For the first time in my life I moved to a place where I knew no one. Minneapolis. Before this I spent twenty-four years sprouting through the cold soil of eastern North Dakota. Then after college I ventured west to join my sister in Portland for six months. It was lonely but at least I had her. Through the between times I ricocheted around this beautiful country in various states of travel and permanence. In the end I tumbled back to the Midwest to be closer to home.
After life in a big city I knew rural North Dakota was no longer an option. I found a Minneapolis apartment off Craigslist and stamped my paw print to its lease. Things were gathered from home and I hugged my dad goodbye. I locked my slimeball mother in a window well with snake powder and toad sealant. Then I departed for the big, mysterious city with a mattress stuffed in my tiny car. I didn’t know what to expect but was consumed with optimism.
My place was a three story house with each floor diced into its own apartment. I lived in the middle with a window facing the street. Nested above were two dudes in a band whose rehearsals I enjoyed through the ceiling. Dug below were three friendly girls in college. I shared my level with strangers. One of them was a college student, another an old man. The third was an Palestinian dude who went by Adam and only lived there a few months. Him and I often talked in the kitchen. He lit cigarettes on the gas stove as I cooked taco meat. It was to be consumed from the pan off the side of my floor mattress. If I didn’t finish it all I’d leave it bedside then wake at night to shovel more in.
I was in search of friends and Adam seemed to be my first. This was good because the obstacle from zero to one looked to be the biggest. After that things would get easier. I’d no longer be the weirdo with no one to bring along. I was lucky to connect with Adam so easily from the get-go.
He guzzled my beers and kept curses off his tongue. We sat crouched in his low ceiling room, chatting late at night to better his English and hold mutual company. He shot smoke through the gap of his teeth. He was interesting and I felt relaxed as we spoke. He mulled at his desk, fingering through papers that were to finalize his divorce.
One night as we got porch drunk with the girls he revealed his wife to be the only person he’d put himself in. It was surprising as he was thirty. Later he arranged a Thanksgiving meal for my apartment and the girls, perhaps in hopes they’d drain him. At dinner we ate, drank, and shared stories. Minneapolis was kicking off right. It felt friendly and great.
Adam moved a month later while I was home for Christmas. I lost the person I knew most just as I was starting to count him as a friend. I found out he incessantly bothered one of the girls because she gave him slight attention. As I heard skittering I imagined it was him slinking naked through their walls, letting his penis droop out an outlet. I haven’t heard from Adam in a year. It’s assumed he’s decomposing as his tip powers a lamp.
The girls downstairs were great and left cookies in our apartment. They held a Halloween party in the basement. I dressed as a Cheerios box and met a cute friend of theirs from Wisconsin. Even though it faded to nothing around when Adam left it felt good to like someone new for the first time in a long time. I made myself open to new experiences and the risk of bad outcomes. Prior to this I rarely spoke to strangers at parties or new people at all. I felt unsure how to properly balance being myself without coming off as too much. I worried I wouldn’t find the right words at the right time. Sometimes I used too many. Sometimes I used too few.
In Portland I was locked within a shell composed from pieces of the internet and a Craigslist couch. I met no one. For years I’d been closed off and made no friends. I latched on trivial traits and felt it was better to be alone than talking to those my shithead brain had assigned as dips. Social anxiety has plagued me throughout life and I knew it needed to change. Now in Minneapolis it seemed as if that mental blockade was eroding. Against all natural inclinations I made myself be friendly.
I liked sitting on the porch to read and play music. Out there I was more likely to bump into someone for a chat than I was sitting in my room doing the same. No one was going to come knock if I kept myself secluded. The girls smoked on my reading porch and so we held cigarette length conversations. I often caught them as I was on my way in or out for a walk, back from a bridge that latched to downtown. For silly fun I rolled massive snowballs and dropped them off it to the cold Mississippi. It was an activity I wanted to share with others. Despite my progress it felt too forward to ask.
One of the girls porch chatted with me many times as she shot her lungs with smoke. Her parents owned an S&M dungeon and I got to hear about an amputee having his cock trampled. She told me horror stories from the hospital she worked. There was a poz crack addict who did too much and was gang raped by her husband and friends. Another lady attempted suicide by swallowing tacks. This neighbor girl had a tenuous connection with Siamese twins and we wondered which half worked the clit. I enjoyed having someone who didn’t mind depravity or indulging my fondness for ridiculous scenarios.
After Adam died naked in the walls he was replaced by a rapper. Eric was a white dude who told me in our first conversation he’d been living with his grandma. His ex was dabbling in prostitution. To flee from that he moved to this place just a few blocks from the Mississippi and downtown. There he studied music production. He was calm and spoke to me in even tones, his demeanor largely tempered via bong rips. In that first conversation he strapped me with headphones. I listened to a song he made as I sipped cereal from a mug. The music was good enough to distract me from the tasty taste.
