It was 1997 and I rented a basement room in a ground floor apartment in Chicago’s still-questionable Wicker Park neighborhood (2300 block of West North Ave) with a friendly couple and a high-class drug addict.

The landlord was a Colombian friend of mine, a taxi-driving former ice-cream salesman whose mind ran at a thousand words per minute. He’d made it across the border in the 80’s and gotten the Reagan amnesty. Now he owned a dilapidated three-story building that he was fixing up himself, in between taxi shifts.

The high-class drug addict had an expensive stereo. He’d shoot up heroin and lay naked on the couch in the living room with the music so loud it felt like it came from inside my brain. There was no reasoning with the guy. I plotted to sabotage his amplifier with acid. One time I called the cops on him and they refused to take my claims of drug use seriously. Instead, they accused me of being the guy’s jilted gay lover. The mind boggles. Fucking cops.

But the couple were laid-back, educated, sane folks who probably didn’t do anything more serious than pot or shrooms. And when I left for Japan, they gave me the Zen Lessons book (pictured above). I guess they thought I needed to chill out and accept that the universe wanted me to learn a lesson from this strife.

Today, I still treasure this book and the great lessons I’ve learned from it. I’ve carried it with me since that day in April 1997 and might just carry it for awhile longer.

The high-class drug addict? When he moved in, he convinced me to split the purchase of some nice blinds for the nine-foot wide picture window in our living room. On my way out, he went back on our deal to buy out the one who left first. So I took my half of the blinds with me. Damn, was he pissed! It might not have been zen-kosher, but it was totally satisfying.

I’m going to pick an item from my storehouse of memories every week or two and blog about it. Subscribe at right to get notified of new posts via email.

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