Friday. 7.12.13 8:34 pm
Although the aroma hadn’t quite left my clothes, I missed that smelly bus I’d spent the prior night on shortly into my stay in Pittsburgh. The fifteen minutes I spent sneezing in the back of my friend’s ex-girlfriend’s car had something to do with that. James, her cat, sat in the front passenger seat.
“I swear – I’m going to kill that boy,” Chloe, Cordell’s ex-girlfriend, exclaimed as we climbed her front porch. “You know ‘Dell didn’t say nothing about you being allergic to cats,” she continued while simultaneously looking back at me with a smile and opening the front car door.
“Don’t worry about it, Chloe – I’m just grateful to get off a bus after seven hours.” After a week of sulking around both D.C. and Baltimore, I put $20 on a bus ticket to Pittsburgh. The plan was to somehow make it to California and find work until I could return to Harvard in January. I’d been applying to jobs all across the country, figuring that if I found something before I made it out to California – say in Chicago or Detroit, --I’d settle there. “Really though, thank you for letting me crash here for a few days. Just let me know if there’s--“
“Anything you can do?” She interrupts before flinging the unlocked front door to her home open. “First of all, help me take this shit,” she nods to a pile of road safety signs, “back to my car. It’ll save me an assload of time in the morning before work.”
“No problem,” I say while dropping the gym bag with half of my belongings on the ground. The other half was in a single suitcase in the trunk of her car. “I can move them for you. Just say when.”
She’s giving me a grin that would make Gaston himself proud. “Really though, I’ve got to be at the pet shop in about thirty minutes for the afternoon shift.”
She was restless. Her blue eyes told me so. I figure it was in those moments -- watching her wince as she bent down to grab a stray sign – that the guilt hit me. After a morning spent holding up various signs at a construction site, Chloe drove downtown to pick me up from the bus stop instead of taking her customary hour and a half nap between jobs. In the afternoon, she typically worked a second job at Petsmart.
“I got it,” I say as I reach for the stray sign in her hand.
“Thanks. The trunkdoor isn’t locked, so just go ‘head and place them in there.”
“You hungry, Jon? We got some food in the kitchen,” she says when I return. “You’re welcome to whatever you see up in the cupboards as long as you make me some.”
Trying to decide between the three different kinds of ramen noodles in her cupboard brought back a lot of childhood memories. I still remember watching my mom boil water to cook noodles that cost a quarter three, sometimes four times a week. Although she always had a way of making the best of our EBT-sponsored food seem normal, twenty years later I get queasy everytime I see ramen noodles.
Staring at those familiar beef and chicken caricatures on the front of the ramen packaging had me feeling a little funny. The anger I had for my mom for not supporting my decision to leave both Harvard and a relatively good gig on a Presidential campaign rapidly transformed into guilt. All this time I told myself that she just didn’t ‘get it.’ Standing in a kitchen with a pantry filled with noodles, boxed mac n’ cheese, canned creamed corn, I couldn’t help but feel that my indignation was misplaced.
Perhaps it was me that didn’t “get it.”
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Monday. 6.10.13 12:39 am
Although I used to spend a lot of time daydreaming about living as a vagrant like my heroes Kenshin and Jesus, it didn’t take long for that fantasy to lose luster. Something about the aroma of the megabus – a rancid mix of sweat and urine -- soured the whole vagabond life pretty quickly. On the plus side, I crossed paths with a number of folks who made a mighty big impact on me for one reason or another.
One of my favorites was a barber from Akron who traveled from Toledo to Cleveland every weekend to see his children.
“My daughter though.. she’s just crazy with all the computer shit. She do it better than I do, you know? I’m just,,” he claps his hands together before opening them, palms up, as if presenting a gift, “watching her go. She’s smart… just, real smart.” His words sagged as his sentence concluded, as though the gravity of his reality – of their reality – suffocated the syllables.
“That’s why I’m doing this every fucking week,” he says from the seat in front of me on the bus. He turns his head toward the window, watching the interstate roll on beneath us.
