Monday, April 28, 2008

TEN MONTHS part 2: The Misery of Isolation

(Part 1: Downward Spiral - it's been updated)

On the plus side:


Few responsibilities.

Digital cable.

No stress of the city.

Yeah, that doesn't count for much when you're completely isolated. Sure, phone calls are an option, but it's hard to talk privately in a little trailer with paper-thin walls. I needed a friend to talk with face to face.

The experiences I had in college and the city made me resent my family for being poor and relatively uneducated. I resented Gloversville for its lack of youth, culture, and energy. I resented anyone for being better off than I was. I hated myself for being a failure.

I vegetated for a month. I played with my dog, watched TV, and wallowed in self-loathing. Then mom started to kick my butt and told me to get a job. After weeks of filling out meaningless applications at grocery stores and restaurants, a printing plant (Amsterdam Printing & Lithography, “AP&L” for short) 20 minutes away had a mass hiring. They needed a production artist for their second shift. I was the only one who had a BFA from an “ivy-league” art school. I knew the programs better than anyone else that applied. They were looking for someone who was going to stick around for a while.

"Where do you see yourself five years from now?"

Still stinking of defeat and depression, convinced that I'd never be able to leave, I answered honestly. But in my mind, the answer was this:

"As far away from this place as fucking possible, if I can help it."

I got the job.

It took two weeks to figure out everything I needed to know about Illustrator. I didn’t have to worry about color or any special effects. My supervisor, Ellen (“such a sweetheart,” she’d say) was impressed beyond belief. I made the impossible possible. A month later, Francis came aboard.

Francis is basically an older, wiser, happier version of me.

As we newbies slowly settled into our roles, our personalities began to show more. When our department boss revealed at the end of a stressful day that it was her wedding anniversary, Francis and I looked at each other and immediately sang the chorus to the Flintstones Happy Anniversary song. Heather laughed and looked at us in amazement, as if we'd rehearsed. We looked at each other again and giggled madly. It was the start of a bee-yoo-tiful friendship.

I found myself looking forward to going to work. (There's a first -and last- time for everything!)

Getting to work, though, was an extraordinary feat. I put an ad in the paper looking for a co-worker who was headed from Gloversville for a ride, with the offer to pay for gas & what not. This pair of older, obese, chain-smoking, country-music-listening, mulletted, dumbass women answered the ad. They were sisters.

They were also unreliable. One of their husbands convinced them not to pick me up because of possible insurance liabilities in case there was an accident. So without telling me, they stopped showing up. I had to confront them at work after taking a cab in.

A cab ride from Gloversville to Amsterdam costs $20, plus tip. My parents would come pick me up at night. On nights of horrible snow & ice, Roger, an older smartass in the department, would take me home in his virtual monster truck.

Cabbing to work lasted about six weeks (that added up to $750). Heather caught wind of this and immediately walked out of the room. She came back 20 minutes later and said, "follow me."

As we walked to another part of the plant, she asked me why I didn't come to her for help in the first place. It just didn't occur to me that anyone else would help. I explained about the futile ads in the paper. We strolled into another department, and I was introduced to my new ride, a woman named Lynn. We got along well enough. She talked a lot about her boyfriend; particularly that he's married and wasn't likely to get a divorce any time soon.

What made things interesting was that different departments' shifts started at different times. Even though we both worked second shift, she had to start a half hour earlier than I did. I would spend that half hour in the cafeteria writing, or observing those whom evolution had forgotten, and occasionally the rare cutie.

One of them was a tall drink of water, dark and slender. She wore long skirts and sweaters. From what I gathered, she had a bit of a creative streak.

The other was a shorter redhead who was friends with Lynn. We'd continually bump into each other in the halls and be all bashful and coy. She seemed very sweet.

Both of them smoked, so that was right out.

Sucksgiving came and went with as little fanfare as possible. The art department had a pool of petty cash that everyone would contribute to in order to have a little party every time someone's birthday rolled around. If you didn't contribute, you didn't get a party. I opted out of that little program. Heather asked what I was doing to celebrate my 22nd birthday.


"Really? Why not?"

"Eh, it's just another day." - A day I'd rather forget, a day spent alone, separated from everyone I called 'friend'.

