stops, but it is impossible during certain seasons and times of day to avoid the homeless, the panhandlers, the looneys, the packs of young punks. People living very close to the sociological fault line. Large men in the employ of the CTA are employed at Howard street and 95/Dan Ryan streets to come on and rouse the homeless men that pay a buck fifty for a ride end-to-end for an hour and a half with somewhere to sit that's heated on bitter winter nights. It's almost always men. I've seen probably a hundred or more homeless guys on this train, but only two women.

It's hard to think of myself as someone who would begrudge an unfortunate and hungry man a buck for some chow. What the hell kind of healer does that make me?

The waiting area that's heated on the Howard street platform smells like years and years of urine. Now I'm on the Purple Line, the North Shore line that has heat and clean chairs, and no bums.

I'll be home soon.
Saturday evening in Chicago.

Jan. 17th, 2004 @ 03:46 pm
I spoke to Gee last night and we reminisced about the old college days in that insane semester before graduation. March is going to be fun, hopefully he and Reid will make it without difficulty. I get a whole day off tomorrow. It will be the first in two weeks. Last weekend was taken up with classes and student clinic. I plan to update my webpage more often, specifically with this journal. Maybe I'll go back to the older style webpage or switch to something new. Just another in a long line of incomplete projects.

When I was reading over my old summer journals that I kept while I was at the Orthopedic Lab in NY, I surprised myself at the bitterness that I had toward that job and the people I worked for. The pay was awful, and I was always "the kid", or "kiddo" in a way that most of my coworkers spare me of now, and of course there was the ever-present random hand injury. But the job I have now still has it's miseries. Patients that are homeless or indigent that smell like they haven't bathed in weeks, crippled patients that helplessly urinate/defecate on themselves or me, rude patients, crude patients, and patients that are just crazy. Certifiably crazy. Need a bucket to carry around their extra crazy crazy. As George Carlin once said, the difference between a maniac and a crazy person is that a maniac will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo. A crazy person will also beat nine people to death with a steel dildo, but he'll be wearing a Bugs Bunny costume at the time.

At The Outset Jan. 16th, 2004 @ 08:40 pm
Since my last stab at online journaling, I have kept three others in various places. One in a small notebook, one in an old palmtop Windows CE device that was most of 2002 and got erased when the backup battery failed. And finally I kept a diary in a diary program on my Palm IIIx, which I may or may not make available online depending on how I feel.

In any case, it's been almost three years since I last placed a journal online. I posted at Dyingdays.com for a while, and I did what I could for that site when I could. Paul Hughes is doing his own thing these days and I am doing mine. My webpage has been only sporadically updated for the last three years, but I would like to work on making this a priority, and I think a journal is just what it needs.

So I suppose a synopsis of the last two years is in order. When my last journal left off, I had just graduated St. Lawrence University and I was living, rather forlornly, with my parents. I had no job direction or prospects and I had given up on prosthetics as a career. I'm sure now that everyone must go through moments like this, but at the time it was most disconcerting. This translated predictably into a rather grim journal in May and June of 2001.

Happily, my life took a series of positive turns very shortly after. So here we go:

In late June 2001 I was working in a factory in Watertown, NY. I had the second shift, and the dubious honor of coming home late each night smelling of mechanical lubricants and pulling slivers of steel flash out of my hands. The previous job I had, making prosthetics, was also brutal to my hands. On the job injuries from prosthetics included repeated sanding and grinding of my knuckles and fingertips on the pin routers and drum sanders I used every day, and one particularly painful episode when two square feet of molten polypropelene foam wrapped around my ungloved hands and stuck like taffy.

Fortunately, it left only a few dark scar areas and didn't seem to cause much lasting nerve damage. I only mention it now because my hands figure ironically into the outcome of this little tale.

It was sometime in the fourth week of work at the factory that I got a call from one of my close friends from SLU who lived in St. Petersburg Florida. Hearing how unhappy I was, she invited me to move to Florida and try to get a job where she worked. Less than three weeks later, I was living in Florida, and I had gotten a low-level job with Xerox. It was not a long-term or ultimately satisfying place to be, but it was infinitely better than living in upstate, NY.

During this time, I had only limited internet access, so I moved my journaling activities to just a pen and notebook. I used my trusty green Schaffer fountain pen with which I had taken every note and written every test at SLU. I stopped this journal, sadly, later that season when I lost that wonderful old pen. This is something I regret to this day.

It was around mid July that I finally re-established my internet access through a pathetic dial-up connection. I had taken my leave of Dyingdays due to my lack of an internet connection, and I decided not to write any more Torque articles, because symbolically, that time in my life was over. I did, however, begin posting on the illout.com message board for Paul's resurrender network, and one person in particular caught my attention. A female member with the unusual username On My Back.

