Originally published in the big smoke
January 1st, 2005, I moved from San Diego to Colorado. When my ex, our two dogs (hi oxford comma nerds!), and a 10-foot Colombian boa arrived, it was one of the coldest weeks of the year. The below zero temps in retrospect could have been foreshadowing to the upheaval in my life to come.
I sold my home in San Diego and we purchased a new place that was probably too big for our family at the time. We furnished the basement with a giant couch with two sofa beds so we could have friends in touring bands crash over when they were in town. Some legendary parties were had in that house. Mild debauchery at best, but still some debauchery was had. I was working in the automotive industry repairing vehicles and was struggling but surviving (the real turning point in the industry was 2000 for me, the drop off in business coupled with the deregulation of the electric industry in California and a grocery store lockout that cut our household income sent me packing from San Diego). Then 2008 hit and the credit markets froze.
When you work in a car dealership, the whole purpose of the dealer opening its doors every day is to sell cars. Even in the service department, if you’re not selling cars, business declines. Trade-ins don’t happen, warranty repairs, even maintenance drops off. So when salesmen can’t find financing for people with 850 credit scores, business dries up. Auto repair is a largely commission based industry so I’d show up at 8:00 a.m. and could conceivably not get paid for being there an entire day. It’s a reasonable system when business is good, but it’s soul crushing when there’s no work. If I’m anything, I’m a squeaky wheel, so I’d show up at 8:00 a.m. and if there wasn’t work by 11:00 a.m., I’d go home and tell them to call me if anything came in. I lived close to work and could be back in 5 minutes. This caused some dissension between coworkers and management as they tended to live much further away and didn’t have this option. Several shouting matches with management (“Pay me to be here and I’ll stay” the gist of most of them … except peppered with foul language) and they finally did something I’ve never heard of a dealership doing: they laid me off.
I was now unemployed and with that got the pittance we call unemployment benefits. Disillusioned with my chosen career, I began to work in a bar as a bouncer and mowed lawns for my friend’s landscape company. Being male, I wasn’t completely honest with the dire situation we were in and this put a strain on an already rocky relationship. We broke up not long after, but our financial situation forced us to continue cohabitating. You haven’t experienced loneliness until you’ve lived with an ex. We got along well enough, rarely fought, but our lives were in a holding pattern because it’s impossible to date when you live with someone you’ve previously dated. Also during this period, my father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
My dad had a PhD in Physics and worked for NOSC (now SPAWAR—Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command) as a physicist specializing in underwater acoustics and echolocation. So, he was a very intelligent man. I lived with him during my high school years and he shapes who I am today. He was very loving but still emotionally unavailable (he was a physicist, that’s par for the course), kind and never one to anger. Through our weekly phone calls I’d hear him slowly deteriorate. The surefire way for me to keep track of how he was doing was to discuss Padres’ baseball; I’d know how his memory was doing. I have a half brother that was living with him and I knew he was safe, but that eventually something was going to have to be done.
During this whole time, I was fighting my bank trying to foreclose on my home. Misinformation, lost paperwork, and out-and-out lies were a common occurrence during this fight. Aurora Loan services whom I didn’t sign my original loan with had purchased it shortly after I signed with my original lender. The Making Home Affordable Act was passed in 2009 and I was almost the prototypical beneficiary. I was facing foreclosure due to the bank’s actions in the credit markets; I had equity and had reentered the auto industry and had a steady income capable of paying a renegotiated loan. The first step in the process according to my lender was to agree to a monthly payment that would show I’m making a good faith effort to continue with my loan. This payment was quite a bit lower than my original loan but represented the renegotiated payment when we exited this deal and signed a new loan. Then came the cycle of lost paperwork and misleading information culminating in a phone call from my lender claiming my home was slated to be auctioned that day. It wasn’t.
By late 2010, my ex had moved back to San Diego and I had lost the will to fight with my bank. I negotiated a deal that I would vacate by January 1st, bring them the keys, and they would give me five thousand dollars. The holidays weren’t the easiest time for me due to my friend Tony’s passing (his birthday was Christmas day) so I tended to be a bit melancholy to start with. That was nothing compared to the royal ass fuck I was about to receive from life.
I found a place to rent that would allow a Rottweiler, my son, and my then girlfriend, and I started to move everything from my old home into our new home. I was optimistic that life was on a good track and even the snowstorm wasn’t really damping my belief that we’d be okay. While we were driving a load up from my then girlfriend’s old place, my phone rang. I saw it was a good friend of mine and answered. He asked if I was busy and wanted me to call him back when I wasn’t driving. An overwhelming sense of dread came over me. I knew he had bad news and I suspected it was about our mutual friend Stimy. (You can read that story here.) Suffice to say, he was a major figure in my life and a close friend for over 20 years. He had died of an undiagnosed heart condition. I tried to continue moving, but it was all so overwhelming that I walked away from most of my stuff and the five thousand dollars.
Not long after that, our dog had difficulty urinating. I took him to the emergency vet where we discovered he had advanced cancer and his bladder was unable to be emptied. I made the very hard decision to end his suffering that night. I was shell-shocked and I emotionally shut down. This led to my then girlfriend seeking out another source for her emotional needs and having an affair. The way I discovered that was actually pretty comical. She purchased a new phone and needed the pictures and data transferred from her old phone and, me being a tech nerd, she asked me to do so. I’m unsure whether she realized there were photos of her in her phone nude in bed with another man, but to my utter shock there were. I’m such a dumb fuck that the relationship lasted three months longer. She recently died and I harbor no ill will towards her for her actions, but she was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I found myself in a psychiatrist’s office discussing my inability to sleep and other assorted issues. As men, we aren’t too good at asking for help when we need it and one of my goals in these writings is to remove the stigma associated with reaching out. We are not defined by our failures or our weaknesses, but rather by how we cope. (This will be a topic I write about later.)
The next few years were spent just existing pretty much. I was feeling a constant level of guilt for not being able to be with my dad during his deterioration and trying to cope with that. On the rare occasion I was able to afford to get out to visit him, we had a discussion about him knowing what was coming and how much it scared him. One day, my brother called me telling me that we needed to find an assisted living situation; my dad had come downstairs and had zero idea who my brother was. He found him a nice in-house situation not far from their home.
I’m an on-again, off-again musician. Not with any real ability, but I do what I do with what I have. I’ve been fortunate to play in some pretty great bands and with some amazingly talented people over the years and during this period my last band was probably one of the only things going truly well in my life. I loved playing. It gave me those moments of pure disconnectedness that I now find fly-fishing. Bands being what they are, this one played its last show on Saturday, October 19th, 2013. Two days later, my dad died of a sudden heart attack. I felt so much guilt and shame for not being able to see him more. Intellectually, I know he would have understood that I was trying my best to provide for my son who I’ve had custody of since he was 10, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Once again, I was broken. But this time I hit upon the idea of “Pfffffft.” It was a phrase I posted online a ton, almost obnoxiously so. But the idea behind it started to resonate. Pfffffft isn’t about not giving a fuck. It’s about not making things more important than they need to be. It’s about realizing what is really important in life. It’s about focusing on building relationships, having experiences, and letting things go. My knuckle tattoos are in a strange way a tribute to my father and my inability to be able to be there for him. Pfffffft is ultimately about acceptance and, to paraphrase the great book The Tao of Pooh, Pfffffft just is.