(cont.) "When I was younger, I used to want to travel. To see new places and people seemed like one of the best things you could do. Everyone agreed: if you want to 'expand your mind,' you needed to see the world." "So that's what I did. I traveled. I didn't go to college -- I didn't have the money or the desire -- so as soon as I finished high school, I said goodbye to my town and my family. I left with one backpack and about fifty dollars." "It was easier back then, or maybe it was easier for me because I was younger. But I wasn't alone. There were lots of kids in that generation who were like 'I'm outta here' and they left. No plans, just like me. It seemed 'radical.' I made my way down the coast, working whenever I ran out of money and then taking off as soon as I had enough to go. I worked about a million different jobs. Some manual labor -- I worked on farms -- and some industrial, like on an assembly line, which I hated because it was always so boring, but it paid better, and some more retail-oriented. I didn't usually engage with the customers -- I didn't have that kind of 'friendly vibe' (laughs) -- but I could stock shelves or even do some light bookkeeping." "I learned pretty early on that work is one of the tragedies of life. Jobs are a necessary evil. No job in my experience is that 'difficult,' which is why I can't ever understand why these CEOs get paid tens of millions of dollars, but that's just the way the capitalist system has evolved. I never believed in it, so there was no way I was going to 'climb the ladder.' But at the same time, I'm glad I worked because I met a lot of people who never did -- kids who grew up in rich families -- and they were usually what we liked to call 'toxic.' Like they just didn't know what to do with themselves, so it was a lot of drugs and partying and drama about really stupid shit. These people try to suck you into their lives so they can destroy you. They really are vampires, basically, but I learned early on how to avoid them, which you can do in one easy step: turn around and walk in the other direction. [Laughs.] There's plenty of decent people in the world, which means there's no reason to spend time with anyone you don't like." "After a few years I wanted to see more than just the United States, so I got a job working on a freighter. That was an interesting job, because all I had to do was walk around this big ship and tick off about fifty boxes to make sure this door was still closed and this machine was still operating and so on and so forth. We had seafaring shifts, which meant you never slept more than four or five hours at a shot, but I didn't care. I was still young. Plus there were a lot of let's-just-say 'interesting' men on that boat, and they also kept me busy." "In my experience, if you're working in an environment that's all men, there's a sexual component to it. I don't care if they have wives at home or if they brag about all the girls they've had, if they're out on a ship or a rig or a mission for the army or whatever, they're having sex with each other, too. It's just the way the world works. I'm sure it would be same for women, too, but it's harder for them to escape. They can't just get a job on a freighter with a bunch of other women, although I bet a lot of them would like to if they could." "It's harder for women to travel, too. Obviously. Women get hassled wherever they go. Or at least they did when I was young, and I don't get the sense that too much has changed. As a single man, people might look askance at you but generally speaking if you 'walked like a man' and kept quiet and minded your manners, you could figure out how to get some food and a place to sleep, maybe even pick up an odd job for a week or two. I did that in lots of places -- small towns, big cities, it didn't matter. That's how I saw the world. Men are allowed to move. They're allowed to be solitary. Men are even allowed to have sex with each other as long as they pretend it never happened after it's over. Or maybe 'allowed' is the wrong word, and 'given the opportunity' is a better way to phrase it. I never lacked for company, no matter where I went." "But the more I saw, the more I began to dislike this system. It was hypocritical and and violent. I was a strong kid, so I could 'pass' for straight, but I saw -- and I mean like personally witnessed -- a lot of others get beat up or worse because they either couldn't or didn't want to pass. And these weren't like fair fights either, but gangs taking down one guy like a pack of dogs and just tearing him apart. Or her, because I saw some women get it, too. And that kind of violence made me sick after a while, because it's the same everywhere. It never ends. That's the other side of travel, I guess -- you learn that a certain percentage of people, no matter where you go, are worse than any animal that ever lived. Worse, they have power and they use it." "I don't want to sound too negative. Maybe it will end eventually, but probably not in my life. I still read the news once in a while and it seems like there's always a story that breaks your heart because you know someone just experienced the worst kind of pain because they just wanted to live a little bit." "I saw everything I wanted to see -- I went to every continent except Antarctica -- and then I stopped. At the end, I was working on this farm in Australia and we had got up very early because it was summer and you had to start the shift before the sun came up. I was taking a break, sitting on the edge of the field near some trees, probably smoking a cigarette because I used to have that vice (laughs), when this thing -- sort of a person, but sort of glowing I guess -- stepped out of the trees and walked right up to me. I couldn't even move. It's not like I was exactly scared, it's more like I was beyond scared. Awestruck would be the only way to put it. And this creature was bright, too, so I couldn't really look anywhere but at the ground, but I could feel it next to me, and I understood clear as day when it leaned over and whispered in my ear and said 'go home.' So I did, and that's how I ended up here."
Pictures taken in Fort Tryon Park on August 27, 2016. Text excerpted from The #Gods Project: A Training Manual (Section 2, "Interviews with the Institutionalized.")