He spent most days in his $300 a month room getting high and cutting class. He rapped about getting his dick sucked and carved cash stack rhymes. His room was a gateway for visitors, each seemingly a fellow rapper. I was surprised at how many friends he had and how scuzzy each was. Drugs. Dislocation. PTSD. Joblessness. Queries as to when the food bank opened and how many tuna cans it shelled. There was always enough money among them for smoke and beer.
Despite their downward and perpetual tumble, none of it was reflected in their art. Ass and cash. Pussy and weed. Perhaps the bedroom could’ve become more had they delved into their reality. They only traded fantasy verses between those small walls. It seemed at times the friends took advantage of Eric via money requests or sleeping on his floor for weeks. Still, they had frequent moments of joy with each other. Even if they fought they kept close and were bound to each other daily. I sat on my bed enveloped in the staccato of their laughs, longing to find the same for my life.
Eric left for a 2AM party because he heard there were going to be strippers. Dude screamed, “I just want to get some pussy, bro.” None was had. I noticed his calm demeanor became more aggressive while drunk or with friends. The frequency of his frustration increased over time. He was on the phone with some bank, wondering as to when his fucking plasma money would arrive. He stole my shampoo and toothpaste. He asked his dad for $20 to secure the biggest bottle of bottom shelf that could be had. He was evicted for not paying rent after living there less than two months. Our Russian landlord later let us know Eric had a long string of arrests.
He left all his stuff behind (rap lyrics, letters from friends, class notes, bail bondsman receipts, etc.) These things moved to the dirty basement. For hours I inhaled dust particles of mice shit as I paged through his history. I don’t know what made him abandon his belongings. It seemed he quit school as I held the entirety of his class stuff in my hands. Music was his love and it made little sense. Perhaps he mismanaged his finances to a degree he could no longer afford it. Perhaps his friends fucked him over. Perhaps he was on the run. Despite his goodness he seemed to lack a self checking mechanism. I’ve kept his stuff and peep it every now and then.
This is a cookie tin his grandma gifted him for Christmas:
He used it to store weed and dead cigarettes:
After Adam left and the Wisconsin cutie faded from my life I felt myself circling back to introverted ways. I was more consumed with the possessions of a displaced rapper than tending to my social life. I knew it was an organism that required constant attention. That what I’d built so far in the first few months could lapse if I let it. I knew these things yet didn’t act on them.
I saw the girls less and less. I kept from the porch more often, instead opting to relax in bed. I felt as if I ran out of ways to meet new folks. I found myself making incessant excuses as to why I couldn’t take up new activities outside my comfort zone that’d put me in contact with others. I began hoping people would just find me. For so long I thought being open to friendship was enough, that to seek wasn’t necessary. Minneapolis blossomed for me from the start. Now I feared that joy was in decline and the best I could do was keep it from hitting zero. Ambition toward an outward life that evolved beyond self-enrichment became a do-tomorrow kind of thing.
My room was large and had everything I needed for thoughtless bed rot.
It held a microwave I could reach from my floor bed. I was familiar with the lifestyle of licking mattress crumbs to stay in a state of rest. I could sit there for days and crumble apart myself. My head rested inches from the radiator that gave pleasing heat. I wondered if my hand would touch there in sleep and melt into disfigurement; if there really was a lady who lived between its bars that’d sing to me at night.
There was little need to leave my mattress. I could prop pillows atop it to read books or watch shows on the computer. Every time I came home I threw my gloves to the bedroom ceiling as a ritual of fun. In bed I bounced my socks against the wall. I had a window overlooking the street. Through it I gazed the world and cooled my lungs with its air. As in Portland this was a way to justify holing up while pretending I was connected to society. I induced visions of myself as a wretched, bedridden man and opened my eyes to see it was becoming real.
I had to actively resist sitting in my room all day. I wasn’t going to allow it like I had in Portland. Even if I was pulling away from plans for friends I couldn’t live my life indoors. There my social life would become zero. Out in the world I could at least imagine possibilities and maintain hope. I knew I wasn’t realistic in thinking friends would somehow just find me but at least I’d have a sense of the future. A reason to see what was beyond my walls and scope of experience.
I didn’t have internet which helped me escape from my little inward hole. Online I had the right words and communication came easy. All it would take is a bit of broadband for me to tell myself I could interact solely through a screen. I was glad to not have that power shackling me nor the little productivity I’m capable of. I got myself outside on a daily basis which in itself felt like an accomplishment. I wanted to come to know the town, not accumulate bed sores.
