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What was it that made you run off and build your hermitage, John? Why did you hide from the society of men all those years? What changed you from a prince to a pauper?
With me it happened fast. I was twenty-two years old and living the high life--or as high as my credit-limit would allow, anyway. I drove a slick new sportscar, lived in a chic, stylish apartment downtown, and wore clothes from the expensive stores in the mall. I even had a cellphone in those days. I was a regular face at the upscale bars and clubs on Tejon Street, I drank expensive foofoo drinks and sat around in coffeeshops blathering about art and politics. I was living high and fast and I didn't have time to think about anything.
And then one day I just threw up my hands and began looking for an escape-hatch. I took an axe and smashed my television and VCR and computer and stereo. I put the cellphone in the garbage-disposer. I locked myself in my apartment and hid until somebody came looking for the rent; then I moved into small place, a rundown slum in a bad neighborhood, where the nighttime gunshots reminded me of a bowl of Rice Crispies. I donated all my fancy clothes--a couple grand worth, probably--to cherity and went shopping at the thrift store for a new old wardrobe. I hired a lawyer and filed for bankruptcy protection. I traded in my shiny new sportscar for a beat up old truck--Attila the Hun, Tilly for short, good-ol'-scrap-metal-on-wheels, a mammoth Dodge long-bed pickup with one windshield wiper, no heat, and no breaks worth mentioning. I grew a shaggy three-inch beard and was seen walking the streets in a filthy flannel jacket, dirty bluejeans and a grungy sweat-stained cap pulled down over my eyes. A friend has since told me that, in those days, she thought I was the Unabomber.
She was only half-joking. And only half-wrong.
In a matter of a few months I went from swank to swap-meet, from cosmopolitan to clodhopper, from socialite to stylite. At the time I could not have explained what I was doing, nor why. But it felt right, so I did it. And it was right--I think. Today I claim to have a much better understanding of why I gave up that lifestyle for this one. My insides were in rebellion, and I only felt better when I let that rebellion manifest itself, when I let it come to the surface. I guess it was a crack-up, something like what Scotty Fitzgerald described in his famous essay. There comes a time when you realize that you really don't like people very much. Mostly, I had realized that I didn't like myself very much--vain, shallow, aloof, frivolous, dispassionate. I was transparent, even to myself. I realized that, though I knew a hundred interesting people, I didn't have a single genuine friend. It was all a fake, the whole life I was leading was empty and demeaning and ugly. It was a sort of treason of character, this act I was putting on, and I didn't like the well-groomed face I daily saw in the mirror. It was time to learn to like myself again.
What a load of self-righteous crap! O narcissism, thy name is Me! What it comes down to is that, no matter what concessions I made, I was an outsider. I just simply didn't quite fit, and I was sick of the failure, fed up with the whole hopeless struggle. Hard as I tried, I could never be or do or say the right things; always there was the hint of wrongness and incongruity; never was I anything more than a clown and a creep.
Rejected and repulsed, ridiculed behind my back and to my proud face, was I bitter? You bet I was bitter. And angry... Still am, of course, and probably always will be. Are some people just born on the outside of things? destined to distance and alienation and unwilling defiance? My answer was yes, and so I ceased my struggle with fate. I retreated inward and built my mental and emotional hermitage.