Dumped Into the World

Press Trip | Chapter 1

Looking at the world through a caged window should put one’s life into perspective. But after a year at Oakbrook Meadows, I was more confused than ever. I don’t know why the doctors thought I could handle the madness outside, it was hard enough sorting out the inside. But they spit me out of their system with a fresh bottle of little pills and some pocket change to see a therapist once a week. That was cold. They said it was for the best. Best for whom, I wondered. Certainly the insurance company. They’d threatened to cut me off for months. I guess that day finally came.

In the good old days I had a normal life, a hot girlfriend, a steady paycheck and a wardrobe right out of J. Crew. Naturally, I was mortgaged up to my ears but the Beemer and beach-front condo fit my lifestyle. At least it got me all the chic party invitations as I carved a name for myself as a serious newsman for the Los Angeles Times. Then in a matter of days it all shattered. I did a three-part expose about a cop who had it in for the local gangs. After a few drinks, I dragged some quotes out of him that cut so deep against ethnics, he made the Ku Klux Klan look like choir boys.

I was the Zen Master of getting incriminating quotes. I’d do the buddy buddy routine, pump them up with booze then let the tape recorder suck in all the good juice. The cop story sold a lot of papers and ended up winning a shelf full of awards but three days after it ran they found pieces of the officer and his family – wife, two little kids and even their Golden Retriever puppy – all neatly stuffed into trash bags outside their house. Initially of course, I freaked out. Then they gave me a month’s paid vacation. After that didn’t work, I landed at the Funny Farm spending my days heavily sedated and trying to look myself in the eye. It never happened.

After they dumped me out I tried putting pen to paper but couldn’t get two coherent words together. Fortunately, the Xanex blunted reality enough to keep me nearly comatose most of the time. Finally, my old girlfriend, who had been promoted to Travel Editor while I was busy watching people smear ice cream on their faces and argue with oak trees, coaxed me into writing a fluff piece about some ostentatious fifty-theater multiplex and arcade complex. I didn’t give a damn about that or anything else but ended up writing what she called “the best fluff she’d ever read.” I took it as a compliment and tried to ride that groove as long as possible.

When I reflect on it all now, I realize I’m still putting my money on the time-heals-all-wounds theory. Even though my scars are fresh, I’m hoping each passing month will soften them. It comes down to this, you gotta live with the soul they give you and hope it doesn’t crash and burn everyday. So I take things slowly and keep my belt strapped on tight.

Oddly enough, when I got out of Oakbrook, my one true pleasure was fine cuisine. The savory smells, the tastes and textures, the illimitable flavors – it all got my motor running in overdrive. I also liked a stiff drink now and then. Of course, it took me a few tries to find a balance between booze and my medication. I ended up sniffing the carpet on more than one evening. Soon enough, I found a sweet symmetry.

Eventually, my demanding taste buds didn’t match my sporadic income. It was the old champagne taste, beer budget thing. Like one of those computer programs, I morphed from an award-winning journalist to a troubled freelancer who missed deadlines and turned in expense reports with outrageous meal charges. But when I mustered enough concentration to pump out an article, I delivered the cream. Sure, I only got scrap assignments here and there but I was one of the few who could turn crap into gold. I guess if I ever got the passion back, I might have started to care about life again. Or does that work the other way around? That’s the thing I couldn’t figure out.

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