Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mardi Gras and The Mind Body Connection

I met my wife, Louanne at a law school TGIF party in an Uptown bar called Brunos.  As I poured her a beer from the keg we introduced ourselves.  She said she was from Scranton, Pennsylvania.  I told her I was originally from Avon, Connecticut.  She said she knew about Avon Old Farms (my high school) because one of her mother’s piano students went there. I knew him.  We discussed how weird he was.  We started dating soon after.

During spring semester Mardi Gras rolled around the school shut down for the week.  My apartment had a balcony overlooking the parade route on St. Charles Avenue so it became a popular hang out spot.  Louanne spent the week.  We made a trip to her basement apartment she rented from the Dean of the law school.  When we got there he stood in his driveway dressed in a Soviet officer’s uniform.  We offered him a beer (everyone had beer in their backpacks that week).  He produced a flask and asked us if we wanted to “spice up” our beers.  We said yes and he poured vodka in our cans.

A month or so later one drunken night I asked her if she wanted to marry me.  She said yes.  The next day she called her parents and told them.  That sort of made things more real than I had anticipated.  We planned on getting married the summer between second and third year.

My second year in law school I lived in the same apartment.  Ed moved out and Louanne moved in.  Later that year I took out a student loan.  The debt made me anxious.  I also began to realize that I was not doing as well academically as I expected despite my efforts.  I was passing all my classes but I was still just barely in the top half of my class.  This made me anxious as well.  The reality that I would be getting married also made me anxious.  Then some woman rear-ended my car on the way to class.  She did not have insurance and I did not have collision.  I opened the trunk and then could not close it.  I shut it with a bungee chord but every time I drove over a bump the trunk flew open and slammed shut.  I felt embarrassed and angry that someone else did this to me and I had to deal with it.

One day I woke up and my throat felt constricted.  I thought it would pass but a week later it was still there.  I went to a Gastroenterologist.  He examined me with an endoscope and did not find anything wrong with me. He told me it was stress.  I did understand what he told me.  In my mind there had to be a physical cause and medical solution to my symptoms.  I went to another Gastroenterologist.  He put a tube up through my nose and down my throat attached to a computer.  I wore that device overnight.  This doctor also told me stress caused my symptoms.

The next Mardi Gras was coming up.  I worried that the symptoms would not go away before then and I would not be able to enjoy myself.  I feared I would be missing out.

My friend Al had a party in at his apartment.  We got drunk on Chevas Regal in a blue felt bag.  My throat still felt constricted but I tried to numb out the feeling with booze.  I ended up throwing up under a rug in his apartment.  I crashed at his place.  The next morning I was so hung-over Louanne and I slipped out and went home.  Al found what I had left him under the rug later in the day.

My last Gastroenterologist sent me to a cardiologist.  I sat in the waiting room.  I finally asked them if they knew I was there.  They said they overlooked me.  I went back into an examination room where a nurse shaved my chest and attached the monitoring equipment.  They found nothing wrong.  The Doctor came in.  He could tell I was exasperated.  He told me my symptoms were stress related and recommended a psychiatrist.  This time I heard the message.

I saw the psychiatrist.  When I told him my symptoms he knew right away what the problem was.  I saw him weekly for about a month and the symptoms started to go away.  This was the first time in my life I began to understand the connection between the mind and physical symptoms.

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How to Breakup With Your Girlfriend

While I lived in Washington DC I wanted to break up with my girlfriend Allison.  We had been dating for four years but the relationship had grown stale.  I felt trapped and resentful and as a result everything she did annoyed me.  This, however, was not her fault.

I felt this way because I was afflicted with three shame-based delusions.  First, I think at my core I felt that there must be something wrong with someone who loved me because I am always wrong.  Second, I thought the grass would be greener on the other side or to put it in shame-based terms, the grass on my side was less green (and deservedly so).  Third, I thought that if only I could get all my ducks in a row, move to the right place or in some other way change my circumstances things would be better and I would not feel shame.  The truth is, the shame traveled with me until I properly addressed it.  Properly addressing shame requires fully feeling the shame, which is something a shame-based person will go to great lengths to avoid.  This was not that point in my life.

