Aside: Music as Sanctuary

The other day Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said the following on CNN:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Tuesday said Americans may have to choose between purchasing a new iPhone or paying for health insurance.
“You know what, Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice,” the House Oversight Committee chairman told CNN’s
New Day, one day after the House GOP unveiled its plan to replace ObamaCare.
“And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.”

As you can well imagine, the blowback on social media was swift and deafening.  The one thing you do not want to argue with a poor person is whether or not they deserve something you deem frivolous.  You do not want to kick down, because they’ll kick you right back even harder.  [Noted, he did attempt to walk back the comment, but his follow-up was still basically “you poor folk will still need to go without Fun Stuff if you want to be healthy.”]

Why do I bring this up here at Walk in Silence?  What does this have to do with my obsession with music, anyway?  [And for a very slight few of you: oh god why is he bringing up politics and ruining an otherwise decent blog?]


Let me tell you a little about my post-college years, from mid-1993 to late 1996.  Yeah, I’ve talked about this before in previous entries, but rarely in detail.  Stay with me on this.

See, when you’re too damn fucking broke, you’ve got student loan debt, the average apartment rent in Boston at the time is around $400-500 a month, your paycheck averages around $200 every two weeks at a job that you don’t necessarily want but is what’s available for someone with little to no business experience, but you’re absofuckinglutely determined to make a name for yourself somewhere in the working world…you do any damn thing you can to make it happen.

You survive on take-out and what groceries you can skim from your parents.  You borrow money from your parents to attempt getting caught up.  You defer those loan payments.  You maybe skip a payment on the credit card so you can buy food for yourself.  You deal with a long-distance relationship because your girlfriend is too broke to stay in town for the summer and has to live with her mom for the season, which means the only mode of contact is writing letters and, very rarely, a phone call.

And because of your committed career choice as a writer, with absolutely no publications to show for it just yet, and you’re still learning the ropes, you know you’ll need a Day Job to cover expenses.  And pretty quickly you know you have no interest in business sales — you dislike trying to sell something to someone that you yourself aren’t interested in (in this case, a telemarketing job selling toll-free numbers to small businesses), and you really dislike the idea of having to aim for a quota in order to keep your job.  You briefly entertain a position doing transcription, but you don’t really have the ear or the speed for that.  So that means you’ll end up working at some blue collar establishment, like an ice cream parlor, or a movie theater.  You’re not above that; it’s what you’ve done for day jobs in the past.

You were on your parents’ insurance until you graduated back in May of 1993.  You don’t even fucking think of entertaining that expense, because you know you won’t even be able to afford it.  Not without cutting elsewhere.  Like moving back home with the family.  They’ll have you, of course, but you’d feel like such a goddamned failure because you graduated with a BA from college and can’t even get a fucking career off the ground, let alone living in a city where all the jobs (what there are of them) may actually be.

So.  No insurance.  Low-paying job.  Hardly any food in the refrigerator.  All your college friends have moved on and left the city.  The only thing that you get by on is a pack of cigarettes that you make last for two weeks or so, water, tea and instant coffee, toast or cereal, and food that you didn’t pay for from your Day Job (hot dogs and soda is a frequent dinner, with a chaser of popcorn).

Your next door neighbor, a guy you know from college who’s living comfortably on his own due to having rich parents (he owns a number of kind-of-expensive toys from Sharper Image to prove it).  He’s your only friend of note at the moment, and even at that point he’s more of a clueless prick than a friend.  He wonders why you won’t come out with him to dinner at that restaurant or to see that movie, even when you tell him repeatedly that you can’t afford it.  He wonders why you won’t splurge on things you need, considering you have a credit card and all.  And because he’s pretty much the only person you know in the city to any degree, he’s your hangout buddy.  And because you don’t know what else to do with your miserable fucking life, he’ll easily talk you into doing things that get you deeper into debt.

You’ll make one stop at Beth Israel Hospital one early winter morning early in 1995 when you have an insanely sharp pain in your groin area and you have no idea what’s causing it.  You have no insurance, so when you’re filling out the hospital forms, you say you have no frigging idea how to pay for it, if at all.  You tough it out and decide to be a charity case.  After staying overnight at the hospital (where you’ve been shoved aside and left out in the hallway for hours before some intern comes by and finally realizes you haven’t been seen), you’re told that the pain is caused by an overlong twisted vein that’s been starved of blood.  Not caused by an injury or anything…just a weird medical issue that can happen to any male.  Things are readjusted and you’re given the information that to permanently fix it, you’ll need to have a minor surgery done.

You already know that’s out of the fucking question.  You deal with it, get discharged, walk to the subway and ride home.  You call in sick (no sick time pay, by the way) and take the day off.  [You won’t get that fixed until two years later when it flares up again, and thankfully this time you have insurance to take care of it.  And sick time.]

Eventually this will all come to a head in the summer of 1995, when your original plan to renew your lease in that apartment in Allston falls through.  No roommates (your original roomie moves out, the replacement backs out), no phone (cut off due to overdue bills), hardly any food (which your ex-roommate ate anyway), and still no way to get ahead.

You finally make the decision, say fuck this shit, and move back home with your parents, which you will do for the next decade, just so you can get caught up with bills again and fix your completely decimated credit rating.  It’s the most frustrating, the most depressing, the most goddamn aggravating decision you’ve ever made in your life.


What was all that about, anyway?  And what does that have to do with Jason Chaffetz’s complete lack of empathy?  And why here at Walk in Silence?


See, there was in fact one thing that kept me from going batshit crazy, from wanting to jump off a bridge, from wanting me to do something truly and colossally stupid.  Something that kept me sane.

And that was music.

Not a day went by when I didn’t have the radio going, or was listening to my music collection.  It was my one splurge.  It was my sanity.  My sanctuary.  I rarely bought new releases, as I could only afford them every couple of months, and a few titles at that.  No, I built up my vinyl collection by digging through the dollar bins at the used record stores around town.  I had a pretty decent collection of classic rock and sort-of-recent releases at a fraction of the cost.

To a lesser extent, I’d also rent movies every couple of weeks from Tower Records.  Those were cheap, maybe a few dollars for an overnight rental every couple of weeks.  Did I feel guilty about that?  Not one bit.  It was how I rediscovered anime which inspired me to try my hand at writing science fiction instead of literary fiction.  It completely opened my eyes and my mind to new creative avenues in my writing, and started me on the path to where I am today.

But the point here is:  music was my sanctuary.  It was one of the very few positives in my life at that time.

Did I make some dumb financial mistakes?  Sure.  We all do at that age.  Maybe I could have sold more of my albums back to the stores for money — something I did a few times, actually — but that was just a temporary, finite answer to an ongoing problem.   It gave me pocket money for one run to the supermarket for food.  Could I have done without the music or the video rentals?  Sure, but I probably would have been a hell of a lot more miserable than I already was.

Music was the inspiration for my writing.  It was something I chose to afford because it gave me something to look forward to.  It was something that helped me feel that little bit happier when I was going through a hell of a deep depression.  It reminded me that there was a light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

And I would not let my finances, or anyone else for that matter, take that one oasis away from me.  No fucking way.

So yeah.

This is why — this is one of many reasons why — when I hear from asshats like Chaffetz who decide that poor people must ‘do without’, even for things such as phones — which keep people connected to the world and help them stay available and contactable for job openings, health screenings, and loved ones — I get extremely angry and my filter goes out the goddamn window.

You, Jason, do not fucking understand what it is to live your live on the margins with barely a way to get yourself out.  Not one goddamn clue.

You deserve no nice words from me.

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