Meanwhile, Chris, Carlos, and Bowie were hard at work on the comic project we were tentatively recruited for at the convention earlier in the year. Since I was the writer, I dug up a few books on mythology in general, paying particularly close attention to Norse. The comic was supposed to be about Thor's daughter, with no relation to Marvel's version of the characters, of course. In mid-December, I went down to the city to work on it some and see how the art was coming along. Our client slowly fell from the face of the earth, much to our chagrin. With no direction, no money, and no recourse, we decided to call the project our own. We haven't heard from the client since.

That small weekend dose of the city got under my skin. Every minute between projects at work was spent trying to figure out a plan. How was I going to get back there?

A few feet away, in his best Cartman voice, Francis berated his misbehaving computer, ordering it to suck his chocolate salty balls.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


It's been noted at work that my attitude has soured to the point where if I don't shape up, I'll be fired. The previous month was spent processing feelings of anger and betrayal; add that to impossible deadlines and futile wild goose chases of work, and you can see why.

Over the past two weeks, I've burned some bridges. Two of them were obliviously burned by other parties many months ago; I was just kicking the ashes in their faces.

Then I let the epic arrogance of someone I detest turn me into an asshole and a hypocrite, thus ending another friendship. While I have sincerely apologized, it's simply not enough.

As a result, I have left the Comic Book Resources forums permanently. All those cool people shouldn't have to suffer the drama I'd created.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Such is life.

I've long since given up on meeting up with that girl Louise tried to set me up with. She doesn't return phone calls or emails, even after expressing interest. While it would have been really nice (lives 10 blocks away, loves & plays jazz, has a doggy), she's been rather disrespectful of the time & effort I've put in just to try to hang out with her.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

TEN MONTHS part 1: Downward Spiral

From May 2000 to March 2001, life had taken on a new level of hopelessness. I'd just graduated college and had no place to live. I was squatting in the dorm until the end of May. Bowie and I were looking for a place to live, and we both worked as coffee bitches.

One day I met Bowie at his shop Downtown. We were looking forward to just hanging out instead of apartment searching. One of his coworkers, a lithe cutie, sat in the window sill, somewhat silhouetted against the light pouring in. We all chatted for a few minutes, then Bowie and I left. I asked about her.

"She said you're cute, too."


"Her exact words were 'I want to cuff him to my bed for five hours.'"

"That's good to know."

"She lives with her boyfriend and their two kids."

"Oh well."

Later that week, Bowie called and then put her on the phone. Even if I wanted to talk to her, it should be clearly evident that I have no game. What the hell was I supposed to say? "Sure, I'd LOVE to help you cheat on your boyfriend."

A few minutes of awkward conversation later, I asked her to put Bowie back on. "Not cool, man."

His coworkers started asking if I was gay.

"No, he just has something called a 'conscience.' I don't get it, either."

Bowie did apologize for the whole thing a few years later.

What compounded the stress of that summer was the four of us (Bowie, Chris, Carlos and myself) being approached at the big comic convention by a guy who wanted to do a comic with us. Each of us live in separate boroughs/cities, work full time, and odd hours at that. Just getting us in the same room proved difficult. We had limited communication with the client as it was, just trying to figure out what he wanted. He took the guys out to dinner one day in Hoboken (I had to work), and fleshed out some ideas. They reported back with the details. We decided to play to our strengths: Bowie would pencil, Chris would ink, Carlos would color, and I would write. There wasn't a schedule or anything, so we took our time.

My friend Justin was staying in the dorm for the whole summer, so I stashed my stuff in his apartment. Lynne was going home to Hawaii for the month of June, so she offered her room. Her apartment with the two Naomi's was out in Woodside, Queens. The living room had bright red "Elmo" carpeting. The worst part of every night was sitting in the Grand Central subway station at 1 AM waiting for the hourly 7 train. The platform was horribly depressing. Renovations had just begun on the escalator. Aside from the few florescent lights, the place was a black cave. There seemed to have been a leaking sewer line, because there was a pervading stench of urine. Most nights, it took an hour for the train to arrive, and another hour to get home from there. I reeked of coffee; I was coated with it. Lynne's keyboard soon had a layer of coffee grinds (which made her highly pissed).

Lynne came back to find her room in disarray. She was not happy, and rightfully so. I cleaned my crap out from her room - which wasn't much, as I was living out of an over-sized duffel bag. That night was obscenely hot. I tried sleeping on the love seat in the living room, but it was an absurd proposition. I striped to my shorts, put a sheet down on the carpet and sprawled out. (Insert LOLCat Caption: Diskomfert. I haz it.)

What made things even less enjoyable was working at two different stores, and had to deal with two sets of high-strung miserable fucks during my first summer in the city.