I was too afraid to breakup with her for three reasons.  First, we lived together and I was not sure how to coordinate all the complications that would entail.  Second, I did not want to go through the process hurting her feelings.  Third, I feared not being able to find anyone better.  This last reason conflicts with the delusion that the grass would be greener.  But another essential feature of a shame-based mind is conflict and not being able to come to a decision.  As such half of me wanted to breakup with her and the other half was afraid to. Basically, I was spineless.  But I was spineless because I was shame-based and I was shame based because of everything that had happened to me up until this point in my life.

Allison and I had talked about marriage but I never really took it seriously.  To me, that was just something a boyfriend and girlfriend talked about after dating for a while.  Women tend to take this type of conversation more seriously, I would discover.

When I left Washington with all my stuff packed in my white 1992 Ford Escort I had a new energy.  I was embarking on a new chapter of my life just like when I moved from Connecticut to Washington.  It was a new chapter I hoped would solve all the problems of my previous chapters (again).  It did not matter anymore that I was unemployed.  I was now a law student and back on the track of life again.  Allison remained in Washington and once safely in New Orleans I could break up with her from a distance.  Not that I had this all planned in my mind but I suppose subconsciously I did.

A few weeks after arriving in New Orleans, getting settled, making new acquaintances and pretending everything was normal between us, I called Allison and broke up with her.  She was surprised.  She said, “But I thought we would get married.”  I remember how I vacillated when I broke up with my high school girlfriend (breaking up with her and reuniting over and over) and was determined not to do that this time.  I stuck to my guns.  When she said that she thought I was being weak I countered that I would be weak if I continued to stay with her.  When she said that the only reason we were broken up was that she was up in Washington and I was down in New Orleans and that she was willing to take a job in New Orleans, I said okay but things were going to be different between the two of us.  When she said that I should have done this a few years ago I said so now I’m not allowed to break up with you?  I stuck to my guns and broke up with her.

A week later she called me and told me she was pregnant.  I was pretty doubtful of this.  I told her I was not ready to be a father and implied that she should get an abortion.  At the time she worked for the White House and left on a trip to China a week or so later.  When she got back she told me she got into a car accident while in China which ended the pregnancy.  This seemed suspicious to me as well.

Over Thanksgiving my parents were in Washington so I went up and stayed at Allison’s apartment.  It was strange but we ended up sleeping together.  She came over to my sister and brother in law’s place in Dupont Circle for Thanksgiving dinner.  She told me later she felt embarrassed and my mother and sister told her that I was leading her on.

After I returned to New Orleans I met a girl, dated her for a while and proposed to her.  We invited Allison to the wedding but she declined.

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My Roommate From Hell on Capitol Hill

Once I started working for the conference I was able to move out of my sister and brother-in-law’s condo in Dupont circle.  Around that time a staffer named Kelly in my brother-in-law’s office found an apartment and was looking for a roommate.  Per his suggestion, I contacted Kelly and we arranged to meet up and get to know each other.  We met at a bar in Adams Morgan and it seemed to me like we got along pretty well.  She was kind of pretty and seemed fun and easy-going.  So we agreed to move in together.

The apartment was a dumpy two-floor, white brick town house with two bedrooms and one bathroom.  As soon as I moved in Kelly presented me with her rules about cleaning.  We were to rotate cleaning the apartment weekly.  Cleaning included vacuuming the common areas and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom.  I thought this was pushy but reasonable and being eager to please I agreed readily.  As time progressed it quickly became apparent that Kelly intended to be the dominant person in this relationship.  She criticized my cleaning and accused me a few times of not cleaning at all when in fact I did.  This reminded me of my prior roommate Collin in Burlington and made me wonder if it was worth it to clean at all.  At first I tried to keep things peaceful and I asked her if there was anything I could do to be a better roommate.  She said, “Well, you stop flooding the bathroom.”  I’m not sure what she meant by this because I was careful to clean up after myself but I realized I had made a mistake putting myself out like that.  I was such a people pleaser back then and to predators like Kelly I was an easy mark.

Kelly did not want us to use the air conditioning to save money on our electric bill even though Washington DC was ungodly hot in the summer.  I used the air conditioning in my room anyway.  I knew it pissed her off but I did not care.  Later in an argument she said she let me use my air conditioning as if she was doing me a favor.

