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Homeless 0-29: Paperwork

Say what you will about the greatest works of man, not one history ever mentioned the paperwork involved. Leonardo’s great struggle requisitioning the marble for his David sculpture or Columbus’ great inventory innovations, history doesn’t care. Though history, I suspect, was always written on the back of paperwork, and not the other way around.

As the search narrows, paper appears: applications, tenancy forms, hazardous building materials warnings, credit checks, recommendation letters. Most of this blessedly occurs electronically now, but the crinkle and clutter persists. So much to specify, so very little to actually state. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-30: Third Thoughts

Sleepless nights have never been strangers in my bedroom. I was every bit as sleepless as a child as I’ve proven to be as an adult. I often wake at two or three, then lay there staring at the inside of my eyelids, channeling some idea or feeling; rarely fretting. Sleep never refreshes me the way these long, isolated, early morning reveries seem to.

These days fill up with notions, first thoughts. These usually swarm around me, most prominently when I’m taking my quick, cold morning shower. Many of these turn into some piece of writing, a poem or short piece like this one. They simply appear, a few of them catch, carrying some clever twist or pleasing sound. Later, I’ll add an extra room, perhaps landscape their exterior a bit, and call them done, but I rarely second-guess those first thoughts. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-31: Thunk!

Few sounds come close to resonating the way the good, solid Thunk! of hitting a bull’s eye does. For some, this sound means that they’re skilled. For the rest of us, merely lucky. Might not matter which, the satisfaction’s the same.

Any search means you don’t know yet, until, suddenly, you do. Or you finally think you do. Then every complication shrinks, barricades evaporate, and self esteem, whether fairly earned or not, soars. Inside the bull’s eye, feeling clever becomes the same as actually being clever.

We might have hit the lotto yesterday. In the grand game of chance, sometimes I find myself holding the right number in the right place at the right time. I can, as a result, recommend no strategy beyond sychronicity, which can’t be rigged, outsmarted, or cleverly planned for. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-32: Creaking Floorboards

The landlord was late. I knocked on the door and waited in that self-conscious way I have, feeling like I was trespassing. I might have the wrong address, it’s happened before. I double, then triple check, then mosey around back for a look-see. Plastic-wrapped couch. Cracked concrete parking pad. Low cyclone fence, painted black.

A car came zooming down the alley then, and the landlord emerged, apologizing, reaching to shake my hand. The actual walk through didn’t take more than five minutes. Moving detritus everywhere. A kitchen crudely made-over, designed to look great in a photograph, laid out like a galley, a frozen encumbrance to navigation in practice. What might have once been a dining room transformed into a nook. What must have once been a living room, cut up into a way too small dining room and an equally too small living room.

A twisting stairway, two turns bottom to top, every stair screaming with every footfall. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-33: Face to Face

Prospective landlords were out of town, so we drove by a couple of places and stopped in on a housewarming convened by one of Amy’s co-workers. I’d met this co-worker last week in Colorado, and we’d had a vigorous chat about her new neighborhood. Or ‘hood, as she referred to it. Her and her husband have just bought a place in Brookland, a neighborhood between our current Takoma Park and Downtown; closer in.

We’d looked at a place just around the corner from their new place when we were first searching for a home here three and a half years ago. That place had been decked out as college quarters, with huge rooms connected by remarkably narrow passages. Its most prominent feature, a spiral staircase to the second floor. The place also had a third floor, so moving anything larger than a toaster would require removing windows and winching, like they do in Amsterdam.

No, thanks. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-34: Roam, Roam On The Range

We are roaming now. Having rejected several possibilities, we’re feeling increasingly untethered. The landlord’s dropping by with a realtor Tuesday morning to come up with a price for this place. Our realtor friend provided a cocktail napkin estimate, something greater than my lifetime earnings so far, and any possibility that we might buy this place and avoid the unrooting evaporated. The latest postings’ landlords all seem to be out of town, so we’re hanging with thirty four days until launch date.

