Sunday, August 30, 2009

With a lot of help from my friends...

This has been an interesting month, if one considers "interesting" to be a sort of catch-all understatement describing a sudden upheaval and reorganization of everything mundane and routine about life. It has also been a month of learning and re-learning to let go of cherished and often useful handicaps that belong to the past.

Part of letting go was learning to believe it was possible for me to actualize desires and see dreams as possibilities instead of wistful fantasies, and being reminded that part of achieving dreams, a big part of it, was the support and love of my friends. I'd still be dreaming instead of getting ready to move into the first phase of a multi-part dream that begins with me leaving Bellingham at last, if it wasn't for the cherished handful of true friends I've managed to gather together.

They remind me all this began when I became disillusioned with the larger community of people I'd known and lived with for many years. I grew up in tourist towns--Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs--places that were regularily cleansed of stagnation and festering wounds by the influx of new blood and ideas. While it's true many of those agents of change were not residents and were only there for a day, a week, maybe a few weeks a year, when you multiplied them by the thousands, you had a constant infusion of novelty, of creative and entertaining amusement.

Life in a small town like Bellingham and within an even smaller community inside it was a cultural shock for me. Although I previously lived inside a smaller community in the ultimate tourist town--Las Vegas, there was always an infusion of new energy, new immigrants, new people to integrate into our already existing community. Any gathering was certain to include people of color and different cultures, many who worked in various parts of the tourist industry. Musicians were all different from each other. Chefs in the strip hotels came from all over the world. The levels of education varied and we were as likely to dine with PhD's as we were with high school drop-outs. Everyone had their story and it was our entertainment, education, and delight to hear them all.

Of course, gossip was part of it. We all talked about the new people in the community, who they were, what they did, where they came from, who helped them immigrate, what brought them to America and especially to Las Vegas. We learned about the world and each other and it kept us from becoming too isolated, too insulated, too inbred to consider any reality but our own. We knew too many realities to obsess on just one or two.

That is why it was such a cultural shock to move to Bellingham. I was used to everything being open 24 hours instead of closing up and shutting down by 10pm. I was used to going out for dinner, a show, a drink or a hike. No one in Bellingham ever seemed to leave their homes. It was as if they were afraid to venture beyond the safety of their isolated little domains. The idea of going out for a beer or a play was so foreign to most of them I might as well have suggested a drunken brawl at the local pool hall.

And they were all so white. I have never in my life seen such a collection of white people with so little to balance out their whiteness.  Once a year at their homage to diversity they turn out in pale hordes with a couple black folks, the same black folks every year now, that help them prove how diverse they are. Or they'll talk about their college student trips to central and south America and show off a native they brought back as some sort of demented souvenir.

It was worse in the smaller community that became my cultural prison for the last couple decades. Not only was everyone white, but they were white and upper middle class with trust funds and the idea of work as something that was either good work or bad work, depending on whether you worked at a place like Squall-Mart (BAD!) or as an underpaid intern at an environmentally hip store or business (GOOD!)  I learned that those who judged you the most for your choice of employment had a steady stream of dead and dying relatives who insured they'd never ever have to work to merely survive. It's no wonder many of them were god-awful bags of meat who leeched off of and used everyone they could to avoid actually working for a living. They're the kind of people who took off to some peasant village with Grandpa's money and stuck you with their share of the massive phone bill they ran up that forced you to live on beans for the next month. They loved to talk about the whole global village concept while they were oblivious that the working class among them were the ones stuck paying the rent on that village.

It took me a few years but I finally realized no matter how much they read or traveled, they were small selfish minds in a small selfish town. They never talked about anything but each other. And those conversations were a sight to behold. Like the old improv game of Telephone, each telling of the rumor or story became infused with personal biases, unresolved issues, mean-spirited nastiness, and by the time it was let loose as fact in a community of bored and useless people, it had so little resemblance to truth that it might as well have been the well-thumbed pages of a trashy tabloid. But they swallowed it all hungrily because there was nothing else to entertain them.

I tried to escape and bought a house out in the larger pool of the city and left the small pond dwellers to feed on each other and play who's the scapegoat this week. They were too dumb to see that once you start eating each other, there's nothing left but scraps to form the pathetic dream of community. I suspect they go hungry a lot. Their only hope is the new crop of students that come in every year and they use them up and then the cycle begins again. It's sad to watch from a distance and lethal to watch from within the pit of the communal trough.

I had some very deep wounds inflicted by people who didn't realize how much their idiot games hurt others, but the final cut for me was how they interfered in and destroyed the marriages of more than one friend. They never understood my disgust at them for interfering in other people's lives to satisfy their own boredom, or their hunger to create some terrible story out of nothing just because they had so little else to amuse them. They slept with each other with as much consciousness as a dog scratching its ass. There was no love, no desire, just a simple and superficial need to escape the tedium of their lives.

People who had no business in my friends's marriages made it their business by finding nasty things to say about mostly the men, the kinds of things people divorcing say about each other and no one who is adult enough to understand ever takes seriously. But they did. It was fodder for their own issues and they didn't care who it hurt or what it destroyed. It was selfish, mean and so totally predictable when you considered the mess of their own lives. Anything that happened was turned around until it was all about them, all about their own need for constant attention.

My friends became every man who hurt them just because they were men. And the women became victims whose strength was stripped so the community vultures could have them yet another opportunity to make it all about them and not the people actually divorcing each other. They cared nothing about the people involved other than as yet another way to make it all about them. Facts, as was usual with this group, were inconvenient messes to step gingerly around and forget as was anything that didn't fit their personal world view of things. They were oh so special and everyone else didn't matter except as a means to give them what they wanted, which always seemed like a bottomless pit others were expected to fill.

So I withdrew even more and healed and pruned my friendships down to a handful of people who grew up working for a living and whose relatives left them nothing but debts. I knew I could trust them not to stab me in the back because they were too busy earning a living to engage in such games. In spite of all my years trying to find an honest person who grew up in a privileged lifestyle, I've yet to find anyone but the children of the working class who truly understood friendship. Maybe it's because we grew up with so little that friendship came to mean everything to us. To the other kind of person it's just another commodity to use and abuse to get what they want. Money and things come first and for someone like me, that was just unacceptable and wrong. I'd have to cut out my heart to live that way.

After the divorce fiascos, I began to look for a way to cut all ties to the meanest of the mean. I was also tired of Bellingham, tired of all the white people, all the predictable battles between the two religious dogmatists in town: the fundie whackos and the politically correct. I was tired of hippies whose outfits to look appropriately counterculture cost more than my rent. I was tired of meth heads who circled my house every time I went to the store or on some other errand. I was tired of the same mean people on the street, shoving their way through the grocery stores, calling into the radio shows and writing the same letters to the editor over and over again. Bellingham became an old-fashioned vinyl record that was stuck in the same groove and couldn't get out.

I began to look for another tourist town and found Birch Bay. Yes, it's small and inbred. Yes, it probably thrives on gossip and their version of the telephone games. Yes, it's a lot of retired folk and people like me who earn most of our income from the internet and don't have to go to a job and so can live just about anywhere. But it has tourists and as my friend Sally says, that's like a great big flush that washes away the stagnant shit. Those tourists introduce novelty, a new energy, color and accents to what would otherwise be just another white person's gated and isolated compound. I wanted to live there the moment I smelled the saltwater.

But the month I chose to do this, August, was my leanest month as far as pay. It was the month where I was  genuninely poor and the recession didn't help matters any nor did Cafepress's mass screwing of its shopkeepers. It has always been  the month I had to stretch a little money to go an impossibly long way. People don't buy t-shirts in August unless they get them from a street vendor in the vacation spots they're camped out in for most of the month. People don't buy presents because there's no major holidays in August that require gifts.

But dreams don't come true at convenient times. I found the house I wanted three blocks from the beach in a residential area with big trees. I couldn't afford it. I couldn't afford the deposits, the money to transfer all the utilities, the place to live until the house I wanted became open on September first. So I asked for help from my friends, the ones I kept, the ones who knew what it was like to want and not be able to afford it without help. Yes, next month I could have moved easier and the month after that easily. But the house would have been gone, the dream would have been postponed, and I'd still be living in Bellingham wishing I lived somewhere else.

And I needed to prove something to myself, the oldest child who sucks at receiving but would give away everything she owned if someone really needed it: poor people are the biggest givers. We give the largest percentage of our incomes to charity. We give our pocket change to the homeless. We feed the hungry. Without us there'd be mostly people taking from each other to satisfy their myths of entitlement. I was not disappointed. My friends came through for me in ways that far too many of the privileged class would ever understand. It's their loss to not know this side of human beings. More people like this would make a much nicer and better world.

And now it's almost time to move in. I've been packed and ready for a month. I know I'll need my friends' help in moving because I have no way to do it without them. But they will help me again because they are my friends and I'd do the same for them. We know this about each other which is why I can ask them for help. They know and I know that I will spend the next year paying them back. It will be easy to do because I'll be living in a place where paying someone back is as simple as inviting them to dinner, as simple as taking them for a walk on the beach, as simple as taking them out for a drink, as simple as giving instead of taking,and as necessary as breathing because without that return, that reciprocity, the dreams and the friendships become meaningless. I've already had enough years of those kind of friends It's time to enjoy the real human beings in my life. We've earned each other.

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