When I first moved in she had this creepy boyfriend that reminded me of my RA freshman year.  He had some political job on Capitol Hill and my brother-in-law knew him but did not like him.  At one point Kelly told me that he had not filed a tax return in several years.  My brother in law took delight in hearing that.  He would often stay the night and I could hear them having sex from my room.  This made me uncomfortable but I never said anything.

After she broke up with her boyfriend these guys started calling and leaving messages for her.  One time I had forgotten to give her a message.  The guy called back and yelled at me saying, “Make sure you give her the message this time!”  Later I told her about it and she indicated she did not even like the guy.

She also had an asshole, judgmental friend who would stop by from time to time.  He was a slim guy with dark hair.  They would exchange snide glances with each other whenever I entered the room as if they had been discussing what a terrible roommate I had been.  They both struck me as typical Washingtonians at the time who only liked you to the extent you could do something for them.  A person without an impressive job or pedigree was looked upon with disdain.

At some point a leak developed in the ceiling.  The bathroom was on the second floor and every time either one of us took a shower water would drip through the plaster ceiling into the living room below.  The management sent someone to fix it.  He cut a hole in the ceiling and then left it that way for a few weeks.  The shower still leaked the entire time.  He eventually came back and did a half-assed job patching up the ceiling.  It still leaked every time we used the shower.

Furniture was scarce and we did not have a table and chairs to eat at.  One day I came home to find these crappy chairs and table.  At this point I was fed up with her and wrote this nasty note to her telling her that I lived there too and did not appreciate her moving furniture in without talking to me.  I later apologized to her but I’m sure she used that as evidence to all the people she complained about me to.

Around that time my college girlfriend Allison moved to DC. She visited one time and turned the air conditioning on in the living room.  I was out and Kelly came home and told her to turn it off.  Allison spent the rest of the day in my room with the air conditioning on.  Later Kelly told me Allison came over too much.  I protested that she used to bring her boyfriend over all the time and I never said anything about it but she did not seem to think that was a valid point.

One time my cousin Phil and his friend Betch came to visit.  We went out to the bars and got drunk.  I started yelling at some bums on the street, which made Betch upset.  Later on I apologized and explained that I was angry living with this bitch Kelly.  Phil said that there are always two sides to a story and I was probably doing things that bothered her.  This annoyed me but I did not say anything because part of me agreed with him. I had used her laundry detergent from time to time if I ran out.  I guess this bothered her because she filled a detergent container with bleach.  I of course used it and ruined some new clothes I had bought.

Phil and Betch stayed with me at the apartment for a couple of days.  Kelly was cordial at first but I could tell them being there annoyed her.  At the time I worked a second job at this shitty restaurant around the corner.  I gave Phil and Betch my key to the apartment and told them to be back by the time my shift was over so I could get in.  Late that night I came home and the door was locked.  I knocked a few times but Kelly either could not hear it or ignored it.  I sat on the steps in the rain and waited for Phil and Betch to get back.  I was angry because I had to go to work in the morning.  Finally a cab pulled up and they ran up apologetic.  I was pissed and did not say much to them.  They slept on the living room floor and left an apology note on the steps.  The next morning Kelly woke up and took the note.  I left after she did.  Phil and Betch were still asleep on the floor.  Later when I got home they told me Kelly and arrived home before me and they confronted her about what happened to the note.  She said she thought it was trash and picked it up.  They then asked if the note was in the garbage can and she stumbled saying that she probably put it in her briefcase or her car.  Phil and Betch told me they did not feel comfortable staying at my apartment and went to stay with my sister and brother in law.  Phil said he was wrong when he suggested my roommate problems were the fault of both of us.  Betch said that Kelly was pure evil.

Later I confronted her.  I told her living together was not working out.  I want to live in a place where my friends feel welcome.  She said she did not give a fuck about what my friends thought of her.  I told her that was pretty evident.  I then went on to say that I thought we were two different people and were just not compatible.  I remember saying that she live in a “Kelly-centric” universe.  She protested that we were not that different.  I’m not sure how that furthered her position.

