I finished* a story** last night, or rather I gave it what I felt were its [near] final edits, and I submitted it to eight different lit magazines for possible publication.
I’ve been working very slowly when it comes to my fiction. I’ll get an idea, and I’ll either steam through it and have a first draft done, or I’ll get stuck somewhere in the first draft and shelf the project. The drafts that I do get done — or at least one in particular that I’m thinking of — I put aside and am afraid to edit for one reason or another. I have a story that I might completely change the POV narration, and that I’d also like to change the format of — to something slightly more experimental (but functional) than the straight-forward layout it currently possesses/exists in.
I recently got a very nice rejection email from one magazine I appreciate, so perhaps I’ll add them as the ninth place to receive this story in its submission inbox.
*a story is never truly finished, I don’t think. I’m never done editing or changing or something.
**this story was actually something that started out, in its barest of bones, on this very blog.
I’m on a bus to Peoria from O’Hare Airport at the moment. I’m listening to Weezer’s Pinkerton, an album that meant a lot to me when I was fourteen. Like. A lot to me. Fifteen years ago.
It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any music really, and I find my aural input is mostly the yammering of podcasts and smoother voices of public radio. I also listened to the entire Song of Ice and Fire series while riding MUNI or BART or just simply walking around San Francisco. That took about a year.
My musical listening life was so comatose that I went several months without earbuds, even. Or rather, I had a pair and that thing that happens with every pair of earbuds happened — you know, when one ear stops working? Back in the day I would just cut off the unusable end from the split base and use that singular bud as a “good for city bike riding” which is not good at all — if you’re riding a bike in an urban environment, you really need your ears.
Anyway. That all seems like a lifetime ago. “A lifetime ago.” I mean, it’s overused and it’s meaning has deteriorated with every eye-rolling, gum-smacking cliche-using troll talking about god knows what — high school, fashion sense, bad relationships, being those ages you can’t vote, can’t drink, can’t rent a car — all those lifetimes we have in a lifetime.
Perhaps I should just stick with sea change. Watch my thought process on this page. It’ll happen. I’ll get there. Just follow along.
My life is very much in a sea change. This happens around my birthday (that was a week and a half ago. If you just said “Oh, happy birthday, Phil” aloud: Thank you). I’m sure everyone feels that sense of age when your number changes, when the addition and subtraction of the year of your birth and the current one we’re stuck in finally catches up to you and works (not valid to New Year’s Day babies).
But more importantly, I was 19 years and a week old when I moved to New York City. Ten years ago to the day. I spent my first weekend going out with my gay roommates to Wigstock in Tompson Square Park. The closing concert for Wigstock, at Webster Hall, was Tom Tom Club with Little Kiss opening for them. I was 19 and a week old, and I ended up having drinks with Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth in an upstairs VIP section. God knows how it happened, but it was the perfect way to begin an interesting life in a new city.
I left New York two years ago, and I was back again for my birthday up until today. I am over New York. New York was a lifetime ago. It’s loud and dirty and crowded and cramped and claustrophobic and filled with people that are having conversations too loudly because they’re self-conscious of their social worth and want you, someone they don’t know or care about, to know that they are living the most interesting life they can possibly live. They’re all having their interesting lifetimes. Look at their clothes. Look at their walk. Look at their friends. Look at their playlists.
A lifetime ago I was naive and needy. I was young and dumb. And I’ve become curmudgeonly since then, cynical and broken.
This is why I haven’t listened to music. This is why Weezer’s Pinkerton hasn’t meant anything to me in years. Sappy songs about desire and emotions and feelings (FEEELINGS!) and lyrics I love despite all that, lyrics like everything in “El Scorcho” (love as pitiable humor) or the disturbing “Across the Sea” (about a possibly inappropriate relationship with a young Asian girl) or “Pink Triangle” (in which the narrator falls unrequited for a lesbian, making him dumb, in his words).
I left New York after 10 days visiting on the 10th anniversary of having moved there, and I don’t get to go home. I’m in a flux. I’m a vagabond. I’m a transient. And now I’m on a bus to Peoria, listening to music that’s evoking some feelings of a life before even my cool life in New York, kicking it with Talking Heads band members. And, in the parlance of the Internet, I feel all the feels. My sea change has brought me back to an emotional, teenage boy. I’m frustrated all over again, and all I want to do is melt into these songs and lose my identity, my self-consciousness about my social status, in the desire and emotions of these songs, these songs that meant so much to me at fourteen and mean so much to me again fifteen years later.
I used to have a scooter. It was a Yoshi-green Honda Metropolitan. It had a 49cc motor and zoomed around the city quite well. I had a permit for a motorcycle license (required to drive the scooter), and I was going to take a course with an actual motorcycle in order to graduate to an actual license.