Yesterday, we drove our rented rig North into Pennsylvania to buy our canning tomatoes. There and back, we passed through a few dozen alternate universes. Shady suburban subdivisions. Rolling Maryland horse farms. Ancient, stone-foundation barns. Small towns. Small cities. Sprawl. Backroads. Freeways. Feeling homeless all the way there and back again, mentally trying on each changing venue, not knowing where we might belong. Roaming. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-35: Loose Beginnings

I might be over it, though I know I’m not. Leaving leaves loose ends. Beginnings seem equally ragged.

I read a lot of novels, most of which feature tidy endings, resolving all mysteries. There, now I know that it WAS the freaking butler all along. The story might be a roller coaster ride, but with a clean finish. Real life feels messier. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-36: Possibilities

Woke up this morning smack dab in the middle of a brand new net of possibilities. Sure, I inhabited one yesterday, too, and also the day before that, but those seemed less populated than the one I woke into this morning.

I could stride through life if only I could sense such a rich network of possibilities every morning. My myopia might be my own worst enemy, because there’s no practical reason that I shouldn’t and couldn’t continuously renew my sense of possibility, except that I seem to have unlearned how to do it. Perhaps I outgrew this once familiar sense. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-37: Cat's Feet

I’m proud to say that I’m a cat person. Amy, too.

We live in dog town, USA.

We watch as neighbors’ dogs drag their owners around regardless of the weather, pooping in appreciation, I guess, and indifferently leaving the mess for their owners to snag.

Dogs grow up to be eternal adolescents after an overlong babyhood. By which I mean they never seem to really grow up.

Also, chuck your typical dog. Will it land on its feet? It’s as likely to land on its head!

Being cat people, we seem to land on our feet. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-38: Prospecting

At a picnic last night, a friend demonstrated how to pan for gold. He explained how to quickly determine likely spots, sieve and winnow, and, finally, how to pan. This is one meticulous process, apt to bore anyone to death before paying off. The flecks produced in a day might sell for to a thousand bucks, but you’ll earn every penny the tedious way.

I’m impressed by the difference between the myth of prospecting and the actual practice of it. The myth insists that dedication produces results. The actual practice requires more brains than brawn. Learning how to quickly determine likely spots is worth immeasurable effort; an ounce of technique seems worth more than a pound of gold.

These same principles might hold true for any sort of prospecting. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-39: Homesteading

I’m supposing our search for new digs qualifies as a kind of homesteading. The wilderness we’re crossing might be more in our heads than beneath our boots, but we’re still wandering through unknown territory, imagining a home somewhere out there.

I wonder how my ancestors reacted when after months of the most tedious traveling, they stood on the Western edge of the Blue Mountains to survey the Columbia River snaking even further Westward through bare scablands, with snow-capped peaks standing between them and the fabled Willamette Valley, the so-called Eden at the end of the Oregon Trail. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-40: The You'll

I feel the tension, the opposing forces. One standing to preserve the status quo and the other pushing to undermine it.

I know too well my tacit, standing-order, status-quo-preserving force. It’s passive and surprisingly aggressive, an immovable boulder straddling the middle of the road. The pushy force seems small but wily; Kokopelli—part fertility, part trickster. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-41: Sweet Breezes

I have no idea where I’ll be forty one days from now. I suppose it’s past time that I really should be lighting my hair on fire and running in manic circles. I’m reconnecting instead.

I have no freaking clue how I became so fortunate to be exactly where I am today. Sweet summer breezes envelope my present, soften my past, and ennoble my immediate future. It’s my birthday and I’m in no hurry to achieve any future or abandon any past. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-42: Home of Cards

I met Amy almost fifteen years ago in the breakfast room of The Nordic Inn, where we are staying this weekend, here in Mt Crested Butte, Colorado. She was building a house of cards.

Her team was chasing the clock to complete an eight foot tall house of cards. She, the shortest team member, was balancing on a chair, placing cards on the teetering top of the structure, when another of her team members asked me, one of the workshop facilitators, if he could borrow my measuring stick to determine how close they were to finished.

That’s when her team discovered that they were trying to build an eight foot tall house of cards in a room with a seven foot ten inch high ceiling.

How did they respond? Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-43: Booster Shot

Suspending the search for a new home to work out of town for a week seemed like a really bad idea, finding a new home-wise, especially since the deadline clock wouldn’t be stopped for the time out. This morning, ensconced in a robber baron’s hotel in the high Rockies, the bad idea seems as if it couldn’t have been more prescient. We needed a break from our 24/7 frantic focus on finding. Filling the divot can wait.