I took many walks, perhaps a hundred. For hours a day I trekked the city up Hennepin from the river to its frozen lakes. From my neighborhood to far-off parks. I devised a motto for this lifestyle. “Minneapolis: Something new every day.” To me this meant enveloping myself in a new discovery or experience each time the sun rose in the city. It was loosely defined and sometimes wasn’t more than a new route home or using a different mailbox to feed my postcards. But it also meant smiling at others, embracing aimless wander, and living outside the bedded cage I rented.
I wrote letters by the lake and inspected cans whose garbage licked at my imagination. I walked a drunk transient to the library so he could piss. From there I ended up at a holiday parade of caged children in blue elephant suits. I followed everything that got to me in hopes of capturing the small and unique. Allowing myself to be open to new experience is what spurred on memories and moments I could think of at night in bed. It’s what helped me feel good more often than not.
I trekked the tree-lined streets through night and day. On the lawn of a nearby campus I read books and picked at grass. I hoped people might know I was in public as a way to be welcoming and ready as if that’s how human relationships work. Bring on the friends, my friends. I spent hours in this ready state. The only campus person I talked with was a homeless man. He approached my bench as I copped wi-fi. His jaw was wired. In regards to his fucked face he related as best he could that he crashed his bike at night. “I was drunk and high. Well, mostly high.” When I didn’t have a buck for him he skittered away.
More and more my walks led me to the massive downtown library. With that came afternoons of people watching a certain group of homeless dudes. If I wasn’t to have friends I needed to at least be in proximity to those who were chatty and interesting. The library was across the river, a good half hour by foot. I walked a stone bridge to reach it. From these stones I gazed the cityscape and spit into the Mississippi. Before me were skyscrapers and blinking signs. Smoke stacks and the reconstructed ruins of old factories. I danced with my fingers and felt good each time I was library bound. I saw other humans and got a charge from both the immense river and steady clop of my feet. I also knew I’d soon be on the internet to connect with friends and strangers.
I spent lots of time in that library. Beer snobs leave cans in its bathroom trash. The garbage holds foot-crushed forties and popsicle sticks stained purple. When I tramped its stick floors to add my piss to the sewer there were often amateur rappers at the mirror. I only ever saw one at a time yet they often acted the same. These men washed their hands of shit and dispensed rhymes with no care as to who heard them. I loved encounters like this, the discovery of societal pockets I never knew existed.
On Valentine’s a man sat in a dirty stall, creating sick noises. Tapping the ceiling above was a heart shaped balloon on a string. I thought if this person could have companionship then perhaps so could I. The key to all this was talking with others, a skill the rappers and bathroom shitter surely possessed. It was easy for me to create and maintain distance from my own lacks and failures, to instead focus on the mysteries of others. I thought surely I was living better than someone who sits on a toilet slathered in pubes. But I wasn’t, and it was a ridiculous way to justify my avoidance of engagement. These people could do it and weren’t afraid to be out there; to rap in bathrooms and take chances with social participation. I knew all this yet continued to only engage in one half of communication: the listening part.
I sat in the same corner each day. It was behind the romance fiction stacks. There I browsed the internet for hours, relishing Facebook messages to my sister and immersing myself in useless things to avoid thoughts of why I was friendless. Behind my spot was a circular table where a rotating cast of male hobos met. They talked about Burger King breakfast and Dungeons and Dragons. One man breathed in a series of horse noises. These and the other homeless throughout the library always kept stacks of superhero comics nearby. But they rarely read, opting instead to chat. I enjoyed their conversations and incessant drama.
Their leader was a pock-faced fortysomething who shouted down his pack in anger. He liked to mention the dozens of books he’d read that year. He always kept one unfolded and nearby. He loved to bullshit but I never saw him flip pages for more than a minute or two. When a library worker asked his group to quiet a tad he muttered she was a fucking cunt. He said he was about to set off on the next person who disrespected him. When the library security gave the same noise reminder he again muttered threats as the person left earshot. “I’ll beat the ass of anyone who fucks with me today. I don’t care. This is my place. I’ve been coming for years. No one disrespects me here.”
As his friends tried to calm him he grew angrier. Soon he was screaming, telling his followers to fuck off now because he was gonna set off soon. I pretended to listen to my iPod as I soaked in the drama and took notes. His friends all left but one. He offered that person a half empty bottle of some discolored liquid to watch his stuff as he stepped out for a smoke.
He tipped the ocean water to the man’s nose. “You smell that? That’s good stuff. I’m letting you have it because I know I can trust ya to guard my shit.” His shit was a dirty bag filled with mystery items I longed to see. A few weeks later he was booted from the library for a shouting match with a black dude who didn’t care for his remark of “They wouldn’t tell me to be quiet if I was a nigger.”