Then, on a Monday in March 2012, I crashed. I was on my way to work. It was about 4 pm. I had to be at work at 5 pm. I was taking the route I always took. I was 4 blocks from the restaurant at which I was a server. I have no memory of the accident. Here’s what I looked like about a week later:
According to the police report, I ran a red light and hit a bicyclist then went into a lamp post. This police report, however, is based on the bicyclist’s account alone. There were no other witnesses. The bicyclist was my age, and he gave the police officer the San Francisco Main Public Library as his residence. I cannot remember this person, and so I cannot pass any judgment on him. It as is if this person never existed to me because my memory did not retain him. However, based on some logistics of the traffic intersection at which the accident took place, and not disregarding my bias over who is more likely to run a red light at an intersection—a motored vehicle operated by a sober person who was in no rush to get to work with an hour to spare, or a bicyclist—his accounts of the accident are impossible.
The accident took place at 9th and Mission Streets.
I was heading northeast on Mission, and it was after 4pm. Ninth Street is a one-way, fairly busy street that has six lanes of traffic between 4 and 7 pm (4 lanes all other hours) heading northwest, so the cars would be coming from my right. In the weeks that followed my accident, I would occasionally stop by the intersection around this time and watch the traffic, obsessed at proving that I did not run a red light, that it would be impossible. Every time I witnessed a full line of cars waiting at the red light to cross Mission. It seems as though there are never not cars there ready to gun into the intersection.
According to the police report, I hit the back wheel of the bicycle while trying to swerve away from the bike. After hitting the bicycle, my scooter (and head) rammed into a lamp post on the northeast corner, on the Mission side. The map on the police report marked the point of impact on the far end of the intersection from the direction from which I had been coming.
According to the police report, I had somehow crossed six lanes of busy traffic in a red light and hit a bicyclist who claims he had a green light and the right of way. The bicyclist, I should note, left the scene uninjured. I, however, ended up in an ambulance and taken to San Francisco General.
I had a scooter. I don’t anymore. I don’t have a scooter because I had no idea where my scooter was after the accident. SFPD protocol is to have any vehicle involved in an accident towed and held. According to the police report, a report which took ten days to process, the officer who arrived at the scene left my scooter at the open parking lot of a motel on the corner of 9th and Mission. Apparently the officer had told me that when I was getting in the ambulance, but I do not remember. I had a concussion. I was badly concussed. It was evident to the police officer how badly concussed I was because according to the police report, I asked him what I was doing in San Francisco because “I live in New York.” At that point, I had not lived in New York for 9 months. This would’ve been evident to the officer by my San Francisco license and my California DMV-registered vehicle.
Upon receiving the police report more than ten days after the accident happened and reading that my $1400 property was left damaged and unlocked in an open parking lot in a high-crime area of the city, I went down to that particular motel and spoke with the front desk agent on duty. “I remember the accident,” he told me. “Yeah, your scooter was gone the next day. I figured you came and got it.”
Stolen. My scooter was stolen. I wanted to find the cop who had left it there and kick him in the balls. I wanted to sue the SFPD for losing my property and my main source of municipal transportation. I was raging mad, but I couldn’t do anything because the police report looked as though the accident was all my fault. “If you wanted to keep your scooter, you shouldn’t have run a red light,” I heard some imagined, prospective judge demur. I also remembered that the gentleman I bought the scooter from gave me the title and told me to put in whatever I wanted for the sale price so as to save money on taxes when I registered it. At the DMV, in line, under panic, I simply put $800 as the cost of my scooter because I wanted a believable number and to pay some taxes, but not that much. Even if I could’ve sued the police department, all records would say that I was suing them over an $800 matter.
So I was left without a scooter. I had been concussed to the point of hospitalization for the second time in my life. I had a bad knee injury that has left a permanent scar. I walked with a cane for two weeks after the accident.
And I had a ~$32,000 hospital bill.
While the SFPD failed me, the medical professionals of the City saved me. Not only was cared for and brought back to health, but at San Francisco General Hospital, I was signed up for Healthy San Francisco, a low-cost city-wide medical insurance program. Basically, socialized medicine in the City and County of San Francisco. I had to pay, at that point because of my low income, only $150 a quarter ($50 a month) for my full coverage insurance. Even though I had not been a member of Healthy San Francisco when I entered the hospital, I was told that all my bills would be retroactively taken care of. “Don’t worry about it. We’re going to take care of you,” my nurse practitioner told me.
Healthy San Francisco did take care of me. I was an official member of Healthy SF just ten days after the accident (before I even got the police report), and my original bill of ~$32,000 was reduced to just $250.
