“I’m a professional chef,” said Scot. “Once I had a bakery in San Juan Capistrano, and then I had a restaurant in Boulder.”
I was visiting my neighbors at the Jesus Lives bunker. Jerry’s puppy was molesting Lance, Scot’s Rottweiler, who finally trotted into the desert in disgust. The puppy then began working on my pants with his sharp milk teeth.
I was silent.
“What you want to know is, what’s he doing here,” said Jerry.
Isn’t that always the question at the Slabs? How did you get here? What fateful blend of bad decisions and bad luck finally kicked away the last leg on the stool? How far did you fall to come to this place?
“It’s a long story,” said Scot.
Later, he told it to me.
After bouncing around during his youthful years in the way of young men, he finally married Heidi, a beautiful Danish girl (I saw her picture) in his mid-thirties. Scot loved this woman beyond reason. I imagined that she was steady light to his Roman candle. Calm to his creative energy. Ballast and balance to his flights of fancy. These were the years of the bakery and the restaurant with periods of travel in between, as I understood it.
“I would come home sometimes and just be ranting,” he recalled, “blowing off steam. I’d go on and on. She’d sit and watch me until I ran down, then she’d say, ‘Have you finished now?’ ” He got the lilting accent just right.
They were married for eight years. Then, just two years ago, Heidi became ill. I didn’t—couldn’t—ask for details. She died within 24 hours. “I’m so glad I got to say good-by,” said Scot. The stress of her death triggered a disorder that his doctors said was genetic—Addison’s Disease, a life-threatening condition that’s easily treated with steroids if it’s diagnosed in time. Scot nearly died and was sick for months. So he also lost his restaurant. Two years: wife, livelihood, and health.
Last October, he arrived at the Slabs, ravaged in mind and body, because someone told him it was a spiritual place. Can’t imagine who would think that, but he has gotten better. Lately, however, the random meanness and the struggle to survive have taken their toll. He’s wild to get a job and spends a lot of time looking.
I have an agenda every day,” he said, which usually entailed an intensive job search in a nearby town and trying to manage the benefits he receives.
Imperial is the poorest county in California with one of the highest rates of unemployment (25 percent) in the nation. Try finding a job in a place like that when you have no phone, no decent clothes, and no transportation other than a bicycle. What I was discovering is that if you fall down far enough, it’s gut-wrenchingly hard to crawl partway back.
Scot is deeply tanned with the ingrained grime of living in a dusty place with little water. (After a week, I was grimy, too.) For a recent job interview, he tried to look good. “I even put shoe polish on my pants, but I think it made the spots worse,” he said ruefully.
Yet, what flayed me; what I cannot get out of my mind, is that intimate, tender exchange he described with such exquisite clarity: “Have you finished now?”
And the almost peaceful look on his face when he recalled it.