“Do you have her enrolled in pre-k?” I ask after a few moments of silence. Before he could answer, I started in on the importance of early education, drawing from the lessons learned in my Education Law class the prior year. “It goes a long way in ensuring kids get to college, you know? If we’re ever going to get there, I figure it’ll start with educating the next generation.”
“Her moms has that covered. She’s good with that, too. Wasn’t good with me but she’s a good mother to my babygirl for sure. That’s one thing I…” he kept on talking, but I was more concerned with my words than his.
Did I say “if we’re ever going to get there”?
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Friday. 4.12.13 3:02 am
After one night on a megabus, three nights on Amy’s couch, and two more on a $20-a-day bed in a hostel, my decision to resign rather than campaign in church was starting to come back to bite me. Not only was the money I saved from various grants was dwindling faster than I envisioned, but finding a new job was difficult. Turns out 2/3rds of a law degree ain’t worth that much in the real world and all my supposed principles and values couldn’t be bartered for food.
“The way I see it, I’ve got three options. I can either return to Harvard and complete my law degree. Only thing is is that I missed the registration deadline and would have to enroll in whatever classes weren’t full. Alternatively, I could just go home to Texas. But the prospect of moving back home to live with my mom feels like admitting failure,” I glance up from the plate of eggs and toast before me to see newlyweds Isaac and Elvia grinning back at me. Although I’ve known the couple for a few years, I didn’t think to reach out to them for a place to crash until I grew sick of the hostel. They were eager to accept me into their home once I did and treated me like a younger brother. “Then again, I guess sleeping on your air mattress isn’t exactly winning either.”
“I bet it beats a hostel though! And,” Elvia raises a fork full of eggs,” you get free food here. Only thing I want in exchange is that you promise me you’ll stop running away.”
“I’m not running from anything, El. I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
“I know you think you are, Jonathan, but let’s be real here. You go to Harvard. You were working on a Presidential campaign. People like us,” she pauses to motion to her husband, and then to me, “don’t get this kind of opportunity very often – we don’t get a seat at the table the way you’ve got one right now.”
“Fuck the table.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” she says as Isaac reached across the table for her plate. He stacked it atop his own and carried the two to the kitchen sink. “I hear what you’re saying about your faith and religion and having principles – I get that. But what if they come to you and offer you your job back? If they offer to put you in a different locale, would you go back?”
“Exactly. You need to realize the opportunity you’ve got here, Jonathan. You can do a lot of good in the world if you learn to just play the fucking game.”
As she spoke, I simply nodded silently and watched her husband instead of maintain eyecontact with Elvia. Isaac returned to the table and placed a cup of tea infront of his wife. I can’t say whether it was watching them interact, sensing the deep love the two of them shared, or listening to her honest advice that ate at me more.
I wish the game had a pause button.
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This is maybe ten years overdue.
Wednesday. 2.27.13 11:55 pm
Critique the first chapter of my book?
Saturday. 2.23.13 2:38 pm
Friday. 2.22.13 11:23 am
“Megan is coming here tomorrow, team, and y’all all know how that’ll go. She’ll want to know why each of you decided to join the cause, so let’s go ‘round and give our answers,” Landry, my second campaign boss said to my new team in Petersburg, Virginia. It was about a month or two into my second round of campaigning, post-travels.
“I’ll start,” Landry continues. “I’m on this campaign because I believe in the candidate’s mission on education.”
“I’m here because of his healthcare policy – I think it’s really important and I feel like it will help a lot of people,” says the woman seated two chairs down.
“I’m here because I hate the republicans. I hate them. They’re just fucking terrible people. I can’t stand th—“
“Okay, we get it, Rahim. Jonathan, how about you?”
“Probably the free bagels.”
A lot of my co-workers felt like my boy Rahim did – they hated republicans. All of them. I’ve never felt the anger the way my co-workers did. The way I saw it, Democrats and Republicans were the beasts with two backs, together fucking my country into ineptitude. I figure that while both parties rely may rely on ignorance and vitriol to win political battles, the actual person behind the philosophy may not be so bad.
One of my best friends happens to be a republican.
*more later, promise.
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