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"Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes." -Walt Whitman

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

7 days in a sentra

if i don't write this now, i never will. marc horowitz is the star of a nissan ad campaign designed to show off the roominess of their new sentra. marc has a blog about spending 7 days in a sentra. that's 7 (not seven) days in a sentra. just to make sure google catches it: 7 days in a sentra.

big fucking deal.

there are an estimated 3.5 million people that will experience homelessness in a given year. that's pretty much the entire population of los angeles. about 40 percent of the homeless are families, not just individuals sleeping on newspaper-covered subway gratings. and a growing population are living out of their cars.

we are an entire sub-culture. there are several books on the subject. not journalistic reports, but first-hand survival guides.

nine years ago i lived out of my nissan sentra.

in new york.

in the winter.

for a shitload more than seven days.

since i had just run screaming (literally) from a bad marriage and didn't have the forethought to bring a video camera, i blew the opportunity to document the experience for posterity. so you'll just have to rely on my scattered memories and recollections. in no particular order, i bring you "more than 7 days in a sentra".

it is december on long island. no snow yet, but it is fucking cold and i have a limited amount of money. you blow through a lot of gas trying to keep warm. i have one blanket and a winter coat. looking back from 2006, thank god gas was only around a dollar a gallon, or i'd be long dead.

long island is some 118 miles end to end, about 70 miles of which is covered by the LIE. you can ride up and down several times a night when you've got nowhere to stay. until you discover . . .

rest stops. parked between the big rigs in suffolk county, there are i think maybe five total rest stops on the island's parkways and expressways. no restrooms, but the woods are right there. i fall asleep with the engine running, and awake to a stranger knocking on my window to warn me against carbon monoxide poisoning.

the rest stops are supplemented by the park and rides, big parking lots where people are supposed to meet up to carpool. i learn the hard way that it is also the preferred meeting place for homosexuals seeking one night stands. back to the rest stops on the expressway . . .

i wake to find i've run out of gas. i climb the fence separating the rest stop from the service road, then walk a few miles with a two-liter coke bottle to buy gas. you know what? coke bottles aren't meant to fit into a gas tank. half the fuel ends up on the pavement.

i'm arriving at work with the facilities staff, bathing in the men's room. staying until they lock up. i learn to find diners that'll let me stretch a cup of coffee for an hour, a plate of fries and a coke for two hours. i actually look forward to going to the laundromat because i have a legitimate reason to kill a few hours.

days are always the same. work. drive. hunt for safe parking. sleep until the cold wakes you. run the engine - drive if you're parked where you shouldn't be.

borders and barnes & noble had just introduced the coffee bar and the lounge area. i read several books and napped many hours in their hallowed halls.

i awake to find frost on my mustache and the first snow of the season on my car. my knees, which have inherited the family tendency for arthritis, now ache constantly. nine years later, this has not abated.

i treat myself to a night in a hotel, arriving at dinnertime after finally making up my mind to spend the money. the hotel is undergoing renovations, everything half covered in plastic, it looks like The Shining meets Flatliners. i fight to put off sleep simply to savor the sensation of sheets against my skin. i awake, shower, and ride the elevator down with a mother, father, and five-year-old girl that do not speak english. it is christmas day.

i spend the rest of the holiday in the multiplex parkinglot, hiding from the security patrol. when the sun goes down and i can't stand the monotony or the chill, i buy a ticket for the movie with the longest running time.

i take long walks in the state parks, pumping legs that scream at me. on the weekends i bath in their restrooms, since there are fewer people coming in and out. fuck 'em. like i'm ever going to see them again anyway.

new year's eve, i go to a bar and drink myself unconscious. i awake new year's day in the sentra, in the parking lot, with no memory of how i got there. my tie is missing (and it was my favorite tie). i drive to jones beach and spend the first day of the new year watching the seagulls hunt for food. somewhere just before sunset, i make my way to the men's room and am horrified to find my underpants stained with blood. it is a terrifying while before the memory of throwing up an alabama slammer into my drawers the previous evening actually comes as a relief.

somewhere in mid january, i called for help. help answered. i'll always owe him.

i don't know if nissan is blatantly ignoring the homeless population of this country, ignorant beyond explanation, or executing a brilliant marketing strategy that says, hey, if you're gonna be homeless, the sentra is the car to be homeless in.

either way, guys, you suck big time.
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i used to be disgusted. now i try to be amused.
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