I feel my energy cohering here and I haven’t dipped a toe into the World-famous mineral springs. The sweet mid-seventies breezes fresh from my childhood seem to be reviving my immune system as if I’d gotten a booster shot for optimism. The dry air evaporates way-too-long-believed-in impossibilities. My perspective’s widening now that I’m out of those endlessly narrow, hazy hills in the East. I’ve never worn cowboy boots, but I’m for sure a Westerner, and even a temporary transplant here energizes me—tree-mendously. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-44: Home Away From Home

I might feel most at home when I’m away from home, getting by with my small cache of carefully-selected possessions, making do without my library, kitchen, and comfortable routine. I could be more present when I’m gone than I ever can be when I’m home.

I find more comfort knowing that my stuff is there than I feel when I’m sitting in the middle of it. I can only wear one pair of shoes, read one book, sit in one chair at any one time. My other shoes, books, and chairs become tacit possessions then, and I their absentee owner. Slip over here for more ...


Homeless 0-45: The Nose

I flashed back on a familiar feeling as I buckled myself into the flight to Colorado yesterday morning. I’ve traveled in my life. I know how to be away from home. I pride myself on my adaptability. I can find decent bread, drinkable decaf, and a respectable supper within an hour of landing anywhere. You see, I have The Nose. Slip over here for more ...

Homeless 0-46: Identity Functioning

I’m almost certain I understand what’s happening. Lost home equals lost identity. Just who am I now? And who the heck will I end up being on the other side?

It’s an identity crisis. A crisis because loss of identity shakes foundations, bringing all those comfortably dozing conundrums screaming to the surface. It’s a loss of identity because we humans are deeply influenced by the context within which we live; lose the context and self seems to slip away.

This process might be healthy, like pruning a bloomed-out rose bush. For a while, the bush doesn’t look nearly as rosy. But the trim encourages new growth, producing more blooms Slip over here for more ...


Homeless-0-47: Shock and Aaaah

We became homeless a month ago, when the landlords called from The Hague to say that they were selling the house. Reluctantly. We, in turn, reluctantly accepted the news. We were in shock, I’m surprised we could even muster a decent reluctance. But we did.

The law says that after five years renting out what was once a primary residence, the status of a property shifts from owner-occupied to commercial holding, and valued at the current fair market price for capital gains taxes. Some government employees stationed overseas get a pass. Our landlords don’t, because they’re ex-pats for a private company.

Unfortunate. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Thirty -Connected

We’d been living in this small town surrounded by the megalopolis for three years when the disappearing car forced us onto the sidewalks. This first felt like an imposition, as if we’d lost something important, but we’re adapting. I hadn’t suspected how disconnecting that car had become. I could disappear into it and reappear somewhere else, do my business there, then disappear into it again. Now, we have to walk a block or two before disappearing into any vehicle, and we often just choose to walk all the way rather than use any available worm hole. Slip over here for more ...

Carless -Day Twenty Nine -Patience

The myth of modern times insists that we’re all rushed. We have no time. We’re in a hurry to get there, anxious to leave, and pushy returning. We’re constantly behind schedule, running late; always, always, always running.

Because this feels like a competition, we speed compulsively as if we’ll lose something if we don’t. We’re so focused upon the future we zoom right past the present, showing up late for our own funerals.

Subtract one car from this calculus and a startlingly different world emerges. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Eight -Mastery

I can always tell when I’m in the presence of a master because he only requires three tries to put something together right the first time. Then, he’ll find some invisible fault and propose an improvement that will force him to have to put it back together three more times. Then he’ll find a perfection I can’t even sense, but do appreciate.

The necessity of seeking help from masters probably qualifies as the very greatest benefit of my mechanical klutziness. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Seven -Fishin' See?

I’m sure the notice on the bike shop’s website said they’d be open on Wednesday. I remembered the owner explaining to another customer last time I was there that he was heading out to one of the canal trails for a few days. Somehow, I’d imprinted that he’d be open after ten on Wednesday, so I grabbed the bike wheel and brake hub parts and started hiking.