Later Kelly moved out and Allison moved in.  I had been gone a couple of days and when I returned she had moved all her furniture out.  It felt so liberating and freeing to not have her around anymore even if there was even less furniture now. I saw that Kelly left her scarf in the closet.  I threw it in the trash.  Sure enough a week later she knocked on the door and asked if I had seen her scarf.  It was obvious she left it so she would have a reason to check the place out after she left.  I told her I had not see it.

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The Conference

My first day working for the Conference felt good.  It was the first time I had a “real,” full time (not temporary), office job.  It felt good to ride the metro into work wearing a suit and tie with all the other people.  I felt like I got back on the track I had fallen off after graduating from college an in the same league with my peers.

The Conference, established by the Clinton administration, was tasked with setting up a conference for the U.S. travel and tourism industry.  The attending delegates would be industry leaders including CEOs of major tourism and transportation corporations as well as state and federal legislators and other politicians. Its purpose was to establish a national tourism strategy as most other countries had rather than 50 different state level strategies.  This was important because the tourism was the second largest industry in the US after healthcare.  I joined the staff about a year before the conference took place.

They paid me $24,000 a year, which at the time seemed like a fortune.  I remember a negotiation with Pierce on the phone where he tried to negotiate a lower salary for me but then probably felt bad for me and settled at $24,000.  I had no health insurance and no taxes withheld so I had to set aside a good deal of my paycheck for quarterly filings.  So it actually ended up being a lot less than I expected.  But it was enough to move out of my sister and brother in law’s condo and live meagerly.

At first, I answered the phones and relayed messages to the upper management, consisting of just about everybody else except myself and this other guy Ted.  Later Pierce had me entering a huge volume of contact information into a mailing list database.  I guess I was not entering the information quickly enough because one morning Pierce came down and asked me to come with him to his office.  We silently rode the elevator up to his floor and went into his office.  He chewed me out for a while about not taking my job seriously enough.  I thought I had been taking it seriously and felt really humiliated.  For the next few weeks I came in the office at 5:00am, left late and worked weekends to populate this database.  Later on Pierce seemed surprised at what I had accomplished and apologized for yelling at me.  I think I might have over reacted to his criticism which, looking back on it, was probably in reaction to someone shaming him.

At some point each state department of tourism sent in recommendations as to what they wanted to happen during the conference and what they wanted the conference to accomplish.  Their recommendations were in the form of 1 to 50 page documents.  I was told to go through the documents and compile a list of the recommendations making note of the more popular ones.  I took this project by the horns and developed an Excel spreadsheet summarizing all the recommendations by state and compiling a list of the most popular.

The management seemed happy with the results and took me to a conference in Nashville at the Opryland Hotel.  I remember one meeting.  I was told the dress was casual and showed up wearing shorts and a polo shirt.  Everyone else had on a suit and tie.  I felt embarrassed but tried my best to continue on as if everything was okay.  At the meeting the subject of the Grid came up.  Pierce suggested that it be used in the materials distributed at the conference.  One man (I forget who) vehemently said, “No!”  When asked why he said, “Because I don’t think it’s credible.”  He went on to say that he could not find what the grid indicated in a specific state’s recommendations.  I remember thinking of a reason why that might be the case but did not stand up for myself.  At the end of the meeting the man turned to me and patronizing said, “I’m sorry I criticized your grid report.”  That felt humiliating.

At some point the law school in Loyola Law School in New Orleans told me that I had been accepted for the following fall.  I asked them to defer my admission one year so that I could finish my time with the Conference and they agreed.  Later I had another trip with the conference to New Orleans and checked the law school out.  I had not seriously considered attending this third tier law school but after having fun in New Orleans the idea seemed more plausible to me.

I assumed the role of the funny guy working for the Conference.  Pierce often commented that I did not say much but when I did it was always funny.  I liked having that reputation.  It did not really afford me the respect needed to be assigned serious projects.  I always felt under utilized and considered to be not all that capable.  I did not really know what I could do differently to change that, however.

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Dupont Circle

In 1994 my sister and brother in law, Eric knew I had a hard time finding work in Connecticut and invited me to live with them in their Dupont Circle condo in Washington, DC.  The said I could live with them for a short time while I looked for a job.  Once I got on my feet I would move out.  Moving from suburban Connecticut to metropolitan DC was an exciting change and brought me out of my depression.

