This story is over 5 years old.

The Down & Out Issue

My America

Someone is always worse off. Even if you're shitting in a bucket surrounded by crazy veterans.

I’m rich now but I used to be poor. Boo-hoo. Ever been so poor (it’s really about laziness, but…) that you opted to rent your body for medical experiments rather than work a real job? My first time was for a company testing blood-pressure medicine. I answered an ad in the back of Bus Station Waiting Room Monthly that promised $500 (this was back in the mid-80s when that was like a million dollars) to volunteers willing to come in for four consecutive weekends and take this experimental new medicine. Right away I knew this was a mistake. The weekends turned out to be 29-hour stints of being locked in a room with guys named Detroit Willy and The Ghost, playing shitty, torn-up board games from the early 70s where the color is all faded away. It was as if someone had called Central Casting and asked them to send over whoever they had in the “loser, drifter, crazy vet” dept. Sadly but logically, this place, which was just one of those big houses in a shitty neighborhood that some company bought and fenced off, was literally down the street from the Veteran’s Hospital. And while waiting to see if I qualified, guys would come in off the street and say hi to the staff and see what experiments were going on that week. It was very discouraging to see the familiarity that they all had with one another. “Hey Sheila, how ya’ doin?” “Hi Dwight, looking for work?” (They called it “work.”) “Yeah. Got anything that involves shitting?” I would soon know the shame of being recognized in that building. It was like being trapped in a hostel in Kazakhstan with only the vague yet constant threat of violence and projectile vomiting to hold your hand at night. By far, though, the worst part was the bus ride home, where thanks to nineteen blood tests that day, my arms made me look like a one-eyed junkie with double vision. I went back for more when they needed some information on advanced antacid medicine. For that one they ensured we had an upset stomach by making us eat, at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, five bowls of Wendy’s® chili (which they would accidentally burn each time) and five small glasses of Carlo Ponti wine from the nearest screw-top gallon of red available. Not as dramatic, true, but also not as much money. What else did I do when I was poor? We’ve all lived in a car for a while, right? No big deal. But have you lived in a Volkswagen Jetta with a huge guy who snored and farted visible shafts of murky light? Did you ever fuck a fat middle-aged woman for a free breakfast and then get food poisoning from it? Oh, you did? I guess we all have in our own way. Everything is relative, I guess. As sure as I have never experienced the trauma of life in a Ugandan prison, and I don’t know the pleasures of trying to kick heroin in the desert with a bunch of bikers, I do have my own pussy versions of “boo-hoo.” What about growing up in a redneck town in Georgia in the 70s and sitting in the Medicare office with your mom and two little sisters just two days after your father split for good, leaving nothing more than an unflushed turd in the toilet and a massive amount of debt that wouldn’t be paid off for over a decade? That’s pretty good, no? There’s always someone who can outdo your low points. The only thing we can ask is that no one interrupts our own deeply meaningful, personal tale of woe to jump in with the one about the time they messed up their family reunion because they got too drunk and shit themselves. “That’s not the same thing, asshole! I’m talking about a rite of passage! This is sacred to me.” I could go on and on about this until you pity-fuck me. I’ve got enough of that shit to fill up over seventeen lame one-man shows (and if those shows were laid end-to-end they would stretch all the way from St. Louis to Chicago and back!), but you won’t see me appearing weekly at the Crybaby Theater bitching about how my dad took all of my bar mitzvah money and never gave it back. Fuck that. Let’s just quietly get drunk, have kids, and raise them right. DAVID CROSS