A cat owns us. I will refer to him here as “Owner,” because people can’t pronounce his name when I write it, and anyway it doesn’t matter for this. I am owned by him, and he also owns Anitra “The Other Pillow” Freeman. Last week he gave us a scare by getting himself lost, and I was reminded of a lot of issues I have with existence.
Existence sucks in many ways, and I feel it is a major part of my purpose in life to whine about all those ways as long as I am able.
On the day Owner got lost, I had a lot of garbage to take out. When I got done ferrying out three loads of garbage, I had dishes to do. I could hear Owner complaining while I did the dishes. I said, “Hang on, be there in just a minute” and then he stopped complaining.
What I didn’t know at that point was that he was complaining because he had slipped out of the apartment the last time I came back from the dumpsters, and was trying to get back in. And I quit hearing him complaining because, for some reason, a neighbor decided he should be grabbed from the hall and spirited outside.
All I knew at the time was when I went to check on the complainer, he wasn’t there.
This brings up my No.1 issue with existence. Grief happens. Loss happens. We were fortunate this time. Three days later, another neighbor, who had seen posters we’d plastered up and down our building, spotted our Owner near the building and told us about it. We got him back inside and all three of us were overjoyed.
But it was a reminder that it doesn’t always go that way, and there is a world of hurt when you lose someone and don’t find them again. It’s something I don’t think I’ve brought up enough when talking about homelessness.
Probably most people who end up being homeless haven’t just lost a secure indoor place to live; they’ve also lost connections. So they’re not only dealing with the hardships of living outdoors or in emergency shelters — they’re also coping with grief.
For me, the worst time being homeless was in 1984 on the heels of a separation and divorce. Losing the physical house was not the worst source of grief. It was just a symbol of it.
It turns out Owner is a lousy hunter. There was no evidence that he had anything to eat during his three days outside in spite of all the sparrows and rodents around here. He was found dehydrated enough that the veterinarian wanted to pump liquids into him. I’m sure if he’d eaten a mouse or a sparrow he wouldn’t have been so parched. I think mice and sparrows qualify as “wet food.”
When I was homeless in 1984, I had a job. I was a cab driver. Being a cab driver is a lot like trying to catch mice. If you don’t get passengers, you don’t make any money, and you can starve. Dealing with sleeplessness from having no place to live, and dealing with emotional grief on top of that, made me the human cab-driving equivalent of a lousy mouser.
In one month I estimated I dropped 25 pounds. I based that on the added number of belt notches I had to pull my belt past to keep the pants up. Whole days went by without making enough money to buy anything on the dollar menu. In fact, there were days when I lost money. I was like the scrawny cheetah in the nature documentary that runs after the gazelle but doesn’t catch him, and David Attenborough tells you that the energy spent in an unsuccessful chase will only make the cheetah hungrier than ever.
I know what people say. Just forget about it. It’s the past. This is now. Well, I don’t forget anything. I will complain about every bad thing that ever happened to me until I’m dead. And right now I’m going to tell you, I do not like death, it sucks and I’m complaining about that loss in advance.
In fact, my biggest complaint about the world is all these people telling me to stop complaining. Complaining keeps me going. Complaining colors my otherwise dull black-and-white life and my memories with fine reds and purples and blues, and the more memories I have, good and bad, the more of me I feel I’ve been.
I recommend complaining to everyone.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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