My brother in law worked for a member of congress as a Legislative Assistant.  He used his connections to get me interviews with other Democrat Legislative Assistants for staffer positions.  I was extremely clueless about politics back then despite all my instructions from Rush Limbaugh.  I remember being in an interview and the person interviewing me asking if I was a Republican or a Democrat.  I responded that it did not make a difference to me.  He responded that it may not matter to me but to people in Washington, it does.  At the end of the interview I said, “thanks for taking time out.”  Many times I have thought about how I handled the interview and felt embarrassed.

I sent out lots of resumes to law firms and governmental organizations.  I applied to “The White House Conference on Travel and Tourism” and got an interview with this guy Pierce.  I thought the interview went well but I did not hear from him for a long time.  I sent out more resumes without much success.  One time my other sister (who also lived in DC at the time) suggested I call a small law firm where a friend of hers worked.  The attorney I spoke to told me he thought I was “a zero” but was willing to put me “on the payroll.”  He then put me on hold to talk to someone else but I could still hear him talking, working out some kind of deal with whoever he was talking to.  I felt a little humiliated about this interaction and declined the opportunity.

I spent a lot of days in my sister and brother in law’s condominium making calls, sending out resumes and feeling worthless.  My brother in law had Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary on video.  I took me a couple of days to watch the whole thing.  Having a lot of free time I explored the city.  Walking around town and meeting people in social situations I always got the impression that people only wanted to know you to the extent you could provide something for them.  I always tried to avoid the subject of “what I did for a living.”

Eventually I went to work for a temp agency doing paralegal work.  These jobs were tediously boring.  They typically involved sitting around a conference table with other temps putting binders of documents together or making sure two large binders had the exact same documents in them.  I remember one job where they assigned me to load discs of data into a database.  While the data loaded I had time to read but felt guilty doing it.

After a while I got the impression Eric thought I had been there too long and wanted me to move out.  Things began to feel a little uncomfortable.  I wanted to move out but my current income was insufficient.  As luck would have it, soon after that I called the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism to see if the opportunity still existed.  Pierce called me back and told me it did.  They offered me a job answering their phones.


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Flower Truck

Eventually I found a job doing “light industrial” work for a wholesale flower distributor in Southington, Connecticut called Nyren Brothers.  At the time I was willing to take any job just to get out of the house.  The duties involved driving a truck around the state of Connecticut delivering boxes of flowers to retail flower shops.

The first day I arrived wearing khakis and a button down shirt.  I felt overdressed and out-of-place as if the people working there were judging me thinking I was a rich kid who could not handle the work.  They assigned this Puerto Rican guy named Noel to train me.  He was a small guy in a football jersey with dark hair and a mustache.  Noel showed me a route delivering to about twenty shops. In the morning we got a list of shops that placed orders.  We would have to order the shops in the order they would fall along the route then load the truck putting the boxes for the shop we would deliver to last in first and continuing in reverse order.  That way the boxes we needed would be easy to get to. I sat next to him in the cab as he drove and took notes on how to get to each shop.  He was a nice guy and I liked him a lot.  I did not feel judged by him.

I remember getting up early in the morning before the sun rose (especially in the winter).  The headlights in my rear view mirror cast this hypnotizing glare that made me feel like I was falling asleep at the wheel.  It was only through sheer willpower that I stayed on the road.

After two weeks of riding with Noel I was put out on my own.  I loaded the truck myself and made the deliveries.  I enjoyed being out on the road by myself all day long listening to the radio. I listened to the Collin McEnroe show in the morning.  At noon I listened to Rush Limbaugh and in the afternoon I listened to All Things Considered on NPR.  I brought a lunch and ate while driving.  Noel encouraged me to stop somewhere and relax at lunchtime and that seemed like a good idea but I never did.  I took pride in my increased knowledge of the different routes in Connecticut.  I also took pride in my ability to handle a truck in the snow.

