Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Moving Story That Hasn't Yet Ended in Arson

If every time that something in life that should be simple turned out bizarrely difficult, and I reacted each time by waving my fist impotently at the skies, by now I’d have the wrists of Popeye and you’d be seeing me at 3 am on ESPN2 in the World’s Strongest Forearm Competition, arm-wrestling Glandulor, the robot that made Deep Blue’s high school years hell.
You see, I haven’t left yet. Here was the plan:

1.) Get a hitch and rent a small U-Haul trailer on Friday the 17th.
2.) Pack and load my small complement of things on Saturday.
3.) Start driving on Sunday; get to Manhattan by Tuesday.

But it’s Sunday as I write this and I still haven’t moved box one. My problems actually started a few entries ago, when because of a failure to do arcane and ill-explained paperwork (every ADD sufferer’s nightmare), my bank card stopped functioning as a credit card and now only works in ATMs and in debit-only arrangements—which means I can only “swipe my card” at major supermarkets. Everywhere else I have to bring cash with me. I’ve been paying a lot of ATM fees, but otherwise it’s not so bad.
Turns out there’s an additional wrinkle: every organization I’ve ever set up an automatic payment with can no longer access my money. This has had an upside: All the places I was going to call up and end relations with are breaking up with me instead. I even just got a huffy letter from AOL announcing the termination of my service, and I thought, “Jesus! AOL? I haven’t used them in, like, years! How long has THAT particular worm been in my lower intestines?” But more troublingly, I also got a text message from my cell-phone company saying, “We couldn’t access payment. Please contact us.” I called, and said, “It’s a long story, but I’ll get right back to you, I swear.” Then I guess I forgot to get back. As you know, I’ve been kind of busy, what with graduating, packing, and essentially recreating my entire life from the ground floor any day now.
And yet, believe it or not, my phone’s not the actual problem.
The actual problem started when I tried to get a hitch on my car. The 4 by 8 trailer is a wonderful thing—just the right size for everything I own—and it only costs $82. Installing the hitch, on the other hand, was going to run about $200. That’s still about right. Since I’m down to a trifle over $3000 in my account (which, lest anyone panic, includes February’s rent on the apartment I’m moving to), I’ve been trying to keep the cost of my entire move as far south of $500 as possible. Even an overpriced hitch keeps me under budget, so okay.
So I dropped off my ‘94 Acura Integra LS at two on Friday and loitered while they took the car, backed it up a steep incline, and proceeded to . . . well, I’m not sure what they proceeded to do. It took forever, and the only part of it I saw was after forty-five minutes had passed, and I thought, “What the hell’s taking so long?” I went back and saw a young man eye-to-tailpipe with my car, manipulating an intriguing winchlike device that had a hitch attached to it. He twisted a knob, and the car went up. He pulled a lever, and the hitch swiveled slightly. And then he re-twisted and the car went down. He seemed to be working out some kind of imperfect math through trial and error, and I felt it best not to interrupt.
I went back inside and tried to divert myself with a few crosswords. Finally, the man came out and said, “Sir, is your car a hatchback?”
“Yes,” I said, resisting the urge to point out that he’d been working six inches from the hatch in question for over an hour and probably wasn’t blind.
“I’m sorry, sir. They don’t make hitches for that model. We can’t attach one.”
“Um . . .so I can’t get a trailer?”
“I’m afraid not,” he said. And I think I heard a cosmic toilet flush as I realized how much I was going to have to leave behind. So long, futon! Goodbye, exercise bike! I’ll be camping in my own room for a few days. Where’d I put that sleeping bag . . . ?
They must have seen my stricken face, because the woman behind the counter (who was, no doubt, looking at a Post-It Note that the boss taped to the phone reading Always Suggest An Up-Sell!) said, “You could order one of our smaller trucks.”
“I need to take the car with me because I haven’t sold it yet. What’s the smallest truck I can take that can pull a car?”
“The fourteen-footer,” she said.
“And how much will that cost, from here to New York?”
She tapped some keys. “Seven hundred and eighty for the rental, plus a hundred and fifty for the blah blah blah blah blah,” she said, gradually dropping in volume and fuzzing out altogether, because I stopped listening shortly after “plus.” Throw in gas and I simply don’t have that kind of money.
So now I’m on Plan C, which works in three steps: 1. Mail books, DVDs, games, and the like to myself fourth class. 2. Bring the real essentials—clothes, computer, TV, my scotch collection—along with me in the car. 3. Ruthlessly throw out anything that doesn’t fit. You may see me tomorrow asking my neighbor if she can loan me a big shovel. And of course, I can’t do any of this until Monday, because step one is so dependent on the damn postal service.

