There are many truly hideous things about being homeless but high on the list is the constant roller coaster ride my emotions are on.
It’s not just day-to-day; it can be hour-by-hour. Every time the coaster pulls up to a platform and I thank all that’s decent for ending the ride, the surly guy in charge forcibly shoves me back into my seat and won’t let me get off. When he releases the brakes, I hear the collar grab the chain and I am off on another terrifying run around the track.
There was a two day period last week when life was down, made an upturn, and then went down again.
Although I have a roof over my head for now, money and food remain a constant worry, an unending stress that is as constant a factor in my life as my heartbeat. There’s no cash until a publishing deal is signed, and then I get only one-third of the total advance. Another third is paid when a finished manuscript is delivered and the balance is paid on the day the book appears on a store shelf.
Only because a friend in Ohio sends a bit of cash by overnight express can I replenish the two shelves I have for food and the small bar fridge in the room I am renting. I will be able to feed myself for five days, maybe a week if I am cautious. I haven’t eaten breakfasts since I was big enough to get away with telling my mother I didn’t want any, and unless I can find a place serving free lunches, I am a one meal a day man now.
Dinners are not what I would make in better times. Last night, I had a pasta side dish because it was on sale for 99-cents a package; tonight, I’ll make chicken noodle soup with a salad of tomatoes and lettuce picked from the garden where I’m staying for now.
Rent is due and the woman who owns the house throws a roundhouse curve when she tells me that what I believe is the last month’s rent forked over when I moved in is actually my “security deposit” to be refunded when I move out. “Then what was the extra $100 you also wanted?” I ask, trying not to panic. “I thought that was the security deposit.”
Pam turns a tad defensive, which she tries covering by answering in a sharpish, almost shrill voice, telling me, “That was to pay for any damage Prince might do.”
Prince, my 13 year old Golden Retriever, hasn’t damaged anything since he figured out when he was a puppy that chewing shoes and table legs got him in trouble. He would rather die than pee inside and he hasn’t even thrown up in more than a decade because, thankfully, most Retrievers have cast iron stomachs and digestive tracks.
I have mere hours to find seven bills to pay her.
Really Good News
Writing a book is an impossible task. On days when the words appear magically on the computer screen in front of me, there is no better way to spend eight or 10 hours. Yet it is a torturous way to try to eak out a living when you wake up to discover that you can barely write a simple, “See Jane run!” sentence, which happens with distressing regularity.
The only thing harder than writing a book is finding an agent to represent the idea to publishers. I have five unpublished, full length works to prove it: Two fiction, three non-fiction.
So when I begin sending the first batch of 20 queries to agents, I hold no hope of finding one; I’ve been down this road before. Typically, no reply is ever received because literary agencies are deluged with plaintive letters from would-be authors. Thus, when two positive responses come back within days – one within hours – of my sending out the e-mails, I’m dumbfounded.
There is a quick exchange of a few more e-notes, followed by several phone calls as my potential gateway to publishers and I size each other up, and when I decide between the pair I suddenly have a Seriously Important Agent pitching my work. It is a dizzying experience. He’s enthusiastic about the book and the sample chapters I’d sent, loves the way I write, and rattles off the names of a half dozen editors he will approach who are first on his list.
He cautions me that “six figure advances for non-fiction is a thing of the past, unless your name is Kardashian or Krugman.” I tell him that if it would help sell the manuscript, I’d be happy to take Jim Kardashian or Paulette Krugman as a pen name.
I float all afternoon.
The euphoria doesn’t last long. By the next morning, reality sets in again.
I’ve been scouring newspapers looking for a house sitting gig for the winter. In cold weather cities, a lot of retirees become snow birds, heading to a condo in Florida or Arizona for the duration. We could stay for free in exchange for watching the house, shoveling the sidewalk after a big snowfall so the city doesn’t issue an expensive violation ticket, keeping watch so enterprising burglars don’t see an easy haul, and generally taking care of things. Nothing turns up.
Nor is there a positive response from friends when I ask if the dog and I can camp out at their place until things turn around. Mostly, my e-mails are greeted with a thundering round of indifference and go unanswered. A few people write back saying, “Gee, I wish we could help but …”
My hunt for work is just as frustrating. Over the past four months, I answer more than 300 ads and sent some 50 resumes to places that did not have an ad. I receive four calls but get no interviews. There are a trio of one-off, free lance assignments that came and went, but no continuing gigs.
I want to go home but I don’t know where that is anymore. Even if I find a place my heart can call home, I don’t have the money to get there.
Follow Charley on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles.