Sunday, September 29, 2013

Elixer of Death

You know somebody's having one of those days when he blurts out “God, I need a shot of dope!” the moment you inform him that it isn't Sunday but in fact Saturday. The building's black market bicycle dealership paid a surprise visit to my floor yesterday morning, sniffing coffee through my cracked-open door and asking me if I had any to spare; I didn't have much but I gave him a the rest of the Folgers® I found by the side of the freeway offramp the day before.

As funny as that sounded at the time — or scandalous, if you're not inclined toward morbid humor — substance abuse is rampant in subsidized housing. Just a couple weeks ago someone on the fourth floor overdosed on either some kind of barbiturate or benzodiazepine, possibly taken with alcohol. So far as I know, since I moved in here a little over four years ago we've had three deaths by overdose and two from health complications directly caused by substance abuse: just months after I settled in Thunder Dan on the fourth floor died from an overdose on the fourth floor, I don't know of what but it was rumored to be meth; about a year-and-a-half after that I found myself offering a lady police officer a bandana sprayed with lavender essence to keep her from vomiting all over the coroner examining the remains of one BCK, who had overdosed on alcohol and pills and was melting into his mattress (I'm the one who discovered and reported the unmistakable stench of death wafting out from behind his door); and, not long after that some poor guy who had just moved in a few weeks before and was trying to kick his habit was found dead from an overdose in one of the common bathrooms on the third floor. I've lived through six deaths, which averages to about one-and-a-half per year, five of them resulting from alcohol and/or drug abuse; over eighty percent.

It's pretty damn sad, when you stop chortling over the gallow's humor aspect of it and look at the stark situation with open-hearted honesty. I wish Zyklon B on the assholes in our society who self-righteously revile substance abuse and its terrible effects on people's lives; people who treat a tragic and insidiously ubiquitous reality like it's someone jocky boxing in a parking lot. News flash: for every dope fiend sleeping in a doorway there's a score of "respectable" members of society drinking themselves down the drain or gobbling prescription drugs like honey-roasted peanuts, putting the lie to the lingering misconception that substance abuse is chiefly the domain of the hopeless lumpenproletariat. I personally struggle with alcohol dependence, and I can tell you — just like any other honest addict, be they abusing needles and pills, lines, or nickels and dimes and wines — that I'd love to go back in time, even if it meant becoming an unrecognizably different person, for the chance to have made a few decisions differently and to not have this damn crow perched on my shoulder barking into my ear.

What started out as being funny ended on a bleakly personal note, and frankly it's cast a pall of gloom over my day that paints the rain-swollen heaven outside my window a balmy July noon in comparison. I don't want to go out like those guys; there's better ways to die than slumped over a toilet with a needle in your arm or melting into your floor next to a half-empty bottle of vodka.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Smooth Jazz Sunday

Silence reigns all throughout the building except for the occasional stereo being played; I'm listening to jazz on the local station now, the kind of smooth stuff that perfectly accompanies a soft rain and twilight's descent into night. Fall has arrived with all the subtlety of Napoleon: overnight the daytime temperatures dropped to delightful sixties and seventies and the clouds rolled in and occluded that frightful blistering orb and washed the air and the streets clean; soon it will wash the raucous revelers back home early on the weekends and scare the migrant Road Warrior population down to California. (Road Warriors are the packs of “punk rock” kids who travel up and down the I-5 corridor with their dogs; burdening local social services and leaving nothing but garbage, disrespect, and an aversion to honest living in their wake.)