I passed right by the bike shop just around the corner because they specialize in futuristic electric bikes. They’d seen my antique before and given the kind of advice that convinced me that they didn’t have a clue about mid-century classic wheels. They’d had their chance, so I kept walking until I came to the classic bike shop and found the sign saying they’d be open again on Thursday. Dang!

I try to be careful now, but I seem to be programmed to be car-full, instead. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Six -Gridlock

Traffic was terrible this morning. I know this not from personal experience, but from the frequent updates on WAMU. Traffic conditions get reported every twenty minutes starting at five AM, not ending until ten unless traffic’s particularly bad, in which case these reports might continue all day. Afternoon commute reporting starts at four and extends until eight, depending.

I swear they could (and might) just re-run a tape of yesterday’s traffic, and the reporting would be mostly correct. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Five -Side Effects

I’ve gotten better at taking apart mechanical things. Partly because Amy bought me some wrenches I thought at the time were completely unnecessary because I already owned a needle-nosed vice grip, a crescent wrench, and both a phillips and a flathead screw driver. I appreciate now that some mechanicals disassemble better when using specialized tools, though I’ll never understand torque wrenches.

My new bearings arrived, brand new fifty year-old parts. Now comes the greater challenge: reassembly. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Four -Judgement Day

Half a block from our temporary home, after a long afternoon searching for a replacement place, a car blocked the street. I pulled our rental car to the curb, explaining to Amy that I’d go see what I might do to help. I’m nobody’s mechanic, but I could hear the knocking arrhythmia and see dismayed looks of the Sunday-suited people inside.

The driver spoke a broken, mumbling dialect I could barely understand. I think he was trying to get the engine to settle down before he tried to move the vehicle, but it was coughing and bucking. When he engaged the transmission, the engine died. After motioning another car around this beached whale, I suggested that he should coast the car to the curb because it didn’t seem like it was going to be going anywhere. It was busted. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twenty Three -Skidoo

Inner-city car rental agencies are the opposite of their airport counterparts. The Grand Poobah status every frequent flier carries holds no sway here. Everyone must stand in the same long line while form after form gets painstakingly filled out, printed, reviewed, fixed, re-reviewed, then signed; but only after a guided tour around the car twice to note any dents, wrinkles, or scratches. And even then, I had to remind the agent that she might want to leave the keys with us instead of carrying them back inside the clip joint. Slip over here for more ...

Carless- Day Twenty Two -Sweat Equity

The air conditioning system in Amy’s retired car had gone funky. Only so much musty moisture can pump through any system before it becomes rank itself, pushing out stinky arid air. I kept it turned on the highest setting from April to October anyway, because I was born without the gene that counteracts humidity’s most humbling influence. Amy can walk to the Metro without sweating through her socks. I cannot.

The busses are walk-in refrigerators, the Metro trains, moving coolers. The streets swarm here in the dog days with people chasing their own tails, trying to generate their own breezes. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twenty One -Chessmate

Driving seems checker-like; carlessness, more chess-like.

Cars can go straight to anywhere, mostly via arterials. Busses and trains have fixed but circuitous routines. Bikers and walkers skirt the edges of bus and car territory. Getting from here to there by car entails little strategy, just take the shortest, straight-line route. The same trip by bus requires some serious plotting and planning. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twenty -Cardigan Desire

Whoever dies with the most toys, misses the point.

I figure that if I set my mind to it, I could do without most of my stuff. I suppose that I could go bookless or meatless or guitarless, perhaps even heartless for a while. Affluence stunts the imagination. Ready access to great variety sates nothing but want, and unsatisfied want might be the one necessary element for living a complete life. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Nineteen -Waning Invisibility

It sounds silly, I suppose, but Washington DC turns out to be the loneliest place I’ve ever lived. I have spent weeks without running into anyone I know, my most significant social interactions being with grocery clerks and librarians; and those, just small talk. It’s a problem of scale, I think, too many people chasing way too many choices to ever coalesce a center of anything. Everyone zooming around in closed up cars, air conditioners roaring, or walking with their heads plugged into their iPod, iPhone, or Android alternate universes. Distracted drivers, distracted riders, and distracted walkers living deliberately invisible lives. Slip over here for more ...

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