But there was actually another problem as well. On Friday, I came slap up against a wall on my Effexor prescription. See, a few months before this, the woman at the Student Counseling Center prescribed me Effexor in what finally seemed like the right dosage. That is, it was the right dosage to avoid panic attacks. It clearly wasn’t doing jack for my ADD. I missed the follow-up appointment a month later, she was forgiving and made a second follow-up appointment for two weeks in the future, and I missed that a mere hour.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t help you any more. Our policy is quite clear and you’re responsible to make all your appointments.”
“But . . . I have ADD! These appointments are always two or three weeks in the future! I’ve tried everything—writing the appointment on my computer’s screen saver, getting a calendar, getting an alarm . . .none of it works because by the time the appointment is due, I’ve already gotten so bored of looking at the reminder that I don’t even read it anymore. But you know what WOULD help? A phone call the day before the appointment to remind me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I understand your problem, but we don’t do that. What would be ideal, of course, is if you got the right medication and it helped your ADD so you didn’t miss anymore.”
Catch, thy name is Twenty-two.
Anyway, she wrote me one final prescription for a month’s worth of pills, and told me to go to the Thagard Student Health Center and work with the counselor there instead. “And don’t wait until the last minute!” She cautioned me. I tried. I contacted Thagard a week later and discovered that I needed a referral . . . from the Student Counseling Center. So I went back and told my ex-shrink, and she said she’d get right on it. That took a week.
Note in hand, I ricocheted to Thagard and discovered that they didn’t have anything until February 16th—the day after my dissertation defense. I was supposed to be packing that day, but for my own mental health I could take a break. So I said sure.
This whole time, of course, I was going through my last prescription.
On the 16th, I met with the shrink at Thagard and said, “I need a refill of my prescription. I’m literally on my last pill and I need a refill today or I’ll start getting
She gave me the blankest stare I have ever received. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t understand. I can’t just give you a prescription when I’ve only met you once this first time. Why are you coming to me a day before you leave town?”
I explained, and she quietly called the other uptight shrink. She reminded this irritant who I was and explained my problem. All I remember from her end of the conversation was, “ . . .So you’re dead set against it? Okay then . . .” And she hung up and looked at me helplessly.
I sighed. “Okay,” I said. “I lived without Effexor before, I guess I can do it again. But I’ll be going through withdrawal, starting today. Can you tell me what to prepare for?”
She said I’d be dizzy and disoriented, I might feel sick, and I was going to be very uncomfortable as I felt pressure on nerves all throughout my body. But it was nothing life-threatening and that I shouldn’t ultimately worry. “And how long will this last?” I asked. About a week.
Chastened, I left. This is what happens to bad boys who don’t meet their appointments! But then I thought of the trip ahead, and I called her back. “So let me get this straight. Florida State is willing to let me go off my medication and go into a week of withdrawal symptoms on the same day that I’m going to be packing and driving a trailer all the way up to New York City?” I didn’t actually say “lawsuit,” but I think the intimation was clear, because she said, “I’d urge you to go back to the Student Health Center and make your case.”
Happily, this case was, in fact, finally made in an end run to the only other shrink on staff, who not only gave me a month’s prescription, but another 15 days of a half-prescription, “Just in case you don’t find a doctor and have to taper off.” See? How hard was that?

Unfortunately, I got my prescription at 5 pm, which means that the Thagard Health Center, which offers reduced-rate drugs, was closed. I’d have to go to CVS or Walgreen’s and get just a few pills to tide me over until Thagard reopened on Monday. On my way to do this, however, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t pay for the drugs with my card (no credit, remember?), so I needed to find an ATM. I found one on campus—one of those retro-style ones that actually ingests your entire card—and withdrew a hundred dollars. (And paid a $2 fee. Robbery! Even the check-cashing places only charge one percent.) Then I went to CVS, asked for four pills, and—since they told it’d be about fifteen minutes—I wandered next door to Border’s bookstore. I came back to CVS, paid the lady, and walked out. Whew! Done! Before returning to my boxing and packing, I decided to relax with a salad at a nearby restaurant.
Halfway into the salad, I actually had a twinge of withdrawal: a feeling I’m actually pretty familiar with because I get it every time I forget to take my daily pill. It’s a weird sensation, as if someone has taken static and injected it into your spine right at the neck, and it’s working its way through your body like a mildly electric spider bite. Oops! I realized. Forgot to take the pills I just bought! So I checked . . . and I couldn’t find them. Not in my pockets. I ran out to the car. It took some digging around—I’m unspeakably cluttered—but there was nothing there.
How dispiriting! I hate losing things, and losing a bottle of $4 pills is quite the blow. But the good news, it struck me, was that since I’d only asked for four pills, I still had 26 I could buy. So I dashed back to CVS, intending to cannibalize more of my prescription.
As soon as I got there, the woman behind the counter said, “I thought I’d see you again. You forgot to take your pills with you.”
Aha! Happy ending. So, pills in hand, I bought a bottled water to take them with. And when I opened my wallet, I realized my bank card was missing.
Oh, shit, I realized. I never took it out of that damn ATM. Since this isn’t New York City, probably someone saw it in the machine, turned it in to the nearest business—in this case, the FSU Bookstore—and they were waiting for me to pick it up. Except again, it was after five, and the FSU Bookstore would be closed. Better call my bank to make sure there’s no activity on the card.
So I pulled out my cell phone and saw that I’d gotten another text message from my phone company, announcing a temporary suspension in my service. Because, you know, they couldn’t access my bank card.

[pause for drinking.]

On Monday, when the bank is open, when the post office works, and when all the businesses I owe money to are available to me, everything will be all right. (And I swung by the bookstore today and discovered that they didn’t have my card, but that’s only because the machine simply sucks them back up and keeps them if no one responds in time.) But for now, there is no joy in Mudville. I realize I start the process of leaving tomorrow, but you know what? I just don’t feel like packing right now, goddammit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant to post the other one on this story. Oh Well!

2/21/2006 2:49 PM  

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