It wasn't always so silent, at least not on my floor. A couple days in a row I decided to allow my resolve to become responsible to waver and ended up inviting assorted neighbors over to my place to drink. Yeah, the room with the nice carpet that everyone seems eager to put cigarettes out on! That's the thing about alcohol, it causes inhibitions to relax while also impairing judgment; that's why there's such an appalling recidivism to drinking and driving, because the best of intentions evaporate after a few drinks and the car keys have been wrestled out of a friend's hands again. (I'm lucky I don't live on the third floor anymore, because up there residents love to complain about noise, and three noise violations within a year can result in an eviction; here on the second floor neighbors either directly confront each other whenever there's some kind of problem or just gripe about it in gossip.) Hell, Mr. Brownsville from the fourth floor almost broke my computer by falling on what I use as a computer desk! Needless to say, he had to leave right then. It's just amazing to me how slipshod many of the drinkers here are. I very seldom get drunk enough to slur significantly or to fall down; I probably learned my lesson when I popped a bone out of my right hand trying to catch myself falling when really drunk three years ago, resulting in reconstructive surgery that has left my right index and middle fingers noticeably weaker and will no doubt hurt like hell as arthritis sets in over the coming years. Maybe I'm just burned out and only drink when I'm bored and want company I can't suffer with any grace except by being intoxicated. Either way, alcohol is ebbing out of my life even without me actively pursuing any form of treatment, and I'm glad because it's a really dirty and destructive high that wreaks havoc on the human body.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Insects: Good and Bad

I managed to dodge a second spraying of my room by pest control today. A friendly representative of Cross Pest control visits us every third Wednesday to bait and spray assorted infested rooms in the building, also the shared kitchens and bathrooms.

Such a rigorous schedule is absolutely necessary to prevent a six-legged tide from rising up past our ankles. That's because many of the people who live in subsidized housing are either severely mentally ill and tend to hoard anything from clothing picked up off the street to teetering cliffs of food-encrusted Hungry Man® trays, or are just complete slobs whose hygiene hails directly from that practiced by Kublai Khan's feared legions. We are waging a war on three fronts: against cockroaches, bed bugs, and fruit flies. I remember my first summer here, before pest control started regularly baiting the common areas, when cockroaches would occasionally drop off the suspended ceiling in the kitchen — once on me! The cockroach situation is much-improved, but the bed bugs have swelled in ranks enough for me to occasionally spot one clinging to one of the community bathroom walls, and because we don't have a garbage chute there's always a small swarm of fruit flies hovering around the trash cans and recycling bins in the common kitchen — not to mention spilling out of rooms inhabited by the more slovenly alcoholics.

My room had been sprayed for bed bugs last month because when the janitor hauled my mattress out of the basement for me to clean with Urine Off® I found a couple of them on it. No, no one peed my bed, but a few days before a guest had managed to spew all over the side of it (also breaking my nice wood TV tray), whereupon in a fury I tossed my entire bed out into the kitchen to be taken away. Well, I changed my mind, because even with a nice thick carpet the floor isn't nearly as comfortable for me to sleep on as it would have been twenty years ago. That bed bug spray reeks; for days I would wake up feeling like I was in a Raid® commercial. I ended up blasting the bottom of my mattress (I didn't retrieve the frame or box spring) and the edges of my floor and baseboards with some LA's Totally Awesome to wash out the malodorous insecticide, and today I'm pleased to only catch a faint whiff of the stuff when inspecting the bottom of my mattress for bed bugs; which I do once a week to be safe. I've caught a couple hitch-hikers since I've lived here, so I'm very picky about who is allowed in my room. I'm pretty sure the two I'd spotted a month ago came from the basement, because that's a depot for all the junk left behind in rooms when people leave (usually evicted or dead) until a dumpster is called and everything is hauled out en masse.

Not all insects that invade homes are pests, however. I made the mistake of pointing out to a couple neighbors the spider I found tucked away in a corner of one of the kitchen windows. A guys who lives next door started freaking out, muttering about how he didn't want it to sneak into his room and bite him; I'm pretty sure he's the reason why the little critter's gone now ... Like a spider is going to go out of its way to bite someone on the ass in the middle of the night when its web is positioned right above the garbage cans in the kitchen, where the fruit flies hang out and breed! It was just one of those small banded spiders you see all over the place, spinning webs on porches and around windows and door frames patiently waiting for it's next meal. Seriously, I get a little spooked by spiders, too — thanks to growing up with an arachnophobic aunt — but I also find them fascinating and beautiful, and welcome them in my home whenever I see them because they're not only fascinating to watch but are out to eat the bugs I don't want around. While I've heard repeated rumors of brown recluse bites by homeless people, the only poisonous spider I know of in the Pacific Northwest is the hobo spider.

