The Book of the Homeless II: This Time, It’s Personal
I haven’t written much in the last couple weeks. I think I have written maybe two essays in the last fourteen days. For those of you that know my work, you know that’s a 90% decrease in productivity, ’cause a bitch has a lot to say. I have realized that the source of my writer’s block is the fact that I have a lot on my mind, and I don’t really know what to respond to first. Let’s face it, the world is a raging dumpster fire right now. There’s so much going on in so many areas, how does one choose what to give attention to?
For me, Corona is a worry that is currently occupying a lot of mental space. I recently had a scare and ended up having to go back into quarantine. Now that that’s over, I am even more paranoid. That paranoia is not helped by the fact that I’m a teacher, and school starts next week. Even though COVID is less prevalent here in Germany than in the USA, it is still a reality that needs to be dealt with. I love my tiny humans, but to be honest, they are disgusting little creatures. They are purveyors of germs and disease. I have seen a child’s finger two joints deep in their nose and internally cringed, knowing that I would soon have to hold that sticky little hand. I have had a child hug me while telling me how they had a fever, but told their parents that they couldn’t miss my class. My youngest students are three years old. At that age, they are just one step away from being feral. I do not believe that they have any fucks to give about social distancing or anybody’s mask regulations. Long story short: I’m fucked. I’m not even going to pretend that my situation is special. People all over are having to choose between going back to work and possibly dying and staying home, not being able to afford rent or food, and dying a slower death.
My Wandering today also brought other thoughts into focus. I had to go to one of the companies I teach for, to pick up books for my new class. I took the subway there. It’s a rare thing for me these days, due to my Corona fears. The trip there was enough to encourage me to walk home. On the walk, I saw a couple of homeless people, only they didn’t look homeless. They were clean. They were wearing name brand clothes. One of them was even sunbathing in the park. The only clue to their reality was the shopping carts that they had loaded with all their possessions. That recognition led me to a thought that I have had many times before: There but for the grace of god go I. The only problem is that there is less grace between me and that reality than there has been in quite some time.
See, this is not my first time at the homeless rodeo. For all intents and purposes, I was homeless the summer I turned 23. I had a roof over my head most nights, thanks to my job at a motel, but I spent more than a few days sleeping in my car on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I jokingly referred to it as high-functioning homelessness. A comedian I currently can’t remember (I’m old and I drink) once said that if your name is not on a lease, you’re homeless. By that measure, I have spent the bulk of my adult life as a homeless person. I returned to the high-functioning homeless lifestyle while I was doing touring theatre. Sure, I had a place to stay, thanks to my job, but I didn’t really have a home. This became very clear to me when I had to abruptly leave a tour in 2008 and was forced to move in with my mother. Thankfully, I was able to find work on cruise ships, but that meant that once again, I was effectively homeless. This was my reality until 2011.
My current reality hinges on my visa renewal, and that happens in October. I’m luckier than a lot of people. Unless something catastrophic happens, I have the finances to sustain myself for at least the next three months. After that, well…we might have to get creative. I always have a bit of insecurity about the whole visa renewal scenario, but this year is something special. With the Corona crisis, a lot of my contracts have been cancelled, a lot of my classes have been cancelled, and my income for the year is a fraction of what it normally would be. Unfortunately, the world that we live in bases a person’s value on the revenue that they generate. With that in mind, 2020 Aaron isn’t worth very much to the German government.
Assuming my visa isn’t renewed, what do I do then? Excellent question. One thing I know is that I can’t go back to America. Aside from the considerable COVID threat, the rampant gun violence, and the threat of police brutality, this really isn’t the economy for an artist to come to America with no immediate prospects. Honestly, if I am backed into that particular corner, I will probably choose to go off the grid. Being a graduate of the Tim Gunn School of Make It Work, I have already come up with a few contingency plans for the coming months:
Plan 1: Go back to teaching, catch COVID and die. Honestly, this is the easiest of the contingency plans and involves the least amount of pain. It’s really something to consider.
Plan 2: My visa gets rejected. I manage to make enough money to keep me in my apartment until my Schengen visa expires in January. After that, I go to Prague for three months, until I can come back to Germany and try again to get a new freelance visa. To that end, please buy my book when it comes out. A bitch ain’t trying to be homeless.
Plan 3: My visa gets rejected. I can’t afford my rent, so I buy a tent and move around the various parks of Berlin. I have seen several long-term tents in parks here. I know that this is a viable possibility. If this happens, I know that I can access internet cafes, and I can at least earn enough money through my writing to buy food. With that in mind, your boy will be giving you a play-by-play of life on the street. If that’s not worth a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers List, I don’t know what is.
Plan 4: My visa gets renewed, I get to keep living my life as it is for another year…unless they close the schools again. If that is the case, I will probably end up in the tent from Plan 3 anyway. Once again, please buy my book.
With all of this in mind, I can’t even pretend that my situation is unique. In the US, at least 30 milliion people are currently staring down the reality of eviction, and even more are sure to follow. I don’t know the numbers for Germany, but I can’t imagine that they are good. I walk past half-empty restaurants and stores that have to limit the number of clients that can come inside. I can’t imagine that either the owners or the employees are making the money that they have become accustomed to. We are rapidly approaching a moment of reckoning for the status quo. Either we change the way things are done, or we will be seeing a large number of new homeless people. Which will it be? I guess only time can tell.