Each shop had its own personality.  Some owners were nice and some were snobbish.  There was the beautiful Swedish woman with a small shop in Suffield.  There was the run down shop in Hartford owned by an African-American guy named Jesse who we would only accept cash from.  There was a shop in West Hartford where this girl took an interest in me.  She would slip me notes when I made deliveries.  One time she stopped by Nyren Brothers before I left on my route and put a small art project under my windshield wiper with her phone number on it.  I called her but told her I had a girlfriend who at the time I thought I should be loyal to.  Looking back on it, I wish I took advantage of that opportunity.

Some of the shops were in urban areas.  I remember breaking off the side mirrors of cars because I drove the truck too close.  That happened a couple of times but I never stopped.  I feel bad about it but the job was complicated enough. One time I made a delivery to a shop in downtown Greenwich, a town famous for its wealthy residents.  This one particular shop was on a street that went downhill with diagonal parking spaces on the sides.  It was difficult to find a parking space near the shop most days but sometimes I got lucky.  On this particular day there was a spot right in front the shop.  As I pulled in, an older woman tried to pull in on my right side and my truck scraped her car.  As soon as I felt contact I stopped the truck and got out to take a look.  She was an aggressive type and immediately blamed me for the accident.  A police officer came and looked.  I remember her car was and old BMW and her bumper was held on with duct tape.  The cop seemed to take her side.  The woman was dressed to suggest that she was a rich person living in Greenwich even though her car was beat up.

The funny thing was that in this situation I felt like they all looked at me as the rough around the edges, ignorant, working class kid driving a truck.  Back at Nyren Brothers I felt like they all looked at me like an over privileged rich kid.  There was no place that I felt at home.  I always felt in the wrong place with everyone judging me negatively.  My intentions were always to avoid looking like the bad guy but I always felt like everyone looked at me that way.  My therapist would tell me later this was the energy from my parents that I bonded to as a young child.  I was wrong no matter what I did.

After a few more weeks I started working with this guy named Pokey chopping flowers in the large, refrigerated area before driving my delivery route.  Flowers arrived in boxes from Holland or Venezuela or Columbia packed in ice.  We would take them out, chop off the ends and put them in buckets of cold water with a powder called “Floral Life” to preserve them.  In the mornings the flower shops placed their orders with the sales people who then packed boxes with the flowers Pokey and I prepared.  Pokey was a talkative guy with a skin condition called Lupus that made his face red in patches.  There were these flowers that emitted a strong, sweet fragrance when chopped called tuberoses.  Pokey would always joke that you could fart all you wanted when you cut tuberoses.  I learned the names of all the different types flowers we worked with.  My cousin thought that was cool, but I thought that I really did not know anything about the flowers other than their names so it was not all that great.

Having steady work and a place to be during the day allowed my humiliation to ebb a little.  I still felt humiliation anytime someone asked me what I did for a living and avoided that subject during conversations.  My father would frequently ask me if I was going to look for a different job and that always made me feel anxious.  Underneath I felt humiliated because I was doing manual labor as a college graduate.  Further, the work did not pay me enough to move out of my parents’ house.  When I was younger I always felt like there was more time to turn things around.  I would not always be the last kid picked for the kickball team and things would work out for me eventually.  But at this point in my life I began to panic that maybe they never would.

In the truck, listening to the radio all day I was introduced to Rush Limbaugh.  I identified with what he was saying.  Conservative outrage seemed to make sense to me.  Liberals were to blame because the economy was not good enough for a college graduate to find decent work.  It was high taxes, the entitlement state and over-regulation that did not allow businesses to thrive.  This was the reason there were no good jobs for me like there were when my parents graduated from college.  Liberals and political correctness were to blame.

Almost every weekend I drove up to Boston to be with my girlfriend who was still attending college.  I got the idea in my head that I wanted to go to law school because she said that she wanted to do that.  Also, it made sense.  My father was a lawyer and I could follow in his footsteps and then he would be proud of me.  I studied for the LSATs and did well on the practice exams.  On the day of the test I had such a bad stomach ache that I winced in pain as I took the test.  When I received my scores I did not get into any of the schools that I applied to except Loyola in New Orleans where I was wait listed. I was depressed and felt hopeless but maybe the stomach-ache were my body telling me something that my mind did not want to hear.