But, really, for the most part spiders are about as aggressive and dangerous as bees; don't mess with them and they won't mess with you, and they'll even eat help cut down on disease-carrying insects that are a real health threat.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Class-Driven Insomnia

Woke up at 3:00 AM to the sound of a gaggle of slumming suburbanites loitering outside The Roxy next door; guys swaggering and girls skanking like they were posturing for a Maxim photo op, blaring inane trivialities at each other at at least fifteen decibels louder than necessary for people a few feet away to hear. Typical late-night Roxy patrons: freaks from Portland's “alternative lifestyle” scene, bedecked fashionably in flamboyant sexuality and hentai-club clown gear, mingling with suburbanite Forever 21 whores escorted by their thuggish Eminem look-alikes with their pants down around their ankles and paleolithic vocabularies — more than half of them under the influence of something. The sort of shit-kicking imbeciles who think they're “being Portland” when forking over $8 for a burger that tastes like coast guard rations accompanied by fries the flavor and texture of talcum powder; food that can soak up a third of a bottle of Tabasco™ and a quarter of a bottle of ketchup and still not register on the palate.

The owners of that benighted greasy spoon make no effort to rein in their patrons. Not only that, but though our city has laudably strict noise laws, the cops won't show up even if multiple local residents call in to complain; but if any of the aggrieved were to go outside and confront the malefactors a fight invariably ensues and within minutes those sworn to serve and protect will be stuffing people in the back of their cars, of course not those who caused the altercation in the first place.

While The Roxy patrons are the worst by far, Stark Street is an night-life arterial of cacophony, emanating from Yuppies and prom queens leaving Jake's, middle-aged career burn-outs suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome disgorged from the Crystal Ballroom's '80s dance night, and obnoxious faeries and queens preening themselves at Scandals, the gay bar a couple doors down, who seem to think embracing a self-absorbed in-your-face “culture” is the path to societal acceptance. Just to name a few. Then, after tipplers have been kicked out of the bars and trailer-park gastronomes are finished stuffing their guts full of self-loathing at The Roxy, street sweepers and trash trucks trundle, wheeze, screech, and clang down the street in a diesel parade until between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM on some days! Not to mention random occasions of tweakers and crack heads beckoning their dealers in the nearby roach hotels, street couples engaging in Jerry Springer relationship therapy, and nutters bellowing out their Tourette epiphanies. To summarize, it sucks living downtown; there's nothing that can be done about it, except maybe to close all windows, wear rifle-range ear protection, and bury oneself three feet deep in comforters — and hope to survive suffocation and heat stroke.

In all honesty, it's not like this every day, but often enough to frustrate a healthy sleep routine; especially during summer when it's 60°F at 3:00 AM and it doesn't rain for weeks at a time. As it cools down and the rain returns people will drink inside or at home and not care much for bundling up beneath umbrellas, and we locals can close our windows without waking up in a toaster oven that smells like the bottom of a laundry basket.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crotch Pot Cooking

It was damn hot today — officially 95°F but I think more like 97°F in my building. Made worse by there being no appreciable air movement, which is almost always the case downtown when the mercury climbs past 90°F. Even now, at 11:30 PM I'm not feeling any of the usual nighttime air movement. I'm going to be up until 3:00 AM, most likely, because unlike any self-respecting Spaniard I can't seem to siesta in the heat. Not only that, but on an alcohol-fueled whim I sold my fan last night. I've suffered through four summers here without air conditioning, and I've had enough; I'm determined to install one before next summer. The thermometer on the wall next to my computer reads 79°F; these old buildings aren't insulated at all, really, and when you have over twenty people living on a floor you almost have to be a reptile to live comfortably here for three to four months out of the year; in the four years I've lived here I can count on one hand the number of times I've had my window shut all the way or my ceiling fan turned off, and not once — even during winter — have I ever turned on the radiator. I'm living in a Matrix power plant.