Conversations with this person went from open discussions to private instant messenger chats to phone-calls. Eventually, we decided that she should fly to Florida and we should meet. On August 3rd, 2001, I met Beth O'Malley at the St. Petersburg airport. It was very much love at first kiss. Following the first thrilling and unlikely weekend, we parted tearfully as she returned to Chicago, and we swore we'd see each other soon. And we did. Every weekend almost, despite the distance and expense of air travel. Each reunion was more joyful than the last, each time together more romantic and exciting. Sometime in early September, a crew of crazy arabs decided to fly airliners into buildings on a boring morning the day after Beth had left to go home again.

I was sitting in a dull staff meeting that morning when I heard the rumors that "someone had blown up some planes". As I watched the breaking news footage on a conference-room monitor, the doughnut I was eating suddenly tasted like just so much dirt. Thankfully, Beth had made it safely back to Midway airport only hours before the attacks.

After the attacks, especially since so much shit surrounding those attacks took place near where I lived (the terrorists learned to fly planes at a nearby flight training facility and my local post office was shut down because the White House anthrax scare letters had been mailed from there.) In any case, it became impossible for weeks for Beth and I to see each other. I felt at once just as lonely as I had been in NY, talking to Beth online or on the phone, wishing I was somewhere or someone else. It was around this time that I decided to move to Chicago to be with her. The final trip that Beth made by plane to St. Petersburg, she had to make her way past several checkpoints and several dozen National Guard soldiers with assault rifles at the ready. I will never forget what that was like, and it was a crash of reality into my relatively isolated life.

Another packed car, another two-day road trip, another new and enormously unknown home. But this time I had a delightful companion to share it with. Predictably, if only to us, we took that ride right up until this very day. We are still together, and I loved her even more this morning as she lay sleepily in bed peeking out from under a heavy down blanket as I did on that day at the airport.

Of course, that still leaves a gap of about two years. What the hell happened to me in those two years? I had quite a time getting used to Chicago. I got a job working as a medical assistant in an orthopedic surgeon's clinic (a job which I have to this day). Several thousand stitches, staples, casts, and minor medical procedures later, I managed to help build a very nice life with Beth, that includes, among other things, a new Mustang to replace my old Cavalier wagon. A country mouse like me fought and kicked against the urban norms before finally accepting them. I completed my first novel, The Prince and The Pitchman, and it was published in 2002 by Booksurge under the label Vole Books. My second novel, a sequel to the first, titled The Journey of the Tallish Ten, was completed in 2003, and is in the process of being published. I applied to Northwestern again for prosthetics, and was rebuffed a third time. With relatively little time to sulk about it, I discovered a new and unexpected interest: Massage Therapy. I applied and was accepted into the 15 month program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy (I am writing this right now on a Dell Axim pocket PC in my Saturday morning anatomy class). Eleven and a half more months to go. Now we come to the irony of my hands, those much abused travelers of grinding mechanical work. Now I am going to make a living using my hands on other people to soothe, relax, and heal them. By the feedback I've gotten so far, massage therapy is quite natural to me, and I see a great deal of potential within myself to help others with this innate ability I've discovered.

But the most exciting development in the interim period has unquestionably been August 12th, 2003. Atop Castle Rock in Blue Mountain Lake, NY., under the Adirondack sky, I asked Beth to be my wife, and she accepted. Our wedding plans are progressing as we speak. We have hammered out many of the rough details and now we are working on the fun parts of picking out themes and colors and music. I am happy to be involved in the process though at times it is complicated and daunting work. I hope to make this process a part of this journal, along with my experiences in Chicago and with Massage Therapy.

In a very real sense, I have grown enormously as a person since 2001, and one of the most profound examples of this is that I like things now that I used to hate. Sure there's the obvious example of urban life, but the best examples are food. Mr. Used-to-eat-pizza-every-day-dipped-in-ranch-dressing now eats plenty of salads, lettuce, tomatoes, and (wonder of wonders), soup. I began eating soup for no apparent reason about a month ago. I hadn't had it in over ten years.

But overwhelmingly the most incredible example of this is my newfound love of tea. Iced tea at first, and now hot teas as well. Many of my friends and family have sat through one of my endless eye-rolling diatribes about how I never drink hot liquids because they make me queasy. Well, now I not only drink tea, I am somewhat addicted to it.

So, if there's a theme to this journal that could be predicted at the outset, it's the theme of acceptance and learning to like things I once hated. Hence, I'm titling it the Black Tea Letters.
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Current Music: James Taylor - Something in the Way She Moves
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