However, a year after my accident, I received a letter from the San Francisco Department of Taxes. I was past due on a bill to the San Francisco Fire Department for my ambulance ride, and it was going to be sent out to collection. The bill was ~$1,800. I was sure that everyone at the hospital guaranteed me that Healthy SF would retroactively take care of my bills, and yet here was this one that I had never seen before, even. I called and called and called the office number listed on the official letter I’d received, and no one answered. I left a message explaining that I was promised Healthy SF was supposed to take care of this, and that I couldn’t pay it.
The next week I received the same bill from the same woman at the same department, this time with a copy of the fact that it had gone into collection, and the only change to the original letter is that she hand wrote on it in white space: “You joined Healthy SF 3/22/12. Bill from 3/12/12. No Healthy SF coverage until 3/22.” She wrote this and highlighted it. The bill had gone to collection. Fuck it.
In the year between the accident and receiving this news, I had been fired from my job. The reasons I was given for being fired were falsified: “We have too many people on the books, so we have to let you go.” The truth of the matter was I was doing a shitty job. Mostly because I was depressed. I was depressed because I had left New York to focus on writing and to escape the rut of working in restaurants. I was depressed because here I was working at a restaurant again. I was also depressed because in the months that followed the accident, I lost two people very important to me, both of whom we’re only 32 years old. I was, however, seeing a therapist starting about a month before I was fired. Still, I was fired, and my boss tried to do so genially and with clandestine reasons.
My boss told me I could stick around until I find a new job. “You choose your final day.” I was kind of pissed, so I chose that very day we had the conversation to be my final day. The next morning, I filed for unemployment.
The unemployment process was arduous. At first, I was denied, being told by a government official over the phone that my boss had reported that I had quit. When I explained to her the facts of the case, she still chose to deny me. I appealed. It went to court in January, and an Administrative Law Judge ruled in my favor, citing that my boss had ended employment and that his proclamation of “you choose your final day” is, by definition, an official letting go, and that I, in choosing to leave, was still fired and did not quit. I had been fired October 18th. I had gone several months without any income at all despite my greatest efforts at finding employment.
In the time between being fired and finally collecting unemployment, I had gone through my savings. I had had very little in the first place, and then I had none. I was borrowing money from my father, who I was also living with (and am still living with). Once the unemployment starting coming in, however, I was able to live all right. I was not getting much—if I were to have to pay rent, I would’ve been screwed—but enough to keep me fed and well-read.
And then my unemployment ran out. I was not allowed any more until I went to a job-interview-resume-writing-how-to-succeed-in-business training session. I did this, and still my unemployment did not return. It was a month without any income again, and I went down to broke, especially as I had just started a summer program at Berkeley that I needed to buy books for, and that I racked up a hell of a transportation debt riding the BART to-and-fro a few times a week for six weeks.
I was finally re-upped, but the social aspects of the summer program were more expensive than anything else, and, also at this time, my therapist had to start charging me as my free sessions through Healthy SF had run out. One of his checks overdrew my account and Chase, being the evil that they are, charged me $150 fee for that.
At one point during this period I was spending so much time in Berkeley, the woman who had so rudely written that Healthy SF would not cover me for the ambulance ride called me while I was riding BART home, and she asked me what I was going to do about the bill. After I explained to her that she was rude and awful, I told her that I could not afford it and that Healthy SF should have covered it. Since she already rejected this idea, I told her, “It’s a medical bill. It won’t affect my credit nearly as badly as if I didn’t pay a credit card or a mortgage. You already sent it out to collection. What am I supposed to do?” She told me to come into the office, and that we’d set up a pay plan.
Ultimately, I discovered that I could apply to the San Francisco Fire Department for leniency due to financial hardship (legitimate excuse), and when a woman from the Tax Department called again, I told her I had done this and she was audibly angry at me for doing so. And this morning, I received a text message from my old boss, the one who had fired me, asking me how I was doing and, basically, if we can be friends again.
I’m writing this whole thing out for several reasons. One is definitely because that text message I got this morning. That boss was supposed to pay me for time off when I was injured after the accident and he never did. He lied to me to try to fire me but stay friendly and eschewed any actual issues which is just poor management. He fought my unemployment when he knew I’d deserved it. The whole of 2012 was just kind of a raw deal, and I wanted to capture that before I forgot it all.
But I’m also writing out of annoyance and anger. The system sucks. Cops suck. Taxes suck. Money sucks. Accidents suck. Bills suck. I saw this on Facebook earlier today:
I saw this after I got that text message from my old boss. I don’t know. I’m not still mad at him. I’m not still mad at the cop that left my scooter to get stolen. I’m not still mad the woman at the Tax Department that doesn’t answer her phone and instead sends me rude letters. I’m not mad at San Francisco anymore. I’m not mad at my friends for dying anymore. I am still mad at Chase for charging me a $150 overdraft fee, though.
And I’m mad that I don’t have a scooter anymore.