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Hopeless in Connecticut

At the end of the summer of 1993 I moved from Burlington back to my parents’ house in Connecticut.  I do not think I seriously considered staying in Burlington.  I did not see a future there beyond working in the restaurant.  But looking back on it I think I saw Connecticut as a safe place for me.  It was safe but it was also stifling.  It was safe because looking back on it I feared failure (not making enough money to support myself) by staying in Burlington.  It was stifling because I was cut off from my friends and imprisoned by humiliation.

Soon after moving back the feeling of humiliation kicked in.  The source of the humiliation was the mental calculation I made that because I had graduated from college I should therefore have a job and be supporting myself.  At this point I had neither.  The humiliation stopped me from networking and looking because every time I did that I felt such deep shame.  I feared shame.  It felt better to hide, which was probably the reason I moved back to Connecticut and into my parents’ house in the first place.

So there I was again, feeling like the last one picked for the kickball team in elementary school. Up until this point I was on par with my peers.  I went to college like everyone else.  Once I graduated without a job I was now on the bottom of the heap.  All the success I had achieved in college socially was washed away.  I was back to being the kid everyone else picked on.  Instead of having kids picking on me in the outside world they moved into my brain and shamed me every day for the predicament I was in.

I’m not sure why I felt that moving into my parents was safe in that I still felt deep humiliation.  Perhaps I felt that I deserved to be humiliated.  This was my punishment for being me.  Since my parents instilled that feeling in me all my life maybe on some level it felt right to be humiliated in front of them.  Humiliation out in the world was too much to endure.  I remember one night feeling so anxious and depressed I was on the verge of tears and my father asking me that if I could not handle this situation how would I be able to handle real problems in life?  I know now what I needed was support and encouragement.  At that point in my life, however, it was too late.  If my parents somehow were able to give authentic support to me it would probably have only resulted in more shame, like I was taking something that did not belong to me or being offered something I did not deserve.  As it stood, in their eyes my feelings of anxiety and depression were wrong.  They were a sign that I was weak and would never be able to support myself out in the world on my own.  If my feelings are wrong, then I must be innately flawed as a person because I generated the feelings.

The days alone with my parents were so long.  I always felt like I should be doing something other than what I was doing.  In my mind, I had no right to do anything I enjoyed because I should be spending my time looking for a job.  I remember looking at the job listings in the newspaper and feeling so anxious and depressed.  There were no jobs listed that I wanted and even the ones listed required more or different experience than I possessed.  I remember calling a phone number and not being able to speak to the person on the phone because I was in tears.

My father set up an interview for me with the insurance company he worked for in Hartford.  I remember meeting with the woman in charge of the department hiring.  I felt totally unqualified for the position and that she did not take me seriously.  After not hearing back from her a few weeks after the interview I called her office to inquire.  She seemed surprised that I called.  I got the impression she did not view me as a legitimate candidate worthy of a call back.

I interviewed at this other shady company.  They offered me a position but I would have to pay for the training. I declined the position because I felt it was below me.  I then got another job through a temp agency working in an office filing these slips of paper into filing cabinets.  At about 2:00 pm high school students came in and started doing what I was doing.  I did not finish out the day because I felt this job was below me as well.  I felt like I should be doing something more important but nobody valued me.  I felt totally hopeless.

I remember getting a bad haircut at the local barber shop.  I told the barber not to cut my bangs so short but he did it anyway and acted annoyed with me for telling him what to do.  On the drive home to my parents’ house I looked in the rearview mirror at myself.  I remember yelling at the top of my lungs, “I hate living here!”  I felt completely trapped, stuck and hopeless.

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The Neo-Hippies of Burlington, Vermont Circa 1993

Lake Champlain from the Burlington wharves

Lake Champlain from the Burlington wharves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the summer of 1993 after I graduated from college I moved to Burlington, Vermont to live with my cousin who was in graduate school at UVM.  Before I moved up there I sold all my CDs at the local head shop.  I had a bunch of Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, The Who, Beatles and Grateful Dead I had been collecting since high school.  I had the notion that by selling my CDs I was saying good-bye to the old me and ushering in a new chapter of my life.  I remember driving up 91 North feeling optimistic.