There was the shop in Midtown that was only open on weekdays, a wide open space catering to business executives who panicked when the carafes were out of "strong" coffee. One section was devoted to brewing coffee, cold drinks, and snacks. There were over a dozen carafes lined up that had to be refilled at great frequency. The other side was for espresso and its many variations. A third, smaller station was for selling beans & grounds. Garbage duty sucked because you'd have to walk around the block to the loading dock to get a rolling trash bin, and it STANK (as expected). The bins were never cleaned out, so there was ever-growing residue to wipe off on your skin & clothes if you weren't careful.

On the weekends and many nights, I'd work at my first store on the Upper East Side. It was a different kind of hell. Here, the clientèle generally consisted of idle rich snots. You know the type: people who have inherited their wealth and never worked a day in their life, expecting everything to be served upon a diamond encrusted platinum platter. Think "Paris Hilton," but with education and more modest clothing. There were a few exceptions; Katie Couric and Matthew Broderick were semi-regulars and were very pleasant to deal with. Some of the non-celebrities were nice, too. The store itself was a cramped, microscopic hole in the wall; the kind reserved for misanthropically-hosted comic shops. With two coworkers (sometimes three), we were constantly tripping over each other. There were lines of customers out the door, because the distance from the door to the counter was only 10 feet. When the throngs of nasty, impatient customers marched through the door, my view of humanity was at its lowest (at the time, anyway). I earned every fucking cent of that $7/hour.

It was around this time when my manager decided to hook me up with one of his "sistas." Avery, a sweet, well-meaning 35 year old gay man living in the Bronx with his mother, decided that at 21, I should not be a virgin. Far be it from me to argue with that sentiment. I talked to this girl, whose name I don't recall, on the phone. She was 19 and had two kids.

Insert "car screeching to a halt" and/or "record needle scratching" sound

At the time, kids were just way beyond my comfort zone. We spoke a couple more times after that, but I wasn't interested.

As for the apartment search, Bowie and I continually ran into brick walls. The aunt he was living with became somewhat vindictive. The other problem was that I had somehow gotten a bad credit rating. It confused me, because I had NO credit, not a negative. It would be over a year before I'd even have a checking account, let alone a line of credit beyond student loans.

My next encounter with flirtation was three weeks before I moved back to Bumblefuck. The coffee shop was giving away a trip to San Francisco. An attractive woman in her early 30s had walked in and, after ordering her coffee, asked me if I had ever been to SF. “No, this job really doesn’t give me the opportunity to travel much.” A barista working for less than six months makes $6.25/hour. At 35 hours a week (considered full time at Timothy’s World Coffee), I could barely pay my bills. I never had much money for comics. Airfare and a hotel were out of the question.

“Well, if you’d like to go there sometime, let me know.”

‘Waitjustagoddamnminute,’ I thought. ‘Did she just offer to be my sugar mommy?’

And before I could think of anything else, she left the building.

A few other thoughts floated in my head. When did I become this sex object? In college, no woman would give me the time of day, and now there are a couple of them, with kids, that want to fuck my brains out. Why is it that the ones you do want don’t want you, and the ones you don’t want do want you? Am I really that hot of a commodity?

Nahhhh, that’s just crazy talk. In a few hours, while you’re sleeping on the floor of Lynne’s living room, you’ll forget all about the surge of actual self-esteem, and get on with your usual everyday misery.

August rolled around, and the lease on Lynne's apartment was up. I helped them move to a new place in Astoria, and Lynne asked me to leave for the sake of our friendship. I called up my former classmate & roommate Christian. His house in Edison, NJ had ample storage space, and he was happy to help me out. That Saturday he and a friend pulled up in a van at Newport. Justin let us in, and we put my life away. Monday, I got a train ticket and put in for a leave of absence at Timothy's World Coffee. I said my goodbyes, thanked and apologized to Lynne, and left on Wednesday.

3.5 hours and 200 miles later, I stepped off the train with two over-sized duffel bags, and the dark cloud of defeat hanging over me. Dad picked me up at the all-but-abandoned, glorified shack of a train station in Amsterdam. On the drive home, I assessed the situation:

All my friends have moved away.

The one local place I could make new ones has gone out of business.

I don't like my family.

No means of transportation other than my parents (never learned to drive).

All of my stuff is packed up hundreds of miles away.

No job.

No money.

No fun.

No life.

No hope of ever leaving.