Two months. Brief in the life of a 60 year old trailer, but an eternity to its owner itching to restore her (and paying $275 rent per month just to sit idly). I have been unable to work on Sparta since my last entry on 8/10/16. Life has intervened. The interferences keeping me from Sparta are among the very things that compelled me to buy her in the first place – things beyond my control which I want to take back.
Two months ago I got word that I was being evicted. Not due to anything I had done but because the landlord chose to sell the house I was renting. Home values were rising so fast in Santa Rosa that she couldn’t afford not to. So there I was, staring at a 30 day notice to vacate and wondering “Shouldn’t I by now be immune to the vicissitudes of life and in control of my affairs?”. The short answer, of course, is “No”. Control is an illusion and anyone who thinks they have it is advised to stroll past any cemetary. But the longer answer is more complicated and nuanced and gets to the very heart of why this trailer project so appeals to me.
Thirty-five years ago I graduated with an MBA from Yale University, convinced that I was the master of my destiny and better able to “write my own ticket”. I joined a multinational, publicly-traded hospital corporation and then proceeded to move over the next 3 years from New Haven to Hickory, North Carolina, San Luis Obispo, CA, Birmingham, Alabama and, finally, to New Orleans – all with a wife and, ultimately, a baby in tow. Although these moves were occasioned by promotions, titles and pay increases, the final relocation concluded with my being “rif-ed” (reduction in force – a modern acronym born of the tendency for larger companies to shit-can loyal employees when they become inconvenient). Lesson learned? Not really. I continued for another 14 years to play a stooge, surviving a corporate bankruptcy, a merger, another layoff and, a short time later, becoming the victim (operative word) of an Internet start-up’s implosion.
Fast forward to 2014. I moved to Santa Rosa, having first secured virtually all my worldly possessions in a storage facility for safe-keeping until I made longer-term arrangements. The Napa earthquake that summer entombed my things and there they sat for 18 months while the city, an army of engineers and the facility operator debated the safety of the structure and the ultimate fate of its contents. That left me feeling helpless, inconsequential and, oddly, free. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (thanks Mr Kristofferson for lyrics which were to become a great source of solace) and as I awaited word on the the ultimate outcome of my own personal storage war, I became OK with the prospect of having nothing. This evolving minimalism coincided, conveniently enough, with the fallout of years of excessive drinking and the resulting jettisoning that occurs when one awakens, drenched but alive, from a booze tsunami. Add to that my growing appreciation for Buddism and its tenets of impermanence and dis-attachment and I was primed, almost grateful, for the prospect of being relieved of my life’s acquisitions. I even began to ask myself, “to take possession of one’s life, must one have his possessions taken?”. “No Grasshopper, you are simply trying to justify bad luck exacerbated by a reckless lifestyle as a means to explain and accept your misfortune”. Nice try, though.
So last month I moved to a tiny little apartment – one that I would have scoffed at in my more grandiose days. I then rescued my liberated possesions from their lengthy post-quake limbo, only to find many of them damaged by a good shaking and subsequent water leaks in the crumpled storaged unit. Some things were destroyed altogether (mildewed Persian rugs) while others (an antique upholstered chair and a very expensive modern Italian display case) were badly broken. For the past month I have been repairing items strewn around my apartment, which has began to look like a workshop, complete with the odor of varnish, epoxy and other toxic substances.
Not long after moving into this flat, I had my headlight, tail-light, tire pump and rear wheel stolen from my Kryptonite-secured bicycle. I knew that I wasn’t living in the best part of town but, seriously, it only took two days for some homeless denizen to render useless my only legal means of transportation. I’ll admit to feeling a bit like Job and in my drinking days this would have been cause for a pity party and a lost weekend. But sober and mindful, I just let the feeling pass.
As I write this, my apartment is finally settled, my bicycle repaired (and stored inside) and my thoughts drift to Sparta.
OK, so what am I getting at? Just this. My trailer project appeals to me on so many levels but in the context of this particular narrative here are Sparta’s more salient virtues: 1) I own her free and clear and the land upon which she ultimately rests will be mine as well. She cannot be forclosed upon or repossessed. 2) Unless I move her to Tornado Alley, she will not likely be taken from me by an act of God. 3) I will live independant of the world, off the grid and fully self-sufficient. 4) Up in the Sierras, my things will likely not be scavenged by the destitute and desperate, who pick at the carcass of my bike for the sake of a meth habit. 5) My 400 square foot home will ensure that I keep it simple and sparce, as I have become fond of living on and with less. 6) Finally, my relatively inexpensive trailer lifestyle will allow me to “retire” in one year, living comfortably, debt-free and working only on my terms (cheffing here and there) and never again finding myself pink-slipped.
Of course, I still don’t really control anything. But I have set up my life to reduce the risk of loss, their enormity should losses occur and with the ability born of experience to ride out whatever calamity should arise. All this helps me sleep pretty well each night.