During his brief suspension there were plenty of other scuzzballs for me to enjoy. A dude tried to offload food stamps so he could pay for his girlfriend’s nipple piercing. A lady borrowed my pencil to write down prices she was going to sell pills for. Her buyer was to be at the library steps any minute. Another spoke of getting a man drunk so they could rob him of $1,000 when he passed out. A massive dude with brain sickness sat in a chair each day muttering violence. “Fucking bitch. Choke that fucking bitch. I’ll fucking kill that bitch.” His words were low, hushed, and forever flowing. The security seemed to let him be if he kept it to himself.
It seemed as long as the hobos appeared purposeful and stayed awake they wouldn’t get the boot. It was good for me because it brought more stimuli to my life. It allowed me to see these lifestyles I knew little about. I wondered how separate and far off from them I really was. This helped nudge me to appreciate what I had now. I saw that friends were just one part of life’s fucked and messy equation. The hobos and I each held a separate chunk. But they were in old age and so it seemed as if some never gathered enough pieces at the same time to make it work. I sure hoped I could, but I knew that happiness is something that never stays intact.
Back with books from the library I read in my comfy bed at night. I inhaled words and exhaled writing to pass time ’til tiredness. My aunt sewed me a blanket with a pattern of stars and moons. Wrapped in it I felt my bed to be a spaceship, each night of sleep an opportunity to vanish from Minneapolis for a few hours. When I woke I went through the same mental and physical routines, telling myself there were new things to see and discover out there. That I couldn’t just wrap up in my blanket because the stars don’t shine in sunlight. I popped enough caffeine to make me too jittery to sit still, then stepped out my door. When the power of my diversions faded I began finding ways to spend less time in Minneapolis.
I disappeared from the city for large swaths. I kept busy with drug studies, visits home, and barreling westward to my sister in Portland. Her Patronus was me in a kangaroo pouch so it only felt right I see her as often as possible in her new chosen home. That Oregon city which once felt lonely now seemed more social than ever. I appreciated the time I got to be with my sis and her boyfriend, contrasting in my mind the difference to Minneapolis where I could go days or weeks without talking to others. I continued my ethos of “Something new every day” in Portland except now I had people to share my goofy discoveries with.
This town had Quaker witches. A hobo called me a piece of shit for not buying him yogurt. A dead peanut butter sandwich marched against war. A hobo for Christ begged for a pack of American Spirits and fresh cut bamboo sticks. The people watching with my sister in tow was both intense and great. A hobo screeched in our faces about GMO foods and eating raw deer meat in Montana. It felt good spending hours on the downtown bricks, scrawling letters as a doomsday prophet proclaimed we must wash ourselves in Yeshua’s blood.
At home in North Dakota I gained an appreciation for all I had there. My parents welcomed me and encouraged my visits. I sometimes stayed for a week, pinging my social senses. I scoped my parents’ cereal situation, stole toilet paper, and hung with the few friends of mine who hadn’t left home. I took my two dogs to the woods for hours of walks. Each let their noise guide them on a separate adventure. After coming across enough to get their tail wagging they rejoined me on the trail.
As the months went on each return to Minneapolis from a trip felt less hopeful. This was the city that filled me with so much wonder and intimidation as a child. It became normalized upon my moving and now felt to be the place where I’d failed to yet again find friends.
I kept hoping someone would drop into my life. None but me knew I had no companions. The weight of loneliness found itself in my chest at night and the compression kept sleep away. I sat in the dark listening to others with their friends and didn’t know just what to do.
I Skyped and sat on the step to chat my way through lengthy phone calls. But that only did so much. I could only take so many walks, see so many lakes and parks. There were only so many conversations had by people with no sense of public awareness for me to spy in on. I could fall deep down the obsession hole for all my favorite things and explore there indefinitely. But without others to relate them to the experiences lost power and bottled up. This inward accumulation eventually sickened my brain.
At night I’d pull into my backyard parking spot and hear branches of overhanging trees scrape the roof. Before yanking the key I’d be overwhelmed with thoughts of loneliness. My car in the dark was the most private space I had. Though the action wasn’t conscious this is where my body knew to let it out. The place to clear myself of constricting pain so it wouldn’t be associated with my bedroom. I’d let myself give up for a minute or two and belt out sobs.
“Something needs to change.”
Warm tears came down in that cold, dark car.
“Something needs to fucking change.”
But I wasn’t willing to take action to engender new opportunities for myself. So change never came, natch.
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This is the first of a seven part series on loneliness, friendship, and selfish endeavors in my semi-recent life. Part two is coming soon. Stay synchronized.