My cousin had an apartment on Maple Street with this guy Collin.  They had an extra room with a mattress on the floor for me to sleep on.  Collin had one yellow tooth in the front of his mouth.  He was always making us feel like we were horrible roommates because we left dishes in the sink.  “There is no dish fairy,” he said one time.  I seem to remember him leaving dishes in the sink as well.  One time we were in another apartment with some of my cousin’s friends and Collin came over to lecture us about not leaving the light on when we were gone.  He said something about the Inuit people being displaced so that a dam could be built to supply America with power.  He was part of this neo-hippie culture prevalent in Burlington at the time.  For the most part we put up with Collin’s behavior.  I felt bad and wrong that I kept disappointing him as a roommate but looking back on it he was just an asshole.

Burlington was full of these neo-hippies who smoked pot, listened to Phish and drank “Good Beer”.  I did all that stuff too but I felt like an outsider most of the time.  I kept my hair short and I guess that made me suspect.  The apartment across the parking lot (the one Collin lectured us in) had some younger kids my cousin knew.  I think he taught a few of them.  He always wanted to go over there and get high.  There was this one guy named Raph (or something) with long hair who played guitar.  I remember being over there, sitting around listening to him play and wanting to leave but feeling awkward about it.  It felt like they would be offended with me if I got up to go.  There were so many times I sat there, completely baked wanting to leave.  Another time I was walking down the street to the barber shop.  I passed those kids in the street and said hello.  They asked where I was going so I told them.  They seemed to think it was funny that I was getting my hair cut.  Sometimes we went to parties but it was always the same scene. I always felt judged for being straight-laced by their standards. The funny thing was that I was no stranger to partying. I felt so judged by these people posing as peace-loving, free spirits.

There were some good people there too.  My cousin had some older friends that we hung out with and went swimming in this huge quarry that filled up with water.  I remember going out with my cousin and eating Gravy fries at this bar Nectars where the band Phish played before they got big.  I got a job working in this restaurant on Church Street called “The Coyote Café” and met some cool people there too.

One time my cousin left for a couple of weeks to see a few Grateful Dead concerts.  He invited me to come with him but if I did I would lose my job at the restaurant.  So I felt compelled to stay.  I remember a conversation with my father where he told me he was proud of me for not going with my cousin.  My cousin’s friend from Notre Dame named Axel visited at that time.  I remember we spent a lot of time together.  He taught me how to play some chords on a guitar I bought on Church Street.  I remember sitting in the apartment with him feeling bored and awkward when Collin would walk through the room.  I did feel like I bonded with him though.  Years later I met up with him again thinking we would be on friendly terms but he was a dick.

I remember wearing Tevas (a type of sandal) for the first time.  I felt liberated.  It was hot and I did not have to wear socks.  One time I was walking back to the apartment in torrential rain having a great time splashing in the rivers on the side of the road going down the hill.

My girlfriend from college came to visit.  I remember my cousin made fun of us for bringing a case of Rolling Rock back to the apartment because it was not “Good Beer”.  One time when I got back from work she told me about a conversation she had with my cousin.  He told her that I did not like to party (I forget the context).  This surprised her because of what it was like at college.  I guess for whatever reason I did not fit in with the neo-hippies my cousin hung around with.  Interestingly, my girlfriend grew up in Nashville, Tennessee with one of the kids in the other apartment.  Small world.

Another memory stands out from that time.  I had this beat up pair of bucks that I wore to work.  By the end of the summer they were covered in grease and crap from working in the kitchen at the restaurant.  I was going to throw them away because they looked horrible.  “But are they comfortable?” my cousin asked me.  I felt annoyed.  I did not want to answer him.  They were comfortable as a matter of fact but he was implying that I was committing some kind of moral offense by throwing away comfortable shoes simply because they looked bad.  This is part of that neo-hippie ethic.  It’s not what’s on the outside that matters, I guess is the central theme of the ethic (that and everything the white man does is horrible).  If I throw out a pair of comfortable shoes because they look bad then I am being a slave to fashion or giving into the man or societal pressure or something along those lines.  In the meantime this neo-hippie ethic was so politically correct and so judgmental.  I don’t think that was any better than the straight-laced alternative.  At the time I did not know why his question “But are they comfortable?” annoyed me so much.  I probably partially blamed myself for being annoyed with him.  The annoyed feeling was my true self talking to me.  Feelings are always right.


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