Sneak Peek of My New Book: Bread From the Sweat of Other Men’s Faces

Well, I suppose it’s been about 5 or 6 months since I last posted here on Virally Suppressed and began writing what I hoped would become a honest-to-goodness book about my 39-day trip up, down and across America. That book has since been finished and, in the process of its writing, it has morphed into something that I could not have foreseen back in August. The title of the book, Bread From The Sweat of Other Men’s Faces, come from a line President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in which he made a covert dig at the morality of the Confederate position on slavery by commenting on the strangeness of a people asking, “a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” The line itself is an allusion to the Book of Genesis, where god puts a curse upon the ground after discovering that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, telling Adam that, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” To wring one’s bread from the sweat of another man’s face is not simply a reference to the gross inequities of slavery, but to any society in which people grow rich and prosperous due to the labor others. In this Second Gilded Age that we find ourselves slogging through in America as of late, I thought the title more than a little apropos.

Picture 45I do not know how, when or where this book will be published, but I can assure you that it will happen in one form or another and that to do so will take the help and support of everyone who has read and supported Virally Suppressed over these past 18 months. To give you an idea of what the tone and tenor of the book will be like, I have included one of the smaller, intercalary chapters that pop up throughout the book and document conversations with various people I met on my trip. These chapter are not carbon copied transcripts of the conversations that took place and, as you’ll see, my part in the dialogue has been removed entirely. I carried no notebook with me during these talks and I held no tape recorder in my hand. When I had the chance to get to my computer–which could’ve been 15 minutes or 15 hours later–I would write down what I could remember of the talk, but I guarantee you their words became garbled in my memory. Speech patterns changed, my personal idiosyncracies asserted themselves and I forgot entire chunks of dialogue. But, I’ve always been fonder of the spirit of the law than its letter and, while 10-15% of the aspects of the conversations are my brainchild (most of it stylistic), the heart of what was said and its content and context have been retained. These chapters are simply meant to tell stories, based predominantly in truth and buoyed by the unintentional fictions of perception. I hope you enjoy this sneak peak:

Deborah

In case you weren’t aware, the American West is huge. And I know that probably sounds glib, but I really don’t mean for it to. I truly had no idea just how massive it was until I had to drive through it. For example, I figured I could make it from San Francisco to the Arizona/New Mexico border in about a day. After all, I only had to pass through two states to get there. How hard could it be? Well, as it turns out, it’s remarkably hard because after a day’s worth of driving I was somehow still in the state of California. With the sun setting and the effects of my energy drinks wearing off, I decided to pull off I-40 and spend the night in the town of Needles, California.

If you have never heard of Needles, you’re not alone because I was completely ignorant to its existence as well. Located in the easternmost portion of San Bernadino County, Needles is a town of about 5,000 people whose halcyon days occurred in the middle of the 20th century when it was one of the principle stops on Route 66. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Needles plays a prominent role as it is the first town that the Joads (and millions of other dust bowl families) see inside the state of California. As the federal interstate system eroded the influence of Route 66, any pretensions Needles had of notability went with it.

Once I had checked myself into the local Motel 61 I headed down to the local 76 gas station to grab something to drink and ran into a clearly frazzled woman who was walking towards me and muttering something incomprehensible into her cell phone. Straight away I could tell that she was one of those people who were blessed with the sort of youthful beauty that its owner comes to take for granted and inevitably ruins by living harder than it would allow. With her red hair curled into barber shop pole ringlets and a bit of a toothy grin sitting atop a still decent figure she looked like the quintessential worn out actress. Her Kia had broken down halfway between Needles and the casino town of Lake Havasu City and her phone was out of juice, so she asked to use mine to call up customer service and get a tow truck. While we waited for the tow truck to come, we sat on the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes and drinking lukewarm diet coke from the Motel 6 vending machine. Periodically, a potbellied hispanic man with a joint in one hand and a Jack Russell Terrier in the other would come out of his room and listen to our conversation.

Deborah: “Thanks for staying out here with me.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “No, seriously. This town gets scary at night. I’m telling you, they should call the place “Hypodermics” instead of just Needles, there are so many junkies around this place. Just wait til night comes around…2, 3 in the morning they all just come crawling out like a bunch of zombies.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “I’m serious, it gets bad. Sometimes it feels like Night of the Living Dead out here.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Needles doesn’t have any cops! They use the San Bernadino Sheriff’s Department for most of the problems, but then you’ve also got the highway patrol and tribal police coming by and taking people in every now and then.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Yeah, tribal police. There’s a big Indian reservation over by Lake Havasu and they’ve got their own police force. It’s a giant fucking mess, but they’re busy out here, that’s for sure.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “I know, I really need to get the hell out of here. I was only supposed to be here for a couple of months anyways and all of the sudden I’ve been living here two years.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Well, it all started back in ’07 when I hurt my back. I was in this liquor store that my friend owns up in Yorba Linda—that’s where I’m from originally—and she had just mopped or something, so the floor was real slick. I start to walk over to her and the next thing I know I’m on the floor screaming bloody murder with two fractured vertebrae.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “I had to quit my job because of it. The pain was…I can’t even describe it. Imagine having somebody stab you in the spine over and over again for six months and you’ll be on the right track.

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Did I? God, I gobbled down painkillers like they were tic tacs. I never had a problem or anything. I mean, I’m not a junky. But there was a period for a couple years there when I was popping 7 or 8 vicodin a day, every day. I’d still be taking ’em right now if my doctor hadn’t stopped prescribing them to me. She said something about all the Tylenol in the pills eating up my liver and wouldn’t give me any more. That was…god, a year and a half ago. I’m still in pain all the time, but it comes and goes. I go through one of those big 200-count bottles of Advil every couple of weeks.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “I don’t know. This guy at the CVS told me the main medicine in Advil was different than the main medicine in Tylenol. So I figured I’d just switch ’em up to give my insides a break. The guy also told me I shouldn’t drink when I took the Advil and I was like, woah, buddy—hold the fucking phone, you know? A couple of drinks does more to make me forget I have a broken back than a handful of those pills.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Christ, I just started getting my Social Security payments in January and I started applying for the damn things back in ’08. I lost my house applying for Social Security.2

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Well, I didn’t lose the house, but I might as well have. I was going through all of this shit right when the housing market decided to crash so pretty soon I was eating through all my savings and the only way I could get any money was to sell the house. Only problem was no one wanted to buy the house and, even if someone did, they’d only be giving me half of what I paid for the damn thing. I ended up leaving Yorba Linda before I’d even sold it.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “I moved in with my parents once I finally ran out of money. I guess that would have been the summer of ’09. I finally sold the house about six months later, but I gave it up for pennies on the dollar. That’s when I moved to Havasu and got the shitty little apartment I have now.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “Pretty soon I’m going to get the hell out of this place. Move up to Bullhead City. It’s a lot nicer up there, you know. It’s an actual city, unlike this godforsaken place. They’ve got a big outlet mall up there that I always go to with my girlfriends and they’ve got an Outback and a big movie theater. It’s nice.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “It’s just that it gets so boring out here, you know? I don’t really know many people out here and I don’t drink like an alcoholic, so all there is to do is just go to the casino and gamble.”

Me: “_______”

Deborah: “What do I need to pick up a hobby for? Gambling is my hobby.”

——–

1Motto: “Now With 50% Fewer Blood Borne Pathogens!”

2When Deborah talks about her Social Security payments, she’s referring to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a federal insurance program for people who suffer from a serious disability that makes continued employment difficult or impossible to maintain. The average SSDI payment in 2013 was around $1,100 a month.

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