Clutching At Straws

Despite common opinion drugs were a wonderful way to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise given the time of day to. Most were colorful characters to say the least and out to make an ‘honest’ living just like everyone else. Others thought they could have their way with me because they had what I wanted, namely, drugs, but I also had what they wanted, namely, money. And I wasn’t afraid to let them know they needed me just as much as I needed them. Then there were those sketchy types that made doing business with suits a relief. Needless to say, I changed dealers more often than underwear.

But that was with a home. Now I was in a strange new world where everything was different even the language. In fact, guttural English was the norm. Trying to say what I wanted to say without big words felt too remote and way too aggressive for someone as passive as little old me. Oh well, one thing I hadn’t lost was my judgmentality or my sarcasm. Talking freely about the ins and outs of what, why and how people should and shouldn’t do things soon wore thin. It was all show; an attempt to take the focus away from my own ineptness. Eventually, I was told in no uncertain terms that communication was a two-way street: they listened to me so I had to listen to them or shut up – to put it nicely. If I didn’t then I was being plain rude. Here was a people I thought only capable of cursing and bad-mouthing, yet when they had to spoke with such eloquent dignity. I admired their honesty even if it was only because it’d been forced out of them. The rest of the time it came across as mindless drug talk ruled by MTV videos, TV shows all to not feel rejected. Apparently not saying anything wasn’t on the menu. Not wanting to lower my standards, I sidetracked anything potentially boring, dangerous and violent.

Having money became a magnet for social fleas, which were more tolerable when not clinging to me in public and acting like my best friends. Empathizing with them only made my problems more real, so I shut them out. After all, me getting to know them was different than them getting to know me.  It hurt seeing them rejected. Somehow, I’d never even thought they were capable of having any worthwhile feelings of their own. And how could I when having the same or even similar feelings made us more alike than I cared to accept. I promised to make it up to them when I was better. Right now I was in survival mode. They’d understand, wouldn’t they? It wasn’t like they had any choice or were going anywhere by the look of things.

Letting down my guard I surrendered to talk centered on drugs, rebellion, getting even and how high they got, what they did on it, who they saw, who tried to rip them off, what they found and which part of the city they ended up in while on it. Who had the most, the best, the worst, was quickest at getting it, had the best pipes, the least buff, the weirdest names for it, blah, blah, blah. Who had the best bike, walkman, diskman, headphones, porno mags, clothes, jewelry, blah, blah, blah. Who stole what and from who and what they would do if they caught them, and who was on their side, blah, blah, blah. How much trouble could’ve been avoided with the simple technological innovation called a receipt. Little did I know?

Hyper-vigilant from the hustle and bustle of outdoor life and always being on the lookout made privacy next to impossible. When the opportunity to go for a coffee with a friend arose, I jumped at the chance of doing something old and normal. Wanting the moment to last forever, the inevitable question arose as to where I was going afterwards. Gauging his sincerity, I revealed I had nowhere to go. I wanted to tell him how serious things were, but I also didn’t want to spoil the night either. So I just stood there as he smiled, said nothing and disappeared into the night. My heart writhed in agony and sank into my churning stomach; the damage had been done. The very act of keeping it secret revealed the truth: I had nowhere to go!

A mental pit opened and swallowed me up. “Stay focused Mike, you can do it”, I told myself. The tiredness felt heavy and sleep would be so beautiful and warm and comforting…. I could almost feel it, holding me, wrapping me in its gentle arms and rocking me gently. “You’ll die if you sleep,” I said out loud, no longer worried about being seen talking to myself. “Better do some crystal,” I responded automatically. A couple of hoots later, I wondered if I’d ever be able to pay back the ‘sleep interest’ I was losing by staying awake. And so I’d kept secret another truth: how I felt about it all.

Now without my shell everything became alive and sensual like a child feeling out the world for the very first time. Somehow, the birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, the orchestral sounds of falling rain and the beautiful palettes of nature went unnoticed, lost in a man-made world of technological self-absorption. I used to belong to that world. On a grander scale, pride and our inability to give credence to anything outside of egocentric value systems forced nature into submission. Yet every religion, educational system, war machine, anthem, military march, business suit, custom and tradition, all of them, depended on the natural world for their existence. We’d climbed too far up our mountain, our Tower of Babel, and forgotten that turning back was an option. It always had been.

And so the Devil raged for not being able to create only manipulate. In his world of dull gray metallic hues, the light of day burned the eyes, lightning seared synapses, rain fell like stones on metal, thunder boomed in explosive tones and the colors of nature sent senses into a dizzying swirl. Panicking, I turned even more to my drugs. High: mind, body and spirit blended into a manageable cohesion soothing the savage storms of the mind while calming the worries of the heart. A remarkable feat considering I’d been going literally mad only a few days before. Did I have to choose between the natural world and the man-made world or was there another point of harmony. Either way, I felt undeserving of either.

Too afraid to go it alone and end up going insane, I sought out those who also wanted to get off the streets. So I asked around innocently, but only found those who glorified homelessness like a million dollar adventure. I could understand one or two of them not wanting to get off the streets, but not all of them. Those few who wanted to move on spoke in hush tones through the sides of their mouths as if betraying some secret cause. Threatened and called a traitor for talking about such things, something was going on that I wasn’t privy to. To me a traitor was someone who didn’t honor themselves, their free will, feelings and truth.

Freedom was my right to do and say whatever I wanted (respecting others) and not be told what I could or couldn’t say. A great shadow passed over me and I knew I wasn’t seeing the whole truth. Peering into the darkness I came face to face with the ramifications of not being able to speak at all – of being permanently silenced! “I have a voice and the God-given right to use it”, I screamed, raising my fist at the Universe.

Around me laid the death and wanton destruction reminiscent of the nihilistic early days of the punk revolution. Nothing new came out of it. It couldn’t – being an extension of the old. I recalled Krishnamurti’s words about fear needing an object while love needed nothing in of itself to be complete. So by logical inference their ‘new’ was dependent on an object and therefore based on fear. I laughed, but that too was nothing new.

The only way to survive was to dumb things down. I cursed the education systems for not better preparing me, but they couldn’t not without perpetuating the bitter cold truth of real life. Still there was a difference between investing and perpetuating it. I tried giving them the benefit of the doubt: they were just trying to help and nothing was known about the subject matter. Yet, I was hurting and there should’ve been some help for me somewhere within the volumes of knowledge. I reluctantly envisioned myself writing such a book – if I survived. But how could I get famous for writing a book about such a shitty lifestyle? But did everything have to revolve around being famous? I didn’t know.

Surrendering to the games being played out, the one that stuck out the most I called ‘The Smelliest’ where personal dress and hygiene became an evolutionary setback. I was glad to see others pinch their noses and turn away for it showed they still had some memory of what being clean was all about. I knew it was a form of protest, but it was obvious some hadn’t thought about it for a while or had simply forgotten. Little did I know? Another game I called ‘I’m Worse Off Than You’, which was just ‘The Bigger Fish’ in the other direction. Trapped in a bad episode of The Twilight ZoneMurphy’s Law became the law. I had no intention of sticking around long enough to uncover any others.

Around mid-April the homeless population sprouted like dandelion seeds on the winds of society. They were mostly high school kids and journeying easterners trading rent and known security for the thrill of a three-month joy ride into unexplored freedom. The ‘regulars’ hated them and called them wannabes and traitors. But what was right about being homeless for years? I tried pointing out their lack of concern, but laughter made me feel like I was in a game of ‘Survivor’ gone terribly wrong. Acting and playing the role until my stomach turned, I realized I was ‘homesick’. How ironic I’d never really known what one was!

Hiding out in underground in parking lots, behind cars, closed doors and gardens, we filled every nook and cranny of the city smoking dope in secret protest. By far the worst place was in the stairwell of a parking lot next to the Gathering Place. Forgotten children huddled in corners playing in stairwells stained with feces and urine. My heart poured out to those lost and forgotten. Anger erupted at those in positions of power priding themselves on jobs well done; licking their fingers on two-dollar Chateaubriand meals, while societies children ate scraps and played in filth. I made a pact with God to lead them out of their predicament – if I survived.

It was confusing to see them playing amongst disease and torment with innocent even carefree abandonment. They talked like they were the only ones to know the truth, but to me truth didn’t mean living as outcasts in hell. But i was on the outside looking in and it didn’t matter what I or anyone else thought. Opinions only made them dig in their heels and justified their cause.

Although hardened by a lifetime of rejection, racism and prejudice, I feared catching any new disease. As I reluctantly turned away, a huge, dark shadow awoke. Fearing for my life, I banished anything that was a threat to my version of reality in favor of my Piscean world of fantasies. I cherished them as a child, missed them in my teenage years and now they came back to relieve me in my hour of need. As for my material needs, they’d be cheaper in the future, especially when I knew what I wanted and didn’t want. Until such a time I had dope to smoke.


© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –

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